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[Table] IAmA: I lived homeless in Denver for a couple of months and made a documentary with hidden camera spy glasses.
Link to submission (Has self-text)
Link to my post
|Not sure why all the criticism, I really like the documentary!||I thought the disclaimer of "sloppy," and the annotation of "POV HOBO is DIY crap" would be enough to exempt me from criticism ;) Comes with the territory of putting yourself out there I guess... At least people are talking about the subject. & who knows? Maybe this internet hate could get me enough attention to get help making a "professional version" to "reach more audiences." I still appreciate the few positive comments like yours, though. Helps balance the crushing blows to the ego so, thanks!|
|Because. I think the word you were looking for is "because."||Same meaning but for the record: "in spite of" To make up for the bad quality be sure to watch it with subtitles.|
|Why ?||Well, I lived with the homeless while hitch hiking around and when I'd tell people my experience & conclusions on how to truly help no one would believe me. They'd just dismiss me like the girl at 21:40.|
|I'd think, "Man, if only they saw what I saw..." light bulb|
|What do you think the biggest misconception people have about the homeless is?||Biggest misconception? That's a tough one, but if I had to choose one it'd be that giving spare change is helping.|
|I think the 2nd would be that people have an outdated perception of the homeless. In "developed countries" the causes and problems have changed. There's no shortage of food like in certain countries/time periods. As Alex, (the homeless kiwi in Vancouver), suggests I think we should (re)diagnose the causes of homelessness in order to truly help.|
|What is your opinion on "Home bums"? I watched the beginning of the video and the two bums were acting like they are proud of the way that they make money...||He was proud but probably only among his peers. 16:26 describes home bums the best. The home bum father figure was a real nice guy. Rough around the edges but you could tell he had a good heart.|
|In order for people to change, they have to reach a "bottom" with their addiction. You couldn't see it 'cuz I concealed his face, but his right eye was swollen, bruised, pus filled and apparently "legally blind." He laughed and called it his "money maker" 'cuz people feel bad and give him wayyy more cash. If you're content sleeping behind/eating out of dumpsters and rationalize severe medical issues then you probably won't ever reach a "bottom."|
|IDK, he was a USMC veteran so he had my respect. I found that home bums are just more lonesome than anything else. They'll gladly share what little they do have just for some company. In the end, it's up to debate/your prerogative if you want to support their habit, but just treat them with some humanity.|
|Thought first then question: I agree with the review regarding the VO. You need better sound equipment and please don't do the falsetto voice when reading your definitions. That trivialized the story for me. It sounded like you were doing the narration over speakerphone. What was your favorite moment while living in the streets? What was your least favorite?||1.)My favorite moment? I keep thinking of an experience but immediately after think about the shitty part that came with it. Well, I had a lot of fun when I was camping on the Platte river with a guy I met in the shelter who had a laptop he carried with him. We'd just get high and watch movies/play video games on his laptop. We were eating at a day shelter when we ran into some hippie girls who were rubber-tramping around the states, festival hopping. The girls flew a sign and we all got drunk and I ended up hooking up with one of them. Oh, I also met a girl at a homeless shelter who was living in Section 8 housing who let me crash with her for a bit. That was pretty great while it lasted. 2.) My least favorite part? Finding out I had AIDS from the hippie chick. No, just joking. Um, honestly it'd have to be the way the streets break your spirit. When people first would ignore me (cuz they thought I was gonna' ask for change) I purposefully would smile all big and just ask them how there day was. I kept trying to combat the assumptions of people while all Gung-ho about the project, but it took less than 2 weeks to just feel like a piece of shit. I would try to get out of the funk while living at a shelter & working. But there's always someone outside the shelter you know (which is awesome as far as the community/friendliness) who is offering some sort of drug. I would go jog one day and the next day get stoned and kicked out of the shelter for a no call no show. Wandering around for hours, all f#cked up trying to find somewhere to stay. Then when you finally find somewhere warm/safe enough to stay you know you'll get 3 hours of sleep before you have to bus to work. It's the kind've lifestyle that makes you want to just say "f#ck it" and not show up to work and just get high in parks all day instead.|
|Also unclear, did you live for a few months straight as homeless or did you go home and come back?||I was homeless straight for 3-4 weeks consecutively. Then would go home and then back off an on for the remaining months. My lease was up before the project and so I would house hop at my mom's or at my friend's party house. But I can confidently say that the majority of those months were spent on the streets/in the shelters. Nonetheless, still kind've pulling a Thoreau.|
|What was the most "eye-opening" thing you experienced?||Ah! A question. It's hard to find them while sifting through hateful criticism. Hrmmm. Well, you don't make a documentary unless you're passionate enough to do so. So, I already knew about the easily accessible assistance programs & drugs being the #1 problem. BUT the most eye-opening experience was actually developing solid relationships with some of these folks and hearing their in depth perspective. Of those, the most shocking was the LGBT thing. Maybe those statistics aren't 100% accurate but the problem is real. You meet sooo many queer kids who get more love on the streets than they do at home. It's really sad that such an easily avoidable cause to homeless still happens to this day. It was shocking to me because the worst you hear is parent's making their gay child feel like sh*t with "pray away the gay pamphlets." But you'd never fathom someone literally kicking their kids out. You'd be surprised how many of the homeless are queer. & that's not just the younger generation. I met a bunch of older home bum types who were gay, but wouldn't admit it. They'd deny it but get hammered and start touching each other in the park. It got me thinking... 1.) some of them might be men who aren't actually born gay but more like truckers and prisoners who's sex drive has no other outlet. 2.) some of them are just from an older generation. Back in the day it was more common for gay men to hide it. Married men going to sketchy places to have secret gay sex. I don't know if you've met a gay man from that generation but it does major psychological damage and could even cause huge alcohol/drug problems & even lead to (you guessed it) homelessness. Yeah, that's a bit of a stretch, I know. But it's just a theory.|
|Bro...I don't even know what to say. This was, wow.||TBH, I have never touched crack, meth, or heroin. I am referring to just waking up at the shelter and walking with my homeless buddies to the nearest park to get fucked up. Smokin' weed and takin' shots. Far from the serious stuff, but it's easy to just say "fuck it." It was only a couple of weeks. I got stoned with one of my buddies (the one in the video smoking meth) and he was showing me his knife & talkin' about robbing people. I was so paranoid and freaked out I snuck away and took a bus an hour away to climb a roof & sleep. That was when I started to ease up. After that the next couple of months I was off and on sleeping on the streets/in shelters trying to focus on finishing the project. Just had to make that clear. Don't want to mislead.|
