The Wide Wide World of Homelessness

I recently reconnected with the kindhearted person who assisted me in July 2016 by blessing me with a one way ticket out of California.  When I first got up to Idaho, this person suggested that, while I ought to write and give talks about homelessness, I ought to wait five years first. After five years, he suggested, I would be more objective.

Coming Full Circle

As it turns out, he was right. Five years have just about passed, and I find myself to be considerably more objective. As a result, I am objective enough to have realized that in the past five years I have submitted column after column about homelessness, most of my words falling on deaf ears, while my stress level constantly increases and I make almost next to nothing off of these columns financially.  In short, it’s reached a point of diminishing returns.  And that’s fine with me. I have already said, in many blog posts and speeches throughout the past five years, everything that I have needed to say.

So I have decided to submit one last post about homeless rights activism before the Far-Left ideologues in Portland spread their “houseless” euphemism all over the nation, as if the change of wording does anything whatsoever to dignify the homeless experience. They influenced impressionable young people and used language such as “We will forgive you if you can’t make the switch right away. Positive change takes time.”

Note use of the word “forgive.” This puts in the young person’s brain the notion that it is a moral error, that they did something “wrong” by using the word “homeless” instead of “houseless,” for which they needed to be “forgiven.”

Now I will openly admit that I lean a little bit to the Left these days.   But the tactics of these ivory tower ideologues are so insidious, they remind me of the fact that liberal social workers in Berkeley treated me like less like a human being and more like a “number” than even random conservative cops who stopped to question me.

Cops treated me like a human being. Liberal social workers, with whose politics I might have otherwise agreed, treated me like a round peg they were trying to cram into a square hole. To them, my Social Security Number was more important than my name.

But I need to add that my “lived experience” is subjective.   For example, I was old enough and wise enough to know that, when a cop approaches, it is best to be cordial and conciliatory.   A lot of the younger homeless people immediately became defiant on approach of a police officer.  Of course the cop would be nicer to me in that event, than to them.

Being as my lived experience is admittedly subjective, to what degree can I possibly represent the vast array of homeless people, in all their diversity and variety?

Anyway, before these verbal hygienists succeed in getting Homeless Rights Activism changed to Houseless Rights Activism, I am going to go my way. My feeling is that the likelihood that that the human rights of homeless people will ever be validated, and the homeless experience will ever be dignified as a legitimate way of life, is so depressingly slim, why am I bothering any further?   I’ve said all there is to say, and no one involved either in homeless services or homeless rights is listening.

My buddies in Berkeley tell me that only the youngsters are saying “houseless.” Gee it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out!   And of course, everyone who is outside simply says “outside.”  It happened just the other day.   A friend of mine who has long hair and a beard was sitting with me on a bench in the woods by Paradise Path.   A guy rode up on a bicycle asking if we knew “Robert” or “Jeremy.”

“Are they outside?” I asked.

“Yeah, they’re outside.”

The whole way that people don’t listen to a person who has actually been homeless is all part of the fact that homeless people are not acknowledged as full human beings. I felt it for years. I was a not a person. I was a homeless person.

Letting Go of the Past

In order to put it all the past, don’t you think I have to put it all in the past? I allude to PTSD and balk at ever discussing the initial traumatic event. I told my best friend on the streets, a black guy named Jerome, and he said: “Do me a favor. Do not ever tell that story to anyone again.”

I started to tell my best female friend Lauren and she shouted: “STOP! STOP!” In this twisted society, you just can’t talk about the thing you most need to talk about.

I’m through! I’ve said it all except for one thing, and I’ll say it today:

Homeless Rights Activists in Berkeley advocated for the “rights” of career criminals committing heinous crimes who should have been behind bars. They didn’t distinguish who was a criminal from who was not, because they were so hung up on noticing who was “sober” and who was not. As if a sober person can’t commit a crime, and is if many people with drug problems are not perfectly decent people who simply have serious problems.

Similarly, those of us who were not criminally inclined were treated like criminals by Left-leaning social workers, like this one guy who had a van and drove around delivering socks and other self-care items to the homeless. In our conversations, it was almost assumed that I should be a criminal. I was encouraged to do gnarly things that violated my Christian moral code.

There is another thing I must add.   The reason why homeless rights activists were focused on how “sober” a person was (as opposed to being drunk or, more likely, on drugs) was because they equated homelessness with drug addiction, as though the two were synonymous.

Also, if someone developed a drug problem, it was assumed that it was the drug problem that led to their becoming homeless, and not the other way around.  If a homeless person told them the truth about where the drug problem began, they assumed that the homeless person was lying.   The idea that, surrounded by drug abuse year after year, a straight-laced Christian-type guy might eventually become drug-addicted, was not accepted as factual, even when it was the truth.

It was all part and parcel of the way that the social workers dehumanized and undignified us.  And now, since homeless/houseless rights activism has been co-opted by the Far Left, there really isn’t much room for truth.

Let Your Eye Be Single

So —  that’s all I have left to say. I’m through. I’m done! I am only a piano player, and that is the only person whom I want to be. I’m tired of losing sleep at night over all the ridiculous crap I have to contend with in order to maintain my stance among all these people.

Tired of spreading myself thin. It’s ungodly. Jesus said: “Whoever is not for me is against me; and whoever does not gather with me, scatters.” Why am I scattering myself? I have a job to do. I have a musical to produce.

Jesus said: “If your eye be single, then your whole body is full of light. But if your eye be evil, than your whole body will be full of darkness — and how great is that darkness!”

These are stern words. I would prefer to heed them. There is a chance — an outside chance, perhaps – then when Eden in Babylon is produced, people will kinda “get it.” They’ll get what it’s actually like, or at least what a cross section of the Wide Wide World of Homelessness is like. They might leave the theatre, merely entertained. Or they might have learned something.

That alone is a noble enough goal. I spoke with someone last night who said: “You are not only a piano player — you are also an excellent writer!” I felt like retorting: “Have you ever heard me play the piano?  No you haven’t.   Are you going to hear me play the piano, and then tell me I should be a writer?”

I don’t have the power to direct the course of my life from here. In my book, I would get the show produced, become a total recluse in some far-off land, collect royalties, and play my piano till the day I die. But let’s face it. My book is not God’s book – and it never can be.

So when I say “there is no way,” maybe there actually is a way. With us mere mortals, it is impossible. With God, all things are possible.

Matthew 12:30, Matthew 6:22-23, Mark 10:27.

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Expect the Best

Kelsey and I talked this one through two days ago. Since then, another person from the previous workshop has signed on for the summer workshop, and more money has been raised for summer honoraria. It’s a challenging time in the history of this planet — but there’s more hope than we know. Kelsey Chapman and Andy Pope do the talking on May 24, 2021.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Tuesday Tuneup 108

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a place of greater security.

Q. You??

A. What do you mean, me??

Q. Since when have you cared about security?   Aren’t you a risk-taking adventurer who will not sacrifice your freedom for all the safety in the world?

A. I am not a Trump supporter, no.

Q. But traditionally, have you not always favored freedom over security?

A. Is that even valid question?   Are freedom and security diametrically opposed?   Or mutually exclusive?

Q. Why are you asking me?  Why don’t you answer that for yourself?

A. Okay well let me think.   Freedom vs. Security.   One is reminded of an oft-misquoted Ben Franklin meme.   Something to the effect that those who would sacrifice their freedom for a little temporary security deserve neither.

Q. Would you sacrifice your freedom for a little temporary security?

A. Depends on how temporary.   I’ve been secure for almost five years now, compared to how “free” I used to be.   And that freedom I knew when I was outside was very tenuous.   Free of schedules, free of deadlines, free of the Mainstream.   But not free from accusations, threats, and assaults.   Trading the security of house and home for the chaotic pseudo-freedom of outdoor living isn’t quite a 50-50 trade-off.

Q. Then why aren’t you feeling secure now that you’ve escaped it?

A. My lack of security is on another plane.   I am not safe from my foibles and defects.   I am not safe from the consequences of the words that emerge from my mouth.  I am not safe from — well, to be honest with you, from PTSD.   I never know when the trigger will strike and lead to a flashback.  I thought the last time it happened was the worst it could ever have been.   But what happened six days ago took the cake.

Q. What happened six days ago?

A. I was at a meeting and I blurted out an opinion that certain people whom I might characterize as “Far Left” do not believe is a valid opinion.  An argument with one such person ensued after the meeting.   They seemed quite calm in apparently advising me that my opinion was unacceptable.   The result was, in a word, reactionary.

Q. Reactionary?

A. Yes.   While I ordinarily lean a wee bit Left of Center, I suddenly was hurled into a right-wing reactionary mode.

Q. Did you temporarily become a Trump supporter?

A. No — but I suddenly became about as conservative as I was about forty years ago.

Q. How conservative were you then?

A. Enough to prefer Ronald Reagan over Walter Mondale.

Q. Were you less enlightened then?

A. I’m not very enlightened now, to be honest with you.  I was just younger, more gullible, less discerning, and less informed.

Q. What about when you were on the streets?

A. Libertarian.  Voted for Gary Johnson against Obama.   Slipped right into the mode of most of my White middle-aged companions who had fallen on hard times.   We were very assertive as to our personal rights and freedoms.

Q. And that changed once you got inside?

A. It began changing before I got inside.   It started changing around about the time Bernie Sanders was competing with Hillary in the 2016 primary.   I registered Democrat then, to vote for Bernie and against Hillary.   Moved up to North Idaho (largely Libertarian & Independent) and have not changed back yet.

Q. Are you planning to become a Libertarian again?

A. Not sure.   The Party here leans too far to the Right.

Q. Why would you even consider it?

A. Um — I recently met a Libertarian who is very open about his views.   He also seems a very happy person.  He has reminded me of certain ideals that the Party embraces.

Q. Such as what?

A. Reverence for the Constitution.   That’s valuable.   We need that to hold the country together.

Q. Can the Libertarians hold the country together?

A. Not as long as we’re all perceived to be a bunch of lunatics.

Q. Why would that perception have evolved?

A. It seems that the party clings relentlessly to ideals that don’t always pan out positively in the modern world.

Q. So you may remain a Democrat?

A. Probably.

Q. What about your conservative streak?

A. Between the two main parties, I would say that at this point the Dems are doing a better job at upholding traditional conservative values than the G.O.P.

Q. Would you repeat that, please?

A. Between the two main parties, I would say that at this point the Dems are doing a better job at upholding traditional conservative values than the G.O.P.

Q. How can traditional conservative values help us in the modern world?

A. Well, if everybody stopped sleeping with multiple partners and spreading STD’s and screwing around on their spouses and increasing the rate of abortions and alienating everybody with their incontinence, that would be a good start.

Q. So you think the problem is sexual abandon?

A. It’s a large part of it, yes.

Q. May I ask a question?

A. Please do.

Q. May we index this discussion for a future time?

A. Fine with me.   My ride will be here in a couple minutes.

Q. Meet again next week?

A. Sure.

Q. Anything else?

A. Yes.  May we not talk about politics next time, please?

The Questioner is silent.

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Authenticity and Community

To start off this Thursday’s post, I’m going to spin off of something I wrote last week:  

“What is being brought to light in the podcasts is how, when we were homeless, we were not in the position to be able to distinguish, among all the authority figures and “pseudo-authorities” in our midst, who were the ones who represented benign agencies whose role it was to assist us, and who were the ones who represented more-or-less adversarial institutions designed to investigate and incriminate us. All these “higher ups” were relegated into the box of our “observers from inside” – and thus it was difficult to distinguish them, one from another.

“In a corresponding way, it was difficult for those who lived indoors to discern from among those who were outside who was a legitimate candidate for genuine assistance, and who was of a criminal bent.   Those in the latter camp often feigned a need for assistance in order to gain benefits.  They were also often very good at it.  Whatever the case, I can assure you that I didn’t look much different than any other person on the streets — at least not at first glance.”

Having become homeless, I was dealing with this dynamic from the start.  Add to this the conditions under which the homelessness began; that is, that I had been subjected to a costly medical misdiagnosis that at first I embraced naively, only later to find myself headed for the streets.  The further I fell, the more it appeared that people in the medical profession were assuming authority over me.  This in fact was indicative of a greater phenomenon:  The further one descended down the socio-economic scale, the more people began to exert power and authority over that person.  The lower I got, the higher became the number of “pseudo-authorities.”  As more and more people seemed to grab power over me, I literally felt myself losing my last shreds of personal power–losing my value to society–as I became homeless.

The more people assumed authority over me, the more I rebelled against them.  After all, they did not know me personally and made no effort to engage me meaningfully.  What authority qualified them to boss me around?  Why should this particular batch of emerging new people, eminently random in my span of life experience, be the ones to whom I hold myself accountable?   In the case of the medical professionals in particular, I not only ceased to hold myself accountable to them, but I went so far as to address them from an adversarial stance, sometimes even a hostile one.  For it was they who had, in my view, initiated my demise. 

Abuse of Authority

The absolute audacity!  The very sort of people whom I thought should be held accountable for my downfall were now in a position of supposed authority over me!  They lived indoors; they had jobs with responsibilities and tenure; they wore badges.  Mental health professionals did not differ much from security guards in their approach toward us, when we were homeless.   Nor did we ourselves hold any particularly greater degree of respect for them than we did for anyone else who wore a badge.  

While my previous relationship with my psychiatrist had ordinarily been pleasant as well as at least potentially helpful, my new position with respect to mental health professionals was clearly one of assumed subordination.  Earlier, when I lived indoors and paid into my Kaiser health-insurance, I was happy to discuss life with my psychiatrist and more than willing to take her suggestions, since I felt she and I were on an even playing field.   But now, mental health officials often showed up in cahoots with police officers and fire department personnel, in a scenario where the badges even of emergency medical technicians seemed no less intimidating than those of the chief executive officers of major corporate hospitals.  The idea that any of these detached pseudo-authorities should even care to get to know me personally, let alone that I should be expected to blindly obey their uninformed commands, was absurd.   There was no reasonable choice other than to rebel.  

It was with such biases weighing upon me that I found myself eager to give musical and dramatic form to my emerging worldview.   For one thing, the season of life was quite exciting.  I was meeting other men and women who had fallen into the same predicament, and their views coincided closely with my own.  In fact, our perceptions began to build and feed upon each other.  Before long, I found myself overtaken by an alternate view of reality.  It was as though I had become a member of an alternative society, formed by the interactions that entailed among myself and others, as we all set out to interpret what had befallen us in a way that made mutual sense.

It was in such an atmosphere that I naturally conceived of the musical that was to become Eden in Babylon.  I felt an eagerness to use my particular skills to hone a medium through which a picture of youth homelessness in urban America could be presented.   Naturally, the Kids in the story would hang together and be protective of one another, in an environment where they were constantly having orders barked at them by desensitized pseudo-officials.  In such a scenario, an idealistic protagonist who finds himself subjected to brutal torture on the part of the “powers that be” in a psychiatric facility seemed to fit right in.

A New Life

Fast forward about ten years, and we find the playwright in a quiet college town in North Idaho, having not only lived inside for almost five years now, but actually having become acclimated to an accepting community of artists and academicians.  In the process, I cannot help but have gradually embraced some of the details of functioning in a healthy indoor community that, when I was outside, I would have shunned as “mainstream.”  The same system of tacitly acknowledged social conventions that I disdained when I was outside now appears at worst to be a necessary evil, and at best a convenience designed to make life easier on myself and on the others with whom I come into contact.

In such a markedly different culture, the thought of finding a compatible doctor and therapist, and of exploring medications that might assist in adapting to the established social norms, does not seem very far-fetched at all.   There is at least a tangible ideal of connecting meaningfully with mental health professionals who may assist me along my path.  Before, it was like, “get him in, give him some meds, get him out of here.”  I’d be ejected from the system turnstile just in time to have all my new meds stolen out of my backpack in a food line.

But it is not only my position with respect to medical professionals that has changed.  If something unruly is taking place in the neighborhood, I am confident that I can call the local cops, give them my name, receive their assistance, and be regarded as a responsible citizen in the process.  This would not have been the case when I was homeless.  The menacing nature of all the “badges” has diminished since I’ve been back inside.  There appear to be fewer of them now, and the ones that there are no longer hover so high above me.  

Also significantly diminished is the sense of inexorable evil wrapped up in this entity we called the Mainstream.  No longer do I feel that there is this giant social ogre — the Mainstream — ready to expel me from all the blessings of indoor living if I don’t abide precisely by all its confusing restrictions and demands.   Because of this, I feel that the cry that was so often expressed by my homeless brothers and sisters has been heard in the affirmative.  “How can we get back inside without getting caught up again in the Mainstream?”  That was the perennial question.

Authenticity and Community 

The answer for me has been twofold.  I had to first agree with myself to be genuine and authentic in my approach toward others and toward life.  I had to be myself decidedly, and to believe in myself — otherwise I would construct from all my guise and façade the very Mainstream that I was trying to avoid.  Life would again become a game in which I had already proven myself a very poor player, and I would risk being cast outside once again.   

Secondly, I had to agree to give of myself to a community that I would serve and in which I would play a part.   Here in Moscow, I have found a supportive church group, I have volunteered at a recovery center where I have found an emotional support group, I have found artists and musicians committed to my work, and I participate in theology groups with professors from both of the nearby Universities.  This accountability – or connectivity – keeps me from the isolation that would occur if I were still setting myself as an entity separate from and almost opposed to the world — the natural iconoclasm that sets in when one becomes homeless.

Thus is found the construction of an authentic life within an authentic community.   This differs hugely from what I experienced for years before ever becoming homeless.  I remember on the Peninsula wondering if I had any friends among the many associates whom I classified as consisting of the “three C’s” — clients, colleagues, and co-workers.   Many of my associations were contractual, and more money was indeed made.  But few of my associations were truly meaningful.   In a sense, this experience of a threatening Mainstream that sought to devour my true identity was itself only a social construct, because it was composed of the consequences of my own hypocrisy.  All its many conventions and protocols were but a reflection of my own personal falsity.  

That ugly scepter need not return to rear its head, for it has been dissolved in the greater reality of authenticity and community.   And, as Kelsey Chapman pointed out in one of the podcasts, Eden in Babylon has evolved accordingly, in a way that parallels my own personal transformation.    According to Kelsey, earlier drafts evidenced a protagonist who himself stood separate from the culture with which he was concerned, and who felt a false sense of empowerment that he could fix the situation from a detached, single-handed position.  It’s possible I was a bit like that myself.  In any case, the new protagonist – the new Winston – is a person who, like his creator, now merges in an even way with his community. 

So the picture of the tortured Artist who ten years ago sat beneath a Starbucks awning in the dead of night while homeless, conceiving a scene in which his main character was subjected to torture in a psych ward, is no longer the prevailing picture.  The Artist is no longer tortured by same.

The workshop was more than a mere musical workshop, for it awakened the desire deeply driven into all of our Actors to display how each of their characters represented a greater principle at work in today’s society.  In that more holistic view, Eden in Babylon ceases to be a statement about the mental health industry or even about homelessness, for that matter.  It becomes a statement about classism — and how it fosters the abuse of authority and power — as seen through the eyes of those who lack power the most.   

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In the Greater Picture

It was a few weeks ago when I told Ashley Peterson of Mental Health at Home that I’d have this blog post ready soon, and just yesterday that I got it done. It still only says about one-third of what I’ve felt is needed. But that’s a good thing. There will probably be a couple sequels. 

Much as I hesitate to draw from immediate personal experience in order to support any greater social theories of mine, I can’t help but have noticed how the events surrounding my difficulty in getting my thyroid medication point to a larger phenomenon.   In this case, I’m going to forego my usual hesitations, on the basis of reasonable suspicion that my hesitation could be lifelong if I don’t speak up at some point.

Besides, the “larger phenomenon” to which I allude may have a lot more to do with my personal development than with anything universal.  So if I focus on how I personally have been affected by certain perceptions and expectations of the medical industry, I can only speak my truth at this time.  How my personal truth may reflect a greater reality is a matter for one’s searching.  I can’t claim to know – only to search.

The Story

When I received my retirement income, I noticed a very nice package combining two forms of insurance: MediCare and MediCaid. At the time, I was also somewhat disappointed with the treatment from the local low income clinic (where the doctor I had was only a P.A. – a Physician Assistant – not a full-fledged M.D.)  It occurred to me a while later that the low income clinic was geared toward those who may not have any insurance at all, and that maybe now that I was more fully insured, I ought to find a small family practice center, and hopefully a more knowledgeable doctor.

While I believe I did find an extremely knowledgeable, experienced doctor, I have noticed over the past few months that the people at the small family practice center seem more stressed in general.   Waits are much longer, which one might think would be the other way around.   While they still smile and try to comport themselves professionally, one does not get the feeling that they enjoy what they are doing.

Often I waited a very long time, and sometimes the doctor himself seemed hurried when he did see me.  But when it seemed to take a lot longer than it should have been taking for me to receive my levothyroxine, I returned to the low income clinic to see if I could get a quick scrip from the previous doctor.

As I entered the clinic, I was immediately greeted with the warmth of familial recognition.  They shouted out: “Hey Andy!  How’s it going?”  There was something distinctly genuine and caring in their vibration.   They weren’t just smiling because that’s the professional thing to do.

I quickly got a hold of the doctor there, who wrote me a prescription after a single meeting.  Then, ironically, when I went to pick up the prescription, it was blocked because the doctor at the family practice center had finally filled the prescription two days beforehand.   I not only had received no notice from either the pharmacy or the doctor’s office, but how was I supposed to believe that the prescription would even be filled at all, if this had been going on for over two weeks?

While the wait at the low income clinic’s pharmacy would have been less than five seconds, the wait at the Walgreens where I had been getting meds from the family practice center was well over an hour.   Also consonant with this theme is that no one at the family practice center other than my doctor himself ever learned my name, even though I’d been going there for months.   The people at the low income clinic remembered me even though I haven’t been going there at all, and in fact went there as infrequently as possible, when I did go there.

