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Down and out in Albany, Part I by Vegard
Down and out in Albany, Part I
The last few years had been tough.
Grandpa dying three years ago, back in -71, had exposed the Thompsons to a lot of hardship, ending with loosing the house and land to foreclosure, and having to move to a small, rented, flat in the outskirts of Louisville, Tennessee.
Without the land they were lost.
Their place had meant more than just their livelihood to them, and the livelihood it gave had never been much. The men of the family had always had to have other income.
More devastating than loosing a major part of their livelihood, was loosing who they were.
Their freedom, independence and identity were all tied up in the land.
They lived off their crops, and any extra work, as best they could, and if times were hard they could always hunt. They didn´t always stick to their own land when hunting, but no one else did either. And the boys all grew up expert hunters and poachers.
By the time they had to move, Daniel´s older siblings were all old enough to leave, and manage on their own, and all took off as soon as they could. The only ones left were he and his three years older sister Mary-Ann.
Pa drank. He´d always done that, but since Grandpa´s death he drank a lot more, which was a major factor in loosing the land in the first place. And when the land was lost, he drank even more. In fact it was seldom Danny saw him sober these days.
And Ma was more tired than she´d ever been, even though there was actually less work for her now living in a flat, rather than the farm. It was like she´d given up, and Daniel hated it. A part of him felt loyalty to both his parents, but there was another part that was fed up, with the drinking, the moping and the never ending fighting about money and drink. A part of him that wanted to just take up and leave.
He and Mary-Ann shared the smaller of the two bedrooms, and there was nowhere private for any of them to really get away from it all. When they were both home they would be nagging at each other, and it made him feel miserable. As if Ma and Pa weren´t enough to make his life miserable.
One night, after they´d been fighting over Mary-Ann´s clothes being "everywhere" in the cramped room, she screamed, "I´ve had enough of this! I´m leaving!"
He stared wide-eyed at her, and blurted out, "Take me with you!"
Looking at him in surprise, she nodded and said, "Ok"
Closing the door, they talked it out and agreed on leaving in a month’s time, after saving up enough money to actually manage.
"What will we say though?" he asked, "If people wonder who we are, and what we´re doin´?"
"Why would people wonder about that?" she asked back.
Daniel just couldn´t shake the feeling they were both running away. But off course she wasn´t, being 18 already. He was the only one doing that.
"Look Danny, yeah, you´re just 15, but you kind of look older, and besides, you´re with me!"
He smiled at her, feeling happy they were going together. It didn´t even occur to him, until after he could hear her breathing slowly in her sleep, that he didn´t know where they were going. He guessed Mary-Ann knew though.
It turned out Mary-Ann was set on going to New York. And Danny was okay with that, as long as he got to go with. Anywhere had to better than this.
He´d done odd jobs for Jake Saunders down at the "Body Shop" before, and reckoned he could go there and ask for work. Mr. Saunders had given his auto shop that name, sort of, as a joke. It was actually called, "Jake´s Auto Repair", but "the Body Shop" had stuck, and no one called it anything else now, unless they were from out of town, and didn´t know any better.
It turned out he had plenty for him to do, and Danny began the very same day.
Mary-Ann had more trouble finding something, but finally got some part time work down at the gas station. Ma and Pa were too involved with their own problems to take notice of what the two kids were up to.
Six weeks later they sat together, counting money in their room, and they found they had enough to leave, and stay afloat at least a few months.
"You´ll need to let your hair grow out, if we´re to go to New York you know"
"Why?" he said. In fact he´d thought about letting Pa cut it right before they were leaving.
"Just because!" she snapped, and he didn´t push it.
Cut "to the bone" all over had been the only haircut he´d had, and he´d always liked it that way. Now it was almost half an inch, and longer than he liked. But with Pa´s increased drinking it had been hard to find a good time to ask him to cut it.
And Mary-Ann was probably right. From the shows on TV it seemed all guys had long hair.
His hair was too short to lie down, and looked like dense fur on his head. But growing longer it would probably "behave". And until then, he would wear his baseball cap to keep it down.
They left early the next day, and although he felt like he was betraying his parents by leaving, Danny was elated at the adventure ahead of them.