|How long were you sucked into the spiral of depression and drug use? How did you clean up while going through withdrawal?||I told myself I wouldn't drink during the project, but the first night I ended up taken some swigs after my home bum father figure kept pushin' for it. If you have an addictive personality the streets are the worst place for you. Also for the record, I have a history of alcoholism in my family as well. It wasn't until I got so drunk I blacked out and woke up in a dumpster that I decided to go to AA. Almost lost the entire project. I've slipped up a couple times since then but am going to an AA meeting tomorrow.|
|I'd cut down some of the guy who says like a lot - his whole spiel could be condensed down into the thought find out why they are homeless, because you don't know - the other ending monologues can be tightened up as well.||1.) Agreed. I got tons of solid HD interviews with articulate social workers but lost it when I blacked out and woke up in a dumpster. I had to scavenge my remaining footage and he was the only social worker I had footage of.|
|The part where you mention you fucked off the project was fantastic, and gave personal depth to the story. However, this never comes to a resolution.||2.) I mentioned somewhere else in this AMA that it was a bit anti-climactic. I just struggled with my addiction while living in and out of shelters, working, and trying to finish this project.|
|Specific questions I have as a viewer - what happened to you? Did you make it out of being homeless? How long were you homeless for? Was it for more than the original week? What are you doing now? What did you learn? What was the biggest takeaway or point you want to leave the viewers with?||3.) Kind've related to #2. After I woke up in the dumpster and ended up going to jail (long story I'll tell some day) I ended up leaving to Thailand. I had been saving every penny for the past 3 years to go teach English there. Turns out Vietnam has better opportunities so now I'm in Saigon. Again, I mentioned I was homeless for a consecutive 3-4 weeks. Then it was off and on for about 5 months until I took a plane out of town. I can confidently say the majority of those months were on the streets/in shelters but it is still kind've pulling a Thoreau. My kickstarter said a minimum of 2 weeks and I felt satisfied with it. Trying to be very clear with all this & not mislead. I learned an empathetic view I never had before from my previous hobo travels. The biggest thing I took away was the shocking amount of LGBT kids on the street. Everyone knows about Vietnam vets, druggies, and crazy ppl, but the LGBT thing is shocking. I want viewers to take away that drugs are the biggest problem and we need to address that if we want to actually change anything.|
|On a side note, my girlfriend has an old friend back in our hometown we hear is on drugs and now living in the streets. I plan on watching your documentary with my gf tomorrow, to give her some insight on what her friend is probably going through.||Right on. I hope your gf likes it. Most homeless people who watch it think it accurately portrays homelessness so that's a plus.|
|Sloppy?||I flirted with a female police officer when drunk at the Triangle and she just smiled and just dismissed me. Generally, they were cool with me. Maybe that's cuz I don't have any warrants, drugs, disrespect, or pigment. :P But I elaborate on that here.|
|It reminded me a lot of the first segment of Freeloaders We see homeless people basically freeloading off the system not because they are lazy., but because why the fuck not?||There were a lot of young people. Bo talks about it in his full interview I posted, here's a link to that exact part. From my experience, I think a lot of the young people are still able to change their lives. They're not far into their drug habit and stuck in their ways. I'm still friends with a lot of the people I met during the project and a good portion of them are getting clean, getting jobs, etc. I think for some it's just a phase. You'd see a lot of older guys, like the hippie at 21:04 who seem like they never grew out of that phase. Balding metal heads with Metallica shirts who still haven't cut their hair. Wannabe gang bangers. The 40 year old ICP family smoking weed in the park with their 2 year old. That type of thing.|
|How often did they get accosted by police?||Society seems to agree that women and children get dibs on help. So there are a lot of programs available specifically for those demographics. Places that don't let you come in if you're over 25. At the Samaritan House they had a floor for families and one for women. They made it very clear that I shouldn't even step on those floors or I'll get kicked out.|
|How often did you get accosted by police?||P.S. Thanks for your feedback because that's exactly what I was going for. I can't compete with the big boys if I'm doing every single part of the film, so I can try to make up for it by being creative, raw, and retarded. I saw a John Stossel bit on gun control where he interviewed prisoners & I liked it. I'll be sure to check out Freeloaders.|
|What did you think of the attitudes of other homeless people towards you, were they friendly and sharing or more hostile or indifferent towards you? Any interesting stories or moment's that haven't been mentioned?||As far as the other attitudes of the homeless, they gave me more love than any other person. I talk about it in the sections of my blog called "My Experience" & "Being Homeless is...."|
|Link to "spy glasses"?||They were really bad pieces of crap from China that came with no instructions and had faulty wires.|
|Did you actually use heroin?||No, sir. I have never used heroin, crack, or meth. I see what it does to people. I don't mean to mislead. I just fell into getting stoned and drunk all day. There were countless times where I was offered harder drugs. While filming the close up drug use they wanted me to at least smoke heroin to prove I wasn't a cop. I insisted I'd rather delete the footage and I'd do anything else to gain their trust, but as they got higher they felt like dicks and just dropped it.|
|Just for the record, Alex, the homeless kiwi, mentioned that he fell into the depression but never did any drugs. Also, I have a background of alcoholism so I'm sure that didn't help. But most people on the streets are there partially 'cuz of their addictive personalities.|
