Saturday, August 5, 2017

On The Road With Al & Ivy: A Homeless Literary Chronicle - August 5th, 2017

"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.

T.S. Eliot

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. 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.

- Al Handa 

...cover reveal for Hide In Plain Sight...

This is the cover for the upcoming book, Hide In Plain Sight, designed by Jenna Brooks, supervised and edited by Mutiny Rising Media.

-Al Handa

Please consider a contribution to keep this blog going and support my activities:

My intent isn't to become a donor funded homeless blogger, I'd like to do much more...until then, a donation would help Ivy and I to survive and continue efforts (like seeking work, etc) that can bring us out of homelessness as opposed to dropping further down into a transient lifestyle.

The Al & Ivy Homeless Literary Journal Archive:
The earliest entries were on the Delta Snake Review section of this blog site.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

On The Road With Al & Ivy: A Homeless Literary Chronicle - July 16th, 2017

"I wasn't scared, I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost..."

- Jack Kerouac (On The Road - The Original Scroll)

...of eternal vigilance...

One of the themes that runs through my upcoming book is that being homeless wasn't just some change in lifestyle. It was a profound psychological journey that evolved through several stages starting with denial, but there wasn't an even symmetry or pattern of emotions.

I briefly described in the last blog entry that the early 80s poetry manuscript evolved into a story about a fall from grace and redemption and that is my book in a nutshell. It's probably how I'd explain it in an interview to make sure it fit into a neat soundbite or quote, but it's certainly not how it all felt at the time.

There were a series of emotional stages or phases, but it came on in a chaotic sequence, and there was no linear narrative. The opening stage was certainly denial, or at least sugar coating a temporary situation centering on an artistic trip, a very thin rope to hang a life on. The opening stages of homelessness was complex. It was a mix of shock, embarrassment, and deep down, a classic intense hope of rescue.

It's like being escorted out of a building after being laid off, but there's no place to go hide and process it all. It's a time when even if you're not religious, you hope for a miracle. Not because there's a spirituality to connect to, but because in America, becoming homeless is intimately tied in with failure, which in the old days, was resolved by taking off and making a new start out on the frontier.

In the modern day, there is no frontier...even the forests are property and when cut loose from your home, become a trespasser with no place to legally sleep, and a social outcast and losing many friends and even a lot of family in some cases.

I was luckier than many out there...I found out who my friends were, kept a few, and was found by many others from around the world. I treat it as a miracle in the book, and still do even after four drafts of the book.

When I say that it all came on in a chaotic sequence, that's how it felt, and that mood permeates a lot of the narrative. It was something that can be understood later on with some distance. Looking back, I was in a weird sort of way as alive and in the moment as I ever was in my entire life. At least part of the time anyway.

New Age disciplines treat being in the moment as a bliss trip or deep calm, but that's just endorphin addiction in most cases. Being alive is really about seeing what the situation really is. A truly sane person will feel fear if there's danger, or will be able to focus on a critical detail.

Some of the people I talked to out there felt that I was obsessed with my car. I was, no doubt about it. I constantly wrote about it in my blogs and gofundme updates, equating a running car with survival.

The thing is, the car became home for Ivy and me, and if it couldn't move, it would have been taken at some point. Without a running car, my chances of getting out of homelessness became dangerously close to zero, and I saw what happened to those who lost their vehicles out there. The downward spiral got tighter.

So on one hand, I kept my head, and never lost sight of what was needed to survive. On the other hand, thanks to irregular sleep, stress, and bad diet, the awareness of what was needed to survive out there often lapsed into wired out vigilance, paranoia, and fear.

One thing I did see out there, and emulated, were survivors who found a center, persona, or outlook that channeled the best of their personality to their circumstances. RV owners who became expert chewing gum mechanics and gypsies, others as pro level buskers or panhandlers, and others tragically retreating into a dream world or simplified life view via drugs (that ended up not being so simple).

I'm not an extrovert, or an alpha. I'm a guy who was a bookworm in my youth, a geek who managed to pick everything to be geeky about that wouldn't make you rich, and never really found who I was in the modern world. The one thing I could do well was to become at least functional in any subject I put my mind to learning.

After making a ton of mistakes early on, it finally hit me that I'd better get at least competent at being homeless and so my center, my persona became the detatched observer, or loner. That turned out to be trap. In my book, I described a couple of early personalities that seemed to have mastered the art of living under the radar in the transient lifestyle. They taught me some important things about the life, but emulating them led to a disasterous summer in Gilroy.

I learned that it was just as important to know what your goal was, why a person did this or that out there to survive. My early mentors had no desire to get out of homelessness. That influenced many of the choices they made, choices that shouldn't be made if the goal is to get out.

Although my book covers many events over a 14 month period, that summer in Gilroy was probably the decisive period. It was as low I ever felt emotionally, and out of that crucible evolved the person who survived the many ups and downs that followed. It's not a person I want to be now, and though I'd like to think it was just a phase, it's obvious that the circumstances brought out a side of me that had always been there since childhood.

I remember being called a Jap as a small child, being bullied, or in a desire to be accepted, for example, would often agree to be the enemy when playing army with the other kids. I was taught to walk away from insults, to ignore the taunts, and was able to do that, not because it was just the smart thing to do, it was also the easiest. I wasn't a good fighter. At times it meant taking different routes home to avoid bullies after school, or being willing to keep talking with kids who hated my guts until they realized I was a good guy after all.

Somewhere along the line, taking the high road and walking away takes it's toll. But as I got older, I was glad that the pain of being hated for my ethnicity didn't turn into confrontation and anger. It hurt, but staying away from anger and instead communicating let me see that most of the kids around were accepting and even protective.

There was a cost, it turned me an introvert but not a blind one, which is what anger will turn you into.

Becoming homeless was very much the same experience. I had become a thing, a term, something that a lot of people think of in terms of negative stereotypes. It turned me back into a detached introvert, often secretive and anxious to blend in with the scenery to hide. More than a few of the homeless druggies out there are not hedonistic, but hiding from public perception and themselves.

My early experiences taught me to be patient and to trust that others would see past the stereotypes, which was important, as it enabled me to overcome the shame reflex and ask for help. It's not just about communicating with people, it's also about trying to stay connected with life and not choosing the path towards oblivion or even death.

Although it's not considered a good idea to discuss a book in detail, and most of what I've written here is at best, background, I will say the what I became during the summer of 2016 was important enough that the book opens during that period (and then cuts back to the beginning later).

We all go through crisis, and do what needs to be done to survive it. It's often described as growth, but it's just as much a process of self discovery. In my case, it's the old phrase, "the child is father to the man," or how a little kid got through a rough patch turned out to be instinct growing into wisdom.

I'll get over all the pain from my life in a car, it's just a matter of time. I just hope that I stay as smart as I was at the age of six.

...listen to the music...

One of my key identities out there was as a music lover and musician. Press releases throughout the ages rhapsodize about how music can save the soul, and so on, but it was always a mixed bag. It kept a feeling of beauty in life, but when watching a guy eating out of a garbage can, the things that run through your mind isn't the blues, or kickass electric guitar, but the fervent hope that it wouldn't be me doing that in a month. For every artist who wins the lottery and gets rich clinging to a dream there's thousands mired in the daily struggle of life and labeled with the kinds of terms society gives it's failures.

