So you wanna be a wino.
Well, it ainít as easy as you might think. I mean, you canít just wake up and find yourself homeless, living in an alley and stinking of cheap wine! You gotta work at it. But first lets delve into the many advantages of being a wino.
No rent! The world is your bed and breakfast! Except you donít actually get a bed and you can forget about the breakfast part. Otherwise, theyíre pretty much the same!
No bills! Last I checked, you canít mail a bill to a guy who doesnít have a mail box. Sure weíre crazy. Crazy like a fox with a lot of mental problems!
No girl trouble! Believe it or not, most ladies are not drawn to winos. I know, I know, why wouldnít a woman be drawn to a rugged, self-reliant outdoorsy type who isnít afraid of squirrels? (More about that later!)
You always know where all your stuff is! So long as you keep your shopping cart close. And believe me, youíre going to want to. There are a lot of thieves out there who would kill to get their hands on your prized twist-tie collection.
Youíre your own boss! If you want to lay in a Dumpster until 3pm (and who doesnít?), you can! You can lay there all day if you like. And if you lay in the right one, theyíll bring the food right to you! Itís like breakfast in bed and you never know what youíll get! Also, since you are the boss, make sure you give yourself a lot of breaks. And, if you feel like it, a long, long vacation.
You never settle into a rut! Man, you can wake up anywhere.
Society doesnít expect much out of you! No one expects you to do nothing! When people start looking for answers to the big questions, like world peace, crime rates and the national deficit, they are very unlikely to hassle you for the answers.
Plenty of wine drinking time! You write your own schedule, man. No one can come up to you and say, ďHey, Cincinnati Slim, you sure 7am is a good time to be drinking wine?Ē Because it just so happens 7am is an excellent time to drink some wine!
You can act as crazy as you want! Go ahead, man! Get goofy! People expect it out of you. Donít let Ďem down!
So now youíre thinking, Wow, thatís the life for me! To which I reply: Can you spare some change? Just kidding, thatís what we call an industry joke. What I really say is: Are you sure youíre cut out for the wacky wino way?
Signs the Wino Lifestyle Might Be For You
1.) You have gazed upon a shopping cart and thought, ďI wonder how much of my stuff I could fit in there?Ē
2.) You find it painfully difficult to walk past a Dumpster without taking a gander inside.
3.) You prefer the sort of wine that comes with the easy screw-top cap.
4.) You really, really like camping out.
5.) You can hear someone dropping change from three blocks away.
6.) You consider squirrels to be your mortal enemies. (More about that later!)
The Five Prime Wino Qualities
Okay, so now youíre probably thinking, Hey, that sounds right up my alley. Not so fast, kiddo. Desire isnít enough. You gotta have talent. Every wino must possess at least four of the five Prime Wino Qualities:
5.) Disdain for the institutionalized belief in Metzger's classic Work=Reward=Security=Comfort paradigm
Hey, Cincinnati Slim, you tell me, I have all those qualities in spades. Iím rariní to start my career as a Downwardly Mobile Professional (or DuMPy, if you will.)
Well, youíre not there yet. You might be the most lazy, crazy, hoochy, and moochy disdainer-of-Metzgerís-wildly-unsupported-sociological-theorems in the world and still not be a wino. First off, you have to learn how to dress down. Way down.
Dressing for Failure
The rags make the bum, as they say, and no one will take you seriously until youíve assembled the proper wardrobe. Hereís a few fashion cues.
Every shirt starts out clean. Donít get all fretful if your starting wardrobe is clean and odorless. Just give it time, man! After about a week of sleeping in an alley youíll look and smell like a real professional.
Leave the comb at home. Since you donít have a home, you can just throw it in the street. As fair as the coiffure goes, you can go exactly two ways: The Bukowski Sweep Back, or the Mad Russian. You get the Buk by sticking your head in some water then using your fingers to style it back out of your eyes. You get the Gorky (my favorite) by just doing nothing! Let the hair go where it wants, soon your natural oils will stiffen and a lend a dull gleam to your pride and joy. Watch it blossom into a huge crazy flower. Once you get that working for you, you donít even have to act crazy to get attention. You can let your hair do the schizophrenic jabbering for you!
A word about hats. Itís true, a lot of winos wear them. How come? The high and mighty Professor Metzger thinks itís because we have low self esteem and are trying to hide our eyes (the portals to our troubled souls, the quack calls them) from stares of derision. I say bullshit! We wear hats because throughout history a doffed hat has symbolized defeat, humility and abasement before oneís betters. And we ainít abasing ourselves to no one. So fuck you, Perfesser Metzger!
Donít go changiní. If God wanted you to change you pants, he would have given you another pair of pants.
Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize. I donít care how smelly and ragged your clothes are, without the proper accessories youíll get laughed right out of the homeless shelter. A little tinfoil wrapped around your wrist will not only make you more shiny, it also prevents sub-natural aliens (you know the ones Iím talking about) from using mind-rays to take control of your hand and make you kill that squirrel. (More on that later!) Dangling bits of wire can make the dullest parka seem an ultra-cool space suit. Anyone can wear a belt, but a man using an extension cord to hold up his pants is a truly an independent thinker. And donít forget to fill your pockets full of random stuff, it gives them a stately bulge and signals to onlookers that here shambles a man prepared for any situation demanding discarded lug bolts and a broken alarm clock.
