Call me skeptical of curbside claims. Union man. Honest. Hungry. Looking for work. Ten seconds at a stoplight doesn’t give you a lot to work with. You do a quick read: sober or not? Do they look you in the eye or not? Does the supplicants appearance match the narrative on the cardboard sign?
Mrs. UpintheValley keeps singles in the console of her car and hands them out to anyone who approaches the window.
For years there was a guy who used to work the 405 offramp at Roscoe Blvd., waving an empty gas can. He was respectably attired, and would point to a nearby station, implying he was a stranded commuter with an empty fuel tank. He aggressively worked the red light, walking out into the lanes between cars, frowning and gesticulating at those who declined him.
I’ve seen crackhead mothers demand ‘food money’ for their children in front of restaurants, with their shell-shocked children in tow. I’ve seen people claiming ‘hunger’ spurning fresh food, not leftovers, purchased for them by passerby. I know a reformed heroin addict whose hustle was setting up a card table in front of Home Depot and fraudulently collecting for Hodgkins disease. Don’t get me started about claims of military service.
Alternately, I have another friend, who lives large in Bronson Canyon, who took a huge loss in the stock market, on margin, costing nearly his entire nest egg. He recovered, it took years, but in the aftermath he decided to always give to panhandlers. That a person had been reduced to the state of degradation where he would beg in the street, this in of itself was reason for giving.
I’m not so sure. My sense of social order requires a Virtuous Mendicant. So when I saw this guy last week, the sun hit his sign just right, and what caught my eye was Teamster Local 831. Here, perhaps, was someone dollar-worthy. Here’s the exception which proves the rule. So I reached in my pocket. As I did so, in tandem with my own movements, as though in response to my thought process, he began to pitch forward, slowly, folding from the neck down, one vertebrae at a time, to the waist.
He wasn’t doing yoga.
He sagged over until his knuckles hit the sidewalk. Then he raised his head slightly, but the effort was too much. His knees buckled and he hung there, in the arms of Morpheus, his face hidden behind a magnificent mane of homeless hair. He swayed back and forth to an internal ebb/flow only he could feel.
He had cookies stacked on the sidewalk. He had some bills clutched forgetfully in his right hand. There was nothing material I could offer he didn’t have already. But I took no pleasure in cynicism so swiftly affirmed. I would fail to give, and he would sin once more.
*An unfinished version of this post was published accidentally an hour ago. I apologize if it ended up in your inbox.
The first time I met White Eagle he was emerging from an abandoned warehouse with a shopping cart heaped with electrical wires. He was wearing leather pants and earrings, and looked like he played guitar in a glam rock band. For a guy living on the street, which he claimed to be doing for 13 years, and down to his last five teeth, he was oddly, unexpectedly attractive. He was on his way to the recycling center with his plunder, and his rapid-fire tweaker talk was so animated it arced across the space between us and I felt like I just did a bump myself.
From time to time I would see him while I was out walking the dogs, and there were these little nods of recognition, bum and homeowner. Usually he was coming or going from Raymer Street, bearing his loads of scrap and offered short, effervescent bursts of conversation which I politely nodded along with but could make no sense of a minute later as I replayed them in my head.
Once I found him in a reflective mood. I asked how he was doing. He professed loneliness.
“I’m homeless veteran and I’m gay. I’m a one-man leper colony out here.”
Four Mexicans had recently tried to beat him up, he said. For being a faggot. Even after he did them a solid by pointing pursuing police in the wrong direction. He put a stop to that quick. He wasn’t in the Navy Seals for 12 years for nothing. Or was it the Green Berets? His story evolved with different tellings. Sometimes he was on the street for 12 years, sometimes in the military. Sometimes both.
Earlier in the summer he was staying in The Narrows, a concrete channel behind Target. It was going to be dry down there for awhile, and they were going to make the most of it. They had tarp shade overhead and lights and a cookstove and a generator. The police told them they could stay as long as they didn’t make too much noise or bother the neighbors. Or so he said.
After the murder in the favela last week, I went looking for White Eagle, to see what I could learn. When I went to the Narrows, they professed no knowledge of him. When I went to the favela, they told he lived up at the 405.
“He never comes down here. That’s where he belongs.”
I went to the 405. Everyone was gone.
I mean everybody. Normally dozens of people live here. It was like the Rapture had come.
Next time you exit the 405 in the Valley and you wonder what’s going on down in the shrubbery, this is it. Urban hobbits have built a shire. Where they’ve gone now, and for how long, I don’t know. Maybe when I see White Eagle again, he’ll tell me.
Last week, in the run-up to the city council election, I posted of the ongoing problem of the crackhead encampment blocking the Bear Mural on Roscoe Blvd.
Two days later, the crackheads were gone.
Whisked away, as though by some kind of municipal rapture. Only tagging and little heaps of discarded clothing remained.
I’m not sure how I feel about this.
To have a cranky blog post turn the gears of the City machinery in a helpful direction is…satisfying on the one hand. On the other….really? Really? This has been going on for over a year. I tag Nury Martinez’s name on election eve and suddenly somebody who matters picks up the phone and calls Street Services?
Okay, I choose to be grateful. Full props to whoever made the call, whatever the motivation.
I have keyboard, hear me squeak.