by Ken Poyner
Tuesdays I feed the homeless. Faring up the street cleans out his unsold bakery goods on Monday, takes the leftovers from all five of his stores, and practically gives them away on Tuesday. He always drops me off a good sized bag of mixed goods, and it costs me pennies on the dollar. I put them on the passenger seat of the ZZ9 – those things have no trunk space to speak of, being the slung-low-let’s-impress-the-ladies-with-our-impractical- race-car-looks type of car that we married homebodies drive when we want to look single and on the hunt. Not much smell left to the goodies, but I imagine them with a perky, taste-tied smell, and it makes for a better drive.
Not as many people in the parking lot on Tuesdays, as well. Seems the weekends are the big draw. Ever since they built the feeding stands, they have become a sort of weekend ritual for some. Take the wife and kids out, get rid of the leftovers. I prefer to avoid that crowd.
I think with fewer people it is more interesting, anyway. With far fewer provisions going over the side, you have chance to pick and choose your shots. Toss one to the fellow who is jumping up and waving, or toss one to the girl almost out of range who does not seem to care at all. Drop one underhand to the girl who really seems to think that baring her chest is going to do anything for you.
When the crowd is light, you have room to make up your own games, and more time to spread out emptying the bag. You also have the time and space to sometimes make the most interesting of acquaintances. People will spontaneously cooperate, run the homeless side to side—or forward and back, or split them into groups—with well placed throws. Afterwards, you might linger for conversation with your game mate, or even go for a beer. Friendships have sprung up that rekindle every time the visitors meet at a feeding stand, and often the cooperation to make this a more interesting charity begins spontaneously again. Sometimes friendships evolve and grow into general partnerships. A marriage or two has resulted.
Of course, Tuesdays there are fewer homeless-phantoms. Homeless-phantoms usually have more free time on the weekends, can spend more time getting ready, and then more time in with the homeless. Tuesdays they don’t have enough hours after school.
It is a rigorous pursuit. Mostly high school kids from the suburbs, they dress up to look like the homeless, practice the far-away look, use special dreary make-up, and unique scents manufactured just for the purpose. The sub-culture has its own magazine. While the make-up and clothes used to be homemade, some of the kids now pay thousands for the best ready-to-wear kits, with everything they need to look down-and-out, to look like the edge of humanity’ scratch list, to seem something unusable — all included with application instructions. The costumed homeless-phantoms sneak into the homeless areas, trying to see how long they can go unrecognized; then, just before dark, sneak back out. They keep a tally on-line, though a lot of the scores are pure fantasy. It is popular these days, and everyone wants to be the best. The kids are not above cheating.
From the feeding station, our part of the game is in trying to pick out the homeless-phantoms from the real homeless. You write down the place and time you tag one, along with any identifying costume features. Sometimes you even recognize a face. Some are famous and have to switch feeding stations often; some are the local lot you’ve seen checking out the social access in your own neighborhood. Go on-line and rat someone out. They lose points.
I learned the hard way not to point them out. I was there one afternoon late and saw Larry Hotchkins in a torn t-shirt, mismatched shoes, and a pair of dress pants he probably ruined on purpose by tearing out both knees. A strictly homemade job. I’ve looked more homeless some weekend mornings going out to turn on the sprinklers. When I saw him up close, I yelled, “Larry! Larry! You have got to do better…..”
I should have thought before I spoke. Those homeless turned on Larry like middle class hookers on a john who had lost his wallet. He got beat half to death before a set of keepers could get into him and drag him out. And he got a ticket to boot. So he spent two weeks in repair, and his father spent five hundred dollars in fines. That’s when he decided to order a professional suit from the back of the trade magazine. He didn’t attempt to mix in with the homeless again until the purchase arrived, and he had practiced in it for a week in the privacy and safety of the dressing alcove in his bedroom.
But likely, I won’t recognize anyone this Tuesday. I’ve grown a little weary of it anyway and I am waiting for the homeless-phantom fad to pass. What could be next for me might be switching my day over to Thursdays, and maybe actually getting some fresher leavings from Faring. Imagining that smell these last few weeks has been a comfort. But imagine actually having that smell, that leftover pastry smell: the excited molecules of it physically rumbling about in the cabin of the car as the engine rumbles its twelve cylinders, snarling its power like a lion in a death match. Think of the titillation. The smell being real: that smell, that smell of something that even almost I would eat.