From Alex Sandra:
Our beautiful girl is still doing brilliantly in her new home. Yayyyyyyy!!!! A BIG hug to the new family and do give Linda a hug from me every single day.
Once upon a time there was a homeless guy in Spain and two dear people took pity on him and took him into their holiday apartment for a couple of nights and they stayed friends over the internet. They had been on vacation and, of course, went home afterwards.
About a year later the homeless guy returned home and got his life more or less sorted out, but this was in a different country than the couple. Some time went by and then, all of a sudden, the young lady of the couple suggested they come to meet him again.
And tomorrow is the day that I meet my dear friends Agnes and Rick again. And there’s more, I can invite them into my humble abode and offer them coffee, this time. We shall make a big day of it and merriment shall be had all round. Yippie, my friends are coming over and I can’t wait to see them. Love you guys!
It was truly a wonderful day and I was soo happy to meet my friends again. We visited the city and went to the Christmas market and they invited me for lunch, which was yummy! I have promised to paint their portrait for them and will certainly keep that promise. Thanks for the visit, Agnes and Rick!
You’ve all known me for a long time and I never lie. I am homeless and sick of it. Although you all love to read my writings, when I’m doing more or less alright, you never want to make a donation. Fine! But, I’ve had it with trying to entertain people who say they enjoy it but do not realize what situation I’m in or don’t give a damn. therefore, I will stop posting which costs me half a meal, living on the street, just for your pleasure. I shall live my abominable life, such as it is, without your help. If I go hungry or am cold or wet, I shall still think of you fondly, because I do not bear a grudge, but still… I wish you could have put yourselves in my situation and done something.
Is entertainment all that you care about? Does not everyday life mean anything to you? You know what, I don’t give a damn anymore. I’m out of here! Hugs from an as ever starving Ralphie!
P.S.: And my apologies to the few people who have helped me.
I´m leaving Barcelona, intent on starting a lucky streak, in search of my very own Shangrila. Somewhere in the mountains of Galicia, in proximity to the sea, I hope to find it. A haven of safety to call home for the rest of my days, surrounded by friendly, peace-loving people, who will accept me for who I am. Mmmm… one can but dream!
I´m a bit apprehensive, for I am traveling unknown territory now, at the end of which, hopefully, I will find my friend Freddy still there in Santiago the Compostela. And he´d bloody well better be alive or I´ll kill him! I´m tired of receiving bad news but then, he´s built like a brick shithouse and younger than I, which is still no guarantee on the streets. I hope and pray!
First stop Zaragosa, where I just have to make money to be able to continue the next leg of my trip, which would be Logroño(I never went there!) From there on, it should be easy sailing, for then I will be on the pilgrim´s route and am bound to meet fellow travellers with the same destination. I wonder how long it will take me to get there?
I´m sitting on a park bench reminiscing about times gone by. In front of me on the ground are loads of broken seed-shells of what they call Pipas here. People eat them by the bagload, nibbling them one by one, after having divested them of their shells with two deft little bites. I´ve never been able to master the technique. A white dove came to peck at them. I thought to myself whether this were the Dove of Peace, sent to me by my guardian angel to bring me tranquility. I sincerely hope so. What is there for this dove to feed on though, but the broken shards of the seeds of ideas that never came to fruition. Dreams that have grown tired of their forebears being shattered time and time again. I almost feel like giving up hope this time. What does the future have in store for me now: more disappointment?
All I wanted was to earn enough with my writing to live on, which hasn´t happened yet and might never happen. Should I still keep going, just for the sake of it? It´s harder without feedback, not having the money for internet. I feel like a clown performing his silly tricks, with for an audience one lone dove. At least I just made myself smile, albeit wearily… Correction, of two doves, no… three and a sparrow! My audience is growing even as my spirit is lifting! All might still be right with the world.
This should have been posted long ago, but I did not have the money nor the time.
I´m sitting in front of the Borgia church, as it is Sunday and the lottery office where I was begging earlier is closed. I made a friend yesterday, a Spaniard called Vicente, who is depressed over a broken relationship. At the end of the conversation, I did manage to put a smile on his face. I shall consider this my good deed for the day.
Across from me on a terrace is sitting a man all in black, who has a pet raven on a leash. He is feeding him little pieces of his breakfast and telling the guy who just did the windows of the establishment all about the bird, which I can overhear. Chicho is the raven´s name and the only word he says is “guapo”(=handsome) and thankfully not “nevermore”, like his illustrious forebear, who was immortalised by Edgar Allan Poe. The owner bought Chicho from a handler in Britain and they are supposed to be a protected species now. The raven is said to be very friendly in the mornings, when he lets the owner pet him and actually nuzzles him, a bit like a dog would. But after that he is more or less a pain in the ass for the rest of the day. He insists on being entertained continuously until nightfall and is very fond of collecting shiny things as a magpie is wont to. It is fun to watch the antics of this black feathered creäture, but I can not help but wonder if he would not be happier without his leash and flying free as nature intended.
I just heard a nice saying in Spanish. There were two ladies having a natter inside the bar opposite and they belong to the coir, which is now singing inside. They had lost track of time and came running, for they were late. As they went in, one said to the other: “¡La lengua nos pierde!” or in English: “Our tongue has led us astray!” I had a bit of a chuckle at finally hearing a woman admit that!
I´m happy, because I have a problem, two actually. I have found that when there is a complete lack of problems, life gets boring. And I´ve been known to go to great lengths to avoid boredom, just for the heck of it. What the Chinese consider a curse, namely: “May you live in interesting times!”, is to me a blessing in disguise. You may be wondering by this time what my problem(s) is(or are)!?
You know how, when you are a writer, you sometimes find yourself at a loss about what to write about… The opposite has happened to me over the past few days, in that so much has happened that I could write about, that I simply don´t know where to start. And even more frustratingly, most of it I am forbidden to mention even. for fear of the consequences. I shall keep schtum on all these topics, for reasons that I have mentioned in another chapter. I´ve done well so far, haven´t I?
I´ve already written two paragraphs on not much in particular. Maybe I should have become a speech writer for politicians!!??? Any-way, I´m in Gandia, which entirely by coincidence, I wrote about a little while ago, only to find everybody whom I knew gone. And I do like a bit of company! Of the right kind of course, because the company I was in a couple of days ago, I want to avoid at all cost! I do not in the least appreciate stocky gentlemen with a complete lack of humor. Nuff said!
The Borgias are still here by the way, looking as grim and sanctimonious as I remembered them. I would like to go on a rant and a rave, but the trouble is that the unpolished truth hurts and people want to forget all about that. All that counts is entertainment, a little respite from your own conscience. Because, … you are not doing wrong to anybody, are you, by being a cog in the machine?
The machine that equates people´s lives, misery and heartbreak to numbers on a spreadsheet!? I shall just say this and then I shall shut up. If you equate, for example, a father or a mother´s inability to provide their children with a crust to eat, with numbers, for the sake of your idolised profit, then you are guilty of a crime, period!
And somewhere, somewhen, you will have to account for your actions. In the meantime, I salute you, with a smile on my face, in the assurance that Karma´s irony will catch up with you… Chiao, Bambini, sleep tight!
There is one more thing I want to tell you about when Paqui was in a coma and then I shall let her rest in peace. It is something that I wish I could forget, but which is indelibly etched on my brain for evermore. I told you she had septicemia in the brain. I was desperate and held her head between my hands and whispered to her: “But Paqui, you promised me you would never leave me!” Her sister told me to hold her head carefully for fear of squashing her skull… There are some things that no man should have to go through. Boy, was I a mess!
