Category Archives: homelessness

Settling In. Traveling back.

For the past seven years, I’ve been on the move. Some places I stayed a few months,  some a couple of years.  I settled into apartments in Mexico, China, Costa Rica and Los Angeles, plus, at my daughter’s request, I lived with her and her children outside historic  Charleston, SC.  Except for Los Angeles, where I actually got my stuff out of storage for a short spell, I purchased or borrowed what I needed to make myself comfortable wherever I happened to be in the world.

House on canal in Venice Beach, CA

House on canal in Venice Beach, CA

The Cabin

The Cabin

I learned a lot about myself. My odyssey taught me that my most useful attributes are my improvisational skills, and the ability to be flexible. I discovered that although coffee is  preferred, tea will do just fine; that unusual spices and unidentifiable food make eating an adventure, the struggle to communicate with those who speak different languages is challenging: sometimes fun, sometimes frustrating, that the best adventures happen when one is lost, that fear is overrated. That we are basically all the same.

L

Amigas: Barbara & Linda

Amigas: Barbara & Linda

Cindy, Wyatt n Bullit

Cindy, Wyatt n Bullit

Mis Amigas

Mis Amigas

Moving crew

Moving crew

ast year I felt compelled to go home.  Unfortunately I didn’t have one.  I had a 10X10 storage unit in Tehachapi, in the mountains between the San Joaquin Valley and the Mohave Desert.  I didn’t belong in the south. My daughter had her own life, and a family that didn’t include me. I missed my friends in California. Maybe I missed the state itself.

I headed across the country in Margaret, my Mini Cooper to my friend, Brandon Maggart’s, house in Venice Beach. Maybe it was the beach, the craziness, the chaos.  What ever, talking to my daughter, Alice, on the phone, she said, ” It must feel good to be home.” Ah, she understood. Still, Brandon’s, although I was totally comfortable, and I loved having another writer to share thoughts and words with, was not my home. I went back to Tehachapi, then to Bodfish and Lake Isabella. Searching.

My cabin in Lake Isabella is surrounded by woods and rocks. Outside my window three Hummingbirds argue constantly about nectar rights at the newly hung feeder. Abby, my friend Sherry’s  dog, comes to visit and to do yoga with me. At night I have a commanding view of the valley lights  stretched out below me as a long strand of rhinestones gracing the neck of the sparse mountains above it.

My Tehachapi friends rallied to pack the uhaul truck. That I have these good friends fills my heart.

Bedroom in cabin.

Bed in cabin.

Opening the boxes, I find pieces of myself that go back to my childhood. There are letters to my mother while she was in the hospital having me. A photo of me in my dad’s arms, my great grandparents surrounding us and several of my grandpa Naughton, the main man in my life for the first decade of my life. My home in Foxburg, PA was the flat on the second floor of his Irish bar. Across the street the beautiful Allegheny River flowed, sometimes leisurely as if it had all the time in the world, sometimes raging as if it was angry, to Pittsburgh.

A small three-legged table that was  my grandma Emma’s sets beside my bed.  I eat my meals on her red, separated plates. A hobnail vase of Mary McCoy’s, my mom’s first cousin and closest friend all of their lives,  my Mother’s bible, so important in her life, a banjo and a dulcimer made and given to me by different men who hoped in vain that I would become a musician.

Through countless photos and  mementos, I wander back through the years to my son’s births and deaths, my daughter’s births and schools years, their marriages, and the birth of my grand children, to life before my teenage brother was killed by a drunk driver, my ill-fated marriages, the fulfilling comedy years, to the time I could pick up the phone and call my mother. I wonder why my daughter doesn’t want to talk to me. Through photos and articles, I revisit countries I’ve visited, men I’ve loved, and people who have both inspired and thwarted me.

The past gives us perspective for the future. I see a busy one filled with the talents of my friends, music, stories, laughing, sharing and travels. This time when I leave, I’ll have a place to come home to.

