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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Activities of the Homeless

Many of the homeless drink and smoke. I part company rather quickly with this category of person, homeless or not, because it makes for very sloppy living; and, to be honest, none of us is at liberty on this planet to destroy someone else's air, nor is one at leisure to be addlepated in tough times. Staying clear headed is hard enough with the logistics of homelessness. It takes practice to stay alert under trying conditions.

Let's take a typical morning for me.

First of all, cars doors are slamming in the parking lot . . . slam, slam, slam, slam (a car that was full front and back) . . . slam, slam, (a driver and a passenger) . . . slam, slam, slam, slam . . . and so on, at around 6:00 a.m. These are the college kids who have come out to the Bay for their rowing classes. Then, there are the herd sounds, the tromping of feet and a cacophony of voices as flocks of young males and females make their way to the boat house. I tuck myself a little deeper into the bench seat of my truck and wait for my cell-phone alarm.

When the cell phone plays, I know it is 7:00 a.m. and time to sit up, brush my hair, pack up the bed clothes and window covers, and fit them neatly stacked on the passenger-side of the vehicle. I slip my shoes on and start the engine. I used to drive over to the nearest public washroom, just a few yards away and nearer to the boat house. Now I drive 3 or 4 miles to get a quieter public washroom and parking lot. Too many people about, first thing, rattles my nerves.

Once parked at the other public washroom, I hop out and go to the rear of my vehicle for a duffle bag in which I keep toiletries, a towel, and the next day's clothing. I sometimes have to compete with City workers for the space, as this is their time of day for cleaning the public washrooms. They are usually accommodating, though; and if I wait for them to finish up, it is only a few minutes.

The public washrooms everywhere at the beach are the height of convenience and always clean. There are two rooms, the shower area and the toilets. I proceed to empty my chamber pot, wash up in the sink, brush teeth, and get out of my sleepwear and into day clothing, using the bench seating in the open-air shower room to hold my duffle. If it is raining, I am confined to the room where the toilets are and use the other sink (there are usually two) to hold my bag. Fortunately, most of the time, there are not other people using the public restrooms early in the morning, even in tourist season.

Still, even so --- and it does happen that company shows up, and I am there nude from the waist up and brushing my teeth --- one must overcome any sense that what one is doing is anything less than normal, for it is perfectly right, given the circumstance. It takes practice, however, to be truly humble before the facts: this is how I live, and these things are what I do to get along each and every day for right now. It takes more than an ounce of forgiveness, too, both of oneself and other people whose thoughts about how you may be inconveniencing them are palpable. Of course, it is also easy to impose these thoughts on others when, in fact, oftentimes, most people are too caught up in their own lives to care anything about me; and that is a good thing. I have not decided yet whether the need for privacy is innate or cultural, and it may well be both. It is certain, though, there is discomfort in doing in public what most people are accustomed to doing in private and expect everyone else to be doing in private, as well.

Be that as it may, I can get tired at times of the public-restroom routine. Some days, like everyone else, I want to sleep in and stay home. On occasion, I do sleep until 9:00 a.m. and, except for need of the toilet, I would stay in my truck even longer; but one does not want to tempt the neighbors who live in houses and who will call the police to roust the homeless from their living-room view of the Bay. I will address that topic in days to come.

On with my day, I either go to work as scheduled at the Old Town Market; or it is a day off for me. If I must work, my day clothing will be my Mexican-style, long skirt with matching blouse and a poncho. I get back in my vehicle and drive to the nearest spot where I can get hot water for my tea mug, in this case, the Middle-Eastern gas station. Now, mind you, all this and not yet a drop of hot liquid. Really, I have never before in my life spent so much time awake in the morning without the benefit of a cup of coffee or tea; but one adapts. I now think if the end of the world comes (of course, it is on its way), I will be perfectly awake for it and able to help others if the water does not rise too fast and swallow us all first or we are not all instantly atomized. I was so incapable once of even walking without wobbling if I had not first had a hot, caffeinated drink that I now think going without for over an hour is heroic, and I cherish my fantasy of saving people while others, addicted to immediately gratifying their habit, are still brain-dead.

