The sun is going down and I’m feeling a little uncomfortable in my surroundings, in front of me there are a few men dressed in chains, black leather, and handkerchiefs of rainbow variety. Many dirt looking people in old ratty clothes and backpacks, the hippys sit in a circle smoking pot, a single black guy smokes something out of a piece of tin foil he has rolled and it looks like a tin cigar.
I look to my shitty little flip phone, (you know the kind) 9:31PM reads the shitty screen with a little crack in the corner, my screen background picture is of the outside of a bathroom stall, but that is not important. What is important is that I’ve been waiting on this shady guy who called himself, “Careful”, which was appropriate because he is a drug dealer.
I’d met him one day during a lengthy marijuana purchase that required a good part of an afternoon. when we met he was walking around a picnic table at the park where I sat now and harassing neighborhood park going mothers taking babies for walks and offering them to look at his rather extensive selection of gemstones. On handing him the money for the pot he was approached by one of these baby toting mothers and asked to explain the different stones in his collection, and the drug dealer turned salesman. Or perhaps, the salesman became the drug dealer?
Unfortunately, as 10:00PM rolled around I was becoming increasingly desperate and due to a bottle of rum I’d purchased for Careful beforehand which in his absence and my personal discomfort with my surroundings I’d be sipping discretely.
I sit in Colonel Summers park, it is right off the corner of Belmont and 22nd in our little town of portland. It is not like sprawling mess Laurelhurst, or scenic like Mt. Tabor but the view there is one to behold. I only know from what I’ve had experience with so my information is a blurred vision of the truth, lived in a hazy dream of hallucinogens and uppers. Partly why I was here on that day, to buy pot from the absent Careful. Who I suspect has forgotten our engagement, it is so hard to find secure drug connections these days. Having no one to interview I began to walk around and reminisce on summers past, setting the stage for the current day.
I believe my familiarity with Colonel Summers Park begins with a certain social gathering called ‘Monday Fun-day’, held all day at the park and organized by the community surrounding it. Most of it was centered around the large scale games that would be played by people dressed and accessorized curiously.
Once, a mostly naked and painted group entered the tennis court for a game of dodgeball. Soon there were people being painted blue and red as more and more rubber balls entered the court as dirty homeless middle age men threw barrages of red and blue balls at moustached Ray Ban wearing geeks. It was as if the scene exploded through telepathy, not long after my friends and I see that this gathering of socioeconomic scalings is beginning to get rough. I’d never been kicked in the head at this point so when I saw some skinny kid wearing box frames on the ground bleeding through what seemed like his whole face but was actually just his nose and under eye because earlier he had been walking around with a very nice bike. Now there were two fellas riding away toward Hawthorne and one with that very same nice bike.
The acid I’d taken that day made the event seem gruesome, I’d seen two guys not too far off from where I sat with my friends kicking something like a soccer ball then seen them ride away with one new bike in tow. I do not possess the depth required to explain what seeing or acting in violence does to the brain on LSD. It had erupted just like the dodgeball game that was still going in full force in spite of the disturbance.
Ruffians and bums is what we could generalize everyone with an oversized backpack or shopping cart to be. However many of these people have never learned the life lessons we take for granted. Some don’t want to cop to society, some just don’t care about life, some are out on their luck, and some are just assholes who can’t cope. The truth for all of them is that they all live at the mercy and pity of others, I had always thought homelessness in itself was just an excuse to not have a decent way of living. I don’t know if anyone has considered seriously the effect that homelessness has on someone. I have had to scrape by in the past but I have never felt entirely hopeless. What makes us really lose hope? Is it just that we’ve rationalized our situation to be normal when in reality we are living in delusion? If I possessed a different view of what self respect is would I be there on the streets with them too?
