Tag Archives: shelter

“Sometimes You Wanna Go Where Everybody Knows Your Name…”

He is quite pretty.

Yes, I said “pretty”.  Or, rather:  He is luminous.

I’ve never seen him here before, waiting tables at this joint I frequent.  In the City ruled by the most beautiful gay boys who always bitch-slap my occasionally fearful face with the courage of their specificity, I have finally found my corner.  It’s calm here, and I am still completely anonymous.  I make it a point to be as sweet as Amelie when I come in, and I am always a generous tipper.  But no one knows my name.  They let me be.  And that’s somehow soothingly perfect.

Diagonally from its floor-to-ceiling window panes, I can see at least half a dozen of rainbow flags.  The parking is a bitch around here, but the stroll is always worth it.  And no matter what comrade of mine I’ve introduced to this place — a single mother with an unruly child or an ancient director with my father’s face — they all seem to find comfort, if not peace here.

“Reminds me of a Noo Yok di-nah!” a Russian from Brooklyn once correctly tagged the reminiscence of this joint while falling into the only round booth, and nesting his bulky body next to my bony elbow.  I could see it in his eyes:  A chord has been struck.

And it is true:  The leather-covered booths, plastic tables and chairs are squeezed against each other with economical consideration.  Identical bar stools, bolted onto the floor, look like a net of mushrooms sprouted after the autumn rain; and I’ve once, especially tipsy over a boy, spun on one of them while waiting for my smoothie with red cabbage.  (Shit!  I’ve become a hardcore hippie, in this California livin’ of mine!)

The UFO’s of lamp shades with single, off-white bulbs inside each light the place up with a certain light of nostalgia; but every kind face slipping in and out of the swinging doors of the kitchen reminds me that I ain’t in New York — any more!

But will you look at them?!  Just look at these faces!

There is the Zenned-out brown boy with gentle manners who insists on diamond studs that sparkle from underneath his backwards-turned baseball cap.  Underneath his crew-necks or fit t-shirts, he hides a fit but lithe body.  Sometimes, I catch him texting underneath the only cash register; but from where I sit, in those moments, he simply looks possessed by bliss, behind the tiny glass display of whole grain muffins.

The only older gentleman working regular shifts here has a quite voice.  He is not as effeminate as the other waiters here, neither is he flamboyant as most of the clientele.  When he tends to my table, I cannot always distinguish the content of his speech, but his Spanish accent is lovely.

So, I grin and stretch my arms to the other side of the tiny table. “I’m fine!  Thank you,” I purr, and wait:  Is this the day he’ll finally smile at me?

But this boy — is pretty, and I have never seen him before.  Dressed in the most perfect caramel skin, he has one of those faces that makes me regret not having a talent or even any predisposition for drawing.  His body seems perfect, and a pair of rolled-up jean shorts reveals a runner’s legs.  He carries just a touch of feminine grace, and oh, how the boys love him!  The entire length of my 3-hour writing session, they come in to quietly watch him from corner tables.  Some hug him while sliding their hands along his belt-line.  A sweet boy, he doesn’t seem to mind.  Men in couples flirt with him discretely, but I recognize their desire — for his youth and goodness — underneath the nonchalant gestures.

A woman with a complexion I would kill to have when I reach her age, has entered the joint shortly after me.  From the bits of overheard conversation, I figure out:  She lives in Laurel Canyon.  Has “a partner”.  A writer.

“130,000 people lost power last night,” she reads the newsfeed to the pretty boy, as he flocks her table.  He seems to possess an equal curiosity toward both genders; and if there is any hint of discrimination, it’s in his innocent desire to be in the proximity beauty.

Oh, right.  I nearly forgot:  Last night was messy.  When the winds initially picked up, I was willing to believe in the magic on some beautiful female creature blowing in, with the wind, to save this last hope of this forsaken place.  But then, my night turned tumultuous; and in my chronic want to flee from here, I thought of the more unfortunate souls, with not as much as a shelter of their car.  I checked myself in.

The morning ride to this joint was rough:  Fallen over trees, freaked out drivers and broken traffic lights.  But once I landed in my booth — and the angelic, pretty boy approached me — I remembered that I was always the last to give up on human goodness.  So, I hung around and recuperated in beauty.

And I’ve been hanging here ever since.

“I Was in the House — When the House Burned Down.”

Trembling.  Waiting for clearer thoughts to come in.

Here comes one:

“How is it that I’m shivering in a 110-degree heat?”

That’ll do, for now.

Gently!  You must handle yourself — gently.

Standing on a street that to a bystander’s eye would appear idillic and “homey”, she wonders about the horrors that could be happening behind the closed doors of these same “homey” homes, with pretty white doors:  the quiet, muffled horrors of domestic violence.

