Rainy Day

It was the rainy season and we sat under the freeway overpass most of the day. Some smokes cigarettes and we talked about the good things in the past and  we talked a little about the future. But we never talked about the present. How could we? We passed a cheap bottle of wine that gave some of us a headache but, if nothing else the pain gave us something else to focus on.

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Hope again

The elders stand on street corners. With an extended arm, they say, “Everything is changing.” Thirty and forty years they’ve lived in this neighborhood. Now they drag their possessions out into the street and place price tags on them. What they don’t sell, they drag back inside. The rent keeps going up. The scene reminded me of something I saw in India. But of course, India is a third-world country.

I was feeling a little down so we ordered Thai food to go. When we went to pick it up, a man had passed out drunk in the restaurant’s driveway. The parking attendant brought an orange cone over and put it in front of the unconscious man’s feet so no one would run him over.

I felt hope again.

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Any Given Sunday

It was Superbowl Sunday, which is like some kind of holiday and religious festival in America. People were out in the LA streets in T-shirts with 12- and 24-packs of domestic beer under their arms. To these people, the American Dream is not a dream … it’s a reality in rented rooms with 42-inch high-definition televisions on their walls.

I walked in the sun to the 99¢ store. My shadow was cast long in front of me and I thought about groundhogs, weather forecasters and sun worshippers. I could be happy as any of these.

I see a woman standing next to a shopping cart. She yells out, “Hello! Fine day!”

I see her everywhere in town. She walks the streets picking up old blankets and clothing and then redistributes them to the homeless population, which seems to be growing and growing. I can sense that she is probably near homelessness herself, but I once heard her talk about the luxury of having both a ceiling fan AND a window fan in her home, so I know she has something.

I told her I was going to the store and could pick her up something if she needed. She said that she was hungry and would like some bread. I said, “Bread? What kind?” And she said, “White bread! And can you get me a cola?”

I thought, “My God… white bread and cola. That should just about kill someone.” But I only told her I would get her the stuff. I believe there is way too much unsolicited advice in the world already. Disagree? Take a look at your Facebook news feed.

At the store, I couldn’t help myself and also got her a jar of peanut butter. White bread and cola? WTF? I’m definitely putting some peanut butter in the mix. She was super happy to get it.

On the way home, I stopped at my local pizza place. I don’t have to tell them what I want. They know me. My favorite cashier was wearing his football jersey. He was very happy since the owners allowed him to watch the game at the restaurant while he worked.

When I handed him my money for the pizza, he looked at me a little funny. Then I remembered that time I told him I didn’t watch sports. I was NTBT. Not To Be Trusted.

The pizza was good. I sat and watched a little of the game so I wouldn’t seem un-American. I got to see the Christopher Walken commercial. Another perfect Sunday.

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Abandoned house in the Caribbean

I found this house on the island of Carriacou. There are many structures like this around the island… much of it due to the hurricanes of the past.

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I have a deep attraction to these abandoned…things. It is a reminder to me that the earth will take everything back… eventually.

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I’ve always thought that if humanity abuses the earth enough, it will just evict us and start over with very little trouble.

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It’s a beautiful message of impermanence and mortality.

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How long will it take the vines to pull all of it back down into the soil?

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The rhythm of insects singing in the distance.

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Shaking Hands with the Lepers

When he (the rickshaw driver) introduced me to his father, I had no idea he would be homeless, let alone a leper. I reached out to shake his father’s extended hand. His fingers were rough and different sizes and lengths, as if part of them had rotted off. I held his hand and thought of the scene from Papillon, where the leper hands Steve McQueen his cigar and Steve McQueen puts it in his mouth and takes a long drag off of it. The leper asks him, “How did you know my leprosy was dry?” And Steve McQueen says, “I didn’t.”

I put my hand in my pocket and made a mental note not to touch my face or anything until I washed my hand real good. Like you can just wash off leprosy. Good thinking.

I had seen the man’s father around town. Everywhere he went, he had his skinny yak with him. It was his only possession.

April 20, 2006
Mysore, India

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Yoga Asylum

It was a perfect morning for yoga in the park. Warm enough, but not yet the stifling heat of the summer. It was a Goldilocks day.

Class had been moving along nicely and we were about at the halfway point. A young guy walked into class, right to the middle of class. He was a half hour late, which is lame, but I normally don’t say anything because traffic in this town can be bad, worse and most of all unpredictable.

But if you’re a half hour late you don’t walk to the middle of the class and throw your mat down. You stay at the back entrance so you don’t bother people.

He walked to the center of class, brought his hands to pray and bowed to me. I knew I was in for a rough ride.

He starts taking his clothes off. I immediately remember the time the guy walked through class naked and didn’t really want a repeat.

But our new guy, in the middle of class, takes everything off except his tighty whiteys—which were actually green—and I say, “Please tell me you’re stopping there.” He smiles, keeps his underwear on and starts doing yoga. Everything except what I am telling the class to do.

We’re doing a simple forward bend and he’s doing breath of fire and moaning. It’s a public space and I can only be so territorial so I let it go, knowing class will end soon. I stay focused and move ahead. I thought, “Maybe I should say something,” but I was almost certain he would have told me he was a yoga teacher, too. And by the look of the junk in his tighties, I was pretty sure he was on something that included amphetamines. Yeah, I looked. It was right there. He was in the middle of class. I would like to have looked away, but it was not an option.