Once I had been outdoors long enough to see the prevalence of homeless people around Portland, it never seemed odd to me that they’d all meet up just like everyone else and have large social gatherings but I’d never expected to see so many of us normal folk amongst them. In a census by the U.S Conference of Mayors in 2008 Mental Illness was the thirds largest cause of homelessness for the single adults and in homeless families. This violent behavior at the park today was no oddity at Colonel Summers, in fact most of the crime involved the homeless who hung around the park. Though not all homeless I knew were criminals, I knew many of them to have varying mental illnesses that have probably never been attended to. Most common amongst most homeless is depression. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for Depression is as follows:
• Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feels sad or empty) or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful). Note: In children and adolescents, can be irritable mood.
Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day (as indicated by either subjective account or observation made by others).
- Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (e.g., a change of more than 5 percent of body weight in a month), or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day. Note: In children, consider failure to make expected weight gains.
- Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day.
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
- Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt (which may be delusional) nearly every day (not merely self-reproach or guilt about being sick).
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day (either by subjective account or as observed by others).
- Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.
I have battled with depression for most of my life, it has driven me to self destructive behavior that I to this day am in some ways unable to cope with. I have had many times where I have thought that if I were just a little more unlucky that I too could be pushing around my worldly possessions in a shopping cart. Yet It has never become that bad, I always end up persevering if not for my sake for others worried about me. If I were alone, really alone and stuck in adversity would I be able to emerge with my head high? It would not be long till I found out how close to home the issue really was.
Today there are no games worth being played in the muddy field yesterdays rain has left, and only four tennis rackets are in the courts. I was asking bums about Careful but no one seems to know him, some don’t seem to know themselves. Suddenly,
“Matt!” someone yells,
I look around, I see many bearded scummy faces and loose pants but amongst all of them I only recognize one of that description. Growing up Kyle had always been the silent type, a real certified geek, he played Dungeons and Dragons and wore sweatpants and a pocket protector. If you were 6 when I was 6, you would see how his was bizarre and off putting. Now his face is no longer the vision of a white Steve Urkel but rather a late John Lennon. His beard is matted and full, his eyes are empty and adrift but he seems together.
“Holy sh*t! You age well man, what’s up?”
I told him I was looking to buy some pot and he was almost ecstatic when he told me he’d sell me some. I figured I was going to fail my assignment anyways so we sat down on a bench not to far away from a large gathering of kooks and bums. I pulled out the rum and we reminisced on things like my being fat when we were young, how much of a nerd Kyle had been. I realized almost immediately that reaching out would be appropriate because Kyle was obviously high up on a different plane and I hadn’t noticed before. People are generally more open when they’re blown, in Kyle’s case, he received anything I offered about the past with nostalgic smiles that showed even under his thick scruff.
“Do you remember that pool party when we were 7?”
“You were 7. Yeah, Elliott’s?”
“Oh yeah. that was awesome.”
“I haven’t had shaved ice in a while.”
On my Social networking page you can find a picture of others and myself enjoying shaved ice at Elliott’s 6th birthday, all of these people I’ve known all my life, most of them to this day. Kyle had preserved this memory so well, he made me remember events about that day in detail that seemed too perfect for fantasy.
Though after a while I sensed that this nostalgia was beginning to have a sour aftertaste for my friend and his eyes began of wander around as if I’d been fishing for his soul and I’d let the line out a little too far. Then, Kyle got up and told me to follow, he walked toward two men and a woman not much older or younger than us. One fellow looks very clean compared to the others, he wore a skateboarders ensemble with green laced Supra’s, the other is a quiet guy in a torn up hooded sweater that reads ‘…ern College”, and finally the girl in suspenders with glasses that had circular golden frames. The clean skateboarder was also a Kyle, the quiet one was Ryan, and the girl in suspenders was Amanda. They all know my Kyle because they’ve stayed with him before, in a apartment complex garage of questionable legality where he lays his head at night. I try to talk to Ryan who seems to be looking at me with some kind of enthusiasm.
“So Ryan,” we are sitting at a picnic table, the four of us. “how do you know Kyle?”
But Ryan just laughs and puts his hand on his face over one of his eyes, rubbing it.
