So I am embarking on this tale. It’s a bit confusing, and oft overwhelming, but it is as honest and true to a single perspective as the ego will allow. I want to tell the story. The story is the relationship. That’s what I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen anyway, but it feels a little like bullshit. What’s to follow is the tale of an existence through the eyes of the vessel.
I want to purge my past today. I want to make room for the next decade, and the truths it will teach me, perhaps more about the self than the world. This can’t be anything more than the stream of thought through the pen. It’s the only formula that works, and the one that most guarantees the truth. I realize, of course, that in this decade the pen is the key, and isn’t that a poignant observation?
The story that has been weighing the most heavily on my mind these days, is the story of hate-edge matt and my 22nd birthday.
There used to be a bus line in Austin, a few of them actually, they called them the ‘Dillos and they were amazing. In the city’s attempt to market their history, they were converted trolly cars, that ran on a fuel engine. Only running through the downtown and campus areas, these busses got you everywhere and they were free to ride. Texas summers find street kids seeking all available free air conditioning, and the supply is quite limited, those stories will find their way here , I am sure.
The sunny day I turned 22 found me, like most early May days, boarding the Gold ‘Dillo on the side of the church at 22nd and Guadalupe with a group of friends. At this point, I was more or less a homeless kid; lived out of a backpack, spent my days drinking rum and coke with a few self-professed landpirates on the drag, to eventually board the ‘Dillo to the Springs and cool off in the healing waters. My days ended nightly in the various coffee house halls, sharing my youthful ideals and truths with the world, and the knit of cohorts who found their fulfillment in the strangeness of it all. I was kind of amazingly blessed to know the existence I did, even if sometimes I was hungry, always I was loved.
Which gets us back, finally, to that day in May, when I turned 22, poor, homeless, protected, and loved. We rode the ‘Dillo to 6th and Congress, where we hopped the 30 to the Greenbelt. We were going to Campbell’s Hole to meet a bunch of poets and drag rats and river rats and family. It was bound to be a good day. I’m with Jasmine and Elmo, they’ve been dating for like a summer at this point, Jasmine’s the sweetest punk rock pot selling chick you ever did meet. I met her on the church steps, or maybe it was the drop-in, she was 16 and in high school, I was 21 and learning my way. Elmo showed up in Austin one day with a crew of crusty kids, I think most recently from New Orleans, though I think Elmo was a San Diego native originally.
We finally trudge our way down the path and to the flats, where there is already a cadre of people gathered, all spread out along the side of the flats. In early May, before the drought, the flats have a small creek running down to the Hole, they are stretches of limestone, smoothed and Swiss cheesed from a few millenia of springtime flooding. It’s a great place to stash a six pack of beers, the water from the aquifer runs 67 degrees year-round, keeps em cool in the 95+ weather.
When we get there, some kid I don’t even remember now, is like, “Hey, we jacked like 40lbs of beef from HEB, we’re eating good today!” And they bust out package after package to feed a gathering of souls, it was pretty awesome. We built a grill out of a hole in the rocks and a flat piece of limestone someone found washed up somewhere. I was probably a little green then, astounded that we could cook meat on a rock, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t work.
More folks arrived, the poets, the drummers, swelling the numbers of our congregations and energies. There were bubbles, I remember that fondly. I used to go to this open mic at Ruta Maya on Tuesday nights, we always had this drum circle on the porch, with microphones set up, and we would just pound out the heartbeat and dance and swirl. I was basically a ridiculous hippy chick, flowy skirts, long hair, the works. Super adorable, but a bit played out.
Across the street from Ruta there was a field next to a warehouse, a single bare bulb casting a greenish glow over an expanse of sunflowers. We’re not talking the graceful fields of gigantic sunflowers we’re talking the 6 ft tall weeds that only Texas can produce. It’s kind of amazing to live in a state whose weeds produce sunflowers. My favorite pastime, at the drum circle above the strip club, was wandering across the road and picking sunflowers to distribute amongst the special brand of angst you could only find on Tuesday nights. Along with my favorite form of sunlight, I was constantly surrounded by bubbles. I would walk down the drag, a giant wand in each hand, trailing luminescence and giddiness.