|What would you say, particularly in Denver, the shelters and nonprofits could improve upon? What services helped the most, and which did you feel hindered recovery by enabling stagnation? I'm interested as well in the 'Servants' program, talked about at 33:12 - Do you think a more involved community experience would work in Denver, where services would be hand in hand with a stronger sense of family and bonding?||I absolutely think programs imitating the 'Servants' program would help the homeless community thrive. There's one organization I went to a lot called Sox Place. They were amazing there. I opened up the debate of how feeding the kids is just enabling them and yadda yadda. They had some really solid points. The things that resonated with me were that there's a spectrum of help. Sometimes giving them spare change opens up a relationship between them which can lead to a deeper connection. Which in turn leads to them coming to you when they seek advice &/or reach their "bottom." Sox Place is a youth shelter and as Alex, the homeless kiwi, mentioned: a lot of the homeless come from a crappy background. A lot of the kids you meet on the street are running away from shtty home lives where they're abused, molested, neglected, etc. So, developing a fatherly/older brother relationship can really help these kids. IMHO, it's a slower process than having an intake program where the kids can stay, find jobs, and change their ways asap. BUT Sox Place is privately funded and struggles to stay open as it is. If they had more money they could do even more good than they already are. So, I have to emphasize that throwing money at the problem doesn't help - BUT throwing money at the right organizations CAN HELP. SoxPlace.org As far as the services that hindered? It's complicated because like the Denver Rescue Mission, they have a program that rehabilitates people and hooks them up with a car, house, education after months of hard work and sobriety. But on the other hand, the majority of the homeless Denver Rescue Mission houses aren't breathalyzed and have been drunkenly using their "temporary shelter" for years. Same with most of the day shelters. Countless people just go there and eat and play on the computers with no intention to change. BUT there are programs at these day shelters that help them get jobs, get clean, etc. when they *are ready. So, maybe just being exposed to places with those options is helping in a way but I personally think every organization should be like 'Step 13' or 'Samaritan House' if they have the funding to do so.|
|I actually work for St. Francis Center...is there anything you feel we in particular could improve upon? Also, if I passed along your blog/AMA to the higher-ups, would you mind being contacted if they had more questions?||Oh wow. I would gladly be contacted. 100%. That's the whole point of this documentary is to educate people and hopefully make a change. St. Francis is the shelter that "gave me a whole bunch of helpful information." And actually got me tested for Tuberculosis. I gotta' say most people wake up/get kicked out of shelters like Jesus Saves & the Cross Roads then all shuffle to St. Francis to loiter all day. I think the programs you offer that help the most are the ones that drive people to get licenses, let people receive mail there, medical evaluations, etc.|
|I could ramble about this all day and I'm sure my friend, Bo (who I think is still in Denver volunteering at organizations), would have tons of great insight as well.|
|Let's get this going! [email protected].|
|Updating my site? How so? I'm no longer homeless. I'm in Vietnam now. I updated my blog with links to this AMA. And I posted a link to this AMA on my facebook.||I'll post something on my twitter.|
|Question: How long has this entire process been, so far? And how long do you think it will take to complete it?||I'm so burn out (no pun intended) on this crappy project. But if people are willing to help pull the weight I'd gladly tweak this and make it the quality I envisioned.|
|Did you experience any of the ultra-violence?||"Ultra-violence?" I think that was my poorly recorded narration where I attempt to say, "It's no surprise 'The Triangle' attracts a lot of violent crime and is flanked by two of the biggest homeless shelters."|
|I lucked out but you hear a lot of messed up stories about the street. CTRL-F search this reddit post for "rape" to hear a story a fireman told me.|
|Neither rape nor fireman yield any results...||>"I would love to see one. Because women face 'different' problems there are shelters/programs specifically for women & children. I was staying at one shelter and overheard the staff talking about a 'lady coming in who just got raped and is pretty shooken up.' Also, in some of the footage I lost I interviewed a fireman who said he was on a murderape call. When he got to the abandoned building he walked up to someone covered in a blanket. Turns out the guy got raped and they threw the girlfriend off the roof. I really lucked out. I hear a lot of stories of gnarly stuff that goes on on the streets..."|
|When you read "Neither rape nor fireman yield any results..." it sounds like dialogue from a horror movie.|
|Nobody chooses to be homeless. When was the last time you met a well adjusted, happy homeless person? Many are there due to mental/physical health problems not because they just can't be bothered working.||Amen! That's why I added the statistics about the mentally ill who have no loved ones to go to. We should for sure restructure the government assistance programs so they're harder to scam. Maybe when that happens the money "saved" can be redistributed to government funded housing for the mentally ill.|
|So how do you feel now, post-"homeless"?||Well, I travel "hobo style" every summer so it wasn't as big of a culture shock. But this was the first time I actually stayed in one area and became friends/made a routine. I now have a more empathetic view, but I gotta' stress that it's not the same when you know you have somewhere to "fallback."|
|Do you feel displaced after this experience?||If I'm drunk I'll share booze. But since the project I've been in SE Asia. Little kids come up to you begging and that's really hard. Because they obviously don't have the same government assistance here. But apparently it's like the Slumdog Millionaire orphan thing.|
|Also wondering, did you give money to homeless people before the documentary, and do you now, post documentary?||IDK, I try to do my best treating them like equals but struggle with the "I'm such a good person for talking to you" BS kind of attitude. On a lighter note, I keep in touch with most of the homeless I met while doing this project and the one shooting meth is now in AA. :)|
|[removed] What?||[removed] What?!?|
|Good job buddy. Like some other people mentioned, the soundtrack doesn't match the genre or theme. Also, the voice over of the definitions (Yoda?) is just weird. But, you did some great research and hopefully brought some attention to the homeless issue.||Thanks! At least I can say I brought some attention to the homeless issue. But as for the music, I think it fit my goofy theme. It doesn't fit the typical, somber, professional documentary about the homeless but I think it fit the sloppy amateur genre. Iunno, most people agree with you on the music, though... so you're probably right.|
|I didn't see your film, but maybe you would answer a question anyway. Doesn't the state have people that can go out and bring people to shelter? It seems like a lot of the homeless have mental and/or drinking and/or drug problems. Are there not help for people if you fill out the right forms?||There are. If you can make it past the sh!tty narrations you'll see there are a plethora of programs to help the homeless. Especially, in places like Denver. While smoking weed on the Platte River random people on bikes will come up to you and offer socks 'n whatnot. They're part of homeless shelters' "outreach program." Plus, if you just hang around a park with enough homeless some church group will show up and give you PB&J's and water. The mentally ill thing is tough, though. I talked to social workers who said some of these guys choose to get drunk and not take their medication & then it's all downhill from there. How can someone who's bat sh!t crazy reach a moment of clarity & reach a "bottom?" It should be legal to forcibly take those people into custody and get them the treatment they need, right? Well, does that overstep certain rights of freewill? I mean they were in their right mind when they chose to quit taking meds and if they're not violent then who cares, right? But maybe it should be like helmet/seatbelt laws, eh? And that's not including the people with medical issues who get on the streets and have their bag stolen from them along with their medication. IDK, it's much more complicated than the other segment of the homeless population. But after the clusterf*ck I described, there are countless programs like Colorado Coalition for the Homeless that will give you free meds if you can prove you need 'em.|
