Tag Archives: homeless

Portland

The first place I lived in Portland was a room. I hated to pay rent because I had been living for free. The room cost me about $300 a month. And it was decent. But the house was a mess. The owner lived downstairs. He had dogs. They pooped and peed all over the downstairs area. I avoided it at all costs. And when I couldn’t afford rent, I worked it off by cleaning up after the dogs.

One time I owed him money. He told me I had to pay or move. Okay, I told him. But I wasn’t phased. Which made him angry.

“Don’t you understand,” he yelled. “I am threatening to kick you out!”

I am not sure he understood, I had been out for the last two years. It wasn’t what I wanted. But it wasn’t something I feared.

Then I met a guy on the bus. He took me to meet his roommate. I don’t know why I talked to the man. Or why I went to meet his roommate. Or why his roommate offered to help me. But he did. So I told my landlord  I was moving. My new friend offered me a deal on rent. And no dogs. Plus the house was better and closer to work.

When I told me landlord I was moving he asked about money I owed him. He could take it out of my deposit, I explained. The landlord tried to tell me it was a non-refundable deposit. He never got the money. And I found out later non-refundable deposits are illegal.

This information came from working for a non-profit. I volunteered to answer phones and help people with rent problems. It was a free service, and we were only educated in the basics of rental law. Also we had to inform them we couldn’t provide legal advice. Because we weren’t lawyers.

The first job I got was at a deli. It was with a Korean couple. For the most part they were good people. One day the man asked if I had a girlfriend. I told him I didn’t. “Girls are trouble,” he told me.

Around this time a case was in the news. A girlfriend had gone to the coast with her boyfriend. Everyone knew he ended up dead in the ocean. No one knew how. The family and others suspected the girl. And in the end she was charged. “See, I told you, girls are trouble,” the man told me.

What I will always remember about his was time. I would do everything within my power to be on time. And I would be 10 minutes late. Once I swore it must have been the elevator which made me late. The place was in an office building on the fifth floor. It really bugged me. Until I walked in one day, looked at the clock, and looked at him. Then it just clicked in my head. “You set the clock ahead 10 minutes didn’t you?”

“Yes, the one at my house is 15 minutes fast,” was his answer. Which didn’t seem fair. It felt like the deck was stacked against me.

The woman and I didn’t get along often. “I need this first,” she would say about something. And I would think she meant she needed to use it before it was washed. But she wanted me to wash it first. And I doubt I ever got done in the time frame they wanted. But they did feed my everyday. Lots of rice.

One day though, they brought me my last check. “You make me feel dumb,” the woman told me. They paid me for the day and said I could go home. I left upset. Walking downtown upset, some Christian bastard offered me a tract. “No mountain too high for Jesus.” I just walked past him.

My new roommate wasn’t perfect. When Mother came to visit, she said, “I think I am taking it all in well.”

“What, my gay, mentally unstable, kleptomaniac, speed freak, HIV positive roommate?” I asked.

But he is a sweet person. And one of the better roommates I have had in my life. If I ever needed something, I know he would help me again. It was a real blessing to have met and got to know him. Oh, and his health as of writing this is good.

He lived in a house closer to downtown. The first place I lived was in the ghetto. Well, it was at the time. Over the years it has changed. Many would say gentrified. The new neighborhood has also changed over the years. Also gentrified.

Before I moved into the house my roommate hit on me once. I made it clear he was a nice guy, but I wasn’t into men. As roommates he never again crossed the line. We respected each others space, for the most part. But he was a tweaker.

Once I had a notebook I wrote in as a journal. And it disappeared one day. It was no where to be found. Then it reappeared. My roommate had stolen it, read it, replaced it. So I wrote on one of the pages, “Fuck you for reading this…” Just in case he did it again.

I’m not sure how long I lived with him. At some point he started to break-down. There were drugs. And a tweaker moved into the basement for a while. She taught me a few things about running paper. Trust me, making money the legal way is better.

The problems between us mounted. And then he kicked me out. By this time I was working at my second job. Before I moved M had come to visit me. We talked on the phone for a couple months. I had told her about my roommate. And she was surprised we acted like friends. I think we were always friends. Even though we didn’t always understand each other.

My second job was at Burgerville. Like many jobs I started in one place and moved around. My first job was running the drive thru. And I did a good job. Soon I learned how to run the front counter. And then the grill, and the fryer. It wasn’t long before I could, and did, do everything.

After leaving the second house I was homeless again. A co-worker let me sleep in their car. I made the mistake of putting my bike inside, and it ruined the ceiling lining. To this day I feel bad. If I ever make it rich and I could track them down, I would make it right.

But I also slept in the park. Or under one of the bridges downtown. Eventually I found a roommate in a new apartment. It was a friend of a co-worker. The apartment was two blocks from work.

Being close to work. And being able and wiling to do anything meant I worked a lot. There were times others couldn’t get hours. And I was working over 50 hours a week. Sometimes I would get bored and go to work. “Got something for me to do?” I would ask. And the answer was almost always yes.

Once a new manager was asking me when I worked next. “Whenever I feel like it,” was my answer. Which made him laugh. The next day they called me and asked me to work. I had plans, but I arranged a time which worked for me to work. So, I was right. It was when I felt like it.

There were a number of things I liked about the job. I had so great co-workers. In fact one of the best friends of my life I met at Burgerville. But she will need more space to tell her story.

Here is a short tale. One morning I came to work. The manager offered me a cookie. Which I accepted. My friend Michelle was also there. “You going to offer Michelle a cookie too? I asked. He did, but you could tell it wasn’t his original plan. They never liked her much. She doesn’t fit the mold of a fast-food worker.

Towards the end I started training for management. And if I had stayed with the company I think I could have gone far. But I was restless.

While living in Portland I had met a friend from Santa Cruz. Sean was an artist. And to be honest I didn’t recall much of him from Santa Cruz. I know once we were on the beach. He was making art work out of driftwood. It didn’t impress me at the time. When I met him again I appreciated his art a lot more. He became a good friend.

It was also at this apartment near Burgerville where I met Heather. Her story will come later. She was troubled. But I felt a real connection to her. It could have been because I was troubled myself.

Sean and I had talked about taking a trip. And around the same time the Burgerville where I worked was going to be remodeled. I didn’t want to commute across town to work. And I didn’t want to find a new job. Also I was restless. So I put my notice in and left town with Sean.

A few days before we left I was walking with Sean. Crossing the freeway I found a rubber chunk. After picking it up I played like I would throw it over the fence. Sean asked to see it. I tossed it to him and with a fluid motion he threw it over. Bam, it hit something. We were discussing how stupid it was as we walked. Ahead a couple guys stood by the sidewalk.

One leaning on a car, the other on a tree. I didn’t take much notice. But as we passed they grabbed us. They were police and had seen everything. Lucky for us there wasn’t an accident. Sean could have been charged.

During this time in Portland I had Sean. And for a while I had M. But for the most part I was alone. It really felt like I was struggling against all the odds by myself. There were people who helped me. But I had to fight just to get by from day to day.

Oh my first landlord showed up to Burgerville one day. He sat in the drive thru and demanded his money. I told him since I was at work I didn’t have the money. I had no plan to ever pay him money I didn’t feel I owed him. My manager had to threaten to call the police before he would leave.

I am still friends with the second roommate. The roommate in the apartment was a good guy too. He was also gay. Once he was singing the Dolly Parton song, “The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia.” He sang it over and over, I wanted him to stop. So I told him what I read in a book about singing cover songs being bad for your voice.

But when I had girl troubles he was a good friend. He had a lover at the time. And he told me, “coming from men, who like good men, we think you’re a good man.” And I was touched. He knew I was straight. And there was never an issue. But I found it to be a meaningful compliment.

Later I lived with a girl from work. She was crazy. There was a guy at work she liked. Our windows faced the freeway – just across a small street. In fact we were on the floor level with the freeway. So she put a note in her window with tape – to this man. Also I noticed she never took a towel into the shower, and when she came out my towel was damp.

Things didn’t go well a lot of the time I was in Portland. But I started to love the city. It was beginning to feel like it could be home. Downtown was a complex and interesting place. Pioneer Square Park where I met Heather. The waterfront park and Paranoia. I met a lot of interesting people. But only a few of them became permanent friends.

The Big Move

The big move. I made it because a bunch of little moves were not working.

I moved from Santa Cruz to Portland. The first step of the move was Thanksgiving with M.

My plan had been to go home for Thanksgiving. But a couple days before I called my mom. I wanted information about plans. But all she could do was complain about my sister. Just a moment I told her.

Then I hung up and called M. Can I visit I asked her. And she told me to come up on the bus. So I rode the bus for 12 hours. The visit went well and we made plans for me to move. I would move to Seattle. We would be together.

Before I could leave Santa Cruz, M told me we would only be friends. I moved to Portland because she hated Portland. I had enough money for the bus ticket. And because it wasn’t too far from M. I still loved her deeply. I thought about going to Austin. But it was further. And the bus ticket would have cost much more.