It was fitting I would be surrounded by bubbles and drums while celebrating my explosion onto this stage.
I’m pretty sure that day at the flats, anytime anyone saw me walking around without a drink someone would yell out, “Hey, birthday girl, stop right there!” and come running up with a beer, it definitely made for an interesting night. Jasmine had to go in to work that day, at Ben and Jerry’s- a place I would soon be employed in my first meager steps out of poverty- so she left Elmo to babysit, make sure I didn’t get too drunk and was safe for the night. A few days earlier, at Justin and Nora’s, I had given part of my $100 birthday money from my mom to Hate-edge Matt and his old lady, they had a room at the Motel 6 up on north 35 and it had two beds in it, so I was assured a place to crash after the party, Elmo just came along to look out.
At some point, the smoke from our grill attracted the attention of the park police- a group with a hard on for messing with homeless people, and a need to assert their “authoritah”- unluckily for them, the grill wasn’t illegal, as it was contained. Unfortunately for us, drinking is against the law in the park if you aren’t one of the rich douche bags that Austin was trying so desperately to attract. And foolishly, who believes the cop that says “Just be honest about whose sixer this is, we’ll go easier on you if you are.” but the already wasted birthday girl. So of course, I’m like “it’s mine, here’s my ID” thinking what asshole gives someone a ticket for having a six pack of cans on their birthday? I think I would have been more understanding if it had been glass or if we didn’t clearly have marked trash bags, but noooo. This guy needs his dominance, so lets give a $200 ticket to a homeless person, surely they can afford it. You’ll have to give me a break with this one, I was a 22 yr old homeless, counter-culture adoring, beatnik espousing little hippy kid. Sometimes, when you are homeless, it’s hard to see the establishment as anything other than out to get you.
So we hit nightfall at this point, the party has fewer folks around, maybe like 25 or 30 I have been steadily drinking beer since about 3 in the afternoon, a few joints, a birthday blunt, and a few shots of tequila later and Seth shows up. Seth is an enigma in his own way. He comes from a well-off family, lives in the most exclusive of Austin neighborhoods, and is a die hard Rastafarian. I probably had the biggest crush on him ever, and he always had the highest quality herb, so I was always down to kick it when he came around. As I have gotten older, I have learned to identify Seth as a trustafarian, probably the closest to the truest definition of the word I have ever known. We met at the front porch drum circle at Ruta some months ago, and he had agreed earlier in the week to be my designated driver that night to get me all the way up north to the Motel 6.
Seth shows up and he brings me the gift of psychedelics. I have to be honest here, and point out the fact that at this age and mindset, I was not using psychedelics to their full potential, it was absolutely about having a good time and seeing pretty things. No deep perspective-shifting experiences for me, though you never return home from a trip the same. Seth brings me a gram and a half of lab shrooms and I think “Oh, I got this, 1 1/2 grams? That’s nothing.” So let me explain here the difference between lab shrooms and field shrooms as I understand them: field shrooms come from cow shit, there are only a few strands that I know native to the pastures of Bastrop, the strands of lab shrooms are limited only by what you can grow in your closet. Far more potent and longer lasting, though this drunken night, I knew none of that.
So I eat some mushrooms and wander through the Greenbelt, the patterns cast on the ground by the light of the moon distracting me from my next destination, Seth’s truck. With Elmo in tow, somehow we manage to make a 15 minute mini hike last hours, well maybe like half of one. We finally make it up to the skyway, find his truck parked along the gate of some apartment complex that I will only ever see the inside of when I am crashing their pool. Another story, another day. He starts us off on this journey, the visuals are steady kicking in. For the longest time, my favorite sight in the whole city, was coming up over the Congress St bridge, heading north and seeing the Capitol rise up before you on the horizon. At Christmas, Congress is decorated with millions of tiny twinkling lights that stretch across the road bound to streetlights and the Texas Mountain Laurel bush-trees that used to grow in huge rotund green iron planters on every street corner. It used to be a beautiful sight to behold, before the skyline was overrun with the brick mouthed monsters of progress and the Capitol was one of the tallest structures. It was a grand vision to watch the city be born into sight and I successfully talked Seth into going completely out of his way so I could see it that night be alive.
