What Should You Know Before Becoming Homeless?

Somebody posted this question on the site called Quora over the weekend.   I figured I might be able to answer it.  I was homeless for a long, long time.   

You should know that people will not treat you as a full human being with needs, rights, and sensibilities akin to those of the rest of the human race. You will be continually dehumanized in ways that will confuse you, anger you, and seriously affect your self-esteem and your sense of dignity. By and large, you will either be faced with severe judgment by those who assume they are innately superior to you, or with a pathetic show of feigned empathy that will come across more like condescension than true compassion. You will often be lectured by those who have never been in your shoes and have no idea what your life is actually like. These people also will never listen to you, because they assume that you have nothing to say to them that is meaningful.

no humanityYou will be kicked out of your beauty sleep by cops, security guards, property owners, business owners, and worst of all, other homeless people. You might as well divest yourself of all remnant of worldly possessions — cell phones and laptops included — because they are all going to be stolen anyway. At food services and “feeds” you will be herded around like cattle, and orders will be barked at you as though you were a criminal in a jailhouse. Your 1st and 4th Amendment rights will routinely be violated by rookie cops who wake you up in the middle of the night and immediately search your backpack for drugs. During these violations, the cops will also run your “criminal record,” since it is also assumed that you are a criminal.

They will be surprised to find out that you are not a criminal, since obviously anyone who loses their house in a foreclosure or their rental in a California Owner Move In Eviction must be a criminal. After they do find out you are not a criminal, they will callously tell you to “move on” and sleep somewhere else. When you ask them, “where else can I sleep?” they will of course provide no answer, since obviously there isn’t one. Severe sleep deprivation will eventually set in, and it is likely you will become a bit delusional in your thinking. Your confusion will constantly disguise what your true issues are. Tired of harsh judgment, tired of false sympathy, you will rack your brains out trying to figure out what is wrong with the way people approach you, and what is lacking in their attitude toward you.

Finally, you will realize that what is lacking is respect. They will not respect you; they will not treat you as an equal; they will ask you inane questions that do not pertain to your situation at all, and then will not bother to listen to your answers. You will get tired of hearing people ask you about the weather, because the weather will be the least of your worries. You will ultimately conclude that the worst thing about being homeless has nothing to do with hygiene, sleeplessness, malnutrition, weather conditions, difficulty sustaining basic needs, difficulty focusing on anything at all other than your day to day survival, or any of the other things that make homelessness miserable for most people.

The worst thing about being homeless, you will undoubtedly conclude, is the way that you are treated. Good luck.

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Anything Helps – God Bless!


A Rain Like You

A couple mornings ago, I awoke a bit later than usual.   After a brief period of reflection, I decided to forego my morning shower, gather up my things, and set forth into the world.

A gentle rain proceeded to plop upon me. 

“Funny,” I thought.  “This reminds me of all those times when I was homeless, and a shower was hard to come by.   I would feel a rain like this, and I’d suddenly be really grateful.   At least my clothes were getting washed, and I was getting a bit of a badly needed shower.”

For another block or so, I continued to enjoy the heavenly feeling of water from above gifting my body with a “courtesy rinse” – no strings attached, free of charge.   After a while, though, the thrill wore off.   I began to brood.

“Somehow,” I mused, “the gratitude that I feel is not so huge as it once might have been.   Sure I’m getting rained on rather nicely.   Of course this is quite pleasant.   But — did I really need to evoke the rain for this purpose?”

I paused to wipe off the back of my neck, where a large drop had leaped down upon me from somewhere within the branches of a tall tree overhead. As the cold water slipped down my back beneath my shirt, I grimaced.

“I have my own shower, you know!” I cried aloud, as though needing to remind myself.  “I could have given myself an extra ten or fifteen minutes.   Of course, the rain would still be tossed upon my back, but at least I wouldn’t be thinking of it as my shower substitute.”

I pulled a part of my corduroy blazer up toward my nose.

“Seems a bit ratty, if you ask me.” I frowned.  “In fact, the whole outfit could use a wash.  When was the last time I did the laundry?”

It wasn’t long before the previously pleasant memory of free showers past had faded completely from my consciousness.