We arrived in Gandia, which is ancestral city of the Borgias. They have life-size statues there to commemorate them. I read a book about these illustrious characters once. They made Machiavelli look like a boy scout. One of them was a Pope and his sister Lucretia probably poisoned more men than Attila the Hun laid to waste( and she was the nice one of the family!) For some reason I´d always mistakenly thought that they were Venetian by birth. Well, to err is human.
On our first day there we got to know a German, called Stephan, who lucky for Steve and Paul also spoke English. He was a piss-artist like us and we got on like a house on fire. He showed us each a good begging spot and we did alright. I parked my arse in front of a tobacconist, but I could only do that in the mornings, because at noon the ´regular´guy showed up. After a while, Steve and I decided to try something new. We bought different coloured chalk and started making religious portraits on the pavement in the pedestrian part of town. This was much appreciated by the locals, but the cops would have to come along to spoil our fun, as they do.
They told us we needed a permit. After playing cat and mouse with them for a couple of days, we got tied of this and stomped off to the town hall to apply for one. The clerks told us that we were the first people ever to do so and that they wouldn´t even know where to start looking fo such a form. Bureaucracy at its finest again! You see, laws are made to protect the rich, who in turn take care of the politicians. And in order to be able to earn a crust, the poor have to make the politicians even richer, by paying for silly things like permits. The civil servants´job is to hide these for as long as possible. Fantastic system, isn´t it? Needles to say, we shelved the chalk and went back to begging.
The first night we´d made our ´beds´on the larn of a tiny park next tot he bus station. When the employees from there had finished their shift they actually waved and grinned at us, which surprised us a bit. The next morning at 6 AM, when the sprinklers started spraying the lawn, we understood why. Talk about a rude awakening and a hasty retreat. Next we moved to a slightly bigger park behind the tourist information office, but the cops told us to move to the big park on the other side of town. Surprisingly, they actually left us in peace there. We slept on the band stand, because again the lawns were booby-trapped!
Stephan had two wonderful dogs, one was called Theodore(Theo for short), who was rather big and Lotti, a Belgian shepherd with a slightly mangled hip. Stephan used to push her along in a wheelchair, which Madam took in her stride. But when the two of them spotted a cat, she outran Theo in her zealous pursuit. Only to afterwards come back limping, with a woeful look in her eyes. I suspect she was quite the actress, Miss Lotti!
One evening, a lady of the night came to visit, in quite a bit of distress. Some unsavoury character had been stalking her, she said. Stephan polished his armour to a spit shine and rode to the rescue. And as sometimes happens between a man and a woman, they fell in love. Steve and I were a bit sceptical at first, but it turned out to be the real things and Maite was accepted into our little family. I did ask them nicely if they could take their nocturnal gymnastics a bit further down, so we could sleep. Maite offered to bring along a couple of her friends(working girls). I for one declined as I was not n the mood, so soon after what had happened.
I had made the foolish decision, back in Valencia, to ask someone to put dreadlocks in my hair(all of it). The result was not inspiring. I looked like a demented rat and therefore asked Stephan, who´d had some previous hair-dressing experience somewhere, to shear me. He gladly accepted.
To be continued…
I remember some more things about Paqui´s last days. If I repeat myself, do forgive me, but I don´t want to reread all I´ve written already, because then I might get stuck again (too painful). My little gypsy Princess had slipped into a coma and the doctor took me aside and warned me that he had some bad news. My knees were a bit wobbly and I asked if I could sit down. He told me she had
septicemia in the brain and that if she did come out of her coma, she would very probably be a quadriplegic.
His words of doom did not want to register in my brain and I foolishly asked if she would be alright again. He looked at me with a look of pity in his eyes and told me that we could only pray. But… I´d been with her a couple of weeks earlier. when they´d done a CAT-scan of her brain and had assured us that all she needed were a pair of reading glasses! I was a bit of a mess then. I told the boys, who hugged me and we all cried together.
Paqui had told me, when she started keeling over for no apparent reason and had trouble walking, that if she ever ended up in a wheelchair, for me to put her out of her misery. And now what!!??? Quadriplegic on the street? That would be impossible. What then? My mind was reeling!
One evening I´d gone back to the Rancho to get pissed and try to make myself believe that this was all some horrible dream. The next morning I arrived at the hospital to find Paqui´s room empty of her and also of her family. I went over to reception and inquired where my wife was. A nurse told me: “She passed away yesterday evening 10 PM.” No warning, no sit down, please, just that. “Wham, bam, thank you, Ma´am!” I ran out of there, which was foolish in hindsight. I should have asked for contact information, etcetera.
Paqui´s sister Antonia had given me her mobile phone number, but when I tried it, it didn´t work… on purpose?? And as Paqui and I had not been legally married, they would not give me any further into. To this day, I don´t even know where she is buried. It´s almost as if I dreamt her, made her up, because officially I apparently had been nothing to her but a passing stranger. Isn´t the law wonderful? Did I mention that I was a bit of a mess then?
Some weeks later a guy in a suit came up to me and asked if he could talk to me about the Lord. I told him politely that this was not the appropriate time and to please leave me be. He insisted. I told him again that this was really not the time and still he persevered. He must have thought: “Third time lucky!”, but I physically lifted him up and told him that his Lord could kiss my hairy arse and to fuck off!!! He did get the message that time. I was a mite pissed off with the Big Guy around then.
About a month after Paqui´s death, I told Steve and Paul that I couldn´t stand the Cabañal any longer, because of all the memories that haunted me. They fully understood. We broke camp and left Valencia that same day. Next stop Gandia!
To be continued…
He writes! I didn´t feel much like writing, but I have a secret… I refuse to worry and then everything sorts itself out automatically. And let´s face it, there is nobody standing over me with a gun, who says: “Write or I kill you!”, now is there! ? I feel like I´m in limbo, stuck between two planes, on the outside looking in. I´m not quite here yet, in Fuengirola. Once I will have established a firm routine, then everything will start to flow naturally, as before. Until then, I´ll just muddle along.
I´m happy to be free again. The street gets under your skin. It is not a place, it´s a state of mind, a way of life. I´ve met several people, who spent time on the street and then returned to a more or less regular life and they all, without exception, told me the same thing and that is that it never leaves you. You carry it with you for the rest of your life. Now don´t get me wrong, I do not consider this a negative thing.
You can not imagine how liberating it is to no longer carry the fear with you of being destitute. Because you´ve been there and you survived. And you know what? It wasn´t all that bad! You go where you want, when you want, meet loads of interesting people and you learn that all you really need are the bare necessities. All the rest is pure and unadulterated luxury!
Why would I want to create a prison of my own making with a mortgage, more debts and endless worrying? For what? My luck (and my pain…) is that I have no children. I am responsible only for myself and to myself (within reason). And the world would still keep on turning just as happily without me in it. So, why worry? Be happy! A lot of people stop and stare at me, when they see me begging with a smile and a real one at that. Well… there obviously must be something wrong with that one! Except, there isn´t! At least, nothing that a good meal wouldn´t fix.
I was a bit remiss earlier, I know that my friends worry about me and I love them for it. But don´t, because you see, some days(if not most) it´s so wonderful to be alive in my billion star hotel. Except that the room service sucks! I shall have to have a word with the management.
After Paqui had died, what we called ´The Czech Republic´asked if they could move into The Rancho with us, because their abode had been torn down. The reason being that it was an eyesore, which the denizens of the new five star hotel, that was now finished, did not deserve to look upon. I might have spoiled their appetite! We had also been served a demolition notice, but would only move when the bulldozers moved in. The fact of the matter was that I didn´t give a damn anymore whether the place stood or fell, for the light that made it shine was gone forever.
I tried with all my might to obliterate my remaining brain cells with alcohol, but failed. Everywhere I turned I ran into the spectre of my lost love. That was the place where she blagged up some churros for the both of us. There we´d kissed and cuddled. Where hadn´t we? She´d been inordinately proud of her blue-eyed, tall, blond guy and had shown me off to anyone she´d ever met, I think. Gypsies are for the most part not well though of in Spanish society and she was happy to have enchanted a blond bum, with great expectations, of course. Now, six years later, I still have expectations, but they´re a wee bit smaller.