Throwback to Homelessness

What this all flashes me back to is an experience I had when I was homeless, which recently has been on my mind because of developments in the musical — things that Kelsey and I have been trying to illuminate in the weekly podcasts.   The experience was that of having found a nice “wellness center” in a low income district in Oakland CA where almost all the patients were African-American and where I was treated very kindly — with true caring — despite long waits and a generally congested staff.

At the same time, if I showed up in the Emergency Room in the hospital in Berkeley, and it was known or determined that I was a homeless person, I was given distinctly less preferential treatment than the person who lived indoors.  Sometimes, the medical problem I came to Emergency for was overlooked completely, as they proceeded to give me all kinds of printed information on where the shelters and services were — as if I wouldn’t have known all of that stuff already.

So naturally, my mind has drawn a parallel.  I’m not homeless now, but I am low income.   My insurance isn’t exactly Blue Shield – it’s the kind people have who are elderly or disabled.  Family practice?  I wondered if I even belonged there.  My mind began to imagine what they might be saying about me:

“We’re a respectable family practice!!  This guy doesn’t have a family, he’s just a transient, there’s substance abuse on his medical chart, he’s probably just passing through town . . .” 

Of course, they probably weren’t thinking that.  The point is that my experiences would be such that I would even think that they would be thinking it!

A Theory in the Making

It seems that there are institutions populated by people who are naturally compassionate and even empathetic towards those who are down and out.   There are also institutions where such people are given lower priority.   This present situation may or may not exemplify this phenomenon, because it could easily be a function of the two individual organizations I have described.   That specific family practice center may be particularly understaffed or otherwise swamped due to the pandemic, and this particular low income clinic may happen to be expanding, and gaining more personnel, and apparently State funds of some kind.

Still, the thing that intrigues me is that, whether or not the recent experience exemplifies a larger phenomenon, it was brought to mind in my interactions with the people involved.   There could have been a kind of confirmation bias going on.   But if so, what exactly is the theory I am trying to confirm?

Only bits and pieces of this “theory” are in place.  That’s why I haven’t been writing.   But I am beginning to believe that my intellect alone is insufficient to piece the entire theory together.  And that’s why (if this makes sense) I finally am writing.

What is being brought to light in the podcasts is how, when we were homeless, we were not in the position to be able to distinguish, among all the authority figures and “pseudo-authorities” in our midst, who were the ones who represented benign agencies whose role it was to assist us, and who were the ones who represented more-or-less adversarial institutions designed to investigate and incriminate us.  All these “higher ups” were relegated into the box of our “observers from inside” – and thus it was difficult to distinguish them, one from another.

In a corresponding way, it was difficult for those who lived indoors to discern from among those who were outside who was a legitimate candidate for genuine assistance, and who was of a criminal bent.   Those in the latter camp often feigned a need for assistance in order to gain benefits.   They were also often very good at it.  Whatever the case, I can assure you that I didn’t look much different than any other person on the streets — at least not at first glance.

Unfortunately, that first glance often seemed to be the only glance I got.   Even if the glance became a stare, or a series of stares, I felt like I was being observed with an ulterior motive.   I felt as though people were watching me, just waiting for me to somehow screw up and incriminate myself.    Years of living with that feeling seem to have led to years of trying to find a feeling to replace it.

So I still resort to ways of dealing with feelings that don’t differ widely from how we approached the matter when we were homeless.   How does one, after all, deal with the inner feeling of being dismissed, overlooked, disregarded?   On the other side of the coin, how does one deal with the feeling of being embraced, respected, and accepted — especially if one is not accustomed to it?

When we were homeless, we lived with eyes in the backs of our heads.  We couldn’t drop our guard long enough to process difficult personal feelings.  So instead, we looked for the larger phenomena that they might represent — and we analyzed, and drew conclusions about society.    We conducted such conversations vocally, publicly — encouraging others nearby to join in.  We were a lot more powerful that way, and much less vulnerable, or at risk.

In a way, this doesn’t seem like all that bad a thing to have been doing — in the greater picture.

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From the Outside Looking In

This, the final column in a five-week series, was first published on Spokane Faith and Values on Wednesday the 17th of this month.   Reprinting it here (with significant edits).   I hope you like my work.     

In keeping with the imbalance of all of these inequities, this is perhaps the most profound.

It was often assumed that people who lived inside had a lot to teach those of us who were outside.  It was rarely supposed that we who lived outside had a lot to teach people who never had done so. 

When you stop to think about it, this one isn’t even a logical assumption. If someone were to have seen me flying a sign in 2016, they would have seen somebody who had lived inside for the first 51 years of his life, and was largely outside for the next twelve. Naturally, I knew what it was like to live both inside and out.  But the person approaching me, having always lived indoors, lacked a good half of that knowledge base.

How the outsider is perceived

This led to a serious cognitive dissonance in how the outsider was to be perceived. On the one hand, they were in an ostensibly superior position; that is, a position from which one might feel qualified to render assistance. On the other hand, they were in what was actually a foreign position. No matter how much better one’s lot in life may seem, if the variables of that life were utterly foreign, then how can one presume to be of help?

“How could they possibly be telling us anything we don’t already know?” we would query amongst ourselves. “Or worse, how can they advise us on matters we do know something about, that they don’t?”

They should be listening to us!” we eventually concluded. It was such an inescapable conclusion that we marveled at those who would persist in its denial.

But persist they did. People would relentlessly assault us with bits and pieces of perfectly impertinent, irrelevant information. They would tell us where the feeds and services were, as if we did not already know. They would present us with fliers that any one of us could receive daily at the doors to any of those events. Even when I was busking, even with my own guitar, they would tell me what I should have been doing instead.

Granted, not all passersby were of this predilection. But the saturation was severe enough that those who were not really stood out. How great it felt when my friend Neil and I were busking, and someone simply put a $5 bill into the jar and shouted: “You guys sound great, keep it up!” At least our street craft was acknowledged for what it was meant to be — not for something else.

Given that the disparity in perception was so huge between those who observed us, and we who were being observed, how best could our own aggregate head-space be described?

While attitudes varied from one outdoor dweller to another, there was naturally a thread of common interest in the details of outdoor living that, for some reason, most of those who approached us from inside were not interested in.

Seeking Self-Protection

For one thing, talk of self-protection was very common. We all felt vulnerable — so much so that talk of vulnerability as it was experienced in the relative safety of indoor seclusion often seemed empty and meaningless. We were concerned with getting through the next night, with not being found by assailants in our sleep, with having the semblance of a visible weapon for self-defense, with having those nearby who could watch out for us.

In trying to get on in the wilds, I felt drawn toward guides from the past, bodies of knowledge I never thought I would ever revisit. The Boy Scout Handbook was one such book of knowledge.  Even knowing the right kinds of knots to use to secure my tent was a great bit of useful information, not to mention all kinds of things long forgotten: carving paths, leaving landmarks,  telling which way was North, starting campfires, and making them last.

I found myself also referring to more mystical works that had influenced my youth. “The Castaneda Series” came to mind. Principles from The Yaqui Way of Knowledge that clearly pertained to outdoor living surfaced in my psyche.  There was the principle of finding my place–or “spot”–wherever I decided to stay and sit, and thus maximizing my energy there. There was also the principle of disrupting the routines of life. These are skills that, while they seemed inapplicable to the workaday mainstream, were very useful in the new life that where I had found myself.

It was not uncommon for us to marvel in how separate this new existence seemed from the world to which we’d been accustomed all our lives. Indeed, those who still inhabited the previous mode of existence appeared to be strangers, and alien to us, even though they had once been our kith and kin.

The perception that even friends and family should in this fashion seem suddenly alien, combined with that of an unusually strong bond we who were outside together all shared one with another, further served to illuminate just how much we all looked to be outsiders. Indeed, we were but “strangers and pilgrims on the Earth,” similar to the identification of the sojourners among our progenitors, those who in Hebrews 11:13 lived by faith.

Turning to Scripture

As a believer, I found myself taking to certain Scriptures that, while they had always seemed true to me in a way that transcended the tedium of regular workaday life, now they took on even stronger, more glaring meaning.

I heard people talk about how the people who were still inside were unaware of how there was no hope in the “mainstream” — that meaning the vast social entity from which we felt we had been expelled and flung full-force into this new realm of being. We knew there was no hope in the mainstream, and we were thankful for having been released from it. In my case, I likened it to the “world” as used in the Scripture, Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

When I was still in the mainstream, struggling to fit in and to function, I was unable to see how it failed to form a foundation from which a healthy spiritual life might spring. It was more accurately the case that it rather replicated the world system to which we are not to be conformed. And now that I was outside, I saw this clearly.

Not only this, but the Lord himself positioned himself as an outsider, much the same as we living outside now experienced ourselves to be.

“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” — Hebrews 13:12-14

So it was inevitable that we who believed and who were left outside discovered a deeper identification with our Lord and Master, at the same time as letting go of a much shallower identification with the world.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” — Philippians 2:5-7

Here was the sense in which our New Testament identification in Christ was made so much more accessible through the nature of the situation in which we all found ourselves, and its being opposed to the world.

“And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere He might lay the head.’” — Luke 9:58

This became our experience.  It wasn’t just His being a model or example.  It was we ourselves living out His life in that manner through ourselves and our present-day experience.  We felt it night after night, day after day.

For we brought nothing into the world, so we cannot carry anything out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” — 1 Timothy 6:7-8

It was interesting also in reading these time-honored words anew, how the author does not refer to “food and shelter.” We are to be content with “food and clothing.” Many people lived nomadically in those days, without shelter. Shelter is not a necessity in the sense that food is. This is one of the first things we learned, that we all came to accept, in order to cope with the radically different details of life outside.

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”  — 2 Corinthians 5:1

Our Reality

While earlier in life I could see in this Scripture a note of hope, I now was able to embrace it as a living reality. For these indoor dwellings with which we used to be content were not our true homes. Rather, our true home is in the indescribable realm of the heavens, of which we, being freed from our indoor dwelling places, were now granted an ephemeral glimpse.

So, with all this naturally going on in one’s mind, as one continues to face the wildly unpredictable vicissitudes of life outside, do you see how much of the narrative we were made privy to, on the part of whoever had always lived inside, seemed frivolous and trivial in comparison? So complete was our absorption in this new kind of life, it came to baffle us that others, ensnared in physical boxes much like those we had already shed, still thought them to be containers of life.

For us, they were not, and really never could be, quite again.  For it was so often thought that those who lived therein had something to teach us about life.  It was rarely if ever thought that for those of us who lived outside, our lives had just begun.   

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A Hand Up

The fourth column in my five-week series on homelessness was published yesterday on the religion-related site Spokane Faith and Values.  Below is a transcript of the piece.  

It was when Nadine Woodward was running for Mayor of Spokane that I first heard Tracy Simmons speak. When I heard Ms. Woodward’s campaign slogan, “a hand up, not a hand out,” I felt compelled to comment. A handout to the homeless, she claimed, has a way of “enabling them.”

“It does enable them,” I blurted out.

Suddenly, I felt as though everybody in the room was looking at me.

“I was homeless for years in the San Francisco Bay Area,” I explained. “All that a constant string of handouts did for me was to keep me homeless.

Now perhaps that sentiment is misleading. We all need to eat. Jesus fed the hungry without qualification. Does anyone say, “All Jesus did was give them a hand-out?” That’s usually not the way it’s framed.

On the other hand, for five years I watched as a plethora of self-care items was freely distributed to whoever figured out where to find them. There were socks on Mondays, a laundry room on Tuesdays, and razors on Wednesdays. There were 35 free meals a week in the city where I slept outdoors. Many people took continual advantage of these services.

In fact, it began to look as though the same people were showing up for all these events, year after year. There was a noticeable tribe in the making, whose members were a mixed bag.

First, there were those who were disabled, who showed up with caregivers–those for whom the community meal was a part of their planned itinerary. A second group was of a criminal bent, in and out of jail, and discussing their adventures openly. Still others had merely fallen upon hard times. But by and large, the bulk of those who frequented homeless services were clearly sane, competent, and able to work.

So why did they remain there?

For one thing, it isn’t easy for a person who lives outdoors to find a job. Homeless people are disadvantaged. I recall how one of my applications was rejected because I didn’t own a cell phone. Another time, I couldn’t afford the fingerprint check. There was a $35 fee, and I wasn’t able to come up with the money fast enough. It isn’t easy for a homeless person to impress a prospective employer.

Numerous obstacles stand in the way of a homeless person arriving at an interview. They may not be able to shower in time, or obtain decent clothing. They may not be able to manage the public transit to get them there. Even if they succeed at showing up on time and looking sharp, the interviewer may notice that they lost a job three years ago, and haven’t landed one since.

Their credit score may not be pristine. Worse yet, their mailing address may only be a Post Office Box. Why are they not providing their home address? Could they possibly be homeless? How can a homeless person be trusted with a responsible position? Aren’t they all lazy, and perennially unemployed?

“On to the next applicant,” the interviewer frowns.

Ironically, the fallacy that all homeless people are lazy is often what prevents them from being hired. This leads to the sixth inequity that I have wanted to discuss:

It was often thought that because we were homeless, our lives were consigned to a countless string of handouts. It was seldom considered that our lives might be changed through a single hand-up instead.

Here’s How a Hand Up Works

Consider my own experience. Over a period of twelve years, how much money do you think went into feeding me and occasionally providing me with temporary lodging? Easily, thousands upon thousands of dollars, subsidized by the taxpayers of America.

How much money went into ending twelve years of homelessness in the Bay Area?

Exactly $600.

Seriously! That’s all it took. Once I was finally ready to get inside, I found someone who believed in me enough to front me $200 for a one way ticket to a brand new life. Shortly later, that person spotted me $200 for a deposit on my first place of residence. Granted, the place was an old, run-down hotel whose rooms had been converted to “apartments.” But it was still a roof over my head–with a decent mailing address, to boot.

On July 27, 2016, I arrived in the State of Idaho. On September 1st, I signed a one-year-lease. On September 6, I interviewed for a church job. Shortly later, I was hired. This was after years of being considered “unemployable” in California — only because I lived outdoors.

Over the next few weeks, I received four $50 loans from my benefactor. The money went to necessities such as clothing, toiletries, and a photo ID. He and I stayed in touch for a while, and then, by and by, parted ways.

Would it be too much to ask the privileged people of America to walk up and down the sidewalks, talk to the people who sit there daily, get to know them, and decide for themselves who would benefit from a $600 hand-up?

To be sure, many would decline. And even those who accepted would face a rather daunting task. It isn’t easy to discern who would put the hand-up to good use. It takes time to get to know people – and homeless people are no exception. The hand-up I’ve described did not take place in a single day.

But it did take place — and it did work. The role of a single benefactor cannot be discounted. But the main factor in my success was that I left all of my homeless stigma behind.

Think About It

I am not alone. There are millions of people scattered about the streets of North American cities. People who once were your next-door neighbors — who once looked very much like you. And now, due to the pandemic, a new upsurge in homelessness is on the rise. This consists largely of people who, just over a year ago, were working and faithfully keeping up on their rents and mortgages.

How logical is it to assume that all of them are “losers” and “lazy bums?”

How compassionate is it to turn a cold shoulder? To shrug and say: “There are services for people like you!”

How realistic is it to suppose that “services” will suffice to do what must be done?

How courageous is it to wash your hands of the matter, and refuse to associate with people who don’t look like me and you?

How open-minded is it to shun the homeless on the streets, and walk past them as though they were things — and not human beings?

The Answer Begins with You

I challenge anyone who has $600 to spare — and granted, that may not be many — to walk up and down the streets of Spokane and talk to homeless people, as you would talk to any other human being.

Talk about the ball game. Talk about the concert. Talk about your relationship hassles. Get to know these human beings who are no less human than you are. Find out their interests, their passions, their fields of expertise. Find out how much you have in common with these people who are just like you.

And if you have $6000 to spare, you know what to do. I guarantee you there are a lot more than ten people on those streets who don’t need to be there. If you have $60,000 to spare, you know where to spare it.

I’m not saying it will be easy. But the solution to the homeless problem in America does not lie in programs and institutions. It lies in removing the veil of stigma from the picture of the homeless individual.

Shelters and services may play a part, but they will never work effectively until this one thing has been secured. Just as I said in my very first column, we need to strengthen our weakest link. We need to see in every homeless person the book of humanity that we have judged by its cover. And our common humanity, one to another, must be revealed.

That book of humanity is a far more informative document than you might think. And that’s what my next column will be all about.

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Further Inequities

The third column in my five-week series on homelessness was published yesterday on the religion-related site Spokane Faith and Values.  Below is a transcript of the piece.  

Since this series began, I have been observing the nature of comments and reactions to my words.  As a result, it strikes me that a few things may need to be clarified.

When I use the word “we” in reference to my experience, I refer specifically to the Berkeley-based homeless community in which I participated between the years 2011 and 2016.  But I have also found that my statements generally hold true for those who have experienced long-term homelessness in other urban areas. 

Also, when I speak in past tense, I refer to specific events that took place throughout the entire 12-year period when I struggled with homelessness.  But again, I believe it stands to reason that the nature of such events is universal.

I am not here to discuss shelters and services. Such discussions can take place anywhere.  I am here to issue a call that we accept and respect those who continue to live outdoors — at a time when more and more people are beginning to do so. 

That said, I’m going to breeze through the next three inequities, to further fortify my statement.

There Are Other Topics of Conversation

If was often thought that homeless people should discuss only homelessness, at the expense of other topics.  It was seldom thought that homeless people, like all other people, should be permitted to discuss any topic they please.

A young person said to me once: “I would have no idea what to say to a homeless person.”

“That’s easy,” I replied.  “Talk to them about anything except homelessness.

You have no idea how refreshing it was when somebody approached me and began to discuss the ball game, the concert, or their most recent argument with their partner.  Conversations in which we were treated as human beings, not as homeless people, were a breath of fresh air. 

It was alarming how many people seemed to think that the only thing that should have been on our minds was our homelessness. Can you imagine if your new neighbor were Black or Hispanic, and the first thing you did was to approach them and discuss their ethnicity?  That’s the way it felt when people insisted on discussing our homelessness with us. 

So, if like my young friend, you are uncertain what to say in the presence of a person who is experiencing homelessness, consider my advice. Unless they bring it up first, talk about anything other than homelessness. Try it – you just might make their day. 

A Homeless Person Has a Need for Privacy

It was often thought that because one was homeless, one had sacrificed their “right to privacy.” It was seldom considered that homeless people need as much privacy as people who live behind closed doors.  

While it is debatable that our right to privacy is guaranteed in the 4th Amendment, I will assert that the 4th Amendment ought to apply equally to homeless citizens as well as to those who live indoors. The problem with a homeless person’s “right to privacy” stems from the fact that, living outdoors, most of the time there simply isn’t any. 

Yet homeless people need to relieve themselves, just like any other kind of person. But indoor bathrooms are often inaccessible. I remember walking the streets of Berkeley for an hour and a half once, trying to find a public bathroom that wasn’t locked. When I finally sneaked behind a bush to do the job, can you imagine how it felt to be viewed with suspicion?

Of course I was viewed with suspicion! Why does somebody sneak behind a bush? Doesn’t everybody have a bathroom? Surely the homeless person was bugging out to “do some drugs.” If a homeless person sneaks into an alleyway, that person probably needs to urinate. But how often is this the public perception? People are more likely to think that the homeless person is sneaking off to “do a drug deal.” And then, once found urinating, they risk getting a scolding, if not an indecent exposure charge.

The fact of the matter is that those who live outside do not have easy access to bathrooms. Those who live inside generally do.  

As for the cops who often woke me in the middle of the night, in order to “search my backpack for drugs” and “run my criminal record,” I can truthfully attest that there were never any drugs in my backpack, nor did I have a criminal record.  But if searching my backpack against my will was not a violation of my 4th Amendment Rights, I’m not sure what it was. 

Many Homeless People Have Jobs

It was often thought that because a person was homeless, their homelessness would be cured if they got a job. It was seldom considered that if a person were homeless, their homelessness would be cured if they found a place to live.  

It was also often assumed that a homeless person didn’t already have a job.  Yet, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless,  40 – 60% of people experiencing homelessness move in and out of jobs. It is also estimated that about 25% of homeless people are working at any given time. I myself took at least four jobs in my field when I was homeless — temporary contracts as a musical director or accompanist at places like Children’s Musical Theatre San Jose and Peninsula Teen Opera. 

While 25% might seem a relatively low figure, it actually testifies tremendously to the fact that homeless people generally want to be working. When we consider the obstacles that homeless people face toward becoming employed — many of which are listed in this excellent article, the figure begins to look quite high.  Moreover, while it is often thought that people become homeless due to “drug addiction,” it is factually evident that most people become homeless due to having lost their jobs.  

There was a common catch-22 that abounded in the realm of outdoor living: “I can’t get a job until I have a place to live, and I can’t get a place to live without a job.” 

But because of rising costs of rents, many of us would rather avoid rentals entirely, and focus on making enough money to survive. It wasn’t the most pleasant use of our energies, but often it was the most essential.

All five of the inequities I have thus far delineated stem from a single evil.  That evil is in the dehumanization of the homeless individual. We were not regarded, in general, as people who were equal to others. It was not considered that we were human beings having inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It was instead believed that we had to sacrifice our rights — only because we lived outdoors.

Many of us were unwilling to make that sacrifice. And this leads to the inequity that will be discussed in my next column. You may expect it to validate everything I’ve been trying to express since this series began.

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Talking Shop, Part Two

In this sequel to Talking Shop, Part One, the character of Winston Greene — the protagonist in the new musical Eden in Babylon — is explored.   Three of us involved in our ongoing workshop of this production express how Winston acts as a “shield of protection” for those of his chosen tribe.

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Tuesday Tuneup 104

Q. Where are you coming from?

A. The very beginning.

Q. The beginning?  As though nothing else has ever happened before?

A. It doesn’t matter what’s happened before.   This is still the beginning.

Q. The beginning of what?

A. Of a brand new life, of course.  

Q. What happened to the old life?

A. It no longer exists.

Q. All gone?

A. Past.

Q. What about memories?

A. Oh, memories may indeed persist.   And one may learn from those memories, so long as they are not overly indulged.   But no matter how much I may learn from the past, my hope rests entirely in the future.

