Urban Renewal

An excerpt from the March issue of Utne Digital

| Spring 2015

  • “I remember that today is the day I have to get something going, one way or another. I need to make a few dollars, not read more Civil War history in the library.”
    Photo by Flickr/Mike Willis

I awake in the van on the street. Someone has either slammed their door or honked or a garbage truck has crushed a load. My arm is asleep and my vision is bad. I sleep with my eyes open so any light irritates my eyes even as I sleep. Sometimes my dreams incorporate what I see, such as the time I was visited by Ted Nugent in a spaceship.

When I roll over on the right side of my head I can hear nothing because my left ear is nearly deaf. A hearing doctor once asked me to describe the sound.

“It sounds like a swarm of locusts,” I responded and watched him pause for a second and then write it down.

I remember that today is the day I have to get something going, one way or another. I need to make a few dollars, not read more Civil War history in the library.

Then I think, no. Fuck work. I won’t make any money. I’ll probably get injured. It’s futile. I’m better off at the library looking for a real job. Then I see myself from above, sleeping in an old van, wearing my socks to bed to stay warm, a moped and a ton of tools actually stored in the van with me, like a garage on wheels. When it rains I have to direct the water away from my bed with torn plastic milk jugs. It’s insane by any definition. I’m living completely on the fringe of
society, a microcosm of lunacy, reusing dental floss, shitting into old newspaper, and drinking puddle water. I could plant a garden in the fertile soil under my seats. But I am parked next to $300,000 condos. I stare at the Flashdance soundtrack LP above my bed and meet Jennifer Beal’s vulnerable yet determined eyes. How, I ponder, am I going to turn this abstract performance art that is my life into a small cabin or mobile home with a wife and children puttering about as I hang storm windows or play the piano? By working? Maybe, I rationalize, I’ll get a good temp job that will turn into a long-term assignment. Good things always happen to me. Think positive. Today could be the day.

So I roll out of bed and take my pants out of the protective plastic bag I store them in at night and put them on. I draw my boots on and tie the laces by propping my foot on the seat of my moped. The soles aren’t coming off the shoe yet but they will be ruined by the end of the day. Then I go to piss in a milk jug that has been with me for six months. It’s full but I don’t dare pour it out on Lincoln Avenue again. I’ve learned that lesson. So I grab the nearest empty jug of apple cider and piss into that. Then I gather up the curtains and drink some water from a green two-liter soda jug that was given to me by an evangelist in Québec. Time to start my day.

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