Twinos - Part 2 (read part 1 here)

twinwinos2A short story told in three parts from three perspectives.

I always thought it was odd that grown-up twins were on the street panhandling, but you see so many strange things on the streets of the south side that you get kind of jaded. When I pull the soup kitchen truck to a stop near the market, an entire cast of fascinating characters is waiting for me. There are the old black men who have been on the streets so long, they can’t remember how they got there. Their faces are etched like scratchboard drawings, the deep lines carved out of the shiny ebony. They wear any old rags, but somehow they seem to end up with bell bottom trousers and funky white patent leather shoes that they’ve cut open so their bunioned toes hang out. Usually they have soiled themselves by urinating or defecating in their clothes while they sleep off a particularly bad drunk. You can find them in dozens of storefronts or in some of the vacant houses in the neighborhood and when they pass out right on the sidewalk, you see people stepping over them.

Then there’s the veterans, the Vietnam era guys. It’s a sad group that usually hangs with each other, some still wearing Army green pants, camouflage tee-shirts and big black combat boots. They get this stuff from the surplus stores now, but you can tell it’s the only thing that makes them comfortable. I find them sad because they seem so alienated from a normal existence. They did their duty to God and country and now no one wants them, so they roam the streets desperately clutching to the sense of discipline and comradeship they developed in the service. You can tell these guys really try hard to keep clean. Their clothes are neater and it’s a point of pride to stay clean-shaven. When they stand in line for their soup and bread, you can imagine them as the once wide-eyed kids in a chow line during basic training. They’re so young and yet they believe there’s nothing else for them but the street. Like no-deposit, no-return bottles that no one has any use for, they eventually are broken into the thousands of pieces of clear, green and brown glass that litter the streets.

Then there are the those homeless persons that I think most of us would characterize as winos. These are the people who were panhandling in big and small towns all across the country, long before the recession. Then in the eighties, the mental institutions dumped their former charges into the streets, creating a new tide of homeless men and women. You probably remember panhandlers like them in your own hometown. White, middle-aged (perhaps before their time), disheveled and mysterious. When you look at them, you try to imagine what drove them into a life on the streets. Was he a manager with a good job in town who took to the bottle and fell from grace? Or maybe the love of his life took up with another man and left him behind to fall in love with cheap wine? You can invent just about any story you want for these guys, and you might be right. On the soup kitchen truck I hear some pretty strange tales. Every now and then, when they’re only a little high, one of these men or women will tell you a part of their story. This guy was a one-time Golden Gloves boxer when he was in the service, that one used to weave caned chair seats (still can if he stays sober), and she was a Sunday school teacher, if you can believe that. It’s only an opinion but I think most of them have psychological problems, some sort of personality disorder, and it just made them snap somewhere along the line and turn to the bottle.

Then there’s the twins. Mutt and Jeff, Click and Clack, whatever you want to call them. No one around here seems to know their real names but they have a certain notoriety in the neighborhood. It’s very rare to see them when they’re not high, and that means they’ll be swearing at you. They stagger up to the soup kitchen and call me every name you can imagine and then they ask me for money to buy food. That always makes me laugh, because there I am handing out free food but they’re so tanked that they can twinwinos2only remember their standard line, that they want the money to get something to eat. Every wino panhandles for money to buy a little something to eat or a cup of coffee. And when they have enough quarters, they stagger into their choice of a dozen cheap liquor stores that will sell to them (drunk or sober) to buy some fortified wine of a very recent vintage. But the twinos get in a soup kitchen line, call you a stupid son of a bitch and then ask you for money so they can get a cup of coffee around the corner instead of taking a free one from me. As sad a pair as they are, they are quite amusing to watch, like a no longer glamorous tag team wrestling act, only now they were wrestling with the demons the alcohol visits upon them.

At first it was hard to tell they were twins. I mean they were the same height and build but – this seems too obvious – they weren’t dressed alike. Let’s face it, twins are easy to pick out of a crowd when they are dressed identically, or you can tell they have the same hair style and facial features. These twins had hair that was all matted, one had five days worth of beard, the other had 3 weeks. They wore any kind of tennis shoes, shirts and pants they could find when they rummaged through trash bags of clothes people would throw away. Maybe once a month they would sleep overnight in one of the city-operated shelters and get showered, shaved and put on some new duds. That night I would see them in the soup line and the effect was startling. First of all, they looked twenty years younger. But there was no mistaking it, these guys were identical twins. They had the same blue eyes, identically lined foreheads, duplicate squashed and reddened noses, interchangeable straight and bristly brownish grey hair that sprouted up every which way, and small teeth that looked like they belonged to children, not grown men. This was about as straight as you would see them, with no wine in them for perhaps seven or eight hours. The weren’t ready for Miss Manners, but at least they weren’t hurling insults at everyone either. They actually were quiet for a change, and went through the line without much fuss. They sat off by themselves in the tire store parking lot, ate their food, and then disappeared into the night. Most of the other homeless people used this food break as a communal time to break bread together and hang in little clusters. The old black men told stories and lies that were loud and animated, the vets sat in a neat row and exchanged information about places to sleep, and even the bag ladies, who never said much to anyone, would eat together and grunt unintelligible phrases to each other, that only they seemed to understand. But the twins, they didn’t talk to any of the others, they were loners. I don’t think they talked to each other, but maybe they used that extra-sensory communication that some researchers of twin behavior have documented. It may be true that twins know what each other is thinking, because the Twinos never seem to say much to each other, but they sit down to eat and get back up at the same time. They are almost always together and seem to know where they are headed next. Pretty strange, but weird is the norm down here in the land of the homeless, by the shores of the soup kitchen.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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