Friday, February 28, 2014

Skid Row Diary 22

28   August   Thursday  2003    Day 47

   Giselle was wearing a lovely black dress today, which made me very happy.
   I had woke and showered at 7:30, and a good thing to as the maid came right at 8. A day late, she must have been making up for lost time. I went down to breakfast.
   Scrambled eggs and a sausage patty thing that was intended to look like spare ribs. I sat at a table in the back of the dining hall by myself. Someone had left a full tray of food at that table. I finished my eggs, then ate those on the abandoned tray since no one else had come to claim them.
   I like eggs.
   I returned to my freshly cleaned room and began to write. While writing it occurred to me that I might get a session in with my caseworker, and I went to see if she was free.
   She was! As usual she made it seem like she was doing me a big favor by seeing me, she being so busy and all.
   I told her that I was starting school next week and that I might need some cash for books.
   “Have you seen Larry?” she asked.
   “Yeah, I saw him. He sent off my resume to one job, said he’d look into some others. He also said he’d look into the CWT program for me. I’ll be doing that at ASAP as well.”
   “Did he talk to you about interviewing?”
   “Interviewing? No, not really.”
   She frowned. “I wanted him to talk to you about interviewing,” she said. “You’ve been getting a lot of interviews, but not a job. Maybe you’re not interviewing well.”
   I hadn’t been getting a lot of interviews, but Labren will think what she wants to think no matter what I say.
   “We cover interviewing in the super search meetings, pretty much.” I told her. “I’ll be seeing him there at ten o’clock.”
   “What do you think?”
   “What do I think about what?”
   “Do you think you interview okay?”
   “Yeah. I don’t think that’s the problem. I think the market is flooded with young people who can do customer service. After all, it’s not brain surgery. Employers don’t seem to care about prospective employees having a lot of experience. The eight hundred number to block telemarketers will soon be in service which will also complicate things.”
   “Good,” she said, deviating from my point. “I can’t stand those telemarketers.”
   “Yeah,” I said.
   She checked again for the last time she had checked my urine. She didn’t find anything since I’ve never been tested at the Weingart. Instead of testing me herself she called Dr Yu at ASAP, and asked for him to call her back.
   We said goodbye, and I went down to the super search meeting.
   I found Gary Porch waiting outside. He thinks he has to attend these meetings now, so we sat next to each other. 
   He was telling me an engaging story about how one time he had been stopped on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) at 3:30AM by the police, while walking a dachshund on a leash in his undershorts. He wasn’t able to recall where it was exactly he had acquired the dog, or where his clothes had gotten to. Fortunately, Gary concluded, the dog had it’s owners name and address printed on a tag it was wearing on a collar. It was subsequently returned to it’s rightful owners. 
   I happen to like dachshunds. My childhood pet, Buttons, was a dachshund. We slept through the 1971 Sylmar earthquake together, her resting between my outstretched legs.   
   The meeting began and Richard Cairns reviewed some items regarding interviewing, specifically on how to answer the innocuous “Tell me a little about yourself.”
   Richard is a man within his element. Very smart, witty, elegant. I like him. I feel he is sincere in his desire to help people who want to get a job, and knows what he is talking about. We’re happy to have him. He does tend to lecture though, and I wondered about what had happened to him to bring him to this... how shall I put this delicately... pisshole.
   Perhaps I’ll ask him sometime, but not today. 
   After the meeting I returned to my lonely room and wrote for a bit. At 12:15 I checked in at the dinning hall and decided to skip lunch. Instead I walked to the V.A. Clinic.
   Two representatives from the L.A. Vets were guests at Kathy’s Phase II meeting. They spoke briefly of the veterans housing facility in Inglewood. I’ve heard it before.
   One of them gave me a dirty look when I refused to give them my social security number and date of birth on their separate sign in sheet. What reason could they possibly have for requesting that information? I don’t like giving the IRS my social security number let alone L.A. Vets.
   After they left Kathy briefly spoke of the Mars occlusion. She seems to believe in astrology, and feels that the “magnetic” pull of the planets affects our precious body fluids. “After all,” she said, “the moon affects the tides.”
   She’s right about that of course. If she replaced the word “magnetic” with “gravitational,” then she’d be spot on. 
   As far as affecting individuals, it is debatable that the moon has had any affect on human evolution other than keeping our ancestors up at night when it was full and providing the maximum amount of reflected sunlight. The other planets certainly had no detectable influence on us at all. Only the sun, which provides heat and light, and the occasional meteorite or comet that impacts with the Earth’s surface has any appreciable affect on us. 
   I did not attempt to educate her. It wasn’t the place or the time. But I really wanted to let her know that astrology is to astronomy, what blood letting is to antibiotics.
   Next, I dashed to Arco Plaza to check my mail (nothing), and buy my monthly buss pass (required each 30 days or so due to the moon’s magnetic phase cycle).
   To school after that. I took the Red Line from 7th Street to Vermont and Santa Monica Blvd. On my way to the business office I ran into Mike, a young white guy about my age, but not as good looking as I am. 
   I spent a good part of last year living in the same building as Mike, Harbor Light at 5th and Central. He was closer to Kevin Donaldson than he was with me. Kevin had made headlines recently by climbing to the top of a large construction crane at L.A. and 2nd Street, and threatening to jump off. However we usually ate at the same table if we found ourselves in the dinning room together. 
   He had just finished a nurse’s aid class, learning how to provide aid and comfort for lovely young nurses. He was dissatisfied with that position however, saying it was no challenge to him. He now wanted to become a registered nurse himself, and have aid and comfort provided to him. 
   I wished him luck, and told him I’d more than likely see him at a Drifter’s Meeting, as he usually pours the coffee at in the evening. 
   At the business office I found a long, slow moving line waiting for me. That’s what I got, I told myself, for waiting to the last minute to get things done.
   I got in line, joining my fellow students. Quite an eclectic group I must say. 
   As I got to about the fourth place from the window, a young, bearded man wearing shorts jumped in line ahead of everyone and began to take care of his business. He had not been in our line, but had been standing next to it near the front. What amazed me was that the guy who he had jumped directly ahead of let him get away with this, thereby not only inconveniencing himself, but everyone else behind him... all of us legitimate line standers.
   If he had jumped ahead of me I’m afraid I would have trounced the young upstart, or at least I would have voiced my objection strenuously in a clear, unambiguous manner. My tolerance for people who cut in lines is non-existent.
   I finally made it to the window. A nice black lady asked me for a dollar, and I gave her one. She in turn gave me a fee receipt, and class schedule. I had thought the charge was $8, and was pleasantly surprised. 
   I had heard someone talking about the Cub Card while waiting in line. That’s the school I.D. card, and I figured I better get one so I could use the school’s computers, and be admitted to other activities.
   It took about five minutes to find that office, and another five to fill out a form and have my picture taken. The photo turned out rather well, although my ears looked huge. They’re not big and floppy in reality, just floppy.
   Business done, I returned to the Weingart.
   I spent the remainder of the evening in deep meditation, until 12:30 in the morning, when I stopped, and switched on the T.V. to Conan O'Brien interviewing Jerry Lewis, one of my favorite comedians as a child. I was shocked to see he had turned into Buddy Hackett, having gained approximately 3 million pounds. I thought it was a joke at first, and that he was wearing a fat suit, but it was no joke.
   I like my comedians lean and mean.
   Fortunately, I will never have to worry about becoming fat. My ego will never allow it. I know this to be true, as I’ve tried to get fat before and couldn’t do it. 
   I went to sleep and dreamt I was in a school room, and Catherine Bell, the beautiful and talented star of “Bruce Almighty,” and “J.A.G.” was my teacher. She was wearing an Indian elephant shirt and pants. I had brought her a nice shinny apple and she showed me her pierced belly button while patting me on the head.