“Beware — of pretty,” another thought comes in.

There is a reason why she has always loathed the sight of the white picket fence:  They reek of false advertisement and broken promises — of broken hearts.  And the heart that break due to the broken promise — takes longer to heal. She is now cradling her heart, in her heaving chest; but it would take her years to learn just how long the healing would take.

Her thinking is fragmented.  If only she could get a grip on this shivering:  If only she could catch her breath.  But the body takes its time.

There is a violence that lives in every body:  A violence that strikes at another — or at itself.  It always comes from the darkest corners of one’s soul and it prefers no audience.  But those whom we love the most often fall victim to it.

So, she is catching herself wonder about the suffering that others endure when love betrays its goodness.  It is much better to be thinking of others, in moments of extreme pain.  Because the end to her own pain — she cannot possibly see from here:  In the “homey” neighborhood that has broken its promise to her and found her homeless, in 110-degree heat.

Besides, the suffering of others should remind her that someone is always having it worse.

“How can it possibly be worse?!” another thought flings itself inside her throbbing head.

The chest is heaving.  The heart is beating fast:  It is not broken yet.

“Do people die — of broken hearts?” she thinks and sits down on the curb to catch her breath.  Is that what happens — in heart attacks?

A Heart:  Attacked.  That would be the name of her cause, if she were to stop breathing right now.

She stares at her feet.  The pedicure on her toes is of her own manufacturing.  She’s had a hand in that.  The chosen color is pink:  They have just passed Easter, on the calendar.  The pair of shoes, that she’s had very little time to peel on before leaping out of the house, are multicolored:  Each strap bears a neon shade.  When she first laid her eyes on them, on a shelf at Payless, she thought.

“When in the world would I wear those?!”

Now.  She is wearing them now.  And in a juxtaposition with her black tank top and blue bicycle shorts, they fail to make any sense at all.  She chuckles to herself:  Yes, she actually chuckles — while shivering — because she is thinking that she must look like a burnt house victim, right now.

And isn’t that what happened, anyway:  Her “homey” home has burnt down on its promise?  It has collapsed on itself, and no matter its false appearance from the outside, behind those pretty white doors and the white picket fence — one can only find ruins.

She shivers and looks over her shoulder at the sight of the house:

The perfectly groomed, neon green lawn — FAKE!

The deceivingly white and pink exterior — FALSE!

The beautiful rotunda window of its office space — LIARS!

A distorted face of a man has been watching her through that window.  She has just realized that.  He is puffy and unshaven, bewildered behind his thick-rimmed glasses.  His mouth begins opening once he notices her looking back.  He is that bug-eyed bottom-feeding fish that outlives the smaller bastards in a shared tank.  The existence of his type is necessary, in nature.  She knows that.  Symbi-fuckin’-osis!  But again, it would years before she sees his purpose in her life.

“GET THE FUCK OUT!” she can lipread on his gaping, bottom-feeding mouth.

“I hope I took my glasses with me,” another thought happens.

That’s when she realizes she’s actually not seeing the man:  She is remembering him, at this very moment.  The brain is taking in the memories:  The bits that it will then try so very hard to forget.

The shivering hasn’t subsided, but it has transformed into an all-over warmth that happens to the survivors of car wrecks.  This is:

The Body:  Coping.

That is the name of her current disease.

No, she wouldn’t die of A Heart:  Attacked.  Not on this day.  Her body has chosen to persevere, to survive the violence.

The shivering is violent.  The body is confronting brutality with its reserve of sudden energy.

This is what it takes — to survive:  To outlive the broken heart.

She wants to go to sleep but then realizes that it’ll be a while; for she has just leapt out of a burning home:  a “homey” home. The thought of anything too far ahead refuses to happen; and strangely calm, she is grateful for that. She thinks no more than five minutes ahead.

Not feeling her own body, she picks herself up off the curb and reaches for the giant black bag packed in the middle of the night.

And:  She.  Starts.  Walking.

It should be hard, in theory, to not know where she’s going.  She’s got no home.  She knows no shelter.

But she is only thinking of one step at a time — and only five minutes ahead.

Gently!  You must handle yourself — gently! — when you survive.

She’s chosen to survive.  It would begin when she starts walking.

Away.

“Does Enchantment Pour Out of Every Door? No! It’s Just on The Street — Where YOU Live.”

The street on which I live:

I seem to have memorized its every nook, and every speed bump; its every crack on the road.  Lord knows I’ve had enough time for that, for I have been walking it; strutting, running, driving — surviving — on it, for nearly six years.

Six years.  Who knew I’d last here for so long?

Just a week before I first landed here, I was promising a beloved back in New York:

“I’ll be back in a year.  Don’t worry.”