Life, The Ultimate Trip-Venice, CA

imageI walked from the house on the 300 block of Windward Avenue. Within a minute or two I came upon a small, full, bright green tree, maybe 8 or 9 feet high. Dripping from the slender leaves were long yellow tentacles, each one filled with tiny bright, yellow balls. The tree reminded me of the fire works that drip long streams of color when they explode. Something about the tree made me feel happy. Maybe its whimsey, the way the yellow, lanky, arms bobbed and swayed as if dancing to the easy breeze blowing off the ocean.

I caressed the fleecy leaves. I put my nose into the blossoms as if I were searching for nectar. I walked on feeling a bit lighter, maybe with more bounce in my step than I before I saw it. I thought of the many ways nature affects us: huge life-giving ways, and small, almost unnoticeable, unexpected ways.

On Lincoln, I encountered a coiffed, white-haired, woman dressed impeccably in a white pantsuit, red blouse, stripped red and white socks, riding toward me on her scooter-chair. She was a good driver, traversing the uneven pavement, handling the dip from the sidewalk into the street, and up again, skillfully, with steady confidence. She looked like she could be in Florida, instead of Venice Beach. But I realized that was an unfair stereotype. When she passed me, both going and coming from the AT&T store, I smiled at her. She smiled back.

At one point a young man on a skateboard sped past her and around me. I flashed on her 40 or 50 years ago: different vehicle, maybe on a surfboard or skateboard, with the same confidence-and him 40 years hence, an old man, on a scooter bike cutting in and out, still skillfully avoiding pedestrians.

imageI left the AT&T building, stopped at a small Thai restaurant for some spicy mint noodles, and continued walking north on Lincoln Blvd. When I came upon a photo of two covered woman with their draped daughters, and small boy outside the Venice arts building, I stopped. The door was open so I went in to see Marissa Roth’s photo exhibition: one person crying: women and war. My timing was good, it was the show’s last day.

The open airy space was bustling with activity. Young students sat at several large tables discussing photos and drawings spread out before them. I was ignored as I wandered around them, looking at the photographs on the walls.

Face after face filled with fathomless pain and sorrow looked back at me from: Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Ireland, Viet Nam, Japan, and Europe, survivors of the holocaust and Hiroshima. None of them have forgotten-will ever forget. Pain was etched in scars, deep ridges, their eyes, and in tight mouths that rarely smile because they some how survived to spend a lifetime mourning their family members who had perished. Because of war; Because men value money and power more than life-over and over again. That women bear the brunt of it.

From photo to photo, my sadness grew heavier, feelings of impotence increased. I wanted to collapse crying on the floor. I walked out of the building into the sunlight knowing that human rights don’t exist anywhere. That they won’t ever. I carried my burden of knowing, heavy in its sack of grief as I continued my walk.

Just past the bus bench on California at Lincoln, a man was sitting on the pavement beside his bike laden with goods only he, in all the world, cared about. Dressed in bright clothes, wearing three hats, the top most a child’s, knitted lime green elephant. He was cursing. Streams of fuckyous, motherfuckers, and goddams burst from his mouth in rage, hopelessness, and fury. I imagined his head was jumbled, the connectors disconnected somehow. I wondered what he had seen, what had been done to make him hurt so. I knew he didn’t want change. He wanted peace. Behind him thick, sweet, aromatic jasmine was growing on a fence.

Jasmine

Jasmine

A few blocks later, feeling weary, I went into the coffee shop at California and Abbot Kinney. I ordered an ice coffee. The smiling young man behind the counter handed it to me. “I’m getting your coffee. Enjoy.”

“Really? Thank you.”
A tiny random act of kindness.

I sat at a table, sipped my coffee, and read the LA Weekly paper. Movies, Theatre, Art, Music. Medical, or Illegal marijuana, Sex. Everything is here in Los Angeles-in Venice. It’s a microcosm of the real world: the very best to the unfathomable. Life. The ultimate trip. Continue reading