29    August   Friday  Day 48

   I spent today in quiet meditation. I ate when I was hungry. I went to the bathroom when needed. I took a shower. 
   Just past midnight I ceased my communication with the infinite emptiness and retired to my bed. I dreamt I was in a small row boat with Brittany O’Connell, the lovely and talented star of such films as, “Birthday Bash,” “The Drifter.” She was dressed in shorts and a halter top, and I had to stand over her during the day in order to protect her fair skin from the blistering Sun’s rays. We were near the middle of the mighty Pacific, just east of the Marshall Islands. Great hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna mokarran) circled around us and we caught several for food. I would just jump in and wrestle with them until they got tired and gave up. 
   We would hold each other at night to keep warm, and count the stars in the sky above.

30  August   Saturday    Day 49

   “Man suffers because of his craving to possess and keep forever things which are essentially impermanent. Chief among these things is his own person, for this is his means of isolating himself from the rest of life, his castle into which he can retreat from which he believes he can assert himself against external forces.   -Alan Watts   
   Off to Trimar again today, a needed trip in order to pay for tomorrow’s movies.   
   I woke late however, 8:30, or so, and by the time I started moving I was quite rushed to shower, dine on some tasty Top Ramen, clean my lonely room, and get dressed by the 9:30 deadline to sign in at the front desk. 
   Heaven forbid I go down and do it ahead of time, and make two trips.
   I made it with five minutes to spare.
   At the 99 Cent Store in Van Nuys I picked up some nice coffee, 2 cans of spaghetti rings, 1 can of French cut green beans, 2 note books, 150 sheets of blank paper used to write on, microwave popcorn, pre-poped popcorn (what a great idea!), cheese flavored, 1 blank VCR tape, and 9 packages of Top Ramen (mostly of the chicken variety, as this seems to be the tastiest).
   I walked two blocks east on Vanowen from Van Nuys Blvd. to get a jump on all of those waiting at the Van Nuys Blvd. bus stop, and sat down behind a tree to take out, and re-arrange all of my 99 Cent Store goods in an orderly manner, making them easier to transport, when the bus I was waiting for rushed by without stopping. I ranted. I raved. I did that for a full two minutes. It didn’t do any good at all.
   I walked further east to Hazeltine to wait for the next bus.    
   It was a hot day, and I stood in the shade of a telephone pole while waiting, watching the activities of the busy Van Nuys Plywood and Lumber Company across the street. 
   Many people were in need of fresh wood today.
   The next bus eventually came and delivered me to Trimar. It was only half as busy as it was last week. The silly movie “Daredevil,” starring Jennifer Garner was on (I was very sorry I had missed the beginning of the film, but had to wonder why blindness, which is normally a very debilitating disability, gave Ben Affleck special acrobatic and fighting powers? Are all blind people secretly harboring these powers? Is the use of seeing eye dogs just a ruse? I can understand that his sense of hearing is extraordinarily keen, but this Daredevil guy can do things the men’s US Olympic Gymnastic Team can’t do... and they practice!), to be followed by “The Tuxedo,” starring the lovely and talented Jennifer Love Hewitt (the aesthetic value of the beginning of the film opening with a close up of a dear urinating into a mountain stream, transitioning into a montage of said water being processed for human consumption, can not be overstated).
   My lovely friend Aurica stuck me today. She seemed distant at first, but warmed up considerably after I asked her how her birthday had been (it’s so easy to manipulate women when you know how. It’s so easy to do anything when you know how).   
   “Oh, it was very good!” she said. “Many, many, friends came over. And we go to Santa Barbara. At first I want to have quiet day, but lots of my friends, even from Romania, came, and we have such a good time. I enjoy so much!”
   She lightly chastised me for not putting enough vitamin E on the scar tissue within the nook of my left arm, yet she had no trouble inserting the needle. 
   She wished me luck with school, and to have a happy holiday, before taking off for lunch.
   Even Anna, the Viking/Wagnerian blonde, co-owner of Trimar, said hello to me today.
   “Hello, Richard.” (she calls me Richard) “How are you? Are you ready for a good Labor Day?”
   “No ma'am.”   
   She’s never done that before. I must have looked especially handsome.
   I have since discovered that the Daredevil, the blind superhero played by Ben Affleck, was taking a shortcut home when he was a small child, and was blinded after toxic waste spilled over his eyes, which happened to enhance his other senses, and gave him sonar that allowed him to “see” through the use of sonic vibrations. He then used his super sense to teach himself martial arts.
   So he’s sort of like a handsome Toxic Avenger.
   Well I’m certainly glad we’ve cleared that up.
   And thank goodness for toxic waste!
   When I was finished, I left. I bought a Super Lotto ticket at 7 Eleven, then waited for the bus. 
   It is true. I could have used my super awareness of space and time to ascertain the lotto winning number, but that would have been unethical.
   I made good time back to the Weingart, and got a good deal of writing done. There was not a lot to watch on television this evening, so I tried to watch “Election,” starring the lovely and talented Reese Witherspoon, but the cassette jammed, and kept turning the VCR’s power off every time I put it in. I ranted. I raved for about one minute. It did no good.
   I threw the tape away.
   I read Wednesday’s paper and watched an NBC blooper show, which forced me to chuckle.
   I tried to read  the last story from King’s “Everything’s Eventual,” before sleep overwhelmed me, but was unsuccessful.
   Surprisingly I had a dream. I dreamt I was skiing down the Matterhorn (which is a big mountain  on the border between Switzerland and Italy, and is not at all easy to ski down. I would go so far as to say it’s downright hard) in between Reese Witherspoon and Renee Summers, the lovely and talented star of such films as “Sweet Feet,” and “Stiff Magnolias.” We were doing splendidly until a tree came out of nowhere and did a Sonny Bono on me. The girls didn’t seem to notice and continued their swift descent, their hair flowing back in the self manufactured breeze.

