Wednesday, December 28, 2016

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

 

So much the rather thou Celestial light
Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
Irridiate, there plant eyes, all mist from thence
Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight."

- Milton (Paradise Lost)

There's a street Ivy and I walk along most mornings, and while it's hardly the weirdest street in the country, it's inhabitants have provided sights that even this jaded wanderer has never seen.

The oddest sight is people who walk their dogs with their car...the dog wanders down along the sidewalk, lightening it's load and the owner drives along side on the street...in one instance, the person is elderly and probably can't keep up and is simply ensuring that fido has the kind of full life it deserves, but in another case, it's a woman in her 30s who even lets the dog frolic in a parking lot under mobile escort. On Christmas morning they pretty much had the parking lot to themselves and it appeared to be a playful time with the dog and car taking turns leading the search for the perfect potty spot. Add a woman who walks her dog in an electric cart every morning and you have a pretty heavy traffic area.

Once after a rain, there was around two dozen snails crossing the sidewalk from the grass to an ivy patch...Ivy and I stood and watched for a few minutes, but while it was clearly a compelling matter of life and death to get to the safety of the bushes, their pace was on a much slower cycle than mine and I made a mental note to see how it all played out the next day, and to watch my karma to avoid coming back as a snail.

Most made it, and the few that didn't failed due to the relative ability nature endowed them with...there was no sign that birds or kids had intervened, which indicated that the people along this street who walk their dogs here had a truly larger picture of life and let the snails have their shot at survival, each according to it's ability.

About half way down the sidewalk, along a large vacant field is a clump of bushes that's home to several feral cats...people from the RV park across the street lay out dry cat food at regular intervals, and it rarely results in a mess, as the felines don't appear to be wasters.

The cycles that play out here have a different sense of time, where even snails aren't messed with...it's a neighborhood where everybody minds their own business and is as close to nature as an urban street can get, as the ecosystem isn't about nice scenery but of the timeless intersection of natural cycles, each to a purpose.

...coming in from the cold...

For most people, night time is when it gets dark and cold. Those who go camping or live outside know that it's more complex than that, and is a cycle where the temperature will drop continuously during the night.

The one thing I didn't realize is that the temperature in a car recedes more gradually...one thinks that once the car is parked, and the heater is off, that the night temperature will be maybe a few degrees colder than how it feels at 9pm.

What really happens is once the car stops running, the engine is still very hot and can radiate heat like steam pipes...not enough to make the car toasty, but enough to keep the car a few degrees warmer for an hour or two and make the night seem milder than it really is.

I didn't bother with a blanket and even took my shoes off on that mild winter evening in February, and went to sleep early around 10pm...the car cooled off about the same time the temperature outside dropped and I turned into a popsicle in 30 degree cold at two in the morning.

A lot of adjustments and experimentation occurred since then, but the main axiom became get warm and worry about refinements after. That meant some nights with several blankets, jackets and sweaters piled on me at some points...all after a disasterous couple of nights made a sleeping bag seem like the wrong solution (at the time, I know better now).

The problem with a sleeping bag is that it's very bulky and clumsy to use in a car...part of that is adjusting to functioning in the dark and realizing that all the things in the car that look organized during the day get knocked over or spilled at night when flopping around in a sleeping bag.

The reason I say get warm first, then adjust, is that it keeps you from making dumb decisions while trying to get feeling back in your hands and feet; like drinking hot liquids that make you have to to the bathroom in the cold at 3am, drinking booze, or other useless actions.

I've learned to park the car at night differently in winter than in warm weather...in the summer, it's best to park where the shade will be in the morning. When it's cold, park where the first rays of the sun will light up the interior and start warming it up...in most cases it'll be warm enough to have to open windows a bit within a half hour, even if it's still freezing outside. Cheaper than running the car to get the heater going or power a cigarette light electric blanket...as usual, nature provides the simplest solution.

Sleeping in a car is about beating the cold...everything else is a distant second.

...the doors of perception...

