"When a man is asleep, he has in a circle round him the chain of the hours, the sequence of the years, the order of the heavenly host. Instinctively, when he awakes, he looks to these, and in an instant reads off his own position on the earth's surface and the amount of time that has elapsed during his slumbers; but this ordered procession is apt to grow confused, and to break its ranks."
- Marcel Proust (Swann's Way - Remembrance Of Things Past, Vol 1 - C.K. Scott Moncrieff translation from the French 1922)
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
In my upcoming book, a key point is that sleep time is the main part of life where homelessness is an issue. In my waking hours, as long as I didn't set up house somewhere, there was nothing illegal or noticably disreputable about my lifestyle. I was really like anybody else (sort of).
It was in the evening, when most of the world was going home that I truly felt homeless. It was at that point, when I chose a spot to sleep, that my activity broke the law and made me an outlier.
The reason is simple, there's no free land or territory in this country, it's all owned by somebody who doesn't want you to sleeping there. Society considers it trespassing and while prosecution is relatively rare, it's still illegal.
Illegal in the same sense as pot or sexual kinks...some people are OK with it and could care less about rousting the homeless, and others have to be restrained by other parts of the legal code from treating transients like wack a mole targets.
The book deals with, but doesn't delve too deeply into the legalities of the issue. The main reason is that the law isn't personally relevant to a homeless person unless they're looking for trouble, are plain stupid, or impaired by drugs or booze. The normal law enforcement response is to get you to go elsewhere.
Most of us move on if told to; it's sleep somewhere, wake up as early as possible, get into motion to join the real world and blend back into society where the law doesn't come looking for you.
There's always going to be the ones who bring out lawn chairs, pile junk and garbage around their vehicle (or on the roof in many cases), and test the patience of law enforcement, but lowbrow behavior is hardly unique to homeless people.
The legal aspect was the last thing I worried about. It was more about being safe while asleep, a time when out of touch with the surroundings in dreamland separated from the real world by a thin car window.
Like more than few homeless newbies, I tried alternatives like not sleeping, and found hallucinations from sleep deprivation too scary as a lifestyle. Using meth wasn't an option either. I could look around and see that meth was bad news.
I tried various methods to sleep, so many that some of the ways didn't make it into my book.
The outside environment determined how to sleep. If it didn't seem safe, I slept fully clothed and curled up in the front seat, covered by a down jacket and the car completely clear of clutter.
The idea was if a situation occurred, to be up and driving in just a moment or two. It was also important to not have wallet or keys visible to any person walking by. In an area where there's homeless, there will be onlookers while sleeping. You can never forget that the world still turns even on the quietest night, and the next moment can reveal a surprise. More than a few times I was greeted by both the morning sun and a face peering through the window.
Most media stories focus on a "typical" situation, and can create the impression that it's how all the homeless live out there, but in a area only a few hundred square yards, there'll be dozens of living situations and stories out there.
In the opening scenes in my book, I felt that diversity was the most striking element and worked the hardest on the opening chapters to capture that concentration of humanity, fear, tragedy, despair, desperation, dreams and hopes that played out every day like a play, never completely went to sleep, and started up again when the sun came up.
A peaceful nights sleep was elusive, because night time was when we all became homeless, and all the trouble started.
...the singing of angels...
There are certain sounds that will transport my consciousness back into the past to some place out there. Phone message and email notification tones still do that, as those portended a possible job lead, or a new donation coming in, often in the nick of time.
The sound of a phone starting up was part of the morning routine, as it had to be turned off at night to save power. That tone will sound and momentarily put me back into my car in Gilroy, or the Crystal Springs rest stop.
I'll feel the chill of a cold car, and look for Ivy to say "hi schmoo," which was the customary morning greeting. I'd quickly get the Cadillac moving, and go to a spot where we could be in the sun to warm up. Ivy was taken out for her walk at that point, that was never done where we'd slept. Never. I make a big deal of that in my book, the axiom to never hang out where you sleep.