“There’s no excuse for this!” I shouted at a large, looming cloud of darkness. “The days when I needed a rain like you are long past.  I have my own shower — I even have my own tub.  I could have easily waited another ten minutes to clean myself up if I had known this was going to happen.”

teaching like rainBut the rain continued, more-or-less treacherously, more-or-less cynically — as though my frivolous complaint meant nothing in the face of such cosmic inevitability.  

“I can also wash my own clothes without your assistance,” I added.  “It’s a minor hassle trying to make sure I have the right change, but for three bucks in quarters, the laundry room isn’t very much further than the shower.   It used to be . . . “

At around this point, I stopped and slowed somewhat.   For one thing, I realized that I had been talking to myself.  The clouds weren’t listening, and the rain seemed almost stoic in its indifference to my plight.   For another thing, I had begun to sense a strange poignancy couched within the mundane.   Despite the apathy of the unfeeling elements, there was a sense of great caring and concern emerging.   Wherever it came from, I wasn’t sure.  But it was real.

“It used to be,” I continued, “that if I needed clean clothing, I might as well just get a whole new outfit at the thrift shop, and leave the dirty clothes behind.   It only cost a few pennies more than having to do everything in a laundromat, and besides I had no explaining to do after stripping down to my running shorts in public, just to make sure I still had something on while all the rest of my clothes were tumbling.  Easier just to buy new duds once a week or so.  No matter how many times I washed my clothes or showered anyway, it would still be pretty much assumed that I hadn’t.   

“It used to be, people would walk past my Spot and hold their noses in a gesture of scorn.  Funny, though — I hung around homeless people all the time, and unless the guy was drunk or something, I never smelled anything.   Then again, I wasn’t looking for it.  Funny how we often find whatever it is we’re looking for — even when it isn’t there.

“It used to be, no matter how much I tried to make my presence more palatable to passersby, I could not escape the scorn, the ridicule — I remember once how a man walked by and shouted: ‘Take a shower!’  This was literally less than fifteen minutes after I’d just stepped out of the shower at the Multi Agency Service Center.   Made me feel as though the three hours I’d spent waiting in the line for the shower that morning had all been for naught.   

“It used to be, they treated me like I wasn’t even human.  Just a piece of garbage, littering the sidewalk with my being.   But now . . . “

The clouds moved more quickly for a spell.  

“But now, they treat me like — one of the gang.   One of the crowd.   A person worth smiling at.   A person whose smile is meaningful . . . is safe . . . 

“Yeah!”  I laughed.   “When was the last time I had the experience of being treated as though I were not even human?”   

The sun slipped very nicely between a couple of passing clouds.  My gait lightened, as the Latah Recovery Center loomed in the distance.  I like to say a prayer before I step in the door to begin my shift.   My prayer, this time, was thus:

There was a time when I slept on my back in a thunderstorm
in a church parking lot, having no blanket,
and looking up at the howling night sky,
having no choice but to shout: “Bring it on!”
I was stormed on for years, Lord.
I want you to know how thankful I am
to be rained on
by a Rain like You.

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

Good News

For the past week or so, I’ve been sitting on some pretty majorly good news as far as the progress of my musical project is concerned.   That I haven’t even brought myself to blog about it may seem a bit hard to believe.  But the news came out of the blue, and it shocked me — and I basically haven’t quite known what to say.

Friday before last, I was approached by a very reputable figure in the local Arts scene, someone who has his hand in a lot of different activities, and who is also a respected sound engineer.   Long story short, he offered me full use of his studio and his services in order for me to put together a demo recording featuring songs from my musical.   

singerHe also comes connected to specific singers and voice professionals in the field of musical theatre.  So he’s confident he can find the singers for me that my own less informed efforts have not been able to find.   The singers of course will need to be paid, but his own services will be provided as a gesture of one theatre Artist helping out another, for the overall sake of the Arts.

Since this has long been an important goal of mine, one would think I’d be overjoyed.  However, any elation I might have originally felt was quickly consumed by the awareness of how much professional preparation lay ahead of me.   Now I have to select three songs that will best demonstrate the musical score, and prepare the vocal parts for the specific singers involved, both in terms of written music, and of mp3’s for them to listen to.  In addition, I have to make sure that the instrumental tracks for the three songs are perfectly polished, so as to provide compelling accompaniment for the singers on the demo.

Once I have all that stuff prepared, I am to send it to the engineer, so that he can distribute it all among the singers.   Then the singers in turn do their homework, so that once we finally get into the studio, everybody knows their stuff, and the engineer’s time is optimized.  So – this could be a really great thing.