I had a sense of curiousity about the homeless scene at first, even amidst all the turmoil and confusion of one's own entrance into that world...it becomes clear why the old timers and other denizens rarely exhibit any curiosity; the struggle of life is best served by prioritizing attention to one's own world, as revelations about the scenery is like most knowledge; it's nice to know but ultimately irrelevant. 

I think the best way to approach homelessness is to recognize that one's immersion will come in stages; from self absorbed fear, confusion, and dispair to a certain level of mastery over the lifestyle that can lead to a freer state of mind where goals feel attainable...a return to the normal struggle of life.

The tricky stage is mastery over the lifestyle. I avoid learning certain skills and the tricks of the trade because one can get so into mastery that it leads to an attraction for the lifestyle, and make no mistake, it has some attractions; not the least of which, and I hear it from a lot of the old timers, that the lifestyle is a kind of freedom from the various boxes that society puts or forces people into. 

It's like the guy who spends decades building a life; with a wife and kids, nice home and career, and then dumps it all for a Harley complete with young girlfriend and a new self centered philosophical outlook on life...he thinks he's now free of the cage a lifetime was spent building with all the trappings of success; until a mid life crisis points them towards hedonism adorned with the trappings of faux liberation...a prison breakout that only turned into the pathetic box of an aged hipster chasing a wasted youth.

A wise person will see homelessness as a process of change that was probably initiated as much by the self as external forces, and realize that the freedom of being out of society's boxes should be embraced, but to be used to come to an understanding about why it happened and to make critical choices about the future in a window that will close the instant that free state becomes baccanalian; most of us aren't fated to become acetic gypsies, so if clarity comes, it's a rare opportunity to chart a future that isn't reentering the downward spiral at a higher point. 

...you have to walk that lonesome highway by yourself...

Weighty questions indeed...maybe illumination will come during today's hike, maybe not...in any case, I decide to walk the 2.5 mile route that goes through vast acres of vacant lots, now lush meadows, with a good view of the mountains on all sides. A perfect blank canvas.

Music is a common way to pace a walk that's purely for fitness...it's often used as an energy that stimulates adrenal production, or to create a rhythm to walk by, which is in essence a march...I use it to provide a soundtrack as Frank Zappa would describe the practice of using music like clothes to color the scenery.

That means as I look out at the mountains on one stretch, I don't automatically hear a pastoral acoustic guitar or the high and lonesome sound of the Appalachian fiddle...thanks to the modern innovation of random shuffle, the magestic panorama of the now green hills can echo with the stately overtones of John Fahey, exude the relaxed joy of Ali Campbell's UB40 reggae, or thunder with the pounding of AC/DC or the Ramones...the mountains don't change much on my walks, at least in the time cycle I live in, but music can give the view a different look each time, and to vary the look of the scenery crosses over into a psychedelic view of the world.

...electric kool aid pioneers...

By that I mean as the psychedelic movement was when it started, at least in it's modern incarnation starting perhaps with Huxley, and later pioneers like Timothy Leary or Ken Kesey.

Of course most of you would immediately think I'm talking about a world seen through kalaidescope colors and immersed in the music of artists like Jimi Hendrix. 

In other words, what Americans tend to do with any sort of spiritual idea, which is to turn it into a revenue producing amusement park.

All you have to do is look at the New Testament, which isn't a perfect record of what Jesus said but clear enough, to realize that Christianity is really a pretty simple creed, and revolutionary for it's time...the notion that one's betters are not really better was, and still is, an outlook that runs totally counter to man's Darwinian nature.

Mankind's solution to live the words of Jesus was to externalize it into a church, with it's own social layers and rituals and concepts borrowed from the ultimate capitalistic system, the Greek religion where worship was essentially a business transaction...Many people even now prefer a God that will reward fidelity in real terms, like winning the lottery or scoring a touchdown, and to let the truly pious (or at least the loudest) be recognized for the achievement of being better than the next person (whose going to hell).

In terms of what the psychedelic movement was trying to do, the focus eventually became a sort of hip hedonism where being stoned in a light show and screwing like rabbits became freedom...in America, that was a product that sold itself.

