At the end of the summer of 1995, I had finished all my credits for high school and my father handed me twenty dollars. That’s the last you’re getting from me, he said. Either I had to enroll in the community college or start paying him rent. No, he said, let me rephrase that: you’re going to pay me rent and I’ll pay your tuition at the community college. There was an opening at the insurance company where he worked: all the paper files would be scanned onto microfiche and someone needed to pull out the staples. It’s at least three months of work, he promised. I laughed at the creases in his khaki pants and began the part of my life you could call my life on the streets. 

Three blocks from my father’s house was a strip mall, and in the strip mall was a coffee shop where I waited in line to ask for an application. The banana bread in the case looked good and the girl in front of me looked dirty and I saw her slip a thick slice of banana bread into her dirty bag. How much was a juice, she asked the guy at the counter. It was $1.25. She handed him a one and said whoops I don’t have change. She took the one back and gave him a five. He gave her three bucks and started fingering the coin drawer when she said oh here’s a quarter and asked for the five back, handing him a single. Can I get a straw she said, holding a dollar in her hand and putting her hand in the tip jar. Over there, he said pointing to a little table by the wall as she took her hand out of the tip jar holding a few more dollars.

Can I help you, he asked me. But I was already following her out. 

On the street, we split the banana bread and stopped at a payphone. Who did I want to call? She produced a gadget from her bag that beeped into the receiver. The call went through to my father without any coins. Fuck you, dad, I said. She showed me her squat in West Philly. A band played and six kids were throwing themselves into each other in front of the band. Her housemate showed me how they siphoned off electricity and shared a salad of iceberg lettuce fresh from his dumpster dive; he made a dressing by mixing packets of ketchup and mustard. I remember when I was seventeen and living on the streets, he told me, that was the best time of my life. 

The band left at three in the morning. You can’t just stay here, she said, you’d have to contribute. Like rent, I asked. Uh huh, she said. I walked towards Center City in the dark. Someone asked me for a dollar. I only had the twenty. He had new shoes and I said, sorry dude. I ought to punch you in the mouth, he said. You can’t lie down on the benches at Rittenhouse, so I tried to sleep sitting up. In the morning I was hungry. I was starting to feel like twenty dollars was not much money. 

I went into a coffee shop by the park. How much is a juice, I asked. One dollar. I only have a twenty, I said. He gave me nineteen back. Oh, I told him, I do have a single. I held it out to him and asked for the twenty back. But I just gave that to you, he said, that’s your change. Right, I said. I don’t really want the juice, I told him, let’s start over give me back the twenty. He snatched the nineteen dollars back and slid the juice toward me. Keep it, he said, and get the fuck out of here. So then I was out a twenty.

I drank the juice and walked back to the squat in West Philly. No one answered, so I walked down to Zipperhead on South Street. There were gutter punks on the sidewalk. They said what’s up and asked me for a dollar. I walked through Society Hill to Old City, up to Chinatown and then back up to the squat. No one answered. On 40th Street, I sat down and watched the college kids. If they looked at me, I asked them for a dollar. Nobody gave me anything. It got dark again. The shops and restaurants and then the bars closed. A college kid walked past me. I asked him for a dollar. I ought to punch you in the mouth, I said. He stopped and said, Really? 

I ran to 38th Street. It was hot. I took off my t-shirt. I walked to Logan Square and dipped my ankles into the fountain. You can’t lie down on the benches at Logan Square either, so I tried to sleep on the grass. It got too crowded there. On 15th Street, I saw a guy getting into his car. He looked like a doctor. I put my index finger out, covered it with my t-shirt and pointed at him. 

Give me your money, I said. 

He looked at me: What? No. 

I’ll shoot you, I said. 

I’ve at least got to see the gun, he said, show me the gun. 

I’m not joking, I said. Give me your wallet. 

I can’t help you, he told me and punched me in the nose.

At 6:15 in the morning, I caught the R3 from Suburban Station. The conductor didn’t check tickets until we had almost reached Lansdowne. From the Lansdowne station, I called my father collect. It was the last time, for a long time, that I heard my father’s voice.

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