I wonder sometimes how much different my life would be if I had gone to Austin.

I rode the bus into Portland. And started living on the streets of a wet city. It gets cold in the bay area. It rains in the bay area. But the weather in Portland was different. And I got sick.

For a while I slept under a freeway overpass. It was close to downtown. And it was just under a ledge of the overpass. I slept there for many night with the cold wet air. I managed to stay dry for the most part.

During the day I wondered downtown. I tried to get together money. And I looked for a place to live. But finding a job with no place to live is hard.

I was doing signature collection. One of the issues was to disband Metro. In Oregon, Metro is a regional body with authority over growth issues. It also runs the zoo. I didn’t understand what Metro was at the time. One woman stopped to ask me questions. When it was clear I didn’t understand she got angry.

“You’re not even a citizen here,” she yelled. “You’re more of an interstate resident. It would be better if you were panhandling.”

And at times it felt like it was true.

Eventually someone showed me an empty house to sleep in at night. Which is good, I was really sick. During the day I would go to the bookstore and try and read. Try to stay awake. At night I would toss and turn and be so hot. I had fever dreams like never before in my life.

One dream I was Van Gogh and I knew perfect brush strokes. I would dream about the strokes. Then wake up. The dream was inescapable. Every time I went back to sleep it was waiting for me.

But a few people helped me. And through an unknown miracle I found a place to live. Then I found a job.

During my search I met a woman recruiting for a business college. I went to her office. We filled out paperwork for financial aid. But I was too young to not include my parents income. They didn’t give me a penny at the time. But they made enough I couldn’t get help for school. There was the option of loans. But I didn’t want more debt. I had told myself no more student loans ever. But I broke the promise.

“I’ll worry about you,” she told me. “Clearly no one else does.”

This made me mad. Of course people worried about me. But none of them could save me. Not just none of them could bail me out with money. But I had to go through something and save myself. In a real way I took myself off the street. I did it. And I did it with little help from anyone.

My first days in Portland were dark. Not just the rain and the clouds. But I felt alone. And I was depressed most of the time. Sometimes people would talk to me. But I soon learned most of them were either selling me drugs or religion. The experiences I had on the streets in the bay area were not repeated in Portland. People were not friendly to me. The city felt cold, and I felt alone. I wasn’t sure I cared about living.

But it didn’t last forever. After a lot of luck and hard work I got myself started. Even if it did mean moving into a house with dogs. The owner of the dogs did nothing to train them. And the pooped and peed all over the place. But it was inside, and it was warm. And it no doubt helped me climb out of depression. And to climb out of the gutter.

Berkeley

So Killer was threatening to live up to his name. He was on a rage. And I was in his sights. But I wasn’t alone.

The problem was between him and Danielle. They were drinking. She told him she didn’t want sex. But woke up naked next to him. She was upset. He thought they were dating. She quit talking to him. Somehow he blamed me, assumed I was with Danielle. Danielle and I were just friends.

But he threaten to kill me. One of Danielle’s other friends developed a mysterious black eye overnight. He wouldn’t or could say how it happened. For a while Killer was threatening a small group of us. So we made some plans. Killer’s favorite threat was to take someone to the levy. When we would part with other group members we had our own joke. “If I’m not back in 10 minutes, look for me at the levy.”

But we found a ride out of town. And someone even said there was a party we could attend in the North Bay. We all piled in cars and hit the road.

The party was north of San Francisco. Two or three cars arrived. But the car load of people I was in either changed their minds, or told to leave. It was almost morning. We parked on a hill somewhere. I took a walk and thought about life. The hills north of the city are pretty.

One of the people in the car with me was Tree. We actually had a good chat about VW girl. Turns out they dated for a short period. But then they broke up and she brought a bunch of different guys to the van. She would have sex with them while he was also in the van. Very odd.

The group got back in the car. And we drove to Berkeley. I’m not sure why we choose to go to Berkeley. But someone knew the area a little. We parked and walked along Telegraph for  while. We weren’t the neatest looking group, but we didn’t look dirty.

At one point we talked to a Krishna devotee about local services. They always serve food. But he made a comment regarding how they viewed homeless people. Me and my friend looked at each other, and down at ourselves. We were both thinking, “we look homeless?”

The guy who gave us a ride left at the end of the day. But me and Tree spent more time in Berkeley. At one point we were spanging next to a pizza place. A woman started to chat with us. Then her friend came out and gave her a dirty look. We were still there when she left.

“My friend said you’re the kind of people who sell drugs to your little brother’s,” she said. And Tree said, “actually I did.”

I don’t recall most of my first visit. And I am not sure where I slept most of the time. I recall the first night though.

The area was new to me, and someone showed us a spot on campus to sleep. But it wasn’t any good. At 5 a.m. the cops came. It was dark and I was trying to wake up. They had bright lights in my eyes.

“Are you on drugs,” they asked. I told them no. But they wanted to know why I was having a hard time answering questions. It was a lesson to avoid the campus at all cost. And for the rest of my stay. And during following stays I never slept on campus.

In fact this is why I worried so much about the girls from Salt Lake City. People’s Park is used by everyone. But it is owned and policed by the campus police.

If I remember right I slept in backyards. Maybe once or twice near a frat house. I know one place I slept there was a crosswalk talking all night. There is a special place in my life for Berkeley. But it wasn’t as easy to be comfortable there as Santa Cruz. On my first visit I left quickly.

The thing I recall about mornings in Berkeley was Wing Nut Breakfast. It was at a local church. They fed a lot of people. And many of them were a little crazy. Some more than a little.

People’s Park was where I spent much of my time during the day. There was food there sometimes. And a box of free clothes. It was actually cool. And it is understandable it was removed later. But I know I found some good clothes in the free box. Some people would take clothes from the box. Then sell then at thrift stores.

The park was a fun place. The kind of hippy park you might see in a movie. It felt like it was always summer. But I am sure my memory is playing tricks on me.

I must of earned money spanging. And when not buying pizza I shopped at Andronico’s market. It was the local grocery store. A funny story is how years later I took my sister to Berkeley for a visit. We stopped at Andronico’s. Her friend asked, “how did you find this little place?”

It’s a grocery store, I thought. Not some place special or hard to find. It was on the main street in Berkeley.

There was a salad place on Telegraph. I used to love the salads there. They were huge and affordable. Many times I visited the place when back in Berkeley. The sad news is it burned down a number of years ago.

I loved Berkeley because it felt free in a way no other place did for me. I Recall putting on a hospital gown and baggy pant from the free box. Then just walking around and acting crazy for fun. No one was really bothered. And people were friendly. The students and others didn’t seem to care about a person being homeless. They would treat them the same.

What I recall most about nights in Berkeley was the Hate Circle. It was started by the Hate Man. An odd fellow who forced people into saying “I hate you.” He had a theory. If someone couldn’t say it, he wouldn’t trust them. Hate Man believed showing you could say those words, proved you would if they were needed. But I don’t recall telling him I hate you. And we got along well.

He got his name because he went a bit crazy one day. Started raving in the campus fountain. After a couple days the students started calling him the Hate Man.

The Hate Circle was a drum circle. Except there wasn’t a drum is sight. The drums were old plastic buckets he got from some place. People would come out and beat the buckets with sticks. On some night there would be a good beat. But the point wasn’t to make music. It was to beat the buckets and make noise. I think it was a form of group therapy for a lot of people. Some of the people may have been students. But mostly it looked like homeless people.

Most of my memories of Berkeley are just walking around. I spent a lot of time just walking on Telegraph. There were always vendors with items for sale. At night I walked for hours. I never recall finding a good place to sleep. I know one of my camps was at a school. It was under a ramp to one of the classrooms. It was an elementary school and must have been out of session.

And of course I met the Salt Lake City girls in Berkeley. The city is just one of the amazing places I have been in my life. And I hope to be able to visit it again soon. The last time I went with my mother. We drove over from Stockton.

It was a visit for her. I had my experiences in the city. And I thought maybe we could visit and share memories. I was born in Berkeley and she had talked about the city. But while the trip was fun, it wasn’t insightful. I guess my hope was a little bonding. And a little bit more understanding about her young life.

People of San Francisco

Jamie is who I recall most from San Francisco. She was a good friend. A naturally funny person.

One night we were walking. We got on the bus. “Someone stepped in it,” she said. What she meant was dog poop. “Oh it was me,” she exclaimed. Everyone on the bus laughed. A few people moved away from her. It smelled bad. At the next stop someone got on the bus. They sat behind her. And right away waved their hand in front of their nose. Everyone laughed again.

Another time, she messed up her own hair. Pulled her hair sticking straight out. Then we walked around downtown acting crazy. “Something wrong with my hair,” she asked people. A person was checking something in their eye in a window. “I see what is in your eye, your finger,” she joked.

Jamie once joked about getting a dog. In the city shelters wouldn’t give pets to homeless people. She imagined going in to get a pet. “Where will it exercise?” she imagined them asking. Her answer was in the backyard. Followed by the punch line, “now we know you’re lying. No one in San Francisco has a backyard.”