I might have to weave back and forth a bit here, because to say that my recollections of these times are a bit sketchy would be a euphemism, as I was hardly ever compos mentos. I remember a Polish dimwit, who gave out to me for crying and told me that a real man don´t cry. He didn´t seem to mind so much anymore, after I´d decked him. I admired Paul no end for having gone through this five times already and to still be standing(sort of…) I followed his advice and took things one day at a time. What else could I do? I could cry an eight ocean and that still wouldn´t bring her back.
A strange phenomenon occurred around that time, in that I was horny as a jack-rabbit. Maybe this was an archetypical reaction to death? I didn´t go with anyone though. On the one hand, I was never one for one-night-stands and on the other hand there was a significant lack of ladies, who wanted to throw themselves at a bum, sad or otherwise. There still is actually. What do those young, rich guys have that I haven´t?
The cops were particularly nasty then, I remember that much. We were all parking cars on the beachfront. We stood in front of one of the few empty parking spaces and waved at oncoming cars. If they wanted to park in one of ´our´ spots, we´d guide them in. It´s amazing how many people suck at parking and the boardwalk was rather high there. Then we´d stand to one side and if they wanted to give us something, lovely and if not, that was alright aswell. No hassles! For some reason though, this was illegal, so we had to play cat and mouse with the police.
This was around the time of the umpteenth American Cup(a regatta) and the mayor, Mrs. Barberá, must have told the cops to rid their clean streets of the riffraff. True to Franco form, they took to it with gusto. I saw two Czechs and one Russian, whose torso and legs were black and blue, courtesy of the Valencia police department. They would ask for your documents, keep them and when you showed up to collect them at the police station the next morning, they would very politely ask you to join them in a small room, where five police officers would then proceed to beat the crap out of you with their night sticks.
There was one little, fat fascist pig, who asked for my documents, kept them and so on… I very politely informed him that I was on to their little game and that while I would not resist, I would afterwards certainly write to every newspapers, tv-station and up to the European high court. I would create such a shit storm as to cause them all to lose their jobs. He must have taken my friendly little warning to heart, because the next day all I had to do was sign a chit for receipt and was free to go, unmolested. Mama Burcke didn´t raise no fool, folks!
To be continued…
At the border in Ceuta, my pal was told that his visa had expired and that he had to go back to where he lives to get a police report. My passport had already been stamped by then, so I went on alone, figuring that I would make it back somehow.
After two hours of begging outside a supermarket, I´d made about two Euros. I thought to myself that it might take me a week to get the money for the ferry ticket together, if things went on in this vein. Time for some magic! I sent out a request into the ether, saying that I needed a miracle, not a big one, a tiny one would do and left it up to Karma to take care of business.
And lo and behold, about half an hour later a young man squatted down next to me and asked what trouble I was in. I told him the truth, without asking for anything and he offered to pay for my ticket. I asked him if he were an angel. This made him laugh, but then… maybe he was!?
I made it to Spain the same day and started off on foot. I was hitchhiking next to a billboard at the entrance to the freeway, when I saw a hearse approaching. I put down my thumb immediately, for I wasn´t ready for that ride just yet! As nobody gave me a ride, I headed back into town around two o´clock in the morning and slept in a bank.
The next morning I was just able to afford a bus ticket to Estepona, which was not even halfway towards my destination. Having spent an uncomfortable night on the floor, I fell asleep on the bus and missed my stop. As luck would have it, I woke up in Fuengirola, which was right where I wanted to be. The bus had been chocker and the driver didn´t even notice, bless his tartan cotton socks!
I´d made the whole trip back in just under twenty-five hours. There I was, back on those streets, which I know like my back pocket. Actually, better than that, for my back pocket and I are not on speaking terms! As a matter of fact, my back pocket can kiss my arse! My friends were all happy to see me and some of them even jumped for joy, which warmed my heart.
What more does one need, hey? I have wonderful friends all over the world, I´m in reasonably good health… well, I could think of a very long list of things that I could do with, to tell you the truth! I´ll just say that I live in hope and leave it at that, shall I!?
There was even some idiot here, who had spread the rumour that I had died in Estepona, where I haven´t been in three years… I´ve always wanted to say that the reports of my demise were greatly exaggerated and now I have! Hihihi!! Toodeloo, gang.
This chapter should come in, after “A way out?”
I started this book the way I did and I will let it stand as is, but when I reread it, I came to realise that something was missing, namely the reason for my ending on the streets in the first place. There is no one reason though, but an accumulation of factors, which boiled down to just one epiphany, being that a man can only take so much. I never asked to be put on this planet. I hated the society I was born into, from the moment I could put two and two together and then, several decades later, I still hated it just as much.
Everybody and their dog and then some tried to shove their rules and regulations down my gullet. I twisted and turned and I even tried to conform for a while, but in the end my true self got the upper hand and shouted out at the top of its lungs:”Fuck You, I am NOT doing this any longer! I was born a free spirit and the ONLY way that I will go on is on MY terms. So, you say that I am not a man, if I won’t work nine hours a day for the rest of my able-bodied life, doing a mind-numbing job that kills my creativity, just to put a crust on the table and to earn your respect. To this my answer is an unequivocal: “Double Fuck You all!”
From now on I’m doing things MY WAY and if that means that I have to die on streets, poor and hungry and spat on by the rest of inhumanity, so be it! I am not, nor will I ever be a machine and I certainly do not want to be a tiny cog in some gigantic juggernaut that has to be kept greased, just so the powerful could keep their power, while the little man gets trampled underfoot. And the saddest thing of all is, that ALL of you know this at some level of your consciousness, but you’ve all been brainwashed to such an extent that you can not even conceive of any other way.
You do not really NEED your house in the suburbs and the latest model car and TV and mobile phone and fancy clothes! For fuck’s sake open your eyes, or better still your hearts and admit that you are just as disappointed with your life as I was. The ONLY thing we really need is love, friendship and to be understood for what we are deep down inside: frail human beings, who cry out for attention and above all for a modicum of respect! Not to be counted as just another number in a statistic that shows the collateral damage, by some greedy bank executive!
If push comes to shove, I’d rather bleedin’ well plough the land, by the sweat of my brow, if only the money-machine would leave me in friggin’ peace and allow me to become self-sufficient. This is of course utopia, for taxes have to be paid to grease the palms of the policy-makers, may they rot in hell! I’m sick to death of their fake smiles and their empty promises and for what? Because the show must go on, their show that is!
Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’m too old now to work the land, but I damn well will write my own show, in which I determine the rules. Basically, I have only one rule: if you leave me in peace to do what I must, for if I don’t I shall die inside, then I will leave you in peace! I am an artist first and foremost, this comes before anything else. I live and breathe and eat and drink my art, without it I am nothing, less than nothing! Therefore, I choose to paint and to write, even if I have to starve in the gutter to do so.
And to anyone, who might take it upon themselves to kick me when I’m down, I urge the following caution: My sign is tiger, taunt me at your peril! You can only kick an animal so many times, before it turns around and bites your leg off. Be warned!
I have to work off a debt of gratitude for a while now, but I shall certainly keep writing and if, by the time my debt is paid, I have still not found a way to make money with my art, then I shall return to the street and be happy there. For there, amongst my friends of the brotherhood of outcasts, I can truly be myself, unfettered, unafraid and unashamed to be what I am: a free spirit and a born artist!