|you have to think about what elements are going to detract from the message of your composition and what elements are going to reinforce it.||True that. I just get discouraged and give up if I set my standards too high. So, I instead just try to create and embrace my amateur style. But I think I can get sucked into the "idgaf I'll make this film however I want" kind've attitude which clearly isn't the best.|
|Do you have a download link? i can't watch on youtube.||Not yet. Why can't you watch it on YouTube? Can you at least get to the YouTube page? If so you can get the Mozilla Firefox addon which lets you download YouTube videos.|
|Link to addons.mozilla.org|
|Once you download I think you have to upgrade to the ad supported version. But it's all free.|
|Expat filipino man? meaning filipinos living there in the US? Has to be coincidence lol.||No, living in other SE Asian countries. But yeah, I figured so. I thought it might be a cultural phenomenon like the Thai lady boy thing. Iunno.|
|Excuse me sir. What have you done to increase awareness about the homeless lately?||Such a supportive person for a name like "incendiary_cum." Thanks :)|
|Why are you asking him for a solution? He isn't a politician, if you want to change something contact your representative, don't bitch out some guy who made a documentary.||1.) Limit how easy it is to scam the system. This way those who truly need the help can be rationed more of it. 2.) Change the incentives in the country. I met countless people who purposefully don't work (or work less) so they can continue to get government assistance. CTRL+F search "unemployment" to see my post about that. 3.) Rework the programs that help the homeless to be like the one described by Alex, the homeless kiwi. Tough love lets those reach a bottom first so they are self motivated to change their lives. 4.) Legalize drugs. Now this one I'm unsure on 'cuz it's extreme/idealistic, but apparently crime has decreased drastically in places that decriminalize drugs. Also, instead of being around scum bags you go to a church/government building to get drugs so you're around people ready to help you change at any moment. Not to mention, I met sooo many people that just got out of prison (for drug related reasons) and had no other place to go but a homeless shelter. Of course, they quickly fell back into the drug life.|
|I will say that seeking validation from the disenfranchised for something you have done without examining the problem is bogus.||Do you mean I am seeking validation from you without first examining the problem? What problem?|
|You're an idiot. Just because someone disagrees with you, they're a troll? You need to look up the definition. And learn how to use the shift key, kiddo.||Agreed. I tried to do as much as I could to pretend to be homeless, but it will never be the same. I might actually hand this footage over to a professional to edit & maybe I'll even get dropped off again (somewhere random in the world) and in harsher conditions. But other than that, what else would you suggest? I have a feeling no matter how intense it gets, there'll still be people complaining behind the keyboard. That's why it's best to just focus on the interviews with those who actually are or were homeless. I was just attempting to see what it was like but the focus should be on the unfiltered interviews.|
|The fact remains: He had a fucking safety net. If you don't understand what that means, then figure it out. Now go shove your white knight helm up your ass for the good of the internet.||>"My self-image was mutilated after just 2 weeks of people treating me like shit, despite knowing, (in the back of my head), I could get off the streets at any time. I can't fathom what it's like when you truly have no place to go."|
|I really do feel bad for the homeless but is it true that some of them "could" do something to get off the streets but put no effort in doing so?||I'm sure there's plenty who put no effort in doing so. Like the "home bums."|
|But I was surprised to find out a lot of them are working. I met a bunch who have full time or part time jobs. It's just like quick sand when trying to get off the streets. This one guy was really pissed at his friend for joining a rehabilitation program at a shelter without telling him.|
|I also met a bunch of people who would work at the temp agency and be doing really good for a week or so and then just go on a bender and be back at square 1.|
|So as long as you stay away from drugs and alcohol chances are you won't be homeless? Thats a relief.||So, a large portion of them get on the streets BECAUSE of drug/alcohol problems but not all of them. Many formerly homeless people will tell you their crazy set of events that led to them having no home. BUT with the excess of government assistance programs you won't starve, you'll probably have shelter, and you'll probably get back on your feet within a couple of months. What will KEEP you there or bring you back is drugs/alcohol.|
|Most people did not tell him his video was a piece of shit. I certainly didn't. How about you look at the comments the OP made himself and use those to judge how he felt about the comments? He's a grown adult, he can, and did, speak for himself.||I'm just trying to be graceful. Constructive criticism is ALWAYS welcome but it's getting repetitive. And misslolafox is just reading between the lines I don't think she meant it literally. I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who's actually called this movie a piece of sh*t. :P.|
|But yeah, how 'bout some questions?|
|Op, you still using drugs?||Nope. But I don't mean to mislead, I only was smoking weed and drinking. Both are drugs but hardly the severe stuff. I just have a history of alcoholism (like most homeless) and fell into that quick. I address that in this AMA elsewhere if you CTRL+F search "meth".|
|What is more frustrating; people looking right at you and not caring enough to give you spare change, or ignoring your existence (or pretending to not see you)?||It was the worst when they acted like you didn't exist. Whether you were asking for change or not. If they looked at me and didn't care it wasn't so bad, but when they glare at you like you're scum... that really sucked.|
|Blogspot.com, really?||The movie is on the first part of the blog! But I will try to change it (if it's not too late) so the YouTube video pops up on the reddit post.|
|Is your name Jack Kerouac?||“The best teacher is experience and not through someone's distorted point of view” ― Jack Kerouac.|
|There's a fuck of a lot of text here. Can you say in one sentence why we should watch your doc?||Look past the quality of the film & learn about the reality OF the homeless FROM the homeless.|
|Why is it always a white guy that decides to do things like this? I'm seriously asking.||White guilt? Link to povhobo.blogspot.com|
|Proof?||The video is the first thing you see on the blog page.|
|Is it really guilt that drives it?||No, that was just another self-deprecating joke.|
|The first question was "why?" & I explained my experience traveling "hobo style" and afterwards being dismissed when trying to educate people of what I saw.|
This post was generated by a robot! Send all complaints to epsy.
If you meet Dr. Mood don't make a deal with him, you'll regret it.