As far as the pay factor, the price I quoted for the engineer was $125/ singer.   Earlier, I came up with a $700 budget to pay the singers and get the other odds and ends of the demo together.  Right now, there’s $325 in that fund.  I’m only using four singers, so $500 is all I need to pay them.  That means I need $175 more.  If seven people each were to contribute $25 to this cause today, I would have all the money I need for the singers, right there.   

I also got another article published in the March edition of Street Spirit and you can click on the link for that.  I want to do more writing along those lines, having to do with homelessness and classism, as dealt with in the musical as well.   But for the present time, the unexpected musical calling is consuming me.  It might be a while before I fully surface.

So once again, if you feel you can help at all towards the rest of what I need to produce this demo, now would be an excellent time for you to consider doing so.  In the meantime, I’ll keep cranking out these parts.  Maybe it will all time out just right.

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Anything Helps – God Bless!


That’s His Whole Problem!

I’ve been under the weather lately, and I’ve taken to composing music to pass the time.  As I broke out my music notation software for the first time in quite a while, I noticed an assortment of unpleasant feelings associated with the task.   For some reason, I keep thinking that it is wrong for me to be writing music.

Wrong to write music?   Ah, but this makes no sense.   Where does that come from? Arguably, my father, though I’m sure the poor bloke was only trying to protect me from myself.   He would see the delirious obsession overtake me, quite like his own very similar obsession, and he feared for where it might lead. 

Wrong to write music – what do you make of it?   I can somewhat understand the inherent dangers in the “new toy effect” of this amazing music notation software — especially since I first acquired the new toy over ten years ago, and one would think its fascination would have faded by now.  Ah, but no – there is an almost addictive, compulsive quality to the way that I attack the Finale commands with such fervor, almost like playing a video game, or taking a ride in an amusement park.  Too much fun is involved, and escapism.  How can it possibly be good for me?

Escapism . . . I tend to escape the doldrums of life — by writing music.  In fact, I even escape the demands of the music world itself.  After all, I’m supposed to be finding other musicians to play my stuff, aren’t I?   Other musicians are supposed to play my notes; other singers are supposed to sing my words.  Instead, I belabor for hours over this feigned representation of my music, produced by the artificial, heartless software.  I pretend that there’s an improvised saxophone solo between Measures 33 and 48.  But let’s face it, every note of that “improvisation” has been painstakingly fabricated by the workings of my own tomfoolery, trying my best to mislead the listener into believing that there’s actually a sax being played there, rather than a sophisticated electronic fake.

Don’t I have more important things to do?  Aren’t I behind on my blogs?   I’m supposed to be writing about Homelessness, aren’t I?  What’s music got to do with that?

Well, that’s just it.  It’s got everything  to do with that.  And everything to do with this sense of wrongness that engulfs me whenever I try to write music these days.   It recalls a former time, not too long past, when the average person in my life believed that my relationship to Music was the biggest problem I had in life.

whole problem

It was widely thought, seemingly by everybody else but me, that it was a huge problem, this obsession I had with composing music.  It was a conspicuous problem — a visible problem, something that could not escape public notice.   In a way, it was like Homelessness itself.   There was no way I could hide my homelessness effectively from everybody in the city of Berkeley.   No matter how nice I tried to act, how good I tried to look, the cat was out of the bag.  Everybody knew I was homeless.   Everybody knew I was “just one of the local wing nuts.”   So my obsession with composing music, whether I used the software, or whether I only walked about town singing “bop bop bop” and playing drums on my pants legs, was all part of that huge visibility.   I couldn’t hide being homeless; and I couldn’t hide writing music.  So to my observers, they only seemed like two sides of the same coin.

“That’s his whole problem right there! Look at him writing music all day long, while he’s homeless.  No wonder he never gets off the streets!  How disgusting.”

I remember how depressed I would become whenever I encountered this objection.  Even at church, or at the recovery fellowship I attended, there was this idea that “music was more important to him than God.”  And it disturbed me.   I kept wanting to defend myself.  I honestly did not think it was true.  I just happened to be a deeply driven, tightly wound, highly charged composer, who just happened to keep getting all these musical ideas, that he felt a deep need to pursue.  What’s that got to do with God?  Other than that it was His gift?  How would eliminating this huge part of me possibly help me, either to figure out how not to be homeless anymore, or to be a better Christian, or achieve more sobriety, or recovery — why would eliminating music be so essential to my health and well-being?  Wasn’t Music what was keeping me halfway sane throughout all of this insanity?