I can rightfully call myself a troglodyte, a cave-dweller, as I have lived in many a cave over quite a long period of time, up in Sacromonte(= the sacred mountain) near Granada. It was, all in all, a happy stay and if it hadn’t been for that maniac Leppe, who terrorised the whole valley, I might still be living there. I’d first heard of these caves from a dear friend of mine, Dominic, whom I met in Barcelona and then later on, as if instigated by Kismet, I met Nigel in Gandia, who after five minutes of knowing me, gave me the keys to his cave there. Talk about meeting good people on the road! Continue reading
I was trying to sleep, but I couldn’t. For some mysterious reason I was transported back to a day on the street, when my backpack was stolen. I’m in a house now, thank God. Now, what is a backpack? A couple of pieces of nylon stitched together. Throw in a couple of zippers and some straps and that is it. No big deal, right? What was in it? Some clothes, a couple of odds and ends and a pair of trekking boots, all second-hand. The whole deal was not worth a lot, in monetary value. Pity that the guy who took off with it did not realise that he ran away with my home. Continue reading
I think it´s going to be one of them days! I had difficulty getting up this morning, because all my muscles were hurting(ok, ok, the atrophied bits that are all that remain of what used to be Sly Stallone material). I don´t know, maybe it´s the heat that causes it. Seeing as, in this weather, I´m not prone to over-exertion. So, I was hurting all over, penniless and bloody starving. Did I tell you that I´m two stone(about thirty pounds) underweight? This is due, in part, to last winter, which was not the high point of my existence. But enough about that! I went to my pitch, hoping to make enough for a bite to eat, but no such luck.
After about an hour, my stomach was starting to growl so loudly, that the neighbours came and complained. I sighed, got up and told myself that there was nothing for it, but to go and check the bins for some food. I know that some people will find this gross, but to them I ask the following question: Have you ever, in your entire lifetime, been well and truly hungry? If you haven´t, don´t be too quick to judge! Remember the saying: There but for the grace of God, go I! By the way, I do apologise, for the insalubrious nature of the topic for this Tittbit, but I write them how I find them, if you catch my drift!? Continue reading
Steve got some money out of the wall, enough to get the four of us to the next stage, being Valencia. Dominic begged off, saying he´d been there, done that, got a whole wardrobe of T-shirts. So the three of us, Steve, Paul and myself left on our own. Dommy and ourselves were pretty emotional at saying goodbye. We had been the famous beach bums together for nigh on six months. Paul said he had a friend in Valencia who could take us over to Ibiza on his fishing boat. We´d try and get a job there in the rave scene.
Whatever, we never got there. The friend told us he was booked full up till the next year in March. Blahblahblah…So we checked out Valencia, same shit, different beach. We met two finnish girls, who got robbed. They had to go back home, because the thieves had stolen a special dental something that one of them had to wear at night to keep her teeth straight. Bloody thieves! It got a bit chilly and we started making a bonfire every night.
You can do that there, because the beach in Valencia is so wide the cops can´t see you from the promenade, when you´re close to the sea. There was this five-star hotel being built there, so we didn´t want for wood. Some German joined us and told us where there were good bins to look for food. Things that supermarkets throw out on their last day before the sell-by date. Perfectly edible and we could barbecue. A bit hard to do in the dark sometimes, though. The fires kept us warm at night.
One day it started pouring down. I was under a big sheet of plastic and didn´t care. The other two buggered off and said:”We´ll be next to the park.” When I finally ventured out I found that there were five parks in the neighbourhood and couldn´t find them. I did eventually. The bastards were drinking calimucho and whisky and having a whale of a time. I asked them why they hadn´t come looking for me. They said because it was raining. Sensible people, they are. We slept under this covered arch for a couple of weeks till they kicked us off.
This first night when I found the guys again, this girl showed up. I remember as if it were today. She had dripping wet reddish hair, a long wet coat and her upturned nose was twitching with the cold. Her brown eyes were timid, but at the same time burned with a hunger for companionship. I called her over and asked her name. She told me she was called Francisca Jimenez Jimenez, Paqui for short. Thank God for that. It´s a bit of a mouth full. She said she was staying in a car with a Chilean guy. Apparently he wanted more than to be just friends, but she didn´t. So I told her she could stay with us. She radiated gratitude. She was a right little chatterbox. Pity my two friends couldn´t speak Spanish, or was it? Haha!
I liked her a lot and I could tell she liked me. It showed. The next day, while I was on a butt-run, she told the guys in broken English that she like me very, very much. Paul dubbed her our wayward Spanish gipsy girl. With Jimenez Jimenez, you can´t get more gipsy than that. That was alright by me. I´d more or less grown up with the gipsies in our village. I knew their whole family and Mano, my friend from karate class had a girlfriend who was friends with mine. So no troubles there. Paqui had apparently left her family long ago. At least, that´s what she told me. And of course, we fell hopelessly in love. We couldn´t get married, both being on the street, but we exchanged our vows to each other and from that moment onwards we considered the other our spouse. I certainly didn´t need a piece of paper or a priest to tell me who my wife was.
Paqui, you have to let me go! you can rattle your chains against the walls of my heart all you like, but it just won´t do. Go and annoy Saint Peter, would you. My time hasn´t come yet. And I can´t mourn for you forever. It´s impossible to hug a ghost and you can´t kiss a spirit. I´ve been more or less numb untill now, but recently all the feelings that I thought had died with you, have started to resurface. I´m alive and I need love. From a physical woman of flesh and bones. Someone to come home to every evening, to talk to, to whisper sweet nothings to. And if I betray you by doing that or at least your memory, then so be it. I´m not made of stone!
I did something really silly, a while back. I started writing poetry. I started talking about love and hopes and dreams to some lady that I´ve never even met. I don´t even know what continent she lives on. And then, inevitably, it all started coming back, the whole kit and caboodle. And so now I´m buggered, I´m in love with some digital ghost. Isn´t that irony in its purest form, to take one ghost for another. Except there´s a real live woman on the other end of those bits or bites or thingamepixels. I wouldn´t for the life of me want to hurt her. So I called it a day. No more poems. But it might already be too late. I know it is for me. Paqui, she moves me so. But I´m an idiot, a twat, a nincompoop and a blithering moron, for having initiated it.
What do I have to offer her? Nothing, nada, zip. An old bum on the street making a fool of himself on the internet. There´s no fool like an old fool, right? What a joke! And yes, it´s on me. Tears of a clown who was never funny to begin with. I´m disgusted with myself. But what can I do? You know me, Paqui. I do so love to love. I´ll use the old cliché: tomorrow is another day. Sleep tight. No, I´m not tired yet.
I did make you smile, didn´t I dear? And I made you laugh. What did you say near the end? That you hadn´t given me a lot?!You silly cow!!You gave me more than you can ever imagine. but why, of why couldn´t you tell me the truth? I know, you were afraid I´d leave you. Leave you?! Never in a million years. You were my wife, my everything. At least now I know why you would never go all the way with me, your husband. You told me it hurt and that was enough for me. No, it wasn´t. It made me angry. But if only I´d known the truth, Paqui. For God´s sake woman, why didn´t you tell me you had AIDS???????
Remember that the next bum you see, is also a human being. If you don´t feel like giving him ten or fifty cents, then don´t. But do me a favour, at least give him a smile and relieve his fear of being ignored.
I was a bit stuck after this part, what with recurring memories about Paqui. But I dealt with them. I´ve been ferrying between the bank and my former sleeping place, which is the front terrace of a former bowling alley. In the bank it´s too hot and in the other place I´ve had some trouble with five teenagers. They decided that it would be fun to throw rocks at me, when I´m asleep. Luckily their aim is awful, they don´t seem to be able to hit me.