Guys like Kesey understood that the shamistic consumption of mind altering manna was hopefully a door to another level of consciousness...that is an aim that goes back through centuries of seekers.

In the east, the early psychedelic movement would have been understood as a mere first step in a journey that could take centuries...in the West, it generally came to be about externals like clothing, music, or hallucinating...it's the virtue, and fault of the American adherence to the seeing is believing mantra.

The whole Summer Of Love thing potentially was a recognition that that mankind can construct boxes and control systems that are simply a web of ideas that a person can walk away from...if they don't mind the appropriation of their peers...once again, a simple idea, but devilishly hard to pull off...

In a way, guys like Kesey or Leary did succeed...though their time is mainly remembered as a stoned sowing of oats, the basic idea of changing one's world by changing consciousness is firmly ingrained, however imperfectly, in modern society.

It may be as small a step as reading a self help book, changing one's hairdo, not staying in a lousy relationship, or quitting work and starting a travel blog, but the one thing that the psychedelic movement did was break the old American mindset of conformity and that's evident even in our fractured political landscape that so many bemoan as a country "divided" against itself...it's not a pretty sight, but it's better than a society that exalts conformity, which isn't a political sensibility but philosophical...there was a time that a woman being beaten by her husband would be told to try and be a better wife...the concept that she should walk away from the situation is as much a change in consciousness as any LSD trip ever was.

That's not a small thing...not everyone may like your lifestyle, and society can, at times, go on it's witch hunts, but in an earlier age, people like me could easily have ended up in a debtor prison or shipped off as a indentured servant by my betters...the chaotic range of views about the homeless may hamper efficient action to solve the problem, but it also prevents society from simply seeing us from a single view, like assuming we're just losers, and efficiently disposing of us like the country did with Native Americans.

So, yes, the psychedelic movement turned into nostalgia, but it did change minds and that can't necessarily be said for all the impressive high tech we see today, which may be enevitable as a part of life, but nothing any person needs to accept as a truth.

Freedom is an old idea that pops up regularly and high tech innovations may bring about a new conformity and but also the seeds of the rebellion against it.

...back to music...

So...music that colors the landscape...that's not a far fetched idea, and the concept goes back to the most basic premise of any consciousness raising doctrine; that everything you need to learn is already inside the mind and simply needs to be seen.

Whether it's a mantra, Acid, sacraments, ritual, or a book, the idea is that it merely opens a door or points your attention to the revelation that's already there.

The flaw, of course, is that it may not be there or that the prophet's words aren't understood because how the language changes over time. 

It's extremely common in Christianity where Jesus' concept of love is mistaken for having to like everybody...that transforms the simple concept of respecting the humanity of others into the nearly impossible task of liking everybody, including jerks.

In Buddhism or in various New Age systems, the concept of denial can become an ever difficult effort to stay in a perpetual bliss state, which can become as weird as being stuck in anger. Science doesn't help by making it all about hormones, which is what drug addiction is all about. 

When I say that music changes my perception of the mountain, it probably means that it brings about different associations from the past and present and I'll be the first to admit that the mountains being there could be purely incidental...it does make each walk in the outdoors a different experience and is a way of being able to see the world from different viewpoints.

Each of us inhabits a different world, or universe...our interactions are meetings or collisions...a person can believe he's Mickey Mouse, and will only get in trouble if he tries to impose this view on others...for some, there's only one Mickey Mouse, and he ain't it...but the principle is sound, and that ability to make one's own world is what makes a dream possible. If you can see yourself succeeding at something, then it's possible.

Obviously I'm oversimplifying for the sake of brevity and blog pacing, but it explains what I'm doing on an otherwise monotonous hike.

...the hideaway...

On one hike, the music put me into an inquisitive mode about hiding places...that's a strong instinct in kids, cats, and various animals that are low on the food chain...we build forts, form clubs in secret hiding places, and play house.

