Discover more from The New American Diaspora
I suspect it's not often that an author who has written a book about the homeless receives a call from a homeless man at 9:42 pm to discuss the book, a book where this particular homeless man is a semi prominent character and a beacon of hope in an otherwise somewhat dreary story.
But that's what happened the other night, when Jacob, a charter member of the Old Crow Book Club, called me.
It was unexpected because Jacob had called approximately two hours earlier and said he wanted a copy The Old Crow Book Club. Word on the street was that it was a must read.
It was even all the more unexpected because I hadn't seen Jacob in three months and had no idea what had happened to him.
When a homeless man calls you at 7:30 in the evening and wants express delivery of a book about the homeless where the caller is a featured character, then you will get off your ass and deliver it. I told Jacob to give me five minutes. He was waiting at our usual sidewalk gathering place a block away.
I made it there in 4:12. It was the fastest express delivery of a book to a homeless person in the history of world literature and perhaps the only one! And I threw in four tins of choice pipe tobacco!
Jacob was looking good, drinking a can of malt liquor, and thanked me profusely for the book, actually five copies. I told him to give them away as he saw fit.
Then I got the lowdown on Jacob's last three months: he'd scored a job pumping gas in another part of Portland. He worked and lived on the streets at the same time. He had saved enough money into a hellhole apartment with an asshole landlord. He'd received no assistance from the city, county, church or non profit organization tasked with alleviating the crisis. He hadn't asked for any such assistance. He'd worked double shifts and saved $600. He was kicked out of his apartment after he'd held some kind of gathering for two people. His landlord kept all the deposit money. He went on a bender and lost his job. He was in the process of extending that bender and blowing the $600. Why not come back to the neighborhood and blow it there? He'd just seen Mark and bought him a fifth of whiskey. Yeah, I know he almost died. This is the last time I'll be doing that.
I told Jacob I wanted to know what he thought of the book after he read it. No bullshit. I was frank in many places and frequently caught members of the club at their worst moments. Jacob said he knew that.
“I'm not quitting Matt,” he said.
“You can rally,” I said. “You already did.”
“I know. I want to work. I want an apartment. I'll get back up soon.”
Without hesitation, I believed Jacob.
I told him I was still trying collect the book club for the launch pizza party down by the creek. It was almost impossible to organize anything with this crew, but at some point, I would pull it off.
It was time to go. I asked Jacob what he was reading. He opened his backpack and showed me a copy of Charles Bukowski's Factotum. I'd read it years ago. Matt Dillon starred in an excellent film adaption.
“Someone told me I should read it,” said Jacob, “so I bought it. I've read it three times in a row.”
Bukowski can do that to a reader if you are in the right mood.
Jacob and I didn't say it, but we both knew all the characters who were working and housed in Factotum, published in 1975, would certainly be homeless or dead in Los Angeles today.
We said our goodbyes and I walked away toward home.
In the morning I listened to the voice mail.
Sorry for calling so late. I just read the book. Love it. Fucking great. Thank you.
There's more to my story of my three lives during the hallucination. Too much to describe in one situation. It's a good tale. Maybe you'll want to write it up...thanks again for writing the book.