Evening “wellness checks” happen every night, staff basically come round and check that you and everyone else in the shelter are still alive. Whoever is on duty makes sure you are ok, then off they go. I make sure I am still in my day clothes, have a mask handy, and don’t leave them waiting. It seems like the least that I can do. Around eight o’clock, there was the usual knock on the door and a loud “wellness check” warning yelled out by a recognizable male voice, I jumped up, still in my big black tee-shirt, skinny black jeans, eyeliner and my oversized dorky reading glasses, (I wasn’t even in my sensible granny-style pj’s, which I guess might be offensive to a young guy), grabbed a mask and opened the door.
The tall, young man from the Shelter jumped back two foot in horror, making an audible yelp. “Woooaaaah!” I couldn’t work it out. He told me I scared him, I opened the door too quickly, started to laugh nervously. Puzzled as I was, I said something meaningless about being only 5 foot tall and tiny and old and female, and what on earth was so scary about me. He wished me goodnight, I apologized for scaring him. I mean, he knocked on the door, I opened it. I am not sure what I could have done any differently. I went to bed perplexed. Sat perched on my bed, hanging out with Ginsburg and Cassady, reading their private correspondence and occasionally stopping to change the music. I put on a movie – the infinitely dull Dark Knight. I don’t seem to be able to find anything good to watch nowadays, and am reduced to reruns of Cold Case, and Bones. I still could not work it out.
This morning I woke up, grabbed yesterday’s pile of clothes. I live out of a suitcase in a shelter. I own 5 tee-shirts and two pairs of jeans, it is hardly hard to work out what to wear in the morning….ran to the bathroom, and then realized as I pulled on the thick black tee-shirt, turning it the right way round. There was the answer, grinning at me, Marlboro dangling from between his lips, junk-soaked smile on his elegant face, pockmarked, and mullet haired, huge mirrored wayfarers hiding pin-prick pupils. I didn’t scare the young male worker. It wasn’t me. It was Keith.
I am not sure I will ever get the right day to wear the Keith shirt. Maybe I need to find my tribe of fellow Keith wearing dykes, with a penchant for dorky specs. I’m digging the cheap clear perspex frames. Dollar fifty in Daiso, reading glasses, and I can just about read standard sized print. I am falling apart in middle age. Nothing works right. My eyes are no good, my leg hurts where it never got fixed after being kicked time and time again, my shoulder pops out now and again after an old dislocation and break. I am like an ancient prize fighter who spends retirement wincing every time they pull themselves out of a chair. I don’t even have belts and a mansion to comfort me or to show for my premature decrepit state.
I went back to my suitcase and pulled out Monday’s shirt instead. A funky Ramones shirt in black and tan, their logo bearing their names. It is a little big for me and a bit boxy, but I love it. At least Joey isn’t peering out in his insectoid carbona soaked glory, but then again, I could possibly do with warding off the beasts. I might have to go hang out with Keith again, he looks pretty rough. “I know,” I want to tell him – my old friend that I have never met, “I know, you didn’t mean to scare nobody.” Keith doesn’t look so sure.