We dream of the world we could have made, and wake up in the world that we did.
As children we’re asked what we want to be when we grow up. The question should be who do we want to be. We are asked what do we dream for our lives? Our answers when young are full of achieving the impossible:spacemen, writers, actors, time-travellers, super-heroes, ninjas, artists, explorers, stunt-men…And then, eventually, someone older with no idea of the possible says, “impossible” and the children who wanted to become spacemen, writers, actors, time-travellers, super-heroes, artists, explorers, and stunt-men all shuffle into an office and become members of staff: a name which turns employers into wizards and people into sticks.
People too weak to follow their own dreams will always disparage your own.
How can you follow a dream that you cannot see? You believe.
We are told to grow up and stop dreaming. Our twenties are spent putting our dreams so far to the back of our minds that the only way the human race can cope is by having them at night, when we aren’t around to switch them off.
In the office I worked in until yesterday, the staff sit back rotting, chubby-fingered on creaking chairs, waiting for the chance to pinprick the thought bubbles of any person who might be caught dreaming. The pins used are sharp words, and the staff hunt in packs. When one speaks, the others sit nodding into screens like drinking-bird perpetual motion machines, biscuits in hand, crumbs falling into their coffee: slurping and silently farting themselves through the morning.
“I wanted to be a lot of things when I was your age too Colossus. I dreamt of being an actor, but we have to live in the real world. Growing up is about accepting you can’t become what you dreamt about when you were young.”
The ginger crumbs fall from nodding heads.
The air smells of children being told by elders Father Christmas doesn’t exist.
I listened to the dream poppers reaffirm life choices as their health deteriorated, their children drifted, and they grew to be never more at home than when they were at work, sitting in creaking chairs, eating ginger biscuits. Until, one day, a ginger biscuit snapped, along with my patience, and I walked into a park to pursue my dream of becoming a writer.
My name is Colossus Sosloss, and I didn’t know it then, but quitting my job, was the first step on my journey to awesome. This, is the story of what happened when I left my home and office job, and lived in a park to write what became this very book. These words, every word you have already read, and are about to read, were all written while in real life I was homeless, and living under a tree…
I enter Gladstone Park as the sun is setting. I wander around looking for the safest place to settle down for the night. I’m not looking for armed guards and bulletproof limousines, but I am trying to avoid needles and people with dead teeth and ghosts for eyes. Tomorrow I’ll find where I want to sleep permanently, but tonight I just want to get into my sleeping bag and be away from any people before it turns too cold. The main concern lurking persistently in my mind, a fat man wearing oven gloves trying to open a packet of Skittles, is I’m going to need somewhere to leave my bags, or I’ll be forever chained to them, like an ageing rodeo star to horses.
No retired rodeo star leaves his house without apples in both his pockets in case he sees a horse.
I’ve been to this park before, and from previous visits I know there’s an old abandoned house at the top of the park in the corner. Standing tall and proud, yet waiting to be pulled down, an old king watching time and power slip between his fingers, as those closest to him whisper about his Alzheimer’s.
I slowly walk up to the house, as my mind runs away from me.
What have you done?
This is insane.
The old house is surrounded by a corrugated iron fence, and one of the iron shutters is bent back, allowing access to the inside grounds. I could place my bags inside the broken shutter, and I don’t think they would be found by anyone wandering around the park. I avoid the abandoned house for now because it’s late, and I’m not sure who else occupies this park at night.
I’m probably not the only homeless person here.
Beyond the abandoned house I find a small woods, which could provide protection for the night.
I walk inside, alone, following the path as the trail darkens. In the middle of this small wood, I find an ideal clearing to settle down for the night because it’s spacious and hidden. The floor is littered in cans of beer and rubbish. This area, like the abandoned house, is too ideal. Any gangs or homeless people also living in the park would congregate here. I don’t want to be the unwanted intruder. When people have nothing, they claim nothing is theirs. I don’t want to be stabbed for sitting on the wrong tree stump. I’m not a tough tramp, so I continue looking for a safer bedroom. I walk out of the small woods and onto the path, and head back down toward the main park entrance.
A tramp is a person who moves from place to place with his life possessions on him, like a turtle. The definition of a bum is a person without a home or job, who stays in one place. I have no job, no home, and my life is in three bags, including my sleeping bag: I am a bum.
At the age of thirty I’m finally defined by indefinableness.
The setting sun disappears fast and sly, a ninja slipping into the shadows as he’s caught short needing the toilet.