"James, a Mr. James Westley." She paused a moment and scanned the room.
"Hot dog, that's me!" I grunted as I lifted my weight onto my left leg with a great deal of assistance from my arms, then limped forward.
"Right this way, Mr. Westley," the nurse beaconed with a chubby arm and pushed the door wide for me. She checked my vitals, tapping keys on a computer after each, then looked up and flashed a half-hearted smile.
"Room, 4 on the left."I walked down the hall to a brown door with a 4 on it. Inside, was a replica of the human spine placed on a small counter near the sink. I passed a tall bed with paper covering a worn cushion, toward a chair by a window in the back."The doctor will be in shortly," the nurse said, then closed the door behind her.I sat, losing strength as I did, and plopped with a humph into the mute brown wingback. I winced, gripping my upper thigh with both hands, until the pain faded then I loosened my grip and exhaled in relief.
"Fucking arthritis," I grumbled. I turned to look out of the window. From the second story, I could see the parking lot with its teeming bustle of traffic always present in medical hubs. Beyond that, I could see children running back and forth behind a chain-link fence across the street. I didn't have a wife, and in my brief encounters with women, I had always been careful to wrap up so no kids either. I was OK with solidarity because I had always preferred being a lone wolf. But now, on the downhill side of my 50's, my heart suddenly twinged as I gazed at the children.
How nice it would have been to have someone to sit with me or care about the arthritis plaguing my joints. My eyes followed the kids; they were kicking a soccer ball and screaming with excitement. They moved like a cloud of birds following the one who had kicked the ball last.A boy of maybe 10 or 11, kicked the ball hard, sending it up over the fence and into the small parking section adjacent to the field.
"Oh, no," I whispered as they pressed their faces against the wire. The ball bounced until a man in a hooded sweater scooped it up. He then walked over and conversed with the children for a minute. Perhaps he is scolding them the way a parent would, I thought. But then the man turned, a smile etched across his face. He tossed the ball back to the kids and clapped twice. He then bent back down and watched them, interlacing his fingers through the wire.
"He looks very much like a cat, and if he were to own a tail, it would be swishing back and forth right now," I thought. Unease tickled that instinctual part of my brain, bringing up feelings of anger toward the man. Two rapid taps on the door drew my attention away from the scene, and I turned to see the door open.
"Hello, James, I'm doctor Mood." The door clicked shut behind the young man. His eyes were dark behind gold-rimmed tea-shades. His skin was unnaturally pale, nearly white, and a distinct feeling of dread entered the room with him. He reminded me of a shadow in a dark corner that wasn't quite right or noise under your bed.
"Uh, hi, doctor Mood, where is doctor Arnold?"
"I happened to be in the office seeing another patient today, and, well, your unique malaise is my specialty." He tucked a clipboard under one armpit then stood placing his thumb and forefinger on his chin, pinching it.
"You're an arthritis specialist, then?" I sat back and crossed my arms. My neck hair was standing at attention, and little electric pinpricks flashed in brief clusters on my flesh as he studied me.
"Oh goodness, no… I thought doctor Arnold had talked with you. Perhaps I shouldn't be speaking with you." He turned to leave, grasping the handle.
"No, doc, what is it you specialize in?" My eyebrows went up as I looked at the back of the Doctor who had stopped turning the handle, "and please don't say orchiectomies or you can just keep on going, ha ha ha."
"I don't typically remove balls… though I have seen an occasion too, I won't lie." The Doctor turned, his face grave. I gulped.
"I'm hoping to help you with the cancer that is destroying your health."
"Cancer," I repeated. A sudden numbness crept through my body, like ice forming on one of those time-lapse videos. "Doc Arnold told me, I had arthritis… Cancer, you're sure?"
"As the sun comes up in the east, and you aren't long for this world if you don't receive intervention fast. If I may?" he gestured to my leg.
"Yeah, sure, whatever you need to do," I said.
He pulled out an expendable pointer and placed the pointer end to my hip. "It didn't start here, but rather your prostate. It since has moved to your hip, your thigh, your shoulder, and your chest." He pointed to each area as he spoke, then collapsed the pointer and folded his arms.
"Mr. Westley, I don't believe in dumping syrup on shit; as such, I won't waste your time. The diagnosis is terminal, and you have only a few months left with conventional treatment."
He reached in his breast pocket and pulled a cigarillo tin out. He proceeded to remove one, then smell it, curling his upper lip to press it against his nose. Then he clamped it between his teeth and lit it with a Zippo. He stared at the flame for a moment while it danced, then he closed the lighter with a snick.
The emotion was strange. I felt like I was swimming in a pool, then the water vanished, leaving me to slam into the concrete from eight feet high. The smell of smoke drew me from my thoughts.
"Isn't that against the rules, I asked." My brow furrowed as the strange young fellow perched on the side of the bed.
"Precisely!" He tapped the ashes onto the floor and took a long drag causing the cherry end to glow. "We get nowhere always conforming to the rules." He tamped the cigarillo out and blew the remaining smoke into the air.
"You've waited too long kiddo, now your choice is me," he said, producing a business card seemingly from the air. It was gold with black lettering that said Mr. Mood, then had a number listed below, and nothing else. "For when you change your mind." He smiled, handing it to me, then opened the door.
"I didn't tell you no yet," I said. He looked back, "you didn't have too." He slipped like a shadow out of the cracked door then it clicked shut."What the fuck?"
I stood to follow the man, but my leg turned to a bag of stinging wasps, and I sucked air through my teeth sharply. I limped to the door and pulled it open, nearly body checking Dr. Arnold in the process.
"Sorry, It took me a moment with the last patient, were you going to use the restroom?" I peered around him and then back the other direction down the hall. The chubby nurse was tapping at her keyboard, but Dr. Mood was gone."You know, you can't smoke in the room, right? It's against the law." Dr. Arnold patted my shoulder, "Mr. Westley, we should go in and sit. I have something to share with you."
"I've got fucking cancer, I know. Where's Dr. Mood," I barked.Dr. Arnold stood there, stunned for a moment his mouth making a shape like a small hula hoop.
"I-I haven't heard of a Dr. Mood, and I'm sure that I didn't share these results with anyone." He turned his gaze to follow my line of sight down the hall, then looked me in the eyes. "Please, Mr. Westley, we won't speak of the smoking, but we do need to talk about what happens next."