She was friend with a girl named Chloe. And I had a small crush on Chloe. The two of them had been friends for a long time. Once they had been in Fresno, and got caught shoplifting. They lied to the police about their names. But while waiting, Chloe turned and said, “hey Jamie look at this.” Busted.

She taught me about leftover food. You watch and wait while people eat. When they get up you rush the table before a bus person. Then take what they leave. Once we were together and we did this at a restaurant. We both sat down. But she had to pee. She came back a few moments later. The owner had told her no restroom. He came behind her.

“Are you with him?” He was Asian and sounded upset. But I said we were together. Then he apologized and let her use the bathroom. It was funny, he thought we were customers.

I know Jamie could have done great things with her life. I hope she has made the most of her talents.

I met summer in a long funny episode. And her friend Yo. I forget her real name.

It started in Berkeley. I haven’t talked about Berkeley yet but I will soon. I was on campus at an event called the Hate Circle. There were two girls there, and we started talking. They were looking for People’s Park. We walked to the park. They told me their plans to sleep in the park. I warned them off the idea. Then offered to let them camp with me.

During the night I got close with one of the girls. They had flown from Salt Lake City to sleep in People’s Park. The next day they wanted to go to San Francisco. I wanted to go to the city. One of them was really cute. And the drama was too good to miss. We took BART.

Once on Haight I figured we needed to find blankets for the girls. In the process I met Summer and Yo. Summer and I started to beg for blankets. And the girls went shopping. Summer, Yo and I were confused. We figured they had to be lying about something. We started to take apart the whole story. We picked at details for hours and hours.

I call her Yo because of what she told me once. She was a smart girl. “If you say yo after everything you say, it becomes addictive,” she said. Yo try yo it yo see yo for yo yourself yo what yo I yo mean.

At on point the girls walked up while we were talking about them. But I don’t think they heard us. All day long we tried to get blankets. And then we couldn’t find the girls. Summer and I camped in the park. But we chose a bad spot. It was on a slope and we slide off the cardboard over and over all night. We weren’t involved. Though I liked her a lot.

The next day it turned out the girls had gone home with some guys. But not just any guys, The Horribles. These were a group Summer knew. They used drugs, wore old fashioned clothes. They pretended to be a band. Summer said one of the girls had been involved with one of the guys. But they hadn’t had sex.

The girls were there for a couple days. And the whole time we were confused. Summer, Yo and I didn’t believe their story. Who flies to the bay area to camp outside?

I did meet the one of the girls at a gathering years later. So, they may have been sincere. The sad part of the story is about Summer. Turns out she was on drugs. I know because one day walking down Haight Street I saw her with a group. As I walked up I saw her doing a line.

I met a mugger on Haight Street. We actually spent time together a couple times. She didn’t mug me, but what she did bother me. And one day I did see her get arrested.

Her normal ploy was to meet teenage girls on the street. Then offer to get them high in the park. They would walk to the park. Of course you have to hideout to get high. When they found a location, she would threaten them if they didn’t turn over goods and money. One of the last times I saw her, she had taken her act to the street. Right on Haight Street she was forcing someone to turn over valuables.

I only knew her a short time. But an interesting woman crossed my path in the city. It was at a Hispanic restaurant, popular for its good food. I was in a part of the restaurant waiting for someone to leave something to eat. She saw me, and we started to chat.

The next day we met. We took a walk in the park. She had a camera and took pictures of the park. And took pictures of me. Her job was at one of the shops along Haight Street. When I went once to look for her, I couldn’t find her. And I had forgotten her name. I let a great person slip right out of my life.

Another person I let slip out of my life was Kerith. I met her while walking along Haight. She was looking for someplace. I took her there, and then we went to the park. I wanted to kiss her, and she could tell. She said I shouldn’t.

But then we became good friends. I spent a lot of time with her in the city. And called her from Santa Cruz. One time we were walking, and I started to cross the street. But she had paused. I looked back at her, “I know better than just crossing the street with you,” she smiled.

Her boy friend was no good. The house was a meth house. And she deserved better. I know one time I called and talked to her about some girl troubles of mine. I think it was the whole Amy, M and Jenn drama.

Another time we were with her friend. We walked by a statue of Shiva in a window on Castro Street. Her friend identified the statue as being Shiva. But I told him he was wrong. I had just read a book which said there wasn’t images of Shiva. But maybe I mis-understood because I was wrong. I told her later, and she said it was just as well. If her friend knew he was right, it would just go to his head.

She was a good friend.

There was a girl who made jewelry for money. The last time I saw her she sold from a table on Market Street. She was doing it the legal way. And while she was homeless, she was renting an office for work space and storage. I asked if she ever slept in the office. And she said a couple times, but she tried to not spend the night.

There was a strange period in the city when girls were crazy for me. It started somewhat in Berkeley. I had met a girl there and we went to the park. We talked and then started making out. She was pretty. I hope I didn’t hurt her, because I left town soon after.

In San Francisco I met up with a group of girls. One was young and pregnant. I thought she was cute, and even imagine for a moment a life we could have together. One night the group of us went to Castro to spange. I was making out on the bus with another girl in the group. Then while we spanged on Castro. All the girls were young. After a while we rode the bus back to where the group camped. But one of the girls had to ride a bus in the morning. I walked with her for a while, and stayed up with her. She told me another girl in the group said I was dirty. So she didn’t want to do anything with me. And I guess my behavior at the time was pretty dirty.

It was actually too much for me. I met another girl downtown. She seemed like a good friend. We hung out a couple times. Next thing I know we are sitting next to the bay. And she starts making out with me. Okay, I know it sounds like I was passive. And I wasn’t. It just wasn’t what I expected.

She took me to a concert, The Smashing Pumpkins. Then afterwards we went to her house. She was drunk. We had sex. It was terrible. I never saw her again. And it makes me a little sad. None of it was what I expected, and I wonder if she feels like I used her. I was confused.

One of the most amazing people I met in San Francisco was Moon Raven. She was my dream for a while. We met and camped out in the park together. A younger boy was with her, and they said he was her brother. Moon Raven taught me some Warrant songs. She was creative and flighty.

The night we camped together was in Panhandle Park. We got wet from the sprinklers. The next day we went to Santa Cruz. And she broke my heart, and soon she was gone.

Maybe a year later she was back. I was in a different place in my life. But I still loved her. Even today I love her. M found a rose quartz crystal next to the river once. For some reason I had the crystal on me. One day I was walking with Jenn and Moon Raven. Afterwards I never saw the crystal again. M thought and I thought for a long time Jenn had taken it. But now I think Moon Raven has the crystal.

The last time I saw her was in Santa Cruz. She was pregnant and going home to Kansas. She had become a Christian.

San Francisco

My first experience with San Francisco was with my dad. But it was too much. There was no context. It was like a foreign language. So little of it meant much, and I don’t recall anything.

Then I went with school friends. Again it was too much. But I recall visiting Twin Peaks. I had been there with my dad. It is amazing at night.

As for my new experiences. The trip to the city was taken with a group. We were going to the gathering. At least we planned on going to the gathering. The first leg of the trip was to San Francisco.

The bus was so crowded. And when we got off it felt so unreal. I never imagined I could feel comfortable. We were on Haight Street, near Ashbury. The epicenter of the old hippie culture.

There is a GAP there now. Most of the hippie street kids gathered at Masonic and Haight. The first night was a blur. I recall camping on a hill in the park.

But only for one night. The big park is Golden Gate Park. But at the other end of the street is Bueana Vista Park. I spent less time in the city. And I camped in fewer locations. But still the timeline is a bit of a mix-up. If my memory isn’t too bad we camped in Bueana Vista Park.

The first trip to the city was a failure. I wanted out. I felt trapped. I don’t recall how long the visit lasted.

Later trips to the city were more of my choice. I got to know the city more. It became what I imagined it couldn’t, comfortable. I still miss the city sometimes. Not in the same way I miss Santa Cruz.

The camp site in Bueana Vista Park was just off a main trail. But behind some bushes. We stayed there until I had enough and returned to Santa Cruz.

On a later trip I camped with a group in Golden Gate Park. Walking around the city with all your blankets was too much work. So I stashed mine during the day. Except one day I recall they were gone.

This actually started an interesting night. I walked back to Haight Street and ran into a friend. Her name was Jamie. She also needed blankets. We wondered around trying to stay warm. It was late but she rang a doorbell, someone yelled from a window.

Towards morning we met a man in a car. He took us to the Castro District. Jamie and him did drugs and I tried to sleep. Then we went to his house. They went in and did cocaine. I slept in the back seat.

It must have been a friend of hers who invited us to sleep in the van. It was the van of a friend of a friend. She slept in it, and I slept in it and a few other people. It had been parked, but was getting tickets. So it was moved. It wasn’t stolen, but it wasn’t clear who owned the van.

At one point me and Jamie were at a drop in center. They sometimes refer people to shelters. We started talking about the funny story of the van. They joked about referring people to sleep in the van. Eventually I was asked to sleep elsewhere.

I think I went back to Santa Cruz.