He didn’t:  The beloved moved on to another love, and suddenly I had no reason to come back.  So, I stayed here — for just a bit longer.

The street on which I live:

By now I know the patterns of its residential parking by heart.  This funky red house right here collects vintage cars, taking up quarter of a block for their parking.  The Spanish style apartment building at the other end:  People are always coming and going there; and if you sit in its driveway long enough, flashing your emergency lights at the rhythm of your heartbeat, you are guaranteed to get a spot sooner or later.  You gotta be quick though:  Keep flashing the lights and come upon the decked out Hollywood dandy, reeking of cologne, or the unsuspecting Armenian girl getting in her car, for a night on the town.

Pull up, roll down the windows:

“You leaving?”

Try to smile.  After all, they don’t owe you jack shit.  And if they let you take over their spot, give ‘em room to pull out.

Then, wave:

Gratitude seems to go a long way, around here.

Whatever you do:  Don’t park in front of this abandoned structure right here.  Because it’s not abandoned:  It’ll filled to the brim with emaciated cats and a single resident the face of whom I’ve never seen, for the last six years.  At nighttime, a window always lights up in the attic.  The front door is barricaded with abandoned furniture.  The front yard looks like a field of wild weeds and overgrown bushes.

Still, whatever you do:  Don’t park there!  That unattended garden with berried trees will kill the paint on your car.  And whatever you do:  Don’t feed the cats.  The sign written in crayon on the front gate says so:

“DON’T FEED CATS.  THEIR NOT HOMELESS.”

In my second year, I finally earned an occasional parking spot inside my garage.  I had been bouncing between jobs, one more terrible than the other; and after settling for a decent night gig, I negotiated to share a spot with a neighbor:  He would work the graveyard shift as a security guard; and by the time, my club closed and I came home with blistered feet, he’d be leaving for work.

In the morning, I’d have to get up, get dressed and re-park on the street, often finding my neighbor under the berried tree, still in uniform, feeding the cats.

“I couldn’t sleep,” he’d explain to me, as if caught redhanded; and his tired face fit for a Native American shaman would make me wonder how he got these emaciated creatures to come out of the house, in the first place.

At the end of that year, I would want to move:

“Stay!” my roommate recommended.  “That’s just your second-year itch.  Everyone gets it in LA.”

Curiously, I’d drive around other neighborhoods:  funky or cheesy, some parading their wealth, others — their transient despair.  I would do that for a week, applying to a couple of New-York-like buildings.  But then, I’d come back to my street:  That was just my second-year itch.  Everyone gets it in LA.

The street on which I live:

The faces of its residents have been tattooed into my memory, even after they move on.  And many have moved on.  A couple of working girls in my building with decent night gigs:  They’d get so tired surviving on this street, and in this city, while waiting for their big break.  A few would eventually land a small acting gig — a stand-in for the big break — and they’d move to better places, better streets.  Some would leave for their boyfriends’.  Others — would go home.

That pretty blonde, who used to be a redhead in the first year of living here:  She got her first speaking role on a canceled show.

“It only took five years,” she said to me in my garage, and she scoffed with such scorn, it made me want to move on.

Her roommate, a pretty black girl with extensions and a shaggy dog, had already left.  She couldn’t wait for her big break any longer.

That pretty blonde, who used to be a redhead, would be gone within a week.

The security guard with a tired face fit for a Native American shaman would leave too.

The street on which I live:

Some of the faces seem to stay here forever.  There is the family of a jeweler — a family of good faces — that lives in a rustic house with wooden furniture.  They don’t smile much; but by now, the mother of the house has learned to nod at me, while she waters the lawn at sunset.  And the lonely old woman that always knocks on her second story window:  She would seem quite sad in her dementia, if she weren’t so childlike.  And the handful of Armenian men, selling random goods in their front yards every weekend:  They get quiet every time I walk, strut or run by; and they keep smoking their cigars.

The street on which I live:

There seems to be so much humanity here, and so much mercy.

In the gated house directly across from my building, there is supposed to be some sort of a shelter.  Another building, half a block up, serves as a home for homeless teenagers and runaways.  And than there is that abandoned structure right here:  It gives shelter to the forsaken cats.  But at least,

“THEIR NOT HOMELESS.”

And at the end of last week, someone had made a new shoefiti:  At the intersection that leads to my street, a pair of Dorothy’s sparkling ruby slipper was thrown over a telephone line.  Some say these shoes are meant to be stolen or unwanted.  And sometimes, they belong to a departed.