I´m really upset about this, not so much about the possibility of getting hurt, although that would be no fun at all, but because of the fact that they so infuriate me, that if I were to catch one of them, I would most probably do him serious bodily harm. Which I certainly do NOT want to do. First of all, I don´t get of on hurting a fellow human being and secondly I want to avoid all the hassle with the police, if that were to happen. I was just this close to losing it and I do not appreciate the feeling, at all. What is it with this young morons? Don´t they realise that they could take out one of my eyes or worse?
And another thing, the place where I´m sleeping is about a hundred yards form where that Swedish homeless guy got murdered, two years ago(not a happy thought). I´m sure that if you were to confront them with it, in broad daylight, that they´d say something along the lines of: I didn´t really want to hurt this man. we were just having a bit of fun. Yeah right, fun. Like when some assholes burnt that homeless person alive in Barcelona, a couple of years ago. It must be real fun, burning alive. It´s not the first time that this has happened to me, either. And the cops don´t really care, unless there´s a fatality. Then they must be seen to do something, to keep up appearances. Because, hey, what´s one less bum, right?! He´s probably better off, that way. No more troubles.
Except we do feel and dream and hope for the same things, as other people do. Maybe even more so, because we are lacking just about everything that everyone takes for granted. But that is not enough, is it? Kick a man, when he´s down, why don´t you. Does it make you feel better? Enough negativity! I finally scraped enough money together to be able to pay for the domain name of my very own site, to be called “ralphiesportal”. My friend “the rascal” will help me put it together. So, please, be on the look out for it.
I don´t know why, but every lunatic in a five-mile radius, seems to want to gravitate towards me. I can run, but I can´t hide. Last night some guy was shouting from his balcony and no he was not calling for Juliette. Apparently he was pissed and pissed off over something and wanted to exterminate the whole neighbourhood. At one point he shouted that he was coming down to the street with a joint and invited anyone with enough balls to stand up to him.
But he just kept raving on and on. So finally I shouted at him to shut up and get down here with the joint already. Which he did. I didn´t stand up to him, I sat down with him and we had a chat. He went up to get another dooby and even brought me some hot food. Far from exterminating me, was it? I find that if you talk to people who are ranting, in a civilised tone of voice, that most of them will listen and communicate with you.
Fucking bastard youths came back and this time they meant it! I was sleeping on the front terrace of the abandoned bowling alley again and all of a sudden I woke up from a kick in the haed from one of them. Nice one, guy! I was still trying to get my brain to function when the other two had come over with a slab of marble, one and a half feet long, half a foot wide and a bit more than half an inch thick, which they intended to stave my head in with. I managed to deflect it, luckily. After that I got into such a rage, I picked up a broomstick that was lying beside me, for just such occasions and sprang up. The cowardly wimps decided to make a run for it. I called them back and said: “Come on then! I want to play now!” No use, run they did, back to mama.Figures, doesn´t it.
I went back and notified the others who were sleeping not far from I am. I hear you asking, why weren´t you with them, safety in numbers, right!? Well, I got bored with them, after I stopped with the drink. Always the same day after day. But hey, I´ve been there and done it. But enough is enough. I don´t want to end up dead like most of my friends lately. I went to the beginning of the street, where there are normally always cop cars. This time, nada Anyway, I needed to smoke because I was so nervous and I had run out of rolling papers. One of the guys said he´d keep vigil on my stuff and off I went to look for butt-ends.
When I came back he told me the cops had been there, looking for the stolen handbag of some tourist lady. They had been questioning some guys that had nothing to do with us. My “colleague” had told the cops what had happened to me, but they had told him that they were busy and couldn´t be asked to check it out. Were they joking? No! I spotted two police cars, with four cops who were again questioning some people and told them that three youths had tried to kill me. No reaction! I did address them in Spanish! I waited a little further up, expecting them to come over later on. No such luck, they drove off. Third time I tried to flag down a cop car that was driving down ´our´ street, but again they were apparently too busy to give a damn.
So, I told myself not to bother anymore. A tourist´s handbag is more important than a streetperson´s life any day of the week, because they bring in the dollars. End of story. This was why I was a bit out of sorts after Sunday the 15th of May, which is when this happened, at six in the morning. Sunday, bloody Sunday(luckily without blood, just two black and blue spots on my arms from deflecting the slab). It´s amazing how long that spun around in my head. At first I told myself to just forget it and thank God that I wasn´t worse off, but this kind of nonsense really gets to you, you know!
I shall write some more episodes about my life with Paqui as I start to remember them better, but at the moment it is still too painful to dwell upon and I seem to have locked it all away in a private part of my subconscious. Patience is a bitch, isn’t she, dear reader?
To be continued.
It was evening when we arrived in Barcelona, which is a wonderful city. Gaudí helped design parts of it and it is a must, if you´re artisticaly inclined. Just the Sagrada Familia, one of the cathedrals is worth a visit. And the Parque Gaudí, a park designed by the great man himself is unusual. Don´t miss the Rambla, where if you´re lucky and the cops haven´t moved them, you can see the street artists at work. The Mossos de Escuadra(local police in Catalonia) are a nuisance to all who live on the street. We got a wonderful surprise: there was a magnificent music festival going on. Later we learned that in Barcelona, there´s practically always something going on, if you know where to look. We arrived to the cathedral and listened on the square there all night. We heard some lovely music. I remember one band from London, made up of Indians. Crazy guys who made excellent sounds. I can´t remember their name though. Pity!
Then all of a sudden Steve had disappeared. I wasn´t worried. I thought, I´ll meet him here tomorrow morning. I just slept on a bench, in a little park nearby. And the next day, yes, there he was. I asked him what had happened. He told me he´d met this stunning woman and had talked to her all night. I asked, yes and then what happened? She told him, right before leaving, that she was lesbian and ciao. I laughed my head off. We were both hungry and penniless, so I asked a policeman where the social comedor was(eating place for the homeless). He directed us and when we finally found it, we saw a lot of scruffy-looking types standing on a ramp, waiting to go in to the nuns´place to get fed. These nuns were very fussy about their spoons. You get no knife or fork, for fear of fights. Every time you go to eat, you can leave everything on the table. But you have to hand in the spoon at the door, before leaving. Make sure to keep an eye on your luggage. Barcelona is the number one city for thieving in Spain.
While we were waiting on the ramp, some black guy engaged us in conversation. He was dressed like a rasta pimp. To our surprise he came from not far from where we came from. It´s a small world. He promised to show us all the places of interest. No more need of asking our way around now. We had a tour guide, who had lived there on the street for four years already. He knew everything and everyone. His name is Dominic. First place he took us to, after eating, was the big park next to the zoo. All the hippies and rastas hang out there. He introduced us to all the people. We smoked some pot there and drank some calimucho. Then we had an obligatory nap. Next stop was Barceloneta, the beach. If ever you want to meet the street gang on Barcelona beach, look for the crooked tower. We call it that, ´cause that´s what it looks like. But it´s real name is ´El guerrero herido´or ´The Wounded Soldier´. And we smoked some more pot and drank some more calimucho. This was going to become a regular occurence.
Yesterday someone brought me a lovely pair of Timberlands. I was as happy as a pig in shit, for a while. When I looked them over I saw that they were one size too small. God wept and so did I. Being obstinate, I did try them on for a day. But i had to concede defeat. Actually, my feet did. They told me to either take them off or go and get a wheelchair, so I had to give in. A colleague of mine on the street was happy with them.
***This is a very important thing to know if ever, God forbid, you were to end up where nobody wants to go: the street. It´s important to share!!! If you have too much or even just enough of anything, share it with your mates. They´ll do the same for you, one day when you need it most.***
So I had to go back to my smelly international shoes, which are slowly disintegrating, not so say exploding. There are very comfortable, though. On the bottom, it says ´This sole was made in Italy´. Pity the rest of them wasn´t. I´ve had them for only two months and already they´re falling apart.