One of my favorite camp spots was on the sidewalk. There was a small wall around a gas main. Easy enough to jump over, there was a gate which locked. On the other side was enough space to lay down, I liked being able to make a cardboard roof with the corners of the wall. At this spot someone got into the habit of leaving me two dollars every day. They just put it in my shoe.

It also wasn’t far from Haight Street. Another spot was along side a building. There was a small walkway. But it ended in a wall without a door. It was wide enough to lay down. And a small wall provided some protection from the sidewalk. One morning while waking up a woman though I was peeing. She asked me to pee somewhere else, I thought, “yeah this is my bedroom.”

Once walking along Haight Street I had a large flat piece of cardboard. “Nice mattress you got there,” a friend joked.

Thinking back I feel like I must have had other places I camped. But I don’t recall. I know as I got to know the city I explored more areas. But I always went back to sleep near Haight. I spanged on Castro.

One night I took a sign to Castro Street. If you don’t know it is the gay district in San Francisco. My sign said, “Jokes for a Quarter.” I made over $100 in a night. But such money was rare.

Sometimes I would go downtown. Walking around the city at night was interesting. It always felt safe to me. And I don’t know if it was, or I was just stupid. One night me and a friend looking for a party got lost in Hunter’s Point. I knew this was a bad part of town, but we made it through.

The only hassle I ever got in the city was near Fillmore and Haight. A friend of mine had an apartment. I had a hard time locating it based on the address. A youth at one point told me to get lost, I didn’t belong in his neighborhood. He must have thought I was trying to sell drugs.

Pot wasn’t a big deal in the city. One morning while sitting on the street a woman came out of her shop. Looking down she exclaimed, “hey look, pot.” She picked up the bag and offered it to me. I took it thinking I could sell the pot. But I got nervous and gave it to a friend. She told me about trying to quit speed.

I met M in San Francisco. A cold night walking along Haight Street. There was something of a game. The police would come along and asked people gathered to move. We were trespassing. Everyone would get up and disperse. But overtime new groups would begin to form. If they got to big or sat too long, the process started all over.

We had just been asked to move on by the police. I was turning to talk to someone behind me. My blankets rolled in my arms in front of me.

I Bumped into her. She was looking for someone to talk to she said. We went to Bueana Vista Park and looked at the stars. “Don’t let me have sex with you right away,” she said. The next day we left for Santa Cruz.

I took a number of people from San Francisco to Santa Cruz.

One night me and a friend named Cowboy were bored. So we started walking up and down the street looking for our friends. “Have you seen our friends,” we asked. “They had dreadlocks, are wearing a hoodie sweatshirt, patchwork corduroy pants. They smell a little and may have been seen getting into a VW bus.”

I think you get the picture. The joke was “our friends” could have been almost anyone on the street. But we did meet China and her friends. She was pretty. We went to Bueana Vista Park and talked. In the morning they went home. I met China again years later at a Rainbow Gathering.

There was a car Cowboy and I slept in with another friend for a short period.

At one end of Haight Street was the hippies. But the end closest to the park was where the gutter punks gathered. Most people on the street didn’t keep only to one end or the other. I had gutter punk friends and hippie friends. Near the part was a McDonald’s where people would often spange. Also there was  Cala Foods grocery store.

I met my street sister Raven in front of the McDonald’s. It also plays an important part in a future story. Once me and Jamie went to Cala Foods. She wanted to show me how to steal and get away. She took a juice and drank some, but someone saw her. She stashed it in the paper towel isle. And we walked around more. As we were leaving she was confronted and told not to return.

The only thing I ever stole from Cala Foods was a bottle of water. I was so thirsty, and tired. And not even thinking. I walked in and slipped it in my pocket and walked out. It was in the middle of the night. Afterwards I would often pretend to be stealing. Just to keep them off guard. I didn’t think stealing was right. But if they had to watch me, they couldn’t watch someone else.

There was also a Cala Foods near Castro. Once at the Castro store I was talking to the cashier. She also worked at the Haight store. She recognized me and we chatted. “Everyone there things you’re stealing,” she told me. I found it so funny.

I could tell you more stories about Jamie. And I will in a later chapter.

Haight Street felt dirty most of the time. The city of Santa Cruz cleaned their sidewalks. San Francisco did not clean sidewalks.

I never got in trouble in the city. In Santa Cruz early during my experience I got two tickets. But in San Francisco I had mastered lying to cops about my name. One night I was sitting against a pole on Haight. A cop came along and started asking me questions. “What is your name?” I lied. “If there isn’t a record we’ll take you downtown.” I called his bluff, even though he pressured me. In the end he knew it was pointless and left me alone. The cops knew street kids lied about their names.

One of my friends told me a funny story. He had been sleeping on the front green of Golden Gate Park. After the police awoke him they gave him a ticket. But he wouldn’t sign the ticket. So they took him to jail. In the morning, he got breakfast and a shower. Then the let him go. The next time he wanted a hot shower, breakfast and a bed for the night he joked about knowing what to do.

Speaking of cops, I remember a cop in Santa Cruz. At one point I acquired a sweat shirt for Aptos High Girl’s Volleyball. And I wore it all over the place. This cop got to know who I was a little. When he saw me he’d ask, “how’s the girls volley ball team doing?” Even after I parted with the sweat shirt. But I liked thinking he was familiar with me. And feeling he trusted me. It was all friendly.

I had a lot of unusual experiences in the city. One guy invited me to his apartment. I went cautiously and he started hitting on me. So I left. Downtown a guy offered to let me stay with him for the night. Then he kept saying I could sleep in the bed with him. Again I left. Or the poor mentally ill man who let me stay one night. I took a shower. In his bathroom was a broken radio. In the middle of the night he flipped out and said I had broken the radio. I left.

Nothing bad ever happened to me.

Food in the city was easy. Drop in centers would feed sometimes. Or you could beg for money. Random people would often give away free things. One night I found someone giving away pies from their car.

It was at a drop in center downtown I watched the movie The Fan. One of the characters is a knife salesman in San Francisco. “Did he try the Tenderloin District,” someone joked. At least when I was in the city, The Tenderloin was a sleazy area. When you wanted to insult a guy, a joke about working Polk Street did the trick.

One night I was on the beach close to the park. I started walking and walking. There were a lot of thoughts in my head. And I loved the beach. By the time I chose to walk back to the land, I was in Daily City. Lucky for me a friendly bus driver let me ride back to the city for free.

San Francisco was an exciting place. And there were so many different neighborhoods. I think if I ever had the chance to return and live in the city, I would do it in a heart beat.

 

Onward

The time is coming to move away from writing about Santa Cruz. But there is a part of me which doesn’t want to move on yet. I had good times in Santa Cruz. For years afterwards I thought about going back. Getting some money and getting a place to live. But I haven’t been back in years.

I grew a lot in two years. I was born again. I created myself with new roots. But if I went back today, it would be empty. The town isn’t the same. The people aren’t the same. Nothing would be the same. I have changed. The city has changed. Things change.

When I made the move from Santa Cruz to Portland it was all about getting off the streets. The main reason I wanted to make the change wasn’t money. It wasn’t about being uncomfortable. It wasn’t about a warm house. Or making money.

I was lonely at the end. When I first got on the street I had friends. But then they left one by one. And I didn’t make new friends. And I thought I could meet someone special. I imagined having a girl friend. Living in a place I could where I could take a woman. Not just for sex, but to watch movies, to eat dinner.

The biggest reason I wanted to get off the street was boredom. My days were empty. I wasn’t doing anything with my life. I wanted to do something in the world. Maybe be a writer. Maybe something else. It wasn’t specific. Just I wanted to do and be someone special.

All these years later I am the same. A homeless person with a house. A poor person with a job. My heart hasn’t changed. As much as I want. I imagined I was growing up. But I am still the same child I was on the street. But more alone, and in some ways more troubled.

In the first year on the street I felt many things. But rarely did I feel alone. In Santa Cruz, and San Francisco and even Berkeley I met people. Not just homeless people. Real people in the community. And this is why I imagined life would be better when I got a place to live.

Maybe the mistake was moving to Portland. I knew no one in Portland. But I feared staying in Santa Cruz would mean not growing. I wanted and needed a change right? And I don’t know the change could have happened in Santa Cruz.

Even now writing this I think about going back. But you can’t go home again. The past is the past because it has past. And it won’t pass again. Raven, and Tony, and Moon Raven, and the high school girls. They are all gone. The corner where I spent time on the mall is gone.

It would be like walking around in a haunted city. Every corner has a memory. And all the memories are pulling me backwards. When I need to be moving forward.

There have been times I visited Santa Cruz. And I wondered around like a man in a circular room looking for the corner. It wasn’t the Santa Cruz I knew. The Santa Cruz I knew was a dream. Like Woodstock in the 1906s. Like the Summer of Love. It was a good dream. But it was a dream I lived and cannot live again.

And if I could live it again. Would I really want to go through all the lessons over? Our dreams like this are sent to us as lessons. And when we have learned, we move on to the next dream. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to return. Anymore than I could go back to high school. Of course I hated high school.