I have no experience with sleeping in parks. I’m convincing myself moving to a park is the right thing to do, and by the end of this experience I will prove there’s nothing to fear, we don’t need security keeping us safe at the price of our happiness, and if you’re not happy, it’s possible to wield the universe to your dreams if you only allow it to.
This is real and there’s no turning back.
I am a complete idiot.
I’ve never seen such a devastating moon so close to Earth. I feel like an ant in the shadow of an orange. I imagine what psychological damage an ant would sustain if it was staring up at what the ant thought was its moon, yet it was just an orange, and I picked the orange up and ate it. The ant would wake from nightmares, screaming about how the moon was eaten by giants, before eventually being committed to a mental home for insects whose minds cannot cope with their size, or the true scale of their existence. As I look up into tonight’s giant moon, the moon reminds me I’m just an ant, yet the surreal nature of perspective, also makes me thankful I’m not just an ant.
I walk back down the hill, sit on a park bench, place my bags at my feet and take in my surroundings. Ahead of me green park stretches up and over a hill toward the abandoned house I’ve just returned from. The old house dominates the skyline, a pensioner refusing to get off the bouncy castle at a kid’s birthday party.
To my left, and over a bridge, is the rest of the park, split into two by old railway tracks.
Now the sun has gone, and the moon is out, it’s cold: a lot colder than I expected.
The universe stretches above me forever. They say higher ground is an advantage in battle. If aliens ever attacked, we wouldn’t stand a chance. The stars and the galaxy look beautiful, but then, everything looks beautiful from a distance.
I look at the ground around the bench I’m sitting on, and it’s covered in dog shit.
I’m having doubts. I’m nervous about living in a park on my own.
I need to hear a friendly voice, so I call Grace before the battery dies on my phone, and I lose all contact with the outside world.
Grace is twenty-four: just old enough to know better, just young enough to do it anyway and get away with it. She’s a long distance runner, a heart of gold, patience so short she makes short fuses seem like marathons. She has a small head, nose and a tiny mouth. When she gets angry her small nose grows large, like a puffer fish, and her mouth disappears like an ostrich hiding in the sand. Her ears, regardless of the depth of anger being felt by her nose and head, remain steadfast, unmoving, and are always attached to the side of her small head regardless. Her chin gives nothing away, a marvellous poker player in its own right. On occasion I have found Grace’s company as calming as the hum of fridges at night, and her hello as peaceful as the sound of newly formed ice dropping into place for use in the day. Her actual voice sounds clashing, irritable, and subtly pensive: two happily married French knights fighting in heavy armour for an ugly princess neither wants to win.
Hearing Grace’s voice, even if she sounds like weary swords clashing into shields, is a good thing.
I dial her number, and listen as she answers her phone, in tears.
I see ping-pong balls float down waterfalls.
My thoughts switch to a lost washing machine playing jump rope with two girls on an empty cobbled street. The girls hang onto each end of the skipping rope. They move it up in the air and around toward the base of the washing machine. The rope hits the washing machine because white goods can’t jump.
The girls don’t want to play with the household appliance again.
I find this thought calming.
I wonder how long she can cry for. I shouldn’t have told her I was going to live in a park.
I go to assure Grace I’ll be okay, but she talks over me and explains she’s sorry for being so upset, but she ran a marathon earlier and is in tears because she can’t believe how happy she is. Grace warbles on about her race and I try to assure her I’m fine, or let her know I have done what I said I would and moved into a park, but she talks over me again.
Anyway Colossus, I’m so fucking tired, and I need my beauty sleep, so goodbye.
And so I say okay, the first word I’ve spoken, but by the time the word has left my mouth, I’m talking to myself. Grace hung up, ungracefully.
I feel more alone than before I called her.
These days, instead of saying ‘hang’ up the phone, we should say ‘push the button’ because hanging up the phone is quite 1984.
The bench I’m sitting on has two missing slats and is mostly holes. Somehow, it’s failed at being a plank of wood. The sun has now gone, and in the darkness the park feels larger, like space, and I’m losing my mind to it.
I sense some movement by my feet. My mind whispers to me that the holes in the bench have been caused by a caterpillar the size of a dog, which lazily crawls out from the bushes at night looking for its favourite meal of homeless peoples’ feet. I look down at my feet, they’re nothing special, but I’m not prepared to lose them to a dog-sized caterpillar.
Not on the first night.
