So, my drink of choice along with my post for this evening was a west coast IPA from Greenflash, and it was pretty good. Fittingly named, because I am on the west coast as I write this. Specifically, San Diego, which claims home to 93 craft breweries in San Diego county alone. I have been here for 4 days, accompanying my husband on a work conference, and it is a sweet place. San Diegans like beer, the beach, dogs, and they go to mass in flip flops. I have been sitting poolside, reading and relaxing. What’s not to love?
But yesterday, after mangling my wrist in an uncooperative 100 pound wooden chaise by the pool and almost becoming impaled by a swinging umbrella, I figured I had better not tempt fate again. So I thought I’d venture out and about.
I am a person who when vacationing, and maybe in general, cannot overlook disparity. When lying on the clothing-optional beach in Jamaica, (yes, I did it, much to the delight of my husband), I was thinking about the miles of slums we passed so that I could lay topless.
In Cancun, I fretted about the non-living wages of the resort workers. They were like colonies of honeybees. Tireless, industriously sweeping non-existent sidewalk dirt, incessantly blending tropical drinks. All for what probably amounted to 2 bucks a day. Notorious over-tipper that I am, my amigos were probably happy to see this gringo coming their way.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise I feel pangs at the sight of the homeless. And there are many here, no doubt in part to the temperate climate. They are laden with their cardboard, overflowing shopping carts and greasy backpacks, all guarded ferociously. I hate averting my gaze as I walk by. I want to look at them, have conversation with them, and so I decide this morning I will do exactly this. No dumping the money and running, which is what I have done in the past. Even that, some will criticize as dumb. Those people will just use it to get a fix, get drunk, blah blah blah. I don’t think about these things.
Don’t congratulate me just yet though. I have the usual biases. I don’t like bad smells, grody teeth make me cringe, and I am worried about lice. But I decide nonetheless, I want to hear someone’s story. And, I want to write about it, and them. I exit our hotel’s doors, and I don’t have to look far for a candidate. I have passed him guiltily several times over the past days, and I remember his cardboard: “anything will help. God Bless.” He is reading a book cross legged, not stretching his arms out to beg as some do.
I sit and observe for a minute. One, because I am gathering up my nerve, and two, because I am sort of sizing him up for any interactions with passerby. Dozens go by and he remains there, looking down at his book. I start to sweat a little bit. I know enough about the homeless to know that most of them suffer from a mental illness, and what if this guy starts shouting out obscenities at me or something? The introvert in me is not liking this possibility, but I stamp it down and charge ahead.
I stop in front of him and figure I’d sweeten the deal with a deposit in the tin cup. He said thank you, and I held my hand out and told him my name. He seemed surprised. I asked him his, and he said, “Loren.” I asked him if I could sit down next to him, and he said, sure. His favored spot was under a sparse little tree, and I sat upon a metal grate to his right. I think he thought I was an outreach worker, at first, because he had been holding papers regarding insurance. He began by saying he was trying to enroll in Obamacare and he didn’t understand what was being asked of him, and this went on for a few minutes. I asked him if he needed help and he said no, he was going to stop at so and so’s and they would help him.
He might have been a little nervous, but if he was, it didn’t last. I didn’t really even ask him much at first, he just started talking. And he was quite lucid, except for just a couple of times. Once, when he was describing where his mother was from.
“Yeah, she was from Conneticut, but before Conneticut was a state. You know, way back then.” I nodded understandingly.
He told me he had been on the streets for awhile, and until a year ago, his mom was with him. Together they had faced many troubles, and he said, “I’m not doing so good alone. ” She became ill, and had to be hospitalized a few weeks later. It appeared they had lived in a trailer park years before this, where he had taken care of her. There was a dispute with the landlord which ended up with their eviction.
Some more not-so-lucid moments:
“I am telling you, that man was poisoning us with stuff you put on the lawn. My mom was sicker than hell, she was coughing and I wasn’t feeling so good either. That man was pure evil, he wanted us out and put us out. I tried calling the cops, I said we was being poisoned, but they wouldn’t help us.”
Loren wasn’t fond of the police. At some point in his dealings with them, he had been put in some type of restraint, and that didn’t go well. He said, “they’re all liars, and they don’t want to help us (homeless). They just shuffle us around and tell us we can’t use the bathrooms of places unless we are customers.”
The theme of people being liars kept resurfacing, as well as being betrayed. It became apparent to me that he (and his mother) suffered from at least a mild type of paranoia, and I said, “it must be hard to trust people out here. Do you have friends? ” No, he did not. There were a few he said hello to, and that was it. During this exchange, a haggard looking woman came over and asked him for a cigarette. She gave him a quarter for one. I said, is she a friend? No, oh no. Just a trading thing. This was how he saved up quarters for laundry…
And there is more, my friends, which I will finish soon while it’s still fresh. Stay tuned! Cheers!