Sitting on the last row of seats in the bus as it took them to Central Station, he kept craning his head back and staring at the buildings lining the streets. They were like mountains! He´d seen pictures off course, but that hadn´t prepared him for this. Looking over at Mary-Ann he could see her staring, in awe, as well. Noticing him looking at her, she looked back, and they grinned happily. It had been a two day long journey, and they were finally here!
After a few nights in a cheap boarding house, they ended up in Queens, where they found a room to share in a dingy basement. Sitting together and counting their money again, they found they had enough for two months rent, if they were to eat as well.
There were two other rented rooms there, and they all shared the same bathroom and kitchen.
In the room across from Danny and Mary-Ann was a couple from up-state New York. She was about 20, and he was maybe 25. Both were very friendly, and Danny liked them a lot.
In the last room there were two longhaired hippie guys that he didn´t like one bit.
When they first met, Paul, the taller of the two, had taken to Mary-Ann, and as they sat and talked he began to study Danny, looked at Mary-Ann and asked bluntly, "Is your brother a retard or something?"
"No!" she sounded offended, "Why on earth would you think that?"
"Well, he looks like he´s fresh out of a mental hospital with that hair."
Danny´s face darkened, and with his jaw clenched he got up from the couch. He was going to hit him.
With his fists ready, he started towards Paul, but Mary-Ann jumped up and stopped him.
"Danny, no!" she cried, adding, "Go for a walk, okay?" in a soothing tone. "I´ll talk to him." she said gently, and reluctantly he agreed.
He went for a long walk, brooding on that hippie a**hole, and it took some time before he felt calm enough to go back. Stepping inside, he wished he hadn´t.
Paul and Mary-Ann had moved over to the couch, and were making out right there, in front of Paul´s buddy Steve, who sat by the kitchen table looking boored.
"What the hell?" Danny demanded.
They pulled apart, and both looked at him. Paul with a smug grin on his face, and Mary-Ann looking slightly embarrassed.
Danny turned on his heal and walked back out, and didn´t return until very late.
They didn´t discuss it, but they stopped talking about other stuff to, as if a wedge was driven between them.
Mary-Ann was in love and very exited, and said she felt like she was living in a commune.
She loved being there, and even began changing her accent to fit in.
Danny hated the room, Paul, Steve and the whole city, and was wondering how long he could stand living there, and what he would do when he left. He didn´t change his accent one bit either, but had never sworn so much in his life as after he came here. Grandpa would not have liked it. Still, he figured he was sort of excused since his existence there sucked so badly.
The final straw came a couple of weeks later when Mary-Ann and Paul told him they wanted to share a room, and that Danny would be sharing with Steve from now on.
Danny felt compeletely let down. Most of the money they had to pay for the room was his. But he hadn´t even mentioned it, or used that as an argument to be allowed to decide more.
The next morning he found their purse and counted what they had left. It wasn´t much. In fact he was sure it should have been more.
Feeling completely let down, he realized his sister had spent their money without talking to him first. Or maybe it was Paul?
Thinking, "What f**king difference does it make!" he put what was left of the money in his pocket, gathered his stuff in his backpack and left.
On some of his walks he´d gathered up a good tarp and some rope. Being used to living off the land, he was used to looking for useful stuff, and hoarding what he could find. It was a difficult habit to kick, and now he was glad he had it. These things could come in handy.
He found his way to Penn. Station, and looked at the board. Where to go now?
The name rang a bell. Steve was from there, and had described it as "dead".
Tired of the bustling city of New York, "dead" sounded more like Danny´s sort of place right now. Maybe he´d be lucky and there´d be fewer f**king hippies to?
So, a long train ride out from the city took him to Albany, of all places.
Stepping out from the station though, he felt disappointed. This was a city to! Not as big as New York, nothing in the World was, but this was too big for his liking.
But all cities ended, if only you went far enough out from the center. And determined not to give up, he shouldered his pack, and began walking.
Keeping an eye on the sun, he kept track of time, and knew he had to find a place within a couple of hours in order to have enough light to make camp. As he walked, sure enough, the buildings thinned out, and about an hour and a halfs hike from the railway station he was by some fields, and some woodland. It was a nice spot. Out of sight from the road, flat, with trees he could put the tarp up between. There was even a small stream nearby. Setting up camp, and having a quick bite to eat from the last of the sandwiches he had made that morning, he fell asleep.