Funny, or not at all, how some people can annoy the hell out of you with just one word, isn´t it? This woman came by today and just said ´Hello!´. It made my blood boil. I was writing poetry and she broke my train of thought. The way she said it meant: are you STILL here? I´ve been trying ever since to calm down and haven´t succeeded yet. Never mind, I´ll get there. I always do. I was struggling a lot with the rest of the poem though. I posted it, but maybe I´ll change it later.
One day, we were lying on the beach, as per usual, when this older guy shows up. He looked scruffy to fuck, was staggering all over the place and singing a Beatles song badly. Meet Paul! He was to become one of our best friends. His one shirtsleeve was hanging down. We found out that was where he stashed his booze. Dominic introduced us. I didn´t like him much, at first. Well, he was pissed as a newt. We, of course, were stone cold sober. And not in the least bit stoned. Soon the four of us started hanging out together on a daily basis. We called ourselves the four beach bums. And we were. Our daily routine was as follows: first we´d wake up and try to get something alcoholic down us. Then we´d go and eat in the nun´s place. After that a nap on the beach and in the evening of to the Plaza Real. That´s off the Rambla, where all the tourists come and drink and leave copious amounts of booze behind. Good place to go if you´re an alcoholic.
Then, if we could manage to stay awake till three o´clock at night, we could go to Mahoz, where we got the leftovers that they couldn´t sell. This is a vegetarian place that sells falafel and stuff, nice food. About this nun´s place: we could go there two or three times a week to go and have a shower and clean clothes. You see, we didn´t want for a lot. In reality, these last six and a half years have been one big party. That was until our friends started dropping like flies, mostly from cirrhosis of the liver. But we´re not at that point in the story yet. Not by a long shot. As I mentioned earlier, there´s always something going on in Barcelona. Concerts and music festivals almost every day of the year.
It was elected ´cultural capital of Europe´one year and I must say, it truly deserved the honour. Only one very annoying thing for the street gang: the mossos d´esquadra are really a pain in the ass. They moved us from the Rambla ten times in one day. This happens often and then there´s the ´documentation?´business. They ask for your papers, sometimes calling you by your name. What´s it good for? They try, and succeed, to annoy you to the level where you get fed up and just leave Barcelona altogether. I must admit, there were an awful lot of us, crowding the streets and pestering the tourists for spare change. Hey, you have to survive somehow, you know. It´s certainly better than stealing, isn´t it?
Once and only once, we went to the red cross shelter at the end of the promenade in Barceloneta. You sleep in this enormous hall, filled with double army style bunks. At night, I couldn´t sleep for all the snoring. And there was this one junky who kept running around all night long, muttering to himself. We did manage to get a shower and a breakfast in but no, never again. We much preferred to sleep on the beach. There you have to be very careful not to get robbed though. There are these groups of Moroccans, who roam the beaches sniffing at everyone, looking for what they can rob. If it´s not nailed down, they´ll take it. Once, I woke up and saw this moroccan standing over Steve, going through his stuff. I shouted, what he thought he was doing. And he, cool as a cucumber, just asked if we had a light. They´re unbelievable!
There was a couple, who were living close to the first aid place there. Misha, a russian and his lady. I don´t remeber her name. The woman was swelling up. Misha told us she had terminal cancer and nothing could be done. He was devastated. They were down and out and had nothing but each other, but they were happy. And now he was going to lose her. We left before the final chapter of this saga was written. I wonder that happened to Misha, because the conclusion for his missus was inevitable.
Help! I´m sitting in my begging spot and not a soul sees me or hears me. Even dogs ignore me. Have I grown invisible. Have I fallen through the cracks of society into limbo, lost forever between two worlds? When finally evening came, I was sitting in my bank, reading a book. This is that part of the bank that is open all night for people to use the cash machines. They sometimes look at me with a wary eye. First of all I would never rob anyone. And secondly, let´s say for the sake of argument that I did want to rob someone. By the time it takes me just to get up from the floor and with my back being in the sorry state it is, whomsoever was there could take a leisurely stroll down to the next town.
A-ny-way, I was reading my book when this gentleman comes in to get some money. When he saw me, he asked if I had eaten dinner. I hadn´t, so I told him no. He immediately offered to go and get me something from the restaurant next door. I dined on spaghetti and drank lemonade. Thank you, Sir! There are some very good people, out there. Then the next evening the bank manager comes over especially, to tell me the bank will be locked up that night. Which is his prerogative. It is his bank, after all. I was nice while it lasted but now I have to go and sleep in the cold night air again. C´est la vie.
This morning I woke up and one of my socks was gone?! I distinctly remember putting both of them next to my backpack, on which I lay my head to go asleep. If I don´t, it´s gone by the time I wake up. I looked everywhere and no second sock to be found. Then I remembered something: I used to put my tobacco where I had put the confounded socks. And once I woke up to find my tobacco… you guessed it, gone. On impulse I had put it in my inside pocket yesterday. So I can only surmise, that someone who tried to steal my tobacco again, got away with just the one sock, for all his trouble. Isn´t it sad that although you have two times nothing, still people steal from you?
I was fantasizing earlier, about eating five lovingly prepared scrumptuous meals a day. And sitting in my easy chair, on my porch, fat and smiling like the Buddh. Arrgh, what I wouldn´t give for a nice juicy steak. I can´t remember the year I last ate one. Just a second, while I wipe the drool from my chin. Woahh! I don´t know which rock to crawl under, I´m freezing my tits off. There´s an ugly wind blowing. I think I´ll go into hibernation, just me and a load of hazel nuts. Wake me up in spring. Don´t forget the coffee though!
We´re back in the bank! The director of the bank probably thought that if he closed it once we´d stay away. We would at that, but it´s too cold, so he´ll have to bear with us just a little while longer. Come on spring, where are you? The other night, I was sleeping in the tunnels. Some junky that I know, was sleeping a little bit further up. He´d asked me for a swig of Cola before we went to sleep. Around six in the morning I was awakened by a prostitute who was doing her job. I was thirsty and needed a drink. When I went for my bottle it wasn´t there. Surprise, surprise! The junky had esconced himself under some tables. After he´d left, I saw what was left of the bottle next to where he´d laid his head. I don´t understand these people. They think: I need it, I´ll take it and it´s mine. No consideration for anyone. That´s why I went back to the bank. I don´t want to start an argument over a forty-nine cent bottle, that could get me knifed.
I´ll have to hurry. I´m in the library and I only have the one hour to start this. Bear with me, would you. This isn´t easy. It´s not something I´m proud of. but there you go. Permit me to introduce myself: I´m Ralphie and I´m a street bum. NO bullshit. Two things to keep in mind: 1. everything in italics is happening now. 2. normal script is happening in the past. Stick with me, people and you might learn something about gritting your teeth, never giving up hope, survival, love and death. And so much more.
If my writing is a bit erratic at times, tough luck, take it or leave it. I said bum, but I prefer the term hobo. I read it a while ago in Elisabeth Gilbert´s book ´Eat, pray, love´(great book, read it.). Apparently it means homeward bound. I´ve no home to return to, just disgrace and debts. No home at the minute, but maybe one nice day I´ll find one, to share with my street family. Now my home is where I lay my hat.
Six months ago, going on seven now, I was puking all over the place. I had the runs and the shakes like you wouldn´t believe. I said to myself: right! this is it, I´m stopping with the alcohol. I want to sort my life out. I´m getting too old for this shit. In fact, I am too old for this shit, period. My joints and my back are aching and I´m getting nowhere fast. So I stopped and you know what? It wasn´t all that difficult, physically that is. Mentally was another kettle of fish. I woke up from a very long slumber and asked myself: where am I? Where have the past six years disappeared to? Difficult to answer that. Anyway, my mind is made up: I´m going to make it out of this shit, one way or another.
