Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Derelict

A story I wrote after reading about the Tent City in the Seattle area where so many normal people whose lives had been seemingly ruined by the lack of finances, found a place to live. I imagined what I think life would be like if I were a guy and suddenly had no source of money... 

Day One: I am sitting here in my tent and I have set up my sleeping bag as my couch and bed. It’s pretty quiet out here and I don’t think anyone will bother me. I decided that instead of buying a hoagie for dinner with my dwindling money, I would buy a loaf of bread and some peanut butter. Good thing I like peanut butter! Have a battery operated LED camping light and a decent tent. Tomorrow I will try to find a job.
Derelict. What a harsh term for people. Ordinary people. College-educated people. People with good resumes, at least with their most recent work history. Mitch pondered his state of affairs, wrapping himself tighter down into his sleeping bag, even though it was warm outside. High school was such a good time for him. He had great experiences with the soccer team and got decent grades. Being an only child, his working-class parents could afford to send him to college, even if it was a community college.
Day Two: Slept ok. It was a little weird out here at night. I think I will get a little radio to help me with the silence. Walked into town and got a newspaper to check for jobs. Got a free cup of coffee from the grocery store and bought a pack of hot dogs. Called a few places for jobs on my cell but am really trying to limit its use before they cancel my service. Asked about a job at the deli close to here, and said to check back at the end of the week. I miss Mary badly.
College! College was an interesting time in his life. The introduction of girlfriends, alcohol and the opportunity to try drugs was enlightening, but sadly, the death of his parents in an automobile accident during his fourth year changed the thrill of playing. Mitch had been straight-laced compared to some of his friends who seemingly threw away their opportunities with unconstrained drugs and alcohol, all on their parents’ dollars.
Day Three: Living in a tent is not as fun as camping. I hate sneaking out of the woods like I am a fugitive. Today it’s raining and I found a leak in the corner of my tent. Have to try to keep things up off the ground. Canned soup is not that bad cold. I don’t have any way of cooking so I try to buy cooked foods. Placed a call to a temp agency, hoping they would find some kind of job for me. They said they would call. Did a lot of walking through town, stopping at every place that might have a job. Nothing. Going to text Mary.
For him the true learning came when he started work. Applying the principles he learned was not so easy when his boss already had his own ideas, forcing him to rethink and analyze his plans. Determined to construct his life into something his father would appreciate, he worked long hours developing marketing strategies for the automotive giant, Chrysler in their Delaware plant. He was favored and received high reviews from his boss, especially when sales increased under his approach.
Day Four: I don’t call myself homeless, just a transient. This is not my home, just a temporary dwelling. Still no luck today. It’s Friday and Mary and I used to always call it party night. Stopped by to see her - so painful. Bus fare is expensive. Her mom takes good care of her. Baked beans and cold hot dogs for lunch and dinner today, yum! No dishes to do when you use free plastic silverware from Wendy’s and just a can. Got a radio from Goodwill so I can listen to something tonight.
He really didn’t believe the plant would close when rumors started circulating. The so-called leadership team held meetings asking the employees to work longer hours for shorter pay. He ignorantly agreed, thinking that he would sacrifice for the good of the company, but in retrospect, he realized he only helped to line the pockets of the executives. He was a hopeful kind of person, thinking that better times were just around the proverbial corner.
Day Five: Living in a tent sucks. I should just go on welfare and collect a check. I hate this life. Sick of walking the streets and looking for work. Rewarded myself with a bottle of whiskey for tonight. Should last for a lot longer than a bottle of wine. Hate visiting Mary when I’m like this.
That first year of cutbacks in pay and a gradual reduction in the workforce didn’t register in the front of his consciousness due to the chance meeting of the love of his life. Mary was a secretary or office administrator, as they liked to be called, in the facilities department. It was a Halloween party that brought them into the same room and then they were inseparable. He loved her quick smile and genuine care. After a short engagement, they married on Valentine’s Day, the same day Chrysler announced the closing of the plant. Escaping the news of the announcement, they left for a blissful honeymoon in the Bahamas.
Day Six: Slept all day. Starving with a headache. Only thing in the tent is whiskey. I need to get out tomorrow. Love you Mary.
He returned to work only to find chaos. Fellow workers scrambling to find jobs, leaving almost immediately after the announcement while others like himself held on for weeks to the very end. He was not sure why he stayed so long, or if there would have been a better chance for him to land a job if he left earlier.