The last of his money had been spent on the train ticket, and now he needed more.
Danny didn´t want to start stealing to get it, so his only option, as he saw it, was walking around, looking for places where the grass was long, or there seemed to be other small jobs that needed to be done. He felt really self-concious about it, but "when in need" he did what he felt he had to, and knocked on doors to ask to do chores.
One place he helped mow the lawn, he was given an old bike.
The next couple of jobs went to buy parts for his new aquisition, but he felt it was worth it.
Riding his bike gave him a feeling of freedom, and he expanded the area he could look for work.
One bike-ride took him past, "John Reilly´s Auto Repair". It looked almost like the sign in front of the "Body Shop".
The familiarity of the sign, and the cars worked like a magnet on Danny. He wanted a job there. Stood on the other side of the road with his bike and watched for some time. But he couldn´t ask for a real job. Not yet.
The Schulz´ were having their second yard sale that summer. The first had been from cleaning out the attick, and the second was from cleaning out the basement, and the garage. They had lots of stuff to get rid off, after having lived there for 30 years, and raising their son and two daughters there.
Andrew, "Andy" Schulz was grumpy this morning. He spent the whole week at the office having to do innane smalltalk with customers and colleagues. And, now his wife, Eileen, insisted he be present and do innane small-talk with neighbours, and strangers, as they rummaged through his old stuff, when he could be sitting back with a beer and enjoy his day off.
Or even fix the fence, as he´d promised the neighbour, and Eileen, he´d get around to doing this summer. The material was in the garage, and was one of the reasons they had the yard sales in the first place. With all the old stuff, and now a load of boards, there was no way there was room for their car in the garage, and it was always stifling hot in the old girl when he was to drive off.
Watching the youngest Grant-kid, from three houses down, pawing through his son David´s old comic books, he was nudged by Eileen who nodded towards a young boy looking awkward and out of place, while looking at some clothes in the boxes. He was a tall, athletic, kid. Unkempt, but good looking with his dark blond hair, and tanned face and arms. As they watched, the boy spotted the old camping equipment, and walked over to examine the tent.
"Can I help you son?" Andrew walked over.
"Uh", the kid looked startled, "Don´t know sir"
"Do you like the tent?"
The young man just nodded, but looked away, embarrased.
Andrew Schultz was a smart man, and it dawned on him that this kid didn´t have much money.
"Do you want it?"
The boy nodded, "How much does it cost?"
"How much do you have?"
The kid rummaged in his pocket, and pulled out a few dollars and change.
"Put those away son." Andrew said gently, "You can have it!"
"I want to pay for it." the boy mumbled, while blushing a bit. He looked down at his old sneakers, and then around the yard.
"I can fix your fence!" he blurted out.
"Then you have yourself a deal son!" Andrew stuck out his hand, and said, "Andrew Schultz here."
The kid grabbed it, and gave a good firm shake, "Daniel Thompson sir"
"Would you like a beer?" Andrew asked later, as the yard sale was over, and he´d sat down with the boy after Danny had helped him clear away what was left.
They opened a bottle each, and sat in silence for a while.
"You from the South?"
"Yeah. Tennessee. I moved to New York with my sister a few months ago. But I didn´t like it there" The boy looked down, and Andy thought he´d better not push it about why he´d left Tennessee in the first place, or New York for that matter.
In stead he asked, "What made you come here? To Albany of all places?"
Danny laughed, "Hopped on the first train out of the city, and this is where it went."
"Do you have a place to stay?"
Daniel looked at the tent lying on the ground, smiled, and answered, "Yeah!"
Andrew grinned, "I mean besides the tent!"
"The tent will do fine sir."
"We can help you find something else you know."
Danny was amazed at the incredible kindnes he was being met with, but wouldn´t take them up on it. And Mr. Schultz seemed to understand.
"If you don´t have anything better than the tent by the end of September, I want you to come and see me. Ok?"
"I want you to promise! You´ll need a warmer place come winter."
"Yes sir" Danny nodded again. And they sat in silence for a while.
"What are you thinking son?"
"I´m thinkin´ I´ll be needin´a job!"
