*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.