Q. Isn’t that the essence of hope?

A. I suppose so, by definition.   But all too often, we place our hope in the past.   And there is no hope in the past.  We can learn from the past — but there’s no hope there.

Q. How do we place our hope in the past?  Isn’t that twisted?

A. It is twisted indeed.  And indeed, we are often quite twisted.  But to answer your question, the ways in which we place our hope in the past are manifold.  

Q, Manifold?

A. Yeah.  We do it lots of ways.

Q. Like what?

A. We try to go back to old relationships and mend them.   We try to make mutual amends unilaterally.  But this is pointless.  It takes two to tango.  If one person in a twofold cord has broken that cord, then the other person has no power to bind it together again.

Q. Have you tried to do this recently?

A. I have indeed.

Q. Care to elaborate?

A. Not on the theme of the one-to-one intimate relationship.   But I wouldn’t mind discussing friendships for a while.

Q. Then what about friendships?   

A. We go back to friendships that we feel we botched up.  We flew off the handle, when their attitudes began to baffles us, and their values conflicted with our own.   And yet, we cannot mend these broken friendships all by our own selves.  If they don’t want to talk to us anymore, they won’t.  And there’s not a darn thing we can do about it.

Q. Can’t we apologize?

A. Many times over!  But I guarantee you, if it’s not meant to be, it won’t happen.  In fact, the many apologies issued may even be taken as intrusions.

Q. Intrusions?

A. Certainly!   Would not a single apology have sufficed?   And if they still don’t want to talk to you, no amount of further apology will change their minds.  If anything, they’ll be annoyed at your persistence.   It would be as though you’re trying to find the “magic words” that will win them back.  But let’s face it — there are no magic words.   If they ain’t comin’ back, they ain’t comin’ back.  

Q. What about business relationships?

A. Perhaps a professional relationship was damaged.  Maybe you thought somebody was on your side, but then they hit a nerve.   And you hit them back again!  You hit them even harder, because you were so pissed off.  And back and forth the two of you jousted, taking pot shots at each other whenever possible.  Finally one day, you hit them below the belt — right where it hurt.    

Q. What happened then?

A. What happened then, you ask?   Well I’ll tell you what happened!   They ghosted you.  They simply disappeared.   But this is all for the good, you see.   If they see things differently than you, so be it.   One cannot expect to convert everyone to one’s own way of thinking.   

Q, So how does this all relate to your having arrived at the very beginning?

A. It relates because I’m just not going to bother anymore!  These people are not that important.   Some of them haven’t talked to me in years.

Q. Yet you have persisted in trying to win them back?

A. Yes, I have.

Q. Why?

A. Because of fallacy for which I fell.   You see, I was certain that the only reason these associates had shunned me, was because I was homeless.   So naturally, I thought that once I finally escaped homelessness, they would breath a sigh of relief, and come my way again.   Foolishly, I expected our associations to pick up right where they left off.

Q. Did none of them come your way again?

A. Well – one of them did.  In an area that perhaps I should not discuss.  For it didn’t really work out, and they again went their way.   I took it kinda hard, but it helped to learn a hard lesson.

Q. Have you truly learned that lesson?

A. Perhaps not.  Does anyone ever learn lessons regarding the affairs of the heart?

Q. I don’t know.  Do they?

A. Beats me, pal.  But what I do know is this:

When I was becoming homeless, I lived in a cold cruel world.   I apologized to everyone I knew, all the way down to that gutter.   In that world of coldness and cruelty, the ones who got ahead were the ones who received the most apologies, and gave the least.   The ones who fell the furthest down were the ones who did the most apologizing.   The non-apologizers played one-up on the apologizers – to keep the apologizers in their place.

And the ones who were good at feeling guilty got beat out by the ones who were good at making them feel that way.  The ones who were good at laying on the guilt trips climbed up the corporate ladders, and often made it all the way up to the top.

Q. Wow – may I quote you on that?

A. Spell my name right, please.

Q. But you don’t live in that world anymore, do you?

A. Not at all.

Q. Where do you live?

A. In the emerging world of new beginnings.   Where people trust each other.   Where people respect each other.  Where people still treat each other with good old-fashioned common courtesy.   Where people believe in each other, and try to bring out the best in each other.  Where you have to try to get yourselves into trouble — and where the good guys make it all the way to the top!

Q. To the top?

A. The sky’s the limit.

Q. Shoot for the moon?

A. Consider it shot.

Q. And what will you do when you make it all the way to the top, Andy?

A. What do you think I’m going to do?  I’m going live frugally and simply, with very few possessions, like a minimalist — just like I live right now.   I’ll take all the extra money I’ve made and feed the hungry and give shelter to those who are without.   And I won’t feed them that junk food they dish out at the food banks — as though to tell them that “beggars can’t be choosers” – as though to punish them for the crime of being poor.   And I won’t put them up in flop houses on Skid Row either.  They’ll be staying at the Ritz Carlton, if I have any say in the matter.   And you won’t catch me flying to Bermuda and back!   The price of that ticket would put a married homeless couple up for three months, in the right situation.  And I’ll stay right here, where I’ve landed, till the day I die.  

Q. Really?

A. Mmm . . . give or take a few details.  I’m still contemplating a Trump-dodge up to Canada.  Not entirely sure we’ve gotten rid of the monster yet.  

Q. What about the past?

A. Kaput.  Finito.  

Q. And the future?

A. It’s the kingdom of heaven, man.   North Idaho is just a step along the way.   

The Questioner is silent.   

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Bridging the Gap

In case anybody caught yesterday’s podcast, I had a weird realization when I got up this morning.  The Kids of course know my story — and I’ve told my story elsewhere on this blog.   But if you didn’t know that story, there’s a big gap in the information provided on that particular, spontaneous podcast.  It seems I never really explain how I got from living in that big mansion to being homeless on the California streets so quickly.    It then occurred to me, perhaps you would like to have that information as well.

So I dug up this talk I gave into my then-partner’s Motorola smartphone on July 3, 2018.  It tells the story, and then some.   Seems I was a lot more patriotic in those days, and I also knew a lot less about psychiatric conditions.  But the essence of the talk is neither my patriotism nor my lack of savvy.  It’s about classism in America, and social stigma, and the hope that one day, we will bridge the ever-widening gap between the super-rich and the super-poor in our society.   We are, after all, all human – and only human – each and every one.

Andy tells his story on July 3, 2018
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A Homeless Person Has a Life

The second column in my five-week series on homelessness was published yesterday on the religion-oriented site Spokane Faith and Values, where I have been writing throughout the pandemic.  Below is a verbatim transcript of the piece.  

I recently raised a public objection to the notion that I ought to change my phraseology from “homeless” to “houseless” in everything I write. I felt a bit miffed that the person who made this suggestion had never actually lived outdoors.  

But I am someone who has lived outdoors — not just for a while, but for years on end. During those years, I associated largely with others who were in the same boat. I learned how such people generally speak of themselves.   As a result, I use the words “outside” and “outdoors” more than either of the other two–and I feel compelled to explain why.

In a way, I have the same motive as those who wish to replace “homeless” with “houseless.” The word “homeless” has a lot of pejorative connotations.  But both of these words end with “less.” They still suggest that the person who lives outdoors is necessarily lacking something. But this is not always the case.

In my case, after struggling in and out of untenable living situations in the San Francisco Bay Area for seven years, I made a conscious choice on April 15, 2011 to join an intentional homeless community. While most of us had experienced a crisis that led to a loss of residence, we unanimously believed that to live outdoors was the lesser of evils. For one thing, we found it preferable to live outside rather than to pay exorbitant rental fees for acceptable living situations (not to mention paying decent rent for unacceptable situations). 

In short, we had a heck of a time finding living situations in the Bay Area that were both affordable and acceptable. So for the time being, we were content to stay outdoors. 

It was there that I found the language most prevalent among all who shared my predicament. This was a simple exchange between the words “inside” and “outside.” If someone had a roof over their head, we said they were “inside.” If they didn’t, they were “outside.” This is how homeless people speak of themselves in the Bay Area. It’s also how they speak of themselves in Moscow, Idaho. And while I have never been homeless in Spokane, I wouldn’t doubt that this parlance is common there as well.

Is there a reason for this linguistic preference? I think there is. It speaks to the essential difference between two disparate camps. Some people have roofs over their heads, and some people don’t. Furthermore, there is nothing morally wrong with sleeping outside — so long as one is not sleeping on someone else’s property.  The landmark decision in Martin v. Boise would seem to support this.

This leads nicely into the second of the seven inequities I have wanted to discuss.

A Homeless Person Does Have a Life 

It was often assumed that, because we had wound up homeless, all of the conclusions we had drawn throughout our entire life span were in need of revision.

This led to an amusing observation. If a person had been a lifelong conservative, and they became homeless, that person was supposed to “become a liberal.” Why? Because the liberal social workers were feeding them.

If a person had been a liberal all their lives, and they became homeless, they were often told that they should “become a conservative.” Why?   Because the Salvation Army was feeding them. 

How many people in those days approached me in order to proselytize their particular version of Christianity? Very many. How many people asked me first if I already knew Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior? Very few. 

This imbalance appears to have evolved from some of the preconceptions I discussed last week. It was rarely considered that someone might have become homeless due to a lack of tenable housing. It was almost universally assumed that they became homeless because there was something wrong with them.

Homelessness is Not a Disease

In the rooms of 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, there are many “clichés” or sayings intended to assist people who have hit huge “bottoms” in their lives. One of these is: “Your best thinking got you here.”  That statement is then followed by suggestions as to how the recovering addict or alcoholic might change their way of thinking, in accordance with the 12 steps.

I can understand how this would apply to the enormous losses one might incur through drug addiction or alcoholism. People do “drink themselves out of house and home.” Many people with drug problems wind up alienating friends and family, as well as landlords. Many do wind up outdoors. This cannot be denied.

But here I found myself having consciously chosen homelessness as the lesser of evils in a precarious life-situation that had yet to be resolved.  Numerous people approached me saying, in effect:”Your best thinking got you into this position. I have suggestions how you might change your way of thinking.”

I felt like saying: “I agree that my best thinking got me into this position.  But you have never been in this position; therefore you cannot advise me as to how to get out of it.” 

This is how the details of homelessness differ radically from the details of drug addiction or alcoholism. The A.A. member who makes that suggestion is a recovering alcoholic and does have valuable information to share.  But the person who, having always living indoors, makes such a suggestion to a homeless person, has no relevant personal experience. Therefore their suggestions, however well-intended, are not often useful.

This disparity — or inequity or imbalance — is something that can be solved through better communication. But before we can even begin to make that effort, we need to dignify, not only the homeless human being, but the homeless experience itself.

In short, there is nothing wrong with being homeless.

We need to understand this simple truth, and to have it acknowledged far and wide. Look how many people are on the streets! Despite the best efforts of all involved, that number is only bound to increase — especially now, when more people than ever are losing their homes.

We need to stop moralizing, and start accepting. We need to stop obligating people who sleep outside toward quick entries into undignified indoor living situations.  Homelessness is neither a crime nor a disease. We need to stop criminalizing the homeless, and we need to stop treating them as though they are sick. 

If we cannot truly help them to get inside, let us please make it easier for them to live outdoors.

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Talking Shop, Part One

This Wednesday’s podcast is an excerpt from a long conversation involving myself, Kelsey Chapman our Artistic Director, and Cooper Knutson our male lead in the ongoing workshop of my new musical Eden in Babylon.   If you’re interested in my personal story involving wealth, poverty, and homelessness, you probably don’t want to miss this one.   Toward the end, it fades after revealing the connection between my own story and that of the main character in the musical drama, whose name is Winston Greene.  

The song referenced by Cooper, called “Hunted,” involves Winston’s arrest in the second Act, which precedes his attempted assassination.  An instrumental version of it may be found here.   

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Tuesday Tuneup 103

Q. Where are you coming from?

A. Why do you ask?

Q. Aren’t you a little quiet this morning?

A. Didn’t sleep well enough.

Q. Can you get more sleep?

A. Maybe a nap, maybe later.

Q. Anything going on that you want to talk about this morning?

A. Well, I’m a bit down.   But I think it’s the kind of thing that more sleep will eliminate.

Q. Down about anything in particular?

A. My personality, I suppose, as usual.

Q. Down on yourself?

A. Yes and no.  I’m not down on my achievements, or my work.   But some of the dumb things I do kinda get to me every now and then.

Q. Like what?

A. We discussed it earlier.   I put my foot in my mouth sometimes.  It’s awkward.

Q. Is this that thing of “jumping the gun” again?

A. Yeah, that’s it.  Jumping the gun.   Speaking before I think.

Q. When was the last time you did that?

A. Oh, maybe last night.

Q. What was the context?

A. Talking to somebody from California.  I mentioned a great compliment I had received.   But it wasn’t to highlight the fact that I was complimented.  It was to illustrate a point.

Q. What was the point?

A. A parallel between the protagonist in my musical and my own personality, me being the one who wrote the musical.

Q. Somebody compared you to the main character in your musical?

A. Yes.

Q. In a good way, or in a bad way?

A. Oh – a very good way.  It was highly complimentary.  But the point is — it was a factual comparison.

Q. Factual?

A. Yes – it illustrated an intriguing parallel.   So I was hoping that the person from California would catch the parallel.  Instead, they only caught the fact that somebody had “said something sweet” to me.  The way they said it — “Ah, how sweet!” — indicated that they didn’t understand or appreciate the parallel.  They related to the fact that I was complimented — not to the substance of the complimentary statement.  They could have said it about somebody saying something nice about my shirt.

Q. So how did you put your foot in your mouth?

A. By calling attention to the fact that someone had complimented me, rather than to the dynamics of the intriguing psychological parallel in the first place.

Q. So the focus was on the fact that you were complimented, not on the essence of the complimentary statement?

A. You heard me!  It’s like I just said.  It was as though I spoke out of ego — out of wanting the Californian to know that I had been complimented — kinda like I would have done when I was still down in California.  But in so doing, I missed the opportunity to get an intriguing psychological phenomenon across to them.  In fact, I could have left myself out of the picture entirely, and it would have been a much more meaningful interaction.

Q. Why did you not do so?   Why did you call attention to the fact that someone had flattered you, rather than to the intellectual dynamics of an interesting topic in the first place?

A. Because I was talking with a Californian.

Q. But – but — why does it matter whether they were a Californian or not?

A. Because in California, everybody was either always very critical of me, or else they were feeding my ego with inordinate praise.

Q. So you inordinately praised yourself, in order to defray their criticisms?

A. Exactly.  I defended myself — even though I had not yet been attacked.

Q. Why do you stigmatize Californians?

A. I think “stereotype” would be a better word.

Q. So why stereotype them?   Why stereotype anybody?

A. I don’t know.   It took years for me to realize that my best possible solution in life was to simply leave the State of California.  Since then, I’ve basically been raving to old friends of mine how great it is up here in Idaho.   But they never receive the positive.   They just think I’m down on Californians for some reason.

Q. Are you?

A. Well — I can count the number of Californians I still talk to on one hand.

Q. What is it about California?

A. You got me, man.  They have this attitude — and I don’t like to stereotype people or box them in — I hate it when people do that to me — but it’s this glaring generalization that I can’t escape.   They somehow — in general — put forth the attitude that they’re better than the rest of us, simply because they live in California.  And it’s like whoop-de-doo.   For all the problems that California has, you’d think they’d stop telling everybody in all the other States how we’re supposed to live.

Q. Are you sure you want to post these words online, where everybody can see them?

A. Not really.

Q. Then why are you doing it?

A. Because of my personality.  I stick my foot in my mouth.  I don’t think before I speak.  I jump the gun.

Q. Can you get better at this?

A. Maybe.   Gradually over time, I suppose.

Q. Say — I just thought of something — were you hurt by the way you were treated in California?

A. Hurt doesn’t even say it.   I was  only as though I was a piece of garbage for about twelve years, while I and a bunch of other so-called pieces of garbage were struggling to survive.

Q. You mean, when you were homeless?

A. Yes.   When I was homeless.   When we were homeless.

Q. But nobody’s treating you like garbage now, are they?

A. Not that I can tell.

Q. Then why bemoan the past?

A. Because I have no guard against becoming homeless again.   I’m just a check or two away.   One single emergency, and I’m probably out on the streets.

Q. And then what?

A. Then we’ll see how all these people who seem to like me so much will treat me.

Q. But they’re not Californians, are they?

A. No – but they’re people.   And people have their ideas about homeless people.   They usually don’t change them — until they themselves become homeless.

The Questioner is silent. 

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The Challenge They Overlooked

I’m doing a five-week series on homelessness for Spokane Faith and Values.   While I don’t like to work on the Sabbath, I figure it’s not too much work to paste each column in the series here on five successive Saturdays.  The first column was published last Wednesday on this page, and a verbatim transcript of it follows below.   

I recently came out and identified myself as a person who lived largely outdoors throughout a 12-year period of time in the San Francisco Bay Area. Being as I was fortunate enough to escape the situation where a one-bedroom apartment rents for up to $3,000, and alight upon beautiful Moscow, Idaho where my current one-bedroom apartment rents for $481, I consider myself to be in the ideal position to express what homelessness is actually like. That is, from the perspective of those of us who have lived it.

Being an introverted artist-type, I was naturally overjoyed to find myself in the year 2016 to be a person who had now attained to quiet enjoyment of residence.  One of the first items of indoor convenience that I found myself extremely thankful for was something you might not expect:

Finally, I had my own power outlet. In fact, I had several. 

When I lived outdoors, it was a constant struggle to find a power outlet where I could plug in my laptop. Outdoor power outlets were scarce, and when I found one, I dared not use it very long. The thieves and vandals who roam the outdoors would have eventually found me. In fact, five laptops were stolen from me in a three year period of time in Berkeley and Oakland alone. Two of those thefts were the results of strong-armed robbery.

No longer did I have to worry about any of that. Nor did I have to be worried about being kicked out of coffeeshops, either because of a two-hour time limit in the crowded Bay Area, or because I was “one of them.” No longer did I have to face the situation of somebody refusing to serve me because I was a homeless person.  Though often they let me in, at other times they did not. There being many thieves on the streets, I can’t say that I entirely blamed them. On the other hand, I was not one of those thieves.  I was only an artist, trying to do his art.

“A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is His delight.”
— Proverbs 11:1

All of this points to a “false balance” — what I call an inequity. There was an unusual schism between those of us who lived outdoors, and those who did not. So, when I finally achieved the power outlet that I had been praying for, I set about to delineate these inequities for the good of those who still live inside. I did this in a spirit of conviction, knowing that many are losing their homes these days, and even more so during the current economic crunch.

I pinpointed seven inequities — instance of imbalance, or of injustice.   Seven disparities between the way the world is seen by those who live outside, and those who live indoors.

The first of these is couched within every word I have thus far written in this column. We who lived outside knew that our main day-to-day challenge was to deal with all the unusual features of outdoor living. Those who had not yet lived outdoors invariably thought that our challenge was something else.

In other words, people wanted to know what had made us homeless. In the process, the reality that we simply were homeless was often swept aside.

I can assure you that in the past five years in Idaho, I have done everything that would have “made me homeless” in California. And guess what? None of them ever made me homeless.

This stigma interfered with all our efforts to find dignified, indoor living. It was assumed that we were criminals. Surely we must be drug addicts or alcoholics. Or simply losers, with no work ethic.

At best, we were thought to have serious mental health disorders. If so, the stigma against those with mental health conditions also came into play. We found ourselves morally judged for internal mental conditions over which we had no control.

As a result, we were often directed toward living situations that we found worse than staying outdoors. Since we “couldn’t take care of ourselves,” we were referred to board-and-care homes. Since we were “drug addicts,” we were referred to rehabs. Since we were “crazy,” we were referred to psychiatric facilities. And since we were “criminals,” we were handcuffed and thrown into jails, often at the slightest of pretexts.

By no means am I trying to suggest that those elements do not entail within the realm of the many different sorts of people who live and sleep outside.  The National Coalition for the Homeless has estimated that roughly one out of every four people experiencing homelessness is drug-addicted. That’s a pretty high count — but what about the other three-fourth?

It is also estimated that about one-third of people enduring homelessness have serious mental health disorders. That’s a lot of people struggling — but what about the other two-thirds?

Not to mention, what proportion of criminals live inside? White-collar criminals who get away with it?  Employers who screw their workers out of wages? Addicts who can afford the designer drugs, and use those substances quietly behind closed doors?  All of these play into the biggest difficulty that we had in communicating with those who tried to help us.

It was very often thought that if we could solve all those other problems, we could solve the much huger problem that is homelessness. It was very seldom thought that if we were to solve homelessness, we would be in a better position to solve all those other problems. And it was rarely thought that few of those problems even applied.

I have six other inequities to describe before this series, God willing, is over. But first and foremost, the biggest inequity was this: It was often thought that we were homeless because we had failed in some other area. It was rarely thought that we were homeless because we had failed to sustain a home.  

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Don’t Fear the Reaper

It was late one afternoon in the year 2012 as I departed from Ohlone Park, where I had been sleeping all day in the sun.  As I walked slowly into town, I had felt a kind of pathos that I related, not specifically to my homeless condition, but to my overall position on the planet.

“I really am not meant for this world,” I told myself.  “Who am I trying to fool?”

At that thought, a very slow strain of song began to well up inside me.   Very low notes, in a minor key, sung very slowly.   I remember likening the strain to a dirge — to music that might accompany a funeral.   

I must have appeared to be either very pensive or very downtrodden.   I recall a woman with dark hair stopping to look at me.  She gestured toward me as though to ask me if I needed help, or if I wanted to talk.  But I only looked at her and smiled — and kept on going.

