I first discovered the gorgeous of library living room in the cold homeless blast of New York City 1994, when I hitched up picked up my Kansas tentpoles and after a detour south through Oklahoma I met up with that one first girl, First Girlfriend, and we hitched our tongues together and packed bags when her mom walked in, and we were bound for the City.
Soon though she gave me the gutpunch lesson that boys are always better than girls for the coupling, left me for a strange boy what was his name I don’t remember but I think she ended up marrying him.
The point is, we boarded a Greyhound to Philly or Pittsburgh one of those P cities and from there hitched into Manhattan. Actually got stuck in Connecticut cause rich folks didn’t wanna pick us up and we spent nights in graveyards and ended up scraping some change together for some kind of commuter train or bus from there into the city. It was winter and it was COLD. I remember discovering the public library as a place to get warm and soften again, out of the wind, First Girlfriend long gone through the rat crumb undercity tunneled by streetyouth like us. I’d hunker down in that library and read some of Bob Kaufman’s poems, curl up like a cat. This went on for three months.
I remember sizing up a library bathroom some time later, a single occupancy one and imagining what a heated private luxury that would be if I was still on the street–for a living space, I mean. In that New York City winter I was always on the lookout for a safe place to sleep, that is after our ratty squat was busted and boarded and I had to break back in to retrieve my beloved boots and books. I thought my toes would never be warm again. I wore steel-toed 14-eye Doc Martens, oxblood, that I had panhandled enough money to buy.
All those junkie kids just didn’t understand my boots and they’d stumble toward me on Christopher Street where I sat outside the gay bar each day, collecting coins, and they’d say “Blue–that was my name then–Blue, I need to get straight.” So I’d give them some change and go back to writing. I didn’t understand them, either. I was there on some sort of Kerouac dream–not a drug user but a 40 drinker. 40 oz bottles of malt liquor. Drunk every night. Two bottles on stoops, brick buildings. Cold went away. Squatting behind trash cans right there on the street in the open to pee. That was another thing I was always on the hunt for: a public bathroom, or places I could sneak into without folks batting an eye. Peeing behind trash cans was fine, but pooping was something else all together.
I was 18 years old. I endured those things because I was hungry for something more, adventure, real life beyond Wellington, Kansas. I am 35 and wearing 14-eye Docs right this very minute, periwinkle blue. In New York I was just living day to day, just being there for it, knew I’d make it home, whatever home was, eventually. I think I was just more present than I’ve ever been, at least in the day-to-day. But I was medicating heavily. Getting drunk, as I’ve explained. The other kids, the ones with their junk, didn’t trust me. They were hard, hard-edged. Hard stories. Didn’t understand maybe why I’d be in that position if I didn’t have to. Maybe it seemed like I didn’t have to.