Have you ever felt that you were in fact an alien, not a member of the human race? I have, for decades. When I was but a little boy, I used to think: why are people being cruel to each other? I was sure, even then, that it wasn´t suppused to be that way! I took my troubled, innocent heart to the adults (or is it sadults?) and tried, with my insufficient words, to explain my predicament.
They told me that everything would become clear, when I grew up. And to just be patient, for one day I would understand. I had to adapt, perforce, or be trampled into the dust. So I tried to find a middle ground, where I could at least coexist, trying not to hurt anyone. Just to be allowed to be, there, and try to be friendly with everyone, without getting crushed.
But they could tell or maybe they could feel, instinctively, that I was a bit strange, a bit alien. Others fell by the wayside, a few that were not so dissimilar to myself and many others. But I, who always felt deep down that I wouldn´t last long in this strange place, I endured, amazingly. I thought some mistake must have been made somewhere. Maybe there exists some alternate universe, that had inadvertently misplaced me.
Finally, there came a day, when a woman came up to me and spoke those four seemingly innocuous words, that would change everything. I didn´t even know the woman´s name. She said: “I am like you!”, nothing more and nothing less. When I heard this and looked into her eyes, the world seemed to shake and the foundations of my disbelief crumbled and came tumbling down around me.
When prodded, she explained that we´d been born too late: the generation of the gentle people had passed us by. They´re still here, she said, but they seem to have lost hope. They may have given up the dream. I would like to assure them, that NOT all is lost! For their message was passed on and is still being carried in the hearts if some people, myself being just one example.
Two years ago, I was speaking with a friend. This lady told me, that in her middle age, she was still wondering what she´d do, when she grew up. She asked me if I knew. I hadn´t a clue. I´m still waiting for that very special day, when things will finally make sense. A couple of months ago, she came to visit me. I asked her, if she´d found the answer yet. To my surprise, she said yes. She said that she would be, whatever she needed to be. I admire her for her courage and am happy for her.
In the meantime, I have shouted out to the world, my plea for love. Because I know, instinctively, that it´s worthwhile to share this invaluable commodity with everyone. You can call me a dreamer and you can call me an idealist. If you do, you honour me. I thank you for that. I would ask that you shout out your love for the entire human race and for all living things, mutely, to the heavens, for I believe that the positive force of this act will resonate in the hearts of anyone who’s listening with their inner ear and we might actually wake up some of the sleeping ones!
Yohdi looked through slatted eyes at the mighty oak, standing forlorn and alone on top of the hill. He marvelled at the bright swirling kaleidoscope of its aura. Yes, he thought, this one would definitely do! He traipsed up the hill on his leather sandals and took of his shirt. After kicking off his footwear, he sat cross-legged, with his back against the enormous trunk, between two of its roots. He centered himself in eternal love and let his being expand, initially riding on the columns of energy that spiralled up off the tree, into the air. From his vantage point, somewhere in the stratosphere, he linked up with green patch after green patch, slowly enveloping the Earth. Glowing dots began to appear here and there, kindred souls seeking contact. He embraced them and together they searched for more. One after the other they found, down valleys and over high mountain tops. Deep under the sea, the higher mammals heard the call and joyfully they joined in the dance and in the song. All as one now, they started to pulse like a gigantic lit up Christmas tree.
Time to initiate the new generation, thought Yohdi, advising his brethren and sisters of their sacred task. Their mantle of love, that was spread over the entire surface of the planet, sought out the souls that were ripe for the next stage of their journey. Tenderly they drew the unexperienced into their midst. Their message to them was simple: observe, feel the love and remember! For the next calling, you will be able to arise on your own. The newcomers were amazed and humble in their gratitude for witnessing the coming of age of at least a portion of humankind. More will follow, Yohdi thought-transferred, ever more. When you go back, seek out your spirit siblings and nurture those that are apt and willing. Spread the word of love and teach by example. The New Age has begun!
Everyone descended again to live their lives in peace. Yohdi thanked the mighty oak, put on his sandals and his shirt and went his merry way, whistling a lively tune. Look out for him, for he´s ever looking for new recruits, his sign: the colours of the rainbow.
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?
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.