“How do you know Kyle?” he repeats back to me.
“I knew him since we were little. Grew up with him pretty much.”
“So, how do you know him? I try again.
“He helps me out sometimes, when I don’t’ have anywhere to stay.”
It is clear to me at this point that due to some severe mental impairment whether it be drug or ill-mental health Ryan has been left with limited means to express himself. Kyle tells me later that Ryan doesn’t talk much because he was rapped, by whom is not revealed to me but it is clear that the man deals with detachment that none of us can ever come to understand in one lifetime. Meanwhile, we are all getting very drunk, Amanda has some MDMA so we each do a bump as Kyle lights a joint. The energy around us seems uneven, there were people laughing a filling themselves with drugs and booze next to two men fighting over something that seems pointless.
One fella walks up and asks us to sell him some weed but claims that he only has some psilocybin mushrooms to trade in exchange. Kyle weighs out three grams of weed while the guy cracks a beer, we are still sitting at the picnic table, out in the open. The mushrooms he gives Kyle turn out to be four grams which raises some eyebrows at the table. That was a generous amount of fungus, but the man was no where to be seen, had Kyle been rooked? There was only one way to know for certain if this fungus was the real deal and I impressed my views to the group and they all agreed. So all of us except for ‘skateboard’ Kyle took a gram each munching them and washing them down with pepto bismol and water from my backpack. Shrooms always had a bad way of effecting my ulcers, but I’d already given thought to that by the time the fungus hit my stomach.
Soon after the mushrooms had been consumed and that psychedelic megalomania was setting in and boosted my confidence around this odd crowd. At some point I began interviewing people, I was still vigilant and ready to conduct myself. Or perhaps I just thought so because of the shrooms. Not long after the shrooms started playing tricks on my eyes I ran into a familiar face. Peanut had been a Colonel Summers regular since the bike incident back in 2011, I don’t know his real name. I had met him one day when he’d been hanging around a friend of mine for a while. Peanut is a seemingly very well balanced persona, he is polite, he does not drink, anymore, and he has a very well put together set of survival gear. I did not ask him to show me his extensive gear but he always seemed to be very practical. I even saw him cooking ham on a propane burner, he even made his own rain bivy out of a tarp and a lot of tape. Aside from his preparedness, he avoided alcohol which was a very empowering trait that he possessed, although it did make me wonder. If drug or alcohol wasn’t the problem, what was? Of course it had been a while so my memory of him was dulled but it was revealed to me again in talking to him.
Allegedly, Peanut’s wife had left him when he was young, he had never really coped with the depression and soon after he turned to black narcotics. After fucking up his life in a number of ways mostly due to his addiction, his job was neglected and he was fired, next he was put outdoors when the money ran out. It’s all pretty straightforward. Peanut and his wife had one child together, and when it came to child support he was unable to provide.
Thus through what I would have imagined to be a lot of painful deliberation it was elected that Peanut not have to pay child support if he would agree not to see his son. He told me this with a distant look, like he was looking at his child’s face in his mind. Peanut was relieved when it was all over, he told me, the whole time he couldn’t help but second guess his decision. He had reasoned with himself, in the depths of his addiction he would not be able to reach his child. At that point, I believe he maintained that there was still a little hope he’d see his child again. He and I talked about love and what it ment to the both of us, I mentioned that you can find love anywhere it’s just not always possible to take it with you.
He shook his head in disagreement, “You can love anything, I love Sid, she loves me because I feed her.”
Sid is Peanut’s dog, she is a pure pitbull with a grey coat and a splotch of white on her chest. Peanut has had Sid since before he was homeless. “But it’s not like that man,” he chuckles, “I love this table, I love the grass, everything is an outlet.”
It should be noted that Peanuts expression was changing from serious to happy in a strange fashion that I could not tell if the shrooms were causing my perception of how he was feeling. After all Peanut was known for his tangents taking a obsessive turn into strange delusional monologue. I have thought of him always and it showed a few times in our talks that he might suffer from a form of illness that disinhibited his speech, this I attributed to his depression. At this we are interrupted someone’s dog walks up to Sid’s food dish and begins to chow down.
