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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Homeles and Toothless

I never did see real poverty until I came to Los angeles. I thought I did, I remember I used to do a soup run from Rob and Betty's cafe in Swansea. The Cafe shut down when Rob passed away but it was a unique place. Open 24 hours a day, the homeless would go in there and get a cup of tea and a meal. If they could pay, OK, if they couldn't, that was OK too. I remember one evening this homeless guy wanted to buy me a cup of tea and I said no I offered to buy him one instead. Rob stopped me and pointed out a couple of things. He said I should let him pay for the tea because if he didn't spend his money at the Cafe he'd spend it in the Pub. When his money is gone, the Pub won't look after him but Rob and Betty would. I've remembered that all my life, the lessons I learned from that cafe and the couple that owned it.
Once a week a group of us would meet at Rob and Betty's and they would supply us with hot soup and bread. I was paired with a Priest, Brian, he wasn't comfortable with the "Father" thing anyway and neither was I. The homeless had their own jargon. The regular sleeping place was called a "Skipper" derelict buildings were called a "Derry" Brian and I soon knew where all the skippers were in town and we'd take them a meal. Brian didn't make a deal about the Priest or God thing, he'd sit there and swap jokes, ones a Priest shouldn't know I was thinking, but what the hell. I learned more than any school could teach about life and living tough.
So when I came to Los Angeles I had the ideas I had learned a long time ago. Only here it seemed much worse for the down and out. I got the impression that America is a very unforgiving country. If you make a mistake, or if things go wrong, you better have very good friends and access to compassionate people or you are in real trouble.
There's a section of Los Angeles that I refer to as the Homeless living room. Homeless people hang out there, sleep on the street and do just about anything. It's roughly a square block that goes from Main street to Towne and 4th street to 6th. In that area is the Midnight Mission and the Salvation Army. Volunteers staff the kitchen at the Midnight Mission, I've been told that Dick Van Dykestill volunteers there regularly. At the Salvation Army they look especially favoroubly on the newly saved and many of the homeless here give their hearts to Jesus two or three times a week. I got to know about this, and a lot of other things, when I drove all night on the number 10 line. It goes from West Hollywood to 6th and Maple. Right in the heart of the homeless living room. Many of the homeless guys here get some welfare money once a month and they buy a bus pass. They use a bus in lieu of a hotel room. They'll get on an all night bus and just sleep. The buses can get pretty stinky at night. It never bothered me too much but some of the drivers here would get upset. Another thing that most of the drivers here don't like is that when you get to the end of the line it can be tough to wake the buggers up. Some of them will even call the cops to get them off the bus. Who knows! if it hadn't been for Rob and Betty I might have been the same but I wasn't. I'd let them sleep. They aren't hurting anyone so who cares?  was getting a dozen regulars on my bus and a few more would drift on and off so I put coffee into two Thermos Flasks and took a packet of cookies. When I got to the end of the line in downtown I usually had about 20 minutes before I had to leave so I'd break out the coffee and cookies and we'd sit around and talk. Tell lies mostly but I learned about the homeless in L.A. I learned that in that little area of social services and jesus you can get anything you want. Drugs, Prostitution even Cuban Cigars. It's all there.
One evening I was on my own at the terminal when a woman from the cheap apartment block across the street, Felony Flats I used to call them, came over. She told me her name was Beverly and she offered me an exquisite pleasure, all right actually it was a blow job, for $5. "Because I like you" she said. So I asked her if she provided any warranty with that. A "Satisfaction gauranteed or your money back" deal. She didn't like that idea and I got the impression if I parted with any money I wasn't getting it back whatever the outcome. So I asked if she gave any freebies, how about a "Try before you buy" Unfortunately my attempts at negotiation were geting nowhere and she left but not without a parting shot that I wrote down afterwards. It was so good I had to memorize it. She said;
It's all about the money
And that ain't funny.
You gotta have cash
In this land of milk and honey.
Now that's poetry for you.

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