I stand and walk up the hill, stopping halfway, by the biggest tree in the park.
Defeated by darkness, tonight, I have no choice but to sleep where I am, wherever that is.
I remove my Argos sleeping back from the packaging and lay it across the dark floor. One minute ago I was standing on grass. Now I’m floating in space, and the night feels lonely and alienating.
This is the side of the moon Pink Floyd sang about.
How can you be a lonely soul when shoes come in pairs?
The Argos in Cricklewood is not famed for its range of high quality sleeping bags, or their diligent staff, and I’m pensive as I pull out my sleeping bag: will it be an iron, or a set of Reindeer colouring books they failed to shift at Christmas?
I pull exactly what I ordered from the packaging, and roll out a green, well-padded, sleeping bag. The Argos catalogue proudly states my sleeping back is 450GSM. Other bags have a GSM range of between two and four hundred. The cost of the bag directly relates to the quantity of GSMisminiminisms. I don’t know what GSMS are, but as I have four hundred and fifty of them, I hope they’re helpful in some way. I don’t want them to be Garbling Saxophone Microphones: tiny microphones built into the lining of my sleeping bag, immediately converting every thought and word I have, and say, into a debate chaired by Gerry Rafferty about the science of saxophonic noise.
I stare at my puffy sleeping bag and accept I’m doing this. It has happened. I’ve left everything, and I’m now in a park on my own, embarking on my first night of homelessness. My family and friends all said this is a crazy idea and so I’ve had to learn how to ignore fear by putting it in a box and wrapping the box in duct tape, placing it in a bin liner, and burying it behind the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, Paris.
The cold wind slices my face and pushes invisible weight into my skin. The wind moves my cheeks and leaves damp traces on the surface of my face, a ghost’s tears splashing in slow motion onto a bright green leaf.
My daily routine has completely changed, the focus now is not submissive servitude, but self-serving my attitude. I no longer have to live in a small studio flat, and work all hours to only just about pay my rent. I no longer have to live with Mohammad, my former landlord, who was half friend, half bastard.
I’ve turned doom upside down into woop. I’m free at last.
I stand over my sleeping bag with the cold wind whipping invisible scars into my skin, and feel a single pound coin in my pocket. I take the coin out of my pocket, and throw it into the darkness.
This is freedom.
This is what Martin Luther King was banging on about, excluding the obvious racial tension in America during the 1960s.
Martin Luther King’s speech would have been odd if he’d said, “I have a dream, there’s this figure waiting at the end of my bed, and he doesn’t say anything but I’m so scared, and all I want to do is wake up, but it’s the last thing any of us have any control over.”
I get into my sleeping bag fully clothed, still wearing my shoes. I search for the zip to fasten the side to become snug, but as I pull the zip toward my face from my feet, it gets caught immediately, and breaks. I stretch to reach down by my toes to the area where the zip is stuck to pull it toward my face. I could get out and do it, but I’m on my back now, and like a son who refuses to use the instruction manual, I persevere fixing the zip my way. Moments before my back snaps in half, propelling my mouth over my shoes, the zip releases itself. I pull it up toward my freezing cold face. The zip gets caught again leaving a two-foot gap between my head and the rest of me. Icy air pours in, making me a man winding down the window in the front seat of a drowning car.
The sleeping bag has a hood attached, so I’m able to lift this over my head. Once in the hood, regardless of the two-foot gap, I’m really warm.
Four minutes later, and I’m sweating.
I lay back warm and comfortable. I think about not having to go to work in the morning, and the thought makes me smile. This morning, when I woke, I had keys for the office, keys to rooms in the office, keys for my studio flat and keys for a bike never used. I left my flat this morning the owner of eight keys, now I have none.
If I dream of a silent black screen would I wake up tomorrow thinking I hadn’t dreamt at all?
I hope in the night I don’t get set on fire by prawn-skinned drunks. I also hope I’m awake before they mow the lawns on those industrial mowers, because they wouldn’t be expecting me, and my sleeping bag is green. Being cut into small red squares of flesh and scattered across green grass would be a terrible alarm clock.
I close my eyes.
I wait for sleep to run me over, put me in the boot of its black car and drive me into tomorrow.
I see Martin Luther King punching the air on a podium as I fall asleep, his words ring through my subconscious:
Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I’m free at last.
I didn’t sleep because my ears tuned to the sounds of the night. My mind pictured the origin of those sounds. Sleep doesn’t come easy when a broken twig conjures images of a hulking mental patient snapping the arms off children, over by the park bin.