Kind of like the Mott The Hoople song, All The Way From Memphis, where the line goes "you look like a star but you're still on the dole." In modern society, all paths are considered going up or down, and not necessarily a journey. Who knows what the truth is there?

That doesn't mean music isn't important, or that it can't make life feel a little better now and then. But my treasured instrument collection went through a series of stages, from being the tools to create a new life to liquid assets to keep Ivy and me in food and gas. That's not a homeless thing, though, many musicians will recognize that it's just life in the lower tier of artistic life. Even classic literature like Tropic Of Cancer is more about surviving than the act of creation, and thus is probably closer to the truth.

The writer Tom Wolfe (the one who wrote Electric Kool Aid Acid Test) once said in an interview that we had entered into an age of aesthetics, or where artists were the stars. Like other concepts like the food chain or capitalism, it gets downright religious as time passes, with an assumption of evolved superiority. Musicians are depicted in the past as being mere servants of the rich and now command the same power.

That's sort of true, but only because of the power of money. In this day and age, money gives you the sheen of power, desirability, and success, even if that often translates into being able to get away with a lot of crap and getting lots of no strings sex.

Music didn't evolve from a servant class. It started in villages and gatherings, where those who had the talent would express their art in a communal setting. In other words, when the harvest was in, the people celebrated, and those who could play music did so while the rest danced. Many dances evolved, and that was about as connected to life as it ever got.

The wealthy class got into the swing of things of course, but had the money to let some of the more talented artists become specialized. That was the start of the patron system, and frankly, was neither better or worse than what came before. The early dances became bourees, minuets, and so on, and that became "classical" music. I'm oversimplifying a bit, but that's essentially the history of music in a nutshell, other than changes brought about by technology, and even more money.

There was a time when musicians were special, but not in the red carpet sense. Their talent was seen as special, but no more so than farmers, carpenters, and so on. It was entertainment, and only more so due to the power of money.

Being able to play instruments was important to me out there in the street, but living in a car, I didn't want everybody to know. My ever shrinking collection was too valuable and liquid as a salable asset to risk out there on a street corner. It wasn't smart to even flash an iphone out there, much less a 1933 Gibson acoustic guitar. Most of the transcendent moments were in private, late at night, and away from the crowd.

I did it that way partly because it was important to keep a purity about it. There were no illusions that .50 a week in streaming royalties was going to lift me out of that life in a car, but a steady flow of money did mean people were listening, and that means something to anyone who loves to play. The few times the word got out that I had instruments meant being stalked or cased by people looking for quick cash, and that fear was something to be kept out of moments of fun and beauty.

My love of music ended up being expressed in other ways. I spent a lot of time in coffee houses in the evening (I spent the days with Ivy for both safety and companionship reasons) and songs began to enter the consciousness and into my iphone. The only expense by this point was a monthly subscription to Spotify, which I couldn't afford every month, but some months I could have it because they would give me a free month now and then once it was known that I was homeless. A rare act of kindness by a big business for sure.

Certain songs did resonate at times, when the mood and lyrics matched the circumstances. In some of the darkest periods, a song would come along and not so much express what I was feeling, but more importantly, how I wanted to feel.

I remember one song, Willie Nile's Vagabond Moon, a love song but he saw simple beauty in seeing the moon. The moon over Gilroy during the summer was pretty much like any other, and the scenery below was often desolate, and even tragic, but it made me look up instead of around me. It was escape, not inspiration, but on a night when I was eating a can of beans and rationing slices of french bread to last the week, a song that could take my mind off things for even a couple of minutes was magic.

That's the nice thing about music. It's not always the same thing, and in our world it can mean anything from a success story to a gift, but it's always around, and that makes it a true friend.

- Al Handa 

Note: I've mentioned an upcoming thank you section, and that's in rough draft form. I want to put that out in the context of my current job search and settling in a permanent situation. I entered the job market in Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago, my goal being to get some part CAD drafting work for a couple months until my book is finished. It's going better than expected, and I'll try to make that part of the next blog entry.

Archive for older blog entries on the Delta Snake Review:

...cover reveal for Hide In Plain Sight...

This is the cover for the upcoming book, Hide In Plain Sight, designed by Jenna Brooks, supervised and edited by Mutiny Rising Media.

-Al Handa

Please consider a contribution to keep this blog going and support my activities:

My intent isn't to become a donor funded homeless blogger, I'd like to do much more...until then, a donation would help Ivy and I to survive and continue efforts (like seeking work, etc) that can bring us out of homelessness as opposed to dropping further down into a transient lifestyle.

The Al & Ivy Homeless Literary Journal Archive:

Here's the blurb for Boogie Underground Media:

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

On The Road With Al & Ivy: A Literary Homeless Journal - June 25th, 2017

"...and you are out of the old life and into the new! Then some day, some day long hence, jog home here if you will, when the cup has been drained and the play has been played, and sit down by your quiet river with a store of goodly memories for company."

- Kenneth Grahame (Wind In The Willows)

...ruminations on food...

One of the biggest adjustments in my return to the real world (or maybe I was in the real world and have returned to the Land of Illusions) was culinary. I could disregard all of the precautions taken over the 14 months and eat without fear of one of the greatest calamities that could befall a homeless person; to have an intestinal emergency with no bathroom in sight.

That's one reason 24 hour Walmarts and rest stops are so popular. Sure, it's a safe place to park or hang out, but both have bathrooms open at all hours. Contrary to the popular notion that homeless just love to pee and poop out in the open, the main reason is the lack of available bathrooms.

I learned early on that old habits like eating pizza every friday had dire consequences out in the car. Even if the place has a 24 hour bathroom, no one really wants to need the facility at 3AM or in the middle of a rain storm.

One prophylactic measure was taking Pepto Bismol in the evening or before a meal. It was something I used to do before going to a rock concert or some place where bathrooms would be scarce or worse and the food of questionable quality. It was effective against the runs and had the additional benefit of some protection against food poisoning. It wasn't a recommended practice as it could cause acid reflux or constipation, but if you've ever raced down a one lane road in pitch darkness for 30 minutes to try and reach a bathroom in time, a little irregularity was the lesser evil. food? Not so fast....

One of the more common sights out there is a panhandler in front of a store holding a bag of fast food and not eating it. That was almost always a case of a good samaritan following media advice to gift food instead of cash to prevent the purchase of drugs or alcohol. I occasionally overhear or read comments that same homelss guy was ungrateful or preferred drug money, but that isn't always the case.

If I was standing out there, and someone handed me a bag of fast food, it'd be accepted with gratitude, but would be thrown away later or given to someone else who wanted it. The reason was fast food would give me the trots, and it certainly would for anyone who was living on a poor diet or had a stomach that wouldn't tolerate grease or heavy salt.

