Lately there has been a gnawing sensation within me that a critical part of my story has been left out. I’ve been wanting to relate a certain turn of events that occurred in July 2016, after I had left Berkeley, but before I had moved up to Idaho. It may explain why it is that I am so passionate about what I am writing, and why I now know that my life has meaning.
To provide some background, I left Berkeley, California on the day that I received my monthly Social Security check for July. On that day, I bought a laptop. Knowing that four laptops had been stolen in a three year period in Berkeley, and that I was a known “mark” for the thugs and gang bangers who hung out by the local rapid transit station, my plan was to silently leave town before anyone caught wind of my acquisition.
The city where I landed on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula was a small town of about 25,000 composed almost entirely of upper-class Caucasians. I selected it because it was noted for a low crime rate and a peaceful aura. However, it wasn’t particularly friendly toward outdoor homeless types, and after the second time my sleep was interrupted by an officer of the law, I agreed to be transferred from my spot behind the local library to a shelter about twenty five miles South of there, in a more industrial neck of the woods.
At first, I was very impressed with the shelter. They had a number of programs designed to help homeless people get back on their feet and regain self-esteem. It was, however, assumed that I was an alcoholic or a drug addict, and daily twelve-step meetings were required. Still, I acquiesced. I think twelve-step meetings are great, in general. The only thing that bothered me was the assumption that I needed one.
About five days into my sojourn at the shelter, an unfortunate turn of events took place. In the Men’s Barracks, where I slept on a bunk in close proximity to about twenty-five other men, I caught a flu. I went to the hospital, where I was told I had “viral bronchitis” — which I’m pretty sure is just a fancy name for a high-follutin’ flu. I definitely do not have bronchitis in any other sense. In any case, I was given the usual stuff, and told to “rest in bed for ten days.”
But when I went back to the shelter, they told me that because I had a contagious disease, I could no longer stay at the shelter. This disturbed me. After all, I had obviously caught the flu at the shelter. So I was not the only person there with a flu. Half of the guys in the barracks were coughing, sneezing, and wheezing from all their cigarette smoke anyway. Here I’m this guy with an unusually strong immune system, who had caught exactly two flus in the past fifteen years, works out, doesn’t smoke or drink — it very much upset me that I was being reprimanded for my honesty.
So I went back to the hospital and explained what happened, hoping they would let me in to recover. But at the hospital, I was told that they couldn’t show any special preference for me, just because I was homeless.
“I know you have the flu, Andy, but let’s face it. Homeless people come in here trying to get an overnight stay all the time, for all kinds of reasons. If I were to let you in, I’d have to let in the whole lot of you. I’m sorry, Andy, but that’s just the way it is.”
A rush of numbing fright consumed me. I suddenly realized that I was going to have to fend with this flu outdoors! I’d seen homeless people die overnight after catching a flu! I feared death – but I was too young to die — and generally a very healthy, fit human being. But what could I do?
Throughout the next five days, my condition worsened. I was sneezing, and often visibly perspiring. The driver of the all-night bus stopped letting me inside the bus at night, because all the other homeless people who used the bus as a sleeping spot were complaining that I might be contagious. I told him that viral bronchitis is only contagious in the first two to three days. But this was to no avail.
Then one night, something came over me. And this is why I now know that my life has meaning. Shortly after midnight, on July 17, 2016, I was walking by the Sequoia Station in Redwood City, wondering where to sleep that night, sick with a flu, and angry. Suddenly I dropped down on my knees and screamed at the top of my lungs:
God!! If there is Anybody out there, I don’t care Who you are, or what your Name is, if you can feel me, where I’m coming from, please — I do not care about drug addiction or alcoholism, or mental illness, or being a lazy bum or a slacker or a slouch – I care about Homelessness! Please put an END to twelve years of totally unpredictable, totally unreliable, ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN, ANYTIME ANYWHERE HOMELESSNESS!!! In the name of Jesus Christ I pray –
Granted, it was an impulsive emotional outburst, and I’m sure any theologian worth their salt could easily chop holes in the wording. But I felt an eerie sense of calm when I got back up to my feet.
I looked around. The night was still and quiet. My spirit was overwhelmed with the clear feeling that Somebody had heard that prayer — and that Somebody would honor it.
A couple days later, as the symptoms of the flu subsided, I remembered an associate of mine, a now retired music teacher with whom I had worked when I was still a sheltered elementary school music teacher making a modest living on the Peninsula, before all this homelessness ensued. He had earlier said that if I could choose a spot outside of the State of California where the rents would be cheaper and I could conceivably live off of my Social Security, he would spot me the one-way ticket.
The rest of my story I have told. Here, there, and elsewhere. Within forty-eight hours, I had rented a room at Friendship Square on a temporary basis. Three days later I signed a one year lease on an apartment that would have rented for $900 in Berkeley, and was only $275 in Moscow, Idaho. I alighted upon the city of my birth for the first time in sixty-three years — a city that I knew nothing about whatsoever, other than the fact that I was born here. Three weeks later, I applied for a part time job and was hired — after years of being considered unemployable and mentally incapable of working in the State of California.
I only later learned that Idaho Repertory Theatre was founded in this city on the year I was born, and that the Lionel Hampton School of Music sports a city-wide jazz festival every year here — in the town where I was born. I only later walked through one of the city gates, and saw the city proudly proclaiming itself: “The Heart of the Arts.”
I’m not going to ask you to believe in God, if you don’t already, after having read these words. The word “God” after all, is only a word. If you ask ten people the meaning of that Word, you are likely to get ten different answers. I know what I believe, and you probably do too.
But I will ask you to believe that my life has meaning — and purpose. If you can help me in any way to move that purpose forward, please do. I’ve been sleeping in gutters for almost half of my adult life. That I did not die a meaningless death on the streets of Berkeley is an absolute miracle. I have written a full-length musical about homelessness since I have been off the streets, in addition to numerous blogs, and five articles published in Street Spirit. If you can help me in any way with the money I need to make a demo recording of three songs from my musical, please believe me:
That one has got to be true. After all, Somebody gave pretty easily — once I finally, earnestly asked.
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