The Sounds of Parks at Night, original or panpipe, is an album currently unavailable.
I poke my nose out of my sleeping bag. The world is freezing cold and smells of dog faeces.
If mankind ever sends a dossier to an alien race asking for investment into our planet, we might need to spin that last sentence a bit.
The theme music from Space Odyssey loops in my head as I lower the zip on my sleeping bag so I can see, in the light of day, my brave new world.
A gaggle of mute humans runs, chased by talking monkeys on horseback.
My eyes are surprised, two normal-looking runners, no signs of crazy monkeys from the future. A green truck is parked on the nearest path to me. Two park-staff bounce from the truck and head energetically toward random points, dropped marbles spilling from a safer existence.
One walks up to the bins, the other heads in my direction.
I want to go back to sleep but feel ashamed. I don’t want the park guy to stumble on a homeless guy, and have a moment where he feels awkward, and I don’t want to feel awkward for putting him in an awkward position. I don’t want him to think of me as homeless, or a lost cause. I want to avoid people, because there’s only one thing worse than being homeless, and that’s people who are not, knowing you are. I don’t need to explain my life, or my actions, and I’m not asking for help. As the guy slowly ambles toward me, wearing bowling balls for shoes, I pack up my bags. All I need to do is get rid of my sleeping bag and put it back in its pack, because without the sleeping bag I’m just somebody up early in the morning, sitting under a tree. With the sleeping bag I’m nobody up early, sitting under a tree: a slight, but important difference in how I’ll be perceived.
I get out of my sleeping bag and move to put it back in its original packaging. My sleeping bag doesn’t fit back inside. I fold the sleeping bag, and then roll it up. It doesn’t fit. I pull the zip up to flatten it slightly, it doesn’t fit, I fold the sleeping bag in half, it doesn’t fit.
Instead of folding the sleeping bag lengthways I fold it widthways, it doesn’t fit.
I roll the sleeping bag tightly from the feet to the head in the smallest ball imaginable, it doesn’t fit.
Not only does it not fit, it’s not fitting by the entire width and length of the sleeping bag.
I’m getting practically nothing in.
How the FUCK did my massive sleeping bag ever fit inside this stupid little green bag? The stupid little green bag has become the size of those clear plastic bags parents put sandwiches in before shipping their kids off to school!
If most of the sleeping bag was getting in except the hood I would have hope, if any of the sleeping bag was getting in I could blame myself, but all I’m getting in is the start of the hood.
I roll my sleeping bag from the head to the feet, it doesn’t fit.
I fold my sleeping bag by rolling the head to the middle, then the feet to the middle, then halving it and rolling that, it doesn’t fit.
Getting my sleeping bag back into the original packaging is like trying to fit a claustrophobic elephant into a telephone box using the arcade-machine claw blindfolded, directed by a war criminal using a walkie-talkie, who’s recently taken a vow of silence. Argos has deliberately sold a product designed to make every family camping holiday difficult, and the word Argos is Greek for easy.
My face is cold. I’ve only just woken up.
I look to the heavens in frustration and discover three pink circles surrounded by black feathers staring down at me. As I blink, one of the pink circles expands, then contracts. From its centre, a white splurge exits and drops, landing directly on my sleeping bag.
That would not have happened if my sleeping bag had gone back into the original packaging.
My hands are cold, my nose is running, and giant flies keep landing on me. These flies are fat, hairy, living the good life. I watch the flies dart onto my bag, then onto my legs, then back onto my bag, then onto my forehead. My coat is crawling with yellow bugs about one millimetre in length. Dark orange bodies and yellow heads. My sleeping bag is too big for its bag. I’m cold, tired, my bed has bird poo on it, my skin itches, fat flies sporadically land on my forehead, and a park keeper is walking in my direction.
A butterfly flutters by and lands on the corner of my notepad. I watch it, silence falls, and I forget for a second. The butterfly takes off and flutters by, the sound of the park comes back into focus, and I remember I’m fucked.
There is a small, green spider on my arm that, in turn, notices there’s a colossus living thing underneath its eight legs. I blow it off gently, but my breath is so cold I freeze the spider, encompassing it in ice.
The spider falls to the floor and shatters into sixteen pieces.
There are an awful lot of bugs in nature.
I focus on my sleeping bag, ignore my crawling coat. The bugs don’t have teeth, so for now at least, my life is not in immediate danger.
