We’re in a homeless shelter in Asheville, NC. We think it’s funny. How did all these people in some hellish hickish place like Asheville NC get homeless, that’s what we want to know. It’s so crowded we have to sleep on the floor.
I’m with this dyke Spike who I met in Ft Lauderdale, FL. She’s got an old white Toyota and a tent where we’ve been sleeping the past month. She wanted to see the Appalachians so there we were, trekking up stony trails and putting four drops of iodine in each bottle of slimy river water, sleeping in the bags she lifted from her roommate’s brother out of the garage. We took his stove, too, and a flashlight, he’s probably hot on our trail looking for Spike so he can pulp her little body with his big faggy boots. Problem is his stuff was meant for the Everglades, that’s what Spike says, where it’s hot, and now it’s October, last night we drank four cups each of hot cocoa and wound up leaving the tent all night to take one piss after another, Appalachian trail air biting our asses. I say Fuck this and we start fingering our options and Spike says, I wonder if there’s a homeless shelter around here, and I say that would be fun, let’s see who’s in there all hard up, so we drive down the mountain to the highway and find a Waffle House with a phone book, and count fifteen fast-food restaurants on our way here.
Spike helps my image because I’m all woman whereas Spike looks like a 14 year old boy all limbs and sinew. The first thing she sees at the shelter is the basketball net out on the blacktop and next thing I know she’s out shooting baskets with some pocked-up Mexican guys and I want to know, how in the hell did these Mexican guys make it all the way to Asheville, NC just to wind up homeless. But Spike likes making friends which is ok by me as long as she’ll toss them off later and come back to me, which she does. Usually by nine o’clock she’s slammed and I can make her say anything I want her to say because Spike always wants to get back in my pants. I made the mistake once or twice of being too drunk to care if she shimmied my pants down my legs, so she’s done that, back in Ft. Lauderdale when she lived over Chaussie’s where a bottle of Miller was 85 cents. I never felt a thing, but Spike thinks it means I’m a dyke like her and keeps waiting for my next blackout, blackouts being something like a sign of true love for Spike, which is kind of sad.
So Spike’s out with the guys, practicing her Spanish saying cabrón and maricón and asking them to teach her new “cuss words,” as words like shit and fuck and faggot are known to be called in this place, the South. I go into the shelter and look all destitute for the bleached-out woman running the show, which to be honest wasn’t hard after all those nights fighting no-see-ums and rolling around in the dirt of Grandfather mountain. Spike was always trying to roll over on me even while she slept, so sometimes I did, actually, sleep in the dirt outside, just to get a decent night’s sleep. The woman, all pouty, takes pity on me, and gives me towels and blankets, and I start roaming around the place. It looks like my elementary school. There’s a library, a cafeteria, a big scary kitchen and then a few rooms with cots where the desks would have been.
Spike comes in all energized smelling salty like sweat and we decide to lie down, test the floor. It’s covered in a blue-speckled carpet but still, truly harder than the slab of mountain known as Grandfather. Poor Spike on her bony butt already feels cagey to get on her feet, so she gets up, does that little dance she does to shake off her energy, and pulls me up and leads me outside. See, I’m a very lazy person by nature and Spike is good for me this way, always making me do things. My womanly body is quite cushy enough to make the floor a comfortable place for a while. But that’s not productive, now is it.
The Mexican guys are gone so we sit down on the porch and Spike rolls up a Drum. She says she smokes Drum because it has no impurities but I know she likes to roll her own tobacco so she can feel more like a cowboy. I start calling her Cowboy then, poking her with my toe, and she gets all cute and shy-acting and starts throwing bits of tobacco at me which look just like the freeze-dried blood worms we used to feed to her Japanese fighting fish back in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, the same fish that is probably rotting away on the top of the fish bowl about now. Poor Sticky.