I've described living on beans and bread, and that wasn't just about not being able to afford better. I'd have loved to have peanut butter with my bread, for example, but that stuff tended to work my guts over. Same with most cheeses and other tasty treats that were often cheap and could stretch a budget, but would later send me running to the men's room.

Any non homeless person who visited San Francisco in the 90s when public bathrooms seemed to have disappeared would understand about having to take access to lavatories into consideration. It's a basic convenience taken for granted by most that becomes a outsized problem when living in a car.

Sleeping under a roof didn't change my consumption of food at first. For one thing, everything was too rich. I certainly ate pizza at any opportunity, and tended to act like it was caviar, but it took a few weeks to be able to bite into a slice without mentally mapping out a route to the bathroom at the same time.

Another civilized vice is snack food. Before going on the road, I loved it all...doritos, chips, dips, cheese, crackers, pretzels (Ivy adored pretzels), you name it, I'd eat it. Out in the car, I virtually never ate that stuff. A bag of chips costs an average of 1.49, and that's equivalent to three cans of beans; a full days ration. Snack food doesn't make you feel nourished, and that sensation of feeling sustained is important when the diet is simple.

The psychological feeling of eating well (and clean) was the real reason pork and beans were a mainstay. I could envision earlier eras when soldiers and travelers ate beans and feel a sense of tradition. It kept them alive, and it kept me alive.

There was another reason I ate beans, spam, bread and similar save money. I often saw other homeless binge on food when they came into some cash. One couple I knew once had a good day panhandling and grossed forty dollars, and immediately spent 25.00 of it at a restaurant. I understood why they did it, it was a huge psychological boost, but it was buying food on an empty stomach. After spending the rest on gas, they were back out begging the next day. My goal would have been to make that 40.00 last so Ivy and I could eat clean food for at least a week. Food consumption was measure in both quantity and time.

We did binge in a scaled down version. Our bi-weekly thanksgiving was a 5.00 rotisserie chicken that I split up into two parts. Ivy got the breast meat (I never liked that part) and I got the rest. We'd happily feast on chicken, eating every edible part. That would be the meal for the day. It was breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Some of the low cost food, like spam, might strike many as unpalatable. I understand that, as even steak isn't everyone's idea of fine dining. Appetite is psychological and influenced by circumstances. When I found my diet boring, I just skipped a meal or two. Whatever was on the menu then started to look pretty good. We do that to cats and dogs all the time when they get stubborn about eating dry food, and it works on humans.

The other day I saw that Frito Lay had come out with a new Biscuits and Gravy flavored potato chip. It looked awfully good, and that outlook tells me that my culinary recovery from street life is coming along nicely...

...the origins of my upcoming book...

I'm finding that writing a book about my experience is about preserving two snapshots in time. The first, the poetic part that runs through the main narrative was composed in the late 80s, while working a grave job. The second, my homeless life instead of a "Pilgrim's Progress" type story.

I took an vintage 1920s portable to work and found that it was a fun instrument to write on, but not for anything that required speed, like large bodies of text. It was perfect for poetry, at least the way I composed it, which was to type out a phrase and then to slowly add lines. It became a pretech era notepad.

I didn't worry about correction with whiteout or tape, mistakes were simply crossed out and after a draft was completed, a new page started and the next iteration typed out. I didn't try to "complete" pieces so much as to record every phrase or poem that crossed my mind.

The project at the time was to create a long epic poem about a young blues musician migrating up to prewar Chicago and envisioned as a sort of beat poem set to music. It was to be a simple story with most of the action conveyed in songs, and eventually became a private project done for personal satisfaction.

It evolved from a pastoral narrative complete with train trips and interesting characters to a darker story about a fall from grace, catharsis and redemption. I really didn't know what to make of it, and after a year of intense writing put the project away. 

I kept all of the original typed notes, and images and ideas would surface from time to time and added to the manuscript. One time I pulled it out and added just one line on a sheet of paper. I had no idea where that phrase was supposed to go, only that it belonged with the work.

I took that pack of typed out sheets, filled tablets and scribbles on scraps of paper on the road. The original intent of the journey wasn't to be homeless of course, merely to travel about until a job came along. This epic poem became a project to work on in the various motels we stayed in.

There were old passages that seemed haunting and obscure at the time, that began as jazzy nonsense phrases intended to be musical in the James Joyce sense.

The story line of the work, which I called "Jook," a common 20s spelling of the term Juke, or Juke Joint, started off like our road trip. It was full of optimism, dreams, and music. As the sojourn continued, it became darker, as if the freedom that makes the road seem so open also unleashed a host of buried demons.

They talk a lot about freedom in the homeless community, but like the bluesmen who played their music with the conviction that they were damned to hell by the church community, there are a lot of choices made that bring out our worst instincts. Bad decisions shaped by the perception that the life only offers certain choices, with the rest being cut off or denied by a real or imagined society that judges us as worthless or lost.

We get lumped into a single mass or image by media or society, and thus find ourselves perceived in the company of the worst, the false prophets who subvert the illumination of sacrament into numbing hedonism or escape and the innocent judged by the actions of criminals whose only commonality is the lack of a roof.

Many people apply labels to the homeless that they'd never dare to use to describe minorities or women. The character I created in Jook was luckier in one respect, being homeless in 30s America wasn't so bad if you were at least headed somewhere like a hobo or pioneer. Now, there's nowhere a homeless person can go to escape judgement.

The original idea of the epic was to have two points of view; discrete poems, and a flowing narrative in 50s beat style prose. As the poetry was organized into story order, I saw that my current life fit the flow. The idea of doing some sort of Kerouac trip became less appealing when sitting in a car eating beans. It was more interesting to write about my life, which is probably what a real author should do anyway.

So the poems became chapter prologues. I eventually eliminated the traditional verse structure, and ran the words as a solid stream while still keeping the metre (rhythm). After each prologue, the following opening narrative paragraphs were put into the same basic metre to create pairs that seem different on the surface, but when carefully read are really the same opening.

One of the important things about my book is that the first two drafts were completed while still out there living in the car. I'd never be able to recreate that mood that was present when typing out the manuscript on an iphone in a dark street or parking lot, distracted by sleep deprivation, and never totally certain that Ivy and I were in a safe place.

There's been the temptation to rewrite certain passages in a more literary or poetic way. In some cases it was appropriate where some insight had come after being a safe distance from that life. In others, the passages were written as I felt and thought at that moment, and any revision would alter the mood.

There's a lot of individual stories floating out there and not heard because much of the the media and others have succeeded in making the homeless seem like a pitiful herd of cows. When people read my book, they'll see that it's only one of thousands of stories out there to be discovered. The book has plenty of details but the important point is that there's a real person telling the story living a real life that wasn't some inescapable destiny lived by someone who wanted it.

- Al Handa 

Note: I've mentioned an upcoming thank you section, and that's in rough draft form. I want to put that out in the context of my current job search and settling in a permanent situation. I entered the job market in Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago, my goal being to get some part CAD drafting work for a couple months until my book is finished. It's going better than expected, and I'll try to make that part of the next blog entry.

...cover reveal for Hide In Plain Sight...

