Shorty & Morty
An Extraordinary Homeless Couple
By E.M. Fredric
Emma’s given name - according to the Ultimate Baby Name Book’s definition - whole and universal - didn’t suit the young, beautiful blonde who slept in a cardboard condo near the 101 Freeway. This Emma “was full” -- as an Aussie would say -- pregnant by 5 months when she happened into the homeless shelter to get some shoes… again. Her flip-flop soles had cratered indentations from carrying her expanding extra weight across gravel/cement and the speedways AKA as the illicit drugs flowing freely in Krazytown. Ahh Hollywood…where the rich and the dreamless drank themselves to the brink in equal measure. Emma was slender boned with that outdoor-living look - dirty skin and mid-length straight wispy blond hair that hung cavalierly as it framed her blue eyes - with to the quick chewed fingernails.
As the sun crashed through the curtain in the women’s closet and slashed across her face… Emma became surreal. Like a character out of a fairytale, she was missing the outfit to play a princess or an angel… instead she was in black top, tugging at her too-tight jeans while asking if she could please have some shoes - her feet hurt. It hadn’t occurred to her that the skinny jeans she wore were no longer of any use – even with the zipper safety pinned shut -- she was high and moved to a part of the women’s closet where her normal size 3 was kept. She had eclipsed that size a few months ago but Emma couldn’t see it. Her responses were delayed as other homeless women came in and surrounded her pulling piles out of other clothes from various shelves. No one knocked into her… it was more like bouncing aside. Chattering away in a language only the street understands or longstanding workers in shelters.
The other women were kind to Emma, for now, she posed no threat to them. No matter her color or age, she was pregnant and no street guy – even if he had a right mind - was going to take that on. The men had their addictions - like the night Emma got pregnant. Which one was it? Crystal meth and girlfriends didn’t mix but babies came and went, lived or died and if they lived -- were whisked away from the mothers for adoption. Emma swore this wouldn’t happen to her baby. No way – she had heard the stories and hers was going to be different – it would have that ending that all little girls dream of.
This day she seemed more lost than usual. Emma sat for hours in an old rocking chair in the main room of the women’s closet. Her feet were swollen and ached. The drunks, the mentals, young and old, all sizes, colors and races hustled to get more outfits to sell on the streets for drugs or drink. Emma kept her head down and pulled out a photograph she had gotten from her last pediatrician’s visit. It was a sonogram of her bulging belly’s contents. She smiled and said to a shelter worker, “Look, it’s my baby and I think it’s a girl… She’s gonna be perfect and I’ll get off the dope if they let me keep her. I’m 19.” The third lie in one sentence but she believed. She had to.
Emma was 15 at best. She tried to focus, desperately needing to keep her stories straight with each visit. Being consistent with anything but her drug was nearly impossible. She hoped people didn’t really listen to her that intently. Emma told everyone that her family had left and gone home to Iowa but she knew she was destined to be a star. According to Emma they all drove out here and her stepfather sexually molested her repeatedly. She claimed he had done it for years and her mother didn’t care. Emma wasn’t aware of the light that emanated from her -- she almost glowed as if in slow motion when she spoke to
Pat, the woman who ran the closet. Pat the recovering addict had an autistic older child that lived with her and she believed that the clothes were the one thing the women could gain some self-esteem with on the streets. The church organization didn’t agree—the rules stated everyone was to have one outfit a week, one pair of unders and socks, two showers and everyone was to be treated equally. In America? Equality?… When did that start? Or would it ever begin?
The truth laid somewhere between Emma’s visits and reports from the street people, wharf rats and then back to the shelter. Emma had run away from home to be an actress in Hollywood and quickly fell in with the other children of the night, doing drugs, partying and having sleeping around. Some didn’t do drugs, preferring to have sex, any kind of sex to feel loved while struggling to survive in a town that held an image of hope and dreams… that were momentarily shattered, illuminating, possible and maybe dead…but they were dreams nonetheless… to her and countless others. Remember Superman on the Boulevard? He made a good living and he wasn’t actually in the movies but he was known and a local kind-of celebrity until he died of… not making it.
Pat searched Emma’s face as her eyes welled up with tears, Emma was crying and talking about her boyfriend, the daddy of her baby she couldn’t find any more. “He said he would come back…he said he was just going to find another fix… he’ll come back… I’ll wait for him…” She shared her cardboard condo with two other street people beneath the freeway hidden. Each time it was destroyed by the Cal Trans team, their home had to be rebuilt.
Pat offered her a tissue and Emma started to laugh, being in the company of these older women made her giggle.