Navigating downtown (from the passenger’s seat, of course) all I could think was this looks like a video game. Nothing ever seems truly real when you become aware of it’s life. You start to notice the moments pass by in a banausic void of time that allows the ego to accept itself.
We finally make it to the hotel, and it’s what you would expect from a $50 a night motel north of Rundberg off 35, gross. But me? I’m tripping, having the time of my life, the yellowed walls and permanent chain smoked saturation filling the air don’t phase me. Tonight I will sleep in a bed, in a room, where no one can hurt me and no one will steal my shit. Hate-edge Matt and his old lady are already there, keeping vigil in the hazy grime, making sure, that for one night, there will be safety. I walk into this room and am greeted by the most beautiful dog I have ever seen. She’s six months old and stands to my hips on all fours, her paws as big as my face, with the thickest, most textured hair I have ever seen on a dog.
Her name is Magi (as in “The Gift of…” not an illiterate Maggie) and she is a wolf. An honest-to-God wolf. Who is 6 months old. With a tripping human in her midst. Immediately it was play time. Now, I don’t know if you have ever rough-housed with a wolf, it’s rather like rough-housing with a dog, only plus about 100 lbs and whole lot of having the wind knocked out of you. In other words, quite a magical experience for someone who feels they are speaking with the dog. Hate-edge Matt encouraged the communication. So earlier, I took some mushrooms, thinking, “I’ll trip for a couple of hours and go to sleep in my air conditioned bed.” Thankfully, Matt knew better than I. He was the epitome of the crusty punk of the late 80’s. He was tall and lanky with stringy hair and a heroin addiction. Swoon. What’s more, he was older, had been on the streets far longer than I had and was, wait for it, a train hopper.
So I had already hitch hiked across the country a year or two at this point. Not always long trips, but eventful. Train hoppers were in like a different class. Often, if you hadn’t hopped a train yourself, crusties had no respect for you, unless you could hold your liquor and knew how to fight. Luckily, I traveled with a super well-known train hopper who had started his own crew, The Flying Thumbs, they took me in, kept me safe, but only after a rum infused night and taking on a smiley. That will get anyone props, getting hit in the face with a bike lock and still standing to bloody a nose and break a jaw. It’s amazing how far a little violence goes to keep you safe when you are homeless and a woman. Matt was a part of a crew out of New York known as Hate-edge. I never knew much about them, except that their tales were told in awe-inspired voices around many a camp-fire under countless bridges across the nation.
Matt knew I was in for a long night when I walked in the door. He took one look at my pupils and appointed himself my companion for the remainder of the night, as my babysitter was passed out drunk next to me on our bed. He stayed up with me all night, telling me stories of his time on the road, telling me about his various scars and how he got them. The most impressive being an 18 inch scar that ran from his navel to his sternum, about an inch across, it was garish and disconcerting when one is processing on a psychedelic level. He was gutted in the park in New York, for a Maglite and some dope, he had to crawl, he told me, 2 city blocks people passing him with averted eyes as he held in his own intestines til he finally found a payphone and called 911. He told me how he and his old lady, I think it was Jessica, came to be Magi’s people. They got picked up outside of Wyoming, went to work on a ranch for this couple that sold meth and owned a pure grey wolf, she got knocked up and had a litter of pups, Magi was the runt and they were gonna kill her because she wouldn’t be worth any money.
We stayed up talking until 10 in the morning, he taught me tricks how to protect myself, the safest places to stay if I ever found myself in NYC, and I absorbed every moment in his presence. I finally found sleep just before noon the next day, there wasn’t a lot of time left in our stay, and we wound up back at Nora and Justin’s that night.
Hate-edge Matt died the next spring. Liver failure due to complications with Hepatitis C, they don’t give new livers to homeless people.