I still feel the depression of all that.  I start to relive it, even now, while trying to write music again, after all this time.

But it wasn’t like that when I first got to Moscow, Idaho, almost two years ago to this day.  By that time, I had so much music accumulated in my mind, stuff that I had written without the software, that I’d kept track of in my head — I basically couldn’t wait to get it all notated, now that I finally had a computer, and a place to live.   

When I sat in a cafe writing music, I couldn’t help but notice that the reaction of passersby was much different than I’d become accustomed to.   Nobody scowled at me.  Nobody looked over and thought: “There’s his whole problem right there.”

Why not?  Because there was no huge visible problem that people were hung up on trying to determine the cause of.   There was not this thing called Homelessness hanging over me everywhere I went, seeming to demand an explanation.   

My friend Danielle put it nicely once, with this analogy.  “You see a fat guy eating a doughnut,” she said, “and everybody says: ‘that’s his whole problem right there.’   But you see a skinny guy eating a doughnut — the very same doughnut — and nobody squawks.”

“So what’s that got to do with me?” I asked, naturally.

“The fat guy has a visible problem.  He’s fat.  Everybody can see it.  So they look for the probable cause.  As soon as he sinks his teeth into that doughnut, they think they know the answer.  Genetics, upbringing, age, alcoholism — any other factor is thrown by the wayside.  That there doughnut is his whole problem.

“Same thing with you.  You’re homeless.  You’re conspicuous.  Everybody knows you’re homeless, and they wonder why.  As soon as they see you writing music — and all the time, by the way, you must admit it — any time of the day or night, anywhere, for hours on end — they say: ‘That’s it!   That’s his whole problem!’  Socio-economic factors, mental health, company downsizing, landlord owner move in evictions — none of those more disturbing, complex factors need come into play.”

“That is very disturbing,” I agreed.

“Quite so,” she nodded.  “But now?” Now you’re not homeless.  You don’t this big visible problem that everybody’s trying to figure.   Now you can write as much music as you want, and nobody’s going to fault you for it.”

Needless to say, I was quite relieved.   Now if only I could turn back the hands of time, and get them all to see that it was never my “problem” to begin with . . .

Or was it?

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Anything Helps – God Bless!


Brotherly Love

As any of my close readers surely know, I’m a person who made a dramatic shift in  location and lifestyle round about July 2016.   So dramatic, that I’ve been having some difficulty relating to old friends and family members.

I don’t know if age is “relative,” but I do know that as I’m about to turn 65, I feel like a fit and vigorous, healthy man. Even though I earlier lamented that I’d gained weight and that my vital signs no longer boasted a 55 heart rate and a 100/65 blood pressure, I found recently when I had a check-up that my pulse is still 60, and my blood pressure 112/80.  Although I suppose it’s inevitable that I eventually contract a serious disease, I’m not any more worried about it than I was twenty or thirty years ago.  The idea that life stops at 65 flies in the face of the fact that after twelve years of homelessness, I feel that my life has just begun.

So when old friends contact me, I often feel a tinge of depression.  Most of them are so depressed and distracted by life.  Of course I have moments of depression, but I don’t live there.  One of my friends never even laughs at my jokes anymore.  It’s not that I mind being around depressed people when I’m not at depressed myself.  I’m not that insensitive.  It’s that it’s hard for me to deal with their expectation that I, too, am “supposed” to be feeling depressed or miserable, at this stage in my life.

At the local Recovery Center where I volunteer, I try to help other men who have had similar issues as my own, whether derived from homelessness or from some other form of sustained trauma.   So I asked my counselors there about this dynamic.

One of the counselors suggested I don’t contact any of these people at all, even the ones whom I’ve always gotten on well with.  She said that to continue buzzing them is only preventing me from fully embracing my new and better life.

Then I asked: “What about my brother?”

“That’s different,” she said. “Contact him about three times a year, unless he contacts you first.”

