People travel to the African savanna to take safaris, to see creatures they’ve only seen on TV; company-planned excursions to the outskirts of the Amazon for a glimpse of a lemur and that time your aunt saw a moose in a state park. They ponder all the facts the tour-guides tell them, reading brochures and snapping photos, attempting to soak up the strangeness to forever keep in memory the time they stepped out of their living-rooms, through the door and visited the wild.
But if you’re up to it, you haven’t the need to get on a plane.
Los Angeles (and most other cities) is full of nomads, vagabonds, homeless bums and mind-bent street walkers; gypsies who prowl the streets and beggars sifting through dumpsters, the head-full-of-crack taking half empty sodas from the trash and the discontent youth combing the boardwalk for spare change. Call these the wildlife.
I managed to meet a handful of a people whose own innate discomfort with the world (be this insanity or simply heightened morals) have led them to their only available salvation: the wild. Here are a few of the more memorable folks, in no specific order.
1.) Geoffrey. He wasn’t poor, or even unemployed. Heck, if you’ll allow for a car you could say he wasn’t even homeless. So what was he? Extremely frugal. Geoffrey had dropped out of highschool, never gone to college, and now, at the age of 23 was filming commercials for companies like Apple and M&M Mars. He was making more money than both his parents — he wanted success out of spite. And he wanted to travel. To vagabond, to be precise, through southeast Asia for a couple of years. And so he was saving up; had bailed out the apartment he’d been chipping in for and sold off his belongings, hanging onto a few changes of clothes and his camera, eating peanut-butter sandwiches and dry cereal. He’d been at it for six months when I last talked to him. He’d spent the first week driving around after work to find a safe place to park each night to sleep. It was an abandoned parking lot and he’d been sleeping there every night for a couple of months, before anyone else began parking there. He woke one morning to find the lot full, and for weeks after that, every morning, the lot was full, people in suits getting out of their cars, standing around with coffee talking. There was even a security guard at the gate. For weeks the same car parked next to him and every morning Geoffrey would see the same guy there, and the guy always noticed Geoffrey though it took them a couple of weeks before they spoke. Eventually they said hello and as it turned out the lot was being used for the production crew of Californication. The man Geoffrey was talking to was the director. He thought it was awesome how Geoffrey was saving up: instead of being homeless because of addiction he was homeless out of frugality. Geoffrey got to be good friends with the director, and the guard even gave him donuts some mornings.
2.) Mark and Craig. These guys go together. They weren’t ‘to-gether’ but I seldom saw them apart. They were close buddies, and that’s how a lot of the guys (and ladies) out there go about it, by having someone to watch their back, because even in a place as laidback as Los Angeles, where even the hungry won’t hurt a fly, you still find the bat-shit-crazies who become ferociously indignant at the most innocent of offenses. These guys hungout a lot at The Talking Stick, a cafe in Venice Beach hospitable to the homeless. They only ever came on Mondays and Wednesdays though, the open-mic nights. Mark was on crutches, a bad fall from a fence that broke his ankle and had him wearing a boot. He was dirty, small jawed and grumpy. Craig was more amicable. The first time I met them I was sitting in the cafe writing and the two of them showed up and dropped there several bags right next to the front door. They were haggard, but they were out there laughing. Craig sat down and spread butter on a roll and Mark attempted to ride a skateboard. I scoffed at this and Craig saw me so I jokingly made the motion for him to shove Mark. Craig shoved the kid with the broken ankle on the skateboard. The open-mic began, terrible covers of The Doors and the Grateful Dead and an emcee who thought he was way more entertaining than anyone should have ever let on. Then Craig got up there, nice black dress shirt baggy and untucked and a dirty pair of baggy Dockers. He got up there and rapped and the place loved it. It was energetic, rhythmic and completely unlike anything anyone did before him. There was a girl sitting behind me by the door. She got up and started swaying around, dressed all in tight-fitting gray sweats, hood up, throwing her body this-way-that and really getting into it. Towards the end of Craig’s bit she’d begun knocking a stool around, holding the top of the stool and rocking it and as Craig picked up the momentum she wound up throwing the stool. She caught herself half-way but it was too late and the stool flew into the luckily empty stools next to it. I liked her. I thought she was mad. But back to Craig. So after he went the lameness continued and I sat there writing and at one point (the cafe was dark) he came over and squatted down next to me. I knew he wanted to say something so I began, ‘that was pretty sweet up there.’ ‘Thanks, I appreciate it. You a writer?’ — Well, this is how he asked me if I wanted to write something for him, which I never did (I was busy). He’d wanted me to write lyrics for him and after the cafe closed we were outside talking. He rapped around a lot, malls and cafes, nothing big, and just kept writing lyrics and trying to get himself out there. He had a wife and a daughter but he never mentioned where they were. Him and Mark had been homeless for a number of years and all he wanted to do was rap. And that’s all he did. I saw them around a number of times at the Talking Stick and they were always out front, their bags next to the door and they were always talking with people, always entertaining a crowd. They knew the usuals and had no problem walking in and striking up a conversation with, whoever. Even complete strangers. It’s how they ate. Call them con-men; they’d get a conversation going and walk away with half a sandwich. That’s better than I’d been eating. I admired it, the brazenness, even if I couldn’t agree with it, but if you’re hungry morals can wait. What I really admired though was the openness, the ability to be so open and truthful with any stranger so as to briefly let them into your life — even it was just a means to an end. He was into drugs though, they both were. You could see it in their pale faces when their eyes hung dull and open pimples wouldn’t heal, just get bigger and more red.
3.) Along one of the main streets was an abandoned auto-dealership on a corner. Right next to the front door, for a couple of weeks these two guys slept there. I never caught their names but we talked a few times. I saw them along the boardwalk one day and they were happier than I remembered. They shouted hey as I approached and said hello. There was a movie shooting going on and behind them in the parking lot was where the production crew was parked. The stars’ trailers were there and so too were tables full of food. They each already had a couple of styrofoam containers of sandwiches and crackers and eggs and bacon (it was the morning) and they told me what they did so I too could help myself. They showed me where to wait, just out of sight next to a bench where I could look normal and keep an eye for the table to be clear without seeming suspicious. That was it. Actually, I stood off to the side and they waved when the coast was clear. I hadn’t my knapsack with me (it was on a roof), and they waved and I casually walked over, took a styrofoam tray and casually but while trying to be quick about it, piled as much bacon and fruit and fried ham and eggs into this thing as I could. My heart was pounding in my stomach because I was new to blatant theft, but again about morals being useless when you’re hungry, and I got out of there and feasted with, Volt, I think, was one of their names, anyway.
4.) Tall Lanky Black Man. It was a rainy morning walking along the empty boardwalk in Venice. When I got towards the north end I began to see garbage all over, surrounding the garbage cans (of which there are many) as if someone had been pulling the trash out of each one. The boardwalk here was full of homeless folks, shopping carts with trash bags full of belongings and piles of dirty clothes. They sat in front of the closed shops, on the benches and the walls and they were all talking and hanging out. Well, a tall lanky black man and this small (by comparison) white man were talking. It was a calm conversation about what they each had to do that day. Then it got heated. The black guy said something about all of the trash and the white guy casually said he did it. The first guy told him to pick it up and the second guy said no, he had things to do. The tall black guy ended up putting his size to benefit, yelling and threatening this other guy who was the sole reason the boardwalk was such a mess, for he was the little asshole that’d gone and pulled all the trash out. I thought he was going to get his ass kicked, the way the black man got right next to him looking straight down at him yelling, shoving him and telling him he was going to pick it all up, right there right now. He did. The little white man began picking up all of the trash and when the tall guy came over to where the rest of the homeless had been sitting watching, the tall guy got much praise. ‘I’m a tall motherfucker. It’s good to put my size to work at times. It gets things done, and that little fucker is going to pick up every last piece of trash, so help me. This is our home. You can’t just come in and make a mess, I don’t care who you are.’ Respect.
I know people have wilder stories. Let’s here them! Comments or leave links, whatever. Converse!