Once I have picked up hot water for my tea bags, I visit the "breakfast nook," a quiet spot with a view of two bridges and both the south and east shores of Mission Bay. Here I prepare my food. I do not yet have a cooler and may not purchase one simply because the back of my truck is just too crowded already. One learns to haul as little as possible because things cannot be out, that is, neatly arranged on shelves or in closets. Belongings have to be boxed and labeled to travel easily. Still, what one needs most must be accessible, very much at hand, and near the very back of the truck. Of course, not everything can fit right at the very end of the truck near the tailgate, so one learns to be selective and practical. For instance, my portable beach chair, given that it is winter, is more toward the front; and I have to climb into the back of the truck to retrieve it. The same goes for the sewing kit; little-used bathroom items, like the hair dryer, heating pad, and water bottle; cookbooks (which I could not bring myself to give up); and clothing, shoes, and handbags that are out of season.

Breakfast consists of an Ezekiel bread sandwich: one side is slathered with a mixture of Vegannaise and stone-ground mustard, the other with crunchy peanut butter. In between, I stack finely-chopped vegetables and baby romaine. Wow. So good. Then a few, long sips of black tea with turbinado and soy creamer. I am sorry to say, however, that my vegetables come in bags, as I cannot imagine taking the time to clean, dry, and cut vegetables in a public restroom, any more than I can imagine washing my clothes in Mission Bay.

Now, once in a while, I take myself out for breakfast to eat eggs, which I truly miss and believe make the best breakfast on earth. I am also fond of New York-style bagels, that is, boiled, not baked; but I try to control my love of this type of carbohydrate. I also do not like spending too much money, as I need to pay for the cell phone, truck repairs, and make-up.

Yes, I said "make-up." I cannot believe it, either, that I love make-up so much that it is a priority, as are the occasional trips out to Macy's to the make-up counters of Lancome and Benefit. I brouse other cosmetics makers, but I have used Lancome for decades and have a love affair going with Benefit's line of fun, feel-good creams and lotions. Recently, I bought what looks like a pink tool box for all my cosmetics, as I was tired of pulling out one bag and another, trying to find where I stashed the lip liner. So part of the washroom stop in the morning, after I have cleaned up and dressed, involves switching the duffle for the tool box. The make-up process takes around ten to fifteen minutes, but it is a favorite thing that absorbs me utterly. I cannot imagine under what circumstances I would be willing to give up this part of civilized living.

As for work, I cannot stress how important it is for someone who is homeless. Not only does one need some amount of money, but one needs to stay connected to the rest of the world, if for no other reason than to continue to believe in the basic goodness of people and oneself, not the least. I am not paid a lot, but, for once, I do not care: it is the doing that is important. It is the giving of the best of myself to others, including my employer, that really matters. I will talk more on this at a later time. For now, let me explain that I spend no more than six hours on the job, as this is my practical, emotional limit. Beyond that, a job becomes hard to do, and most people get neurotic and must indulge some kind of addiction to bear it.

After work, I do the regular chores of grocery shopping, checking my post office box, reading and answering email, making phone calls, writing up lists of things to do, and preparing for the next day. I am able to manage my life with some ease and to stay in touch with friends and family, on the main, because I have a vehicle, for which I am eternally grateful; and I have more to say on this point later.

My evenings are spent, at least for now, in winter, in my truck, reading, doing a crossword puzzle, or listening to the news or music on my small, ten-dollar radio. Evenings on the Bay are quiet and relaxing. There is rarely anyone else around, so slipping into the public washroom near the boat house for an evening shower with the starry sky overhead and the sound of ocean birds is wondrous. I try to imagine what it would cost to buy a house that had an outdoor, open-to-the-sky shower room, and I count myself fortunate to have such a place available to me. As the cold water warms me inside, I look up to see palm trees wave in the breeze, gulls flying overhead, and the night of stars that will soon watch over me as I sleep.

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