It was Mr. Schultz turn to nod. "That´s a good idea, and that makes me think you´ll be needing a hair-cut!"
Danny ran his hand through his hair. It was now a uniform inch-and-a-half all over, since it was three or four months since Pa had used the old manual clippers on it last.
He missed having it all off, but, if he was to find a descent job, he figured he´d need a descent hair-cut to go with it.
"Yeah. I´ll need to see a barber I guess."
Andrew laughed, "That´s easy to fix! Come this way!"
Getting up, Danny reluctantly followed. This was awkward. He liked Mister Schultz, but wasn´t keen on letting a man he´d just met cut his hair. If that was what he had in mind. His mind was racing to find a polite way to turn it down, when Schultz stopped by the delapitated fence.
"Bob! Waddle your ass over here!" he called in to his neighbours yard, and some seconds later a short, fat man wearing only a pair of shorts appeared.
"This promising young man is Daniel Thompson, and he´s in dire need of a haircut"
"No kidding?" Bob said, amicably looking at Danny´s not so well groomed hair.
"Well, you´re welcome to my shop on Monday young Daniel." he smiled.
"Nope!" Andrew said, "Young Daniel has agreed to fix this fence, starting tomorrow, and he needs a hair-cut today."
"You Son-of-a-B***h!" Bob said, turned to Andrew, "You´re conning some poor kid into doing your job, for a hair-cut that I´m to carry out?"
Danny was confused, but Andrew, laughingly, explained to him. "Bob here helped me out some this winter, since I´d thrown my back, and we sort of agreed that I would fix the fence between us this summer."
"Sort of?" Bob snorted, "I´ve been waiting all summer for you to do what you promised!"
They went on with this good-natured banter for a bit, but Bob Grant was on board, and told Danny to meet him by his car.
He went inside, and met Danny by his car as promised after a few minuttes, wearing his shorts, an old shirt and a pair of sandals.
It was just a 10-minutte drive down to the shop, and Mr. Grant let them in, leaving the "Closed" sign in the window.
"Sit here son!" he said to Daniel, and went to ready his stuff.
Daniel sat down in the barber chair, and began looking at the pictures along the wall. There were photos of men with different haircuts, and of some boys to.
But he didn´t want to look like a boy. Looking at himself in the mirror, he studied his own face. It really wasn´t the face of a boy any more, and he tried to imagine what he would look like with a different haircut, than just the clippered all over he´d always had.
His thoughts were interupted as Mr. Grant came back in.
"So Daniel! How do you want it?" he asked, while draping him with a large cape, "All off, like you´ve had before?"
"Like that!" Danny said, pointing at the picture of a man sporting a crew cut, "Only shorter!"
Bob practically beamed as Danny said this. How long was it since a young person had sat in this chair, voluntarily, for a short haircut? It had to be years!
Combing the hair out, he grapped his Osters, and pushed Danny´s head forward, so his chin almost touched his chest.
Starting at the nape of the neck he shaved off practically all the hair from the back of his head, and did the same on the sides. Working meticulously to get it all off below a nice even line about two inches above Danny´s ears.
Using only clippers over comb, and no guard, he expertly trimmed the hair on top down to just over an inch, and putting various guards on, tapered it nicely to the bare skin on the back and sides.
Danny watched at his appearance changing in the mirror. Damn, but his sides were pale compared to his tanned face. He was starting to have regrets, but figured his back and sides would tan up fairly fast seeing as he was outside so much.
Mr. Grant made some finishing touches on the hair on top of his head, then went over to the counter, and mixed something in a cup.
Coming back, he applied warm lather over Danny´s ears, and the back of his head, and produced a straight razor, which Danny eyed with some unease.
"Just to clean you up a bit." Mr. Grant explained.
Daniel needent have worried. Mr. Grant had obviously done this before, and scraped away gently to "clean up" as he´d called it. It was strange feeling, and hearing, the razor scraping away at the short stubble that was left.
Looking him over, Grant seemed satisfied. Finally adding the "final touch", a dollop of grease, before combing the hair, with a ruler straight parting on the left.
He then found a mirror and, smiling, he showed Danny what he looked like from the back.
The change was drastic. Completely white walled on the back and sides, and the hair on top flattened, rather than the "brush" it had been before Mr. Grant had applied the grease and flattened it down.