Romance, Wino Style!
Ainít gonna happen. Trust me.
Working Hard at Doing Nothing at All
Everyone always asks me, Bob, whatís the wino lifestyle really like? And you you know what I tell them? I tell them itís like living in a beautiful castle in a lush valley populated with frolicking unicorns. Except the castle is a Dumpster and the valley is an alley and the unicorns are stray dogs that sometimes bite. Otherwise itís pretty much the same.
Other times people ask me, ďCincinnati Slim, where the hell do you find the time to be a wino?Ē Itís simple! You have to find time. And usually that means not holding down a job.
A Banquet Fit For a Bum
So youíre thinking, Hey, Slim, if you donít work, how do you put food in your belly?
Food is the least of your worries. Itís free! Itís everywhere! Especially in Dumpsters. Sure, it wonít be a big dinner of filet mignon and lobster. But it might well be a half-finished dinner of filet mignon and lobster. If youíre a little shy about crawling into a Dumpster and clawing through garbage bags full of semi-rotted garbage, there are also a variety missions and charities to keep you nourished. But I ask you: Whereís the nourishment for the soul? And by that I mean wine. I mean itís like youíre drowning and they throw you a life preserver, but forget to throw you a damn gun. And maybe youíre thinking, Well, whatís he need a gun for in the middle of an ocean? Well, itís simple. If you point a gun at someone, even if heís standing on a ship and youíre clutching a life preserver in the middle of an ocean, you can probably talk him into throwing you a couple bottles of wine.
The Quest for Fire Water
Thinking about wine is one of the most time intensive activities in a winoís day. Actually getting the money to buy the wine is even harder. Basically there are three ways to go about it.
Collecting Cans and Dumpster Diving
Some winos do very well by these ecologically sound professions, and their dedication to recycling should be saluted, but, quite frankly, both endeavors seem a little like work to me.
If you do choose one of these professions, youíre going to need a shopping cart, so head down to the nearest grocery store and check out the latest models. A lot of winos go for the new Wentworth Grocery Master 4500 (and with that capacity, who came blame them?), but me, Iím a Shure Glide man all the way.
I tried that whole day labor thing once, and do you know what? It seemed a helluva lot like work to me. I mean, you not only have to show up, you actually have to do stuff. Some winos go for it, and I gotta wonder about those guys. Sometimes I wonder if they really want to be winos at all.
Now weíre talking. The great thing about panhandling is itís easy. I mean, once you get into a groove, it doesnít even seem like work.
Brother, Can You Spare Thirty-Eight Cents?
But donít think itís just standing on a corner with your hand out. No, you gotta lay on the smooth talk.
The Art of the Sidewalk Hassle
Thereís about a million ways to ask for change and Iíve tried them all. Over the years I learned why some work and some earn you a cold, hard stare. Letís dissect two examples:
ďCan I haf a fuckiní dollar for some coffee or wha?Ē
This pitch fails on so many different levels. I mean, this guy ainít even trying! Hereís the breakdown: a.) Never mumble, mumblers are very easy to ignore. b.) Donít curse. Vinegar has never attracted a fly and never will. c.) Never ask for a whole dollar. It makes you appear greedy and undeserving. d.) Have you ever seen a wino drinking coffee? If you did, it wasnít me! e.) The ďor wha?Ē tag tells your potential benefactor you lack a clear goal and the only thing worse than a mumbling, vulgar, greedy, lying wino is one who doesnít know what the hell he wants out of life.
ďPardon me, my name is Cincinnati Slim. Could you lend me thirty-eight cents so my child and I can catch the bus to (the nearest college town.)Ē
This pitch is a real change magnet. Hereís why: a.) A polite intro means you respect his time. b.) Saying your name personalizes the inquiry. You are now no longer just some anonymous wino, you are Cincinnati Slim, Wino. c.) The word ďlendĒ creates the subconscious impression you will someday pay him back. Weeeee! d.) Asking for an unusual amount of change makes it appear you have a very concrete goal in mind and only require enough to accomplish that goal. You must try to get him excited about your goal, so that once he digs his change out, you can ask for more. e.) Everyone loves a family man. If he asks where your child is for the love of God donít tell him the lad is out picking pockets. e.) Winos do ride buses. Itís totally believable. f.) The fact youíre catching a bus (not really) to the nearest college town makes him think you may be a struggling student, or perhaps even a college professor on the skids. Why not? If theyíll let that mongoloid Metzger teach college, theyíll let anybody.
Now, sidewalk hassling is fine for your average wino, but if youíre like me, youíre going to want something a little meatier. Which means youíre going to have to move your act to a busy street corner and work the vehicular traffic. Why? Volume, my boy, volume! If you stand on the right street corner, a thousand cars will pass you during rush hour. And all you need is one percent of them to cough up some change and youíre on your way to the liquor store. And whatís even better, you donít even have to talk to them ó you just hold up a sign! Your work load is cut in half!.
