Homeless Dude living in the alley across the street has found a creative way to keep warm. It involves a blowdryer and an industrial outlet near the dumpster. Dude spends half his day blowdrying himself. His dirt-gray tennis shoes with the toes sticking out, his shredded MC Hammer pants revealing a scabby pair of knees, his torn Hawaii sweatshirt with what I hope are ketchup stains all over the front. Being the friendless clinically depressed loser I am, I spend most of my free time watching him from my breakfast table three stories up.
“Dude,” I tell him on my walk to the bus stop Monday morning. “You’re seriously going to kill yourself if you don’t stop it with the blowdryer.”
“Why’d I kill misself?” he asks with a gap-toothed grin as he blowdries his armpits. The alley stinks like singed clothes and ancient sweat and the garbage bins he calls Home.
“Because it’s October, and the rain starts soon—” “Gotta cigarette?”
“No.” A lie.
“No.” Another lie. I clutch my messenger bag tighter.
“I ain’t gonna kill misself.” He points the blowdryer at me, hot and nasty.
“Stop,” I say, pulling back my hair, which is everywhere.
“Warm, ain’t it?”
“Smells like burning.”
“I ain’t gonna kill misself,” he shouts louder. I hear someone from my building slam a window shut. “Wanna know why?”
“I need to get to work,” I tell him. I turn and walk up the street and regret the conversation.
“Cause I’m invincible!” he screams after me. “I’ll be invincible ’til I die!”
“Sure thing, Dude,” I say under my breath.
I can barely make rent lately. I’m a professional dogwalker. It was kind of my life dream to start this quote unquote business. My best friend Candy wants to sing the blues and I want to exercise pooches. We all have our calling, my father would say. He works for God. White collar. Black suit. He sends his regards in the form of a card once a month, cards with comic dogs on them. I miss him like hell.
I moved from Weed this past May with Candy, best friend since before my memory begins. We came to S.F. to pursue our dreams. There are a lot of nightclubs and restless canines in this city. But snap, I’m talking overnight, Candy fell in love with a man and eloped with the man and soon got impregnated by the man and left me alone in this crappy Tenderloin apartment where I can barely make rent. This was two months ago. I’ve been wandering around this stupid city with all these flashy signs and high rise apartments and hipster haircuts, wandering like a zombie with several dogs on several leashes. Confession: Candy left behind a pillow and I hug it to sleep at night. I never turn the light off, either.
I recently turned twenty-one and got drunk and sat in the back of a dark bar and listened to Candy sing a bunch of Dinah Washington and Nina Simone covers. I wore a fabric flower in my hair and cried into my greyhound. It didn’t start out that way. I was going to surprise her, but then the drunker I got, the more ridiculous I felt, and the more ridiculous I felt, the more I cried, and the more I cried, the more I drank, and the drunker I got. And the cycle, it repeated. Luckily she didn’t notice me. It was crowded. It was dim. I slipped out the back while she sang “Lover Man.” It’s been a month since she bothered to drop by the TL apartment and she hasn’t even invited me to see her new place. His place. I blame my clinical depression on Candy.
Oh I still call her, though, and inject fake-happy into my voice and act like everything’s just the best fucking thing in the whole world.
“Hi, Frankie,” she says. “I only have a sec. I just got my ultrasound!”
We squeal. I am sitting at my breakfast table scribbling out a crossword puzzle with an ink pen. “How big is it?”
“Smaller than a finger!”
I draw a finger on my finger. “Wow, just a tiny little worm! What else have you been up to? It’s been days.”
“Things have been just so crazy. Jack’s parents came into town last week, total whirlwind. We just finally got the place clean again.”
I imagine some fancy apartment, one of those skyscrapery buildings that make me nervous with a view of all the bridges and the freeways and the sea of downtown lights. “When do I get to see it?”
“Like I’ve been saying: girl time, soon. I’ve just been so nauseous is the thing.”
I draw a baby on an envelope on the table. It has one eye.