I remember as a young boy being a member of a secret agent club...there was only two of us, but we had the Man From U.N.C.L.E. guns and a whole slew of secret ways to communicate. We would spend hours after school going on missions, looking for enemy agents, and got very good at spotting secret hiding places that could keep us in stealth mode. 

I'm sure more than a few neighbors wondered what those two kids were doing hiding in this or that tree or behind their tool sheds but a lot of kids learned a lot about themselves in these rich fantasy lives. Same with activities like the Boy Scouts, for example, much of my respect for nature stems from that experience.

...recon...

On that particular hike I began to notice all the places a backpacker homeless could hide, and quickly assessed whether it was a good lair. 

What was interesting is that the early childhood logic had reversed...the best places to possibly sleep were now the worst. Too obvious, and a likely place to be surprised while sleeping. Certain places were only good if you had a partner or belonged to a group...the best places were the least obvious because the real factor is what everyone else sees, or can't see at night...if it looks good during the day, it'll be seen and possibly visited during the night by others.

All of the various creek beds and flood control ditches and levees were struck off the list...underpasses in this rural area were already inhabited and that meant possible turf issues, and the two bridges had gang markings all over...most of the time these places are safe, but as far as a place to sleep, it's better to play it safe and move closer to groups only after knowing who can be trusted or not. In the long run, it's best to find a group or at least an area where you know the other loners. It's not much different from how to live safely in a car.

I eventually spotted a good place...it was out in the open in a very large vacant field where the wild plants had grown over two feet high, away from the local landmarks like mounds or trees that can attract people who want a windbreak and you could run in all four directions to a place where there were people even at night (it was near a large plant where I could see they had security guards).

Luckily there was no need to use the new hiding place but it was filed away for future reference...most of the panic and fear from a new situation is the unknown...if I ever lost the car, and that's not an unrealistic fear, then in the worst case there was a place I could go till things could be sorted out.

It's a safe place, tucked away in the mind and like a first aid kit, hopefully never used...

It's an odd way to look at a hike, but for me it beats obsessing about how my abs are going to look after the workout...

- Al Handa

Note: The Ivy Corner will be back in January...I'm rethinking the format due to the good response she is getting on Vine, and am considering making it a video segment.

The Al & Ivy Homeless Literary Journal Archive:


 

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.

Friday, December 9, 2016

On The Road With Al and Ivy: A Homeless Literary Journal 12/8


 

Know, kings and fortune cannot make thee more.

- Alexander Pope

Most of mankind has come to view nature as simply the weather, or when to eat a turkey dinner. It's something we think we've mastered and control, and have become ignorant as to its complexity and the fact that it's still very much in charge.

A good example are California beach houses that were built decades ago, and had to be abandoned because the owners (or the state) can no longer afford to keep artificially rebuilding that coastline. You can change a condition for a while, but nature always wins because time, which is really an invention of mankind, is always on it's side.

The homeless aren't any different about countering nature...a common sight is a car or truck with the engine running to use the heater or air conditioner. One time I saw a guy run his car air conditioning for three hours on a hot day to take a nap. 

Out on the street, you do occasionally end up trading gas for functionally...I'll use my cigarette light inverter to run a shaver if the battery's dead, for example, but to a car homeless, gas is life and isn't casually wasted.

It's been unusually cold this week, and I'll run the engine in the morning for a few minutes to warn the car up while putting away the night gear...but as a rule, if I need to warm up the car, parking it in the sun with the windows closed works fine...it works for amphibians and only mankind would take nature's gift of sun and create devices to covert the sunlight into electricity to run a heater...which isn't necessarily a criticism by the way...

Mankind loves gadgets...many are necessary or at least fun but are often are just attempts to be more clever than nature; which runs complex cycles more efficiently than people. Modern medicine produces real miracles, but we're lucky that nature designed our bodies and that foctirs are in reality skilled mechanics...tech types love to visualize a world run by omnipotent robots, but that's just pure ego...humans haven't developed any mass produced appliance that you could trust with your life, with the possible exception of the rotary telephone or spoon.

...feet don't fail me now....