It was advice from old timers, and later on, empirical wisdom as almost every time I violated that rule, it got me into some sort of trouble.
Another sound is generators or truck engines. That often makes me think about this street in Gilroy, where there were RVs and trucks about, and where I was stuck for six weeks in a dead car, and along with this particular parking lot in Salinas, was as close to home as a place could have been.
When I heard those sounds, it meant I was as safe as I was ever going to be at night. We all parked close to each other, minded our own business and made no trouble with the police, who checked in on us regularly. We went our separate ways during the day, and saw many of the same faces at night, and perhaps wondered about those who disappeared.
It wasn't like we missed them or something, but I know we all hoped that the "missing chair" meant that the person had caught a break. When a person made it out it felt like it lowered the odds for the rest of us, so our hopes for others was as a prayer for ourselves. It can feel so hopeless out there, and even imagining a success story is a powerful tonic when personal experience gives little evidence of a better future.
...beauty in the eyes of the beholder...
One of threads that runs through my book is the concept of aesthetics, or beauty. I mentioned in the last blog entry how Willie Nile's Vagabond Moon song found a sense of delight in the vision of a moon, and while such moments do occur, it isn't always a case of finding a pearl in an oyster.
For example, I enjoyed the beauty of the Crystal Springs rest stop with it's gorgeous view of the Santa Cruz mountains, but that ambiance quickly got old when the temperature dropped into the 40s or the druggies discovered the heated bathrooms and set up shop there.
There were hot, dreary nights in Gilroy, where I had to keep Ivy and myself cooped up because it wasn't safe to leave the windows open, and the air was filled with arguments, people talking to whatever, and that energy sapping fear permeating everything.
There were no hidden gems, flowers in the mud, or angels with flowing hair. Any long haired angel out late at night wasn't out to save you.
If there was beauty, or redemption out there, you had to put it there. I often imagine myself back in the car, looking around at the street we were parked and shake my head in wonder at how I got through so many nights in that hopeless soup of a world without retreating into booze or meth, buying comfort sex with drugs, or putting a bullet through my brain.
The interesting thing about adversity is that small details become important and a slim thread can become a lifeline. Life out there becomes all about things like the next meal, if there's enough gas, a few hours of good sleep, a nice nap, and yes, finding that pearl.
One such pearl was imagination. There were times Ivy needed to go out at night, and you can't go walking around at night in fear. Predators pick up on that, and the anxiety will slowly cripple you. So Ivy and I took our walks, and I'd look for a mood or sight to write about and become a detached observer.
The blog and the book became part of that mental construct, role playing that turned perception into a search for beauty, though in retrospect, it was probably more a search for truths and meaning...all the sights out there were taken in, and decorated with words, and my book in a sense will be that epic poem it was originally envisioned to be, if poetry is truth as they say.
That night when Willie Nile saw a beautiful moon that filled his "poor heart with delight," was probably a very ordinary sight that he painted into wonderful colors from a palette deep in his heart,. That's really where beauty comes from.
...speaking of beauty....
Here's a good example of created beauty. This is a favorite picture of Ivy. I see her cheerful spirit in it, and it's a treasured memory.
In retrospect, that is. The day the picture was taken, it was 90 degrees out, and the car had stopped running a week earlier and was stuck in the hot sun most of the day. That meant we had to stay out of the car until evening.
Ivy was sitting on the curb next to the car, and the photo was cropped to leave out all the trash that surrounded us. I had no choice but to clean up the rubbish left by customers to avoid attracting attention to our area. The photo didn't capture the strong odor of urine or half eaten food.
That was the world back then for us, but the picture captures what was good about the day. She was still alive back then during Independence Day weekend 2016, and like so many other days, her cheery smile and spirit made the moment a pleasant one.
We felt good, there was enough money to eat a decent dinner and at that moment, without fear or cares. A lot was going on then, but that beautiful photo is what remains, the best part of that day, and because she was still alive, one of the best times of my life.