This is the cover for the upcoming book, Hide In Plain Sight, designed by Jenna Brooks, supervised and edited by Mutiny Rising Media.

-Al Handa

Please consider a contribution to keep this blog going and support my activities:

My intent isn't to become a donor funded homeless blogger, I'd like to do much more...until then, a donation would help Ivy and I to survive and continue efforts (like seeking work, etc) that can bring us out of homelessness as opposed to dropping further down into a transient lifestyle.

The Al & Ivy Homeless Literary Journal Archive:

Here's the blurb for Boogie Underground Media:

Boogie Underground Media promotion.

Email for list of services and prices starting from only $5.00!

Friday, June 2, 2017

On The Road With Al & Ivy: A Literary Homeless Chronicle - 6/1/17


"Day after day, day after day, We stuck, nor breath nor motion; As idle as a painted ship Upon a painted ocean."

- Samuel Taylor Coleridge (The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner)

Note: I'm trying to tighten up the rate of entries. I'll do another post in about a week with the parts I didn't get done in time for this one.

One of the concepts that came up in conversations with other homeless was that we were always the same person, and when circumstances get better, it's just a matter of getting back into the swing of things.

That's not entirely true, it depends on how long you're out there and what life is like during that time. You'll generally have to find yourself again.

If I had spent 14 months out there carrying everything I owned in the world in a backpack and sleeping in a makeshift shelter, I'd have have come out a different person than someone who spent that same amount of time in an old Cadillac.

Our basic nature would probably be intact, and but our lives are more than this simple essence or kernel...we manage our lives, making decisions that resolve immediate situations and others that have long term consequences. Many of the responses will run on automatic until consciously changed.

The guy (me) who took off with his dog in February of 2016 was different than the guy who later that summer gave a shirt to a young man who'd been robbed of his clothes...the earlier me would have done it out of pity and compassion, the summer me did it knowing that while I was getting the shirt out of the trunk, the kid had gotten a good look at what was inside and probably would pass that info on to his druggie pals. Sure enough, I later watched from a distance as a young woman from his crowd tried to break into my trunk. 

An earlier me might have confronted her or called the cops, the smarter me who had to live there decided that she was clearly too incompetent a burglar to get into the trunk and let it go, also knowing anyone calling the cops would labeled a squealer with maybe a dozen or more of her friends who'd be pissed about it and having nothing better to do in life than retaliate...the tough take no crap attitude is replaced by a philosophical time-space outlook that sees that anything that could happen would take place well inside the police response time or in a remote place while hiking that unlike the movies would really be like an animal brought down by a pack.

The outside world would call it living in fear, and that'd be true, but it's also seeing reality and making intelligent choices stripped of the often unrealistic truisms of law and order. Having seen such situations and acted accordingly in the short and long term, what happens when you are out of that life and safer? 

...a new life...

On my flight to the Midwest, I began to tear up and break down as the airliner taxied down the runway. As we climbed, I quietly cried and it wasn't from happiness or excitement. It was from a profound sense of relief, like I'd escaped all the constant fears that wore on me. Happiness has a different meaning in the life I was leaving.

It wasn't apparent for maybe a few days that there was something not quite right with me. The assumption was that entering into the normal world would be like riding a bike again...maybe a little rust, but you're off and running.

I'd say that in most things it was like riding a bike. What wasn't so obvious was that 14 months in the homeless world had affected my emotions, or more specifically emotional responses. People don't always understand that normalcy isn't a switch that turns on and off.

Certain situations would trigger fear, like when someone was being sarcastic or irritated. Out there on the street, I avoided trouble and confrontation at all costs. Even the most minor conflicts had the potential to escalate into a police and often did. 

There's a small segment of the population that will call the police for the smallest real and imagined transgressions by homeless. I cover this in detail in a couple of chapters in my upcoming book.

I've had the police called on me twice, for example, on complaints that were cleared up after an interview after 1AM. In one of those cases i was approached unawares with my window shades up. 

That created a tense situation where the officer had to approach slowly as it wasn't clear who was in the car, and I was startled when the flashlight beam blinded me, though I instinctively avoided any sudden movements and kept my hands visible.

The officer was polite, and once it was clear that I was harmless (and I acted both harmless and slightly stupid) then we both relaxed and it became a pleasant conversation. I did have to be aware that while we talked, my car was being visually searched. Which isn't a minor thing. I've seen more than a few casual conversations escalate into a search. Having a little white friendly dog does help in such cases.

...the sounds of silence...

You learn to clam up, look harmless, and answer all question clearly but simply...talking too much or too fast makes you look nervous, and in that weird state of nervousness and fear, it's easy to say something wrong. That's why I tended to act slightly dumb in front of authority...being dumb makes you look more harmless, and keeps you from babbling.

The problem is that in real life, it's not always wise or socially acceptable to clam up, or act dumb. Such responses are interpreted differently by people who are used to speaking fearlessly and not worried that it can escalate into a fight. This contrast is apparent in a lot of encounters between the homeless and regular people. 

There's an incident described in my book where a CHP officer is chewing me out in public, and while standing there like a dumbass with a blank expression, my mind is racing and fighting every impulse to react. I still have involuntary responses that kick in when someone gets irritated with me, for example, that wasn't apparent till the situation came up.

It's easy to just act smarter and talk more, but when someone gets short, impatient or irritated with me, it still can trigger an involuntary fear response like going dumb or withdrawing. You have to be careful out there, not just avoiding conflict but inadvertently giving out personal information, or showing cash to a stranger. Out there it's smart, in the real world, it can come off as paranoid or anti-social.

I found my conversational skills had deteriorated. I could write well, but having deep conversations still requires a conscious effort and still feels awkward. I didn't talk to many people out there.

...hurry up and buy...

I still often just sit there in a room, and it took weeks to realize that it was my car behavior. Sitting like a rock can look like laziness or depression (and sometimes it is), but in my car, there was a reason I sat still. Doing nothing doesn't cost money.

Sitting in the car doing nothing wasn't just a case of suppressing impulses to buy, it was also avoiding the stimuli that surrounds people utilizing every scientific trick in the book to make them spend money.

I don't underrate modern advertising and display. It's not much different than military psych ops and propaganda. It's an active attempt to create demand even if you really don't need the product and will use every manipulative trick from false self esteem to shame...and much if it works.

Out there, I'm saving money. In the real world, I'm sitting there like a lump in a room and subject to any number of labels people attach to apparent slugs, though in most cases, I'm just thinking.

If I wasn't talking to Ivy then there was no conversation and luckily, after over a year of solitude, i didn't start talking with inanimate objects.

There's this relief but with all the things you did to survive, has it all been switched off yet?

That's a question that's still being answered, and I'll know more next week, and the week after, and the week after...

- Al Handa 

...cover reveal for Hide In Plain Sight...

This is the cover for the upcoming book, Hide In Plain Sight, designed by Jenna Brooks, supervised and edited by Mutiny Rising Media.

-Al Handa

Please consider a contribution to keep this blog going and support my activities:

My intent isn't to become a donor funded homeless blogger, I'd like to do much more...until then, a donation would help Ivy and I to survive and continue efforts (like seeking work, etc) that can bring us out of homelessness as opposed to dropping further down into a transient lifestyle.

