My faithful Ram 1500 had a recall notice for the Exhaust Gas Recirculating system. They said it would take about four hours, so I figured I’d wander the streets of Santa Rosa.
In a previous post called “Fixing The Brakes” I spoke about how I think it’s wrong to ignore the homeless. I don’t mean giving them money. That will likely go for alcohol, or other things that don’t bear thinking about. I just go around and talk to them. Listen to their stories.
So let me invite you to come on a walk with me to the land down at the bottom of the ladder.
Me, I consider myself the luckiest man alive. I’ve ridden the freights. I’ve played in the band for a Governor General’s ball. I’ve dredged for gold in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, worked longshore loading 300 pound (135 kg) bales of pulp in Sitka, fished in the Bering Sea, had a diamond business, worked as a cowboy, horse and all, played guitar in Greenwich Village coffee houses, blackmailed a Japanese Ambassador, been the Service Manager for the Fiji Apple dealer, worked as the Chief Financial Officer for an $40 million a year oil company, been the piano man in a Philippines whorehouse, smuggled … um … curious things across the US border, kidnapped Ronald Reagan, ran a shipyard on a remote South Pacific coral atoll, worked as a psychotherapist administering LSD therapy, and a host of other adventures. What better life could a man ask for? Like I say … luckiest man alive.
So I figure I should do what I can for those who’ve ended up at the bottom of the ladder.
My style is, I buy a pack of cigarettes to give away. These days they’re fifty cents per smoke, way out of some folks price range. And I buy a couple of “Two For Five Dollars” burgers at some cheap joint. Then I start out walking.
I was stopped by this palatial accomodation. Good planning, they’re out of the rain.
Here, I talked to the “owner” of the … scenic resting place and his friend. His friend had little beside his clapped out bicycle and a scruffy dog that was his good companion. He said things were going OK with him, he hadn’t been in jail in six months. I asked what he’d been in for … his explanation was rather vague. He waved his hands a lot and mumbled about how it was maybe some unpaid tickets, he’d been drinking, and besides, he wasn’t even there at the time.
I nodded my head as if I believed him.
I offered the owner a cigarette. He said “No thanks, I still have four or five of them”. A rich man by the local standards, and a man who still had his pride.
Wandering along, I came to an entire row of various types of things to keep the rain off. A man and his wife are living in this collection of tarps.
I gave the man one of my two small hamburgers. He said he’d give it to his wife … love endures.
Not all of the homeless housing is so … random. This place was across the street.
Looks kinda comfortable … except for all the trash.
And of course, in the middle of this encampment, I see this sign:
Next, I came across a hundred-foot obelisk … from a distance I couldn’t see what it was made of:
Upon closer inspection, I noted that it was in front of the Nissan dealer … and it was made entirely of crushed bicycles and bike parts. Hilarious.
Walking further, I see a business called the “Puff Puff Pass Smoke Shop” … I’m guessing they sell more than tobacco.
I continued down the street. The homeless are everywhere. I gave cigarettes to those who looked like they wanted them. Nobody refused. And I gave my other hamburger to a man sitting on a street corner, mumbling and looking at the ground. He was clearly non compos mentis. He took the hamburger. He said … nothing …
But his eyes were on the hamburger, as if it had miraculously appeared out of the void he inhabits, so it was understandable that he couldn’t speak.
Nearing the end of my voyage, I came across a most curious young man. We sat on a bench and talked a bit. He was smoking a joint, and offered me some. I declined graciously.
He said he’d come to town to go to Santa Rosa Junior College, but our stupid Governor’s regulations had closed it. I agreed, and told him that Florida was wide open, no lockdowns, no masks, and it’s number 21 on the list of COVID deaths by state.
A crow flew up and landed on the phone wires. We talked about how smart crows and ravens are. Two more crows showed up to confer with the first. I said they were my favorite birds. In a voice tinged with infinite sadness, he said that he didn’t have a favorite bird … with the clear implication that somehow, he didn’t deserve one.
I asked how he was doing. He said he was good, and that as long as he took his medicine the voices didn’t bother him much. He had a job at McDonalds, but he was broke and his payday was a week away. But he wasn’t angling for money, it was just another fact.
Then he said “I died last week”.
Yeah, right, I thought, sounds like the voices are back. So I kept my face expressionless and my incredulity in check … I said “How did you die?”
He said a friend of his had told him that he could get really high if he smoked fentanyl. YIKES! Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine … I asked what happened.
He said he took one puff, and that was it. He woke up twenty minutes or so later in the ambulance with an EMT giving him Narcan and another giving him CPR. Once he was back from wherever he’d gone, he asked them if he’d been dead. They said yes, his heart had stopped, but they’d restarted it. He said the doctor told him that his heart might have been damaged and to come back in if he had chest pains. He hadn’t had any, he said … well, except for a few little twinges …
I said “So did you give up on the fentanyl?”
He said yes, that was it for fentanyl. In the future, he earnestly assured me, he was entirely done with fentanyl. I said that was good.
Yep, he said, he’d had a real wakeup call. He was going straight. In the future, he said, he was just going to stick to meth …
I said I didn’t think that was the best of plans. We discussed “meth mouth”, where your teeth fall out. And the recurring problem of imaginary bugs under your skin, that you scratch and scratch … he didn’t look like he’d been using it long. If I’d had them on me, I would have shown him these pictures. Curiously, he looked like the guy on the left, who is also the guy on the right.
But I didn’t have the pictures … so I did what I could to convince him to do anything but meth.
He said he’d give it a shot. I was not optimistic. I told him that the voices in his head were not his friends. He said when he didn’t take his medicine the voices got strong and he had to obey them … I suggested that might not be the best course.
When I left to go back to the auto shop to get my truck, because he hadn’t asked for them, I gave him the half-pack of remaining cigarettes.
He thanked me profusely, and said that he’d been wondering where he’d get enough smokes to get him through to payday. I said it had been a pleasure talking with him, and it was true.
Let me be clear. I have no brilliant plan to end homelessness. I don’t think it’s a good idea to let them camp out on the streets. That rarely ends well. And I don’t think it is a good idea to make it easier for them to be homeless. The most hilarious bad plan I’ve heard of in that regard was to give them free shopping carts so they didn’t have to steal them from the store … yeah, that will fix the problem.
So in lieu of a plan, I just go and talk with them. I look them in the eye. I don’t look down on them. I deal with them as human beings. From talking with them, I know that the worst thing about being homeless is that they are invisible. Everyone looks the other way, and when by mistake they chance to look at the homeless, they look with pity or contempt. The winners don’t acknowledge that the losers are even alive, and certainly not human.
So I do with them what I do with everyone. I ask them about their lives. I talk about how they became homeless … usually it’s some witches’ brew of addiction, alcoholism, bad luck, and voices in their heads.
Most of all, I give them a chance to talk with someone who isn’t in the midst of that life, someone whom the fates have treated well, someone who fortune has smiled upon. I confirm that they are worth something, that they are not invisible, that on some level we’re all the same, winners and losers alike.
Anyhow, that was what happened when I was getting my truck fixed. I got in, and drove back home to my lovely house in the forest hills that I built with my own hands, back to my gorgeous ex-fiancee and my daughter, son-in-law and sixteen-month-old grand-daughter who live with us. When I pulled in, I could see the ocean peeking through the V in the hills, smiling at me …
Did I mention that I’m the luckiest man on earth? And when I chance to forget that … I know just who to go talk to.
My best to all of you, stay well,