31   August   Sunday   Day 50

   I got up at 5:04 and quickly showered. I then took a bag full of dirty laundry to the washer and started a load. I returned to my room and wrote for a half hour before going to check my laundry. It was just beginning the last spin cycle. I noticed that someone had come and started the dryer. I checked to make sure it wasn’t my clothes in there. It wasn’t. About 10 white undergarments were being dried. Great, I thought to myself. Now I’ll have to wait for them to finish before I can dry my clothes.
   A black guy, about my age, with slightly gray hair, came and stood outside of the laundry room waiting for something. I didn’t say anything to him, nor he to me. He had a bag of clothes with him, and as soon as the washer stopped and I put my wet clothes on top of the dryer, he began loading up the washer with his clothes.
   I returned to my room and continued writing. I had a fair idea about what was about to happen, and got a little angry. 
   Before his load had finished washing, I returned to the laundry room and sat at station outside the door. The other gentleman showed up at regular intervals to check on his clothes. As soon as the washer stopped it's last cycle, he came, checked the clothes in the dryer, and said to me, “The dryer’s still going. I’m going to put these into the dryer.”
   “No. You’re not going to hijack the dryer! You can dry the clothes that are in there, wait, like I’ve had to wait for you, until my clothes are finished, then you can dry the rest of your stuff.”
   Of course he began to rant and rave like a little bitch. “Hijack the dryer?! How can I hijack the dryer when I’m already using it? I’m going to put my clothes in...” bla, bla, bla.
   If the circumstances had been different I would have just decked him, but I wasn’t about to get thrown out of the Weingart over a load of laundry. I have too many books to look after. Too many possessions that I have which possess me.
   “I’m going to call security,” I told him.
   “Go ahead. Call security. I don’t care.”
   What a little bitch.
   I called security from the phone in the lobby and told them they’d better get up here as there was an altercation in the laundry room.
   “Okay. First off, I’m going to warn you that if you two get into a fight you’re both going to get thrown out...”
   “I know sir,” I told him. “That’s why I called you.”
   The security man, a young black kid, was up there via the elevator before I got off the phone. He was talking to the security guard downstairs over his radio.
   “Let the guy whose clothes were in the washer first finish,” his boss was instructing him.
   While I was away my tormentor had put his clothes into the dryer, and started it up.
   The young security guard listened to both of our stories, and then ignored his bosses instructions, allowing the other guy to continue to dry his clothes, stating, “I can’t tell him to stop drying his clothes since you weren't using the machine when he started, and as soon as his cycle ends you can dry yours.”
   “But he’s put in another token, probably! It’ll be another hour!”
   “Did you put in another token?” the security guard asked him.
   “No,” and opened his palm to show a spare token, as that were some kind of proof.
   “There, you see,” the security guard said to me.
   “See what?! How do you know he didn’t? You’re gonna take his word for it? Okay, the dryers been running for fifty minutes at least now. It should stop within the next ten minutes. Will you come back to make sure?”
   He didn’t. I parked myself outside of the laundry room door until 7:30 writing and reading from Stephen King. At the time it was painfully obvious that a second token had been administered, and that I had lost this little battle.
   I went down to breakfast. Boiled eggs and sausage.
   When I passed the laundry room on my way back, he was in there folding his nice dry clothes.
   “Hey,” he called. “I put your clothes in the dryer.” He was all nice now. “You might want to put another token in. I don’t know how long this cycle will last.”
   “Thanks,” I told him. I put another token in, and said, “I didn’t mean to start a whole big altercation...” I put out my hand and we shook.
   I didn’t know why I did that. Automatic reaction I guess. It wasn’t merited when I thought about it later, although it may prove useful in the future.
   Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
   How mature of me.
   That guy was just lucky I didn’t have my paint ball gun with me.
   I continued to write. At one point I walked to the Hollywood Mart to buy a Sunday paper. I used that paper to discover what time “Jeepers Creepers 2“ began at City Walk. 11:00 AM sharp.
   At 8:45, I checked my clothes, which were dry. I collected them, folded them, and put them away.
   I grabbed my pre-poped popcorn (cheese flavored) and backpack, and took off for my date with the enigmatic Creeper. 
   Ebert and Roper panned the film, when I saw their decidedly biased review later in the day, but they are not fans of the entire horror genre, and their opinion should be dismissed out of hand.
   Yeah Robert! And I don’t care for all of those cheap little, foreign, independent movies that you find so “fresh” and “exhilarating!”
   Based on a true story, I’m told, the sequel to 2001's “Jeepers Creepers” was inventive, well produced with the help of  Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas’s American Zoetrope, well acted, and scary. The Creeper, is a fresh and exhilarating new type of monster, and considering Hollywood still cranks out dozens of vampire and werewolf movies a year it’s nice to have something that’s original. 
   I agree with the two critics though about having some more information on the etiology of this creature... or even investigate or attribute the cause or reason for it, if that could be done. We know it possess a human type intelligence because it can whistle and wears a hat, but that’s about all except that it’s really hard to kill (a trick I’d like to learn), if indeed it’s possible at all.             
   Was it once human? I don’t know! Do you?
   I did find the fortuitous circumstance, that one of the characters, portrayed by the lovely and talented Nicki Aycox, who suddenly comes upon a brand new psychic ability that allows her to lift certain facts from the first film, into the second, rather fortuitous, and possibly, just possibly, a little too convenient as well, but other than that the rest of the film was completely plausible, and I for one won’t be found driving around at night in whatever county the movie takes place in.
   No siree!
   And I’m staying the hell away from scarecrows too! Never did like those fuckers.
   As I got lost in the dark theater, finding my way upstairs and into number 17, where “Open Range,” was just beginning, I thought of Charles Bronson’s character, the “Tunnel King,”  in “The Great Escape.”
   Since I was there I sat down and began watching. Well acted and directed by Kevin Costner, I enjoyed the movie, but found the writing tired and uninspired. It’s always a pleasure to see Robert Duvall’s work, from Boo Radley in “To Kill a Mockingbird” (one of my very favorite literary characters), and one of my favorite episodes from the original “Outer Limits,” “The Inheritors,” to an Academy Award in 1983‘s “Tender Mercies,” he’s one of this countries best. That sexy Annette Bening was in it as well, and wonderful. Kevin? Well he doesn’t change much from movie to movie, now does he? But his ability to portray different characters is not why we like him. We like him because of his charisma, which is why “Message in a Bottle,” sucked so much because he didn’t display any.
   Basically this was another of those western buddy movies, like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and “The Cheyenne Social Club,” a device we never seem to tire off.
   I found a way out of the theater at about 3:30, and took the front seat on the Red Line back downtown. With that view of running through the tunnel under the Hollywood Hills I knew exactly what it must feel and look like to be shot out of giant earthworm’s ass.
   I returned to the Weingart just in time for a Chile Mac dinner.
   Up in my room I watched , “And God Created Woman,” starring Rebecca de Mornay, a movie I had taped last night. But the reception had been bad, and it didn’t come out well at all. Besides, they had edited out all of the good parts.
   I read the paper. I watched Ebert and Roper... and Futurama. At 9:00 I taped “Entrapment,” starring Catherine Zeta Jones, even though I usually get lousy reception from CBS, channel 2. But Catherine was in it, and so good.
   Michael Douglas swooped on that (her).
   And then I heard about the death of Charles Bronson, the actor I had thought of earlier, and the star of all of those “Death Wish,” films, and being in “The Great Excape,” and “The Magnificent Seven” (both with Steve McQueen), and I was very sad.
   He had suffered from Alzheimer's disease in his later years, and died from pneumonia at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in West Hollywood, not many miles from where I was sitting in my lonely room.
   They’re dropping like flies.
   I fell asleep while watching the “Hallucinogenic Cave” episode of the “X-Files,” and dreamt I was on a school bus, out on Route 9, with Nicki Aycox and Annette Bening. We were being attacked by the Creeper, and all of the other passengers had already been carried off and eaten.    
   The girls were looking  at me to save them.
   You know how girls are.
   No problem. The next time the bat-winged bastard flew up I karated him with my giant  nunchucks.
   He shot off yelping like a beat dog.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Happy Birthday John Steinbeck!

