It was bitterly cold and we stood in a circle under silver clouds passing under a dark navy sky full of stars. Two trains roared on either sides - great monsters of steam and metal - one going to Tucson, the other to San Antone. Our stomachs were warm from the thin potato soup that was just served for chow. Near our shivering forms, huddled in knots, men stood in dirty coats - collars turned up in a vain attempt to thwart the vile wind - smoking, spitting, coughing, talking. All black shadows in the dim lamps of the shelter.
In our group stood Gabriel, a Native American from Chicago with a baritone voice, red skin and the classic schnoz common to his race, Phil from New York, stout, portly, and distinct Bronx accent - Gabriel had given him the moniker 'Phil McKraken', funny if you say it fast - myself, shoulders up to my ears, cigarette hanging from lips, hands in coat, tottering from foot to foot in the dry, cold air, Jose, weaselly little Mexican good with card tricks, always craving attention, and Greg - 20 year old ex-Army heartthrob who at meeting him I do realise I must keep my control. Can't go overboard like William Wiggins.
Gabriel pulls out a small flask of whiskey and passes it around. All accepts except Jose. Burns going down, but warms the stomach. We goof and joke and share stories as the trains continue to rumble.
Off to my right and into the shadows a drunk potbellied hobo screams above the cacophony of passing metal, "So, at lunch this old fucker with a walker asks me ta git him some coffee so's I go and gets him some coffee and he pours the coffee out and says to go and gets me some juice and I tells the old fucker to go fuck himself - what am I his fuckin' waiter?!!" Him and his buddies burst into laughter.
I look around at the huddled masses and these people have nothing and the fact is I have nothing but tonight it is the night before Christmas and we are more or less happy because we have the compadreship of each others company and that is something.
I excuse myself and walk into the day room - silent catatonic figures sit watching television, smells of soiled clothes, unwashed bodies, urine, feces, rotten food assault my nostrils - up the hall into the dorm, den of chatter, radios competing with personal DVD players, coughing, spitting, random farting.
At my bunk, I down my psychotropic medications, don my pyjamas and fall into another night of troubled sleep.
Merry Christmas, Dear Reader -
From the Darkness of Despair
From the Insidiousness of Insanity