One good example of nature's genius is in the fitness field...the perfect exercise that almost all humans can do is walking...it's low impact, requires no training, and will take care of virtually every fitness need.

Mankind has turned fitness into an expensive boutique industry, and mixed hard core athletic event training with simple fitness and is in the process of creating a generation of people with bad backs and limbs who will be prime candidates for hip replacement surgery.

As said in The Godfather novel, it's the perfect business that creates more business.

Ancient Greek and Roman soldiers walked hundreds of miles in sandal, yet most moderns won't walk until they don expensive workout shoes priced in the cigar category and set goals that are more suitable for an athlete who intends to perform at a peak level for a single event with every intention of backing off afterwards, knowing that trying to maintain that peak will wreck a body as surely as tuning an engine to last one race.

I was a pretty good tennis player in my youth, but quit the second it was obvious that my knees wouldn't handle the pounding into my late 20s...it's best to tailor exercise to the aging cycle...trying to run four minutes miles into middle age is in effect robbing Peter to pay Paul, trading a few less pounds for later joint and muscle pain, and constant sports injuries.

My morning walk, which runs between 2 to 3 miles is virtually always done wearing Birkenstocks. The ones I use cost 6.00 at an outlet store, and work fine...I do have good walking shoes and boots but save those for hikes on trails or terrain.

Wearing a good pair of sandals teaches good walking habits, and keep the feet cooler than the most expensive athletic shoe. I admit it's not for everyone, but it works for me and I trust my body's judgement.

I figure the Romans did fine with sandals and their soldiers walked around the world for centuries...my Birkies ties me in with a simple and winning tradition. 

...to the land of bees and honey...

 

...the PG&E access road...

I decided one morning to route my hike up a PG&E access road that intersects my normal route...it shows as a road on Google maps, but it's really a dirt road that follows a series of power lines to a grid on the outskirts of the city, and cuts between an industrial zone and farmland.

It was a nondiscript journey for about a mile, then the road appears to end at a ranch house and several small housing units...since the structures were right off the access road, I figured it wasn't private property in the classic sense of the word and entered the compound. It was plain looking but too nice to be a migrant shanty town, it looked like one for supervisors and perhaps workers with key skills. It was deserted but as I passed, there were signs of permanence like a rudimentary playground and picnic area.

That led to another mile or so of dirt road that stretched between two large fields, and a small bee hive complex...one thing that struck me was that in this very isolated area, there were no signs that any homeless had used this area...which may have been another way of saying it was clean of the usual patina of fast food wrappers and odd junk items that were salvaged out of dumpsters and later abandoned again as excess weight or if no value in trade.

As I neared the end of the first stretch that the map said intersected a street that led to the freeway, a larger housing complex came to view that had a path around it that led to the next street...the problem being that there were several large watchdogs behind that fence, and the last thing I needed was to follow that fence line and find a hole with some guard dogs there...in a rural area, if a guard dog looks and sounds mean, it is...

The safer path unfortunately led to a barbed wire gate, which was the only opening to a fence line that made going around impossible...that wasn't something I climb wearing a small pack while carrying Ivy in a shoulder bag, so the plan was to slip her under the gate, with me climbing over it. 

Ivy and I weren't on the same wavelength so everytime she was pushed under to the other side, she would crawl back as I was trying to get over the barbed wire on top...probably thought she was being put into a cage or being left behind...but finally I slipped her under and wrapped her leash in the mesh to prevent movement and accepted a couple of small but painful wounds from very quickly flipping myself over the barbed wire to limit the amount of time Ivy spent complaining about being abandoned...I was pretty irritated by this time about the cuts and barking, but went with the flow and stayed irritated as anger releases adrenaline which not only dulled the pain of barb wire stabs but temporarily numbed the shoulder that got slightly wrenched while flipping my aged body over the top of the gate...call it an holistic application of emotive biochemistry. 

Ivy was overjoyed, of course, that we ended up on the same side of the fence.

The rest of the walk was uneventful, as the road then continued on the an underpass that we'd seen before and to a familiar route. 