A soft "Wow!" escaped him as he studied himself. With the severe parting, he felt he looked more like a little boy again though. But the grease would wash out, and he could probably still make his hair lie down a little using just water.
"How much do I owe you?" he asked, hoping it would be nothing.
"Free of charge son. Just help that slowpoke next door fix the fence as you´ve promised!"
Going back to the car with Mr. Grant Danny suddenly felt very self-concious. Despite it still being warm outside, he could feel a draught around his neck and ears.
Three teenage boys with long hair, well over their ears and down to below their collars, watched open-mouthed, and one, absently touching his own locks said, "Holy sh*t! That´s short!"
The others laughed, and Danny felt himself going red, as he stepped in to the car.
The Schultz´ made him feel better though. Eileen smiled broadly at him, and Andrew went so far as to congratulate him on his clean-cut look.
"You won´t have any problem finding work looking like that." he said, and grinned at Danny. "Just don´t forget; you work for me first!"
"Sure thing Mr. Schultz. I´ll be here tomorrow morning!" Danny grinned back.
"Don´t be too early though. I didn´t get to sleep in today, and I will do it tomorrow!" Andrew grumbled as a last greeting.
Pushing his bike back to "his place", with the tent balanced over the bar, Daniel felt pleased with himself, and how the day had gone. Pitching the tent when he came back, he took out the food Mrs. Schultz had insisted he take with him from his backpack.
And he was particularly pleased to find a couple of beers, he suspected Mr. Schultz to have snuck in there.
Making a small fire he sat and enjoyed the food, and drink, while almost constantly rubbing the back of his head. He liked feeling the smooth shaved part with his hand, and letting his fingertips run over the "new" hairline.
Working on the fence with Andrew Schultz the next day, Andrew was impressed. The boy worked well, and had a good, practical grasp of what needed to be done.
At about noon Eileen came out with some sunscreen, and commanded Danny to apply some on the shaved parts of his head, where the skin was so white. He had skin that tanned well, but the sheared parts of his head hadn´t seen the sun in months, and his neck began to look a bit red.
The next day he worked alone on the fence, and finished it at about noon, when Mrs Schultz came out with a sandwich and a bottle of pop. All he´d had since breakfast was water from the hose, and this was a feast! He ate and drank greadily.
Andrew had shown him where to find brushes and paint yesterday, and he got it ready in the yard. He looked around before beginning to paint, and stripped to his boxers so as not to get paint on his clothes. He only had two pairs of jeans and although they were already battered, he didn´t need paint stains on them as well.
Mrs. Schultz came out with another bottle of pop when he was done, and he drank it fast. It was thirsty work. He wished it was a beer though.
"I found some of David´s old clothes for you while you were painting."
Danny didn´t quite know what to say. He was touched, and really needed the clothes he was offered, so he mumbled a "Thanks Mrs. Schultz"
"You´re not putting them on before you have a good wash though!" she said, and directed him to the bathroom their children used when they were home. Here, he got to take a shower, and it was probably the best shower he had ever had. Washing away a couple of week’s worth of crud. He´d cleaned himself as best he could in the stream, but a shower really was something else!
He washed his hair three times, in order to get all the grease out that Mr. Grant had put there, and stood for as long as he dared in the hot water, without being too impolite about using up their hot water.
While drying himself, he stepped in front of the mirror, and he almost began laughing when he saw how his short hair stood straight up after being toweled. Figuring it would be ok if he borrowed the comb lying there, he combed it down and a bit to the side. Better! Grinning he stood there and admired himself for a while. His back and sides had already tanned up nicely, and he himself thought he looked good.
That night he had dinner with them, and Mrs. Schultz really could cook!
They enjoyed his company as well. He was a lot more at ease with them now. And with his fresh haircut, and "new" clothes, he didn´t seem so self-conciuos any more either. They told him about their family, and he told them about his, opening up a little about his background.
"Is there anything we can do for you?"
"Uh. If I could come and clean up a bit from time to time, that would be awesome Mrs. Schultz," Danny replied.
It was well after dark before he was back "home". It was strange how much more like a home it was with the tent in stead of just the tarp. Feeling really good about himself for the first time in a long time, he decided; Next day he would look for a real job!
To be continued.