The Al & Ivy Homeless Literary Journal Archive:

Here's the blurb for Boogie Underground Media:

Boogie Underground Media promotion.

Email for list of services and prices starting from only $5.00!

Monday, May 8, 2017

On The Road With Al & Ivy: A Literary Homeless Chronicle


"...Presently Jason understood the Pythoness to say that the voyage he must undertake would be renowned in song for unnumbered ages, if he took the precaution of sacrificing to Apollo, God Of Embarkations, on the day he launched his ship and on the night of his return. Then she lapsed into nonsense. The only recurrent phrase he could catch was that he should 'take the true Jason' with him..."

- Robert Graves (Hercules My Shipmate, aka The Golden Fleece. Quote abridged from book)

The month of April was quite eventful. It's well documented in my gofundme updates, so I'll just summarize:

I was offered two places to live while getting a fresh start in the Midwest. One in Wisconsin and the other in Illinois. The idea was to shuttle between both for a couple of months, with one becoming permanent if all went well. It included a one way airline ticket, so one major cost was covered.

The offer was one of a few ideas I looked at on how to proceed into summer, and it was the only one that put me into a room right away. 

All the other paths would have involved staying in the car for a few months, and given the housing situation in the SF Bay Area, probably much longer than that.

My old Cadillac was leaking gas, the tires were shot, the transmission was slipping, there was both a loss of compression in the engine and plenty of smoke. Enough smoke that a mechanic said the car would never pass smog without repairs. 

It wasn't a car that could transition from being a shelter to a commuter car, so my first priority would have been to get another vehicle, further extending the time to get indoors.

I decided that getting into a room was the priority. After 14 months I had overcome some obstacles and felt as "normal" again as I could be, even after the loss of Ivy, and felt that trying to go another summer (and fall) would become a diminishing return situation...looking back at the summer of 2016, when I was in a car that was stuck on a street for almost two months, I realized that in many ways I'd been very lucky to get through it without some sort of trouble from the various populations that roamed and camped there. 

Part of that luck was some old timers spreading the word that I was OK, and the other part was my little friend Ivy. You'd be surprised how often her cute presence diffused an otherwise serious situation.

For the summer of 2017, I was looking at a situation where Ivy and all the old timers I knew were gone. I suppose I'd have survived it, having gotten reasonably good at being homeless, but the Midwest offered a safe room, and what looked like a good job market. 

So I went. 

I'm about four weeks in, a couple of weeks in both places and found that there are a lot of adjustments to make, and those are coming along. I'd lived in the Midwest before so it wasn't a culture shock. I kept wearing Tshirts, trunks and sandals for way too long though, in the colder weather. Old California habits die hard.

I'm still in transition, I'm working hard on my book, "Hide In Plain Sight," and as an immediate job, or at least a source of some income, expanded my Boogie Underground Media promo venture. I'm starting to take on some charity work with it. One is Muttville, a dog rescue organization based in San Francisco.

The book is in the second pass, and I hope to have it ready for line editing within weeks. When I have the book far enough along, I'll begin a serious job search, though next week I figure it'll do no harm to start trying to get some freelance CAD work.

The subject matter of this blog will still deal with homelessness. There's still sections that were written or I planned to write about homelessness that didn't fit completely into the book, and I also wanted to be more topical about the issue in future entries.

There's still plenty of thanks to give to all the people that helped me. I know plenty have been given in the updates, but I'll cover the more in detail in the next entry. 

Future updates will be shorter, and come out more often. Maybe every 7-10 days. The blogs were long in the early days because it was a rehearsal for a book, and the aim was to get used to writing chapter length pieces. Which isn't necessary now, and I'd like to do blog entries more often.

I've seen many things out there, including the death of my dear friend Ivy, that won't be easily forgotten, and I pray that reading about what I've seen out there in this blog and my book will be as close as any of you will ever get to that kind of life.

...airports, and notions of time...

I was in the airport about 12 hours before the flight because it seemed like a good way to minimize Murphy's Law (which it didn't do, I covered that in detail in my last gofundme update) but also because it was a better place to be than a parking lot in Salinas. 

The opportunity to crash out legally and safely in a public place was too good to pass up.

I knew the hours would pass quickly, or more specifically, without any sense of it being a long wait. The flight, which was about four hours, no pun intended, literally flew by and as we touched down in Milwaukee; the wait in the terminal and flight, all that seemed like one big moment.

One of the things about adjusting to a more normal life is regaining my time sense...the world that runs by the clock disappears after 14 months in a car. 

There was a sense of forward motion but it tended to run from event to event, or location to location. There was day and night of course, but as I write this, I still don't have a sense that this or that day is Sunday or Monday or if it's a holiday. 

As a homeless person, having time just float by feels different. Life is a series of cycles that have a beginning, middle and end, and in between is the daily task of survival.

The flight didn't feel like four hours of time. It was a period of intense relief and tears, disbelief and then realization that I was heading thousands of miles away, wonder at how the country looked from so high up and how I could easily find my location using Google maps, sleep, fear and uncertainty about my decision to head east instead of staying, happiness at a safe landing and intense curiousity about my future. The clock said four hours had passed, and that's the other way to look at it.

...landing in Milwaukee...

Once the airliner landed in Milwaukee, time started to come back. It was like entering into another world. Many of the feelings that came back were familiar, some a shock to the system. More than a few times I've sat there on a chair or bed and tried to comprehend where I was.

The parking lots and streets I'd escaped seemed very far away, like waking up in the middle of a dream except that I'd become the person in that dreamscape and only my surroundings had changed. changed sense of perception...

I was mowing a lawn in Wisconsin, in wonderment at the normalcy of it all, then a man walked by wearing a backpack. It only took an instant to recognize that he was homeless. 

Earlier, in Illinois, I walked by one that was sleeping on the sidewalk near an area with rail and overpasses and wondered for a moment why he didn't sleep back there...there's similar places in Gilroy that's got a few camps, then I realized that it must be safer to sleep out in the open where he was. Maybe hobos, maybe gangs, something made it a better bet to sleep near the downtown area, but then, that's how a homeless person look at a place and instantly size it up and have a picture of where's it safe to sleep and where it isn't. 

You take in details like the graffiti and can tell if it's by gangs or just taggers, even if the markings are local and I don't have a clue as to the meaning. 

I see some markings that are just wannabe stuff or trolling, and other signs where I make a mental note to avoid the's not expert knowledge, or street heraldry. Just instinct, and empirical wisdom passed on to me by others who'd been out longer than me.

What is different now is that these perceptions can hit me while simply walking through a downtown area to visit a used book store. 

I pass a CafĂ©, admire some antiques in a vintage store window, walk further and see people sitting outside talking and laughing, then look down an alley and see signs of a homeless crash pad, then continue along and see who's coming to perform on an auditorium marquee. 