It has always seemed strange to me... the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second. -John Steinbeck

Picture Legend
1. John Steinbeck
2. John with his sister Mary, sitting on their red pony, Jill, at the Salinas Fairgrounds in 1909
3. Modern Main Street in Salinas
4. The renovated Steinbeck House
5. “Cup of Gold” John’s first novel
6. John and Carol
7. “Tortilla Flat” his break out novel
8. “Tortilla Flat” the movie, with Spencer Tracy
9. Hedy and her invention
10. Fourth grader
11. “In Dubious Battle” A Communist?
12. “Of Mice and Men”
13. “The Grapes of Wrath,” and a Pulitzer
14. The movie, with Henry Fonda
15. Ed Ricketts
16. The National Steinbeck Center
17. John and Gwyndolyn
18. John and Elaine
19. The Garden of Memories, in Salinas. John’s final resting place
20. “Cannery Row”
21. “Sweet Thursday”
22. Pacific Biological Laboratories today
23. “The Pearl”
24. “East of Eden”
25. Jennifer Lawrence
26. “The Winter of Our Discontent”
27. Rocinante
28. “Travels with Charley”
29. John

   The Roaring 20‘s had F Scott Fitzgerald. The Depressed 30‘s belonged to Steinbeck. 
   Oh I know what you’re going to say... what about Hemingway? Well he was off in Europe, writing about Europeans half of time, now wasn’t he?
   Alright Joyce, what about James Agee, or Raymond Chandler, Nathaniel West, Gertrude Stein, Henry Miller, Margaret Mitchell, Sinclair Lewis... hell, even Fitzgerald wrote “Tender is the Night” in 1934. The one novel Hemingway published during the 30's was about a fishing boat captain who ran contraband between Florida and Cub... 
    God Damn it! 
   Okay! There were many fine writers who produced fine work during the 30‘s. There’s lots of fine writers writing around all over the place all of the time! There’s probably some writing right now! But what was the 30‘s most famous for in America?
   The “Monopoly” game? 
   No! Good sweet Jesus... what else!?
   Uuuhh, the Great Depression?
   Exactly, and John Steinbeck was most known for writing about average men and women trying to get by during those challenging times.
   Not all of his books took place during the Depression, or concerned...
   I’m going to shoot you. Get out of here Herkimer.
   Alright, alright, I’ll leave.
   Okay, as far as I can say any writer is my favorite, I’ve always put John Steinbeck at the top of the list (that list consisting in part with Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Mark Twain, J D Salinger, John Nichols, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Alice Yenour, Edger Allen Poe, Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Voltaire, Jonathan Swift, James Joyce, Christopher Buckley, Thornton Wilder, Carl Sagan, Franz Kafka, Shirley Jackson, James Clavell (despite his infatuation with  Ayn Rand), and of course Dean Koontz (despite his infatuation with James Clavell), to name just a few (I like you too Stephen King!). He wrote what I consider my favorite book, “Cannery Row,” because it artfully, sympathetically, and mystically tells the story of simple people devoid of ambition, who simply enjoy living, and do not strive for what is normally described as the American Dream, the acquiring of material possessions and maintenence of a typical middle class life style, you know, people I can relate to. 
    “If you're in trouble, or hurt or need - go to the poor people. They're the only ones that'll help - the only ones.”
   A story set within the midst of the Great Depression, it tells of Mack and the boys, who only want to throw a birthday party for their friend Doc, who has a constant fear of getting his head wet, is the inventor of the beer milkshake (which unfortunately brought all the boys to the yard), and "has helped many a girl out of one trouble and into another." It tells the story of Mary Talbot, who also likes to have parties, quite often just for the neighborhood’s cats. It tells the story of Lee Chong, and his magical grocery store where any commodity can be located, except female companionship, which can be found across the street at Dora's brothel. It tells the story of  Mr. and Mrs. Sam Malloy, who live in a giant boiler abandoned in a vacant lot, which Mrs. Malloy likes to decorate with window curtains even though the boiler has no windows. The book devotes an entire chapter to the plight of a gopher (not named) which digs a burrow in a corner of a vacant lot on Cannery Row and waits for a female with whom to mate, but none appears. And the book describes the greatest frog hunt in the history of literature. 
   Anyway, I’m very fond of this book and hope to read it a few more times before I leave this Earth.
   John Steinbeck would have been 112 years old today if he hadn’t died on December 20th, 1968, of heart disease and congestive heart failure, in New York City at the age of 66. Apparently the rumors about smoking cigarettes are true.
   Oh, if only the miracles of modern medicine were available back then he would surely still be with us!
   Steinbeck was born in 1902 in Salinas, California (almost 60 miles from where I was born 53 years later, in San Jose, directly north of Salinas), located in one of California's richest farming regions... where people grow things... like lettuce. 
    "I remember my childhood names for grasses and secret flowers," he wrote in the opening chapter of “East of Eden.” "I remember where a toad may live and what time the birds awaken in the summer-and what trees and seasons smelled like."
    His father, John Ernst Steinbeck, was at one time or another the manager of a Sperry flour plant, the owner of a feed and grain store, and the treasurer of Monterey County. His mother, Olive Hamilton Steinbeck, was a former teacher, whom John’s eventual passion for reading and writing would be inherited. He was of German, English, and Irish descent.   
    John had a relatively happy childhood, although the family was never wealthy, and grew up with two older sisters, Beth and Esther, and one younger sister, Mary, who can be seen above.
   At age fourteen he decided to become a writer and spent hours writing stories and poems in his upstairs bedroom.
   John graduated from Salinas High School in 1919 and went from there to Stanford University in Palo Alto, mostly at the urging of his parents. There he studied only the subjects that interested him personally, classical and British literature, writing courses, a smattering of science, and Maldivian mud weaving. He stayed there for five years, not terribly committed toward his studies, routinely taking time out to work with the migrant farm workers on the nearby ranches. There he learned of their plight and developed a great sympathy for the weakest among us, the defenseless, a huge empathy that would be characteristic in his later work. 
   He left Stanford in 1925 without taking a degree, and moved to New York, briefly working as a construction worker while honing his craft. 
      “The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true."
   He returned to California after success at publishing his work eluded him. He worked for three years as a caretaker for an estate in Lake Tahoe (the largest alpine lake (a lake that’s high in altitude) in North America), while working on his first novel. 
   There he met Carol Henning, a native of San Jose. She would become his first wife. 
   “Cup of Gold: A life of Sir Henry Morgan, Buccaneer, with Occasional Reference to History” was published in 1929. An historical novel, loosely based on the life of Henry Morgan, the Welsh privateer, pirate and admiral of the English Royal Navy, and his sacking of the city Porto Bello in modern day Panama. 
   “You see, I have been at revaluing myself in the last few days. I may have some value to historians because I have destroyed a few things. The builder of your Cathedral is forgotten even now, but I, who burned it, may be remembered for a hundred years or so. And that may mean something or other about mankind.” from “Cup of Gold”
   This was Steinbeck’s only truly historical novel, and was rather atypical of his later work, and was not what one would call successful.
   John and Carol were married in January of 1930 in Eagle Rock, California (named, you guessed it, after a large rock outcropping resembling the profile of eagle's head),  a neighborhood of Northeast Los Angeles, moving to a cottage owned by his father in the city of Pacific Grove, on the Monterey Peninsula, adjacent to the city of Monterey, one of my favorite cities on the planet, and the location of much of John’s stories.
   Carol looked for work to support them, as John continued writing. His parents also subsidized them by providing rent free housing, and other supplies which allowed him to write.
   He next published three small works, “The Pastures of Heaven,” in 1932, which consisted of twelve interconnected stories about a valley, the Corral de Tierra, in Monterey, which was discovered by a Spanish corporal while chasing runaway Indian slaves; the first three chapters of a 100 page four chapter book (the entire book published in 1937) “The Red Pony,” (picture above),  in 1933, about a pony that is red, and “To a God Unknown,” also in 1933, which concerns a God that nobody knows about... or the life of a homesteader and his family in California. The homesteader eventually develops a relationship with a tree.  
   “To a God Unknown,” took Steinbeck five years to write at only 240 pages, longer than “East of Eden” (610 pages), and “The Grapes of Wrath,” (619). This is what he wrote about it in his journal, "the trees and the muscled mountains are the world — but not the world apart from man — the world and man — the one inseparable unit man and his environment. Why they should ever have been understood as being separate I do not know."
   In 1935 John published “Tortilla Flat,” and experienced his first commercial success, and is my second favorite Steinbeck book next to “Cannery Row.” Set in Monterey, it tells the tale of a group of paisanos, a small band of errant friends, of Mexican-Indian-Spanish-Caucasian descent,  enjoying life and wine in the days after the end of the World War One. 
   The book certainly had it’s critics though, many siting the characters as bums and miscreants. 
   In a foreword to a 1937 Modern Library Random House edition of the book, he wrote: " did not occur to me that paisanos were curious or quaint, dispossessed or underdoggish. They are people whom I know and like, people who merge successfully with their habitat...good people of laughter and kindness, of honest lusts and direct eyes. If I have done them harm by telling a few of their stories I am sorry. It will never happen again." 