The movie Napoleon Dynamite reminds me of my high school years. And I hated my high school years. I was picked on, had no friends. I was lonely all the time. There was a trapped feeling I lived with all those years. And I still don’t understand what the trap was, but it was there all the time. I couldn’t escape.

In Santa Cruz I felt free. But I never felt loved. I felt a part of a community at times. But I never felt a connection. There were friends in Santa Cruz, but there wasn’t family. Not after Raven left.

I left Santa Cruz to create a new life. But have I only created a different life? Am I any better off now because I have a laptop and a tablet and a cellphone. Does my job at Walmart make me better off? I am not a writer. I am not doing anything of value with my life.

I am still alone.

It doesn’t feel like it could really have been almost 20 years. But it has. I feel like it was yesterday. And I feel like it could be tomorrow.

Is this even worth what I gave up to attain it. Maybe I gave up nothing. But nothing is a lot. Janis Joplin’s words haunt me day and night. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…”

And now I have plenty to lose. But little freedom. And is it worth the cost? I don’t want to go back to sleeping in the woods. I can’t and I won’t do it again. But how much longer can I live with this boredom?

 

My Second Year in Santa Cruz

My second year on the street was different.

I lived with Amy for a few weeks in the winter. Then I met M.

We met on a Haight Street in San Francisco. We got to know each other in Santa Cruz. Our last camp was out in the woods. And we named the trees along the path. Part of the walk to the woods was along train tracks. And she once told me of a dream. She was walking on train tracks. A man with a red face followed her down the tracks. Until she turned and confronted him. Then he was gone.

But M needed to go home to Seattle. James gave us a ride to her dad’s home. When we got there she tried to dump me. But I was desperate. I was sad and lonely. I begged. She didn’t dump me.

I returned to Santa Cruz alone. We planned to meet for the Rainbow Gathering in Oregon. I met her in Eugene. The gathering was in eastern Oregon. It was near the town of Prineville. My first gathering.

We traveled from the gathering back to her dad’s place in Seattle. Then we started east. We stopped in Idaho and Montana. But the longest stop was in Boulder. In Boulder we got wet, and we never got dry again.

After Boulder we went to Ann Arbor, Michigan. We traveled along the highways, hitch-hiking. And slept outside under the stars.

From Ann Arbor we went to Ithaca, New York. After I got arrested and released, we left town. Our next destination was Cambridge, Massachusetts. We stayed in Cambridge for a couple weeks. We spent our days in the park and at the bookstore. I gave her a dozen roses. She hid them under a shelf. Sometimes I like to think they would still be under the shelf today.

Then we came back to California. And she returned to Washington.

Soon after coming back I started to work. My first job was for Cal-PIRG. But it didn’t work out for me. I am not a salesman. And I didn’t agree with asking money from poor people. Sometime we went to neighborhoods near San Jose. But others we went to low-income areas of Santa Cruz.

“They have no money,” we would tell our leaders. “They can give you some spare change,” was the reply. And I thought I was working so I could stop begging. The PIRG group does good work. But it shouldn’t be looking to those who have so little. Others who have more should give more.

At one point I was having a bad day. I told them I couldn’t work. They gave me a guilt trip. They said it was because I wasn’t doing good, but I would do better. It was really about M. But I didn’t want to tell them. I quit soon after.

The next job I had wasn’t much better. But my boss became a friend. He became someone I respected. The job was collecting signatures for petitions on the ballot. I did it for months in Santa Cruz. I enjoyed being a part of the democratic process. The pay wasn’t great, but I made some money. I quit begging. And I saved some money.

When Thanksgiving came around I took the bus to visit M. We spent a few days together. And it was good. We made plans for me to move and live with her in Seattle. I went back to California to work and save money.

When I returned to Santa Cruz I camped in the woods. I worked doing the petitions. But the weather was getting wet and cold again.

One day I met Susan on the street. Susan had come to town with an older man, and two female friends. Theirs is the story of Santa Cruz’s ability to draw people and keep people. They had planned on driving through town, without even a stop. But their van broke down. And they stayed and became a part of the community.

Susan was older than me. I always thought of her as being wiser. She felt to me like someone who knew more about the world. But she often didn’t seem to know what she wanted. She was a free love hippy girl. Only as she pointed out to me once. This only meant she was free to choose. And it didn’t mean she would choose to have sex with someone. This was in reference to other guys, not myself.

One of her female friends was a Gemini. One of the few I have known in my life. And she was cute. I had a bit of a crush on her. Except if you ever did something for her because she was a girl, she would be angry. I could understand the theory, but in practice found it silly at times.

When I met Susan on the street it wasn’t my first meeting with her. We chatted and she gave me a hug. She expressed concern about my being cold. Then offered to let me camp with her and her friends.

They camped on the beach in Davenport. It was on the property of the Odwalla headquarters. Although it may have already been a former headquarters. We camped there for a couple weeks. And I was warmer. And it was good to be people. Also, I love the beach.

We heard about a gathering in Big Sir and wanted to attend. So we packed up our stuff. Susan, her friends and I. We all hitch-hiked down to Big Sir. But we split up on the route and didn’t meet in Big Sir.

The gathering was said to be at some hot springs. I had hitch-hiked with Susan and one of her friends. We got there without food and money. We talked to a store manager, he gave us some bad fruit to eat. And we did. On the first night we were there we slept in a cabin in the woods. I don’t know how we found the place.

Susan was next to me in her sleeping bag. She would be close, then push me away. Then pull me close. It felt confusing. In the morning she and I hitch-hiked into town. I recall she was eating an apple. And using a small knife to cut the apple. Then when a car came along she would stick out her thumb. Then back to cutting and eating the apple. We both were eating the apple. I suggested to her, “we might get a ride faster if you put the knife down.”

We couldn’t find out friends. So the three of us started to hike up the trail. We figured we would find them at the gathering.

We were about half-way to the hot springs when we met our friends. There was no gathering. And for some reason when we split to hitch-hike our group had all the tents. So our friends had spent the night without a tent. They stayed in the hot springs to stay warm.

We were halfway there so my group still wanted to visit the hot springs. Then we returned to Big Sir. And went back to camping on the beach. Susan’s said her grandmother once sent her a carbon-monoxide detector. Poor grandma didn’t seem to understand where Susan was living.

After a short period back on the beach the sheriff came and asked us to leave. Susan and her friends had talked about leaving town. But I wanted to stay. Susan gave me a tent, and left.

This is the tent I camped with too close to the river. I used it while the winter passed and I saved money. I called M when I was ready to move. But, she told me, we would just be friends. So I didn’t move to Seattle, i moved to Portland. A city M said she hated.

More Santa Cruz people…

I met many of the people on the street with little ado. One day they would just walk into town. Or maybe they had been in town. But hadn’t been on the street.

Happy was a person who just appeared. He had clear mental health problems. But he was a sweet person. Other people mocked him. They made fun of him.

“Happy days, happy nights…” he would say often. This is why people called him Happy. His named was John.

He dressed like a hippy. No, not like the hippies on the streets. He dressed like a hippy in a movie. He was a hippy. Rumors floated around on why he was crazy. Too much acid in the 1960s.

We found out later he lived in special housing. The housing was related to his mental health. But someone should have watched over him better.

“She’s so cool, she shits cool ice cream…” was another thing he said.

At some point someone gave Happy a toy gun. He had the mind of a six year old. I never saw the gun. But others said he would point it at people. One night he went near a night club downtown. He was playing with his toy gun.

When does a six-year-old boy understand the game is over. Is it when the police come? Is it when they bring out their own guns? Or is it when they shoot him dead on the street. Happy was a man. A man with problems. And the Santa Cruz Police Department shot him dead.

On the night of the shooting I was with a friend, Erin. The sirens seemed to be everywhere. And people gathered in a large crowd to see. We didn’t know someone had been shot. We didn’t know Happy was dead.

In the days after those people who get upset, got upset. Few people noticed Happy when he was alive. Unless they were noticing him as a joke. While many came forward saying he was their friend. I never saw he had any real friends when he was alive. Real friends weren’t there to help him. I wasn’t a real friend.

I had first met Erin through Sean. And the night Happy died we were talking. We had met on the street. She was a pretty girl, a smart woman. And over time we became friends. We would spend time together. We would take walks. And I started to fall in love with her.

But she wasn’t in love with me. A proclamation of love to a friend makes things awkward. But we remained friends until she moved. Then we still stayed in touch. A few years later I visited her in Arizona.

I had caught a ride with a friend from Boulder. I was in Tuscon to see Erin. We spent some time together. Then she asked me where I wanted to camp. It hurt me. If I had been a normal friend, she never would have asked the question. I told her I came to visit her, after asking if I could come to see her. And I asked to stay at her house. She was living with her dad. She let me stay. But I’ve never been in touch with her since.

I also don’t know where I met Ken. Like Erin we were friends after the streets. It wasn’t until years later I cut off communication. When I met Ken we camped by the river together. He was older, but he was agile. He wasn’t old. Later he got himself a place to live on the mall. But this was after I moved away.