I grudgingly accept my flotsam pug-legged, lulling lummox of a sleeping bag isn’t going to fit back into its original packaging, which is now an additional bag to carry.
So is the sleeping bag.
This leaves me with a problem. I have my two original bags, a bag too small for a sleeping bag and a sleeping bag.
My original problem of where to hide two bags has doubled.
I jump on the sleeping bag, grab its head and punch it. I punch it again. I grip it around the collar and pull it toward my face, talking to it, a mafia boss speaking the last words to a bloodied enemy.
I put on an Italian accent, because that’s how much fun I am.
“You better let me know how to put you back in your bag… you hear me puffy? I want to know what Argos knows, I want to know what they don’t want me to know, so you better start talking pal, you better start unzipping, you better start spilling your Garbling Saxophone Microphones all over this park or…
The crushing of aluminium can.
A plastic bag flexing in and with the morning wind.
I look up. The park-keeper stands above me, his mouth open slightly. The litter picker in his left hand grips a can, in his right hand he holds a clear rubbish sack. This is embarrassing for me, but the poor bloke must be thinking he’s stumbled upon a complete lunatic.
A look in his eye wants to ask what a Garbling Saxophone Microphone is.
The silence highlights the awkwardness.
I search to find the words explaining the problem with my sleeping bag, but feel weird. He’s looking at a homeless person who threatens sleeping bags in Italian accents, and searching for his words too. All the words in the world have left both of our minds at the same time. He looks straight at me, too afraid to look anywhere else in case I attack. He brings the can from his left hand into the clear plastic bin bag in his right.
I’ve made better first impressions.
He is a man who works hard and takes pride in his job. A man who takes his can-collecting seriously, refuses to let random events, or homeless people, come between him and his rubbish. The type of person who likes getting drunk so they can walk up to a stranger, get right in their face, and shout into one of their eyeballs, “I’VE SEEN THINGS!”
He’s a short man, the size of an acorn. His head is large, heavy too. His head weighs him down, forces him to walk a little bit sideways every time he takes a step forward. He ends up further away from where he plans to walk by the time he arrives. He looks like two pillows tied together with old rope, then stuffed in a bag. His worried face has been drawn on by a rhino with arthritis. He has dark skin and dreadlocks which tie behind his large head.
His facial expression is full of bewilderment, surprise and anger: he’s a spider with arachnophobia. His smooth forehead is his main feature, so large it makes the rest of his face crumpled. Too many features fit into too small a space. His skin is lumpish, a school child stuffing an apple into their face and refusing to swallow. His lips don’t open to reveal his wonderful smile.
He’s wearing a wedding ring. I suspect he’s a Dad.
His face is flabbergasted because his internal monologue is screaming “what if my children saw this man?”
When we’re young nothing offends us, except adults telling us what should. Then when we become adults, nothing offends us, except we are offended on behalf of our young. There’s nothing to get offended by, yet we are always being offended, which I find offensive.
Without taking his eyes off me, he backs away one step at a time, turns and heads to the green truck, no longer wearing bowling balls for shoes. His small shoes are shiny, too shiny I think, for his type of work. I watch him shake his large head and waddle sideways and forwards as he walks. The other park keeper waits for him.
I pinch my beard, a squirrel darts nervously down the stump of a tree, a crow lands and patrols the foreground.
If I pinch my beard again, will one more squirrel climb down the tree and another crow land?
The crow walks with its head held high, chest out, looking for intruders. The squirrel moves fast, head and body low, intruding. Yet the park belongs to neither.
The sun warms up the park. My fingers return to the ends of my hands.
The only bag my sleeping bag is going to fit in is my main bag, my biggest bag holding numerous t-shirts and jumpers. My sleeping bag is going to be warmer than my jumpers and t-shirts, so I empty my main bag, and stuff my sleeping bag inside. My sleeping bag fits. My main bag now swells to capacity, a snake digesting a piano stool.
On the floor at my feet are my clothes, now homeless too. I have a lot in common with them. I have no choice but to throw the rest of my clothes into the homeless charity bin situated in the car park. I throw my clothes into the park’s charity bin for homeless people who live in parks and need clothes, leaving me too short of clothes. My clothing options reduced to what I’m wearing, an extra pair of trousers and two pairs of fresh underwear.
The irony of not having enough space, while living outside of confinement, is not lost on me.