At that, I figured it was about time to contact him.  So I did.  He hasn’t contacted me back, but that’s just Steve.  In some ways, he’s about as opposite of me as they come.  Whereas I tend to use too many words to convey my point, he tends not to use enough.  Also, his issues are much different than mine – what I know of them.  Basically, he was brought up by my logical-scientific dad, and I was brought up by my emotional Sicilian mother.  Somehow, she favored me, me being the first-born son.  But Dad favored my brother.  As the first-born son, I was supposed to follow in his footsteps.  But the logical-scientific stuff was just — not me.  It was Steve.  So Dad taught my little brother everything he knew — so much so that Steve got 800’s all across the board on his achievement tests: physics, chemistry, and Math Level 2.  He graduated with a 4.0 from the California Institute of Technology.   I haven’t graduated from anywhere.

Not yet, anyway.

The above is my rendition of an old Hollies song I kinda like.  In this day and age, we often feel that our siblings have been a burden to us.  I often think I must have burdened my brother quite a bit when I was still homeless, continually looking for help that he was not disposed to provide.   Similarly, I wonder if he feels he was burdened by me.  It seems to be a dynamic in modern life that one brother will “succeed” financially, and the other won’t.   I wonder if I gypped him out of some of his success, by leaning on him, as I did.

In any case, I thought of him as I played this song.   If only we, as Christians or spiritual people, could freely bear the burdens of our birth brothers and sisters, the way we so readily bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Here’s hoping.

I love you, Steve.

Once Homeless Always Homeless?

smileIn trying to do my part to raise awareness as to the homeless phenomenon in America, I would be remiss if I left out the fact that there are certain perks to the homeless experience that often go unnoticed. In fact, it is partly because of those positives that I managed to sustain my homeless condition for as long as I did. If it had not have been on some level enjoyable for me, I would probably have figured out a way out of it before lingering twelve long years in it.

This is not to say that it wasn’t absolutely horrible at times. So horrible, it made me wonder why people thought I was being hyperbolic whenever I compared it to being in a war zone or a concentration camp. Nobody in their right mind would think homelessness was a “piece of cake.” But just as people had no idea just how awful it could be, they also seemed to have no idea what it was that I actually liked about it, that kept deluding me for so many years into believing it was “worth the risk.”

Here are some positive aspects of my homeless experience that I have not yet been able to replace readily by living indoors:

(1) I did not have to pay any rent. I was therefore able to use my monthly disability money for things such as food, clothing, and creature comforts. If I had still lived indoors in the San Francisco Bay Area, most (if not all) of my monthly check would have been consumed in rent.

(2) I had no trouble coming up with food. Because I lived in an area where it was lawful and commonplace to sit down and fly a sign on a sidewalk, I often received food at my Spot, even when I had no money. I also lived in a city where there were 35 free community meals per week, at various churches.

(3) Being considered unemployable, I did not have to work on a job that, chances are, I would have screwed up somehow.  Therefore I had plenty of time to work on my various artistic projects, most of which were inspired by the very colorful and unusual world in which I lived.

(4) I had no trouble maintaining a healthy exercise program. My lifestyle necessitated that I walk at least ten miles a day. So I remained thin and fit, no matter how much I ate. My vital signs were always excellent: 100/65 blood pressure, 55 heart rate. Believe me, fifty pounds heavier from living inside, it is not easy to maintain physical fitness.

(5) I had no trouble with overeating. Not having a kitchen or a place of my own, there was no urge to binge-eat or gorge down food late at night out of general uneasiness and nervousness. Even when I did happen to come into, say, a box of doughnuts, I could divide them up between me and my homeys, and know that within a day or two, all of those calories would be worked out of my system.

(6) I did not suffer from the kinds of annoying “addictions” that are inherent in indoor living. For example, it was not possible for me to remain on the computer for twelve hours goofing off, because I hardly ever owned a computer. When I did, I was constantly in search of an outdoor power outlet and a quiet spot where I would go unnoticed. Usually, my computer would be stolen within a few short weeks, so Internet addiction became basically impossible.

(7) I kept my sexual desires in check. Hard to engage that stuff when you live outdoors and you might at least wind up with a “lewd conduct” charge (if not indecent exposure.)

(8) Negative ions in the air have been proven to be good for one’s physical and mental health.   The vast majority of Americans do not spend nearly enough time outdoors.  I miss the amount of time I spent outdoors, because it seemed to be good for me.