The story I recall about Ken is about my camp site. He had been on the street for a long time. Maybe we met when we camped near each other. The last place I camped in Santa Cruz was along the river. He said it was too close. I felt safe.

Too close, too close. But then he quit telling me because I wouldn’t listen. But my life was changing. I had plans. And one day I took a bus and left town for a new life. The night I left it started to rain hard. And it rained and rained. And the river flooded. A couple years later when I returned for a visit I found my campsite. My tent was about six inches deep in the mud. I was too close.

I don’t recall much about Willie. He was a drunk. And in the worst way. He needed the booze. He was the one who was the first person I knew with a sign, “why lie I need a beer.” But he did need alcohol. When he didn’t drink he got the shakes.

Once he told me the beer sign made him more money than a food sign. Which made me mad. Because I didn’t drink and I couldn’t bring myself to pretend. But he was a good man. He was a good friend. At one point he gave me a shirt to stay warm. The bugs which came with the shirt didn’t keep me warm. Bugs are a part of life on the street. Shelters stock the medicine like a shampoo.

Willie was back and forth between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. In the city he told me a large cardboard box was him home. I don’t know where he slept in Santa Cruz. But one morning they found him frozen to death behind the thrift store.

Maybe he was someone’s father. Or someone’s brother. He was someone’s son. And more than a few people’s friends. No one should die alone and cold behind the thrift store. Like so many on the street, he needed help.

Another person I knew both in San Francisco and Santa Cruz was Roy. He wasn’t homeless. But he did spend time on the mall. And I got to know him. He was a gay man, but never hit on me. We became friends. And when I needed to move he helped me.

Once he planned to meet me in San Francisco. But he was a flake. He didn’t show. When I saw him later he asked me why I didn’t meet him. I informed him I was there, and he caved. It was a bluff, he was hoping I hadn’t shown up. In which case I wouldn’t know he had flaked.

I’m not any of my other friends knew Roy. He was a landlord in San Francisco, from what he said. He had a place in Santa Cruz and a place in the city. Before I left he took me over for a visit. It was a decent place. He was a decent person. I never asked him for much, and we were friends.

I became friends with some of the local high school girls. I never took a serious interest in any of the girls. But I had a crush on a couple.

One had blue eyes and dark hair. I recall finding her attractive, in a cute and dark way. A lot of the girls were goth. “Ohh my goth, why don’t I just staple my hand to my forehead,” they would joke.

“I’m just going to die… die… dye my hair black,” was another joke.

But this blue-eyed girl was sweet too. Once we played a game of war with playing cards. But I got bored and started to cheat. Not cheat so I would win, but so she would win. And she caught me. But it was fun, she was cute and it was just a game.

There was another girl, who was friends with my friends. This made me think we were also friends. But she was a little colder and distant. I made a mistake once and got caught stealing from the store where she worked. The store kicked me out for life. She saw me being kicked out. A year later, I went back to the store. I saw her and she saw me. Soon a manager came and asked me to leave.

Another girl told me she was the sheriff’s daughter. And she was wild. Like Drew Barrymore as a youth. Or Paris Hilton in later years. Maybe we didn’t really spend much time together. But I do recall a time talking with the girls.

Once I was talking to one of them about lost things. I had my bag with me. She pointed out it was easy to find what you were looking for, when you didn’t have many things to look through. She wasn’t being flippant, more just understanding a part of my life. If I remember right these girls also knew Tony. And it may have been through him I got to know the girls.

It was a small group. And nothing happened between me and any of them.

The other girls I got to know in Santa Cruz were the church girls. One of them was Christie. She and her church would wash people’s feet like Jesus. They had a mission just off the mall. She was the sweetest most caring and loving person I have ever known. I loved her with a simple and pure love.

The number of times I went to service at the church. We sat and talked. She would wash my feet and give me clean socks. Even when I told her I had plenty she would give me more. For a while I didn’t have to launder my socks because I kept getting clean socks. I wasn’t changing them every day like I do now.

Maybe she was just a sweet girl. Or maybe she was a girl sweet on me. But I felt so dirty at the time. If I ever had thought of being with someone like her, it would have seemed impossible. I hope where ever she is today, she is happy.

Her friend was different. It was to her friend had proposed the hymnal cleaning offer. I recall talking to her friend about Satan. And how Satan was a needed part of the plan of the Biblical god.

If man and angels had freewill I explained. At someone point someone would use it, and then become Satan. Besides, freewill is only free if there is a choice.

The church feed us, and clothed us and tried to offer us salvation. A good number of beautiful people worked at the mission.

I didn’t go back to campus after they kicked me out. But I did make a new friend from Bethany. We got to know each other, it was my second year on the street. I had been off campus for a year.

When M moved to Seattle he gave us a ride. He once gave me a notebook to write poetry. We became good friends, but lost touch when he left Bethany.

He told me about a night in the pool room at Bethany. Someone was talking about me, saying bad things. Which is funny since I hadn’t been around for a year. But he asked them, “do you know Chris?” Then he told them to shut up or deal with him.

One of the oddest friends I had was a hooker. Yes, and she was open with most people about her work. “So what, they go out to a bar and meet someone and go home and party,” she said. “I also go out to a bar and meet someone and go home and party.”

The only difference she pointed out, was she got paid in the morning. I believe I met her one late night on the mall. I was knitting. We went and got some food together. I wasn’t attracted to her. Not because she was a hooker. But just because she wasn’t my type.

She was a funny girl. A sweet and caring person. And we had some good times together. I recall one morning we had stayed up all night. And then went to the park and watched the sunrise. As the sun came up we found a spot on the grass and went to sleep. It was only illegal to sleep in the park at night.

Feed the People

Feed the People was started by an Egomaniac with a big heart. Sean was a loud man. But he was a caring person. Never shy to speak his mind. He often spoke up for others. He would talk you out of anything he could get. But he would share all of it himself.

I got to know Feed the People while eating their food. What they made was hot soup. Sometimes they would serve bread and juice. Sean had once cooked with Food Not Bombs. But he had personal disagreements with the group. And so started Feed the People.

The first person I got to know was John  Earth. In some ways John was the opposite of Sean. Where Sean was loud. John was quiet. But they shared a concern for others. And they shared the mission of the group. It was a simple mission, feed people. They also shared a deep friendship.

When I became associated with the group Sean was in jail. I do not recall the reason. John was looking for a place to cook. And having a hard time keeping the group functional. John was the mother of the group, taking care of the day to day details. Sean had been the father. His was a more active role. But both were important.

When I met John Earth I was living with Amy. She had talked about helping others. She was a caring soul. I thought she would want to help John. When I asked her she said, “yes.”

So John started to cook in her apartment. And we would carry the food downtown to serve. We made the soup from donations. It was always an odd selection. We chopped and boiled anything we got. But never meat, or dairy. It was always vegan. Always made with love. And it was always yummy.

During this time I was also spending time with friends from Bethany. One of them was Doshia. I had known her while a student. But I got to know her more after I left Bethany. Shannon was someone new to the school. But we became friends, as she was friends with Doshia.

When Doshia heard about the feeding program she wanted to help too. She had a pickup truck. Instead of walking the food downtown, Doshia would give us a ride.

Over time the four of us became friends. Then Sean got out. When he came back to the group, he took the lead again. He was a natural leader. And to be honest I felt pushed aside a little. I felt like less important.

Amy and I had been close. But at some point she said we would just be friends. This had been upsetting to me. But on one trip to San Francisco I met M.

When I came back to Santa Cruz I introduced Amy to M. It was an odd meeting, quiet and awkward. It may not have been a wise choice for me. But I don’t know if it was a choice I could have avoided without changing my life in Santa Cruz.

The night I recall the most was at Amy’s. Sean had been talking about having a party. And it was going to be at Amy’s apartment. Well, amy’s parents completely supported her. And before meeting M I had spent almost a month living with her. I knew she was nervous about her parents finding out about me.

Amy was a caring person. But also a quiet person. When I invited the group into her home it was John. And John and Amy had much in common. They were both had a natural peaceful spirit. But Sean had a natural active spirit. And I knew at times Amy wasn’t comfortable with his level of energy. But she would never had said a word.

Well, back to the night things went bad. Sean was talking and planning a big event. In my mind I grew concerned for Amy. My feeling was this wasn’t something she would want in her apartment. Also it could cause problems with the apartment management. By this time I was not living with her anymore. So, it wasn’t my interest.

“You haven’t even asked Amy,” I stated at one point. Which was true, he hadn’t. But it wasn’t Sean’s nature to ask. He assumed people were as giving as himself. Often this worked for him. But in this case I think it was a mistake.

Well Sean got upset. Amy got upset. And M got upset. Looks like I did a great job. But the event never took place.

Sean got upset because I challenged him. He was an egomaniac. I don’t think he conceived of Amy not approving. Maybe he got upset because he knew I was right. People get upset when they are caught, and they know they are wrong.