   This story was the first of John’s to be turned into a film in 1942, starring John Garfield, the lovely Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesle, better known probably as Hedy Lamarr, and my favorite American actor, the equally lovely Spencer Tracy. Here’s a scene
   The film was directed by Victor Fleming, of “The Wizard of Oz,” and “Gone with the Wind,” fame. Not bad for a relatively unknown novelist.
   As a side note, the lovely Hedy Lamarr was not only an exotic Austrian actress, but an important inventor as well. Together with composer George Antheil, they developed an early technique for spread spectrum communications and frequency hopping, first developed as a way to stop allied radio controlled torpedoes from being jammed by the enemy during World War II, and as any fourth grader knows, later helped to set the way for the modern wireless Internet service we enjoy today. 
   Smart and sexy, just the way I like’em. 
   Encouraged by his wife Carol, John attended a few meetings of the nearby Carmel's John Reed Club (an American federation of local organizations targeted towards Marxist writers, artists, and intellectuals, named after the American journalist and activist John Reed). Although he found the group's zealotry distasteful, he was drawn to the communists' sympathy for the working man. Farm workers in California were suffering, and he set out to write a "biography of a strikebreaker," but from his interviews with a hounded organizer hiding out in nearby Seaside, he turned from biography to fiction, writing one of the best strike novels of the 1900s, “In Dubious Battle,” published in 1936.
   This is what he had to say about this work: “This is the first time I have felt that I could take the time to write and also that I had anything to say to anything except my manuscript book. You remember that I had an idea that I was going to write the autobiography of a Communist. ... There lay the trouble. I had planned to write a journalistic account of a strike. But as I thought of it as fiction the thing got bigger and bigger. It couldn't be that. I've been living with this thing for some time now. I don't know how much I have got over, but I have used a small strike in an orchard valley as the symbol of man's eternal, bitter warfare with himself.”
   And this about socialism, the poor and middle class: “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
   In 1943, with John now famous, Carlos Baker (American writer, biographer and former Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature at Princeton University) "revalued" the novel. He opened by saying "Among Steinbeck's best novels, the least known is probably “In Dubious “Battle." Steinbeck, he said, "is supremely interested in what happens to men's minds and hearts when they function, not as responsible, self-governing individuals, but as members of a group.... Biologists have a word for this very important problem; the call it bionomics, or ecology." He said that "Steinbeck's bionomic interest is visible in all that he has done, from “Tortilla Flat,” in the middle Thirties, through his semi-biological Sea of Cortez, to his latest communiqu├ęs as a war correspondent in England." He characterized “In Dubious Battle” as "an attempt to study a typical mid-depression strike in bionomic terms."
   In 1958, the critic Alfred Kazin (no relation to Diego) referred to “In Dubious Battle” and “The Grapes of Wrath” as "his most powerful books. 
   And President Obama told the New York Times that it is his favorite book by Steinbeck. 
   I have to admit I have not read this... yet. I shall endeavor to do so forthwith. 
   John and Carol built their first home in Los Gatos, California, that year, which is located in the San Francisco Bay Area at the southwest corner of San Jose, Carol’s hometown. 
    Carol is credited with important intellectual and editorial contributions to his best work. She helped edit his manuscripts, urged him to cut the Latinate (having to do with Latin, an urge to use I face everyday myself) phrases, typed his manuscripts, suggested titles such as “The Grapes of Wrath,” and offered ways to restructure. 
   1937 saw the publication of one of John’s most popular and celebrated works, “Of Mice and Men,” the story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers, who move from place to place in search of work during the Great Depression in California. At 187 pages, “Of Mice and Men” is technically a novella, yet Steinbeck wanted it to be read as a play as well, a novella/play form, structured in three acts of two chapters each. He wanted to write a novel that could be played from its lines, or a play that could be read like a novel. The title was taken from Robert Burns' poem "To a Mouse," which reads: "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley." (The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry).
   “Of Mice and Men,” was chosen as a Book of the Month Club selection before it was published. It also made the American Library Association's list of the Most Challenged Books of 21st Century (54 times since publication), ranking at number 4, due to  allegedly "promoting euthanasia", "condoning racial slurs", being "anti-business", containing profanity, and generally containing "vulgar" and "offensive language."
   The novella was indeed made into a play, earning the 1938 New York Drama Critics' Circle Best Play, beating out my favorite play of all time, Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” It’s also been an opera, and a theatrical film, starring Lon Chaney, Jr, the son of the famous silent film star and master of make up, Lon Chaney, who was the original star in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1923) and “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925). Other than playing “The Wolf Man,” in 1941, this was Lon Jr’s most notable role (except of course for 1959‘s “The Alligator People,” which the Fox Movie Network, FXM, has been recycling a lot recently). He shared the film with Burgess Meredith, who would go on to have a very distinguished career which included being the original “Penguin” in the “Batman” television show (1966 to 1968), the early Rocky movies, “Grumpy Old Men,” 1993 and 1995, and a classic “Twilight Zone” episode as well, entitled, "Time Enough at Last" (1959, he actually appeared on ”The Twilight Zone” 4 times). Here’s a clip
   Another theatrical film version was made in 1992, directed by and starring Academy Award nominee and CSI: NYer, Gary Sinise, John Malkovich (a double Academy Award nominee), and our lovely friends ("Five feet of heaven in a ponytail," according to director David Lynch)  Sherilyn Fenn and Ray Walston.
   There’s also been a virtual s--tload of other fine adaptations as well.
   “The Long Valley,” a collection of 12 short stories which take place in the Salinas Valley, including "The Chrysanthemums," and the complete “The Red Pony” novella was published in 1938.
   And the next year saw the appearance of “The Grapes of Wrath,” Steinbeck’s epic tale of the Joad family of Oklahoma, who are forced from their farm during the Dust Bowl and the Depression, who along with thousands of other “Okies” hit the road for California, which they believe to be a land of boundless opportunity.
   Well, we know better than that, don’t we?
      “A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”
   Often cited as his greatest work, it was derived from "The Harvest Gypsies", a series of 7 articles that ran in the San Francisco News, from October 5 to 12, 1936. The newspaper commissioned that work on migrant workers from the Midwest in California's agriculture industry.
   The title can be found in Chapter 25,  “In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage." 
   I have no idea what that means, but the phrase can also be found in the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," lyrics at least by Julia Ward Howe, written in 1862:
          Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
          He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
          He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
          His truth is marching on.
   And she in turn may have picked up the phase from the Book of Revelation 14:19–20, which is in the Bible I’m told: “And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.”
   John wrote: "I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Great Depression and its effects]. I've done my damndest to rip a reader's nerves to rags."
    For this effort Steinbeck won the annual National Book Award  and Pulitzer Prize for novels, and it was cited prominently when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.
   Here’s an interview with John after a he gained a broader perspective of the events depicted in “The Grapes of Wrath.”
   Steinbeck biographer Peter Lisca wrote “The Grapes of Wrath,” "was a phenomenon on the scale of a national event. It was publicly banned and burned by citizens, it was debated on national talk radio; but above all, it was read." 
   According to The New York Times it was the best-selling book of 1939 and 430,000 copies had been printed by February 1940
   Bryan Cordyack of the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science wrote, "Steinbeck was attacked as a propagandist and a socialist from both the left and the right of the political spectrum. The most fervent of these attacks came from the Associated Farmers of California; they were displeased with the book's depiction of California farmers' attitudes and conduct toward the migrants. They denounced the book as a 'pack of lies' and labeled it 'communist propaganda.'”
    Steinbeck wrote, "The vilification of me out here from the large landowners and bankers is pretty bad. The latest is a rumor started by them that the Okies hate me and have threatened to kill me for lying about them. I'm frightened at the rolling might of this damned thing. It is completely out of hand; I mean a kind of hysteria about the book is growing that is not healthy."
   Nevertheless “The Grapes of Wrath,” was made into a classic film in 1940 (clip above), starring Henry Fonda, and directed by John Ford, of “The Searchers,” “Stagecoach,” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” fame. 
   The Grapes of Wrath was also a Canadian folk rock band of the 80s and 90s.
   Steinbeck wrote “The Forgotten Village,” in 1941, the script for a documentary film concerning  the conflict between traditional life in a Mexican village, and the introduction of outside interests. It was narrated by Burgess Meredith.