I’m happier as I stare at my bags. The large bag containing my sleeping bag I’ll hide, along with my other bag containing my extra trousers, underwear and some washing essentials like soap, toothpaste and toothbrush. My third bag, my smallest, I’ll have on me at all times, it’s a smaller record bag, and contains books and food.
Now I have my bags sorted, I need to hide the two bags I don’t need.
I climb a small tree and place them on the lowest branches. To me, they look well hidden. I move to the path nearest the tree and sit on a bench, so I can keep an eye on my bags to get an idea of how safe they would be if I left the park. If my bags can stay in the tree, strange fruit, I can head out in search of food and toilets without looking too homeless. I can fit in, while fitting out. I can go to a pub and order a coke, and use the toilets, without being asked to leave.
Perception is how we’re treated and, at least for now, I would like the inevitable decline in the perception of me to be as graceful as possible, so the harsh treatment phases in, rather than it being an immediate and harsh transition.
Babies ease from no face to beautiful child with thoughtless ease.
I hope the transition is as smooth when an adult decides to descend into ugly.
Behind its owner a sagging dog lags along the path, tail wagging, nose smelling last night’s kebab filled bins, tongue dripping, brain wondering what its mouth and belly is missing. The dog reminds me this morning I could smell an undercurrent of dog faeces. Nothing overbearing, but somewhere there’s a lot of it.
I sit with just my small record bag. With my larger bags hidden up the tree, I am removed from the shamed homeless demographic, and placed in the acceptable friend of park group.
A big bee lands on me and takes off again, there’s no rest time when saving the planet.
Big bees sound like small power lines.
A lady walks by with her dog and says good morning to me. I smile and say good morning back.
I’m just a guy sitting on a park bench, with one eye on his bags up a tree.
I see another tramp wobbling along with his hands over his ears. He’s been placed under a large bell and whacked with a massive spoon, leaving him to judder along the path toward me dazed and confused. He has a beard. His hair is long and messy. His eyes are glassy, two way mirrors, but instead of him looking out and being protected from those looking in, he looks at them from the outside, leaving him no idea of what’s going on inside his own head: a stranger to himself. He wears a black suit jacket too small, covered in stains. Straw sticks out of his sleeves. He carries a blue bag I’m certain contains strong alcohol. He was buried weeks ago, but has since eaten his way out of his coffin and taken a part-time job as a scarecrow who drinks on the job.
Worzel walks toward me. I worry because I have no idea what the etiquette is between tramps. I look down and stare at the ground: the same course of action I would take on public transport.
The rule of public transport is to pretend you’re travelling in private. When talking shatters the illusion, people wind up their invisible window in silence. Homeless people don’t often get on public transport, but when they do, it’s to break the silence.
Worzel ambles nearer and stops at the bin next to me. He stands, looks down at me like the God of the discarded. I don’t move my eyes from the floor.
He smells like he never watched cartoons as a kid.
He mutters a conglomerate of inebriated obscenities at me, but they’re laden with so much alcohol the words are heavy and fall from his mouth to the floor, dying from liver failure before they have a chance of reaching my ears. The word “fuckity” did not die, and lays isolated on the concrete path uncontrollably shaking: a violent jelly causing concern to wobbly old ladies enjoying cake at a church function. Worzel turns, falls against the bin and spits a bird-sized piece of phlegm to the ground, into his wobbling swear word. His phlegm is red, and lands like a blob of wax found on the back of a medieval letter, his swear word his only possession.
He walks away, juddering back up the path.
If he had bounced away instead of juddered, I could have called him trampoline.
A man throws his dog a stick. The stick lands directly beneath the tree hiding my bags. The dog may look like Lassie, but refuses to move toward the stick. Lassie has chosen this moment to be a selfish cunt, so the owner moves toward the stick to retrieve it himself.
The guy walks to the stick, picks it up, looks up and stares into the tree.
He squints, places his hands over his eyes, as if his hands help him see.
The man looks concerned. Lassie barks impatiently. He turns and runs back with the stick and a big smile on his face. His tongue lolls from side to side as he runs.
In Superman III, Superman turned bad. In Spiderman 3, Spiderman turned bad. In Lassie Three, Lassie will grow a beard, smoke cigarettes, push kids down wells and lock them in abandoned mines.
I hear the sound of a truck, and watch as the park vehicle drives in my general direction.
This is it, they’re going to pull up beside me and tell me to leave or they’ll call the police.
The park vehicle drives over the railway bridge at the bottom of the path, up the hill, over another path and up to where I’m sitting. I look down at my shoes.