The theme developed into eight measures of true melancholy and darkness.  I couldn’t get the music of my mind.   Then, as I entered onto Shattuck Avenue, I ran into my friends Jerome and D’Angelo — two very large African-American men with whom I was camping out at the time.  (We were sleeping in a vacant lot, and I felt their presence often protected me, as I sometimes stayed up working on my laptop throughout the night.)

“Jerome!” I cried.  “D’Angelo — I’ve got this song in me.  It’s deep.  I’m not quite sure where it came from.”

“Can we hear it?” asked Jerome.

“Of course,” I replied.  “But let’s seek a place in private.”

The three of us then walked to the Redwoods, where we stood beneath the tall trees during the setting sun.  No one was within sight, as I slowly sang the eerie melody.  I sang four measures slowly, then paused.  I then sang the same four measures again, getting even slower at the end.

Their reactions are unforgettable to this day.

D’Angelo looked aghast, almost shocked — almost terrified.

“You better take that song right back where it came from!”  He cried.  “That is dark – it’s a song of death!  I believe it is evil!”

“No, no,” Jerome, a brilliant writer, was quick to disagree.  “Dark is good.  Andy should keep that passage – and expand upon it.”

I recall watching D’Angelo look over to his best friend Jerome silently.  Of course, anyone who knows me knows already that I took Jerome’s advice.

I walked slowly about the city of Berkeley that evening.  I walked in dark corridors, in quiet places where people were not gathered.  By the end of the night, I had the A Part, and the B Part, and a little bridge.

I also has a Dell laptop in those days, with Finale software installed.  So it wasn’t long before I came up with the saxophone solo, the wooden clarinet, the harp, and other instruments.  It was at first wooden and pastoral, then brassy and urban.  I remember going over to this guy Lorenzo’s apartment with it – I remember playing the fully sequenced version below for a homeless journalist we called James the Greater.

It was on that night that the Urban Elegy was born.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Hobo, Homeless or Houseless

Submitted this morning to Tracy Simmons, editor-in-chief of Spokane Faith and Values.  

I recently learned that the word “homeless” is no longer considered politically correct among many people currently working in related services. It has been replaced by “houseless” because the word “homeless” has developed “pejorative connotations.”

Arguably, the word “homeless” replaced the word “hobo” because the latter had developed pejorative connotations.  Logically, it is only a matter of time before the word “houseless” develops pejorative connotations.

But I am not here to lambaste the concept of political correctness.   Personally, I think P.C. is a great idea in theory, but in practice it burns more bridges than it builds.

If this offends my lefter-leaning friends, so be it.  I find myself often wishing I could be seen as a person who cares about World Peace and social justice without having to get crammed into the liberal “box” — and this is one reason why I am not comfortable identifying as a “liberal” — even though I am more than happy to identify as a “progressive.”

(Another reason is because the word “liberal” has connotations that may suggest a permissive lifestyle, which as a Christ follower is not my bag.  “Progressive” works because I’d definitely like to see us build a better, more solid, less divided society.)

To the point, I am not about to change my language.  For the past five years, I have been writing profusely and passionately about the homeless experience. My writings include a full-length musical about youth homelessness in urban America, as well as numerous blogs, essays, and published articles. The idea that I need to change my language is almost Orwellian. It is not as though I can pretend that we are suddenly at war with “Eurasia” and not “Europia.”

Also, in case it hasn’t been clear, my homeless rights advocacy is not the result of an unusual and unfounded compassion for those experiencing the homeless condition. I myself was homeless for years in the San Francisco Bay Area. I know whereof I speak from personal experience, and I network with others who have shared that experience. I have been trying to contact my friends from Berkeley, California who have also experienced homelessness, one of whom I have interviewed on this site. Though no one there has gotten back to me yet, I seriously doubt that this fix was effected by a homeless person, or by anyone who has ever experienced that condition.

I did learn in discussing the matter with the graveyard shift worker at the corner store that she had been homeless for several years as well. She told me she knows of no homeless or formerly homeless friend who would identify themselves as “houseless.” She also made the interesting analogy that, although she identifies as “queer,” people who do not share her orientation object to her identification. Of course, having been homeless herself, she knew as well as I do that one of the worst things about living outdoors is that people who lived indoors often told us how we were supposed to identify ourselves.

And yet, when we pleaded with them not to use words like “housed” and “shelter’ in reference to us when we were seeking residence — but to please say “found a place” or “place to live” instead – it fell on deaf ears. Why? Because we were not people. We were homeless people. A person can look can look for a place to live. A homeless person has to look for shelter.

Do you think for one moment than when I left twelve years of homeless and borderline-homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I finally moved to Moscow Idaho in a successful search for dignified, indoor residence, I told the prospective landlord that I had been homeless? Or that I was looking for “shelter?” Of course not! Think about it! He’d have moved on to the next applicant.

In fact, when I later tried to help an elderly man experiencing homelessness get an apartment in that same complex, the landlord told me: “I’m sorry, Andy. If I let him in, I’ll have to let them all in.”

While the conversation with the woman in the store was somewhat comforting, it did little to assuage my concerns. In fact, I couldn’t sleep till three in the morning, and woke up at 5:30 feeling nauseous.

That nausea persists to this moment. But I do want to make a statement in closing. That statement is simply this:

The day when we learn that it is more important to listen to the words of people who have experienced something that we have not, and that it is more important to raise awareness of that condition, than it is to label it with words that we find less offensive or pejorative, that will truly be a very great day.

The problem with political correctness in this instance is that it bi-passes the need to actually decriminalize and rehumanize the homeless individual, by choosing a different term that will be “less pejorative” rather than by dealing with the pejorative discriminations and prejudices themselves.

I’m in a lot of pain. What a sorrowful turn of events for Homeless Rights Activism.

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Homeless at the Piano

The other day I was leafing through old WordPress posts, after Ashley Peterson submitted an intriguing post around the concept of editing past material. It didn’t come as much of a surprise that many of my older posts reflected a different spirit or attitude than I have today. Therefore, outside of minor edits (spelling, grammatical, etc.), I decided not to edit my content. It would seem hypocritical of me to do so, even if I disagree today with what I wrote back then.

One thing that glared was how much black-and-white thinking there was back in those days, and how I would often hyperbolize for the sake of emphasis, in a way that could easily have belied my statements. For example, at one point I wrote something to this effect:

“Here in my new life, lots of people like to listen to me play the piano. When I was homeless, the only people who ever cared about my music were other homeless people.”

This is both black-and-white and hyperbolic. While it is true that most of the people who cared about my music were homeless, it is not true that nobody who lived indoors didn’t care to listen. Also, it’s natural that most of my listeners were homeless, simply because I myself was homeless, and I mostly hung out with homeless people.

Let me tell you a story that exemplifies this.

Piano Key- Middle C In Grunge Stock Image - Image of black ...

We who were over 55 had the privilege of hanging out at the Senior Center, where there happened to be three pianos. In the morning, I would sign in, and head for the Baldwin upright in a distant room in the corner of the building. I did this for the sake of privacy, because I was afraid of making too much of a scene at the other two pianos, where I could more easily heard. I didn’t want somebody to tell me to stop playing, because I might have been making too much noise.

Next to the little room on the corner was a room with a number of pool tables. Early in the morning, a group of people who happened to be almost entirely African-American homeless men would congregate to play pool.

Naturally, they would hear the piano, and sometimes come into the room to listen. I remember playing the jazz break in the song Skylark, and looking up and a man was smiling, snapping his fingers. Another time, I looked up after the song, and five Black men were clapping wildly outside the door.

Of course, this was gratifying. Every musician loves an audience.

But one day, I went to the piano at eight in the morning as usual, and there was a sign on the door of the adjacent room, to the effect that it was closed for repairs. But something seemed odd. It didn’t really seem like anything needed repair, nor was anyone repairing the room.

Disgruntled, I approached the front desk and spoke with one of the administrative aides, whose name was Laura.

“Why is the pool room closed?”

“Uh – the guys were making quite a ruckus, and they kinda smelled of alcohol, and they were starting to get a little loose with our property – and you know, we had to shut it down.”

“But Laura, you guys just took my audience away!”

“What do you mean, Andy?”

“Those guys were always clapping for me, and cheering, and all that! Now I don’t have anyone listening!”

“Well Andy, why you just play the Yamaha in the auditorium near thhe main dining area?”

Puzzled, I replied: “But then you guys are all gonna hear me.”

“But Andy – we want to hear you!!”

“Oh,” I replied, feeling strangely enlightened. “Well, in that case, I guess I’ll play.”

Long story short, it wasn’t too much longer before a number of Senior Center employees were sitting in the auditorium with their smartphones and tripods, filming a concert that I performed at the North Berkeley Senior Center. In fact, I played the music to Turns Toward Dawn at that concert, though the lyrics were not written till 2018, when I was already in Moscow.

I believe I still have the videos to that concert in storage somewhere. I might fish them out at a later time. But I gotta be honest with you — when I look at the man who played that concert, he does not look like the man people look at today. I easily looked ten years older than I do now. (Why my posture was better, I have no idea.)

All vanity aside, what is your take on all this? I mean, sociologically? Psychologically? It seems a bit unusual that I would have restricted my musical offerings to other homeless people. I have my theories, but it would be interesting to hear yours.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

No – NOT on Drugs . . .

One day I was sitting at my Spot on the corner of Shattuck & Allston in Berkeley, California, leaning my back against the red brick wall of the Downtown Berkeley BART station, as usual.   A young man approached, conversed with me casually for a few minutes, then asked me a question.

“You seem to be a pretty bright guy,” he began.  “What is it about being on drugs that makes a person not want to eat?”

“Do you mean, physiologically?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “Do they do something to the body that takes away the appetite?”

“Why do you ask?”

“I just asked a homeless guy across the street if he wanted a sandwich, and he said no.”

Something didn’t seem quite right.  So I asked him: “Well, what drug do you think he was on?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t know much about drugs.”

“Did he seem intoxicated?” I asked.  “Or dopey?  Or more like, spun?  I mean, were his eyes darting around to and fro, back and forth?  Did he seem paranoid?”

“No, none of those things.”

“Then how do you know he was on drugs?”

“Well, he must have been on drugs.  Why else would he have turned down the sandwich?”

“Did it ever occur to you that he might not have been hungry?”

“Well, no I hadn’t thought of that.”

“How did he respond when you offered to give him a sandwich?”

“He just kinda smiled and said ‘No thank you.'”

“Well then, I would say, he simply wasn’t hungry.   That’s all there is to it.”

“Yeah, but you guys are here suffering all the time, having a hard time finding food.  Couldn’t he have just saved the sandwich for later?”

Teens Give Back - SA - Home

“I suppose he could have.  But around here a person who isn’t hungry usually says no, in the expectation that you’ll go give somebody else the sandwich — someone who actually is hungry.”

“That’s what I did.”

“Good for you.”

I remember looking away and smiling at passersby, in what was I suppose a none-too-subtle way of conveying that it might be a good place to end the conversation.

“But it’s been bugging me,” he went on.  “I felt like he wasn’t grateful.  He should have been thankful.  I mean, I was offering him food, wasn’t I?”

“Well, he smiled, didn’t he?   He had probably just eaten something.   But I’m interested in why you thought he was on drugs, when he didn’t particularly seem to be.”

“Aren’t homeless people on drugs?”

“Some,” I said slowly.  “Not all.”

“Yeah,” he nodded.  “You don’t seem to be on drugs.”

“But that guy didn’t seem like he was on drugs either, right?”

“That’s right.”

“So how do you know I’m not on drugs?

“Good point,” he replied.  “I guess I don’t.”

“Say, let me ask you something.  Do you think that if a person is homeless, it must be because they’re a drug addict?”

“Well, isn’t that true?”

“No, not really.  Homelessness and drug addiction are not synonymous, you know.   There are drug addicts who live in big mansions, and there are people experiencing homelessness who have never used drugs in their lives.”

At around that point, he took out a dollar bill and tossed it in my hat.

“Thank you,” he said.  “I think I just learned something.”

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A Parallel and Opposing Culture

I’ve been thinking throughout my most recent sleepless night about why homeless rights activism isn’t really taking off. I’ve also been wondering why I have such a disturbing problem with identity politics. The two seem somehow related.

For identitarianism to make sense, we need to be dealing with actual identities.  Then we can discuss if people of that identity have been ignored, minimized, overlooked, marginalized or oppressed.  But first, it has to actually be a real identity.

In other words, if a person is Black, then to claim that identity makes sense.  It means something for them to say: “As a person of color, I ——.” If a person (usually a White person) then says: “I’m blind to color,” they may think they are expressing equality with the person of color, but what they are actually conveying is that they are indifferent to all the segregation, the systemic racism, the redlining, and all the things that a predominantly White culture has done to try to keep Black people “in their place.”

We could make similar statements with respect to women, in the manner that women have been subjugated and dehumanized in a patriarchal culture.   But we cannot make such statements about homeless people.  To do so would be as erroneous as to say “Blue Lives Matter” in reference to cops.

The woman was born female.   The Black person was born into that race.   It’s part of their birth identity, so to speak.  But the cop was not born a cop, and the homeless person was generally not born homeless.   When the cop is out of uniform, the cop is no longer “blue.”   And for the first 51 years of my life, when I lived indoors, and I had a job and a car,  an identity like “homeless” may have been hovering over the horizon, but I sure wasn’t looking in that direction.

So there was a little twelve year jaunt of mistaken identity?    Please — I’ve lived indoors for almost five years now.   I could once claim that I was a homeless person, but I can no longer make that claim.   I’ve almost forgotten that I ever could.  Women and people of color do not have that luxury.

But it’s deeper than that.  I’ve been reading statements that begin with the word “as.”   “As a woman of color (for example) —— .”  Those who speak such truths desire to speak them.   They desire to identify according to these natural identities.

The homeless person in general does not desire to make such statements, and often finds it maddening when it is suggested they do so.    I could have many times said: “As a homeless person, I find that ——-.”   But the occasions on which such statements would have been useful were far outweighed by the occasions when it was much more helpful to say:  “As a human being, I have basic needs, a few of which are not being met right now.  I also have rights that are equal to yours.   I call upon people not to see me as a “homeless person.”   Please see me as a person.   A person experiencing homelessness — but a person all the same.”

Such statements as I often made were not formed of shame or even of disgust with my condition.  They were made out of exasperation that people were dehumanizing us.  People talked loudly while were trying to sleep; they stepped over us as though we were things — not people, but rather inanimate objects in their way.   They spoke about us in third person with impunity when we sat right there before them, without directly speaking to us at all — even though we were right there.  They walked past us talking about gay rights and civil rights and equal rights — and who even thought to include us in those discussions?  Why did they care about all these other kinds of people’s rights, and not care about the rights of the people whom they so casually made privy to their conversations?   That is to say, the rights of homeless people?

Sometimes, while trying to sleep, we overheard every word.

We were by and large ignored, and when we weren’t, we were generally either judged harshly or else greeted with a feign of compassion that came across more like condescension than anything else.  People rarely asked our opinions on matters — for our opinions did not count.  We were often given all kinds of advice that didn’t apply to our situations at all.   It was assumed that we knew nothing about the “real world.”  People treated us as though we had always been that way, would always be that way, and — get this — should always be that way.

It was assumed that I was completely incompetent.   “There there, Andy,” came the vibe from the well-meaning social worker.  “Good, Andy!  You’re doing fine Andy!  Are you hungry?   Here – have a bagel!  We know you’ll never be able to take care of yourself, but have no fear.  We’ll take care of you.   For the rest of your life, we will.”

Or, it was assumed that I was a “piece of shit.” This is the part that most bothered me.   I happen to think I’ve got a bit on the ball, and a lot to offer to the planet if I can ever connect the dots and get all the ducks in line.  The infuriating irony is that I went from being an award-winning educator, twice appearing in Who’s Who in America, to a “piece of shit” in a matter of months during a total breakdown.    And when exactly did I cross that line?   At what point did I cease to be the decent, respected musician and educator, and begin to be the “piece of shit?”

My personality had not changed along that seemingly downward path.  It might have become a bit deranged compared to its previous manifestation — but think about it.   Try sleeping on sidewalks and stairwells for months and eventually years on end, and see for yourself what it does to your head!   I’m surprised I’m alive.  I saw a lot of people die.  Good people — people who shouldn’t have died.   They died for lack of two bucks to get on an all night bus to sleep; they died of hypothermia in the freezing cold.  They were whacked in the middle of the night by crazies – one guy was beat over the head with baseball bats by frat boys — to his death.

But those people were not any innately less deserving or worthy than people who were fortunate enough to be living indoors.  They just lived in a wildly dangerous world — and they couldn’t get out of it.

I never thought I would get out of it.   All roads seemed to lead back to it.  So eventually I resigned myself to it.   Whatever it would take to get out of homelessness, I did not believe that I could ever achieve it.  

So we’ve established all this.  But what is really bothering me?   Well – it’s this:

Here I am, having sat myself down in a predominantly White, peaceful little hamlet in North Idaho.  The “Blue city in the Red State.”   Here I eventually found fulfilling companionship among a number of University professors, and am honored to attend the church that has the highest per capita number of University professors in the State.   My intellect has sharpened up a bit (gradually), and I find myself very thankful to be sleeping safe and sound (on most nights anyway).   People seem to like me.  I get along amiably with most.  And above all, I’m not a “homeless person” anymore.  Homelessness no longer needs to be the topic.   I’m a person!  Just like them — just like us.  People don’t view me from either a bleeding heart or a throne of judgment.   They say “excuse me” if they have to walk too close to me.   They extend their hands for handshakes.   They even ask me my name.   It matters what my name is. 

Finally, I’m an equal!

And as an equal, I start to learn a few things about my other equals.   Very intelligent people, very learned.   Most of them have never slept outdoors unless they like to go camping.  They certainly haven’t slept outdoors for years on end, as I did.   A lot of them seem sheltered — in more ways than one.  Yet they have strong ideals, and they care about others, about people different than themselves.  They value diversity.

But when will the homeless person be included in that diversity?

Had I been a Black man, I might have come up here and found after five years that there was considerable opportunity to embrace that identity.   But in no way am I embracing an identity that I simply don’t have.  In fact, I never had it.    Homelessness is not who I am.   Or is it?   

People who cared about social justice and racial inequality walked past us with an indifference that belied their ideals.   We saw them as hypocrites.    If they cared about all those other kinds of people whom they claimed to care about, then why were they treating us like dogshit?   Why were we not included in the realm of humanity that would be concerned with our equality?

It makes me wonder  —  if I were a homeless person in this neck of the woods, would I still be treated with the great equanimity that I have found here?   Would I still be Andy?   Or would I be — one of them?   Worthless — a piece of shit . . .

I like to think the former.  But how will I know?

There’s one way to find out.

We shall not go there.

Or shall we?

A Parallel and Opposing Culture

Maybe I need to listen to the words I spoke above – in the year 2013 — when I was still in the thick of it.   Maybe if I do, I might be comforted.   I might begin to believe again that maybe I can make a difference.    Maybe then, I can get some sleep.

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An Interview with Matt Perez

This Wednesday’s audio presentation is an interview with Matt Perez, who is currently playing the part of John James — a street hustler, drug dealer type — in our current workshop of my musical, Eden in Babylon. I know that not all of my followers take the time to listen to these talks, but if you can manage to fit this one in, I think it’s unusually strong. Then, if you feel like backtracking for further info, all six of the interviews have been posted on this playlist.

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Re: “She Called Me Dad”

I have a Tuesday Tuneup planned but am foregoing it – and all other things — until this piece of social activism has been submitted. This may be a trigger for some people.

Something happened yesterday by surprise that was so emotionally wrenching, I burst into tears in the midst of all else that is going on at this time.

A few days ago I heard from Alastair (the Street Spirit editor) that they’d received a letter at the Spirit Office that was for me. They said a man had walked the letter into the office, unaddressed, and asked if they could please get it to Andy Pope.

Me being me, I naturally was fairly convinced that it was from some street hustler whom I’d offended, possibly with a threat against my life, or else contained some horrible blackmail attempt such as a photograph of the time I practically defecated in public I couldn’t hold it any longer. In fact, one of any number of high-profile formerly private activities could have been filmed or photographed — the privileges that one sacrifices when one gives up all privacy by living on the streets.

Instead, it was a handwritten letter from a dear friend named Mike. Mike and I had been homeless together for years down there, and we had a mutual friend whom I shall call “Maria.” Mike said that he had been reading my columns for “a few years” and that he especially appreciated the one I wrote about Maria.

Of course, I had been hesitant to write about a real person, and I changed her name to “Maria” when I wrote the story. I wrote nothing bad about her, but still feared it would embarrass her if it got back to her, or anger some of her friends. Still, I was moved to write a column called She Called Me Dad because this young Hispanic woman with a severe mental health condition — possibly Dissociative Identity Disorder — sat across from me where I had my spot where I flew my sign, and pretended I was her Dad so as to protect her.

As a severely disabled young woman alone on the streets, she was very vulnerable. Tweakers took advantage of her all the time, and Berkeley cops could have cared less, because people with conspicuous mental health disorders were generally lumped into the same bag as the other “losers and dirt bags” who appeared to populate the streets.

So Mike sent me two pictures of her — I wish I could scan them and show them to you — but of course I can’t do so without her consent. And like as not, I will never see her again, let alone do I know how to reach her.

In one picture she is seen holding one of two newborns in her arms, obviously caring for her baby as any mother would. In the other, she is seen at the Spot we shared, though of course without me.

He related that she had again been raped (I have no idea how many times she had been raped previously), went through with the pregnancy, and gave birth to twins. The twins of course were immediately taken from her by Child Protective Services.

I stared at the words and the pictures, and tears flooded my face. I’m not a crier, you know. That is, I don’t cry readily or easily. But it was too much for my heart not to be softened and touched.

Mike also shared that “Peaches” had died — which I had already learned from Kathy Kitzman, who was the Admin of Homeless Lives Matter at the time — and that my friend “Lillian” who had had three strokes and suffered from psychomotor impairment had come back for a while and then disappeared again. His reports brought back a panorama of a Berkeley that I’d forgotten about.