He nodded toward the room. I looked at him, my face hard and angry. Then I began to tremble, and finally, went back into the room. My thoughts drifted as Dr. Arnold spoke. I agreed when appropriate, but mostly I looked out the window as he piddled along explaining the few options I had left.
The cat man had retreated to a black van with mud smeared on the license plate, blotting out the numbers and letters. He remained parked facing the school for several minutes, then started the van and pulled out of the parking lot."Sorry son of a bitch," I muttered."Excuse me?" Dr. Arnold was glaring at me.
"Not you doc, there was a… never mind. I'll go to the appointments and stuff, are we done?"
"I suppose so; you need to get your affairs in order, Mr. Westley. This is serious." His glare softened, to pity.
"How long?" I asked flatly.
"I'm not an oncologist, but my best guess, I'd say six months, maybe eight." He rubbed his fingers along his brow.
"Hmmph, alright then." I got up, the leg screaming at me, I gritted my teeth and stuck my chin out. I wasn't going to let it show through, "fuck you leg; fuck you so much." I shook the doc's hand, then walked to my brand-new f-150, and hopped in. I turned the key halfway, the music came on, and the ac blasted warm air. I slammed the door to stifle the beeping, then started the engine and sat there.
The thoughts of things that I'd never do haunted my mind like ghosts. In particular, no family hit me harder than the others, like an ugly dark spirit dancing and taunting me at the forefront of my mind. I slammed my fist into the steering wheel, and then I did it again. I hit it until the skin on my knuckles peeled, and tears rolled down my cheeks. Then I pulled the shifter to D and drove home.
Over the next two weeks, I went to appointments and spoke with professionals who all gave me the same dismal outcome.
I began aggressive chemo the following week and puked every day. Not only after sessions but before, and once during. After a month, they stopped saying It would only make things worse if I continued and that I should enjoy the time I had left. I tried, the old bucket list gained a few check-marks. But every afternoon, when it came time for more pills, I would take a drive to see the world I was leaving soon. I'd inevitably end up passing the school, so I'd stop in the clinic parking lot, not to watch the kids, but to watch for cat man.
Many times, I saw him, always with the hoodie, always watching the children. I called to report him as a suspicious person one day. The police officer arrived and spoke with the man, who produced several pieces of lawn care equipment from the van and a few slips of paper.
Was I wrong, maybe he was just an innocent lawn care worker? I had never seen him do anything with the lawn while watching the kids play. The officer left, and I yanked the seatbelt angry Cat Man hadn't been taken away and thrown in jail. My shoulder exploded into searing pain sending white stars and little squiggly lines across my vision.
"Jesus." I gripped my shoulder, breathing hard, and then took a pain med dry in desperation. It became a welded lump clinging to my throat part of the way down. I desperately chugged an old coke I found in the back floorboard as the sun dipped behind some clouds. So far, everything Dr.- or was it Mr. Mood had said was accurate.
I pulled the sun visor down and found the card he gave me still stashed there. The same uneasy feeling welled up inside me like a thunderstorm was coming, with its' dark clouds and endless muffled bombs shattering the quiet. I slid it back into the flap on the visor and pushed it up.
"Not yet, you screwy fuck," I croaked. The bitter taste of medicine mingled with warm coke on my tongue. That night I slipped going into the bathroom, there was a pop, and my leg lurched away from me like a dog hitting the end of its leash. I collapsed, screaming, a jagged bone protruding from my night pants. I reached for my phone, but I had left it on the table in the living room. Blood spurted in unison with my heartbeat as I dragged myself out of the bathroom and down the hall. There was a crunching sound in my thigh as I pulled myself up the single stair to the living room.
I gagged, screaming with pain and puked up part of a meatball sandwich. It sprayed in a reddish fan on the carpet by the table. Using my elbow, I dragged myself through the vomit to where my phone rested. I then lie in my retch, my head swimming with blood loss and exhaustion.
The smell of bile and blood blended in a coppery-sour stench, as I pawed at the screen. I tapped the emergency numbers, blood smearing with each touch, then darkness flooded my vision, and I slumped to the carpet, deaths cold grasp on my skin.
I don't remember a light. I remember sounds, screaming, a child calling for its mother, a lumbering thing that shook the very ground when it circled me.
Then a beep pried my eyes to attention. The room I was in was dark. I searched the surroundings and tried to call for help, but something was in the way, and I couldn't form words.I could vaguely see a cityscape through a draped window, and machines were scattered around me, emitting low light.
"Hospital, you're in a hospital, James," I thought. A thick fog of pain medicine blurred my concentration as I searched for something to alert the people I was awake. My chest rose without my consent and then fell.
"Jesus, it must have been bad, they intubated me!" I thought, becoming aware of the tubes fastened to my face."You could say that again." I jolted at the sudden voice in the darkness. Then I saw the cherry flare of a cigarillo in the corner of the dark room. It's very odd having a conversation with someone while you cannot speak, it feels like being watched while you shit, with the opposite party's face only a few inches from your crotch."You consider my offer?" A dull reddish-yellow glow illuminated the rims of his glasses.
"You can't save me, no one can," I thought.
"Oh, but I can." He strode forward, "and I can do it right away." He reached into his lab coat and pulled three smooth stones etched with symbols. "Or you can die now, here… In this shitty little room with a shitty view of…" He turned toward the window, "whatever the fuck that city is."
He turned back to me, brandishing a wolfish grin, "Choice is your's kiddo, be quick though, I've got collections to make."He rolled the stones around in his palm like meditation balls; they clicked and scraped against each other.
"So, I die if I say no?"
"Unequivocally." Smoke seethed through his teeth as he finished the word.
"What do you get from me?"
"A small contribution from you, too, myself."
"Money, you want money?"
"No, not exactly. What I want is currency, though. The only currency that means anything is time. You will be taking a loan out, one which I'll expect returned in full. Otherwise."
He snapped his fingers, and a vision of plain black casket flashed into my mind. It was descending into a deep rectangular hole. The rain was running off the sides of the casket, and the walls of the grave. A single man clad in black, holding a bible, and an umbrella stood at the graveside. The casket shifted as one of the straps holding it level snapped, and it slid into the hole with a thud. The door sprang open, and a shriveled corpse crumpled into the grave. Rain and mud streamed along its emaciated face.
