Twice I was homeless for a time in Los Angeles. They were not bad experiences. They came to mind Sunday morning when Nancy and I approached a distinguished, elderly man who was checking the slot of a public telephone for forgotten change. Most people in town know him. He's a proud man who had an important career in academia for a period.
It was said he politely turned down chairity if it was offered, but this was the first time I saw him searching for money and he looked shaky on his legs instead of, as he usually did, strong. So when I approached him with a five-dollar bill, I was prepared for him to reject it. He didn't, smiled, and took the bill.
He asked our names. ``Well'' he said, ``I'll have a glass of wine and toast Nancy and Dave.'' ``No, it's Nancy and Steve.'' ``Very well,'' he said, ``Nancy and Steve. Thank you.''
I didn't resent him using the money for a glass of wine. He wasn't an alcoholic. I had seen him a time or two go into a little restaurant and have a plate of something and a glass of wine. He deserved it, a time to become warm and maybe experience a little buzz.
The first time I was homeless was no big deal. Myself and my roommate, more interested in hustling pool than working, were turned out of our hotel because we were way behind in our rent – because we were bad pool hustlers. To get our clothes back – my friend was an actor, looking good was crucial to him – we had to come up with the money we owed.
We were lucky. We had caddied now and then and the caddy master of a Los Angeles country club took pity on us and, provided we didn't object too strenuously to his considerable verbal abuse, allowed us to shelter in the caddy shack at night. We were thus able to get out early on rounds, and sometimes did 36, even 45, holes in a day.
After a few weeks, we were no longer homeless, or caddy shackers, and were tan and fit, end of story. Oh, except to mention that the hotel that locked us out was called the Mark Twain, and it was in Hollywood on Wilcox Boulevard, and I had registered there because I was a Missouri boy and Twain's name made me feel at home – until I was booted out, of course. I thought that was very un-Mark Twain of them.
My second homeless time was more serious, and as I look back I should have been worried, but wasn't. Maybe that's because I was only nineteen or twenty. Behind in my rent, I lost my apartment, packed my clothes into the back of my old black Ford convertible, and made my way day to day.
I had a little income packing groceries parttime at Ralph's on Sunset Boulevard (super market of the stars, we called it), but had gotten so far in the hole financially, there was no way I could recover without working full time. I thought about asking for more hours, but then I was taking fourteen or fifteen units at Los Angeles City College and I wanted to continue my education. If I'd been really ambitious, I could have taken on the extra hours and continued in school.
Instead, I just continued on homeless a while.
Of course, there are worse places to be homeless than Los Angeles. At night I'd drive to the beaches in Santa Monica, put the top down, and sleep under the stars. A morning swim cleaned you up.
Now and then the cops would invesitgate me for sleeping in a car, but I'd tell them that I was simply being a responsible driver and, feeling sleepy behind the wheel, had pulled over for a little nap before continuing on.
But after a while the Santa Monica police began wondering why I kept getting sleepy at the wheel near their beaches – couldn't I get tired behind the wheel in, say, La Jolla? – so I searched out other nighttime locales. In one case, this nearly proved disastrous. I pulled over to sleep in a Westwood neighborhood and in my sleep kicked off the emergency brake, rolling into a tree. That woke up the ``neighbors,'' so I skedaddled, my car sporting a dented bumper.
Another time, and I've told this story before, I pulled over on Mulholland Drive in the fog. I awoke the next morning to find the front tires of my Ford poised on the edge of a drop into the San Fernando Valley – a few more inches and I would have been a dead homeless man.
Although I would miss bagging groceries, I eventually got a job for more money working for an insurance company nights, allowing me to remain in school and move into an apartment. I was no longer homeless and was able to unpack the trunk of my Ford convertible.
To this day I feel guilty about that car. Not long after it broke down and I simply abandoned it on a street. It was eventually towed away and, I've always imagined, sent off to Japan before coming back to the States reconstituted as a Toyota or Honda. It was dumb of me – for one, Ford convertibles of that vintage now go for a ton – as well as traitorous, for this was a car that had seen me through hard times and I had let it down.
Recently I read a New York Times story that once a person becomes homeless, the chances of regaining his or her life are slim indeed. Of course, I was young and we were not in a recession or depression and getting food was not a problem. And I did not have a family to support. And, probably the biggest thing, had little pride to lose about being homeless. It had seemed to me like an adventure, such as the several times I hitch-hiked across the country.
This morning, Wednesday, I saw that homeless man again. He seemed yet more tired than Sunday, his shoulders a bit more stooped, his usually brisk walking gait less steady. Still, he walked with a purpose, as if he had a place to go to and perhaps he did. I hoped that glass of wine had been good.
Causes Steve Hauk Supports
City of Pacific Grove Public Library, Pacific Grove, California; Animal Friends Rescue Project, Pacific Grove; Animal Welfare Information and Assistance,...