First I had to acclimatise though. I´ve always liked reading, so I started reading even more than usual. Just waiting for the dust to settle in my brain. People I knew, street people, kept coming up wanting to have a chat, a natter. I just wanted to be left in peace. Why would I want to listen to some drunken fool. Right, I had been exactly the same just a few days ago. But I wanted to change. I needed to change, not merely to survive, but to start to live again.
Why am I still here when so many of my friends and even my beloved Paqui have already gone on to a hopefully better place? I took it one day at a time, as you do. Sitting on my throne(backpack), in front of a tobacconist in the south of Spain. Master of all I surveyed, or was I? Waiting for my people to pay their taxes to me, in my little begging bowl on my left. I know, I´m just a fool, but it helps to fantasize. As Brian used to sing: always look on the bright side… Hey, I´m sleeping in a million star hotel every day!
Then one day this German reporter shows up and asks me, if I know any cheap apartments in town. Do I really look like an estate agent? I can just imagine all the home owners in the greater Don Simona area queuing up to give me their particulars, on the off-chance that some German prat will ask me about cheap accommodation. I told him I knew of a park bench that was unoccupied, but that was about it. He just kept going on and on and on. He even told me he had a cunning plan. I asked him if it involved a turnip. It didn´t. He said: “Why don´t you write instead of reading all the time, you might even earn some money that way?!” Interesting that. I´d never written in my life. But I had read an awful lot and why not give it a go?
I´d been wrestling with the notion, the concept of God a lot at that time, so I made a deal with him: If You make me famous and rich, I´ll do the writing and spread around the wealth with my family and friends. And as many poor people as I can safely help without landing up on the street again. Deal?? Let´s see what happens. Come to think of it, the town hall should really pay me a salary. The number of times that people have come up to me asking things you would normally ask tourist information is endless. And I know certain things that even they don´t know about. Or are too embarrassed to tell the touries.
I´d like you all to remember one thing: the next time you see someone sitting on the street, begging, don´t judge a book by it´s cover. Where you might just see a pathetic heap of misery, there´s actually a person under there with aspirations, hopes and dreams. And always think: There but for the grace of God, go I.
The logistics were a bit daunting. I only had a change of clothes, a pair of trekking boots and a sketch pad. No computer, no house, no work, no nothing. And most importantly, no paperwork. Some Rumanian cunt had robbed me in Barcelona three years ago. First order of the day: get my papers sorted out. Because I was no longer drinking, I was able to save up a couple of Euros every day and finally sorted it out.
With that I could get a library card and could go online for one hour every day. Actually two, I´d wait for the shifts to change and go a second time. They never seem to notice. And if I can scrape together fifty spare cents, after food, coffee and fags, I get another hour in an internet café. I started with the Holly Bbibble (which I have discontinued) and Tittbits but that doesn´t seem to attract much attention. I´ll go on with it, though. I´m having fun with it.
How on earth did I end up here? That´s a long story and it´ll take a long time to tell you all about it. Hopefully you´ll have the patience and the interest to keep on reading. My hour is almost up. I´ll leave you with this much. It´s bleedin´wet out there. It´s raining cats and dogs. Not a good thing to get wet on the street. Well, can´t be helped. Love you and leave you, babes!
I thought somebody had stolen my begging bowl. After leaving the library and having a coffee in the Ark Christian Fellowship, I got back to my begging spot and it was gone. No big deal. There was probably only forty cents in it and the bowl itself was worthless. But still, just the idea of someone nicking it made me angry. I saw the manager of the store later though and he told me the wind had picked it up and had blown it away. I looked for it but nada. Another riddle solved. Don´t I lead an interesting life?
Where to begin with this story? I´ll have to weave back and forth. First of all, what with all the drinking, I don´t remember half of it. And secondly, it would be too boring otherwise. That´s always been my biggest enemy in life: boredom. I´d notified everyone that I might aswell go and wallow in misery in sunny Spain than at home. Steve, my mate, had woman trouble and decided to come with me. He said if I don´t come, I´ll kill the bitch and he might have. Anyway, it´s safer with two and he´s good company. We landed in Paris without too much bother.
We´d hitched a ride from the border: Steve, Muttley and me. Muttley was a puppy with big paws. Probably grew up to be a monster. We sold him later, too difficult to travel with in Spain. But that´s for later. This French guy picked us up and delivered us safely to the center of Paris. As thanks, we got him(and ourselves) drunk. We fell asleep under a tree, next to the road. A clochard (French bum) woke me up and asked if I´d eaten. I told him no. He gave me a loaf of bread, a whole cake and three Euros. Then left without a word. I showed it to Steve and he asked why I´d taken the money. We had money then.
I can´t even remember the feeling of having money in my pocket. I answered that I´d been speechless and before I knew it, he was gone. That was our first introduction to the Brotherhood of the Street. Man, but Paris was cold. We arrived on the eleventh of August 2004. We wrapped ourselves in newspapers and bin liners. We hadn´t really brought what we needed. We didn´t have sleeping bags or anything like that. What were we thinking? We slept near the railway station.
The cops came to greet us in the morning and asked if we were alright. That surprised me. Between us we had about a thousand Euros on us. Four days later it was gone. And we didn´t do anything special. I mean, we slept rough and didn´t go to any sex shows or anything. We only went to a restaurant once in all that time. Where did it go? Paris must be the most expensive city in Europe. So there we were in a strange city and broke.
What now? Steve was feeling poorly. Probably from all the boozing. I found a lovely park and we stayed there for a couple of days. It´s called ´le parque de Bercy´, if you´re ever in Paris, go and have a visit. It´s worth it. There I had my first valuable lesson of things never to forget when you´re living on the street. Never forget to take toilet paper with you. I won´t go into details, because the outcome was too embarrassing.
I met this Arab guy who had three things going for him, from my point of view, that is. He drank which is unusual, what with their religion forbidding it. He loved dogs, as do I. And he had money, which he was willing to share, lovely guy! He bought food for the dog and me, which I shared with Steve of course(not the dog´s food, no). And I generously offered to help him empty his two bottles of wine, which he appreciated.
After asking Ali for his advice, we decided to jump the train in the ´gare d´Austerlitz´. He told us not to take the TGV(high-speed train) because it had too much security. But to take a regular one. We did and it took us all the way down to the south of France,west of Perpignan.
We met some interesting characters there. There was Paco, a Portuguese mime, who introduced us to calimucho. That´s wine mixed with coca-cola(or another soft drink or juice). We certainly grew to love that. We met the local gypsies and partied with them. I´ve always gotten along with them. Maybe it´s because of the wanderlust in me. One night we couldn´t sleep and went for a walk. We heard this beautiful Flamenco music and went to investigate. There they were, five of them, having a party. We sat down a respectable distance away and listened. One came over and asked if we had any pot. We didn´t but he invited us over anyway. We got drunk on whisky and had a lovely night. We met them again, a number of times.
And last but not least, we met old Auguste. He was half Spanish and lived on the street with us for a while. One night we were sleeping next to a supermarket called Galerie Lafayette and I was woken up by a nice french chick called Claudette. She was pissed and offered me wine. I accepted. Then she squatted between two cars, pulled down her trousers and started pissing. No shame, no embarrassment. I´d never seen anything like it. I invited her under my blanket but she declined. Pity! I found out that this part of France we were in, used to be a part of Catalonia. Which is the north-eastern region of Spain, of which Barcelona is the capital.
Both Steve and myself are artists, so we sketched for a living. We didn´t make a lot, but enough to survive on. Paco took us on a tour of the surrounding villages. We enjoyed watching him work. He was dressed all in white, with make-up and just stood still. He made good money aswell. He left us eventually because he had to go to Toulouse to get treatment for his liver. He asked me for my golden earring as a memento. I hesitated because it was a gift from a friend but gave it to him in the end.