Class finally ends and everyone is in savasana (laying down). He actually does this, but starts shaking and whacking his arms on the ground and then yells something I don’t understand, like some kind of chant or incantation. At this point, I say in a loud voice, “I am going to need you to be quiet and not move for the next two minutes,” and he listens.

After class, he approaches me. It’s like that person allergic to cats whose lap the cat just can’t stop from sitting on. He wants to introduce himself. First thing he tells me is his shakti is super strong and he has mastered manifestation. He says he is a recent multi-millionaire and doesn’t know what to do with all his money.

I tell him forty thousand men, women and children are homeless in LA and maybe he could start there.

He says, “Oh yeah, okay,” and then tells me how he died at Burning Man and the aliens picked him up and told him he was an archetype. I was kind of sure he didn’t know what archetype meant but didn’t say anything because I was trying to end the conversation.

He then says, “If I give you $500, will you let me do whatever I want in class?”

I say, “Absolutely fucking not.”

By this time, I have my stuff gathered and all the students have left their donations, looking at me and rolling their eyes as they left.

He said, “I guess I need someone to tell me to shut up once in a while.”

I said, “Happy to be of service,” and made my escape.

At least this dog was very well behaved in class. But he looked a little nervous.

At least this dog was very well behaved in class. But he looked a little nervous.

No tail

This cat’s name is No Tail. I named her that because she has no tail. It’s just a nub.

For a long time, she has lived behind my building, and for a while, every time I came down she would say, “meow and MEOW!” One day she actually let me pet her. Unbeknownst to me, she was also having this interaction with many of the other tenants of the building. If you walk around the 1st floor of our building today you will find bowls of cat food in front of half of the doors.

She doesn’t let me pet her anymore and she rarely says hello or meow when I pass by. She did let me take this picture but made me promise I wouldn’t show her nub. I have renamed her Hustler. I think she is putting on weight.
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The #2 Bus to PCH

On my way to the bus stop at Sunset and Edgemont, a homeless woman yelled out, “There goes another fornicator.”

I thought to myself, “Damn right!”

I don’t often take the bus but my girlfriend was coming from the west and I was coming from the east. The truth is I just couldn’t justify valeting two cars. It went against my blue-collar, Midwest upbringing.

I had a girlfriend who once told me I had poverty consciousness because I made sure the lights were turned off when I left my apartment. As a child, my father charged me a nickel if I left the lights on in a room I wasn’t in. Every time I left a room, my sister would sneak in and turn the light I had turned off back on and then tell my father. By the end of the week, my allowance was in the negative. But it didn’t matter because by then I was learning to become a thief.

I had spent a half hour on the Metro website to find out what time the bus was to arrive to take me to WeHo. I was early because I am German. Way, way back.

The line 2 bus to PCH was 13 minutes late. When I got on, I asked how much. The driver said $1.75. So I put 2 dollars in the machine and stood there trying to keep my balance as the bus started moving. The bus driver turned to me and said, “We do not give receipts.” I said, “That’s OK, but I want my 25¢ change.” The bus driver said, “We do not give change.” I just couldn’t help myself and I said, “This is bullshit,” as I walked to the back of the bus. All the passengers were looking down at their hundred dollar phones.

I got off the bus in WeHo and was surprised to see a homeless guy I always see in my ‘hood. I’m always cautious when I see him because I never know who I’m going to get. Sometimes I’d see him in a 3-piece suit, totally together, and then a week later he was like a filthy, wild animal. I found out he regularly gets admitted to a county health facility. They clean him up, give him new clothes and medicate him for 74 hours. After that, they dump him back on the street, walking around slightly confused but clean until the medication wears off and he returns to being the guy with voices in his head who needs a bath.

He looked right at me and asked for a dollar, which I gladly gave him.

He said, “How ya been?” and I told him everything was good.

He said, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” I said, “Sure, go ahead.” And he asked, “What kind of music do you listen to when you masturbate?”

I couldn’t think of an answer.

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Stories from the Street

The homeless are rearranging the furniture on my street today. The furniture of the more recent homeless. The corporate wolves are hungry. The locals talk of morality and myth, like modern shamans corrupted by the franchise state.

Someone called the police… I guess they thought it was their duty.

“Can’t have a couch in the middle of the street.” ” Something must be done.” Said a man with a fauxhawk in an Affliction t-shirt.

The LAPD (I once heard someone call them “the army of the rich”) came wearing blue rubber gloves. They took the homeless…”somewhere else.” That seemed to satisfy the mob. It upsets and frightens them to see the people of the streets. Like it might be contagious.

There once was a game called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, where we would align famous people or ourselves to Kevin Bacon’s fame. (Just for the record, I am 2 degrees from Kevin Bacon.) We may want to consider Six Degrees of the Homeless.

It’s really easy to pretend that the homeless are not connected to us in any way. Like they couldn’t possibly be our mother, brother, sister, etc.. We fear the homeless and we call them lazy or crazy (I’ve heard that about myself, by the way). But what we really fear is that we will become one of them, and everyone will shun us and call the police on us, like we do to them. Maybe if we took better care of each other, we wouldn’t be so afraid of ending up at the bottom, and maybe spend less time clawing our way to the top. Maybe, with a little compassion, the bottom could be as nice as the top.