   Carol accompanied John on a long voyage to the Gulf of California, along with Steinbeck’s close friend, professional biologist and writer Ed Ricketts. This trip would result in the publication of “Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research,” in 1941. The book is kind of a travelog, and a journal of travel and research. They would sail around, commenting on what they did and saw. Ricketts would become the model for “Doc” in “Cannery Row.” Carol would soon become John’s ex-wife, as they divorced in 1942. Her collection of letters and memorabilia are housed at the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, on the campus of San Jose State University, “The only university research archive in the world dedicated solely to John Steinbeck's life and work,” and not to be confused with The National Steinbeck Center in Oldtown Salinas.
   The biography “Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage,” describes their relationship during the years they spent together, and her own contribution to the history of American literature.
   Gwyndolyn Conger was a professional singer almost 20 years younger than John. They met in Hollywood while he was still married to Carol (hey, he’s my favorite author, not saint), and were married in 1943, having two children, Thomas (Thom) Steinbeck and John Steinbeck IV. They moved to Monterey for a few months in 1944 but lived in New York for most of their marriage, divorcing in 1948.     
   Some say they divorced because Gwyn was unfaithful, and some say the character of Cathy Ames, or Kate, the human monster with a malformed soul, was based on Gwyndolyn. 
   Some say.
   There was a lot of infidelity going on in those days it seems. Not now of course, but back then.
   Actress and stage manager Elaine Anderson Scott was married to the film actor Zachary Scott when she met John in Carmel in 1949. They married in 1950 and remained together, living in Manhattan and Sag Harbor, until he died in 1968.
   She passed away in 2003, after being the executor of the Steinbeck estate for 37 years, working to keep John’s books in print and editing a volume of his letters. She is buried with other members of the Steinbeck family in the Garden of Memories, Salinas.
   In March of 1942, “The Moon is Down,” was published, a novel about a military occupation of a small town in Northern Europe by the army of an unnamed nation at war with England and Russia.
   A non-fiction account of Steinbeck's experiences with several Bomber crews of the US Army Air Forces during the Second World War was published that year as well. “Bombs Away: The Story of a Bomber Team.”
   In 1945, my favorite, “Cannery Row,” was published, followed 9 years later by the only sequel Steinbeck ever wrote, “Sweet Thursday,” in 1954, which picks up the story of the inhabitants of Cannery Row, in Monterey after the end of World War II. 
   Doc’s company, Western Biological Laboratories, was based on Ed Ricketts Pacific Biological Laboratories, which has been preserved and can be seen today. I have seen it myself.
   A film was made entitled “Cannery Row,” in 1982, starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger, which was loosely based on both novels, “Cannery Row,” and “Sweet Thursday.” It was so loosely based that it sucked big time, and isn’t worth consideration if you’re a fan of the books. 
   Elaine hated it.
   In 1947 “The Wayward Bus,” was published, which made more money for John than any of his previous works, although considered by critics as one of his weaker novels. 
   To make up for “The Wayward Bus,” his classic, “The Pearl,” was published that year as well (first serialized in 1945). The novella (96 pages) tells the story of  Mexican pearl diver, Kino, who comes upon an enormous pearl, which he needs to sell in order to pay a doctor to help his son who has been bitten by a scorpion. Everyone soon hears of the "The pearl of the world," and many want it. He tries to sell it but the buyers all collude together to lower the price they are willing to pay for it. He is attacked over the pearl, kills a man in defense of it, his son is killed because of it, and eventually winds up throwing it back into the sea. 
   The next year, 1948, John lost his friend Ed Ricketts, who had been hit by a train while driving over some railroad tracks. This was a great blow to the writer, and some say his worked declined after his friend's death. 
   Yet Steinbeck’s favorite novel, “East of Eden,” was published in 1952. The epic story of two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, and the way they interacted, was considered his most ambitious work, and was very popular. 
     "It has everything in it I have been able to learn about my craft or profession in all these years. I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this." 
   The second half of the book was adapted to film in 1955, starring James Dean in his first performance in a motion picture. He would make only two more movies, “Rebel Without a Cause,” and “Giant,” before he left show business to make breakfast sausages. The film also starred Julie Harris (The Haunting), Richard Davalos, Raymond Massey, Jo Van Fleet, and Burl Ives, and was directed by Elia Kazan, of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and “On the Waterfront,” fame. Here’s a clip.
   The whole book was made into a television mini-series in 1981, which aired on ABC in 3 installments, and starred Karen Allen, Anne Baxter, Timothy Bottoms, Bruce Boxleitner, Lloyd Bridges, Howard Duff, Warren Oates, and Jane Seymour as the aforementioned Cathy Aimes.
   “I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents. Some you can see, misshapen and horrible, with huge heads or tiny bodies; some are born with no arms, no legs, some with three arms, some with tails or mouths in odd places. They are accidents and no one's fault, as used to be thought. Once they were considered the visible punishment for concealed sins.
   And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?”
   That is how Steinbeck first introduced his character Cathy, who began her career by killing her own parents. 
   In September of last year the Los Angeles Times reported that another theatrical version of “East of Eden,” will be produced, and the lovely and talented 23 year old Academy Award winning actress Jennifer Lawrence has been cast as Cathy Aimes. I look forward to seeing that.
   And wish Ms Lawrence luck this Sunday night as she very well may win another Academy Award for her performance in “American Hustle.” Good luck!
   Anyway, this is what Steinbeck had to say about dogs: “I've seen a look in dogs' eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts."
   And power: “Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts... perhaps the fear of a loss of power."
   The same year “East of Eden,” came out, so did the film “Viva Zapata!” screenplay written by John Steinbeck. A biographical film starring Marlon Brando, Jean Peters, and Anthony Quinn (who won an Academy Award for his performance) and directed by Elia Kazan. The film  is a fictionalized account of the life of Mexican Revolutionary Emiliano Zapata from his peasant upbringing, through his rise to power in the early 1900s, to his death.
   In 1955 John published my favorite short story of his, “The Affair at 7 Rue de M —” the true tale of his battle with his son’s chewing gum. Here’s a link to it.
          Now is the winter of our discontent
          Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
          And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
          In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
   Says Richard in Shakespeare's play “Richard III,” and from which John discovered the title of his last novel.
   “The Winter of Our Discontent,” was published in 1961, and it tells the story of Ethan Allen Hawley, a former bigwig who was reduced to working in a grocery store on Long Island, and his efforts to deal with that situation. 
   Atlantic Monthly’s Edward Weeks in his review of “The Winter of Our Discontent” viewed it as  a Steinbeck classic: "His dialogue is full of life, the entrapment of Ethan is ingenious, and the morality in this novel marks Mr. Steinbeck's return to the mood and the concern with which he wrote ‘The Grapes of Wrath.'"
   Others thought otherwise. A few years after publication Peter Lisca called Winter "undeniable evidence of the aesthetic and philosophical failure of the writer’s later fiction.”
   Who was right? Who remains right? Beats me. I do know this was the last piece of Steinbeck fiction published before he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, for his "realistic and imaginative writing, combining as it does sympathetic humor and keen social perception."     Here’s his acceptance speech.
   The selection was described as "one of the Academy's biggest mistakes" in one Swedish newspaper. The reaction of American literary critics was also rather untoward. The New York Times asked why the Nobel committee gave the award to an author whose "limited talent is, in his best books, watered down by tenth-rate philosophizing", noting that "The international character of the award and the weight attached to it raise questions about the mechanics of selection and how close the Nobel committee is to the main currents of American writing.... [W]e think it interesting that the laurel was not awarded to a writer ... whose significance, influence and sheer body of work had already made a more profound impression on the literature of our age"
   Well all I’ve got to say to that is “F--K’em!” Ha, ha, he won and you lost, you little bitches! 
   In 1960, John bought a pickup truck and had it modified with a custom built camper top which was kind of rare at the time,  and drove across the U. S. with his standard poodle, Charley. Steinbeck named the truck Rocinante after Don Quixote's skinny horse.  He started in Long Island, New York, and roughly followed the outer border of the United States, from Maine to the Pacific Northwest, down into the Salinas Valley in California, across to Texas, up through the Deep South, and then back to New York, a trip encompassing nearly 10,000 miles.   
   This resulted in 1962's “Travels with Charley: In Search of America.”      According to Thom Steinbeck, John’s oldest son, the real reason for the trip was that he knew he was dying and wanted to see his country one last time. Thom has said he was surprised that his stepmother Elaine allowed his dad to make the trip, his heart condition bad enough that he could have died at any time.
   But he made it through another eight years before he passed... Travels with Charley being his last original work published before he left us. 
   Finally, all of us here at Joyce’s Take appreciate the life and work of this remarkable man, and of course, wish him a happy birthday.