The vehicle drives past me, to my relief, turns left, and stops directly under the tree my bags are in.
My relief turns to stress.
Two men get out, one of normal height, and both stare up at the tree.
I walk toward the men with my hands held high above my head, palms facing them, displaying the internationally recognised symbol for please don’t burn down my village, we’ll get the gold, we just need a few more days. The midget park keeper has an expression on his face like a frustrated professional jigsaw putter-togetherer who has spent two years on a two hundred thousand piece jigsaw puzzle from 1926, only to find out the last piece is missing. He shouts as I make the walk of shame and retrieve my bags. My head is down. He comes close to my face and shouts into my ear don’t leave your bags up trees! He tells me I’ve got to keep my bags with me or he’ll enjoy throwing them away. He tells me he would smile as he watches them burn from the match that he lights. His forehead pushes up against the side of my face. I stare at my shoes. The other guy, a bald guy, places my bags at my feet. I pick them up and walk away.
I walk away with my eyes shut, half expecting a blow to land on the back of my head. The angry guy has long since buried his capacity for fun. His voice is hollow and a betrayal to who he could have been, an empty carousel still spinning in the wind on a derelict promenade. I was expecting his voice to sound smooth and chilled, West Indies, but he reminds me of an old headmaster at the end of a long day walking into the supply cupboard, to discover the school has completely run out of red pens. The old part of me wants to shake hands, get to know his name, but all he sees is a homeless guy making his park a mess, the usual hellos and what’s the weather likes do not apply.
I’m Yogi Bear and he’s the Park Ranger, only he thinks I’m on heroin and used to beat my wife, and I think he’s a violent wally suffering from severe short man syndrome.
Why say burn all my belongings? That’s so specific, so aggressive. I understand because I’m homeless I don’t get the usual greetings, the foundation of civilisation, but no eye contact? Immediate threats of violence? His first words were about burning everything I own…That’s just not how people meet.
That’s how fear says hello.
I walk away with my bags and onto the path, by the bin and Worzel’s phlegm. I follow the path up and over the hill, along a black fence and to the highest point of the park. This new area is away from the path and can’t be accessed by large vehicles, so I hope the park keepers visit it less.
I’m up in the area near the old house, which is a short walk away, to the right, opposite me. This is also the area Worzel walked toward. He is mostly likely living in the old house. Three large trees and several bushes provide cover in this area. The largest tree has the black fence running behind it, and leaves which hang all the way to the floor.
I place all my bags under this tree and lean back against the black fence. Sitting behind the leaves I feel a sense of exclusion, sent upstairs to my room as a naughty child, but instead of going to my room, I sit on the stairs and listen to conversations I shouldn’t.
From here, I can see the world, but the world cannot see me. Perhaps that’s partly to do with the leaves, and partly to do with the world does not see what the world does not want to.
A black poodle with a wet nose, and a prize winning smile that could sell pedigree chum and hold down your average greeting job in a shop, waggles up to me, but as the dog is about to lick my hand his owner bellows his name, like he’s looked up to see his son in the middle of a motorway attempting to cross the lanes on a pogo stick. The dog turns and runs back, leaving me to ponder the phonetic similarities between poodle and Judas.
There’s no good morning from the dog owner. No eye contact. I have my bags with me, so I’m now beneath basic pleasantries.
I’m deemed so unsafe not even Tim the poodle can lick my hand or smell the air around me. I consider closing my eyes and licking myself, but I doubt I can do it well enough to fool my memory into recalling the events differently.
The only true leap of faith is the leap of faith between people.
Looking around, I’m surprised how few places there are in a park to hide my bags. I can’t leave them where I’m sitting, a good place to sit and not be disturbed, but the tree is still in the easily accessible part of the park. Through the gap in the leaves I study a bush opposite. I get up to take a closer look.
This bush is at the bottom of a small slope, and looks like a tree that had a breakdown sometime near puberty. At some time the bush stopped growing, fearing the sun. The branches and leaves point back to the earth, where they hit grass and crawl around in a large circle on the floor. Nobody can see into the centre. I can’t imagine anybody would necessarily want to look closely into the bush.
The bush is not ideal, because the bush is in the middle of an open space. I leave my bag of clothes and sleeping bag inside the bush, keeping my third bag on me at all times.
I step back, it’s not perfect. Should someone be looking for my bags in every bush, they would find them, but for anyone taking a stroll across the park, they’re invisible.