As she tried to explain again, how she was going to clean up and take care of her baby because no one ever took care of her, the bandage on her finger fell off and revealed an unusually large abscess - double the width of her pointing finger. Emma asked for a new Band-Aid and when asked what happened she just kept saying she had a minor cut that got infected and it would be fine… why she’d been cleaning it for days…”but it happened yesterday…or maybe it was the day before, I lost track. But I’m fine and so is my baby, they aren’t gonna take her are they?”
Tracy with coal black skin, ancient hustler, holding a neon pink top up, popped her gum and said, ‘Course they ah. You don’t get clean, babygurl? That baby is gonna be gone!’ Tracy had lost most of her kids and was still using, but she told everyone her old man, white Pete was a piece of shit for treating her so bad and stole as many extra clothes as she could while putting on airs of the superior street woman.
Confused, Emma rummaged through the same pile of clothes on the floor in front of her over and over. Smiling and holding up pieces, asking Pat, “Does this look pretty? Will it make the baby happy?”
One of the other volunteers took Emma downstairs to the main office where the homeless sign in for meals. Clark, the man at the desk looked up, unalarmed as the volunteer extended Emma’s hand carefully. His bearded, rotund face rarely showed emotion. This was a cattle call. As Emma’s hand was extended, even he recoiled slightly and started peppering her with questions of how this came to be. Emma would never say it happened from shooting up in her finger, she thought no one would even suspect that option. She just had gotten a little cut that was infected. The volunteer asked if she would be going to a hospital and Clark said, “We can’t force her to go but it’s a good idea.” Emma stayed in with Clark and another man as the volunteer was called back up to the closet.
As the day closed by 2 PM there was no sign of Emma and she hadn’t been taken to see a doctor or nurse. She had chosen to get a Band-Aid and go find work... or so she said. Work for Emma was reduced to giving hand or blowjobs in parking lots, often in full view of the Hollywood police.
For weeks there was no sign of Emma.
Then one day crazy Kate came in and reported she had indeed seen her walking the streets. In the same breath, Kate described how her dog ate someone’s baby in the bathroom.
Knowing the growing child within Emma was probably coming early, Pat kept a pair of maternity pants laid out for Emma from donations. Her heart ached because she knew that one of her favorite girls may slide through the cracks or stay in it. She’d seen them all - come, go, fight, cry, beg, be arrested, die or shuffling by the walking dead having conversations only their brains understood and a world only their eyes could create. Pat had finally gotten sober at age 55 being with her peeps for almost 2 years now. Her smile was as broad as the Grand Canyon, with her Mo-hawked yellow hair spiked up against weathered brown yet soft skin that held powder blue eyes dancing the rhythm of life when she blinked. She had fought to get her own kids back from a broken system in the land of Hollywood’s ordinaries… Her own story was nothing new. Then there were the ever-growing signs hanging on the walls: “I love Jesus”, “Jesus Loves Me” or just Jesus and his mother Mary next to Cindy Lauper, Madonna and Michael Jackson – for the unbelievers. There was even the last supper looming above a doorway, each week the penguins added more religion while feeding their clients. It would better them all because religion was the answer.
The homeless women didn’t speak of Emma much, they didn’t have time. They lost so much, their youth, their old man, their new man, their teeth…
Elliana skirted in after leaving rehab, she’s 8 months pregnant with twins. Pat asks her where she’ll have her babies this time. She tilts her head, “I was just checking it out. My babies and I are good.”
Nancy comes in drunk every day and is one of the few who collects a new outfit more frequently because her clothes from the day before hang on her like a full garbage can. Her distended liver belly bulging beneath shirts that don’t fit as she poses with finesse askew, her puffy and scratched face ingrained with sidewalk residue etched into her skin where she last fell or slept. Nancy is the informer among the groups that glide in or slip out. Her fingers resemble red and black sausages and with her shock of bleached white hair under a cap, Candy, squeals joyfully through a toothless grin, “Hey man…living on the streets is fuckin’ tough. Shoes don’t last a day. I need another beer. Emma took off to Arizona, man with some dude. She ain’t gonna make it.”
She toys with a photo necklace among the chains around her neck. Swaying, she confesses, “I got a twin sister who takes care of my daughter in Georgia. She’s eleven years old. I got pregnant at 40 and I can’t take care of her but I call her up. I sent her a frog in the mail, big green frog for a present. I need another beer.”
Word of a strange new disease was coming and none of the homeless women were scared... their moms had survived AIDS - or so they said... some had survived Los Angeles being on fire but every day was pandemic... just another day in paradise in Krazytown.
I love these characters, their Krazytown nieghorhoods they reside in with the other misfits, tourists and has been or wannabe - "bluebloods." This journeys beyond the films or the in-character interviews. I hope they will bring you as much pleasure as I had creating them!