(9) I was not a softie in those days, like I sometimes fear I am becoming. I was strong, and a staunch survivor. I endured life’s vicissitudes without pampering or babying myself.  I was vigorous and ready for anything.  Now I’m lazy, slacking, undisciplined, and not ready for jack shit.

(10) In general, things that would be regarded as frequent temptations in the realm of indoor living were seen as rare opportunities in the realm of the outdoors. If somebody tossed me a doughnut, I rejoiced — I didn’t worry about my calories. If marijuana showed up, I rejoiced to smoke it, and went my way. I didn’t worry about smoking the whole bag in less than twenty-four hours because it was just so easy to keep tugging on that thing while staring at all the pretty images on my indoor computer.

In conclusion, things that I absolutely loved when I lived outdoors have become the very things I absolutely hate while I continue to try to live indoors.  The shock of the hugeness of the transition continues to be too much for me, and I am extremely surprised that I have managed to stay indoors for over a year and a half now without giving up and hitting the road.

Those are just off the top of my head. I’m sure many other benefits of homelessness will come to mind, if I really think about it. But along with those benefits came huge detriments, often suddenly and out-of-the-blue. My life was often threatened, I was subjected twice to strong armed robbery and once to arson, and many items of value were stolen from me in the night whilst I slept.

So it’s important at this stage in my journey that I resist the temptation to default back to homelessness. It’s important that I regain some of the simple disciplines that kept me trim, fit, and healthy for so many years before I ever had to be homeless. Being sedentary, after being highly active for so long, has not been a whole lot of fun.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I have not gone so far as to get an automobile yet.  I still walk four to six miles a day for transportation, and I go on long runs on the weekends. But somehow, used to all that excessive exercise, I’ve still managed to gain fifty pounds. I gotta get that weight off – and if all else fails, I know one sure way to do it.

Once homeless? Always homeless. Guess it’s just in my blood.

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

The Law of Respect

“I don’t have money or food,” said the man, smiling.  “But I’ve got something you’re gonna like even more.”

“What’s that?” I asked him, looking up from my spot.

“A pair of socks.”

I remember how happy the man looked when he saw the joy in my face.   After all, I came by food almost every day down there.  If I didn’t, there was something wrong with me.  It’s pretty easy to keep eating in a town where they offer thirty-free free meals a week to whoever’s willing to walk to the meal site and wait in a line. 

And money?   Seventeen dollars a day was my quota.   Barring the unforeseen, it met what I needed to get by from one day to the next fairly comfortably.  Everybody figures a beggar needs money or food.   But a pair of socks?  Was this guy psychic or something?

socksMaybe he’d just been around.  Or perhaps he was smart. If you stop to think about it, it won’t take long to figure out how difficult it can be for a homeless person to come up with a clean pair of socks on a regular basis.  Socks were like gold down there.  But people usually didn’t stop to think farther than the basics, if they even bothered to think about us at all. 

And I tell you honestly: shoelaces were the worst.  Wearing dirty socks from day to day was one thing.  Going two weeks without shoelaces was quite another.  I would essentially be immobilized.   Days on end would pass me by.  Somehow I could never squeeze the simple expenditure into my “shoestring budget” (no pun intended.)

I got tired of opening my mouth toward people who lived indoors.  We were in such incredibly opposite worlds, it seemed communication was impossible.   I wished we would talk about anything other than my problems, my difficulties in life.  Not that they didn’t care (although a lot of them didn’t.)  It was just that, they didn’t understand; and after a while, it seemed impossible trying to get anyone to understand — if they even listened (which a lot of them didn’t.)  Not to mention, in the rare event that someone “understood,” what could they do about it?   Let’s talk about something other than Andy’s problems, please.  Just once.  

“I wrote a song yesterday,” I would venture, meekly.  “Want to hear it?”

“A song?!  You must be out of your mind!   That’s your whole problem right there — that you would have let yourself deteriorate into this God-awful position, and there you go wasting your time writing music!  No wonder you’re still on the streets.”

Everything somehow would get turned around to the topic of my “problem.” Whatever my problem was, this elusive “thing” that had somehow “made me homeless” — it was all that was supposed to be on my mind, at any moment.  I suppose if I had been a sports fan it might have been easier.  Surely they’d let homeless people talk about the Super Bowl, wouldn’t they?  If not the San Francisco Symphony??  But somehow it never came about. 