“What the F-***?!”
“Excuse me?” said the owner of the thief-dog, a young woman.
“Sorry ma’am but that costs money and I feed my girl everyday even if I can’t feed myself. I always feed her I never miss a day, nope.”
The young woman’s demeanor changes and in my altered perspective there is phosphorescent light hanging in the air around the young woman and peanut which I would be so brave to venture that it was my minds way of showing the empathy between them. I think I see something monstrous dart under the table, something black with long jutting four legged features and a whip thin tail. It turns out to be Sid who has taken a shortcut through our legs to get to the bushes behind me. Peanut, after receiving some money from the woman begins to call for Sid at the top of his voice.
“SID!” he yells,
“Shut the F*** up!” yells someone,
“F*** you!” yells peanut.
The man with the rolled up piece of tin foil he’d been smoking all afternoon sauntered up and sat at our table next to where Peanut and skateboard Kyle had sat, he had said he was going to bed. Which I assumed meant he was going to go under the large brick structure that stands by the playground. This man I did not remember, he was African American with sunken cheeks and veiny eyes soaked red with what looked like popped blood vesicles. I could smell the sour smell of the garbage he was sucking into his lungs and when he saw me looking he spoke.
“You what some.” he said smiling.
“No. No, thank you.”
He laughed a little.
“Good you’re too young to be doing this s**t.”
‘And you’re a little too old.’ I thought, but then kyle is tapping me on the shoulder and I’m starting to feel a little like my whole body has started to vibrate. Then, anxiety turns my stomach over and I almost retch from the twisting in my guts. I realize it might be that this disturbing feeling may be stemming from the smell coming from the blood-shot eyed man’s space cigar. His gaze is fixed on me and though I want to talk to him fear keeps me from doing so. Everything I see looks like it has a fuzzy outline like tv video static encircling their body, All except for the smoking man and my Kyle. Things are starting to loop and I find myself saying the same thing over and over again. “So do you have a cigarette?…. Do you want to take a walk?” and other things just kept bubbling over and spilling out my mouth. Then Kyle is asking if I wanted to leave, we leave the park which was becoming unceremoniously raucous and drove the short distance to his “apartment” that I’d explained earlier.
The drive to Kyle’s was terrible, I was in no condition to drive, there were strange things happening all around me. So I called a friend who lived nearby and asked if I could stay at his place. This felt wrong but I did not have it in me to be sleeping in a garage that night as Kyle had offered.
We arrived at Kyle’s garage he occupied around midnight, it was quiet around the apartment complex as we walked toward a chain link fence and Kyle pulled out his key to the lock that hung from the door. The ground is having a pulsating sensation under my feet but I soon realize its the beating of my heart as Kyle and I walk toward a red brick garage covered in Ivy with a large sliding door painted with cracking white paint. I smoke a cigarette and Kyle unlocks a large Kryptonite bicycle U-lock he has used to secure the garage door shut. Inside is a green army style cot with a large throw pillow sitting on it with many blanket most of which look in rough condition. There are still tools for maintaining the grounds hanging from the wall, there is a decrepit old chair where I choose to sit as Kyle begins to go through one of his large bags he has placed in the corner by the tools. From this he pulls out a Xbox 360 and a couple controllers, he pulls a blanket off an object in front of the cot and reveals a flat screen television which could have been a Sony or Toshiba. He started up the console after putting the video and audio cables in and for a while we sat and played Modern Warfare 3 for about an hour before my eyes started to hurt and we stopped. I suspect the mushrooms were having their toll.
