Before Bless Her Heart
I left Inger in Farmville with Eugene at Einstein’s Bagels. Bless her heart, she was begging for money to buy a bagel. Gene fed her and started to talk to her about life as a hobo. Since then she’s been traveling with various groups the mainstream media labels “AntiFa”. She was in Berkeley this summer, staying at the Carlton Hotel and at first, ready to punch fascists. It got weird for her so after getting a slice at Blondie’s she went back to her room. Some of the teargas leaked through her window.
She was also in Charlottesville. A tule skirt wearing swinging dick screamed at her that she was a Nazi and threw a beer bottle that hit her in the head. Asshole. The only thing was a small confederate flag embroidered to the back of a Redskins ball cap. Oh, and Inger is a ginger so there is that. She baled to nearby MillieJo and then when that got weird also she hitched a ride to Owensville. She heard about the thing with the car on TV from her room at the Econolodge.
Richmond is home for Inger. It’s where she goes to decompress. It is the one city that understands angst the way Inger understands it. She hitched a ride from Owensville back to a Barton Heights house owned by a friend hoping to have a place to make a soft landing. That went well.
The street felt right in the beginning. She was down for the cause and didn’t want her purse full of first-world tools. It was summer in Mendocino. One of the wettest summers on record but still . . . outside was working for her. Granny’s Attic had cool stuff.
Seasons change. Being off the radar lost its bloom after her Fort Bragg campsite flooded. She lost everything. Then she was in town begging for beer money and crashed. Full meltdown. 5150 for four days in Mendocino Coast District Hospital. The parents came and brought the purse. Inger got meds that made her feel weird. The docs said she had schizophrenia. Funny and not helpful were the hallucinations that overlaid Praying Mantis faces on the medical staff. Instagram filters IRL. The adults didn’t get it. Her parents had poopy faces. Huge ROFL.
Her Mom started with, “be a good girl and come home.” May her cunt close up from warts, bitch. The screaming match earned her a few more days in the psych ward.
On the Road Again
This was weird. Inside she met a girl who recognized Gene. She got a little back story on Gene that comforted her. The purse meant she could be warm & safe. Virginia bound.
Two Women and a Sign
Inger wants to do the right thing. Though she isn’t a Webb on my bloodline, she is a Webb. She shares with my kin an itch to fight the good fight for those she believes to be without a champion. Inger cares for the plight of the proletariat, bless her heart. She rides a bicycle to get around. For her, cars are evil. Except Tesla’s. Tesla’s are lit AF. This puts her in good stead with her peers, kind of. Her love of Tesla’s is sketch.
Tens of thousands of cars pass by two women who work the corner of southbound West Cary Street off-ramp of 195 and West Cary Street. The sign they hold is familiar, “god bless, anything helps.” One of the women sits in a wheelchair when she works. They both suffer from the usual satellite of boomer/first world/misspent youth health concerns–heart disease, diabetes, hepatitis, and back problems for one of them, arthritis for the other.
Of the cars that pass them by there were clergy and well meaning church-goers. They listened to gangs of Jehovah’s Witnesses tell them that they need to come to Jesus. They did their stint in CARITAS and aged out. Case workers from RBHA and Social Services did intake interviews. Options were proffered. Plenty have tried to get them off that corner and on to a more recognizable life for WASP, boomer women. They are still there.
What’s the Frequency, Sarah?
Their story is confounding. Both have advanced degrees. One of them has a masters in public administration and the other was a research fellow at VCU Health. Their curriculum vitae does not indicate begging for change with a sign on a street corner. That’s what they do these days. The signals are wrong.
Something else was wrong. Inger could not miss it. Of the two, Sarah clearly got her tramp on at Nordies. The other one seemed a bit more Target and Dillards. Still, the clothes did not come from a thrift store. Inger saw the YSL bag laying at the feet of one of them. The other one sipped coffee from a Kate Spade travel mug.
It should not be that two women about the same age as Inger’s mother and clearly upper middle class WASP would be trapped in the life on a street corner with a sign. Inger didn’t understand how it could be that two people of their status could be where they were. Only crazy people or addicts would give up their station for a life like this. Every day hustling for the price of a room on Chamberlayne Avenue. Each day another deadly paper cut. Why?