   “It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure on the world."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Some Myths and Facts Concerning Homelessness

The following is a list of some myths and facts that Skid Row Housing Trust’s Community Relations Manager, Daniel Rizik-Baer, asked me to help him compile a few days ago, because... well the man’s basically helpless without my guidance.

1. Myth: The homeless are an insignificant percent of the population of the United States

Fact: According to the  Current Population Survey (CPS), 2013 Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC), the source of official poverty estimates (The CPS ASEC is a sample survey of approximately 100,000 households nationwide. This data reflects conditions in calendar year 2012), the official poverty rate (set at $23,050 (total yearly income) for a family of four (How the federal government uses a poverty formula dating back to the 60s, here)) was 15.0 percent. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the 2013 total population in the United States at 315,091,138.7. There were 47.25 million people in poverty.
   According to the Anawim Christian  Community, ((ACC) Anawim being a Hebrew word which means, “the poor who depend on the Lord for deliverance”), a homeless advocacy group based in Portland, Oregon, 10 percent of those 47.25 million will spend some time homeless and living on the street, which comes out to be approximately 4.7 million Americans, or 1.5 percent of the total population. 1.5 percent may be a small percentage but hardly insignificant considering it represents 47.5 million men, women, and children.

2. Myth: Most homeless are vagrants.

Fact: It depends on how one defines the word vagrant (excluding of course the 2002 Singapore television series, “The Vagrant,” and the free, open-source software for creating and configuring virtual development environments). One definition found in the Merriam Webster on-line  dictionary, the word vagrant means A: wandering about from place to place usually with no means of support, and B:  having a fleeting, wayward, or inconstant quality. 
   Some could claim the word “vagrant” retains certain pejorative connotations, yet the ACC reminds us that 75 percent of those who become homeless remain in the city in which they became homeless, and a large percentage of these find themselves homeless in the town in which  they were raised. For the most part the homeless are not what you’d call exceptionally mobile. 
   Of course another definition of the word found in Merriam Webster is A: one who has no established residence and wanders idly from place to place without lawful or visible means of support (like a Buddhist monk), and B: one (as a prostitute or drunkard) whose conduct constitutes statutory vagrancy, which is A: the very definition of “homeless,” B: pejorative, and C: may or may not be true (the prostitute and drunkard part).