I felt inquisitive and started to think about where I was and how odd this evening had been thus far. Sitting with a homeless old friend playing mindless video games in a old musty garage instead of speaking to one another, I think these a relevant things pertaining to my generation. There is no more unadulterated conversation, we all tell white lies to make ourselves appear more perfect than we are. I for one wanted to hear it from someone who was imperfect like myself. The people that I had seen today gave me no more insight into their current situation than I hadn’t initially known. It appeared that there were so many reasons scattered everywhere to why these people were homeless. It was so difficult to pinpoint when I began to interview Kyle I felt like I had all the wrong questions. Here I was, playing video games with a bum, high on drugs and not making any progress on my paper whatsoever, I thought.
I went in thinking that depression was the main cause of homelessness, but what is depression when it is surrounded by so many contributing factors.
“So how long have you been homeless, man?” I ask a bearly awake Kyle.
“Uh, like four years of something.”
“What happened man, when we knew each other you always seems really smart.”
Kyle chuckles, “Yeah… Not really, you know.”
“I didn’t mean your dumb now.”
“Yeah, of course, yeah.”
“I mean, okay, how did you come to live here?”
“The building owner lets me stay here, he says he lets me do it because I clean up around the apartment building.”
“No,” he says with a smile but as he talks a grim expression spreads over his hairy face, “I think he’s just doing it because he feels sorry for me or something, he’s a really nice guy. He never even says anything about me not doing anything. Maybe he doesn’t expect anything.”
“So do you get food stamps, benefits [from the state]?”
“Naw, I’ve actually never been in there…” I had a feeling he was aware of food stamps and the like but had no idea why he’d never utilized the system. Then he began on his own.
“Its not like, well, it is but I just don’t want any help. When my mom kicked me out of the house she killed herself not too long after…” he paused to sigh, “She never really liked me that much anyways.”
“I’m really sorry, man. That’s terrible.”
“Naw, it happened, it’s just I didn’t hear about it for a while after it happened because I was so out of touch. That was because of drugs mostly.” Kyle’s eyes went dead like the line that existed between him and I had be broken and he was now lost in his past as if he’d been trying hard to forget it.
“So why are you still out here man? I mean you survived out here for so long why keep doing this?”
“I really don’t know.”
“I mean I know it’s hard to live with other people but everyone does it, you could get a roof over your head.”
“I really don’t know.” Kyle repeated, I could tell he was tired. I had probed him enough, we decided to watch the movie Borat and fell asleep doing so. The pain of the next days hangover was a noted experience that I plan to avoid in the future.
Kyle had been betrayed by life, in my opinion, too far gone to engage in helping himself. Depressions hopelessness had robbed him of the will to be constructive person. We reverie the people who can pull themselves up by the bootstraps in hard times, but what about the ones who don’t, or can’t? In America we pride ourselves on our self made people that have made themselves successful in spite of hardship but why had these people I talked to been left behind. Was it their own doing?
The truth is that there is no concrete reason it varies person to person, sad story to sad story that keeps them in this cycle of self destruction. Might it sometime be their faults for letting it get that bad, perhaps. We are all in some way aware of how unreasonable and unfair the world can be but we have not seen the worst. We may have similar experiences with these broken people but they are not us and we are not them. Like with every stranger they it should be acknowledged that behind every face is a wealth of experience of one kind or another.
Peanut and Kyle had not chosen to be homeless, but they had both entered this lifestyle for different reasons. I pondered for days what the meaning of it all is, why be homeless at all? Why not fight to be better even when opposed. I remembered then that moment with Kyle as we reminised on old memories there had been a glimmer of hope. With Peanut it had been his dialogue about loving inanimate objects and his dog. I realized then that I would find no answers to why people end up in a bad way but more to how they are able to carry on. It is as if the loads of things they carry on their backs and in carts could never weigh as much on them as their bad experiences do.
Though in all the bad experiences it is only the things they can deem as a good experience that keeps them present in this world. It is my belief that there is still hope in every one of them and they hang on to it everyday and daydream about when they will be able to eat shaved ice and laugh on a glorious summer’s day at the pool with old friends where everything is still alright. Perhaps I had taken Kyle there again in his mind’s eye, and I sincerely hope that I did.