I usually think of Berkeley as this horrible place in time where a number of us did our best to look after each other while being routinely treated like shit by practically anybody who lived inside, and by at least half of the people who lived outside. I usually think of Berkeley as this horrible world. What I forget is how much LOVE there was among the decent people who had wound up homeless.

In a way, I’ve lost a lot of that love because life hasn’t been hard – I even get bored these days — which for me is inexcusable. Did I ever get bored on the streets? I remember how when we were homeless, if someone managed to score a hotel room for a week, it was a joke to say: “Wow – you might even get bored!”

Homelessness in Berkeley was a lot of hard things and a lot of good things, a lot of pain and fear and anger, and a lot of fun too. But it was never boring.

“What right have I?” I asked myself when I saw the two pictures of Maria and the vulnerable look in her eyes, “to be bored?”

I have a calling, I have a purpose. I better get on the ball.

Please help raise awareness as to homeless rights issues.
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Anything Helps
God Bless!

Tuesday Tuneup 91

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Winding down.

Q. How?

A. Strawberry milk, tylenol, water, and benadryl.

Q. Why?

A. Long day.

Q. Sleep all right last night?

A. No.

Q. Why not?

A. Too much on my mind.

Q. Why?

A. Too much to do.

Q. And now?

A. Tired.

Q. And?

A. Brain-dead.

Q. And?

A. Hoping to sleep soon.

Q. What’s keeping you?

A. Not sure.

Q. Any ideas?

A. Too many. They make my head spin.

Q. What about images?

A. A few. Good and bad.

Q. Can you focus on a good one?

A. Why?

Q. Might it bring you peace?

A. It might.

Q. And once you are at peace, might you get to sleep?

A. I might.

Q. Can you try?

A. All right.

Pause.

A. I think I found one.

Q. What is it?

A. An image. A picture of smiling faces looking at me, and me being at the piano, and our just having finished rehearsal, and me realizing that — it’s actually happening. I didn’t die a meaningless death in a gutter. I didn’t die abandoned. I lived, and I was given a chance to realize my dream.

The Questioner is silent.

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Strange Synchronicities

1. I awoke the other morning after only two hours sleep before a very busy and seemingly important day. Going to the computer to check the time, I watched the clock turn from 5:59:59 to 6:00:00 before my eyes.

2. Knowing it was time to issue a newsletter, that morning, I did so. As I submitted it, the clock turned from 8:59 to 9:00.

3. This week, I wrote a Tuesday Tuneup, knowing I had scheduled the previous day’s gratitude list to post at 7:30am on Monday. As I submitted the Tuneup, I watched the clock turn from 7:29 to 7:30, just as I clicked on “Publish.”

4. In the year 2018, I decided to calculate the first day that I ever slept outdoors, after years of sleeping inside.  The calculations are preserved in this blog post.  It was 11:50 when I finished the post, so I set it at midnight.  The next morning, I looked at the computer clock and realized I had made the discovery exactly fourteen years after I had first slept outdoors.  So I discovered on May 17, 2018 that I first slept outdoors on May 17, 2004.

5. Incidentally, that same year, I was talking with Lauren Sapala about the use of meter in prose.  She mentioned that Neal Cassidy had done this, and I said I also had used it in a piece called The Temple of the Human Race.  Lauren wrote back asking me if I knew that it was the same day as the date on the piece, or if I had changed the date.   I had not changed the date – for why would I have?  It turned out I had written the piece on March 23, 2007, and sent it to her on March 23, 2018.

6. Finally, feeling full of synchronicity, I decided to count how many days it was that I was homeless.  I first became homeless on May 17, 2004, as I have told you.   I got down on my knees outside Sequoia Station and screamed at God to put an end to twelve years of homelessness on July 17, 2016 – as I have told you — and knew somehow that my homelessness was over – that the prayer was valid, and the needed action would be revealed.  Interesting that it was the 17th of each month.   Counting the days between the two dates (it can be done!) it turned out to be 4,444 days.

7. And to make a nice number seven, I must ask the question: “What does it all mean?”

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Tuesday Tuneup 89

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Transformation.

Q. Of what?

A. Of character.

Q. What brought this transformation about?

A. Realization.

Q. Of what?

A. Of behavior.

Q. How had you been behaving?

A. Angrily.

Q. Recently?

A. Recently, somewhat. In the past, a great deal.

Q. But you are no longer angry?

A. Not at the moment, no. Far from it, in fact. But that’s not the point.

Q. What’s the point?

A. That my anger naturally caused people to distance themselves from me.

Q. And now they are no longer distant?

A. The people whom I got mad at two days ago are no longer distant. There have been apologies, forgiveness, and healing. As for those whom I got mad at in the past, they remain distant.

Q. How long do you think they will remain distant?

A. I don’t know. Perhaps forever.

Q. Why would that be?

A. Because people are not comfortable with anger. Or, because they’re offended by it. One way or the other, they either feel they can’t deal with it, or they believe they shouldn’t have to.

Q. Are you comfortable with anger?

A. Listen man — I lived on the streets for years. We all got mad at each other, back and forth, day by day, almost as a routine. We all screamed and yelled and cussed. We got used to it. We couldn’t get away from each other anyway — not even if we tried. Somebody can scream and yell and cuss at me all they want. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable nor does it offend me. If anything, it’s refreshing.

Q. Refreshing?

A. Yes. It makes me realize I’m not the only one. In fact, it even awakens my compassion. I feel for the person who’s getting mad, because I know what it feels like.

Q. How does it feel?

A. It feels lousy. You feel guilty. You feel like you might be hurting somebody. And you feel like you’re losing control. But you see, on the streets, it became par for the course. Half the time, we didn’t feel anything at all.

Q. What about off the streets?

A. There’s a lot less to be angry about. That is, in my own world. Plenty to be angry about in the world on the whole, especially as pertains to my own country. But my life is a breeze compared to what it once was. So of course I don’t get as angry as I used to.

Q. Are you saying that your temper was a product of the streets?

A. No – and I didn’t mean to imply that. I was angry before I landed on the streets. People didn’t know it. In fact, they often characterized me as “serene.” But I was not inwardly tranquil. I had inner anger that I’d learned through various means — medication being a factor — to manage. But the streets brought my anger to the surface. The streets gave me an outlet for my anger. They exacerbated it. They magnified it. They illuminated it — and I was angry for a long time even after I got indoors.

Q. What were you angry at?

A. Injustice and inequity. But even that is not the point. It’s more like — who I was angry at.

Q. Who were you angry at?

A. All these people who distanced themselves from me. Especially if they distanced themselves to the point of total disappearance. Those who dropped out of my life without notifying me. We wouldn’t have been able to do that on the streets. So, people who lived indoors were exercising a luxury we street people did not have.

A. Did this make you jealous?

Q. Not so much jealous. I was jealous of them because they lived indoors and I did not. But I was not jealous of their ability to remove me from their lives. I was only angered by that.

A. Why anger?

Q. Because I didn’t think it was right. The right thing would have been to inform me. To let me know that they were done with me.

A. But is it ever right to be done with somebody?

A. Not in my book. But that’s a pretty strange book — and I could elaborate. God’s Book is the Book in question.

Q. Is God ever done with anybody?

A. That, sir, is the Question of the Ages.

The Questioner is silent.

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Tuesday Tuneup 85

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Waking up.

Q. Aren’t you an early riser?

A. Historically, yes. These days, not necessarily.

Q. Why not?

A. I’ve been re-enacting a life philosophy that in the year 2015, I referred to as the Social Experiment. Only now, it would be more aptly dubbed the Personal Experiment.

Q. What was the essence of the Social Experiment?

A. May I quote something I wrote about it in 2015?

Q. Why not?

A. Here ya go:

“In the City intended to form a prototype or microcosm of the New City, there is an abundance of resources available to any unscheduled person at any time.  Note how I don’t specify that the person is “unemployed” or, if a student, “unenrolled” — or any other state reflecting the person’s relationship to Time; other than that the individual is “unscheduled.”  There is no form of scheduling — academic, professional, or otherwise — that is to stay a person from exercising the liberty of showing up wherever they want to, at whatever time they wish to. 

“In other words, no human construction of constraints is to be added to the natural constraints on the liberty already effected by Time and Space.  One cannot, geographically, be in two places at once, for example.  “Nor can one get from one place to a much further place in a short period of time.  These are natural constraints — sheer results of the functions of Time and Space.

However, if in addition to these natural constraints there would also be placed constraints made according to an employee’s schedule, or student’s schedule, etc.; then there would be constraints indeed! One finds oneself ensnared in a form of bondage: bondage to the schedules imposed upon them by employers and teachers, for instance. But these are not natural constraints. They are artificial constraints. Without such, one is is relatively free.”

Q. Is that all your wrote?

A. Ha! It’s the tip of the iceberg. I generated all kinds of material concerning the Social Experiment. I referred to as a microcosm of the conditions that will entail in the New City, in the Age to Peace and Enlightenment that is to come — in the world beyond crime – in the world beyond war . . .

Q. Why has this come to mind at this time, five years later?

A. Because of sheltering in place. The parallels between sheltering in place and the place where is no shelter — AKA, homelessness — are starting to unfold.

Q. How so?

A. What was once the Social Experiment, involving the management of time in a reality where time was relatively irrelevant, has now become the Personal Experiment. As I shelter in place, it would seem I have all kinds of time on my hands all of a sudden. Time that ordinarily would be taken up searching for my wallet, my keys, my glasses, and other items. This is the time I would need to spend gathering up my stuff before exiting out the door.

In addition, I would ordinarily have struggled to get to whatever location I needed to get to, at the right time. Now, there is no such struggle. I may have a Zoom meeting at one o’clock on Friday. But how difficult is it for me to get to the computer from, say, the kitchen? Not difficult at all.

On the other hand, I was finding it extremely difficult to have all my things together, and to get to any external location at the right time — without undergoing extreme stress and uncomfortably high levels of anxiety. Now, all that has vanished. I am free of those artificial constraints. Free to explore the Free Flow of the Mind, bound only by functions of Space and Time, and finding myself feeling free — almost completely unbound.

Q. Is this how you felt when you were homeless, as well?

A. Not always. But it was a shining place of awe and wonder, an oasis in the desert that was homelessness. I and others accessed this beautiful place of freedom, as often as we could.

Q. So sheltering in place is not just a contrast to the place where is no shelter — there are also parallels. Am I correct?

A. Correct. The chief difference, in light of those parallels, is that it is no longer a social experiment, but a personal experiment.

Q. Will that always be the case?

A. What do you mean?

Q. Will it always be only a personal experiment, or will it at some point evolve into another social experiment?

A. I’m not sure.

Q. Why not?

A. I don’t know.

The Questioner is silent.

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Sheltering in Place: the Opposite of Living Outdoors

Below the image and link is an almost-verbatim transcript of my most recently published column in Street Spirit. There may or may not be one more column. Then for reasons largely related to the PTSD that I acquired while homeless, I have decided to bow out of this particular gig. Alastair Boone the editor-in-chief has been wonderful to work with, as was Terry Messman, the previous editor who first hired me.

A watercolor image of a house.

Click Here for Original Version

When I first heard the expression “sheltering in place,” an immediate thought came to mind. For a long time, during many years of homelessness, I lived in a place where there is no shelter. Now that sheltering in place is required, I am living a lifestyle that is the direct opposite of my previous manner of life. Once I recognized that polarity, it opened me up to a wealth of useful observations.

For one thing, I noticed that the way I had been living since moving indoors was in many ways not so much different than how I had lived when I was still homeless. Before the pandemic, I still found myself wandering from place to place throughout the day, looking for places to plug in my laptop. I still would spend two or three bucks at coffee shops and fast food joints, as though I had just managed to scrounge up that much money on the streets.

Moreover, even though I had lived indoors for almost four years, I was still feeling halfway uneasy in many of these establishments. In the same way as when I was homeless, I felt as though I wasn’t quite “supposed” to be there. But why? 

As I began to shelter in place, I realized that I had still been using the library, the McDonald’s, and even the hospital in such a way that suggested I had nowhere else to go. In any of these places, I would sit down, plug in my laptop, and hang out for hours on end. After all, I live near a hospital where they have free Starbucks coffee and unlimited refills. Seriously! You can even get a nice home-cooked breakfast for just under three bucks.

Since I did have a place to go—my own apartment—it seemed a bit odd that I wasn’t spending more time there. But after the shelter-in-place order, when I was no longer replicating my homeless life by wandering from spot to spot throughout the day, I found that I appreciated my apartment all the more. 

So I asked myself: “Why should I spend hours walking from one building in town to another? Why should I spend money in cyber cafes, when I have my own dwelling place now, with my own power outlets, and food in the cupboard? My rent money, like that of many, is over half of my monthly check. Why was I wasting the full benefits of my apartment by using it only as a crash pad?” 

It then dawned on me that this, too, had been carried over from my former homeless experience. When I was homeless, did I ever go back to my sleeping spot in the middle of the day and hang out there? Of course not! My sleeping space was tucked away where hopefully no one would find me during the night. It would have been pretty self-defeating to hang out there during the daytime, in broad daylight. 

But now that I had my own indoor place, what was the sense in continuing to avoid my own home during the daytime? There may have been a certain twisted sense in continuing to avoid washing the dishes and taking out the garbage, but other than that, it was sheer laziness that kept me from properly accessing and maintaining my own dwelling place, as well as a waste of rent money. 

As I have begun to spend more time inside my apartment, I have also become better at certain household tasks. I am no longer intimidated by the kitchen. I no longer limit the extent of my cooking potential to Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. I don’t fear the condition of the bathroom, and I broke out a vacuum cleaner for the first time in a good fifteen years. 

The things that make a home nice are also being illuminated. Paintings are hanging on the wall now, whereas before they were only leaning against it. All that is changing for the better— and I’m glad.  For where before there was no shelter, and all my deeds were out in the open, now there is only shelter — outside of daily exercise and the occasional errand — and virtually all my deeds are secluded.

With that revelation, finally, there is gratitude. Gratitude for the food stocked up in the cupboard, and for its being the food of my own choice—not food served or granted by those helping me, but food determined by my own agency and wherewithal. Gratitude that the condiments of hygiene may be found in my medicine cabinet; indeed, that I even have a medicine cabinet in which such things may be kept. The grounds for gratitude, for all the simple things in life I longed for in all those years of homelessness, are greatly increased — and illuminated — through the phenomenon of sheltering in place.

Homeless No More is a column that features the stories of people making the transition from homelessness to housing. Andy Pope is a free-lance writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest, and is the author of Eden in Babylon, a musical about youth homelessness in urban America.

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Tuesday Tuneup 84

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Reorganization.

Q. Of what?

A. Of many things. Most important is the reorganization of my mind.

Q. Most important?

A. I take that back. Most important is the reorganization of the Human Race. But each of us has a part in that, and my part is the reorganization of my mind.

Q. Ah, I see! Well then, can you describe the basic essence of this reorganization?

A. I believe so. You see, certain habitual thought processes have often led to false conclusions. The logic may have been sound, but the axioms or postulates on which I based my reasoning were false to begin with. So I’m in the process of altering the axiomatic system so as not to act upon false premises.

Q. Can you say that in English, please?

A. Very funny. Okay, look — I have noticed three things about myself — three commonly repeated mistakes that result from erroneous thought processes. I would like to share them, if I may, from the least important, to the most.

Q. What is the least important?

A. Don’t get me wrong. It’s pretty important. It’s just not as important as the two that follow.

Q. Once again, what is it?

A. I have finally realized that if I embrace a sexual fantasy about someone with whom I am involved non-sexually, it will affect my dealings with that person in a way that is out of kilter with the correct nature of our relationship.

Q. Uh – do you mean — you’ll start hitting on them?

A. Me? Probably not. But I will become enthralled with them, and shower them with inordinate favor.

Q. Isn’t that just a crush?

A. No, not really. We would have to dive into the origin of the fantasy.

Q. Do you wish to do so?

A. Yes. But it would make the tuneup too long for most readers to bother with. The point is that I realized that fantasizing about her was causing me to lose objectivity in a context where I needed to remain objective. So I ceased to romanticize this individual, and now our interactions are better balanced.

Q. How did you cease?

A. By recognizing what I was doing. When I saw how it had all come about — that is, the origin of the fantasy — I saw clearly a mental pathway whereby my thoughts gradually took me from something entirely different toward the realm of erotic fantasy. And when I saw the exact path, I saw how to steer clear of it. It was easy, in fact, for I found myself viewing that particular mental pathway as disgusting, pathetic, and beneath my dignity.

Q. Are you lonely?

A. Not particularly, no. Not quite sure why you asked.

Q. Okay, so what was the second one?

A. I have realized that if I view someone as a potential investor, backer, or patron (that is to say, of my musical project), then I cease to see them objectively — as the true human being whom they are. This is extremely unfair and unkind to that person.

Q. Anybody in mind?

A. Quite a few people, I’m afraid. But it took me realizing that I actually liked some of these people, and these very likable people are not at all to be viewed as potential patrons, but viewed rather as the unique human beings whom they are – with special needs and values, just like my own.

Q. So you ceased to regard them as potential investors?

A. Yes.

Q. How?

A. Again, once I recognized what I had been doing, I felt that disdain, that disgust, that sense of distastefulness – and I didn’t want to indulge it further. It was an ugly thing. It’s my task, as an Artist, to create Beauty. So when I see that I have created ugliness instead, it is fairly easy to scrap that effort, and start from scratch — in an effort to replace ugliness with Beauty.

Q. Fascinating. Does this mean that you’re not so much operating on a moral level, but on an aesthetic one?

A. Ultimately, I believe they are one and the same. I also believe that Aesthetics will replace Ethics in the Age to Come — but now I wax eschatological. The essence of the realization is that it’s unfair to regard people either as potential romances or as potential investors. If I do so, I am no different than a corrupt C.E.O., who only sees people according to what purpose they might serve.

Q. How long have you been doing this?

A. I don’t know. It’s something I’ve been doing unconsciously. It just recently surfaced.

Q. Intriguing. So what’s the third thing?

A. This is the big one. Are you ready?

Q. Shoot.

A. When I was homeless, I couldn’t understand why nobody was “letting me in.” All the people who lived indoors were seen as lacking compassion. I couldn’t understand how they could have a spare room in their house, and let me be rained on and ripped off and basically dumped on — all because I was “one of them.” I couldn’t understand how they could have money to fly to England and back, but somehow not have $60 to help with a night in a motel room.

Q. And now you understand?

A. More so than earlier, I think. The way I was coming across was desperate, insistent, demanding – and often accusational. I would accuse these people of lacking compassion, and try through logic and reason to convince them that I was right. But now that I’ve lived indoors for four years, I can only imagine how I would react if somebody came at me like this:

“Look dude – why aren’t you letting me crash at your house? I could die out here tonight! Don’t you have any compassion? What’s wrong with you?”

Q. Did you always come across like that?

A. Not always. At first my appeals were quite polite. But after hearing the word “no” enough times, I began to lose my natural courtesy.

Q. So what’s the point?

A. I’m leading up to something. I’ve already stated my new policy toward my home in Tuesday Tuneup 57. We don’t need repeated information on this quest. But my statement is a stepping stone to a much broader statement.

Q. About what?

A. About the people whom I have called friends. Those who have happened to have crossed my paths and vice-versa. People with whom I have felt an affinity. But that affinity waned when I had to repeatedly hear the word “no.” And then, even when I did get back on my feet, and was no longer homeless, these people still disdained my friendship.

I thought they were bad people. And perhaps, some of them were. Bad people do bad things in the privacy of their own homes, and naturally they don’t want to be observed. But by and large, chances are they were pretty good people. Just like the people I know today. But if I were homeless, and I started hitting up the people whom I know today for a crash pad, I don’t doubt that my present day associates would not behave the same way.

So it’s not as though the people I know today, who pretty much see my at my best; are any different than the people who knew me back then, who clearly saw me at my worst. The difference is not in the sort of people who see me. The difference is the person whom they see.

Q. But what about what Marilyn Monroe said?

A. I knew you would ask me that! She said: “If you can’t take me at worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.” I embraced that when I was homeless. And you know what? It’s a lot of malarkey.

Suppose I do succeed. Suppose my musical is produced on Broadway. Suppose I receive the Tony award that arguably I deserve. Then, suppose one of these people who has shunned me then has a change of heart. Suppose they approach me and say:

“Andy, I really couldn’t handle you ten or twelve years ago, but the comeback you’ve made, and the way you are today is nothing but an inspiration to me. God bless you, Andy – you are one of the most amazing success stories on the planet.”

Would it really be proper of me to respond with:

“Where were you when I needed you?”

Of course not! That’s mean-spirited! It would only show that I was still holding a grudge. The right thing to do, the Christian thing to do, would be to look that person straight in the eye, and say:

“You know, it warms my heart to hear you say that! Especially when I thought I would never see you ever again! I completely understand. The way I was coming across was more than a lot of people could handle. All I can say is thank you for showing up on the happiest day on my life.”

Q. How did you manage to reach all these needed conclusions in such a short period of time?

A. I’m not sure. I have a theory, though. It’s got something to do with the pandemic — the way this unprecedented form of trial has affected us all. There’s been a shake-up. A wake-up. And I’m not the only one who’s waking. Far from it.

Q. But how did you manage to forgive all these people who wouldn’t let you in? How did you manage to get over the sense of abandonment and loss?

A. Largely, it came by understanding. Once I understood that the people whom I had begrudged were no worse than the people whom I hold in high regard, it was easy to forgive — for I finally understood. But blessed are they who don’t understand, and yet they forgive.

The Questioner is silent.

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When We Were Homeless

When we were homeless, we did not feel we had the prerogative to process difficult feelings. If something happened that was hurtful to us, and we showed our hurt, it would have been seen as a sign of weakness. And somebody on the streets would have taken advantage of that weakness.

