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.

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