 

“Click, Click, Click, Flash…”

There are faces on the streets of this town that make me want to whip out a camera and take them home with me:  not the people — but always their faces, like yellowing Polaroids in my back pocket.  Every day, I drive by them, on routes that must lead to my dreams — or at least to survival in between the dreams’ happening — and I fight the urge to leap out of the car, leave the engine running, and steal a shot or two, preferably unnoticed by my subject.

But if they do see me, I hope they aren’t offended much.

“You’re beautiful,” I’d probably say, shielding myself with kindness, as if they were my lovers telling me of their final decision to depart.

(I’m such a fucking hippie.  Forgive me.)

There is a homeless man, in one of my regularly visited parking lots, who always reads a pamphlet, in a plastic chair by that neighborhood’s laundromat.  He rests here, maybe even lives, with his cart parked right around the corner.

Keith.  This is his spot.

The truth about Keith:  He is homeless — not a pauper (and you better know the difference).  He’s made that aggressively clear by the cleanness of his clothes and the presentable look of his laced-up shoes.  I had tried giving him money before:  I might as well have slapped Keith’s tired face with a wet towel full of sand.  But food, he’ll take food.  He’ll nod, humbly; thank you, and pack it away, so methodically and slow, it breaks your heart.  Because if ever you have known poverty yourself, you comprehend the deficit of dignity in it.  Organization and routine become your only saving graces.  And that’s exactly how you get by:  sweeping off crumbs of dignity from the kitchen table and into your hand; and methodically storing them away — for later.  

Well, Keith’s got his dignity in spades.  I can tell it by his face with carved out wrinkles and his not so poorly groomed beard.  In a striking juxtaposition to his African features, a pair of lime-green eyes overlooks from above.  Sometimes they freeze in a gaze of departure; and even though I’ve wondered a few times about where Keith goes when he goes like that, his eyes give out no hints.  I don’t trip out about that too much though:  Because the ownership of his story — is one of the few things a man should be allowed to possess.

His right eyebrow gathers into a poignant awning.  Not much of a frown, it ever so slightly changes the man’s face from solemnity to something grievous.  Just like that:  a little shift and the departure of his lime-green eyes — and the man’s face becomes a story.

“You’re beautiful,” I’d probably say.

Another man — another story — lives just a few blocks away from my street.  I am never sure where he sleeps, or where he stores his things.  But he is impossible not to notice as I run to the subway station, always late and always immediately embarrassed, when I notice him.

On a cold day, the man stands underneath an electronics store sign long closed down for sale.  In heat, he looms in the shadow of a bus stop nearby.  The accidental passengers waiting on metallic benches seem to not mind him more than they mind the exhaust fumes from the never-ending traffic.  Years ago, when I first moved here, the man used to ask them for money, while shifting on his feet.  But now, he just sways there, in silence, waiting for dumb charity by someone with a guilty conscience, like my own.  But mostly, he lets his life waste him away with the corrosive elements attacking his skin behind this bus stop.

Painfully thin, he sways too much when shifting on his feet, as if at any moment he can tip over and break into a thousand shards of something irreparable.  But whenever I can get past my embarrassment and actually look at the man’s face, I realize it belongs to someone long departed.  He seems calm, surrendered; almost smiling, with his eyes.  And if he can feel the scratch of my dollars in his palm, dried up to chalky whiteness, he shivers his head a little.  Those aren’t nods, but a dozen of little ones — like shivers.

Another story — another ghost — trails in the footsteps of a local woman that always sits by one of this town’s guilds.  She’s irate:  There ain’t no bloody surrender in her face.

On the stone fence of the building, she usually sits with her bags parked underneath her feet; and she mutters while scratching the matted hair, usually wrapped in a shredding scarf.  Her clothing is nonsensical, as if she’s rummaged through a vintage shop or a drag queen’s closet, that morning.  But you better be sure there’ll be some sequins somewhere on her body.  And it’s not the angry face that gets my attention every time:  It’s those fucking sequins!

She must’ve loved them as a little girl, as all little girls do.  And as all little girls, she must’ve found them magical, like fairy dust or sparkly refections in the water from the mirror mosaic on the bottom of a pool floor.  And she may have long departed — in her mind and in her face — but this child-like addiction is the only sliver of sanity that separates her from those of us, insane enough to give it up.

They are never dangerous, these faces; no more dangerous than the minds that hide behind them, storing away their stories of horror and loss from which the only sane thing to do — is to depart.  Alas:  The faces of the departed.  There are so many of them, in this town!  

Who knows what has brought them here, and why they never left.  Is it because hope dies last; but when it does, it leaves a person too exhausted to depart?  Or is it because they, like me, have nowhere else to go.

Because they are already — the departed, and this — is where they have departed for.  And this is where they continue to depart, dragging behind their carts and their beauty —  like cautionary tales for the rest of us.