By Dan Valentine
THE PINK CIGARETTE LIGHTER – Part Three
From the Urban Dictionary: ‘Midnight Cowboy. A 1969 movie starring Jon Voight [Jolie’s daddy] as Joe Buck, from Texas, who comes to The Big Apple, thinking he can make a living selling his body to women. When that fails, he resorts to seeking gay male customers. Hence, the slang term “midnight cowboy”–a male (straight or gay) who seeks gay men who will pay him for sex.’
In the fall of 2009, while I was at The Music City Hostel in Nashville, a kid from the backwoods of some southern state, I forget which one, checked in. Both his parents had recently died and his elderly grandmother had given him what little cash she had so he could come to Nashville. Why Nashville, of all places, I can’t remember. He had no dream of being a singer or a songwriter or anything else connected with the music business.
Many of the regular guests there took an instance dislike to him. The kid’s backwoods accent offended their ears. A lawyer, who had given up his practice in Wisconsin to follow his dream of becoming a music producer, said one night, “I can’t understand a word he says.” “That’s what he says about you,” I said. One and all laughed.
Ron, the owner of the place, had taken me in when he learned I was homeless–bed and breakfast in exchange for chores. But he told me not to mention the word “homeless” to anyone. He didn’t want to upset his guests. Heaven forbid! “And don’t bum any cigarettes from the guests!” Who me?
Funny, many or most of the visiting guests are European, and those in the European Union are a strange breed, indeed! Whenever they take out a pack of cigarettes, they always–and, I mean, always–offer those present a cigarette first before lighting one up for themselves.
One of the first things the young man from the backwoods told me was: Clerks would not accept his I.D. when he tried to buy a bottle at the liquor store down the block. And he had just turned 21! And he couldn’t understand why. In truth, he couldn’t have been more than 19.
What do to? he asked.
“Enjoy a Coke!”
But the young, they rarely listen to their elders. Instead, he soon discovered that he could quench his thirst by simply opening the fridge outside on the porch, when no one was watching. Guests would buy twelve-pack upon twelve-pack, put ‘em in the fridge to chill, drink most of what they had purchased but not all, and go on their way.
As a result, the kid was drunk most of the time. Did I say, most? He was drunk the entire time he was there. Guests were complaining. His backwoods accent was hard enough to take when he was sober.
One night I’m sitting with him outside. I was the only one who would. I felt sorry for him. He had just lost both his folks. Time after time, he would offer me cigarette after cigarette (European-style), as he lit one for himself and popped open the flip-top of another can of beer. Evenings past, I had always declined. This particular night, after hearing pretty much everything the lad had to say, I asked, “Can I bum a cigarette?” just as Ron came over and said he wanted to talk to him. Timing is everything.
The two went inside. The kid came out a short time later and told me that Ron wanted him to leave the premises immediately, if not sooner.
What to do? He had no money. He asked me to talk to Ron on his behalf. So, together we went inside. It was late. Past midnight. I said something like “you just can’t toss the kid out on the street at this hour. I’ve been homeless, and–”
“Follow me,” he said. And I did. Outside. “I told you never to use the word homeless while you’re here.”
“Hey,” I said, “he’s a kid. Both his folks just died. It’s my duty as a fellow human being. Tomorrow he can go to social services.”
Ron said he’d play the kid’s car fare to The Mission.
I don’t think so. The Mission! Stabbings. You name it. Worst-case scenario. “I was told by one-in-the-know NOT to go to The Mission,” I said. “I wasn’t ready, and HE (the kid) really ain’t!”
Ron said he’d drive the boy to the all-night cafe up the block. Give him money for coffee.
I can live with that, not that it was my call, and not that it had anything to do with me at all.
“But I don’t want to hear you say the word ‘homeless’ ever again.”
“No problem. Got a cigarette I can bum? Just joking.”
Funny, he had told all those who worked there that I had been homeless for a short time (very short, three days) and they, in turn, had informed all the regular seasonal guests. At a hostel, you soon learn most every little thing that’s interesting about a person. Unless, of course, your middle name is Clueless.
A few nights later I’m in the hostel lobby–computers, big-screen TV, washer-dryer, dining table and chairs, etc.–when a guest comes in and informs each and all present that he had seen the kid from the southern backwoods standing on the corner by the gay bars, presumably selling his wares.
I like to think he was lost. But probably not.
TO BE CONTINUED