"Dear God, that's me, Jesus, help, help!" My corpse's eyelids bulged, stretching until the skin tore away from the stitches holding them and worms spilled from the sockets. I screamed, thrashing wildly, then my eyes focused and I was back in the room with Dr. Mood at the foot of my bed, my screams for help coming out as breathy "hurk, hurk," sounds.
"Yes, yes, I will." He lunged forward and yanked the tube in my throat. It felt like a golf ball ripping through my insides as it came up. He threw the apparatus behind the bed and then shoved the three stones into my mouth and forced my jaw shut. I had no choice, so I swallowed them.
He pressed his hand to my chest and chanted. There was a low crackling sound as my skin blackened, and the room began to stink of burning hair and flesh. Then he lifted his hand and stood. I reached for the burn, thinking that I'd find my skin bubbling. But instead, I found a tattoo of Dr. Mood's hand, which morphed into an infinity symbol."There, not so bad, was it?"I sat up clammy sweat springing from my pores, but my leg no longer hurt, and I felt better than I had in months.
"You fucking burned me, you crazy shit!"
"I gave you a reminder of our deal."
"I made no deal you-"
"Yes, you did. You asked me for help. Did you think an ambulance brought you here?" I stared with contempt at the young man hovering over me. "Now let's get something clear if that tattoo fades away, so do you. You don't want that to happen, kiddo."
"I'm twice your age, you little-." He brought his fingers up to snap them again."No, wait, what do I have to do?" I lifted my arms in the lagging ceremony of exhaustion.
"Just, do unto others, as will be done to you." He smerked.
"Pick the others you don't particularly care for, though." He lifted his shirt sleeve, reveling dozens of tattoos, all infinity symbols in varying shades and sizes. He pointed to a faded black ∞ near his elbow.
"I'll know when you repay the loan I've extended to you. Goodbye, James, I hope we don't have to meet again." He rose, buttoned his shirt, and left without another word.I sat back into the bed. My hands were trembling as they traveled over my body; all the pain vanished. I looked at the backs of my hands. The skin appeared smoother, no longer the paper skin of an older man with cancer. I felt my face, and even the familiar wrinkles were less pronounced."Dear God, I'm younger!"I reveled in this for a minute then realized that being younger proposed an immediate problem. The hospital was expecting a 57-year-old man, and by my estimate, I was closer to 40. Also, my clothes were gone. Probably soaked in blood and vomit, and no doubt burned.
I couldn't very well make my escape bare-assed. So crafted a desperate plan. I crept to the door (careful not to disconnect the machines I tethered to me) and looked down the hall. Both ways were clear. I had to move now before they came to check on me!
I removed all the wires and tubes then, pinching my gown, I darted down the corridor to the next room. I slipped in and found an older woman in bed with the TV blaring. I stopped dead, my butt squishing together in fear. Would she scream thwarting my escape? I waited for several excruciating seconds before a snore erupted from her.
"Whew," I breathed. Then I went about looking for a set of clothes. She was quite a bit bigger than me, and female, but in my current situation, the clothes would have to work. Out of the room, I strolled in a pair of white silk pants and a thin blouse bosting a gaudy floral pattern. There was a broad-brimmed hat to complete the look, which I pulled low. I saw a nurse go into my room as I excited the ICU.
I made my way to the parking lot, then tossed the hat and began to jog, keeping an eye out for anyone in pursuit. My muscles tensed and loosened, my strides were fluid, and my heart rhythmically pumped. For the first time in 15 years, I began to run. I imagine it must have been a sight. A middle-aged man sprinting down the sidewalks with a sail of plus-sized women's clothing stretched like a parachute behind him. I ran to my house, which was nearly 3 miles from the hospital, and didn't fatigue once.
I spent the next hour cleaning up the mess smeared on the tile, carpet, and walls from the bathroom to the living room. With as much blood as I cleaned that night, I concluded that I was pretty much dead by the time Dr. Mood arrived.
I showered, feeling exhilarated and euphoric, and something else, a desire, no a need. I lay awake in bed, unable to sleep. I feared that if I closed my eyes, it would be over, and I'd wake up broken again. Before I knew it, it was morning. The sun shined through the bedroom window and lit on my skin.
I needed someone, someone, full of life, but I didn't know why. I'd never felt the need for companionship this strongly. Except for maybe in the Doctor's office, but that had passed. I sat up; sleep wasn't even in the wheelhouse now. I got dressed in my clothes, which seemed much to ordinary when I inspected them in my mirror. After a shave, I purchased some new clothes (making sure to have a young lady help with the styles). I'd need all the help I could get to pass for a 40ish man.
I spent the rest of the day catching up on new lingo, and practiced talking to myself in the mirror. I learned that a whip was a nickname for a vehicle and that I wasn't a real person unless I had several social media profiles. I stopped researching and considered whether really I wanted to join this new generation when I found videos of people biting into laundry soap. A young woman jogged by my window as I sat thinking and desire sprang up in me again intense and unignorable, I would rejoin them, I had too. Surely not everyone was a soap eating dipshit.
That night I went to a club, to my relief, it was much the same, maybe the clothing and music were different, but everything else was as I remembered. I talked with all the vibrant young people. There was no reason to be bashful; after all, I had no way of knowing how long my youth would hold out, and my need overwhelmed any social anxiety. Despite my best efforts, the first night ended with me drunk and alone in the backseat of a cab. I stumbled up my driveway to the front door. Once inside, I ping-ponged off the hallway walls until I reached the bathroom. I puked then fell asleep on the tile.
The next morning, I came too with my arms aching. Pinpricks danced in droves through my arms, which draped over the toilet seat. A pounding headache, blurred my vision as I checked myself in the mirror. At least I had maintained my youth. That brought some mild relief. To deal with the hangover, I went to a diner across town for a greasy breakfast. The waitress walked up as I inspected the menu under the glass tabletop. She was dark-skinned, and her smile was big and bright. She asked me what I wanted, and I stated a hangover cure willing myself not to puke again.
"I have just the thing, sweetheart," she exclaimed, grabbing my hand. "It always works when I need a pick me up after a night out with the girls. I'll be right back just you wait and see." Something happened when she released my hand; it was like static, without the snap or the pain. Five minutes later, she returned, her smile was gone, and she pressed the back of her hand to her forehead as she sat my plate down."You must have passed off that headache, I feel all hungover now," she stated glumly.