She was good with her anarcho-communist friends and their communal lifestyle, sort of. The nobile obligation fulfilled by living in Barton Heights got old last winter when the house didn’t have heat, functional plumbing or hot water. Dishes sat for weeks and collected mold and roaches. The refrigerator was a rat paradise of rotting tofu and organic, farm-to-table produce too far gone. The stove didn’t work. Housemates that cooked at all used microwaves and single burner electric hot plates in their rooms.
People came and went 24/7. There was never a shortage of weed, heroine, cocaine, esctasy, and liquor. Music blared from behind bedroom doors from 10am until 3am. At least one bedroom a night serenaded the house with moaning while fucking. Fights were frequent. The cops were never far away. This is not the utopia promised when she moved in. In Fort Bragg her noisiest neighbor was a squirrel.
Inger had been back & forth with her parents around their white privilege and the obscenity of their position when there were homeless children living under bridges in Richmond. Somehow, her parents were on the hook for the miseries of single mothers who rotated from jail to rehab to a shelter to the street and back. It was Inger that had the virtue high-road living with her anarcho-communist friends. Mom & Dad kept offering to pay cash for a turnkey house.
She was told that the house was a Utopian collective founded by the homeowner. There was no leadership in the usual sense. The tenants owned an equal voice in how the house was run. It was pitched as a safe, compassionate source of salt and light evangelizing anarcho-communism in Richmond. She was promised weekly house meetings. When she asked about paying bills one of the guys living there said, “property is theft. Money is a lie perpetuated by the bourgeois 1%.“
Inger loved house meetings and railed against the crime and drug use in the house. She fought hard to have the guys realize that a woman alone asleep in a room was not an invitation to fondle her or worse. She got nowhere. This was the revolution. They were fighting white privilege and patriarchy by molesting and raping women who were just trying to sleep. Inger wanted them to pay the bills and keep the lights on. She wanted them to fix the plumbing. How hard could it be to get the gas turned on and the furnace lit? To all this she was told she was speaking from her privilege and had false expectations of how a communal house is run.
“For a woman to suffer is noble“, one of the men said through a mouth full of pepperoni pizza, “Women can contribute to the revolution by making sure the men have what they need to fight Nazis.” Inger couldn’t help but hear echoes of the lies men told women at parties on the opposition side. How was this revolutionary?
Then her Mom called. Mom’s friend was the agent for a house on Stuart Street. Would she like it? Whether tis nobler to suffer abusive roommates in a festering sewer of a home or to be safe and comfortable? Nobility in suffering has a means. The communal home was losing its signal as such a means. Fealty to fighting white privilege and being a good girl lost to working toilets.
Inger loved the struggle. Cold showers and oodles of noodles are noble for only so long. Inger’s hair needs expensive shampoo and Givenchy is the only skincare line that doesn’t give her hives. Fantastic Thrift is ok but nothing near Saks. tbh, the struggle is real but still . . .
If Pops would not do Matthew 19:21 and these two women remained on their corner maybe the answer was a little wealth redistribution of Inger’s own. Daddy’s money served Richmond better by getting two WASP women back where they belong. Inger wanted to fix this. It was proof of her piety to Mao. She had the Stuart Avenue house. The next obvious step was not a ten dollar donation. No, Inger had to get their attention.
Electra Townie Commute to Virtue
It’s a short ride on North Robinson Street to Ellwood Avenue and up to Ellwood Thompsons. Most Saturdays the women took their breaks at the store. They were seated at a table outside. The “screw over my parents plan” was about to go actual. Inger locked her bike to a post near their table, “Hey, do I know you guys?“
Being known? These two? Bad idea, “No. Do we know you?”
“No, but I see you a lot on the corner. Can I ask you something?”
No, but it never hurts to play along, “Sure.”