What we did instead was to intellectualize. What we did instead was to analyze. We would get together, four or five of us who had not only fallen on hard times, but had ceased to believe that things would ever get any better. Then, instead of facing our feelings, we made an effort to determine what factors in our society were feeding this unacceptable phenomenon called homelessness.

Since we thought of ourselves as intelligent, decent people, we hoped that these sociological analyses would one day be utilized for the benefit of humanity.

Once I found myself in the Emergency Room, again hoping for a three day stay in a psychiatric facility, for the sole purpose that I was tired of being rained on. The E.T. technicians, believing me to be a sane but manipulative man — that is to say, a scammer – saw through my none-too-subtle ploy. As they dismissed me, I asked for a blanket, that I might have covering whilst I slept in the rain.

I was given a garbage bag, as the medical personnel and security guards on the graveyard shift burst into callous laughter.

Who inhabits a garbage bag?

A piece of garbage.

Now more than ever, when 40,000,000 Americans have lost their jobs in the past three months, and the streets will be brimming with naive newbies, we really need to do something about this unacceptable phenomenon.

I have even come close to petitioning those who have escaped homelessness to consider returning, at least temporarily, to that realm. You and I might be blessed, but half of those newbies wouldn’t last five days on the more treacherous of the urban city streets. They need our guidance and counsel.

But there is a greater need than that. I hope I don’t have to tell you what it is.

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Evolution of a Song: Part One

I often proclaim — not without pride — that I wrote most of the music to Eden in Babylon in my head, without a musical instrument, without music paper, and without music notation software.   While this statement is true, it is not true of the entire score.

There are two songs in this show that were actually written a long time ago — in 1971 and 1982 respectively.   They had different titles and different lyrics, but the same music.   Also, half of one song was written in 1984, and 1/4 of another song was also written in that period, around about 1980.   Otherwise, all the songs were written between 2010 and 2016, when I was homeless in the San Francisco Bay Area.

These older songs were obviously written by a much younger man.   So it might be interesting to explore how they evolved and found a place in Eden in Babylon.

One of the songs is “Midnight Screams.”  This song has had three different names.  First it was “Child of No Emotion.” This was the first ballad in a rock opera I wrote in 1971, called Euphoria.  

Ah, how I remember Christmas of 1971.   I came home from U.C. Davis, my brother Steve was there, I sat down at the Wurlitzer spinet on which I learned how to play piano as a little boy, and promptly played the first five songs in Euphoria.

I remember after the fifth song, “Child of No Emotion,” Steve smiled, and in an uncharacteristic departure from his usual inscrutability, I heard the words:  “I love you.”

I don’t recall having reciprocated his expression. I have always loved him, of course, but I was so self-absorbed at the time, I believe the next words I said were:

“How does Euphoria compare to Jesus Christ Superstar?” (This being 1971, the famous rock opera from England was making a big splash in the States.)

“So far,” said my admiring younger brother, “it’s better!”

I’m inwardly laughing, because I happen to think Jesus Christ Superstar is the closest a rock opera has ever come to replicating a true classical opera.   I hold it to be a masterpiece.   But back in the Day, I remember my brother and I, in our youthful arrogance, deciding we were “done” with Jesus Christ Superstar.  He had learned the entire score on his bass, and I had learned it on the piano.  We had played the score so many times together, that one day the two of us ran out in the middle of the street and stomped the two-album set — and we’re talking vinyl — to pieces.

Ah, the fond memories of misspent youth!   

I might contact Steve later on tonight because he’s really good at keeping family mementos, and it’s very likely that the Euphoria libretto is among them.   I can’t remember the last time I saw the text.  Knowing me, I probably lost it in some storage unit somewhere along the line.   Unlike Steve, I’m a minimalist.   (That’s a positive way of framing the fact that I’m very bad at hanging onto things — and very good at being able to hit the road at a moment’s notice.)

While I don’t remember many of the lyrics to “Child of No Emotion,” I do remember that the title figures on the fourth line of each verse, where the words “where the wind is howling” and “desperately prowling” are found in the present-day lyrics of “Midnight Screams.”  

I’ll look for the libretto.   Meanwhile, stay tuned for a sequel.  I forgot all about “Child of No Emotion” until I decided to write an opera in the year 2009.   In 2010, I was fortunate enough to have landed an under-the-table gig in a sleazy hotel on MacArthur Blvd, which is when I dredged up the Child and decided it was now a song with new lyrics, called “Cloaks of Art.”

There’s a story around that one that’s just a wee bit more colorful than a tale of two whippersnappers ripping an old vinyl album to bits.    

TO BE CONTINUED

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Somebody Gave Easily (Part Two)

In four days, it will be four years that I have lived indoors, after years and years of living outside, mostly on urban city streets.   And I’m not sure if anyone’s noticed this, but I am often very disappointed in myself. 

It seems to me that these days I have been granted a huge amount of freedom, compared to how restricted my freedom has been in the past.   Yet I do not use this new freedom to its highest advantage.  My life is full of the very opportunities I so longed for, during all the years when I was homeless.   But I do I use those opportunities to their fullest?    

I have a shower – a bathtub even.   How often have I relaxed and sat down and drawn a nice hot bath?    Twice, I believe, in three years inside this apartment.   I have a dishwasher.  Do I use it?   I have a carpet.   Do I vacuum it?   I have an ironing board.  But do I iron my shirts?   What’s wrong with me?   I have a bed, a couch, and a few comforters.   But do I even have a pair of pajamas?   Half the time I sleep in my street clothes — just as I used to, when I slept on the streets.  

I have a piano now.  I have two home computers now.  I have music production software.   I have the capability to create high-quality sound files and videos, both on computer and on smartphone –– which is something I also have.  Not to mention, I can type all night if I want to, and nobody is going to complain about the constant pitter-patter.  I have space.  I have options.  I have freedom.   But do I fully utilize that freedom?  I don’t think I do.   Why am I not more grateful?

When I was homeless,  I didn’t have any of those things.  Like, for years.  Thoughts of “if only” often intruded my prayers.  I would be looking up to the sky at night, and saying things like: “If only I can ever get inside again — and not one of these facilities where they throw all the homeless people — places with all kinds of restrictions and curfews, where they confiscate your laptop along with your belt and your shoelaces, and they won’t even let you outside without supervision, much less trust you to go out for a jog and back.   If only I could ever have my own place  — if only . . .”

The inner assumption with “if only” is that it will never actually occur.  It was therefore painful to dwell on it.  Painful, yet inevitable.  All throughout my day to day existence, I was feeling the lack.    (Again, just the opposite of what I feel nowadays.)

Lack of money to get myself inside temporary situations where they would let me do my thing.   Lack of free power outlets where I could plug in my laptop.   Lack of sufficient change to warrant stays in coffeehouses.  Lack of supportive people who respected me as an Artist — or even as a man, as a father, as a human being.   And of course, there was the big one — lack of a roof over my head.  

And even worse: lack of confidence that there will ever again be a roof over my head.   

To get that roof, I would need money.  Usually, there was a direct proportion between the amount of money I raised, and the number of recommendations for affordable living situations that then came my way.

Invariably, these recommendations carried with them a price that was equal to or greater than the monetary price of admission.  The price was not only in the area of a restriction of personal freedoms, but also in the area of an imposition of potentially punitive rules and regulations, geared toward keeping the peace in an environment comprised largely of street criminals, practicing alcoholics and drug addicts, and people with severe, untreated mental health conditions.

The places I refer to are halfway houses, rehabs, homeless shelters, transitional living facilities, psychiatric institutions, board & care homes, and other group living situations.  All of these naturally carried a price tag that exceeded the relatively low amount of money one would need for admission.  Naturally, huge manuals full of restrictions and ultimatums were developed in order to accommodate such a freaky clientele.   But between the excess of regulation, and the intimidating influence of the inhabitants themselves, I found I had a very low tolerance for these kinds of living arrangements.  I might have lasted a few weeks or even months, but ultimately I always came to a place where living outdoors seemed preferable.

Living outdoors, there was at least the semblance of freedom.   Living in a shelter felt like being trapped in a glorified jailhouse.  Now — one might be taken aback by the expression “glorified jailhouse.” So let’s look a bit more closely at what it means.   

A jailhouse is a place where one lives if one has committed a crime.   While one may not necessarily have committed any crimes in order to be admitted into a homeless shelter, there are certainly enough people entering into shelters who have committed crimes, that the criminal element of the clientele must be taken into consideration.   So restrictions and ultimatums are developed according to the least common denominator.

The problem with this is that the person seeking shelter who is not criminally minded is suspected of criminality just the same as another person to whom the least common denominator might more justifiably apply.  This criminalization comes not only from the higher-ups at the shelter, but also from many who are living there and coexisting alongside each other.   One gets the sense that, while one had left the streets in order to remove oneself from an atmosphere that entailed great suspicion, one had instead relocated to an atmosphere of even greater suspicion and distrust.  

In leaving such an facility, on deciding to return to the streets of preference, I always felt as though I were leaving a place where my freedoms were very severely restricted, in favor of a place where my freedoms were less severely restricted.   And the cost factor was less, as well.  

But the cost factor involved in acceding to a dignified living situation was greater.   I remember having $1000 once, because I had been prepaid half the fee of musical-directing a children’s show.   The director hired me over Craigslist, and she didn’t know I was homeless.  I was in San Francisco at the time, so I took the $1000 down to what they called a Twelve Step House, which was really a cheaply run rehab organization that then offered me a room with a roommate in a house with twelve other men in exchange for $700.  This seemed the easiest way to get inside quickly, which after all I would need to do, now that I had a job.

But what would have been the cost factor involved in getting my own place?   As a renter, that would mean a first and last month’s rent, plus deposit.  I remember at the time of my leaving the Bay Area, a friend of mine was paying $1800/mo. for his one bedroom apartment.  By that gauge, I would need $3600 to start, plus whatever the security deposit turned out to be, could be another $1800, not unlikely.   The point is that the obstacles toward my securing a place of my own liking were pretty sizable.  That is, as long as I remained in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Moving up to North Idaho was about the smartest thing I did in maybe fifteen years or more.   Here I have a one-bedroom for $450 in a nice secluded spot with quiet, friendly neighbors, in a town with an extremely low crime rate.   An apartment like this could cost me $3000 or more right now in San Francisco.  And yet, my retirement income is exactly the same, here there or everywhere.   

I always wonder why I didn’t do it sooner.  But I stop wondering when I remember the true reason.

Low self-esteem.   If you’re treated like a criminal, if you’re continually demeaned and brought to think that you are somehow worse or lesser than the people around you — only because you have become homeless — it eventually gets to you.   I imagine people of higher self-esteem might have brought themselves up by their own bootstraps a bit sooner than I did.  But I basically felt so ashamed of having become homeless, that I bought into all the self-definitions that people were laying on me.  The upside of this ultimately was that it took a gigantic leap in my self-esteem for me to decide, in July 2016, to make the relatively few moves I needed to make in order to start a new and better life.

Don’t get me wrong.  It wasn’t just being criminalized.   Poor people and people of color are criminalized.   Homeless people are criminalized too — but there’s something that affects homeless people that is even deeper than criminalization.  It’s dehumanization — and people of color will know about this — you’re not just a “criminal” but some kind of “animal” or in some other way, not quite fully human.  Even when your humanity is acknowledged, you are then often not regarded as mature or adult, even though you many be a couple generations older than the authority figure who passes that judgment upon you.

It is not thought that you can make decisions for yourself.   It is assumed that you need caseworkers, and caregivers, and people to make your decisions for you.  Even the simple decision to leave the city of Berkeley was met with much resistance.

Once, when I was considering leaving town, I made mention of this to someone who was in a position of some power in the community, whom I believe was the Director of the Homeless Action Center.  She then asked:  “Where will you go if you’re not in Berkeley?”

“Well, my friend in Georgia might have a room for me.  She has to talk to her husband.”

“Well, I don’t know anything about your friend in Georgia, but I know what it’s like when someone’s starting to have a manic episode!  You start thinking of wanting to take long trips to distant places.”

True.  Sudden spontaneous trips out of town are hallmarks of mania.   But this is besides the point.   Why could this person not “know” that my friend in Georgia might have provided a roof over my head, and that sleeping on the Berkeley city streets would naturally be less preferable than staying with a friend in Georgia inside a house?   Why was it a problem in me — “manic episode” or what-have-you —  to want to not sleep on the Berkeley streets anymore, and sleep inside a warm house — even it meant moving to Georgia?   Did Berkeley own me?

Of course not.   But there were many in that city who acted as though they did.  It was thought that I could not make my own choices.   It was assumed that, because I had become homeless, I had no ability to fend for myself, and someone else ought to be doing it for me.

Once I became friends with somebody who had an official position in the City, and she came and saw me at my Spot after one of the times when I had escaped the halfway house.

“Andy, what are you doing back here?”

“I’m in my sixties, Carmen.   I don’t like being treated like a juvenile delinquent.”

Now another type of person might have said: “Okay, I’ll suck it up.  I’ll be treated like a truant schoolboy for another seven months or so.  It will be worth it to get myself into a better place.”

I respect that reasoning and the implicit patience and strength of character.  But I don’t buy it.   Why not?

There is no evidence that people who treat other people like that have any power to get them into a “better place.”   That power, when it did come — either came from deep inside me, or from God – or some combination thereof.   I had to get to the point where I believed in Andy.   I had to get to the place where I stopped buying into every negative self-definition that was being thrown my way by people who were doing materially better than me.  I had to somehow get with Andy, and know what would work — for Andy.

To be honest, I don’t know how I did it.  I don’t know it how it happened.  There was that prayer I always talk about, that I’ve written about  And there was a lot of sudden resolve.   I don’t know how it happened, really.   I’m just glad it did.

What I’m not glad about is that I’m not more grateful, and that I don’t have as much to show for myself throughout these past four years than I’d hoped.   But maybe I have more to show for myself than I know.

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Tuesday Tuneup 78

Q. What’s going on inside?

A. Upheaval.

Q. What do you mean?

A. I feel like I’m being shaken up inside.

Q. Is that bad?

A. Probably not!  It’s just unfamiliar.

Q. New territory?

A. Yeah.

Q. Do you also feel torn?

A. Yes!  That’s it — torn.  

Q. Well, what is tearing at you?  What are you torn between?

A. I’m conflicted between a number of different internal narratives, and the unresolved conflict is distorting my view of reality.   I believe this is called cognitive dissonance.

Q. How long have you been like this?

A. Probably longer than I know.

Q. Why do you say that?

A. It goes at least as far back as being homeless.  I would ask fifteen people if I could come stay with them for a while.   Even for a night.    Sometimes I even only asked if I could come over to take a shower, and leave.  Sometimes I offered to pay them.   Or just ask to come over for dinner on a holiday.   “Can I come by on Christmas?”  But nobody would ever let me in.

Q, Why not?

A.  Because why should they?  It wasn’t their responsibility.   But they never came out and said that.  They said lots of other things, though.  They gave all kinds of reasons.   Some reasons made more sense than others.   Some of them seemed kind of cold – others kind of paranoid.   I think there might have been a general sense that if you give someone an inch, they’ll take a ruler.   Nobody wanted to take a chance.

Q. How did this feel?

A. Not good.  I could tell that not all of their reasons were honest.  Many of the reasons were implausible.  I got the feeling somebody wasn’t telling me something — something about me.   There must have been some reason why I deserved homelessness, rather than the chance to get inside and get back on my feet.   But I couldn’t figure out what it was.

Q. What else?  I mean, what did that feeling conflict with?

A. The fact that it wasn’t all me!  They were doing things wrong.   They weren’t being honest with me.   I wanted them to come up front. 

Q. But what is the essence of the dissonance?

A. The essence of the cognitive dissonance is that I could never tell how much of it was my fault, and how much of it was their fault.  

Q. Why does it have to be anybody’s fault?

A. Well, somebody had to be responsible!

Q. But aren’t you the one who’s responsible for where you stay the night?

A. Yes, of course!  And I failed — because I couldn’t find anyone who would let me stay the night with them.

Q. But why should that be their responsibility?

A. What does it have to do with responsibility?   They were the ones who had roofs over their heads, not me!   What was I going to do, ask another homeless person to let me stay at his house?   

Q. But why is this all on your mind this evening?

A. Because the same dissonance is occurring, only with different variables.   And I do not believe that the dissonance started with homelessness!   It’s something in me!   It keeps happening, in different ways, even though I’ve lived inside for years now.   

Q. PTSD?

A. Yes.  I’ve been triggered.  

Q. Again?

A. It happens.   Every now and then — you can’t know when the triggers will arise.

Q. What is it this time?

A. If it were just one person saying to me, why they can’t show up, why they don’t have the music, why they didn’t make the deadline, why they can’t do the project — it would easily be believable.  But because it’s a conglomerate of people, I start to think: “What’s wrong with me?  Who do they take me for?   A fool?   Why are they playing me?  Why aren’t they coming up front?   What’s wrong with everybody?  Why do they lack compassion?”

Q. And that’s what you used to think when people wouldn’t let you stay overnight at their houses?

A. Yeah.  In both situations, I have felt like they’re not letting me in.   

Q. So what does this tell you?

A. That it must be me.   Just like, when all those people weren’t letting me inside their houses – whether they were being truthful with me or not — I was what they all had in common.   It was I whom they all held at bay.

And now, when all these people aren’t doing their work, or it seems like they’re not, and the team seems to be fizzling, it’s kinda like my friends — my family — they’re gradually abandoning me — they didn’t even start talking to me again after I got a place to live, after I’d stopped trying to cling to them —

My friends – my family — we don’t talk anymore, there’s my daughter, there’s no friends from the old people – no family — and these Kids —

Q. Go on.

A. These Kids — are going to leave me.   Just like my friends  – just like my family  – – 

Q. Why  —  why do you think so  —

A. They won’t let me in.   My brother, my sister — they won’t let me in.   Winston and Taura — the Kids in the show — the directors, the musicians, the producers, the venues —  they won’t let me in.   The Family won’t — let – me – in . . .

Q. Dude!  Dude – can you grab a hold of yourself?

A. Sorry, I’m flashin’ man –

Q. Are you sure this isn’t just drama?   Or words for dramatic effect?  To call attention to yourself when you’re feeling oversensitive, and easily abandoned, and you’re desperate for community and camaraderie?

A. Are you calling me a narcissist?  

Q. Did I say narcissist?

A. No –

Q. Why is narcissism on your mind?

A. Because that thing that happens — that pattern — that syndrome — it didn’t start with homelessness.   It started long before, with those very same people — and that’s why they didn’t let me in.

Q. When did it start?

A. With the Internet.   Way back in around ’99 or so, when I got my first computer.   I didn’t become homeless till 2004, but the Internet was a driving factor.

Q. How so?

A. I realized I could send the same message to multiple people at once.  I realized this about two weeks after I’d sent my first email.   A friend had sent a big email entitled: “Timmy Needs Help!”  He sent it to about forty people when he was on the verge of homelessness.

Q. So you learned you could do the same?

A. Yes!  Only since I didn’t become homeless for five more years, I sent the group emails for other reasons.

Q. What kinds of reasons?

A. Oh – if I’d lost my cell phone and needed somebody to call it.

Q. Isn’t that called cross-threading?

A. That’s right, I just remembered.  They told me I was “cross-threading.”  It isn’t cool to ask ten people to do something that can be taken care of by one.   

Q. Didn’t you lose a job that way once?

A. Yeah – that was the job I lost, that made me homeless, in 2004.  They were the ones who told me.   First job where I had to use email.  One day, I emailed five people to ask for help moving a piano, when one would have sufficed.  So two of us moved the piano, and four people showed up later, and got pissed.

Q. Is that the only reason you lost the job?

A. No – but that was a reason.  I was doing things like that all the time, and my boss told me to please stop cross-threading.   But I didn’t.

Q. Why not?

A. I’m not sure.  I think – I don’t know!   It seemed like — I couldn’t!   They told me I was having a first-time manic episode, and that it was all part of the episode.  But to me, all I knew is I’d gotten into a habit where whenever I sent an email, it had to be sent to ten or fifteen people.   I just became an Email Dispenser —  dishing out emails to everybody all day long, right and left.

Q. So – did they dish ’em back?

A. No.  They ignored me.  I used to send music for them to hear, too.  Songs I wrote.  If they listened, they never told me so.

Q. And these are the people whom you asked to stay the night with?

A. Yes, by and large.  A few add-ons, and some drop-offs, but  basically the same list.   

Q. I would assume they all said no, didn’t they?

A. For the most part.  That is, if they said anything at all.   

Q. Ever get the feeling you’ve been barking up the wrong tree?

A. Yes.  For longer than I’ve known, and in more ways than I know.  

The Questioner is silent.

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Morning Call to Nature

A call to Nature in the early morning is of the Spirit.

One ought to seek Nature early in the morning, and go for a run, or walk, or bicycle ride – as one is able — or even find a spot and sit somewhere outdoors (weather permitting) — if for no other reason than to commune with Nature.

When I was homeless, I was forced by circumstance to do this one good thing; that is, to be outdoors in the early morning, often before the dawn, to watch the sunrise, and to participate in the waking of the day.

Since I’ve lived inside, I am no longer forced.   For a while, I was lax.  Then I learned that, unlike when I lived outdoors, I can only keep the morning sacrament through force of habit.   

But it’s a very good habit to have made.   

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Sixth Column Published on Religious News Site

My sixth column, concerning how the coronavirus has been impacting homeless populations, has now been published on Spokane Faith and Values, thanks to editor-in-chief Tracy Simmons.   The column includes interviews with a number of people currently experiencing homelessness in very different parts of the country.  

Capture

HOMELESSNESS DURING COVID-19

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Heartfelt Lie

“But when we were on the streets,”
(or so I texted),
“Wasn’t life so much simpler then?”

The answer came quickly, as expected
(but not as desired):

“Yeah, right.”

And thus I thought:
“This will never work —
me and her.”

But on the streets
(I further thought),
Wouldn’t it have been so right?

We’d have hooked up.
I’d have had her back.
I’d have protected her.
I’d have clearly been the one who cared 
(unlike the others,
who were only taking advantage of her).

