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:

Here's the blurb for Boogie Underground Media:

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