This past Sunday after my Buddhist meeting, I decided to bring a tote bag of random odds and ends I thought homeless people may need, as well as some fruit, down to one of the two areas I often find them. I pulled up in my brand new (just got it Friday) Toyota Rav4 which I felt awkwardly arrogant about, yet safe. A man was sitting on a blue cot fiddling with two different small tape recorders. I asked him if he wanted this tote bag and could he share it with others. He said “Na, I have everything I need; you can put it over there for the rest of them though.” As he motioned to a transformer box under the bridge. I asked him what his name was. He reached to shake my hand and said “I’m sorry, my name is Tony!” I shook his hand and introduced myself back.
He said he was just recording his story. I’m sure you can imagine, my ears perked up at his perhaps unintentional invite for me to inquire more about him. I didn’t even have to ask; he began telling me how he ended up ‘here’. He didn’t start in the beginning; instead he went from present day backward, but jumped around so much I couldn’t keep up. It was like trying to follow the ball watching a guy on crack playing racket ball with a pit bull also in the court jumping for the ball at every hit. I asked him to repeat some of it because it was a little hard to believe and I wanted to make sure I understood completely. I asked him if I could write it down for my blog. He said “Sure, I don’t care, I plan to write about it too someday; it’s just so fucked up that I don’t want to forget it happened.”
Tony: I was getting sick while I was living in my van on S. Jackson Street. It was overheating so I stopped there. I got on a bus to go up S. Jackson to by a train ticket to go back to Sacramento but I started getting really sick at the train station. Someone called the police because I was so sick. They called DHSH (Dept. of Health and Social Services). They sent an ambulance and took me to Harbor View Hospital. They took my wallet, laptop, debit card, van keys, everything! They stuck some IV’s in me and threw me out the door with a ripped shirt and only wearing sox. They handed me this (directions to the bus stop) and a bus ticket.
Teresa: A bus ticket to where?
Tony: To get my stuff. They said it was here (he handed me a tattered paper he pulled from a zip lock baggie that was doing a poor job of protecting it). to 1600 S. Main St. to get my stuff. But I went there and there is nothing there. I couldn’t find any building that was there that had my stuff. (Then he tucked the paper back in the baggie.) I’ve got $1,700 saved now. I’m gunna buy this van over here and go to New Mexico. I lived there before. I was staying over here for a while behind St. Vincent’s by the dumpsters. I got lots of good stuff from there. They threw out a 1950s book from Walt Disney; it was a book he handed out at his park. I also found a history of art book with Dali and stuff; I like art a lot. I have a degree in culinary arts from Sac State.
Teresa: Wow! How did you save up that much money? Panhandling?
Tony: NO! I’ve never panhandled a day in my life. I get this from Social Security because my back is fucked up.
Teresa: So, how long have you been homeless?
Tony: Since last May. I was living in So. Cal with some of my female relatives; they are all crazy bitches. (I was a little taken aback by that. He continued..) No really! They are Sociopaths, abusive and substance abusers, I couldn’t be around them anymore, I had to leave! I was an Assistant Manager, if it wasn’t for my aunt being a bitch, I wouldn’t be here right now.
Teresa: Why? What happened?
Tony: Oh, she was holding my 2003 car hostage in Reno. I was unemployed for a while and it got towed. She got it out but she was holding it hostage until I paid her back from getting out of the tow yard. I wasn’t working and I needed it to find work; she is fucking crazy. We were just arguing, nothing bad and she fucking called the cops. They didn’t even listen to what I had to say, they just started roughing me up. They were hitting me in the back of the neck with their batons and kneeing my back. Now my back is so fucked up I can hardly walk without a cane. The Salvation Army gave me a cane; they are good guys down there. Well, most of them are, some of them are full of themselves.
Teresa: Wait a minute. So the cops beat you up so bad that you are now disabled and can’t work and you are on Social Security… because cops beat you up?
Tony: Ya! I fought my case for 9 months. I asked for a speedy trial. Does 9 months sound like a speedy trial? Then the cops lied and said I was yelling and screaming so they felt their force was necessary because they were scared….of my yelling and screaming….that I WASN’T doing! Ya right!
Teresa: So did you beat your case?
Tony: NO! I had a Public Defender; they were horrible. I went to prison for a year. I was in a wheelchair by then, they wouldn’t give me any medical care for a long time. It took me 3 months to get an MRI, then they did 2 surgeries on my neck to fuse bones together from when the cops beat me with sticks.
Teresa: Wait a minute. You did 9 months in jail AND 1 year in prison? For what? What did they charge you with?
Tony: Resisting arrest.
Teresa: WTF!? No way! That’s it? You did 1 year and prison and 9 months in jail and that was your ONLY charge?
Tony: Ya, I ain’t no criminal. I’d never been in trouble with the law until that day my crazy bitch aunt called the cops on me. Then DHSH left me for dead! LEFT ME FOR DEAD! I can barely walk (it was then that he got up and paraded a short crippled walk to illustrate. At one point he almost fell so I grabbed his arm to steady him.) I’m just trying to get my property and get out of here. I got money (then he pulled his wallet out and showed me, he indeed had quite a bit.) People steal from ME! They are all druggies! I hate them. They can do more with their lives but they just drink and do drugs and dig their graves deeper. I stay away from them. They abuse people’s kindness to further their dependencies.
Teresa: What percent of the homeless population would you say are druggies or alcoholics?
Tony: Oh, all of them! Well, I’m not, but I’m the 1%.
Teresa: Do you think some of them have mental issues though?
Tony: (almost taking back his previous answer) Well, ya, and some of them start off mental and further it by drugs, but some of them do so much drugs, they BECOME mental…it really goes hand-in-hand. I need to get a new phone. I had a phone and I sat it down for just a minute and it was gone. These fuckers will steal from anybody, I hate them.
Teresa: So what do you think society should do about the homeless?
Tony: Nothing! Why should you care, really? Just get a job, work hard, further yourself and be responsible. Oh, well, maybe you should care, to reduce crime I guess. I got to constantly watch my stuff. They stole from me when I was sleeping last night. That is why I want to record my story. So I remind myself of this time. Not to dwell, but to remember… that this was a time when I was not me. This isn’t me.