We’d have found spots
to camp out together
where we’d have kissed
(under the stars),
and made false promises to each other,
which we almost both believed.

And then,
one or the other of us
would have gotten a little tired,
or a little freaked out,
and more than a little disillusioned.

And then,
one or the other of us
would have awakened some morning
to empty cement
and cold cardboard
where once the other one
had been there —
for us.  

Better to receive a quick text of truth
Than a gradual, well-thought out,
heartfelt lie.

So quick came my come-back:
(lol, fwiw).
And I guess we’ll both just stay put,
for now . . . 

© A. Pope 2020

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Dangers of Liberation (Part Seven)

This is the final post of a seven-part series.   Though it will make more sense if you read all six of the previous posts in the series, I won’t be so demanding as to insist upon it.  My hope is that it will stand on its own, enough to secure your interest.  I don’t differ from many other writers, in this regard.

My knees got hit pretty badly by the pavement on which I had slammed them down.  They would be swollen the next day.  But I did not care.   When I stood up from the prayer I had screamed, something was different.  There was an eerie calm about my spirit that suggested a newfound confidence.   I had never prayed a prayer like that before.

St. Paul wrote: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  — (Philippians 4:8-9)

Nobody is an atheist in a foxhole.  I prayed more prayers in the trenches of homelessness than I had prayed at any more respectably churchgoing phase in m life.  But I had never felt a sense of peace engulf me as it did when I stood up from that prayer.   For the first time in twelve years, I had cast aside the sting of stigma, of all the things that people supposed my homeless experience to entail, and prayed directly that I would be granted a home.

It wasn’t long after that I remembered an old associate of mine.   It crossed my mind that a certain music teacher I’d worked with in the past had offered to get me a one-way ticket to anywhere I thought I could start a new life.   I remember being somewhat perplexed when he added: “I’m not trying to get rid of you, by the way.”  (This obviously planted the thought in my head that he was in fact trying to get rid of me.)

Whatever the case, we met to discuss the matter.  He told me he was no longer teaching, but had received a large retirement.  So he reiterated his offer, suggesting he fly me to Belize.  That was a bit far away for me.   

So I told him I would start googling keywords designed to land me in a part of the United States where I thought I would flourish.   I began to google things like “college town,” “small town,” “affordable rent,” and “low crime rate.”  I also threw in demographics tailored to my tastes, for I tend to thrive in the colder temperatures.    It wasn’t too long before the city “Moscow, Idaho” began to surface.

“This is bizarre!” I told myself.   “I was born in Moscow Idaho — but I only lived here for the first year of my life.   I know nothing about this place, except for that my dad was teaching ROTC at some college, and that he was transferred to San Diego or Long Beach shortly after I was born.”

As the city of Moscow began to work its way further up toward the front page, I took my leap of faith. 

“Why is it that I have never even pondered this town?  Nor wished to return to it?   One think I’d have been curious.  But I wasn’t — until now.”  

On a hunch, I looked on Craigslist for a room.   I saw a studio room with a kitchenette in a converted residence hotel now called the “Friendship Apartments.”  To my astonishment, the room rented for only $275 a month.

I sent pictures to my friend.  “How much do you think this rents for?” I asked.

“Oh – I don’t know.  Maybe $900?”

“Try $275.”

“We’re on!” he shouted.

Shortly later, he was buying me a $200 one-way ticket at the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco.  Forty-eight hours later, on July 27, 2016, exactly ten days after I had prayed that unprecedented prayer, I was sleeping indoors in a place of my choosing.

I have been sleeping indoors, in places of my own choosing, ever since.  Twelve years of degrading, debilitating, demeaning, undignifying, dehumanizing homelessness was ended that simply.   It was as easy as that.

I had only asked for “a lock on a door, a window, and a power outlet.”  But God gave me much more than that.   God answered all the prayers I had asked in frustration why I had to continue to be surrounding by thieves and hookers and pimps and hustlers and drug dealers, and why was I not surrounded by Artists and Writers and Musicians and Actors and Directors and people more like myself.

I walked through the city gate of the town of my birth, the place where (according to my late sister) I had lived for only fifteen months.   This is the gate that I found:

heart of the arts

This is why I related earlier that all the prayers I prayed in total outrage and frustration were answered by the God Who Is Love.   If that Love can cut through hatred as thick and vicious as mine, I believe it can cut through all the hatred in the world.

Let’s hope.   There is always danger on this earth.   I have been in danger of many things since I’ve lived indoors — danger of a different nature than one finds when one lives outside.  But there is one place where there is no danger, and one home that is eternal.

“If you make my Word your home, you will indeed be my disciples.  You will learn the truth — and the truth will make you free.”   — Jesus Christ

THE END 

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Dangers of Liberation (Part Six)

If you’re new to my blog, “Dangers of Liberation” is a seven-part series that I began several Thursdays ago.  The previous posts are on consecutive Thursdays, with a one week break after Part Four.  

The extent to which my mother symbolized the Mainstream cannot be underestimated.  In fact, the only way I was ever able to achieve independence from the Mainstream was to achieve independence from my mother.   I did not do so until long after she died.

A mother’s love is not always unconditional.   My mother loved me to the extreme, under one condition: that I remain emotionally and psychologically dependent upon her.  She gave me everything a mother could possibly have given me, except for the one thing I eventually needed most — my independence.

As the first-born son of her four children, I was never able to come into my true identity as long as my mother was alive.  I was always her “little boy.”   Though she loved all her children immensely, she favored me among the four.  This favoring became more noticeable as she approached her death at the age of 89.  At family gatherings, she practically forgot that any of her other children were there.

After she died, my oldest sister and a close friend informed me that Mom had been “manipulating” me.  Throughout my life, she affected my decision-making in such a way that was designed to keep me out of trouble.  In so doing, she kept me locked into the box of the Mainstream.  I stayed out of trouble, but I lacked personal freedom.

It was almost like an indoctrination, the way my decisions were manipulated by her will.  My own will became a passive extension of hers.   Though I thought I was making my own choices, they were always the choices that Mom would have approved of.  I never realized that she had been doing the deciding for me.

This dependency grew worse and worse as I began to become more successful. Though I hadn’t actually lived with her since my thirties, I relied on her well into my late forties.  I called her five times a day, sometimes only to ask: “What do I do now?”  At that, she would laugh and make a suggestion.  Without questioning it, I would unhesitantly follow her suggestion.   It was as though I didn’t have a mind of my own — only somehow, I did  not know it.  

My mother died when I was fifty.  By that time, I had ascended to heights of success in the form of society that I call the Mainstream.  I was renting a luxurious room in a large mansion owned by one of many wealthy people for whom I was working. Though I rarely had to work more than twenty hours a week, I was nonetheless making $50,000 a year as a church musician, a music teacher at a private school, and a personal piano and voice teacher.  download

From the moment she died on October 9, 2003, till the moment I first became homeless on May 17, 2004, it was a downward plunge.  As I mentioned in the previous post, my psychiatrist had changed my anti-anxiety medication from Gabapentin to Klonopin on the morning of the day she was to die.  She then died in the afternoon, and I proceeded to have a first-time manic episode.  In a little over seven months, I lost all my jobs, my car, my living situation, and every penny of the $13,000 I had in the bank.

The moment she died, aided by the suppressive power of 6mg of Klonopin, I instantly blocked out every mental image of my mother.  I also immediately forgot every conversation she and I had ever had.  No longer able to call her five times a day, nor able to imagine how she might have directed me, I dispersed my many questions among my various associates.  I began to ask just about everybody, including total strangers, what I should do next.  Then, unquestioningly, I did what they suggested.  It is no wonder I lost my jobs!

My ability to perform in the Mainstream was entirely dependent upon my ability to interact with my mother.   The extent to which she valued personal security over personal freedom had left its mark.  But by the time I became homeless, I was thrust into a kind of liberation from all the icons of stability that the Mainstream had displayed.  But my liberation was tainted, because it lacked an internal association with my true identity.  My identity instead became further squashed and suppressed during twelve years of undignifying, degrading, demeaning homelessness.

So when was I actually liberated from the Mainstream?   It happened the moment I rose up from the prayer that I quoted in the previous entry.  At approximately midnight of an unknown date in July 2016, I fervently appealed to the Universe to put an end to twelve years of homelessness.  I made that appeal in the name of Jesus Christ.  When I rose up from my knees, I sensed something was very different.   I didn’t know it yet — but I was free at last.

Exactly how free, I will divulge in the seventh and final post of this series.  

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Dangers of Liberation (Part Five)

For the sake of new followers I gained shortly before my hiatus, I’ve been thinking to reiterate some themes that are essential to this blog.  But for the sake of my longtime readers, I want to be careful.   In approaching the tail end of the “Dangers of Liberation” series, I wish not to fall prey to repeat information.   I’ve told my story so many times, in so many ways — from so many different angles — that I fear losing some of those who have followed me regularly.   Hopefully, after the last three Thursday posts in this series, my fears will have proven unwarranted.

A particular sound often heard is that I ought to get over the homeless topic and resume writing on other themes about which I am passionate.   This kind of sound does resonate with me.   But I also need to fulfill something I started here.   Hopefully I can impress upon my more longstanding followers that this is not exactly “repeat information,” but the announcement or heralding of something completely new.

After all, isn’t this the essence of liberation?   It is the opposite of being locked into any kind of box.   So what exactly happened after the cacophony of disturbing, disparate events described in the previous post?   How did I get from a place of hurling vindictive curses at the Almighty, to a position of recognizing that He had responded to those prayers, despite my curse?

I mentioned that on June 24, 2016, I walked quietly out of the City of Berkeley without saying a word.   This was immediately after buying a refurbished computer at Bill’s Computer Store on Shattuck Avenue after receiving an advance on my social security check.   Given that I was essentially a marked man, and that the sight of me with a full backpack would indicate to any one of a number of thugs and gang bangers that there was no doubt a laptop inside that backpack, one might think I’d have left Berkeley first, and bought the computer later.  After all, I had had four laptops stolen in Berkeley in the past four years, two of them the result of strong-armed robbery.

But the fact was, Bill had been working on an old Dell Latitude, and he was about to give me a much better deal than I’d have gotten from a complete stranger.   Moreover, I would need as much money as possible to start an entirely new life, outside of Berkeley.

Image result for dell latitude e6430

So, computer in tow, I headed for a small, out-of-the-way city called Burlingame, and for the all-night Royal Donuts shop, where I had some fair standing in the view of the nice Malaysian people who rolled doughnuts all night long, singing songs in their traditional fashion.  Though I was very eager to begin notating all the music I had “written in my head” while walking about the Berkeley city streets, I was also aware that I had practical matters to consider.  I needed to get some kind of roof over my head in a community where homeless services were few and far between.

Long story short, I found a shelter in a nearby city.   I recall the rules being fairly regimented.   For example, all shelter residents were required to attend daily meetings of either Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.   I personally didn’t mind the meetings, because I have a reverence for the Twelve Steps and for that model of dealing with life’s difficulties.   But it was a red flag to find homelessness equated with drug addiction or alcoholism, as though those were the only reasons a person could have become homeless.   As one who was already painfully aware that most people in the San Francisco Bay Area were becoming homeless for socio-economic reasons entirely beyond their control, I found such stigma unsettling.

But there were some perks to being in the shelter.  I began working with a caseworker who rightly determined that the best thing for me would be to move to an entirely new State.   Then, as we began to work on this, I caught the flu.   Clearly, I had caught the flu from other residents in the male barracks who were coughing and sneezing throughout the night.  But the “mistake” I made was to let them know that I had the flu.  I went to the hospital, and came back with medical information.   When the people running the shelter learned of my medical diagnosis, their response was to kick me out of the shelter, lest I contaminate the other residents.

Something about this didn’t seem quite right.   For one thing, my immune system is such that I had only caught a flu twice in the past fifteen years, even though I had lived outdoors throughout most of that period of time.   That I had clearly caught the flu in the very shelter from which I was being expelled was obvious.

So I returned to the hospital in hopes of their letting me stay there.  But their reply was that they couldn’t make a special exemption for me being homeless, otherwise they would have to make exceptions for all homeless people, and the hospital would become overcrowded.  Standard procedure was to write “rest in bed for ten days” on the release form.  Of course, I did not have a bed.  But I couldn’t be made an exception — not in a part of the world where there are thousands of visible homeless people, night after night, lacking beds.

Next I tried the all-night bus that would run from Daly City to Palo Alto repeatedly.  This bus was a haven for sleeping homeless people who had nowhere else to go.  But when the homeless people saw me shivering and heard me sneezing, they too became concerned for their health.   The upshot was that the bus driver kicked me off of the bus, and I had now had literally no options but to suffer a flu of some 100+ degrees with no place to lay my head, except for outdoors in the elements.

It was then that I got on my knees.  Somehow, after twelve years of homelessness and borderline homelessness, it was catching a flu and being denied an indoor bed to rest in and to recuperate, due to no factor other than homelessness, that finally got to me.

I will never forget the exact words to the prayer that I prayed.   Just after midnight on  July 17, 2016,  I hit my knees so hard on the pavement outside of the Sequoia Station in Redwood City, California, I compounded illness with injury in order to scream these words:

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 –
AMEN!!!!

One might argue the theological validity of a prayer worded in such a haphazard fashion – or even its internal logical consistency, for that matter.  Such discussions would be another story altogether.  What is critical here, from the standpoint of Homeless Rights Activism, is that it was the first time I had actually offered the heavens a petition with respect to homelessness itself, and not to all these other stigmatic things that are so often attached to that label.

Mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction and laziness are not identical to homelessness.   But, much as I despised the stigma that was often thrown my way — even to the insistence that, as a homeless person, I needed to attend A.A. or N.A. meetings in order to sustain residence in a shelter — I myself suffered from the same stigmatic assaults on my identity.   My true identity, as the sociologist Erving Goffman framed it, was “spoiled” by perceptions people have toward the homeless.

Stigma Quotes. QuotesGram

Had this not been the case, I’d have certainly found within me the power or presence of mind to have prayed such a prayer long ago.   In fact, the practical wisdom of leaving the State of California and the San Francisco Bay Area in particular had been offered me by friends whom I knew from the Internet as early as 2004 — when I was first becoming homeless.   But I did not have the ears to listen.

I did not have the ears to hear the fullness of the fact that my problem — far and away more serious than any of its associated labels — was homelessness.   I had basically bought into all the very lies that I disdained.

That, above all things, is what kept me homeless for all those years.  I saw the contradictory nature of what it was assumed I must be.   I saw the ridiculous horrors of myself and others being treated as criminals, our true stories disbelieved by authority figures.  I felt the frustration we all felt when having to face such demeaning treatment.   But still, I hung on to the false notion that there must have been something about me that was innately flawed in such a way that I would never warrant a normal, self-respecting living situation such as even thieves and criminals are able to secure in our society.  I never fully allowed the truth about homelessness to enter my heart.

Why not?

The short, simple answer would be low self esteem.  That, combined with a certain measure of social indoctrination.  When one hears something about oneself repeatedly, by people who appear to be in authority, one eventually begins to believe it.

But there’s a deeper answer than this.   The dynamic of believing what one is told about oneself is most common when one is a child.   In such a case, the looming figures of authority are one’s parents.   Though my father had been dead since 1985, and my mother more recently deceased, they still remained the original authorities, exerting their influence upon me even as they tried to steer me away from dangerous behavior.

My mother died on October 9, 2003.   That morning, I had beseeched Kaiser Redwood City to put me back on a medication called Klonopin, being as the past three years under the medication Gabapentin had been extremely challenging for me.    While it is true that the combination of the med switch and my mother’s death triggered what psychiatry calls a “first time manic episode,” and it is true that I lost a $50,000 annual income, a home, a car, and all my professional accounts in the process, there is a deeper truth at work here.

The full extent to which my relationship with my mother ensured on a daily basis the type of sanity I needed to function in the workaday world of the Mainstream was something I was not to grasp until years later.   Essentially, hearing of her death so soon after many of my senses were being dulled by 6mg/day of a powerful sedative — the highest legal dosage at the time — resulted in my blocking out the feeling of every interaction I had ever known with the person with whom I was undoubtedly the closest.

Like the motherless child whom I was, I then began to seek her guidance and comfort through the many disparate, detached figures of authority whom I soon found in the vast cosmic orphanage that is Homelessness.   The horrible degree to which her nurturing love was cloned by the callous manipulations of an impassive band of power-hungry scoundrels was something I would have to face fully, were I ever to come to know the true identity of my actual enemy in life.

The manner in which my mother represented the Mainstream needed to be understood and embraced in completion, if I were ever to succeed in crafting a life free of her restrictions, and full of the independent identity that is mine and mine alone.

It will take me two more posts to drive the point home.

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Tuesday Tuneup 70

Q. What’s going on inside?

A. Composing.

Q. Composing what?

A. Music.

Q. This happens inside you?

A. Yes.

Q. But don’t you use music notation software?

A. I do.  But that’s for the notating of the stuff that’s already been composed.

Q. And it gets composed inside you?

A. Yes.

Q. But what if you don’t have music notation software?   Do you just write it down?

A. I could, but it makes my hand hurt.  Besides, I always lose the pieces of paper I write it on.  So I’m left with a hurting hand, and no record of the music.

Q. But you haven’t always had music notation software, have you?

A. Of course not.

Q. What did you do before music notation software?

A. Nothing. I just tried to remember it all.

Q. And then, when they finally came up with notation software, what did you do?

A. I didn’t get out of my bathrobe for about two weeks, and I bugged the heck out of the entire Finale tech support team.   I didn’t answer the phone or the door.   Everybody wondered what had become of me.   I sat inside my rented room in November of 2004 and didn’t stop notating until the entire 15 page piano vocal score of my song, “Where is Eden?” was arranged.

Hideout 20clipart | Clipart Panda - Free Clipart Images

Q. You wrote a song called “Where is Eden?”

A. Of course.

Q. What about when your laptops would be stolen, like say when you were homeless in Berkeley, what did you do then?

A. I replicated the various instrumental sounds on my body.

Q. Where did you do this?

A. Where do you think I did it?  I was homeless, wasn’t I?  I did it outdoors.

Q. So people saw you do this?

A. Yes.

Q. Wasn’t that kinda rude?

A. “Rude” comes with the territory.  “Vindictive” might be a better word.   

Q. How so?

A. I figured Berkeley was treating me like shit.   So I got back at Berkeley — in protest.

ugly

Q. But don’t you love Berkeley?

A. I most certainly do.

Q. Then why be vindictive or rude?

A. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Q. Are you saying the entire city was vindictive and rude?

A. Pretty much.  At least, in comparison to where I am now.

Q. What are they like where you are now?

A. Kind, courteous, considerate, compassionate, caring —

Q. Isn’t that how Berkeley used to be?

A. Yes.  And hopefully it’s how Berkeley will be in her future.

Q. Berkeley will no longer treat her own like shit?

A. Let’s hope not.  And I pray.   Berkeley has fallen.  But I believe Berkeley will rise again.

Q. Is there something special about Berkeley?

A. Yes.  Even in all its rudeness, violence, and hypocrisy.   There’s a spirit in Berkeley that, though it be quenched, cannot be killed.  And that spirit, ultimately, is of respect for all people.  It does not treat anyone like shit.

Q. How was Berkeley treating you like shit?

A. How do people in congested urban areas treat homeless people?

Q. But don’t homeless people in Berkeley treat people who live indoors like shit?

A. In Berkeley?   They sure do.  A lot of them do anyway.  And most of that is vindictiveness.   It’s hard to tell which came first — the chicken or the egg.  And of course, there are exceptions to the rule, on either side.

Q. So when you were writing music so flagrantly, weren’t you afraid people would steal it?

A. Of course.  That’s a fear all composers have.  But I have plenty of proof that I wrote the music.   And we’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it.  Next question, please.

Q. Do you think people even knew you were writing music?

A. I tried to disguise it, but some people knew, I’m sure.

Q. How did you try to disguise it?

A. By acting crazy.

Q. Why did you act crazy?

A. So I would fit in with all the other crazy people, and not be conspicuous or stand out.  

Q. How did you act crazy?

A. I think I’ve told you already.  I walked around town, loudly singing melodies by going “bop bop bop,” playing drum beats on my pants legs, and playing keyboards and electric guitars in the air.

Q. What about the bass parts?

A. Oops, almost forgot.  I used my tummy.

Q. You think people figured you for crazy?

A. Crazy, or annoying, or both.   One time a fellow with a foreign accent emerged from a nearby store, and shouted back at me: “Bop Bop Bop Bop Bop!”  He did so in a very mocking way.

Q. How did you respond?

A. I turned to him and said: “If you were a composer, and you had no place to live, and your laptops were constantly being stolen by violent thugs on the streets, and you couldn’t access your music notation sofware, how would you compose music?”

Q. Then how did he respond?

A. He apologized.  He said: “Oh, I’m sorry, sir!  I did not know!”

Q. Did you ever explain what you were doing to anyone else?

A. Sometimes, to Americans.  But they never believed me.   The foreigner both challenged me, and believed my reply.   The Americans, every one of them, only told me I was crazy, and often told me to shut up.

Q. What about the cops?

A. They just waved at me.   They knew I was Andy — one of the local wingnuts — as they called them, and that I was harmless.

Q. Why are you releasing all this information?

A. Because I have recently begun to compose music again, after a long lull.   I felt that the music, composed internally, was actually coming from an invisible external realm.  But it seemed to depend upon homelessness.  When I got inside, I couldn’t compose anymore.  I have composed one and only one song since I got inside, a song called Anthem.  I sequenced it with Finale software.   It was difficult for me, and then I gave up.   

Q. But now you can compose?

A. Yes. It took three and a half years, but I got it back.  And it’s also coming from an external realm, but being processed inside of me.

Q. Is the external realm — the Beyond?   The place you described in Tuesday Tuneup 68?

A. No.  The stuff I wrote in Berkeley came from Beyond.

Q. What about this stuff?

A. It’s from Above.

Q. What’s the difference?

A. A very good question, that.

The Questioner is silent.   