Amy got upset because I spoke for her. As much as she would never speak for herself. And maybe it wasn’t my business. But to this day I think I made the right choice. She knew it was out of concern for her. Of all the people, she may have forgiven me the easiest.

And M? Well she got upset because she felt like I still wanted to be with Amy. I made a lot of mistakes in my relationship with the two girls. Sean later told M I never defended her like I did Amy. Which was true. But M was a different person. A stronger more able person in many ways.

There was another time I recall. We were at Amy’s with Shannon and Doshia. I don’t know if M was with us. They started talking about old souls. Sean had said Shannon was an old soul. Doshia asked about herself. And then we talked about a few other people. Then Doshia said, “what about Rainbow?”

Sean’s comment was he would tell me when I acted my age. Which was fine with me. I didn’t put much stake in the whole discussion. I still don’t today. I’ve met many old people who aren’t wise. And I have met many young people who have much wisdom. Why would it be any different with souls?

One time when I wasn’t around Sean made an odd comment to Doshia. The tension between me and Sean was growing. I was never sure what caused this tension. It must have been something mutual. He was a Sagittarius, a sign I often don’t match with well.

“I’m not going to let Rainbow come between me and my girls,” he told Doshia. Which is a funny thing for him to say. Of the list of girls he could have been speaking of, most were my friends first. Besides the fact, people don’t belong to people.

At many times I wanted to impress Sean. In some ways I looked up to him like a father figure. But I also resented him in ways. Because he was so confident. So sure of himself. Maybe for my part the tension came from this internal struggle. I wanted his approval. But I didn’t want to be another of his groupies.

Sean had a way of getting things. I don’t know how. And as far as I know it was legit. We would watch movies for free. Not by sneaking in the side door. He would talk to someone at the ticket counter and we would walk in the front. And he invited almost anyone.

The group got donations from various places. The only one I remember was Odwalla. This was before Coke bough the company. So it was when they were still good. We got gallons and gallons of juice. And we gave it all away. Odwalla was a different company. You could ask a driver for a sample, or an out-of-date and they would often give you one.

At some point Sean’s girlfriend went on a trip. He was alone in his tent and offered to let me and M stay. We were there for a while. On the last day, me and M cleaned up the tent. We wanted it to be nice for Sean and his girlfriend. Me and M moved into the woods. As a parting gift we left them a couple condoms. We must have just thrown them on top the blankets.

The next time we saw Sean he was threatening my life. Said he had trashed his tent, left a mess. It wasn’t the truth. And I would not back down. Giving in felt like becoming another of the people who bowed to Sean.

For days we avoided each other. M and I felt nervous. But I also felt like he wouldn’t hurt me. At one point I told him: “this is America, we don’t submit to terrorism.” Sean was of Iranian decent.

I know at some point we got together and talked. If I remember right the problem was resolved. But we were never close again.

It was through Sean I met Erin. Who became a close friend for a number of years. She is someone I still miss today.

I’m not sure the last time  I saw Sean. Or John Earth. Or even Amy.

The saddest part of the story comes years later. John and Sean had gone to Fresno. Sean had gotten tired driving back, and asked John to drive. Later John said he hadn’t felt tired himself. But, he fell asleep at the wheel. The van was wrecked and Sean was killed. For a while there was a concern they were going to charge John for his death.

I felt how much I had loved Sean after he died. I learned a lot from him. He was an egomaniac. But he also had a big heart for others. I am sure he would have helped anyone.

The People of Santa Cruz

Gandalf is one of the first people I met. Many people on the street use aliases. Besides I have forgotten a lot of names.

Gandalf was older. Maybe in his 70s. But he lived on the street. When I first moved to the street I made hemp jewelry. The idea was I could sell it to earn cash. But in places like Santa Cruz, spanging is easier. Spanging in asking for money – spare change.

The first few hemp pieces I made were bad. But he encouraged me. He asked for one of the pieces I made. I felt like it was worthless. But he not only accepted it as a gift. He wore it for years on his leg. It is possible he thought it was good. But more likely he wanted to support me.

One memory I have of him was a few months into my experience. I was walking and saw him at an outside restaurant table. It was a popular and yummy place to eat. He offered me some food, which I accepted. But I must have been pretty hungry. He said nothing as I ate most of the food.

I remember him for being friendly. A generous person with a wise word. When we discussed found blankets he pointed out they should be safe. Anything which lives on humans, dies after two days of no contact he informed me.

Two girls also introduced me to the streets. They were the ones who taught me hemp jewelry. It isn’t hard to do. And so it is hard to sell. Also I got a ticket early in my experience for selling downtown. They were Koala and Maya. The friends were young, under 18. They spanged a lot to get by, but also sold things. I met them in the transition period. Two things which added to my negative image came from them. One was a small hemp pouch I wore around my neck. The other was a patchwork bag. The bag wasn’t strong at first. Over the months I had to repair it. But I did keep it for a long time.

The two girls talked about Rastafarianism. And I believe Koala had dreadlocks. These were hippies. And first meeting them was interesting. They drew me in, because I had so much to learn from them. But I was never sold on everything they believed. Shortly after I went to the street they moved out of town.

I’ve put together a list of people I want to discuss. But for the most part it isn’t in any order.

One of the oddest people I knew was Killer. I am not sure if the drugs made him crazy. Or if he was just crazy. At first there were moments of friendship between us. Once he talked to me, and showed empathy when I was having girl problems. Another time we spanged together. A cop stood by watching us. So I made a sign reading: You pay him how much to stand there and watch us? People found it to be funny.

But there are some scary and sad memories with Killer too. Probably in a regular life he would have been a good person. But drugs and life on the street can change people. Some of the odd things about him. He tattooed “your name” on his penis. And would tell random people on the street. “I bet I have your name tattooed on my penis.” People would expect to see their name. If they expected to see anything. But many people did see his penis.

Once we were sitting at the cage. And there was another man there. This person was saying they didn’t like the word “like.” Well me and Killer must have been in a mood. Because we started using the word as much as we could. “We don’t like you don’t like the word like. We like it.” The guy said there was a “lie” in like. The more we used it the more upset he got.

At some point the cage where we all hung out was taken down. They were planning a new building. Like many cities they would place a temporary wall along the sidewalk. Maybe because he feared change. Maybe just because he could. He tore the wall down, at least once. He said he grabbed the top and used his body weight rocking back and forth.

Killer was a gutter punk. On the streets in Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Berkeley there were two groups. Many people would cross between them. But most were either a hippy or a gutter punk. And they kept to different areas of town. But usually along the same strip.

Killer once said he wasn’t looking for a woman for love. And it wasn’t for sex either. Just someone to keep him warm at night. A sad if slightly funny comment, which must have been true. It was a thought I had myself.

Laurel wasn’t named for a street downtown. There was a Laurel Street in Santa Cruz. I used this fact to remember her name. She is one of the people I wish I still knew. She was sitting on the sidewalk when I met her. She wasn’t homeless. Just a person knitting. And I stopped and talked to her. I was so much more open to people when I was younger.

She was amazing. When I first met her she taught me how to crochet and also how to knit. On the same piece of yarn. And she gave me the yarn. This skill is something I have passed on to many others in my life. And I still can knit and crochet.

She invited me to a music show. It was outside of town a little ways. During the show we ended up making out. And I enjoyed it, but it also makes me a little sad. I never saw her again afterwards. I could have kissed any girl. She was a special girl and I wonder if things could have been different. But who knows.

Another girl I met on the street was Daniel. Swilly Daniel is what she was called. In street lingo swilly is drunk or drinking. The young girl would drink with the long-term alcoholics. But she was a good person. It is sad to know she is likely dead now. Once she told me about how she missed her boyfriend. He had been arrested. Well, it was his habit to fart in the morning. She said, farts when she was waking up reminded her of him.

We were friends. I was never attracted to her. But I did care about her a good deal. And we helped each other when we could. For a while we shared a camp. Like I mentioned before, you don’t just share a camp with anyone. Her and Killer were a part of my first trip to Berkeley. This story will come later.

But she drank a lot. I can’t imagine it didn’t cause her problems. Health problems being the least. Once she had told Killer she didn’t want to have sex with him. But they drank together. And she woke up naked next to him. “What did you do to me?” She yelled at him.

Then there was the VW Girl. Not the name she went by of course. I met her one night at the cage. I stole a candy bar and shared it with her. We talked. Then spent the night in her van. No, we didn’t have sex. For a couple days we were close. At some points she would tell people she was my girlfriend. But it never seemed real. She was a student. And we made plans to take a trip. When she went home at one point she told me she would return.

When she came back it was much later than planned. And she came with another man. It broke my heart. We weren’t close anymore. The new guy was named Tree. And he features in an upcoming story. I remember I saw her in Santa Cruz, and then again in San Francisco. Years later at a Rainbow Gathering I saw her again. We talked about the time period. We both expressed some regret and concern about how the other person felt.

