Commentary and Philosophy Fiction posted December 20, 2014

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Short Story

An American Christmas

by michaelcahill


Christmas? What the hell do I care? It's about nineteen degrees in the wee hours here in the high desert. The Mojave Desert is noted for being blazing hot, but in the winter, it is bone-chilling cold. For us homeless folk, cold has a greater significance than it does for folks who decide whether to add wood to the fireplace or just go with the central heat. It's life or death with us. Humans aren't designed to withstand nineteen degrees without shelter of some kind.
There's a shelter here in Lancaster, California. It's a good town in which to be homeless, lots of churches and organizations to help. The homeless needn't go hungry here. There's some rules though. The shelter just don't take any old bum off the street. I like an occasional libation from time to time. If I'm awake, that would be an example of a "time". Well, the shelter frowns on those of us who are a bit too celebratory as it were. There's zero tolerance for alcohol in the shelter. 'Have a drink, sleep elsewhere', is the policy.
'Elsewhere' is a problem in Lancaster. 'Elsewhere' is illegal in Lancaster. The Metro Link Train Depot is deserted at night up until eight A.M., with the first outgoing train at nine. It's a three hundred and sixty nine dollar fine to be found sleeping on a Metro Link bench at four in the morning.
I recall the conversation the last time I received a ticket there:
Lancaster cop: "Are you aware sir that you are not allowed to loiter at the train station after hours?"
Me: "I'm not loitering officer, I'm sleeping."
Cop: He continued to write out a ticket. "The date to appear is at the bottom. By signing this, you are promising to appear on or before this date. It is not an admission of guilt."
Me: I sign the ticket and receive my copy. "Where do you suggest I go?"
Cop: "I don't know, sir. But, you can't stay here. There is a shelter two blocks from here. I suggest you try there."
Me: "You know they don't let anyone in after three in the afternoon."
Cop: Already walking away. "Have a nice evening, sir. Don't be here when I drive by later."
You'd have to punch him in the nose to get arrested. I've asked to be taken in more than once. The standard answer is, "It's not a hotel, sir. It's a jail. Now, move along." I even had one tell me to go home. Ha! Go home, this after having given me a ticket for having a supermarket-shopping cart. It's a two hundred and twenty four dollar ticket to have a supermarket-shopping cart. He gives me the ticket and tells me to go home. I told him he was an idiot. Lovely guy that he was, he told me, "Well, I'm not the one pushing a shopping cart full of crap around town at two in the morning though am I?"
No, he wasn't. I guess I'll try the little church over at Gage Avenue and Tenth Street West. I hope I wake up by seven though. Church begins at nine, but folks show up to put hymnals on the pews and get the sanctuary ready for services at eight. They don't take kindly to my presence in the bushes.
That sun looks good coming up. It's still a couple hours before there's some real warmth though. The mini-market has been my hangout for the last few days. The Am-Pm Suds and Soda kicked me off the premises claiming I was chasing away business. Hell, I was just standing there.

I only need eight bucks or so to get me through the day in fine style. That will buy me a fifth of Taaka vodka and six single cigarettes. The vodka's five bucks, so that's a must. Sometimes I get lucky and make more. Other days I'm lucky to get enough for a half pint. My withdrawals are bad without at least a half pint to tide me over.
At least I'm still alive. Frag 'Em Frank passed last week. The cop came up with his ticket book at the Metro Link Station, the whole bit. He filled out his little ticket and started giving his speech. After a minute or so, he started to get pissed; he thought old Frank was shining him on or something. Nope, he was stiff as a board. Ha! Had to void the ticket and call the paramedics, the whole nine yards.
Frag 'Em Frank was an Army Veteran, served over twenty years and gung ho American. I never understood that about him. He served his country and the same damn country saw fit to leave him on the streets for the last fifteen years. Yet, he wouldn't hear a word against The United States of America.

We used to get into it once in a while. I'm kinda pissed that I served my country and now I'm stuck on the streets here. I think I'm entitled to more. Old Frag 'Em was old school I guess, an honor to serve, count your blessings and all that bull. I don't feel all that honored and I don't see the blessings I'm supposed to count. I mean, what the hell are we talkin'....
'Scuse me a moment.
Okay, I'm back, had to go collect a little Christmas cheer. Twenty bucks. The couple in the car handed it to me like they gave me a new lease on life. Well, I'm grateful; don't get me wrong, but it makes for a great day is all. I'll get my fifth, a pack of smokes and have a few bucks in my pocket for later, that's high on the hog for me. I know it made them happy as hell. I smiled as big and wide as I could. It was the thing to do being as its Christmas and all. I thought I owed it to them to try and get in the holiday spirit.


Christmas Story contest entry


Although this is a fictional story, it is based on first hand knowledge and factual information. All of the general information is true and there are indeed Veterans freezing to death, homeless on the streets of the country they defended. I cannot think of anything more shameful.

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