We passed a sort of transport hub for the homeless...it was an area where the shopping cart types parked their collection of vehicles. In this case filled various scrap materials that would be sold to the recycling center here...it was on a bridge that crossed a very marshy stream...so marshy that even homeless didn't live on the banks and was used as a dumping ground by them and the respectable folks too judging no by the number of consumer type goods laying about.

It wasn't an outstanding hike, but for about a mile of it, it felt like being in the middle of nowhere, which would make it a pleasant regular change of pace except for the guard dogs and that hellacious barbed wire gate...that's too much civilization for me.

...fear is our friend...

...the homeless life is often about that ever present fear. Old timers regard it with a confident familiarity, and experience illuminates a lot of the mystery that causes anxiety, but it's always there. 

Sleeping in your clothes, making sure the car is locked down, that no valuables are showing, and etc., are simple common sense measures that reinforces an undercurrent of fear.

When I stay up for an hour or two before going to sleep in the car to make sure the area is quiet, it's a basic precaution that settles the mind; but I always know that once my eyes are closed that all bets are off. 

Particularly in an area where there's been car jackings.

You rehearse in your mind what to do if a car jacker picks you instead of the next guy, how to react if some stoned guy breaks your window for a smash and grab, or some drunk teens chose your car as the next homeless person they bully. 

When you're new to the game, it all seems complex and full of belligerent responses and unrealistic self defense fantasies. Even worse, people try to find that sense of security in weapons.

What becomes obvious after a few months is that nature has imprinted the most simple and effective survival technique into all of us; it's hide, run, and fight only if cornered and even then only long enough to create an opening to run.

Even the awesome grizzly bear or the deadly rattlesnake will generally choose to leave rather than fight in an intruder situation. 

Also, no shark can eat you if you never jump into the same section of ocean.

Thinking in terms of a macho Hollywood movie hero, where the badass hero takes no crap and kicks butt will just get a person hurt or killed (or arrested). Way too many people think that running away is cowardice and shameful, and not common sense.

Without the option of running away like a jack rabbit, every danger scenario in the mind becomes imbued with paralyzing fear because the options all involve unknowns that very few normal people can conceive of and it runs counter to the escape instinct. 

If you accept the gift of self preservation that nature's given you, then there's no need for years of training and your odds of survival are higher.

Most of any Army's boot camp training is geared towards eliminating the basic survival instinct. That's a fact that can be googled. The instinct to fight is really the second option only for when you're cornered and can't escape. A fight subjects you to the simple math of force versus force, and opting first for combat is in effect choosing the course with the lowest odds for survival.

Once I learned that survival on the streets is actually a simple matter of acknowledging that the instinct to escape wasn't cowardice, then my fear was manageable. 

In other words, if there was trouble in the air, I would just leave the area and sleep somewhere else. I always made sure to have at least three places I knew were generally safe. I listened to my fear, ignored territorial notions and went to a place where the fear abated.

Fear is really a survival instinct that gives you a self defense discipline that requires no training or conditioning...a massive dose of adrenaline is provided free of charge to give the flight response the maximum chance of success.

 Self defense experts will, correctly at times, point out that panic will lead to wrong decisions. 

That's true, nature does require that you know your environment and how to best survive in it, and mankind is a lousy teacher when it comes to survival...an assailent with a gun is more than fear alone can handle, but like in the ocean, if you cross paths with a shark, the bigger predator will generally win, and that may not be a destiny that can be escaped...however, as I said earlier, your odds improve against a shark if you stay out of the ocean.

As I sit in my car and look out at the world, there's a lot to be afraid or wary of, and in the homeless world, if someone wants to kill or hurt you they can. The police can't come soon enough to prevent it, even if someone bothers to call 911, but that fear also motivates me to avoid trouble, and gives me a survival strategy that's time tested and simple...if people laugh or point fingers at my graceless and undignified retreat from trouble, I'll be too busy at the time to notice anyway.

- Al Handa 12/8/16

The Al & Ivy Homeless Literary Journal Archive:



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.