I don’t recall much about her. But she was a sweet person. And she was pretty. She gave me her shorts to go swimming with once. She never got them back. In a ritual of anger I put a rock in them and threw them in a river. She had also given me some other clothes. I carried these with me. But after a while I pushed them under a bush. In some ways I wanted to keep them, come back for the clothes. But also I wanted them to be lost. And they were lost.

Another interesting person was Mushroom. I don’t recall the name he used. But one day he told me how he was walking in the woods. And he said he had just picked a mushroom and ate it. I expressed shock, and said it was a dumb thing to eat wild mushrooms. He agreed, but didn’t even know why he had done it.

I believe he had a small trailer he lived in south of town. But he spent a good deal of time downtown. And I don’t think he worked because he took off with us on a trip without notice.

Klepto took the name because he liked to steal. There was a music store downtown. Many of us would go and listen to music. I believe he stole a lot from the store. One night I was camping with a mutual friend. He came by to chat. Then left. We shortly heard a car alarm. And it could have been anyone. But we thought it was him. He was a gutter punk. Like many people, in a normal life he would have been someone different. He was funny, kind and a good friend. I imagine if like me he changed his life, he could be anywhere today. He was young when I knew him, a teenager.

I don’t know how to start on Moon Cat. He had deep issues. Sometimes he would beat his own privates. He was lonely. And would scream about how useless they were because he was alone. Someone told me from time to time a woman took sympathy on him.

Moon Cat had a cat for a long time. The cat would ride on his shoulder. A trick which they pulled off on a bike.

I’m not the first person in this body, he would often say. And the first person didn’t take very good care. Maybe the result of his mental illness. But in someways are any of us the first people in our bodies. I am not the person I was 20 years ago. And I can say the person I was 20 years ago didn’t take care of this body. But for Moon Cat it seemed much deeper.

He wanted to become a vampire so he could get women. There was a group of people who played at vampires. Maybe some of them believed. There was also a live action role play group in town. They played a vampire game. Let us also not forget we are talking about Santa Cruz. The place where The Lost Boys was filmed.

I used to watch the movie with people. Then point out it was filmed in Santa Cruz. Then in a suggestive voice say, “I’m from Santa Cruz.” I did it to give people a little scare. The whole vampire thing didn’t get Moon Cat women. And I was never clear on what he did to become a vampire. The people he dealt with were young. But I would like to believe they didn’t really drink blood.

Moon Cat needed help. Someone should have been helping him with medicine. Helping him with day to day life skills. He was a smart person. A caring person. And with a little help I believe he could have managed his mental health issues.

I’ve told the story of the man who told me I would go to hell. Because I was effeminate. Well I told Phil the story and he found it funny. Imagine he replied, you’re in hell trying to explain. He put his hands in the classic effeminate pose. “Honest Mr. Devil Sir, I was closing the window.” “Honest Mr. Devil Sir, I was playing the piano.” “I was waving to my mom.”

What I recall about him the most was his photography. He always had a camera with him. And he took pictures of people downtown. There was a part of me which wondered if he might be attacted to underage girls. Often he took their photos. He would give them a copy if they wanted. And a couple times he gave police photos to help when someone went missing. As far as I know and have reason to believe he never acted inappropriate. I wonder if the pictures were his way of meeting a need, he knew would be wrong any other way.

It wasn’t just young girls. The only photos I have of myself from this time are from him. And he later started to buy the girls whistles and other things for self protection.

He took me to his home a couple times. He was a professional wing nut. Which is to say he got a social security check. I know onetime he was talking to his mother. He was up for a review for eligibility. “Don’t forget to tell them when you dropped me on my head,” he told his mother. He was funny. But also smart.

At his home he explained how a wet sponge grows mold. Place it up again the corner of the counter so it can dry out. And he told me about trapping fleas with water and a night light. He was an odd person. But one of the friendliest and open people I have known in my life.

He told me doing photography made him see the world different. And said the city should think about its placement of signs. Once when talking to a girl at the Christian mission he offered to wipe all the hymnals so they wouldn’t be dirty. She didn’t take him up on the offer.

In the end he may have just been lonely. And found photography was a way to connect with people. Who doesn’t love photographing teen girls. And how many adults take time out of their lives to get to know new people. I know I rarely do. And he was a decent photographer.

I met Raven in San Francisco. At first she told me her name was Sarah. When I informed her Sarah was my sister’s name, she said she’d be my sister. We talked and got to know each other a little.

The next time I met her was in Santa Cruz. She became a part of the vampire group. The same one Moon Cat admired so much. Her boyfriend was a vampire. And we became close.

Because of her age, and our relationship it wasn’t appropriate. But I was attracted to her. But we remained close friends. One time she wanted me to taste what a clove cigarette. So she kissed me. And it was good, but odd.

Life for the vampire tribe in Santa Cruz was a bit of a teen drama. The kind of issues which are harmless in the hall of middle school and high school. But they were played out on the streets. Towards the end people in town forced Raven to leave. We weren’t as close by this time. And it was never clear to me what was the problem. I know at some point she had some legal trouble with a local man named Tony.

Raven had developed a sister of her own. And after Raven left I stayed in touch with this girl. I know I helped her out a couple times. In fact there is a funny story.

M and I were at a local store. There was a security guard inside the store. The company was First Alarm, it also patrolled The Mall. People would call it false alarm. So I made a comment, “who called a false alarm?” The guard got angry and tried to kick me out of the store. What I hadn’t know was First Alarm had taken over a contract from another company. I had shopped at the store a lot, and knew the other company.

I stopped a manager. Informed him of what was happening. The manager told me to just buy my things and said we were okay. We walked away and didn’t say anything more.

The next day the security guard found me the next day. “My girlfriend said I have to apologize to you.” Turns out his girlfriend was this street sister of mine.

I wonder often what became of Raven. She had her troubles. I think the men around her took advantage of her and used her. But she never got into the drug scene. She wasn’t a drinker. She was a lost young girl on the street. When she they banished her I tried to tell people, “she ‘s young.” But so were the people condemning her.

I felt close to Raven. And I doubt there is much I wouldn’t have done to help her. I think she knew. In the end, when she left I remember a sad moment. There was nothing I could do to keep her. Honestly it may have been for the best. I can only hope getting away from the scene encouraged her to grow up.

The person she had the legal problems with was Tony. A double amputee. He sometimes walked on prosthetic legs. But more often zoomed around downtown in a wheelchair. He wouldn’t often shake your hand because his gloves were dirty. He would do a fist bump.

Why does late-middle-aged man hang around with teenagers? He wasn’t there to abuse them. If I remember right he was gay. But during the whole time I knew him he never had a relationship. Once someone put a lion on top one of the downtown kiosks. “It’s a message to me.” he said.

Maybe he viewed himself as a mentor to the youth. Many on the street seemed to look up to him. I had a number of deep conversations with him about life. He was always interesting. Always friendly. And a couple times I spent the night at his house. He didn’t work. I believe he lived off a disability check.

I once asked him if he worked for the government. We went to a store, which was closed. He dug some cigarette butts out of an ash tray. He once told me where the best places to get snipes in town. Snipes are cigarettes which have been smoked, but have tobacco left. When I asked again later he told me I should have gotten my answer. He explained the trip to get the cigarettes had been done to make a point to me.

Many things are possible. Around the time I left town he was becoming homeless himself. He was having some financial problems. It was probably temporary.

We talked about women a lot. I would claim someone wasn’t being honest. He would point out they were just not being forthcoming. And he was right, it wasn’t the same. He had an amazing intellect. The kind of person who sets himself up as the judge of all things. On the internet he called himself, T.S. Idiot.

I learned a great deal from Tony. Things about life. And just ideas and understanding about the world. I’ll never know what motivated him to spend his time with the rootless youth. But he was a teacher for me in an important time in my life.

He once told me he found me interesting. I didn’t worry as much about the things he worried about he explained. Then added, I did tend to worry about things which didn’t bother him. He is one of the people I’d like to see again. To be able to show how much my life is different. Being able to talk to him, would make me feel how much I have changed.

One night I was on The Mall. And some drunk girls were walking around. The guys at the cage were trying to make some moves on the girls. I was curious. The guys and the girls were sitting on a bench. I sat down on the sidewalk. Then one of them got up and sat next to me. I believe we kissed.

Tony came along with Raven’s boyfriend and others. They got the girls away from the guys. Then helped them to get to safety. Raven’s boyfriend made an interesting comment later. He said when he saw the girl with me, he felt better. Because he trust me and knew I wouldn’t take advantage of them.

I think people misunderstand the amount of community which can exist among homeless people. Raven could have stayed. I doubt they would have harmed her. But she wouldn’t have been a part of the community any longer. And I think this is the reason she had to leave. She had to go and find another community to join.

In Santa Cruz it was a diverse community. From Tony who lived in a house. To a few people with intense mental health problems. Too many young teenagers, who should have been at home. And older men, beyond the age of the sex game. They were all accepted, and for the most part respected. We all had aliases. People didn’t know much about each other. But they accepted each person as they presented themselves.

If I thought I could go back. To find those people and the community again. If I could live in those summer days forever. I would. But summer doesn’t last forever and you can’t go home again.