Day Seven: It’s Monday. Okay day. Checked back in at the deli and might have a job the beginning of September. Bank account dropped below $200. Have to make it last for another month. Going to wash up at the gas station’s bathroom today and try to clean some clothes in the sink. Ha, Ha. Mary would never believe it -- me doing laundry. Miss being with her. 
Their condo was contemporary with large windows and high ceilings. He was going to treat Mary well and give her a home to be proud of. He purchased the place just after their engagement, knowing that between the both of their salaries, he could afford the $1600 mortgage payment. It was fun shopping with Mary to pick out the furniture. He had only lived in the dorm at college besides at home. They furnished the home with leather couches and solid cherry tables to complement some of the furniture he inherited from his parents. Money was not an issue and his credit was almost perfect. It was satisfying to have a nicer home than most of their friends, and parties were plentiful on the weekends.
Day Eight: Pretty hot today. Sometimes forget that I am going to be a dad. Someone stole my socks off the line! Really! Guess I have to watch out. Got a dollar burger today with a salad for $2.12. Ate outside at the town park. Stopped shaving. No job.
March came. Work was demanding more of Mitch’s time, but Mary was considerate. She made dinner late so they could eat together at nine even though she finished work at four-thirty. They would watch shows on the flat screen television mounted on the bedroom wall and pretend to have picnics on their king-sized bed. It was Mitch’s favorite piece of furniture -- his parents’ old solid mahogany sleigh bed frame. At the beginning of the month, he bought a new Mustang so Mary could have his older Honda and sold her Buick. The gas was too expensive for the old car and she liked the Honda better anyhow. Her job ended about mid-March.
Day Nine: Checked the Post Office box today. Junk from the mortgage company, a credit card offer and a letter from the temp agency. Forgot my phone was off to save battery. Went in town to the coffee shop to plug in and called. They have a job as a truck driver. The catch? Got to get a CDL license. Don’t have the money. Mary sounded good. Has some vegetables from her Mom’s garden for me if I can make it over. Found some perfectly good apples in dumpster behind grocery store!
April 2, 2007, Monday morning. Mitch received the message in his inbox that he had an appointment with his boss at noon. It was the end of his employment. There were no happy endings and no promises, just thanks for a job well-done and a hand shake. His severance was meager, enough to cover the expenses for three months. He quietly packed up his desk into a file box, removed his personal information from his computer and walked out of the huge facility.
Day Ten: Met Mary at the coffee shop. She is so beautiful. She packed me some sandwiches and fresh fruit as well as some packaged snacks. Have to keep them in my backpack since someone stole my last three cans of soup yesterday. She almost cried. Told me she liked my new beard. I have to get a job!
The first day of being unemployed, Mitch hit the road running. He dressed in his best suit and polished his shoes. There were several people he knew that told him at some point in their friendship that he could always find a job with them. There was no pressure as he knew he could find a good job, if not a better job than he had with Chrysler. With his good college education and his resume, he knew he was an ideal candidate for the right position. But no one had openings, just wanted to take him out to lunch and promised him great things in their future plans.
Day Eleven: Funny how I talk to this diary like it’s my friend. Writing helps me organize my thoughts. It’s Friday again, Party Night! Yup, it’s me, my radio and this diary. Here I am the transient derelict, but not really a derelict because no one abandoned me; I kind of stepped away from life as I knew it for a while. My clothes are looking pretty frumpy after being balled up all the time. My beard is pretty full now, feels kind of cool. I have lost some weight, as I needed to poke another hole in my belt for the buckle to work. I mailed Mary a card today. Love her too much, it hurts. Last of the sandwiches from Mary for supper.
By the end of April, Mitch knew he was not heading in a good direction. They had spent the first $3000 of his severance. Since he kept expecting to land a job at any time, they continued with their normal lifestyle of weekend parties and actually spent more than normal since they were both home during the day, going out to lunch and the occasional breakfast. It was almost a second honeymoon for them after the hectic weeks during the plant’s shutdown. Mary was looking for work but also looking in on her ailing mother.
Day Twelve: Slept in today. I am allowed to sleep in on Saturdays. Walked to the grocery store to get more bug spray. The mosquitoes have been awful. Walked to the library to read the paper and go online. Hadn’t checked my emails since I have been living in this tent. Not really much good stuff. Just wanted to talk to Mary so emailed her a love letter. She will get it sometime in the next few days whenever she gets a chance to log on. Found a coupon for a pizza for half price but the pizza guy gave it to me for free! Said something about being overcooked.