“Did you get my birthday present?” she asks. She sent me a package in the mail even though we share a zip code.
“Yeah.” Pink fisherman’s hat. I love it. I wear it every day. “I’m wearing it right now.”
“Well, I hope you had a good birthday,” she says. I draw flames around the one-eyed baby.
“Yeah.” I wish I could tell her I heard her sing on my birthday, and that she sounded like velvet with a voice.
“Okay, well, hope you’re good.”
“I’ve been super busy,” I say, looking at my calendar, which I realize is still on last month’s page: the dachsund. I flip it to the beagle and sit back down.
“How’s the apartment?” she asks.
“Same. You know. Watching the nonstop adventures of Homeless Dude through the window.”
“How is Homeless Dude?”
“He’s got a blowdryer and he spends his days blowdrying his smelly ass—”
“Jack’s home! Jack, honey, me and baby are hungry, do you want to make us a sam-wich?”
“To keep warm,” I say, not caring she’s not listening as I tear the envelope with the burning baby on it into tiny bits. “Dude does it to keep warm.”
Sometimes I browse dating websites and look at men and women and imagine dating them. I imagine waking up next to them with bedhead, I try to picture the smell of them. I shut my computer. I dated before, but that was back in Weed, where I knew everyone face to face, customers at the pizza parlor or friends of the family or whatnot. Here the people are closer and everywhere on the streets, but there are oceans of awkwardness and strangeness dividing us. If I could, I would live with a hundred dogs. Back home, dad has six golden retrievers. But here Candy picked the apartment that explicitly said no pets in the lease. And now she and Jack live with The Awesomest Dog in the Universe, a blue-eyed husky named Major Tom she sends me picture texts of. Cute!!! I text back while writhing alone in my jealousy. I walk rich people’s pooches in the urban tree-spotted streets of San Francisco. I dream my best friend moves back in with me and we share a bed, I dream I kidnap dogs. I’ve forgotten how to smile back at strangers. No wonder I’m suicidal.
On my twenty-first, I walked home drunk in my silver dress, crying my eyeliner down my rouged cheeks. Men woowooed at me out of car windows. Drug dealers offered me a sniff. I passed Homeless Dude curled up asleep with the blowdryer beside him and stopped by the corner market for a pint of Smirnoff and a small OJ. I said to myself, if the guy behind the counter doesn’t say happy birthday to you, then you’re going to go home and kill yourself. And guess what? He didn’t even check my ID or smile back. He looked at my chest and yawned and handed me my change. Little did he know my life was in his latex-gloved hands.
Clearly I didn’t kill myself that night. But I googled suicide and read about it for several drunken hours. Did you know that, worldwide, 30 percent of people commit suicide through the ingestion of pesticides? I found that really interesting and then spent some time Googling pesticides. I looked at firearms online and read about the proper way to slit one’s wrists. I was planning on taking a cab to the Golden Gate Bridge to jump, but ended up passing out on the couch and drooling all over my laptop instead. I’m glad I didn’t jump off the Bridge. It would have been too melodramatic and clichéd. I’m still looking for the best way to die.
Today the sky looks gray and ready to turn teary so I open my window to yell at Homeless Dude. I’m eating a PB and J and worried about electrocution again.
“Enough already,” I say. “Don’t you see the clouds?”
“What?” he screams up at me. “You talkin’ to moi?”
“I think it’s dangerous, what you’re doing.” I shake my half-eaten sandwich for emphasis.
“Whatchu just call me, bitch?”
“I didn’t call you anything—”
“Shut the fuck up, both of you,” yells a man from an upstairs window.
“Fuck you,” I yell upwards in his general direction, and it feels good.
“Fuck you,” Homeless Dude screams, brandishing his blowdryer.
“Fuck all of you,” I say. Feels less good the second time, but still good.
I slam the window shut. Make a mental note to self: say fuck you more often. Maybe call Candy and say, Hey, fuck you, Candy.
And that’s the extent of my human interaction today. Saturday. Day off.