This hiding place will have to do, until I find a better one.
An anagram of ‘bush’ and ‘tree’ is ‘bees hurt’, and they do.
I leave my bags under the bush and return to the tree the black fence runs behind, with only one bag over my shoulder, just like other people, just like everyone else.
I lean against the trunk and sit to watch the obvious world in secret.
A bald guy with a blonde comb-over, an indication to all sorts of mental deficiencies, wanders up to a nearby tree in the field of my vision.Hewears a rainbow coloured t-shirt and normal jeans, several sizes too big for his frame. His coat is white, unwashed. He looks like an American bad guy from an eighties film, rebelling against his hippie upbringing, while still living at home with his parents until his plans for world domination take hold. His mum walks downstairs to her basement, where he’s lived since he was sixteen, asks for the hundredth time if he wants his coat washed, the guy shouts at his mum to get out, and throws his teddy bear at her. He screams about her not respecting his need for privacy, before whispering, because I’m trying to take over the world.
He’s in his late thirties. I watch him walk to the tree opposite me. He lifts his hands above his head, moves his arms out to the side and waves them around like a child, in slow motion, attempting to fly an imaginary plane. He makes a noise, a humming, vibrating sound. He shifts his weight quickly from side to side.
He brings his arms above his head. He holds his hands together, like a human torpedo.
He hums louder. He moves from side to side faster. He stops. He shakes his head.
He puts his hands on his waist, and looks annoyed.
He slaps the tree.
“Don’t you say that to me!”
The man sounds hurt, but if the tree spoke I didn’t hear it.
I’ve never seen a person slap a tree before. I would have missed this if I was in still the office.
His voice is a fat rabbit with a pointy nose being eaten alive by a blind cannibal chicken, mistaking the rabbit for his usual meal. An expensive voice, a schooled voice, he may have been out of place during his schooling, leading to all manner of complications, like a close relationship with trees.
The man storms away from the tree.
I’m witnessing lovers having a regular tiff in public, only one is a tree. I’m a homeless guy they don’t know, peering through the leaves of another tree, writing down what’s happening in real time.
He walks by another tree, stops and smiles.
“You didn’t have to say that.”
His voice is sultry now. The tree has just told him what lovely thick hair he has. He raises his hands above his head and resumes the torpedo position. He hums again. He moves from side to side. This time he’s distracted. As he builds up momentum he looks longingly back to the tree he slapped. He stops vibrating. He brings his hands down to his side. He tells the tree he’s rubbing up against he’s really sorry, but he’s just realised he’s making a mistake.
The man walks back to the tree he slapped. He laughs, as if he’s been told he looks sexy when he’s mad. I don’t think he does, but I don’t know him as well as the tree seems to.
“Do you mind if I cut in?”
The man refers to the invisible tree dancing with his tree girlfriend.
The crazy tree ball, happening in his mind.
He puts his hands above his head and resumes his torpedo stance.
He moves from side to side. He breathes deeply.
His breath quickens. He shudders. He falls against the tree. He gives the tree a long hug.
He thanks the tree. He calls the tree baby and breathes into the bark. The tree appears to be an old lover, or a new lover. He gently brushes the bark with the side of his face, rubs the bark up and down and groans deeply. He calls the tree baby one more time.
I don’t wish to judge, but this is exactly what’s happening.
I guess he has difficulty sustaining relationships with adults but then, for all I know, maybe he’s happily married with children because of his relationship with trees. The man walks away whistling without a care in the world, but if I was him I’d have a lot on my mind all of the time. I consider walking out from beneath my tree, slapping the man and telling him that’s the last time I trust him with my wife.
I turn to the tree I’m sitting under and think about making the vibrating noise, but without an indication my tree is fine with it, I would be violating the tree.
Madness, I realise, not beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
I turn my phone on and my Dad has left a worried answer phone message.
I don’t like causing concern among friends and family, but it’s a sad consequence beyond my control.
Life is a constant struggle between doing what you want, doing what others want you to do, and not wanting to do anything.
So, at some point, you have to stop playing to the crowd to get off the stage.
And people think that’s crazy.
People think because I want to get off the stage, and search the bins behind the theatre something is wrong in my head.
Yet to not look for the strings, to cut them from your shoulders, to me, is madness.
To speak your mind, first silence your thoughts.
I’m living Martin Luther King’s dream of freedom, but as a white guy in a park in a multiracial society.
I don’t know what I’m doing.
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