"I'm sorry," I said, feeling guilty. My hangover had faded miraculously, and it made me wonder if this was what Dr. Mood meant.I paid my bill, throwing an extra 20$ on the ticket for the poor waitress who was vomiting in the bathroom. I would have to be careful not to be sick when I touched anyone. I knew I shouldn't, but couldn't stop the overwhelming desire to connect. I had to go out again. After all, I was feeling great. If I were to get sick, I just wouldn't touch anyone.
That night I went out again. This time I met a 30 something blond with large blue eyes. We bumped into one another, literally as a hammered patron flew out of the bar onto the pavement. The bouncers knocked her drink and her flying. I happened to be in the right spot to catch her. She began calling me Justin Time playfully, and I offered to replace the toppled drink. We laughed and conversed, and then I kissed her cheek. There was a spark, but not the odd one I had at the diner. I brought her to my place, and even though we said we wouldn't, we made love. For the first time since the night in the hospital, I felt at peace. I had connected with someone lovely. It was much too early to tell, but maybe someday, this beautiful lady that smelled like vanilla and mango sleeping next to me would become more than just a casual lover. Perhaps a wife, perhaps even a mother. I smiled in the dark at the thought. I had a second chance, maybe Dr. Mood was a savior, not a demon, and I had it all wrong.
She stirred her body a soft and sleek curve under my sheets. I kissed her shoulder and then fell asleep. I got up to make breakfast the next morning. Eggs with runny yoke and buttery toast finished with hollandaise sauce: jelly and freshly squeezed OJ. I walked in quietly and nudged her, she moved slightly moaning then placed a hand against her eyes."What time is it?" Her voice was horse and dry."You're dehydrated, and it's a quarter past 10," I replied. Then I moved the meal on a bed tray closer to her. She turned over and nearly knocked the table of food over.
"What the-!" I jumped off the bed and stood by the door leading to the hallway. She looked 50 years older. Her skin sagged on her arms like wet clothing from a line. Her face was zig-zagged with deep creases of age, and sun blotches mottled her body.
"James, what's wrong, James." she groaned and staggered as she stood from the bed. Her naked frame, once lovely, was a stick with sagging skin draped over it."N-nothing, Let me help you sit." I walked forward, my heart in my throat.
I helped the elderly woman sit and then offered her breakfast as my mind spun into chaos. She slowly ate, her teeth were gone, so she gummed the eggs and toast into mush before swallowing them. Dumbfounded, I excused myself to the restroom and sat on the toilet lid with my face pressed into my palms. What the hell had happened, I remembered her vibrant beauty, the youthful woman I had brought home last night. She had danced with me, rubbing her shapely figure against my body, and now this?
I splashed water on my face and steeled myself, then returned and sat next to her. "I need to ask you something, do you remember last night?"
She looked up vacantly at me, then opened her mouth, but she never spoke again. A look of terror spread across her face, then she grabbed her chest and fell backward writhing in the bed."Shit, no, don't do this!" I threw the bedding back, searching for my phone. I found it under her clothing and dialed 911. Then took her frail hand, she gasped and thrashed a little more, then went still.
The line trilled as her body began to sink in on itself like a deflated ball. She continued to decay rapidly before my eyes, the smell of death lingering for a moment, then her skin dried and turned black. Soon her skeleton was the only thing left. The bones crumbled into piles of white powder."911, what's your emergency," Jarred me out of the horror show transpiring on my bed."No, no emergency. I'm sorry, I um… I had some trouble, here, a few days back, and just hit redial by accident."
"OK, sir, what is your name, and address please.""James, James Westley", I told the man my address, apologized again, and then he said something that haunts me even now.
"Your debt is only partially paid James, I'll expect more soon.
"Wait what? Dr. Mood, what the hell did you do to me you son of a bitch?" But the line was dead, I hyperventilated until I almost passed out sitting on the floor in my bedroom.
After I regained my composure, I vacuumed the room with tears rolling down my face. I filled several bags in the process, then washed my sheets. I took the bags around town that night and dropped each of them in different trash cans placed on the sides of roads for pickup. I needed to find Dr. Mood, and I needed to hurt him. My worst fear of being alone forever had come to pass, thanks to him. My body was now even younger, but at what cost? I had mummified a young woman and simultaneously became an impromptu murderer. I remembered my tattoo and inspected it. It was a glossy black on my skin, almost like an oiled leather jacket.
Over the next month, I searched for Dr. Mood, sleeping only for a few hours each night. I combed the internet for anyone that had similar experiences to no avail. I also began to age again, I was back to 40 in two months, and then I started having other health issues. I needed more time to figure out what Dr. Mood had done to me, but I couldn't hurt another innocent woman by luring them home with me.
I was desperate, and aging more each day, then an idea came to mind. I had continued driving by the school daily, keeping an eye on Cat Man. I decided on the day I saw him massage a young boys' shoulders through the fence, that I would have as much time as I needed to figure things out. I would end him hopefully before he could hurt a kid. But then what, that's when I figured it out, I could have as much time as I needed. All it would cost is someone who deserved death's life.
I couldn't allow Dr. Mood to do this again. I had to stop him, I didn't know how to yet, but I would figure it out. There were more like me; people who were taken advantage of and pushed into a life they have no control over by Dr. Mood. Maybe they would know, I had amassed enough wealth in my life that I could live off the interest so I sold my house and bought a motor-home and now I travel looking for Dr. Mood or others like me. But I need to keep myself healthy you see?
So here's a final word of caution to you sick fucks out there. If you hurt someone young, or claim you have feelings for them that you just can't hold back. Keep in mind, I can be any age I want, and when you meet me, you won't know until it's much too late.
How do you feel about, Ebola, or maybe shingles for a decade, how about pancreatic cancer? I can give you these, or drain the life from you quickly, depends on the flip of a coin most of the time. I know Cat man is thoroughly enjoying stage 4 prostate cancer, he has two, maybe three months left confined to a bed. When I feel these sicknesses rising in me, I just pass them to the next deserving candidate. I know it's dark, and maybe judgment isn't mine to pass, but better them than me. At least until I find Dr. Mood.