The Delta Snake Review

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

On The Road With Al And Ivy: A Homeless Journal Of Sorts

This is the first of a series of blog entries that will chronicle my journey through homelessness...it won't be a diary but a collection of thoughts, fragments and essays that are snapshots of things seen and heard. 

I decided to embed it within my Delta Snake Review as it's part of that body of work anyway.

I chose the title because two of my favorite books about journeys have the word "Road" in it, works by Jack Kerouac and Jack London. In my case, adding the  Al and Ivy just differentiates it. Besides, this journal is as much about my little buddy as it is about me :-)

Today's Entry: All The People Who Talk To Themselves.

One of the things I noticed early on was that many people already have a view, or perception of homeless people.

One reason is that homelessness has been around for a while (and if one reads history books, and literature, it's actually been around a long time and often called other things).

Although the dispossessed do have advocates these days, those are often viewed like bureaucrats (fairly or unfairly). All are self appointed or placed into the position, but all of it has the same effect; advocacy often transforms the media image of the homeless into a simplistic mass that gets labeled or typecast.

That suits modern journalists who prefer to deal with such things via sound bites and poignant images (or more accurately, award winning). That whole expert in a few minutes type mentality,

The reality is that the problem, or more accurately, phenomena is as diverse as any population or subculture. The dialogues and conversations about the subject float along in the media and only show fragments of the life.

In fact my own entries really only reflect my view and perceptions and can only add to the picture. However temporary it may be, I am living the homeless life, so to paraphrase a quote from a movie, my words have iron :-)

I should add, many of the subjects touched upon are obviously complex, so take each statement or opinion as merely one person's view of things.

...so as I was saying

So I say people talk to themselves, sure, we all do...whether out loud or in an interior dialogue, we often resolve things in our minds by conversing with a different part of our inner self, pet, God, or etc.

...Ivy does talk

I talk to my dog Ivy all the time. Luckily in today's world, that's acceptable so I don't have to fear being institutionalized or tried as a witch.

Ivy does talk though, she's developed a vocabulary of moans, low growls, and hums that are even expressed in sentences. 

We've had some pretty long conversations where I imitate a groan, she replies, and it goes back and forth as long as five minutes or until she loses interest. It's not a meaningless exchange either, her goal is either food or getting me off my lazy ass to take her outside so she can go do what dogs so (no need to describe that in detail).

...the panhandler pep talk, and whether the donation is really for drugs

There's another form of talking to oneself in the homeless world. I call it the panhandler pep talk...it's the speech they give to someone who asks them for money.

It's not a common thing. Most people, when approached, either give or don't. I generally will give at least the change in my pocket if it's available, and trust my gut if the cash is going to be used for food. Frankly I don't get too hung up on how it's going to be used.

I gave a couple of bucks in change to a person today at a parking lot entrance, for example...a quick look was all I needed to realize it was a person who needed cash. Employers don't ask you if you're going to spend that paycheck wisely...if it's an issue, just don't give.

Of course some do spend the money for drugs or booze, and others do it to get some cash to buy a luxury that most people take for granted like coffee (which seems reasonable).

There are professional panhandlers who know the craft and can pull in a couple hundred per day, which is peanuts to a real con artist like a crooked congressman, government contractor, or most big businesses.

We all know about that of course...but tax money is an abstract, something we really don't see. A panhandler who hits up people for drug money is a more personal experience. It's for cash that the government hasn't taken from you, that can be touched and can be seen wasted, so you hand the person a burger and fries instead. 

There's a character judgement being imposed there, but again, charity is voluntary. Personally I think the giver can set their terms, and most reasonable homeless know that.

Now the panhandler pep talk is interesting street theatre...never mind that it's often condescending or advice the person can't profit from, it's basically the giver giving a speech and the listener waiting for it to end and finally get an answer (or giving an equally elaborate story also).

I don't seek these exchanges out for entertainment...these described have occurred where I was sitting, etc.

One reason I can describe those in detail is that the potential donor always delivers the pep talk at high volume and often doesn't look at the subject but through them or above their heads. 

I'm not sure why, but I don't panhandle, so haven't had the opportunity to have such a stream of advice directed at me (which would make it clearer as to why, but it's not a facinating subject, so we'll leave it a mystery).

...while sitting in my car

I was sitting in my car, in a parking lot, checking mail and getting ready to take Ivy out for a walk. A homeless woman, looking about late 60s, was walking through the parking lot with a rolling suitcase.

Like more than a few homeless, it wasn't obvious until she asked a passing woman for spare change. The woman looked sympathetic, and began a long dialogue about the various public agencies that helped the homeless, where there were shelters, about how to rise above the condition (sounded good on paper), and how she hoped that the cash would help. By the end of the talk, the lecturer was erect and one could say distant, the pupil looked as limp as a 7th grader listening to a one hour lecture on the three branches of government.

Keep in mind, I'm not making a judgement as to the giver's motives or psychology. It's all through my eyes, and simply described.

But, there is another way of seeing the incident.

I saw a sincere soul, but one who only had a rudimentary idea of who she was talking to, and a destitute woman who looked she could be somebody's treasured grandmother. 

I sized the woman up as a homeless person, who avoids the camps (and the frequent rape of lone women) as her possessions were with her in the worn suitcase, her smell indicated that she slept outside (strong scent of cement and grass), but hadn't dropped into apathy yet (neat appearance and well groomed hair). 

I've oversimplified of course, for the sake of narrative flow, but having seen women who lived in camps, it was obvious she was different.

The woman who gave her some cash was probably a good heart, and most are.

I'll fill in some details though, and consider it a deepening of knowledge about the human side of homelessness.

Rattling off a list of agencies and shelters generally does no good for someone who doesn't own a car. Many of the shelters are full to capacity, and aren't always safe for a lone woman to approach without one. I'm sure some shelters would disagree, but it's true.

You need a car to visit the various agencies and shelters to find the ones that can help you. Plus many homeless pretty much know all that info, they exchange that kind of information all the time (including which ones to avoid).

When the woman came over to me, and asked for spare change, I gave what in my pocket. She needed cash, and I assumed she would ask for advice if needed.

I got a smile and thanks instead, and it broke my heart to see such a gentle soul asking for change in a Silicon Valley parking lot full of prosperous people. I still think of her once in a while, and hope there's some love in her life, we homeless always pray for each other.

The Ivy Corner: In which she provides compelling glimpses of life on the road!

Ivy often slips her harness and it ends up wrapped around her butt (or tail if you look at it from her perspective). In this case, it's ended up elsewhere (hee hee), but she obviously doesn't get the joke. I'll have to figure out some other way to teach her to quit taking it off.