Mary and Mitch decided it was time to cut back on their expenses. They were spending money too quickly and it needed to stop. They listed the new mustang online to sell, and within two days they had offer. The price was only enough to cover the cost of the car loan, but it would mean one less expense. Mary started selling off little things around the house and instead of a party one weekend, they held a yard sale. Mitch cancelled the now unnecessary insurance on his car and paid off Mary’s policy for the year. They cut back on their dinners out and looked for any way to stop the flow of money out of their bank account. Life didn’t seem so bad.
Day Thirteen: Washed my hair today at the gas station. It’s getting long. I look like a mountain man. Went to the Wendy’s store and asked if they had any jobs, but nothing. Made my rounds to the library to check the newspaper and charge my phone. Mary needs me to keep this phone alive, it’s our only link. Went to the Methodist church today and they served free soup and cake for dessert! Pretty full tonight. Hoping to sleep well and dream of Mary.
June was hot and depressing as Mitch looked daily in the paper for the elusive job. He wasn’t qualified to be a teacher or a nurse and the rest of the ads were not real employment, just scam artists preying on the gullible. They drove to the beach for a couple of days for a splurge and for a change of scenery. Somehow, the nagging fact that their bank account had dropped below $5,000 kept them on edge and Mitch started crunching the numbers when they got back. They only had enough money to pay for their mortgage and expenses for one more full month if he couldn’t find work.
Day Fifteen: This is my new diary. Someone stole my dairy two days ago! I didn’t think I had to worry about it and always left it on my pillow in the tent. Cheap life. The joys of being a homeless man. How low do people go when they are desperate? But a diary?! Anyhow, took the bus to the hospital today for Mary’s ultrasound appointment at the clinic. Pretty cool stuff. We have a baby coming. Eating the last of the  delicious sandwiches from my wonderful wife! Too hungry to write.
They had to sell their condo. There was no way around it. The bank agent told them their house was worth about what they owed on it. Mitch tried to explain that they could not make any more mortgage payments, but the agent was insistent that they wait and see if their luck turned. Over the next few weeks, they started packing up their belongings and stored them in Mary’s mother’s garage. On the 4th of July, amid watching a gala of fireworks over the town river, Mary announced she was pregnant. The news was so exciting but with a bitter edge for him. A child? Of course he wanted a child. He and Mary discussed their futures as parents, but somehow he never expected one in this environment. They pushed their troubles aside for the evening to enjoy the wonderfulness of being parents, even if it only seemed in theory to Mitch.
Day Sixteen: I think I am used to sitting in my tent doing almost nothing for hours. I cannot go on like this. I think we need to move south or somewhere where the economy is not so bad. My child needs me and I need to be with Mary. If nothing changes by the end of this month, I am going to ask Mary to move away with me. There is no way I am spending a winter in this tent. Note this entry as my notification to the jobless world that my tenure here is ending. I am looking in dumpsters for food, washing up in sinks, sleeping too much and hating myself the whole time. It has to end soon.
By the end of July, their condo was empty. Mitch used some of their dwindling monies to pay off their credit card and then put Mary’s car in the shop. It needed new brakes, a new battery and tires all around. He wanted her to be safe, especially now that she was pregnant. Mary agreed to move back in with her Mom, but only for a few weeks until Mitch could find a job. He gave her the car and told her he would use public transportation and walk if he needed. They split their money in half so that each would have some cash if needed, even though there was less than $400 dollars left. They walked out of the condo, locked the doors and drove to her mother’s house. Mitch excused himself quickly with the pretext that he had a job lead he wanted to follow up on. The reality was that he just could not face the shame of leaving Mary to live with her mother.
Day Seventeen: Got a strange letter today in the Post Office. Seems as though whomever stole my diary gave it to an agency. Really suspicious. Told Mary but warned her not to get her hopes up. Tomorrow I am meeting the guy at the coffee shop in town. Why would an agent want to talk to me? What’s it have to do with my diary? This is the strangest night of my tent life so far. Have to get up early enough to clean up a little.
September 5th, 2007 Elkton newspaper, the Cecil Guardian Headline: Local Homeless Man Sells Story Rights to Movie Producer. In an unexpected turn of events, the act of thievery from a local business man turned homeless after the closing of the Newark Chrysler Plant leads to the possibility of a movie script. Mitch Saunders from Elkton lost everything and was residing as a transient in the woods behind the north part of town. His diary he kept of his daily attempts to basically live without a home was stolen and strangely ended up in the hands of a writer looking for a script for a production company. (continued on page 5).