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.