I sit for a while looking at the neighborhood, the place where I'm staying is off about a quarter mile. I see the streets, lots, overpasses, and in a few moments I've marked out in my mind all the areas to avoid at night, where I'd check to see if a car could park, a good place or two to hide if I were a backpacker, and any areas that looks "inhabited." Most of all, any area that flashes a danger sign in my subconscious.

I'm not sure it's a reflex that will ever completely disappear, not in a mind that's as busy as mine. The trick won't be to blank it out, but to let it flow in and out of my consciousness without effect...for now...after all, nothing's certain in life, and I might need those instincts again. 

However, I didn't not want those festering or just below the surface. It keeps the other baggage that needs to be worked through too close, and in too many dreams at night. All wisdom is empirical, and thus paid for, so there's no point to throwing it away like a three year old computer, but not all of it needs to be kept around.

...a word about ear plugs...

Wearing ear plugs was a habit I originally started to block out noises while trying to sleep during the day. It was a practice that I continued in the car.

I'd experimented with just using cotton balls or loose cloth but I preferred the superior noise blocking of ear plugs. 

Even if there was no sound outside, the plugs were like a blanket that blocked out unwelcome noises, like arguments but not sudden sounds I needed to hear like sirens and impact noises.

The world outside is only as private as people let it be, but blocking out sound is a temporary blind. Open ears can pick up sound and force me to react, blocked ears can't hear, so it's a form of escape and respite and let's me let go of the constant's not really safe to do that at night. It's a calculated risk, a break from the world.

- Al Handa 

...cover reveal for Hide In Plain Sight...


This is the cover for the upcoming book, Hide In Plain Sight, designed by Jenna Brooks, supervised and edited by Mutiny Rising Media.

-Al Handa

Please consider a contribution to keep this blog going and support my activities:

My intent isn't to become a donor funded homeless blogger, I'd like to do much more...until then, a donation would help Ivy and I to survive and continue efforts (like seeking work, etc) that can bring us out of homelessness as opposed to dropping further down into a transient lifestyle.

The Al & Ivy Homeless Literary Journal Archive:

Here's the blurb for Boogie Underground Media:

Boogie Underground Media promotion.

Email for list of services and prices starting from only $5.00!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

On The Road With Al & Ivy: A Literary Homeless Chronicle 3/26

"I'm gonna tell you so you'll know
That old Blue's gone where the good dogs go
Singing ya-ho Blue, you good dog you"

- Traditional

"When I get to Heaven first thing I'll do
is grab my horn and call for Blue
Bye bye, Blue
You good dog, you"

- Roger McGuinn (Old Blue)

"Me and old Bugler, we'd run wild 
Blue tick hound and redneck child
We thought we were birds of a feather

Bugler's voice like Gabriel's horn
Up in the cypress all down through the corn
Golden sounds, yes to treasure

Bugler, Bugler bless your hide
Jesus gonna take you for a chariot ride
Say goodbye, say goodbye..."

- Larry Murray (Bugler)

Ivy passed away suddenly on March 17, 2017. This is my obituary on my best friend who was with me for so long and through so many tough times.

I adopted Ivy in late October of 2008. The big recession was starting to hit the solar industry, where I worked as a drafter. Two weeks after Ivy's adoption I was laid off. It began a futile year where I was talked into trying to get into a nursing program when thousands of women were out of work trying to do the same thing.

Ivy was estimated at between two and three years of age, and had spent that time as a breeding dog in an illegal shih tzu puppy farm that specialized in mating runts to breed "teacup shih tzus."

She spent that time in a cage, not shown affection, and when I got her, was distrustful and skittish. For the first two months she ran away at almost every opportunity until I began to understand that it was an escape reflex.

It was a panic reaction and that once she'd run a certain distance, she'd stop and try to get back. Sort of like a dog panic attack. The SOP became to follow her, catch her if possible, but just keep her in sight till she stopped. That was the best way as she was amazingly fast and agile.

Ivy eventually learned to trust me, and perhaps because I was her first human owner, became very attached to the point of having separation anxiety. Because of this, cage training was impossible as she'd try to chew her way out of the steel bars.

I eventually discovered that being in the car was calming to her so got into the habit of taking her wherever I went. I decided not to deal too much with the separation anxiety as it was a relief from what felt like an endless series of high speed chases. It also subsided with time.

The 2008 recession was tough, and we found ourselves in varied situations like a warehouse space in the Central Valley, to crowding together on a cot in a garage in Sunnyvale. 

Though times got tough, Ivy was always so full of cheer and happy to be in our pack that no mood ever stayed dark. When I read about therapy dogs, I know it's all true, their friendship is better medicine than any tranquilizer.

There eventually came a few years of prosperity, and Ivy only made it feel better. We saw many places together; from beaches down south, forests in the Sierras, hot dusty places like Bakersfield, and colder climes in Monterey and Capitola. She was a perfect traveling companion, never complaining, and very rarely any trouble.

We became homeless in 2016, due to a variety of factors and our travels started north in Marin county, and ended up in Gilroy and Salinas.

If anything, she got better at traveling, and she spent a year in the back seat of the Cadillac without ever becoming neurotic or temperamental. More than a few times any impatience or frustration at my situation would dissolve after looking at her relaxing and enjoying her pillows both as beds or toys. 

Humans often tend to feel that our supposed complexity entitles us to regard a simple enjoyment of life as the domain of the animal world, but I think that Ivy was maybe more attuned to the simplicity of life, and more into the moment.

 We put so many futures or pasts out there, color the world with labels of success or failure, and regret this or that, and don't realize that just relaxing on a bed or chair, without a care at that moment, should be simply enjoyed without the need for an explanation, dispensation from the Puritan ethic, or consumerism in the form of paid entertainment or chemicals.

She passed away on March 17th, and I know I'll miss her terribly in the days ahead.

I'd like to talk about what she meant to me and her legacy.

There wasn't a single day, even during her first two months, that she didn't make me smile or laugh. Even on the day of her passing, amidst all the tears, some memory or thought would bring a smile. Thinking of her now, sad as it feels, is still a pleasure and my thoughts are warm and loving, and as I look at the many pictures of her, so many of those showed how much she loved me.

In many of my projects, she was a key element. She had a flair for modeling, and showed an impressive variety of emotions and expressions. She had real charm, and knew it, which made it even more charming. She was my model as I learned photography and image editing.

Ivy was very smart, and developed a vocabulary of sounds and expressions, and constantly imitated any sounds I made as if to learn new words. She could read my moods, and would do things to make me laugh if I seemed irritable and if I seemed depressed or sad, she'd always come up and look as if to ask, what's the matter.

She and I were a pack, and whether it was our daily hikes or occasional sharing of a baked chicken, it was always a sweet sight to see her smiles and wagging tail when she saw a favorite activity was coming. She had a countless number of cute mannerisms.

One thing I'll miss is her night sounds, from her loud, baby like snoring, to her low groans to ask to be taken out, and conversations of repeated short grunts that she kept going as long as I replied. 

She enjoyed being tucked into bed, and liked a belly rub at bedtime, purring almost like a cat as she stretched out and soon it would turn into snoring as she drifted off to sleep. During the night if she woke and saw me having my usual difficulty sleeping, she'd move over near to my head and make herself available for petting, which I found was doing me a favor, not just her.

