Blain, feeling exhausted, dragged himself into the bus stop’s translucent plastic shelter and throws his body onto the solid bar- a counter homeless man’s bed- bench, letting his back smack against the flexible plastic wall of advertisements and graffiti behind him. It was an unusually cold night. The floor of the bus stop was littered with liquor store receipts and pamphlets from churches, the contrast always made Blain chuckle.
“Rough night?” asked Joe the homeless man who always traveled the late night commute with Blain.
“Rough Life…” Blain responded. Neither men bothered looking at each other as they spoke.
Blain thought that Joe was the only one who really understood him, and he was saddened to admit he wasn’t even sure if Joe’s name was actually Joe. Though Joe never corrected anyone who called him Joe, but as far as Blain could tell he had never actually referred to himself by that name.
Blain often thought that the only thing that separated him and Joe was the small yet vitally important fact that Blain had money and Joe didn’t. Other than that, they were very much alike.
“Tell me about it,” Joe laughed. Both Joe and Blain knew and understood that between the two of them, Joe’s life was definitely the rougher one.
“I hate these advertisements,” Joe said to the shelter, as if to no one in particular. He looked around the walls of the tattered poster covered bus stop shelter. “I’m always getting besieged by an army of screens and songs and pictures telling me about all the shit I need to buy. And all the things I need to become. And all the ways I should have been”.
Joe continued, “I needed to be cool, so I needed some of those fancy shoes. I needed to be smart, so I had to get this sexy fancy watch. I needed to be beautiful, so I had to wear these clothes. I had to be sexy, so I had to put on this cologne.
“You’re already too sexy as it is,” Blain says with a laugh, looking over and taking in Joe’s dirt covered clothes and face.
Joe continued undeterred, “The screens and pictures would ask me questions and almost always had the answer- and the price clearly laid out. ‘Do you want to be happy? Do you want to be sexy, beautiful, or would you settle for just acknowledged?’
Joe spat on the ground and went on, “Nowadays happiness it seems comes with a receipt, sanity comes in a bottle, and beauty comes from the leather around your feet.”
“I fucking hate this one” Blain cuts in, pointing his thumb at a large poster along the side of the stops flimsy plastic wall. The fat poster had a young college-age girl wearing some fancy clothes with Italian names that weren’t actually Italian and didn’t actually mean anything. The poster had the catchphrase, “be noticed,” written along the bottom.
“Be noticed,” Joe read aloud to himself. “Advertisements appeal to the worries and troubles of the people they’re selling to. Some poor girl or boy just wants to be seen. To be noticed. Not even by someone in particular, but in general. By just anyone.
Blain spat on the ground, “And here they’re capitalizing on that desire, that should never have even existed in the first place.”
“That’s fucked,” Blain says nodding to himself.
The two sat in comfortable silence until the Number 26 pulled up. Blain climbed in and threw some coins into the collection box with a passing nod to the driver. Joe started climbing up behind Blain but was stopped as the driver covered the coin slit with his hand.
“I’m sorry Joe,” the driver said.
The bus driver awkwardly continued, “There was a complaint filed at the city’s transportation office this morning. About people using the bus as a homeless shelter of sorts. Like I said, I’m really sorry Joe”. The driver sounded sincerely apologetic. “But, I could lose my job,” he felt the need to add, even though Joe was already getting off the bus.
“What bullshit is this?” Blain angrily asked the driver. “What’s the difference between Joe and me?”
The bus driver now started to stutter, he had always been afraid of Blain, “It’s not… It’s not that… Well, you’re not homeless, and you pay”-
“So does Joe!” Blain shouts.
“I’m sorry guys. I really am.” He began awkwardly playing with the steering wheel. “I don’t make the rules, the city makes the rules. And that’s… Well, this technically is the rule now. And well, you can’t pay the fee and just ride all night long.”
Joe uncomplainingly was already strolling down the sidewalk away from the bus stop. His hands in his pockets.
“Well ain’t this some shit,” Blain says disbelievingly to himself at the sight of Joe walking down the road alone.
“Why do you ride the bus Blain? We both know you never get off anywhere other than where you got on. People are starting to be bothered is all. You can stay, but, I just can’t let Joe sleep here anymore is all” The driver asked with real worry, “why not, just stay home?”
“Why I’m here is my own business.” He yelled as he jumped off the bus. “If Joe can’t ride than neither should I,” Blain said defiantly to the driver.
“Ok,” the driver says quickly, and deliberately avoiding eye contact shut the bus doors on Blains face with a snap. He hurriedly drove off, already feeling the weight of the problem lifting off his shoulders.
Blain stood bewildered for a moment, then having gathered himself, he felt furious.
He shouted “You bastard!” at the bus in vain.
He grabbed an empty beer can off the ground and chucked it at the retreating bus. It feebly bounced off the back of the bus, hitting the face of a fancy model selling Rolexes. Blain continued throwing cans long after the bus was out of his range, and even continued after the bus was gone completely.
The empty beer cans, found plentifully along the roadside, began clattering down the pavement, rolling past Joes feet, as Blain threw them.
“Oh just let it go Blain!” Joe shouted while turning around and catching a flying beer can out of the air with surprising dexterity.
Right at that moment, a Ford Charger passed through the intersection, and the driver caught a glimpse of Joe standing in the street with the beer can held high above his head.
“Get a job you bum!” he shouted out the window, his shout was followed by throaty laughter from within.
It is believed by most people who see Joe that he is a drunk because of how he looks and his inability to work. To society, Joe has always been another typical drunk homeless man. As though he were just a prop placed amongst the scenery of the streets. No one has ever actually asked how Joe became the way he was.
And what way was he? Homeless and broke? Yes, he certainly was. Joe was the outcome of a series of unfortunate events.
For most people, as Joe had come to understand, the world is black and white, and outcomes come from simple causes and have simple effects.
To most who saw him, the outcome of what Joe “was,” had a simple cause- alcoholism, drugs, mental illness, etc. In truth, as Joe knew all too well, the world is horrifyingly more complicated than that. Joe never usually blamed people for their quick and false assumptions.
“People are just scared is all,” He once told Blain at the bus stop. Acknowledging the truth about Joe’s story meant accepting another frightening reality, that what happened to Joe could happen to anyone.
As he once said to Blain on the Number 26 bus, “When something evil in your mind has a single simple cause, you start thinking it’s possible to avoid completely. No one knows what really happened to me, but whatever it was, it was something avoidable. But, what happened to me wasn’t a mistake like choosing to smoke weed under the bleachers back in high school. No, it was just life. Life happened to me.”
On any other day the comment from the polo-wearing white driver passing in his painted Ford Charger- which Blain would later call the best of the “douchebag cars your parents could buy you”- would have washed off him like water on a duck. But Today, Joe looked down at the beer can in his hand for a second, before sending the can flying towards the car’s open window.
The can was followed by a second volley of cans thrown in a high arch from Blain, who was charging up the street. In seconds the car was consumed by a barrage of cans hailing down from both men. The driver, now terrified, accelerated off screaming.
Blain caught up to Joe, and side by side they threw a final volley of cans at the retreating Ford Charger. They both stood staring at the empty street for a few moments. Both breathing heavily. They turn and look at each other, and burst into laughter.
Read more about Blain and his travels on the Number 26 at https://thenumber26.net/2019/02/10/blain/