(Caveat: Be aware that many prime corners are already staked out by other winos and you may have to negotiate territorial rights, which sometimes means a bottle being busted over your and his head.)
Essential Elements of a Cardboard Sign
Okay, you got your corner, now you need a hook. What you write on your sign will determine if you fall asleep sober or pass out gloriously drunk. Every sign should have at least three of the following six prime elements:
Patriotism: A crudely drawn Canadian flag works wonders. If you are a war veteran, state that you are a war veteran. If you are not a war veteran, state that you are a war veteran.
Industry: ďWill Work For Food!Ē It still works! If they actually offer you work, you can just tell them, ďItís a just a manner of speaking, you idiot.Ē
Honesty: Though the ďWhy Lie, I Want Some BeerĒ has been thoroughly played out lately, it is still reasonably effective around college campuses.
Pitifulness: Load up on these hot-button topicsó Homelessness, Unemployment, Got Medical Bills, Done Busted My Arm, My Whore of a Wife Cashed My Disability Check and the clincher, Trickle Down Economics, My Ass! I Got Peed On!
Groveling: Throw in plenty of Pleases and Thank Yous. Itís like Lord Byron said, ďIf you canít be kind in speech, be sublime in print.Ē
Religion: Always finish up with a ďGod Bless You!Ē With extra exclamation points for effect. And donít forget to misspell about half the words, so theyíll think, ďNo wonder this dumb sonuvabitch canít get a job. He misspelled socioeconomics and recalcitrant.! Iím going to wing a quarter at him!Ē
Workiní the Corner
Now youíre probably thinking: Got my corner, got my sign with not three, but five prime elements, and now I just kick back and let the change roll into my pocket.
Wrong! You gotta work that corner. Donít just stand there, walk up and down the line of cars trapped at the light ó theyíre not going to come to you! And when I say walk I mean limp. Limp like crazy! And, for godsakes, make eye contact with the customer. I cannot stress this enough. If you donít acknowledge them, why should they acknowledge you? Never smile! A happy wino doesnít need any change. Donít drink openly! Keep your bottle hidden behind a bush. Never lay or sit down. The lazy wino is a stereotype we must strive to disassemble. There will be plenty of time for lazing around later.
A Word About Wise-Ass Punks
Not everyone will respect the gumption it takes to stand on a street corner and demand change from complete strangers, and they sometimes express this lack of respect in cruel ways. The best thing to do is turn the tables on them and make them feel foolish.
For example, a wise-ass punk once told me heíd throw me a quarter if I would snatch it out of the air like some mangy mutt catching a frisbee. Well, let me tell you something: I may be a homeless wino, but I snapped that quarter out of the air like a pedigree terrier.
Goals: What Size Bottle Is Your Parachute?
Okay, youíve worked your corner just like I told you and, sure enough, you gather the price of a bottle of Wild Irish Rose. Now you have to decide: How ambitious a wino am I? Do I want the little bottle of Wild Eye or the medium-sized bottle? This sad dilemma happens because you forgot to Set Goals. Before you even started waving that sign, you should have asked yourself: What are my goals here? What size bottle am I going for? Do I want to get a little drunk now or a lotta drunk later? I mean, are you living for the moment, or are you a slave to the corporate machine? I think you know the answer.
Putting the Wine in (the) Wino
So off you go to the liquor store for the little bottle. Be aware, not all liquor stores cater to winos. I once walked into a store that made a big deal out of saying it sold wine, and every single bottle in there had a weird little piece of wood stuck in the neck! I was a little embarrassed, so I bought a bottle out of the bargain bin and Iíll be damned if the thing was nearly impossible to get open. It was like a chinese puzzle. I finally smashed the neck off against a dumpster and do you know what? It wasnít such a bad wine. Oh, sure, it was a small red wine of perhaps questionable soil, but there were definite hints of budding character and breeding, what with its delicate, almost flowery nose and a body that was precocious to the point of naughtiness. But that ainít the point. The point is, I like wine. And lots of it.
By now you might be thinking, Geez, I didnít realize so much work went into being a wino. Well, donít worry. Thereís plenty of time time for leisure activities. Sometimes you just gotta breakaway from the hectic wino lifestyle and take it easy. Hereís some stuff you can do when youíre not just bumming around:
Bus stop lurkiní.
Stinkiní up the library.
Shopping cart races.
Urinating in front of folks.
Discussing that fraud Metzgerís theories with a squirrel.
Thinkiní about killing that fucking know-it-all squirrel. (More about that later!)
The Thing About Squirrels
Remember what I said earlier about squirrels? You do? Fuck, I was hoping you forgot about that. But since you havenít, Iíll let the cat out of the bag: Squirrels are liars.
Parting Words of Advice
Donít forget to drink! Drinking is, quite frankly, what separates winos from regular crazy people. Weíre crazy and drunk. And that seems important, somehow.
And finally: Donít think hobo. Think hobohemian!