The night is very quiet now, and that's when I'll miss her the most. I put her tags on my backpack. People used to remark that they could always tell Ivy was coming because of the tinkling sound of all her tags and St. Christopher medal, and hearing those bell like sounds on a hike will be like having her spirit watching over me, a sound better than any song on my MP3 player.

I'll always see her in my mind, feel her presence, enjoy the time I spent with her and the lessons learned about unconditional love and forgiveness, and hope to blessed with an occasional visit from her in my dreams. You'll continue to see her here and elsewhere, as there's no reason she should simply disappear. The soul still echoes in this world.

Ivy was a gift and my time with her a pleasure to be cherished. If there were so many tears at her passing, it was because the love she gave and left behind was so deep and great.

God bless you Ivy, my best friend and companion. I was determined to take you out of homelessness with me, and I still intend to do that.


...gimme shelter...

One of the well known institutions of the homeless scene is the "shelter," which has become a term like "jail" or "natural food," which to say a generic term that nobody thinks too deeply about. People tell this or that homeless person to "go to a shelter," without realizing that it can be like "going to a restroom" and finding that it's a overflowing outhouse.

Shelters are a classic "solution" type fix by society, related to disaster relief measures to temporarily house large numbers of displaced people, and can vary in quality, as with any charity, society will rarely tolerate any complaints about their generosity.

A solution fix is where a problem is resolved by the giver, based on their opinion of what's best for the greatest number of people for the money available. Shelters are popular, except when located near nice neighborhoods who object to seeing human flotsam lowering their property values or on sites that turn out to have profitable potential to developers.

This is the reason that so many solutions suggested by activists, who tend to have actually talked and listened to homeless have ideas like tent cities and modular units shot down. That's why asking the age old question "do you have a solution" is futile...there's a lot of good solutions out there already for that single problem, the real question isn't even about money. A ton of money is being spent now on the problem, and all it's done is create both a class of dependents and what amounts to a Balkanized bureaucracy.

It's not an issue of whether to help the homeless...even the most rabid homeless hater would gladly see tax money spent to put the flotsam put at least somewhere else...the problem is that in many urban areas the available land has become too valuable to seemingly waste on homeless when it can used to turn a profit.

That's the reasoning behind gentrification, right back to days of old where Americans felt it was OK to wipe out or screw over the seemingly lazy Native Americans who just lived on land that had gold, rich farming soil or where the government needed a place to put poor whites.

The problem will always be "where," and the default generally is some building that can be turned into a shelter like a National Guard Armory that developers have no chance of getting their hands on, or old buildings in the ever shrinking warehouse districts. It's the biggest bang for the buck, and often can be done at least for a while before anyone notices and objects.

Best of all, it gives society a "go to" solution, like a jail, where one size fits all and the problem can be quickly put out of mind.

It's a great temporary solution when hundreds or thousands of people need shelter after a disaster, but will quickly come apart at the seams after a few weeks as a permanent living situation. You're sticking a multitude of unvetted personalities into close proximity with nowhere near the supervision of a jail or a department store. Even a jail will try to make sure the nuts and aggressive ones are kept away from the rest.

Even in a prison, where rigid supervision is possible due to a partial suspension of civil rights, it's simply impossible to control every type of behavior that can be hidden from view.

A good way to see how you feel about a shelter would be if you had to send your teenage son or daughter to one. It goes without saying the place would have to be checked out.

But what if the parent was told that the place would have a large number of males who would be living in very close proximity, some mentally ill, others who are active drug or alcohol users, some with felonies on their rap sheets, and that the shelter didn't have enough personnel to ensure the teenager's safety and that there was no guarantee that other users of the shelter would intervene to help if there was trouble? Keep in mind you'll always be told that there's proper supervision and so on.

Of course the answer would be no, but we herd people towards shelters all the time without a second thought and never worry that people are being sent into a refugee or concentration camp type situation.

I'm not saying all shelters are like this. Some have better funding and supervision, and will kick out the violent ones if they can catch them in the act.

The other problem with the shelters is that it's perceived as a uniform system like hospitals, but really isn't regulated as such. Each shelter is more likely than not an ad hoc implementation of the standard temporary disaster relief camp, and can vary in quality, and is essentially a random crowd situation that can evolve into an anarchy or jail yard politics in a short time,

I'd have to go a step further and say that imperfect as the system is, at least for now, it's probably better than more expensive programs that try to build housing units of various type in competition with developers in areas where real estate values are high or scarce, or even housing vouchers unless there's enough units available to make that program work.

I remember over a decade ago when Willie Brown suggested creating a tent city on public land as a possible way to ease the homeless problem, and the reaction became a microcosm of what drags most attempts at homeless solutions into inertia.

In short, the dialogue became a swirling mass of objections and arguments from trolls, homeless activists and organizations pro and con...with no polling of the homeless who would certainly have supported the idea, which I know because ad hoc tent cities are one of the most common forms of illegal homeless camps.

People argue that drugs and other illegal activities can be controlled better by legalizing and regulating it. Running a tent city on public land is essentially turning illegal overnight sleeping into organized camping and can regulated as such, and cheaper than trying to rent or buy real estate in a hot market.

One argument I often see in the troll section of most homeless articles is that such solutions are killed by homeless organization objections and activists, and there is a germ of truth to that...though it's often more a case of diverse groups fighting each other for influence and funding like a bunch of rats climbing over each other's backs to get at the feeder. The problem isn't sincerity, it's just human nature when any area, unregulated and Balkanized, is run by people who are unelected and often can't separate their egos from the cause.

That, and the usual "the benefits become a magnet for the homeless." The people who say that sort of thing are generally the same types who used to think property values went down if African Americans moved in or support's just class based thinking and even if the phrase  has some truth to it, it's no more objectionable than people who knowingly buy homes in areas where federal funding will cover damage in hurricane zones or forest fires that cost millions to contain.

The fact is, the simplest solutions tend to work best, and in the case of shelters and tent cities, those form naturally, and if properly managed, would probably do more good than programs several times more expensive. begins by saving pennies (phennings) one becomes rich from a lifetime of application - Frederick Forsyth (Dogs of War)

One of the skills that I've developed on my long hikes with Ivy is becoming an expert at terrain. I'm looking at the ground all the time, and after a year I've learned to read it like a book. I'm not sure I'm at the level of an old time apache scout, but I do notice things.

One thing I've noticed is people leave money on the ground.

I think the days of finding a $20 bill on the sidewalk is pretty much over, since everybody's looking for such things, including the homeless. I do notice that pennies and nickels, and occasionally quarters, are almost always lying on the ground. I see a couple or even a few on almost every walk.

The thing about a penny is that the copper that used to make it is probably more valuable than the face value of the coin. Of course it's illegal to melt pennies down, and turn them into ingots, but from what I've seen at recycle centers, and reading the constant stories of people stealing copper wiring, it would seem like that would be a natural progression for a coin that is almost worthless.

I made a habit of picking up the coins, because I figured at least it would make the walks profitable.