“What would it take to get you to quit begging and live in a house?” Only a whale would ask that. This just got interesting. Bring on the tears, “I don’t know. We need so much. Abby missed her doctor appointment because her Medicaid ran out. She’s supposed to see her oncologist. She’s out of her diabetes meds. We’ve been trying to get up the money for a room but things have been slow. It’s hard to say, how much are you offering?“
✤ ✤ ✤
Inger knew a little about negotiating. Starting with this, the first person to name a number is going to have a hard time. But, this was about redistributing Dad’s wealth, “I can give both of you a room and cover your bills for a few months, would that help?“
When you hook a whale it is important to land it, “Uhm, Abby? What do you think?”
Abby thinks she needs a spa day, “I guess.”
I’ve met my share of low-caste folk whose idea of a whale is somebody who can afford Golden Corral instead of the dollar menu at McDonald’s. Abby and Delma sensed hot rock massages and designer shampoo. East Coast Provisions rather than Captain D’s. Inger was pleased at how easy this was, “Awesome,” she dug out a pen and post-it from her purse and scratched down her address and Instagram handle, “ping me so I know you are coming over.”
Relay Foods Gluttony
To-go boxes littered the table. Mary Kay receipts decorated the floor like tinsel. The Stuart Street house still had its Architectural Digest core but there was an overlay of feminine gluttony coating the postcard-perfect scene. the leg of a boy drooped over the edge of a goose-down comforter on a Basset Wyatt custom sofa. A Rose Gold iPhone bleated notifications every few minutes near his foot.
Inger heard that. She was at the back door one foot in the dining area and one foot in the kitchen, “I got it.” The boy’s arm flopped around and found the phone. He passed it from one hand to the other and raised it up above the back of the couch where Inger could retrieve it. Then the arm disappeared back under the comforter. Inger started scrolling through the notifications. There was a theme. Saturday afternoon both the parents and the bank were happy to see she had rejoined the living. The parents and the bank were alarmed by early Sunday morning.
Five figures of debt alarmed. It started with Relay Foods and a round trip in an Uber Black to Publix. Groceries for four made. Gotta feed the boy. Then an Uber out to Short Pump and Nordies to address the needs of two WASP women who were the means to screw over the parents. Personal shopping for three. You can do a lot in five hours.
Welcome Back, Tramp Ladies
Then . . . Shockoe Bottom for three. Abby and Delma were the wings, Inger the bait, and the prize. They caught a boy. Bottle service till the last call, then the Jefferson Hotel and room service until brunch. The boy made moves but everyone was too drunk. Uber from the hotel to Stuart Street where the shopping had become clutter. Inger thought she’d be happy.
It was Monday morning in the third week of the month. She-monster week. Inger started an order with Tarrant’s for coffee, Orange Juice, some breakfast wraps. Card declined. Fuck. Other card declined. She kept trying cards. All of them shut down. Inger was a hung-over she-monster. She went back upstairs thinking she’d just crawl back into bed. Nope. Toilet first and hoping to keep it all off the floor.
She at least did that. There was a lot of music and cussing behind the bathroom door as she cleaned up the mess. Ok, you with your “naked shower” porn tropes, shut the fuck up. Inger had a pair of sweats from the Santa Clara post rape freak-out crash in a homeless camp. That and a Fantastic Thrift Reebok tank and dollar store flip-flops. Plus, hung-over and PMS. So not what you are thinking.
A Good Deed Punished
All of Inger’s cards were either over limit or frozen. Her debit card was overdrawn. She’d started last Saturday with a stop at the teller to get some cash. The purse was behind the sofa where the boy slept. Cash gone.
A lot of Saturday Night/Sunday morning was gone. She remembered little of it beyond 9 pm. But she did remember paying cash to the cab and that she still had money left over. How could it be that all of her cash is gone?
She’d taken out enough to cover the hotel bill at Extended Stay America out on Glenside and West Broad plus money for groceries and some bus cards. She’d also made sure she had enough for the Shockoe Bottom blowout. This was many Benjamins missing.
Inger’s crotch felt sticky. She stank. Her stomach stopped making threats. The aftertaste of Shockoe Bottom still soured her mood. A feeling that things were not right loomed over the house. Abby and Delma were gone. Today was the day when they had plans to complete the task.
Whelp. Some things needed doing. She started the coffee maker and headed back to the master suite shower. Time to molt off Saturday night. Atomic Bakery granola, Silk Soy Milk, and blueberries stayed down. Progress.