A girl comes out and we shut up so we can find out her story. Her name’s Amy. She’s fat like bad fruit and has a head full of bleach. A bad perm. Too much sperm, actually, Amy’s eight months pregnant. She tells us this is her third and she’s given the other two away but this one she’s keeping. Too bad the father’s married and wants nothing to do with her or her offspring. We ask her why didn’t she just have an abortion and Amy says she doesn’t believe in it, which really pisses Spike off. See, Spike has this thing for girls who are content to be stomped on by men: she hates them. Now if Amy would cry or bitch and moan about how-could-he-do-this-to-me, Spike would give her a speech about how her life could be better, that is how to be more like Spike herself, a dyke that is, and make friends with her—but the girl’s all smug and satisfied, dragging on her Kool. Clearly this dear Amy is straighter than Spike can fathom, even Spike doesn’t want this convert. Then Amy tells us the shelter has found her an apartment and is even paying for it. She’s moving in tomorrow. Now, this really pisses us off because why don’t they pay for us to have a place, since I’m smart enough to buy condoms and Spike’s smart enough to be a dyke and neither of us are stupid enough to have three babies by the time we’re twenty, now why don’t we get rewarded for that? But Amy’s too soft to deal with that kind of philosophizing, no she’s no match for truth, so she puts out her menthol and goes back inside all teary and worldweary like she’s Atlas and we’re just poking at her ribs for no good reason.
Spike and I decide that most homeless people must be stupid and try to blame everyone else for their problems all the time, and just as we decide this we meet JT. JT’s a black guy from East Orange, NJ and he’s wearing pantyhose on his head and proving our point. “Drugs,” he tells us, he rounds it out like a belch, like the word is finite and begins and ends all at once and tells the whole story. I ask him why he came all the way down to Asheville, NC just to be on drugs. He tells us that’s the point, he came sticksbound on the run from drugs, but even in Asheville, NC your little friends find you. Spike and I find this really dull and tell him why doesn’t he just drink like a normal law-abiding person and save himself the travel expenses. We say Actually, we’re going up through that place known as the garden state and why doesn’t he join us and we’ll get him trashed every night and he can see how easy it is to be off drugs and he can get home free. JT laughs but then stares real hard at Spike like he’s just figuring out she’s a dyke. He’s gives that crooked old suspicious look, just like any hick would. We think maybe he belongs down here.
We’re quite a team, me and Spike. People can’t figure out what the hell we are, we’re like Jack Sprat (that would be Spike) and Jack Sprat’s wife (that would be me), but we’re both girls, so they don’t know how to treat us. Spiffy and sweet, all male authority as if it were just me alone? I have a good giggle and I like to play with my long red locks when strangers talk to me. Or boy-buddy elbowing as if it were just Spike. She likes a good jostle. So we raid the kitchen and nobody stops us because we’re just too fast for them to pin us down. It’s fun, we fill scraped-up green plastic cups from the thousand-gallon iced tea dispenser and I find a whole bushel of bananas, and we’re peeling them one by one and throwing them on the floor, having the time of our lives until I discover a huge shaker of MSG on the shelf– “Flavor Enhancer” it says– and get grossed out. We consider a ploy to wipe out the homeless population in Asheville, NC by MSG poisoning and wonder what that means in terms of the contents of the iced tea. We dump it out in the sink that’s big enough for Spike to bathe in. A shame since we’re all dry with thirst. We haven’t had anything real to drink since last night when I pocketed a fifth of Jack Daniels while Spike distracted the guy by buying two cans of Strohs. See, that’s why Spike needs me, because I’m so sweet no one would think to accuse me of lifting. But now we’re dry. No booze inside, they told us on the phone, no drugs and no alcohol and no sexual relations and Spike and I got a good laugh out of that, knowing we could NEVER be homeless if those were the rules. Especially Spike who has to sleep in a room full of girls.
ALDEN JONES is an award-winning writer and faculty member at Emerson College’s department of Writing, Literature and Publishing. Since 1995 she’s combined teaching and writing with extensive travel to destinations such as Cuba and Costa Rica, where she lived for extended periods. Her 2013 memoir, The Blind Masseuse: A Traveler’s Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia was named a “Top Ten” Travel Book by Publisher’s Weekly and has been nominated for a PEN award and won a 2014 Gold Award from Independent Publisher. Other awards Jones has received include the latest New American Fiction Prize for Unaccompanied Minors. Jones’ short stories and travel essays have appeared in numerous publications including The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner and The Best American Travel Writing.
Adapted from Unaccompanied Minors, by Alden Jones, Copyright © 2014 by Alden Jones. With the permission of the publisher, New American Press.