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Dangers of Liberation (Part Four)

This is the fourth in a seven-part series I am posting on consecutive Thursdays.  Though the series is only quasi-chronological, I urge you to leaf through the first three first.  

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Drawing by Granger

The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard referred to the moment, not as “an atom of time,” but as an “atom of eternity.”  That’s how the moment of August 8, 2006 felt.  One might say that time stood still at that moment, and I had a glimpse of the eternal bliss we might experience in heaven.

This is one reason why I framed this series as I did.   A chronological order of events would not be as meaningful as a spiritual progression, which in a way defies time.  My first day of homelessness was not August 8, 2006 — it was May 17, 2004.  But the night of May 17, 2004 was a night of fright and awful uncertainty, afraid to make myself prone on a bench at the Burlingame CalTrain station, but sitting up all night, nodding off periodically, and watching for cops all the while.

By contrast, the event of August 8, 2006 was one of momentary ecstasy, but where did that moment lead?  Down the tubes fairly quickly, as I recall.  Its memory, however, did not fade.

That memory was in fact felt in retrospect.  For on March 19, 2004, I took a look at my badly beaten car, its front end crunched like an accordion.   As I discovered the freedom of public transportation, of leaving the driving to those more capable than myself, I was granted a foreshadow of the more complete liberation I would know two years in the future.

The horror that marked my final three years in Berkeley was also foretold.  It wasn’t until June 24, 2013 that I first found myself pistol-whipped, as I watched a pair of young hooligans making off with my laptop.   But on some unknown date back in June of 2004, I had known a much more serious violation, of the kind that in civil society it is not thought proper to discuss.

The complex confluence of incongruous influences that comprised the conditions of homelessness was never considered a drain or an overload, in the way that the Mainstream had been.  The overload of the Mainstream was death to my soul. But all the excesses of stimuli that combined to create the Homeless Adventure were health to my spirit, and marrow to my bones.

“Naked I am!” I shouted.  “I am stripped of all I have ever thought I would be!  I have made myself naked and vulnerable in the face of a fully mercurial and often hostile Universe!”

I saw all my possessions be burned to bits before my eyes, the act of an unfeeling young juggaloe who hadn’t slept in days.   I was hurled to the ground by deluded gangbangers, shouting “I’m going to kill you White Motherf—-r!” — as they hit me again and again with the barrels of their guns, on the head I had bowed before them.

Yet through all these atrocities, I found it in myself to sleep on my back without bedroll in a thunderstorm, exerting pelvic thrusts in the direction of the full moon, and reveling.

“Bring it on!” I screamed.  “I want more!  I want more!!”

Then, getting up, fully clad and with shoes on — (for I always slept in shoes, so as to be ready) — I suddenly shivered.   So what did I do?   Of course, I ran as far as I could, as fast as I could, till I warmed.

When the sun shone, and the daylight burned, I walked about the City of Berkeley and composed music in protest, having not paper nor pen, neither software, nor laptop, no possessions at all, save the clothes on my back.

“Bop bop bop!” came the singing of the melodies.   My weathered trousers were as sets of drums.   Keyboards and electric guitars anointed the air, while passersby mocked and mimicked me, shouting: “Shut the f—k up!”  Meanwhile, seemingly unbeknowst to them, I composed the score to Eden in Babylon— to my proud estimation, the finest music I have written thus far, to date — in the timeless spool of life.

“That’s your whole problem!” my naysayers chided.  “You think that your music is more important than God.”

“Ah but no,” I replied.  “It’s your problem.  You think that your Mainstream is God.”

There was nothing Mainstream about the Uniqueness that was Homelessness in Berkeley.  So for all of the fears, the highs, and the rages, it yet remained sacred — to me.

“How do we get inside again?” my friend Jerome had earlier queried.   “How do we get back inside, and yet not get sucked back into the Mainstream?”

In search of answer, I shouted at the Most High in outrage.

“WHY am I hanging around pimps and hookers and drug dealers and thieves and criminals and hustlers and panhandlers?   WHY am I not among Artists and Writers and Musicians and Actors and Directors — and people more like myself!?  I know — I know — these are the people whom JESUS hung out with!   But I’m NOT JESUS!!! I’m NOT JESUS!!  I’m only f—ing human!!!  Give me a god-d—–d break!!!!”

Many times did I scream to the God of my youth.  Many times someone screamed back at me: “Would you just shut the f—-k up?!”

Then came the terrifying threats of the night.  “This guy,” said a jealous man, pointing my way, “is not going to live much longer.”

“You know what?” I told myself.  “He’s probably right.”

So on June 24, 2016, exactly three years after the first of a series of violent assaults against my person, I went down to Bill’s Computer Store on Shattuck Avenue, bought myself a refurbished Dell laptop with my government check, and walked quietly away from the City of Berkeley without saying a word.

God then proceeded to answer every prayer I had hurled toward Him, facing His Infinite Love with hatred and vitriol.   He answered those prayers sevenfold, nay — seventy times sevenfold — in spades.   And He provided a way for me to live inside without getting sucked back into the evils of the Mainstream.   In so doing, He showed me the hugeness of His unfathomable, unconditional love.  

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Dangers of Liberation (Part Three)

It would be tempting for me to recount just about everything that took place between August 12, 2006 and April 15, 2011.   But that would be a story in itself — perhaps even a novel or a book.   Suffice it to say that my travels during that period of time were extremely disjointed.   They represented the trek of a man who, having already realized that the Mainstream held nothing for him, nevertheless engaged himself in a five year plan of pointless futility, hanging on to the remnants of a former Mainstream identity.  To everyone in my path, this leg of my journey appeared to be nothing other than a poisonous mixture of insanity and instability.   I bounced from Lodi to Redwood City to Stockton, back to Redwood City, up to Oakland, and back to Stockton, with frenetic periods in between where I could claim no single city as my own.  "BenjaminAlways, I was haunted by the lure of Berkeley and its particularly special brand of homelessness.  Having tasted of that heavenly fruit, there was no way I could return to anything like my former system of values without incurring disaster.  Berkeley loomed as though a Mecca for all who had embraced this unusual consciousness.  In fact, prior to the momentous event of August 8, 2006, there was even a previous moment in the Fall of 2005 that served as a kind of prophecy of unknown times to come.   Someone had driven me to visit my daughter where she was working at the Jamba Juice on Bancroft, and as I stepped out of the car, I suddenly found myself  lifting up my hands in a spontaneous gesture of amazement, shouting: “Berkeley!   This is where I’ve got to be!”

To this day, I have no idea what prompted that outburst.  Something in the air of this peculiar city had caught my attention in a way that no other place ever had.   And then, there was the mysterious revelation of 2006, followed by the tortuous premature application of that epiphany in the next three days, prompting a five year disappearance into failed jobs, shelters, residence hotels, and psych wards, until at last, on April 15, 2011, I gave up the ghost.

On that day, I took $40, left the last of a series of untenable living situations, got on an AmTrak, and alighted once again on the City of Berkeley, this time with the full intent of my heart.

That night I hooked up with a fellow named Sydney, sold my cell phone for a blanket, and the two of us slept in a corridor near the U.C. campus.  Far from the earlier disorientation, I now found myself guided, as if by an unseen hand, to every resource for the homeless that the city had to offer.  It was at that time that I also was directed to numerous other homeless men and women whom I discovered to be very much like myself.   All of them shared a similar story of having been “liberated” from an evil form of bondage that we called the Mainstream.

One of these was a tall African-American man named Jerome.  For the first five days of my intentional homelessness, I chatted with him at Starbucks.  He was well-dressed — as was I — and it took five days before either of us discovered the other was homeless.  At that, we decided to camp out together.  (There’s safety, after all, in numbers.)

“Here’s the challenge,” Jerome said one night.  “How do get inside again without getting sucked back into the Mainstream?”

“That is indeed the challenge,” I replied.

Then there was silence.

There are many levels to liberation.  As I wrote in Part Two of this series, one is not just liberated from something.   One is liberated into something.   And that something might just morph into an ogre as forbidding as that from which one had been released in the first place.

For my part, there is no true liberation, unless one is liberated into Christ.   “If you make my Word your home,” said Jesus, “you will indeed be my disciples.  You will learn the truth — and the truth will make  you free.”  

When one has found a home, one needs to maintain it.  Otherwise one will have a home no longer.   Even the freedom that there is in Christ is not an absolute arrival.   To what extent I had found liberation it now needed to be tilled like a garden.  Otherwise, it would morph into a beast as threatening as the Mainstream from which I first fled.

For better or worse, that is what happened with homelessness.  It developed into a world of its own, with rules of its own, many of them tacitly acknowledged — unwritten and unspoken, yet real.   And those rules bespoke betrayal, vengeance, and death.

Though the first months of homelessness in Berkeley were little short of blissful, even on into the second year, eventually my old enemy reared his head, though in a different and far more frightening form.   Just how bad it got, it will disturb me greatly to tell.  But I’ll tell it, as cogently as I can, in Part Four.

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Dangers of Liberation (Part Two)

This post is a sequel to Dangers of Liberation (Part One).  I strongly urge you to read it first, if you want to get the most out of this one.   

I am not the only person who has had an experience like the one described in the first post of this series.  After the unbelievable epiphany of August 8, 2006, I was later to be drawn toward a number of individuals who reported a very similar event.  The problem, however, is that the information received in that moment was processed prematurely, in a mind that was unready for so radical a change.   So I didn’t encounter the others till about five years later.  

Liberation is a two-way street.  It’s not just that someone finds themselves released from a form of inner bondage or imprisonment.  When one is liberated, they are released into a new realm.   The nature of that realm is of extreme significance.   We are not only liberated from.  We are liberated into.  

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all ...

This raises a couple questions. From what sort of inner prison were we released?  Essentially, it was a conglomerate of rules, customs, social mores, status symbols, contracts, hierarchies, schedules, regimens, routines and protocols that ran contrary to our natural God-given design and character.  For lack of a better word, I and others called this conglomerate the Mainstream.   It was a stifling force, the Mainstream, whose role was to quench the spirit.  

To what sort of freedom were we liberated?  To freedom from the outmoded rules of a former day.  From customs by which we could no longer abide.  From social mores that bespoke hypocrisy, status symbols we no longer possessed, contracts severed, hierarchies violated, schedules disregarded, regimens rejected, routines discarded, and protocols exposed.   Where could we find such freedom?

Only in homelessness.  Everything else reflected a Mainstream that never served our true natures, and from which we were eventually severed.

It took five hard years for me to find the others who shared this unusual gift.  For in the days that followed that moment of bliss, I struggled to process the strange twists and turns that came of outdoor living.  I learned, for one thing, that a person doesn’t just walk into a shelter and expect to be served.  There was an application process, and a long waiting line, before one could be granted a bed.   So for three days I struggled to manage, with no money, no roof over my head, stuck and stranded in a strange town called Berkeley.

By the third day, my thinking was very much awry.  I got in with the wrong crowd, and long story short, found myself running from would-be assailants.   Though I believe I eluded the two young rapscallions, I was by that time completely spent.  In desperation, I flagged down a police car and beseeched them for help.   Discerning my mania, the officers had no problem escorting me to the place where they felt I belonged.

So on August 11, 2006, I sat in the John George Psychiatric Pavilion, having persuaded myself and others that my issue was merely one of untreated bipolar disorder.  The entire memory of a momentary freedom now paled in the wake of a serious disease.  In that downtrodden state, I permitted the clinicians to diagnose my liberation, and prescribe me the mood stabilizer Depakote.   After a single night’s stay in the psych ward, my thinking was clear enough to steer me toward a $50 PayPal loan from a friend in Las Vegas, a one-way Greyhound ticket to a small town in the Valley, a shelter, a clinic, and a cheap residence hotel.  

“I must have been out of my mind!” I told myself.  And then, for five years, I followed the guidelines of a Mainstream I’d already rejected in my heart.

It was not until April 15, 2011, that I took the next plunge into the realm where the memory of a transcendent event had informed my true spirit.   On that day, I took $40, left the last of a series of untenable living situations, hopped on an AmTrak, alighted upon the City of Berkeley once again, and proceeded to become Homeless by Choice.  

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Dangers of Liberation (Part One)

This post was lifted from its original manifestation of approximately one year ago.  I didn’t feel ready at that time to produce the next four parts of the series.  I do now.  

On August 8, 2006, I sat at the corner of Shattuck and Kitteredge in Berkeley, California, three blocks North of the Royal Grounds Cafe, where I had just spent my last two dollars on coffee.   

I had walked back and forth, to and fro, not knowing where I was going.  It gradually dawned on me that I had nowhere left to go.  I had spent my entire severance check after leaving my summer job as a singing teacher with Children’s Musical Theatre San Jose.  I had spent it all on taxicabs, meals in restaurants, and motel rooms.   So I sat down, expecting to enter into total misery.  Instead, I entered into total bliss.

Mihai Eminescu Quote: “I understand that a man can have everything having nothing and nothing ...

I finally had nothing.  Nothing to prove anymore.  Nothing to hold on to.  Nothing to need to protect or salvage or horde.  Nothing that could be coveted or stolen.  Nothing that I needed to accomplish or achieve.   

And in having nothing, I realized that I was open to everything.  In an instant, everything that the Universe had to offer came soaring into my consciousness.  All the gifts of life — the very gifts that my worldly concerns had blinded me from seeing — were now not only visible, but tangible, accessible, and omnipresent.  

I found paper and pen, and I wrote down these words:

I have indeed hit bottom.
And at the moment when I reached my bottom,
I realized that I had reached the very top.
At that moment, I was Buddha.

While this surprising sense of liberation was very real, and while it was destined to impact me for years to come, its accompanying bliss was short-lived.  Within three days, I was to see its downside in a dramatic way.   And the bittersweet dynamic thereof informed my later thought.

So I’ve decided to use the next several Thursdays to post my thoughts on this theme as best I can.   There are distinct dangers involved when one permits oneself to receive gifts of joy and happiness from sources commonly associated with misery and despair.  I’ll do my best to illustrate what the years following that experience have held for me.  Hopefully, I can do so with clarity.

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Tuesday Tuneup 66

Q. What are you doing here?

A. Having a third cup of coffee.

Q. Was there something wrong with the first two cups?

A. No — in fact, there was something right about them.

Q. What was that?

A. They tasted good.

Q. Are you trying to tell me that just because your first two cups of coffee tasted good, you’re drinking a third one?

A. That’s what I said, isn’t it?

Q. Well — don’t you think there’s something wrong with you?

A. There are many things wrong with me, as with us all.  But what are you driving at?

Q. Don’t you know that it’s unhealthy to indulge that which you enjoy to unneeded extremes?

A. Uh — a third cup of coffee is an “unneeded extreme?”

Q. Isn’t it well known that two cups of coffee are sufficient for all?   And that a third cup is extreme?

A. But how often do I actually have a third cup?

Q. I don’t know – how often?

A. Almost never.

Q. Your point?

A. My point is that it would be more extreme to remain at two cups every morning than to allow myself the occasional indulgence of a third cup.

Q. So you justify your indulgence on the basis of its rarity?

A. Yes.  It is so rare that I bother having a third cup of coffee, that I really don’t think I am in danger of overdoing it.

Q. Have you experienced any palpitations of the heart lately?

A. None.

Q. What about your excrement?  Notice anything strange in your poop?

A. Funny, my doctor asked me the same two questions last week.  And again I say, none.

Q. Why did your doctor ask you those questions?

A. Low thyroid, apparently.

Q. But don’t you take thyroid medication?

A. Begrudgingly, yes.

Q. Why is it begrudging?

A. Because I have to wait a half hour after taking it before I am allowed to have a morning cup of coffee.

Q. Isn’t that cruel and unusual punishment?

A. It has occurred to me more than once that the doctor’s orders are a violation of my 8th Amendment Rights.

Eighth Amendment: Banning Cruel and Unusual Punishment - David J. Shestokas

Q. And who else has violated your 8th Amendment Rights?

A. Glad you asked.   Before 2016, when I was experiencing homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area, lots of people violated my 8th Amendment Rights because they kept waking me up when I had nowhere else to sleep.  Then finally Martin v. Boise came into effect, and Judge Marsha Berson ruled that it is unconstitutional to wake up someone who is sleeping on public property and tell them to move, if in fact they have nowhere else to sleep.  So, at least in the 9th Circuit, including most Western States, I am free to be homeless again and not fear unjust awakening.

Q. Do you want to be homeless again?

A. Kinda.

Q. Why?

A. You want an honest answer?

Q. Of course.

A. Because I got to be good at it.   Really, the main thing that bothered me was all the awakenings in the middle of the night, when I was only trying to get a good night’s sleep.

Q. But will those awakenings stop just because of a new ruling?

A. Come to think of it, probably not.

Q. Why not?

A. For one thing, not all of the awakenings were by authority figures.   A lot of them were by other homeless people, and many of them were by random thieves and vandals roaming the area looking for easy marks.   What mark could be easier than a sleeping homeless person?

Q. So you say you got a lot of things stolen from you in the middle of the night?

A. Yes.  Also was threatened to bodily harm quite a bit, when I awakened to the sight of a stranger telling me I had stolen “his spot.”

Q. Would you say homelessness has lost its appeal?

A. Most of it, yes.

Q. Why did it ever appeal to you in the first place?

A. As earlier stated, it seemed a thing I could probably do well.   After all, I wasn’t managing very well at hanging on to a living situation.

Q. But you’re hanging on to your living situation now, aren’t you?

A. Seems that way, yes.  In a few short days I will have paid my rent on time for the 26th month in a row.   And prior to that, on a smaller cheaper place, fifteen months in a row.

Q. Doesn’t that give you a sense of stability?

A. It does.

Q. Then why on earth would you ever consider being homeless again?

A. Why on earth should I value something like “stability?”

Q. What do you mean?

A. We’re all going to die anyway, right?

Q. So?

A. So there’s no such thing as stability on this planet.  If we get too attached to things that make us feel stable, they will eventually be taken from us, and then we will have a really hard time letting go of them.  Better not to become so attached.  Better to be ready for anything.

Q. Anything?

A. You heard me.  Especially nowadays.   It is better to live spontaneously, and for one to ready oneself for anything — than to seek the fragile semblances of stability that this passing world has to offer.

Q. You really believe that?

A. I said it, didn’t I?

Q, Why do I find that hard to believe?

A. I don’t know.  Why do you?   

The Questioner is silent.  

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Paralyzed

Meant to get this to you earlier.  It was first published in the October “special issue” of Street Spirit and subsequently submitted to the International Network of Street Papers, where it has been published elsewhere.   And now, here as well.   Hope you enjoy it.  

Paralyzed: The Demons That Prey on the Homeless
by Andy Pope

When one is homeless, one is by definition exposed to all kinds of elements that escape the confines of one who lives indoors.  Weather is only one such element.  There are also predatorial elements — people who invade the space of someone who has no physical barrier to separate them from intruders of the night.

There is also another kind of predator sometimes encountered in the darkness.  This is the supernatural predator, often colloquially referred to as a “demon” — an entity that invades one’s dream states, or states of half-sleep.

Homeless friends of mine reported being “hassled” or “attacked” by malevolent entities that seemed to hover over various outdoor spots where we tried to sleep.  I sometimes sensed these invasions as well.  Typically, I would become paralyzed, and suddenly feel as though an invisible hostile creature was grabbing me and rubbing or scratching me with things that felt like paws or claws.  Sometimes I would feel as though I were being pounded on.  I would hear abusive voices as this happened: “Andy, you scum bag!! You are a total piece of shit!!!!”

Whether these were truly alien invaders from outer space, or merely the subconscious reflection of my own low self-esteem, I cannot say.

I learned that these attacks have a name: sleep paralysis.  Sleep paralysis is a condition where one is awake to one’s surroundings but lacks motor control.  In other words, you’re not awake enough to move your body, but awake enough to know what’s going on.  It often strikes during times when the usual patterns of sleep have been disrupted.  In my experience, very few things have disrupted my normal sleep patterns as much as the overall conditions of homelessness.

As a person who has had sleep paralysis since the age of 14, I am among the 8 percent of the population for whom this condition is commonplace.  When I was homeless, I noticed that these intrusions would be different depending on when and where they occurred.  For example, intrusions in Ohlone Park were different than those that took place on the steps of St. Joseph the Worker church or outside the Rubicon building.  I always sensed that I was being assaulted by some kind of invisible entity, but the nature of the entity would differ according to where it was that I was trying (unsuccessfully) to sleep.

If I were to take a daytime nap on Bart, however, I noticed that I was free of these mysterious assailants.  However, when the train would stop, sometimes they would attack.  This gave rise to the theory that they lived in a reality that intersected the normal Earth-based reality at certain spots, but that they were unable to traverse the surface of the Earth — at least not at speeds corresponding to those of rapid transit.   This theory is reminiscent of the concept of the “tesseract” expounded in the book A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine l’Engel.  

Another theory had to do with the veracity of these demon-riddled reports.  How plausible were they really?   How credible were those who reported them?   And most of all, who was most likely to believe them?  I could not help but notice that those who were impoverished, homeless, on disability, working poor, or low-wage blue collar or assembly line workers were the quickest to embrace and believe my reports of sleep paralysis.  Often, people in the lower socio-economic brackets would share their own similar experiences of encounters with “demons.”  But people in the scientific community, upper level academicians, white collar workers, and corporate business people seemed often to scoff at our accounts, writing them off the same way that they wrote off all of our statements.  To be sure, this is another type of paralysis — one that is relentless, and occurs in broad daylight.

Whatever the cause or effect of these widespread stories, one thing seemed most disturbingly clear.  There were legions of demons haunting the realm of the disadvantaged, the underprivileged, the unprotected, and the abandoned.  Whether they meet us in dream states or in harsh reality, there are far more homeless demons than meet the eye.

Andy Pope is a freelance writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest, and the author of Eden in Babylon, a musical about youth homelessness in urban America.   

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