✤ ✤ ✤
Back up the stairs to shower away the weekend. Not. Where boy once was he was not. A rumpled blanket and the outer layer of nightclub drag cluttered the couch. She heard a boy voice singing in her shower. It’s Monday morning. The license to invade spaces and test boundaries has expired. He’d better be worth this invasion of privacy, “What are you doing?“
“Lo siento, no lo entiendo.”
Awesome, “Yo no hablo español.”
“Entonces hablaré inglés. Who are you?“
“This is my house, that’s who I am.”
“Awkward. What happened to the two women who were here and said they lived here? They said I could crash on the couch. Esas dos mujeres dijeron que estabas alquilando una habitación.”
“Hey! English! I’m in a fucked up mood already without you to deal with. Do you see anybody else in this house?“
“Sorry. Hey, I’m almost done. Can I finish?” No, but the nine-tenths of possession, “Yeah, whatever. Hurry up.” Back downstairs she returned to cleaning up the detritus of the weekend. Abby and Delma had left dirty coffee cups and heirloom pie plates used as ashtrays on the kitchen island. Smoking in the house was worse than finding old turds on the Karastan carpet. Bitches.
✤ ✤ ✤
Boy appeared at the bottom of the steps in sweatpants, “What you got to eat?” Nothing for him, “You need to go.” The dejected look on his face was epic. Boy gathered his clothes, fished his phone out of the couch, and ordered an Uber, “Thanks for yesterday.” Yesterday what!? “Did we . . .”
“No nada de eso. Soy catolico. Mis padres no quieren que vaya al club. Me has salvado del desprecio de los padres.” His Spanish was straight out of Google Translate or a textbook, “Dude. I’m serious. Speak English.”
“Nothing happened. I slept on your couch, that’s all.” Damned straight. Tho, he was kinda cute, “You are not gone yet.“
“I know,” and he left out the back door carrying his shoes in his hands. Inger wished she’d asked for his Instagram handle. Her phone was now in Battery Save mode, still bleating out notification sounds.
Bless Her Heart, Not
She went to the front door to check the mail slot. As she leaned down to pick up the junk mail she heard a door knock. “Mam, please open the door.” She could see it was a couple cops. Shit. What the fuck!? “Hi. Can I help you?“
“Your parents called. They asked us to check on you. You haven’t been answering your phone and there are fraud alerts on your credit cards and checking accounts.“
“I’m fine. I had some friends over this weekend. Is there anything else?“
“I’m afraid there is, Mam. We have a warrant for your arrest.”
“Seriously!? seriously. That’s not possible,” very possible. Choices have consequences. “Please turn around and put your hands behind your back.” She did not comply. There is viral body cam video of a female cop chasing her through the house to the back yard only to run headlong into another cop waiting for her.
Crown Victoria Commute to Hell
When you are inside you are not on your own time. You are doing the people’s time. So, things move at the pace of the sheriffs that run the jail. Being difficult slows that pace down dramatically. Inger’s tantrums and insistence on being in a safe space were not helping. Inger was in lockup and psych review for 3 months before going before a magistrate. The homecoming queen of Mountain View High School learned a brutal lesson in life under an outhouse glory hole. 3 felonies, embezzlement, mail fraud, and credit card fraud. Upwards of 45 years in state prison if convicted. The magistrate scheduled her trial for this winter.
Of the boy. He returned to VCU to resume his studies in Extended Media. As for Abby and Delma, they are still in Richmond on various street corners. West Cary and I-195 got too hot for them so they moved on. The same parade of well-intentioned do-gooders continues through their lives, each of them intent on being the one who inspires the life change that gets them off the street. They park the G-Class a couple of blocks away. That they own the hotel they live in is a well-guarded secret.
One more thing. The woman that knew Gene showed up to visit Inger. She gave her name as Angela Inger has learned more about life and survival from Angela than the legion of social work and psych professionals who dealt with her. Inger’s lack of shoes pales to Angela’s lack of metaphorical legs.
The house? It’s still Inger’s. The family had The Maid Crew in to clean the place up. Inger’s Mom also found the boy and asked him to house-sit. We all have to live somewhere.