We Saw Your Light On
The man in the blue plastic flip-flops introduced himself this way: "Yeah, I'll talk to you. You got two dollars? I'm an alcoholic. I'm going to need that two dollars in the morning."
It was just past three in the morning and the man in the blue plastic flip-flops came down from his apartment (the Scargo, a subsidized low-income building in Belltown, next to the Frontier Room) after I flashed a big light into his window.
He was cheerful and talkative, not slurring at all, but it was hard to follow his conversation. First he said he was 30, then 35, but he looked like a hard-lived 40. His name was Billy. Then it was Alex. Then he asked: "Can you refer to us as Dana and Alex?" Who's Dana? "He's in jail, doing 30 days in Monroe. But when he gets out, we're going to burn that fucking thing down." Burn what fucking thing down? "I don't know who kept calling the cops, but it's our right to burn." Burn what? "I used to sleep under a trailer in Fremont," he answered.
Billy talked like he was flipping through a big book and reading parts of paragraphs. There were themes—Dana, Belltown, things that need burning in Fremont—but no momentum. He started on a tear about the noisy people coming out of the bars, shouting and flirting and "deciding who's going home with who. I'm 30 years old—I'm not 20 anymore. I don't need to hear that shit." But it was a Wednesday night, long after closing time. The street was empty. So what was keeping him up that night? "I don't know," he said, furrowing his brow. "That's a good question."
We couldn't go up to his room because he's not allowed to have guests this late. And he was on a 10-day probation because of some unspecified trouble involving "a crazy girl." The rent is cheap at the Scargo (Billy pays $102 a month), but there are rules.
"This place is a shithole," he said, sitting on a plastic chair and lighting a cigarette. "No air conditioning, because it's a historic building. Hey, have I earned my two dollars yet?"
"Print this!" he said. "Print: 'Max and Melissa.' He took my girlfriend. Now she's doing that yuppie thing—BMW and everything. They have a baby."
Then: "Print this! Print: 'Don't mess with Dana and Alex.' Dana is going to be out of jail in 30 days."
Then: "You should do a story about the new homeless people in Ballard. There are homeless people coming from out of town to Ballard!"
A few minutes later: "You should exposé this: Section D in Arizona, by the Four Corners. The government and aliens—don't even try to go there. You won't come out alive. They abduct hundreds of thousands of people a year. You aren't from the CIA, are you?"
"Okay. Have I earned my two dollars yet? Are you whoring me out or what?" He laughed and gave me a high-five and told me the cheapest beer you can buy is a six-pack of 16-ounce cans of Natural Ice.
"I'm a 35-year-old—how would I label myself?" A pause. "I'm a 35-year-old and I'm waiting for the end of the world."