On the subject of ex legionnaires, I met one here the other day. A German who´d served in the French foreign legion. He told us he was the driver for a colonel. One day, as he not-so-proudly admits, he and the colonel were driving around in the Sahara desert. As he didn´t have a compass, he decided to follow the sun. Which makes you turn around in circles. They did this for three days. Apparently the legion´s standards have dropped somewhat since the days of old. I mean, everybody knows the sun rises in the east?! Well…, he is thick, but strong.
We stayed in a halfway house for the homeless in Céret for a couple of weeks. Céret is at the foot of the Pyrenees, lovely country. There we met a character: Pappie, ex Legionnaire, all of them are for some reason. He had a mean dog you had to watch out for. I slept in his room for a while. He´d been there since the dinosaurs.
We were painting with bister in the town center, when a young woman showed up with a bottle of vodka. She offered us some and we accepted. She said she´d been on the streets for years, but was back home with her parents now. Then she told me something I couldn´t understand. She said she just couldn´t get adjusted to a normal life anymore. Weird, isn´t it? By the way I sold one of my paintings to one of the people in charge of the halfway house for ten Euros. We tried to get social security there, but it would have taken too long and we decided to travel on to Spain by way of Perpignan.
Monsieur Auguste paid for our tickets to Port Bou, which is the first stop over the French border. I´d also met a woman who looked like Daisy in the series ´Keeping up appearances´and she traveled with us. I asked if a shag was out of the question and she said it was. Struck out again. I started keeping a diary but it got robbed somewhere along with everything else that I owned. That´s happened to us a lot. You have two times nothing and still some assholes rob you. Can´t they steal off of rich people. At least they can afford it.
We never stole. No, I tell a lie. I stole a couple of tomatoes from a garden in Céret once. And one time we took some grapes from a vineyard. But that´s peanuts, isn´t it? Hunger is a horrible feeling. I hope you never really get to know it.
Today I had a laugh, of sorts. I know this wonderful Swiss lady who´s helped me out a number of times already. She came over and gave me some food and some hot green tea in a plastic bottle. When I used to drink, I would often put my calimucho in a plastic bottle to throw off the cops, but they caught on to that after a while. Now, I´m on my way over to the library, with my green tea which looks red(strange that). Two local cops who know me, told me:”Ralphie, it´s forbidden to drink alcohol in public.”
You have to understand that members of the Don Simona police force have never won the Nobel prize for anything and never will. The tea was almost finished, so rather than start a futile conversation with them, I poured the rest out. It had gone cold by then anyway. Things do go pear-shaped sometimes.
This reminds me of a day, when I was doing a butt-run. This means I was looking for cigarette butts, because I had no money to buy rolling tobacco. I went into the indoor market and looked in the ashtrays. I had just picked up a couple, when the security guard came up and told me to unhand those dog ends. Like he was going to arrest me for grand theft cigarette butt, right?!
We ended up in Port Bou, a little fishing village looking to attract tourists and failing miserably. We even met the local mayor, who was looking to turn this place into a second Marbella. Good luck to him. He didn´t give any money, though. He said if you´re hungry there´s enough food to be found everywhere. I wonder if he was inciting us to thieve? A-ny-way, we met another soldier who was adrift. This one used to work for the peace keeping forces of the UN. He was sick of the killing and suffering he´d seen. He showed us how to take someones eye out with one finger. Useful thing to know this. One day some admittedly good-looking guy came from the marina stark bollocks naked. I thought this was illegal. Didn´t seem to bother him though. I remember thinking of asking him to bring his girlfriend next time.
They have a funny custom over there. There were some big blocks of stone, I think they were cement mixed with chips of marble, which they used to mark the border between the promenade and the concrete bit of the beach where small fishing boats had been pulled ashore. One morning a big lorry came and started loading up all these blocks of stone. What for, only God knows. Maybe they were putting them in a warehouse for the winter? But why not just leave them there? This must have been around October, I think.
Muttley couldn´t get used to the water, I mean, he wouldn´t go in. We tried to entice him gently, but finally we ended up just throwing him in. He could swim like a fish, but still didn´t like it. Steve has some property back home. I´m as poor as Job, like the rest of my family. He´d asked his brother Mario, my best friend, to sell off his stuff piecemeal and put the proceeds into his bank account. This allowed us to survive. In the end he sold Muttley to Antonio, the owner of the beach bar there for seventy Euros and two pints of lager. This was because it´s practically impossible to travel with a dog in Spain. You can´t take them on a train or a bus. So we would have had to make our way everywhere on foot. Hitchhiking is hopeless in Spain. Especially two scruffy looking guys with backpacks and a dog. No other choice. We missed him for a long time. He did go to a very good home, that helped.
Some days it´s really tough to blag up enough money for food and stuff. Thank God for my regulars. People who´ve known me sitting there for a long time. Not something to be proud about, I know. Hey, the number of people who have offered me a job and then, when I showed up at the appointed time and place, weren´t there, I´ve forgotten to count. Or some of them really want to help but are waiting for this accursed crisis to lift. This town was dead in winter. I kept expecting tumbleweeds to roll down the street. Luckily, I saw two tourists getting off the bus today. They can say hello to that stray cat that´s left here. And I almost forgot that three-legged dog. The one I have to fight over scraps all the time.
If you ask me, this crisis has been artificially created by the big guys, just to be able to make even more money. If I had a business, the people working for me would be my prime concern. Those big companies, they just fire workers when their dividends are a bit lower than the year before. Idiots! Without your workers, what are you? Oh, there´s always more where they came from, huhh? Well, what about the accumulated knowledge that is wasted when you ´make them redundant´? And more unemployed means fewer people with capital, to buy your crap to begin with. There, now you can call me ´ralphie, the macro economist´aswell. Somebody had to tell them.
Next stop was ´bugger, I´ve forgotten!´ It will come to me. We were only there for two days. We inquired if we could rent a car with any of our credit cards. They wisely declined us. Pity that! We´d hitched a ride with some hippies. Thank god for hippies. They’re the good guys and girls, in my book. Especially the girls. Yummy, yummy! There wasn´t a lot to see there. Just some shit hole. Steve was able to frummle some money out of the wall and paid our tickets to Barcelona. ´To frummle´is a new verb that Steve came up with, out of the blue. Barcelona is where the next chapter will start.
First I´d like to tell you some more about Steve. He has a golden heart, but whatever you do, don´t piss him off! He used to collect bombs, when he was a kid. Ones that the bomb disposal teams had overlooked from World War Two, and One aswell most likely. One day his father, who was a copper of all things, found his stash. The old man almost got a heart attack. The whole street was cordoned off while the bomb guys did their thing.
Then there was the time a biker took him on the back of his rod and started feeling him up. He jerked away so violently the bike fell and caught the guy under it. It was leaking gasoline. Steve took out his lighter and tried to set him on fire. The damned thing didn´t work. He went into the bar opposite, where everybody had been watching and asked for the use of a lighter. The landlord called the police and Steve went on an extended holiday.
Another time, he was in a bar and somebody slapped him around. He´s not a fighter. He asked them to wait. He wouldn´t be a minute. When he came back, he had a shotgun with him and shot a hole in the ceiling. The cops came and , after confiscating the gun, asked if he had any other weapons on him. He pulled a sawn-off one from between his shoulder blades and handed it over. Another holiday, free of charge.
But when Max, a friend´s dog got sick, he paid for the operation and never asked for a penny back. He was a recluse for about seven years. Staying in and just smoking pot. I´d never even met him since about a couple of months before we left together and I´d known Mario, his brother, for decades. His Dutch girlfriend has an IQ of 180 and he most have 140, more or less like me. When she started to fool around with other guys, it was better we left, for the other guys´sake, that is.