3. Myth: The homeless lifestyle is carefree and much sought after.

Fact: In a 2011 survey of 234 American cities, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, another advocacy group for the homeless, found that 40 percent prohibited camping, 33 percent banned sitting and lying down in public places, and 53 percent outlawed begging. Recent examples of laws intended to relocate, ban, or otherwise restrict the homeless are ubiquitous. In July of 2012, Newport Beach, California, instituted rules banning public library patrons who smell, park their shopping carts near entrances, or sleep in the library. In April, Denver passed a law forbidding “urban camping.” In March, Philadelphia prohibited charities from distributing free food in public parks, a rule that was recently suspended after church groups sued the city. Other municipalities have removed park benches, closed public restrooms and banned sleeping in cars.
   Of course the carefree lifestyle of the homeless does present a certain amount of libertarian freedom for some, the advantages, in part, being able to sit on sidewalks for hours at a time, waiting in many lines for meals,  medical, or referral services, building unique and sophisticated architectural structures made out of cardboard and other indigenous materials, evade constance police surveillance and harassment, evade being robbed by your fellow homeless, being ostracized by the 98.5 percent of the population that have homes, being proselytized by religious groups who wish to redeem your soul in exchange for a scant meal, endure extreme weather conditions, as well as constant boredom, loneliness, fear, and helplessness... yet it’s not for everybody.

4. Most homeless are chronically so and will remain homeless for years. 

More than 70 percent of those who experience homelessness in their lives will do so for a relatively short period of time, only a minority actually remain on the street for two years or more. Most find their way off the streets by finding gainful employment, receiving help from relatives, or taking advantage of various social programs designed to permanently relieve homelessness, such as Skid Row Housing Trust (SRHT) and Single Room Occupancy (SRO).

5. Myth: The homeless are lawbreakers.

Fact: The homeless are a lot of things, which includes being criminals. But so are people who have homes, the percentage being approximately the same, unless you take into account laws designed to specifically target the homeless, which are predatory laws, criminalizing the homeless for being poor, laws against camping or loitering in any one area for example. Or begging for money. The homeless are 100 percent more likely to break these type of laws simply because they are homeless. 
   As a matter of fact areas experiencing a high percentage of homelessness, such as the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles (defined as lying within the area east of Main Street, south of Third Street, west of Alameda Street, and north of Seventh Street) probably experience less violent crime (rape, homicide, burglary, auto theft or theft from vehicle, aggravated assault, robbery, mugging) than other areas due to the constant high police presence. 
   If you follow this link, provided by the Los Angeles Police Department, you’ll find a map... a crime map. You’ll also discover a small area near the center which is completely crime free, and that area corresponds to Skid Row.

6. Myth: Most homeless people are addicts

Fact: It is estimated that 25 to 40 percent of all homeless are addicted to some substance, most notably alcohol, crack cocaine, marijuana, heroin, tobacco, and that blue crystal methamphetamine they made on “Breaking Bad,” which is indeed a higher percentage than the general population (statistics can be found here), but is not most.
   However, the stats are higher if only the chronic homeless are taken into account. But was it the addiction that caused the homelessness or the homelessness that caused the addiction? As with most substance abuse issues it depends on the individual.

7. Myth: Most homeless people are mentally ill.

Fact: This is absolutely true... except for the most part. It is estimated that from 15 to 25 percent of all homeless are mentally ill, which again is well below “most.”
   The percentage of all people who are diagnosed with some kind of mental illness in their lifetime is 40 percent. The disparity may be due to the lack of resources for the homeless compared to the general population, and their being diagnosed and treated less often.
   The Los Angeles County Jail, which is the largest jail in the world, also doubles for the largest mental health drug provider in Los Angeles County due to it’s large percentage of mentally ill inmates who are treated there.

8. Myth: Most homeless people sleep on the streets.

Fact: The majority of people who are homeless live in cars or trucks. Others sleep temporarily in other people’s living rooms or on their property. Less than 25 percent of those who are homeless live on the streets

10 Reasons Homeless People Sleep Out in the Cold... and Die, here.

9. Most homeless are Dutch.

Fact: This is absolutely silly and not true. Only a small percentage of the homeless are of Flemish ancestry. In its 2004 survey of 27 cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that the homeless population consists of 49 percent African-American, 35 percent Caucasian, 12 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Native American, 1 percent Asian, .93 percent Dutch, and .07 percent pygmy headhunters from Sumatra, where the giant rats live.

10. Myth: Homeless people are lazy.

It’s not as easy being homeless as one might think. Maintaining personal security is hard work, protecting oneself from the police and other homeless. Finding food is hard work, and may require walking many miles and waiting in long lines to receive sustenance. Many spend more than eight hours a day searching for recyclable items they will turn in for a meager financial return. Others try holding signs at a busy intersections or freeway on ramp and off ramps, receiving as many insults as they do donations. Most homeless are looking for steady work, but find that it is difficult to come by for one who does not have an address or a daily shower. The homeless may actually work harder than the general population for the proportionate amount of return.

11. Myth: the International Brotherhood of the Indigent holds large blocks of voting stock in Monsanto and Exxon Mobil, two of the most reviled companies on the planet.

Fact: This isn't true at all. There isn’t even such an entity as the International Brotherhood of the Indigent.

Also, there is no truth to the rumor that the homeless will hold a general strike during the November election to protest income inequality. None whatsoever.

12. Myth: There are ample services for the homeless. 

Fact: It depends on the city as to what services are available. In Los Angeles, especially in the downtown area, there are many services available to the homeless. Permanent housing through agencies like SRHT and SRO. Temporary housing and meals through the various missions (Fred Jordan, Los Angeles, Union Rescue, Midnight, etc) and County jail, mental health services. Meals through the Seniors Center and Woman’s Center. Sometimes churches and ordinary citizens come to Skid Row and distribute food or meals regularly. Other cities provide few or no services for the homeless at all. Quite often the amount of services provided by a municipality are directly correlated to the attitude that municipality has toward it’s homeless population.

13. Homelessness does not effect woman, children, and families to any significant degree.

Fact: This is absolutely not true. In 2003, children under the age of 18 accounted for 39 percentage of the homeless population; 42 percent of these children were under the age of five (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 2004). This same study found that unaccompanied minors comprised 5 percent of the urban homeless population. This problem has only grown worse since the economic crisis of 2007/2008. Women and families represent the fastest growing groups of the homeless population nationally. Approximately half of the homeless population are families with kids. Families, single moms, and children make up the largest group of people experiencing homelessness in rural areas.

14. Myth: The homeless need to help themselves.

Fact: It is true that people need to be responsible for themselves. However those homeless who have mental health, and substance abuse issues require more help than others, if they’ll accept it. 
   It is also true that the state of the general economy has a direct corelation to the severity of the national homeless problem. As with the amount of crime in the nation, if the employment rate is low, and filled with living wage jobs that can fuel the growth of a viable middle class, there is less cause for a growth in the amount of crime and homelessness the nation experiences. The state of the general economy took a huge hit in the financial crisis of 2007/2008, said crisis being fueled by policies enacted or ignored in the nation’s capital, by the Congress and the Executive branch of the previous administration. The current administration is paralyzed by an obstructionist House of Representatives, the most obstructionist in the nation’s history. Those in Washington need to take responsibility, at least in part (and some would say a large part) for the national economy, and stop villainizing and penalizing those who require social services, such as the homeless (and women, the elderly, children, etc.). Congress helped create the current poverty and homeless levels, and have so far pushed the blame for those problems onto their victims. 
   It would go a long way to alleviate the problem of homelessness if those who helped create it took responsibility for it.

Update, Police stealing signs from homeless in Texas, here.