A year of hiking has netted me approximately six dollars. Two were one dollar bills, so I treat those as manna or thunderbolts from heaven, and not part of a serious search, and so estimate a four dollar profit from my labors.

I invested part of it in used books at the Salvation Army, on half off days, and have four books to show for it.

For the record, those are Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, the Penguin Portable Beat Compilation, Ken Kesey's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, and John Keegan's The Price Of Admiralty.

Those are pretty good titles, and I probably beat a dozen EBay resellers to the punch there, but I've always had a fool's luck in books, guitars, and old records.

I'd put the total Ebay price at around 20.00, or more in a used book store. The Keegan book could be even more than the ten dollar value I assigned it. Military history books are always popular.

I suppose that if I had the same razor sharp instincts in the stock market, I wouldn't be writing this blog, but Nature makes us all different and I guess that back when the first amphibians crawled up on the beach, I was off collecting sea shells or something...I'm sure that my hiking will someday yield up a bonus worthy of the effort expended.

...instruments of the broke and homeless, the charango...

I started this journey with an instrument collection roughly valued at around 16,000 good instruments are quite liquid, though often not at the so called collector value, those were among the first to go when things got tight. Musicians have been selling their instruments to pay rent or eat since time began, or at least when they first thought it could actually be a living, so it's hardly a homeless trip.

There are survivors even in the worst massacres, and my instrument collection is no exception. My gear still includes an electricronic drum pad and Fender amp in storage (safe from me), assorted used harmonicas that no one in their right mind is going to buy, and the crown jewel, a vintage charango estimated to have been made by a Andean native in the 1980s.

Like with most vintage instruments, it's fun to believe the mythology.

My charango survived for two good reasons; one, almost no one knows what a charango is in my neck of the woods, and two, no one would buy it until I dropped the price to 20.00, and broke or not, I couldn't stomach that.

The origins of this ancient Andean stringed instrument are clouded in mythology, but ranges from being a copy of guitars and lutes brought over by the Conquistadors to being a outlaw instrument banned by the Spanish government bent on eradicating native music, and made small to be easily concealed.

I choose to believe the latter explanation as it adds mojo to my charango and is perfect for the image of a homeless guy hiding in plain sight. 

I do hide it, but for the more mundane reason of preventing theft. Plus there's always going to be an idiot out there who'll insist on playing it, showing off, and damaging it. For many musicians, letting someone else play their instrument ranks only slightly below sharing a wife or girlfriend, but above lending money.

Charangos are basically a ukulele strung like a lute, with double strings called courses, like a 12 string guitar or mandolin. I'll spare you the technical details like how it's tuned, as I don't tune it the standard way, but suffice to say, it sounds like a mandolin but with nylon strings.

The originals were made with an armadillo shell as the body, or bowl, and in modern times feature all wood construction. Some say wood sounds better, and to modern ears used to guitars or ukes, it probably does. The main reason wood is the most popular material now is that Andean Armadillos are now endangered and are embargoed.

The armadillo shell type does sound different. It's less rich sounding, and has a tone that's closer to a harp than a guitar. It has less volume than a wooden model, so when strummed hard it can sound more trebly, and it's harder to record properly.

I've played modern charangos, including a 1600.00 concert model (bought used) and ended up keeping the native made vintage version. It's harder to play, doesn't stay in tune really well, but of all the ones I've owned and played, it's the one that has the sound I hear in my brain. 

That, plus no one around here will buy it, so it stays, and it's survival in my collection smacks of destiny or God's will, and that only adds to the mojo of this outlaw instrument.

Here's an instrumental I recorded with my charango some years back:

A Charango Is Born In The Andes (by Handa-McGraw & The Internationals) backpack needs to go on a diet...

I talked about scoot bags in my previous blog. The one I use currently is a single strap type, a nice little one made by the Swiss Army Knife guys that I was able to buy because of a donation specifically for a backpack.

The reason I prefer a single strap is because it's easy to swing one around while walking to get something out of it, as opposed to unstrapping a standard two strap type, and it limits the load that I can carry.

Load limit is important, because the thing about a scoot bag is that it's supposed to hold everything you need theoretically for a dire emergency. In my case, there would be various reasons why I could come back to the parking space or street, and find that my car gone. 

In that case the question is; what I would want out of that car if such a thing occurred.

The problem is that the bigger the pack, the more you think you need in a dire emergency. When I used to carry a regular backpack, I eventually loaded it up till it weighed almost 20 pounds. Which of course meant that I stopped carrying it on hikes.

The scoot bag is primarily a psychological tool to make you feel better. Since the contents will virtually never be used, it's really more like an anxiety medication.

I won't list out all the contents but suffice to say, if I came back and found my car gone, the pack would contain food and water to survive for three days, plus emergency shelter, power for my remaining devices, important paperwork, and sufficient weaponry to fight off wild animals.

Obviously in even in the most dire circumstances, I'm not going to go off camping for three days, but it's like having a computing device that has more capability than a normal will ever use, it just feels like more bang for the buck.

I remember in the ERT class the firemen who conducted the classes would say that no matter what your precautions, or what you think your emergency procedures are, the most important thing to realize is that in a major disaster, assume that you might be on your own for at least 24 to 48 hours. So that's the situation I load the pack for.

Still, a 12 pound pack gets heavy.

So I got rid of a useless plastic whistle, and had to use the camouflaged waterproof power pack so that got taken out. I also changed the three day food supply to one Cliff Bar, but kept the three day water supply since the cool puncture proof water envelopes are the reason I originally bought the survival kit in the first place. 

I struck grizzly bears, crocodiles, and rabid packs of wolves off the list of dangers, so I was able to reduce my arsenal to one small but very cool Old Timer sheath knife.

I kept the super duper compass with lame fold out 4x binoculars, and the admittedly heavy Klean Kanteen as both add the aura of survivablity to my kit. Believe it or not, I've had to use the compass a couple of times when lost out in the boonies or mountains when the cell phone signal went away. It's like waterproof matches, you never know when those will come in handy.

I'll let you know next month what the scoot bag configuration has been changed to in the ever evolving landscape of survival in the streets.

...some social commentary...

When tech people rhapsodize about AI, and robots, just tell them to get spell check working right first...

...cover reveal for Hide In Plain Sight...


This is the cover for the upcoming book, Hide In Plain Sight, designed by Jenna Brooks, supervised and edited by Mutiny Rising Media. I think it's an absolutely perfect image.

I'm working on Chapter 11 of the rough draft, which will run 13 chapters, and am getting more and more excited as the book is taking shape.

Mutiny Rising Media had me start an author page on Facebook, and I'll begin putting on shorter items that came up in research for the book and pictures on that page.

Hide In Plain Site page on Facebook:

-Al Handa

Please consider a contribution to keep this blog going and support my activities:

My intent isn't to become a donor funded homeless blogger, I'd like to do much more...until then, a donation would help Ivy and I to survive and continue efforts (like seeking work, etc) that can bring us out of homelessness as opposed to dropping further down into a transient lifestyle.

The Al & Ivy Homeless Literary Journal Archive:

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