Part 3 “Mike the Lesser”
Joey left the station with no place to go. He traveled the streets with the chill biting him harshly. Most of the stores had closed and the streets emptied out. His fingers were numb, and the fog soaked him. Only the bars and a donut shop were open. Not even contemplating the bars, he decided donuts were truly the best last meal.
‘Andy’s’ had a huge donut painted on the window with a bright red 24 in the center. Cutout paper Jack-o-lanterns were strung up along the walls in a halfhearted attempt to look like someone cared about the holiday.
He ordered a hot chocolate from a scruffy old Asian man, then realized that he had spent or lost nearly all his money. He didn’t know and didn’t have the faculty to care. He gave the man his last dollar and took the thirty-five cents back as his change. He sat down in an uncomfortable plastic chair and stared into his steaming hot chocolate. He wanted to get whip cream but forgot to ask.
There was a woman in her twenties sitting with an older man. The man was dressed like a woman with makeup and a slightly obvious wig. They spoke in hushed tones, their lives in some turmoil. Was he her father? Were they together? Were they just friends? Joey struggled to absorb the scene.
Nothing was normal in this place, at least not his normal.
He nursed his hot chocolate until it wasn’t hot and then he closed his eyes. He drifted back to that place just before sleep, where dreams creep in but don’t stay. He could see himself drinking the whiskey, letting things get out of control. He could feel his heart tearing away as the truth spilled out of it.
“Hey kid!” the old Asian man shouted, “You no sleep here. This not you house.”
Joey snapped up from his sleep, his heart racing equally from the dream and the shouting.
“You go home!” The old man shouted.
Joey stumbled up and ran out, confused, scared and lost. He ran for a block before he slowed to a heavy panting walk. His spirits sunk as he once again came back to Harvey Milk. He walked down the stairs and leaned against the same cylindrical bench he had earlier. Exhausted, he curled up behind it and using his Army jacket as a blanket he let the day end.
Sleep took him for a moment.
The sound of a metal gate clanging woke Joey. He rose to find his left arm was numb and his back hurting. He wiped dried spit from his face and emerged from his new home. The sun hadn’t risen. It was still dark, and he realized he had only had a few hours of sleep. The workers were opening the station gate starting their shifts. Joey got up and lumbered toward the railway platform. He had been in similar subways and they usually had a restroom. The gate closed as he approached, and the workers said they’d be open in 20 minutes, then disappeared into the station.
Joey had to pee and walked back to the bench. Despite not wanting to pull his personals out in public, he pissed next to it as well as he could. After the moment of relief, he realized he was probably not the first person to do this.
The day went slow, and as he wandered about, he couldn’t seem to bring himself to beg. He was hungry but too afraid to ask anyone for help. There were so many homeless here, and they seemed to do it easily, but he wasn’t one of them. By sunset he had entered a state of walking sleep and zombie-strolled back to his bench. The cold empty space behind the crappy concrete bench was now his home. He thought he could still smell the piss as he started to settle in.
“Hello Nope,” a voice called him from his daze.
Joey looked up and recognized the out-of-work rock star wardrobe.
“You alright kid?” asked the man.
“I’m hungry,” Joey said looking at the ground.
“Let’s get you some food.”
“I don’t have any money,” Joey said drearily.
“I got money,” he replied.
He was too hungry to care if the man was here to ‘make’ him. The two walked up to the same pizza joint that Joey had originally come for. The man sat Joey down in the window seats, then went and ordered the food. He came back with three slices of pizza, one was cheese only, one pepperoni, and the last combination. He had two sodas.
“I didn’t know what kind you liked so I got all three,” said the man.
Joey took the pepperoni and stared at it for a moment.
“I kinda saw you as a pepperoni guy. Its good, go on, eat it,” tempted the man.
He gave an angry look to the man a shoved it in his mouth. One bite melted into many and Joey ravenously ate all three slices.
Joey glanced cautiously between bites knowing what this man could be. He needed help and he was so hungry, that he didn’t care about the creepy adoration.
“I take it you don’t have a place to stay?”
“The planter, it’s really nice, has a good view of the MUNI,” said Joey.
“It could use a few things. Drapes, windows, maybe some walls,” the man smiled.
“It’s cozy and affordable,” Joey said as he picked up another piece and inhaled it, “What’s your name?”
Mike reached over and slid a dirty lock of Joey’s hair out of the boy’s face, then traced his finger around the ear. Joey pulled away and looked at him ready to fight.
“Your hair was—”
“Are you gay?” Joey demanded.
“Sometimes,” Mike replied, “Are you?”
“No, no I’m not,” Joey looked into Mike’s eyes and was unsure of what to make of him.
“This is a very gay place, a very gay situation you’re in, for not being gay,” Mike said with a sly smile.
“I thought you weren’t trying to make me?”
“I’m trying to help you.”
“All I need is money. I don’t need your kind of ‘help’,” said Joey.
“What kind of help do you need?” asked Mike.
Joey turned away from his food and looked out the bay windows.
“I own a couch that might fit you,” Mike said.
“I like couches.”
“How old are you?”
“I’m 18,” Joey lied.
“You look like you’re 13.”
“I’m 18, I swear.”
“I can’t take you home with me if you’re not,” said Mike.
“I never said I was going home with you.”
“You said you like couches.”
“I do,” he said still looking out the window.
Joey could see his light Latin complexion staring back at him. Joey finished the last slice and took a long draw from his Coke. He spoke to Mike, but looked into his own washed-out reflection, “Am I going to have to have sex with you on your couch tonight?”
“It’s a nice couch, I wouldn’t want to stain it. My bed is very nice though.”
Joey rolled his eyes and started to stand.
“I’m kidding. You don’t have to have sex with me, but I need to go, so if you’re going to come; come.” Mike smiled, stood up, and held out his hand.
Joey again glanced outside the window. Hundreds of cars and people had passed him in the last two days, and this was all he had. As long as he didn’t drink, he thought, he would be ok.
“I don’t want to regret this. I got enough regrets already,” said Joey.
“Kid, you got bigger things chasing you than me. I’m just the lesser of two evils.”
The man gave a cheerful smile and Joey, with nothing left to lose, took his hand and pulled himself back on his feet. Maybe suicide could wait. His first steps into the world of his own making, his death dream of peaceful bliss, was poorly planned and phenomenally failed. Mike was probably going to try something, but it wouldn’t be any worse than what Joey had already done. He thought of the old adage of going from the frying pan and into the fire, but this felt more like an upgrade from the fire. At least the frying pan was solid.
Next Episode: Joey must choose to live and find a way past his own demons. Mike seems like a nice guy but it’s pretty obvious what he’s looking for. Will Joey give him what he wants for a night off the streets?