Where was the respite I so wished for?  The breather for which I longed?   The break from having to dissect and devour myself over what could possibly be my “problem” — other than the obvious fact that I didn’t have a roof over my head — where was it?  That moment of oasis, that moment of reprieve, was as elusive as the inexplicable problem itself.   If I couldn’t get anyone to understand what the problem was, try making any headway toward its solution.  As soon as the subject of homelessness arose, unless I were talking with another homeless person, all bets were off.

I would speak my simple truth, and people would look at me quizzically, dumbfounded, as though the words I had just spoken were somehow verboten, somehow not to have been spoken, and not to be addressed.  But if I had said the same words to another homeless person, their response would be more like this:

“Yeah, I know what you mean.  Same thing happened to me the other day, only it was with Officer Forbes.  But I was sitting there, same thing as you, same exact scenario.”  

It got to where I felt as though a homeless person could recognize me two blocks down the road, somehow sensing in my emanating vibration a kind of kinship or partnership that didn’t just emanate from every guy on the block.   On the other hand, I’d be sitting with a non-homeless person in a McDonald’s on a rainy morning; and if I were lucky enough to be talking about Ravel or Debussy rather than how hard the weather must be on all the homeless people right now, chances are the person would never even have guessed I was homeless.   Usually, they didn’t find out till another homeless person came in and joined us.  After a while, they would detect a rapport that had been absent earlier, and they would turn to me and ask:

“Are you homeless?”

The very question I had hoped not to hear!  I had so been enjoying talking about classical music with somebody neutral.  For a brief period of time there, I was neither one of “us” nor one of “them.”   I was merely a guy in a conversation over a morning cup of coffee at a Mickey D’s.  

It always seemed as though the things that people would assume were the big negatives in the homeless experience were never the things that we ourselves thought were so negative – we being the people who actually were homeless, who lived that way 24/7, and who would naturally would be familiar with all the ins and outs of it.   Of course, perceptions about the homeless phenomenon varied from one homeless individual to the next – and sometimes even from one moment to the next.  But in general, if someone were to ask any of us what bothered us the most about being homeless, we would unhesitantly reply:  “The way that we’re treated.”

Yet usually that was the last thing on anyone’s mind, when they stopped to think about homelessness.  The first thing, of course, had to do with the weather.  The weather?  Yes, you heard me.  The weather.  Naturally, the weather must be the big difference, if one is living outdoors, rather than in.  Logically!

But let’s dissect this for a moment or two.  How much did weather conditions bother me, on a day to day basis?   Outside of the occasional thunderstorm, really, not much at all.  I remember freezing for the first three weeks or so, having all these uncontrollable chills, every time I woke up.  It seemed it took forever to get warm in the morning.  But then, after about a month, where had all the freezing gone?  It had gone the way of what we used to call “body armor.”  It’s this thing your body does to protect you.  I suppose you could still die of hypothermia when you don’t happen to be feeling the cold, but there’s something to be said for not feeling it, too.  One less thing to rattle you, in a world where you’re constantly rattled.

All that we really ever wanted down there was to be treated with respect — the same way that we tried to treat others.   The way we were brought up, maybe.  Something having to do with the Golden Rule, or principles of etiquette, or common courtesy.   We felt that we had lived by the Law of Respect throughout our days.  We had not engaged in cut-throat competition in order to prevail over others, to secure a better paying position, or some better post in the scheme of things.  We had instead loved our neighbors as ourselves, and had often sacrificed a perk of our own for the joy of seeing it granted to another.   And where had it gotten us?

Maybe it was too much to expect respect from a world that had grown so deeply divisive and cold.   Those who didn’t show respect for us probably showed little respect for anyone else either.   Maybe they weren’t all brought up with the values that, prior to twelve years of homelessness, I had always taken for granted.   Or maybe they had tried those values, and found them wanting.  Maybe they knew how to stay off of the streets of San Francisco.  Maybe they had learned how — possibly even by looking at us.

By contrast, there was something charmingly simple about the man’s approach, when he somehow knew that what I really needed was a decent pair of socks.  Socks are pretty expensive, after all.  He could have just bought a pair for himself, then come out of that store realizing there was a guy sitting there who probably needed those socks more than he did.

God bless him.  I hope that kind of thinking doesn’t land him homeless as well, like it seems to have done for me, and for many others.  I could tell from one look at the guy, he’d have an awfully hard time pulling out of it.   

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