Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Homeless on the Range

Homeless on the Range

by Mark Bava

Downtown Los Angeles is the recent mecca for Urban Pioneers with it's recent gentrification and development of ultra hip loft/condo conversions from once boarded up historical banks, theaters and office buildings. Until now, this was a place of city workers, garment manufactures, immigrant variety stores and the homeless. Remnants still remain intermingled with this glistening new city. Most notably are the homeless that new residents need to learn to coexist with as some of the downtown streets contain more people living on them than those of Bombay. There are areas that are a daunting scene that most people in America have no idea exists on it's scale. It's not something revealed or portrayed in the press or on TV. There is a whole underground world that springs to life at night and folds up and hides by day, bustling with an economy and language all its own that thrives unseen alongside ours as if in another dimension .

Gone are the days of the American skid row and it's winos. They have been replaced with jungles of homeless encampments and cardboard sidewalk villages. Most of the inhabitants are crack addicts and/or the mentally ill from the Reagan turnout whose lives are caught in some self-medicating Groundhog Day. This world is buzzing at a constant speed of every waking moment spent trying to get enough money together to feed ravenous habits. To get this money, these people each have their own hustle...ones that the newly arriving Urban Pioneer should
become acquainted with if planning on staying here with any sanity.

Some of the homeless just come straight out and ask for money as is accustomed, however gone are the days of anyone asking for just a quarter for a cup of coffee. Its dollars now with the new standard as " a couple bucks I can borrow" (the idea of it as a loan is funny in itself).
Others try to work any odd job they can find or create. The most common is the unofficial (although
rather efficient), recycling program in downtown Los Angeles; dumpster diving and garbage collecting to retrieve enough bottles and cans to exchange at the local recycling center for the cash for their daily requirement of crack. The local recycling company will even issue shopping carts to anyone wanting to start collecting. Remember the next time you drink a Coca Cola, consider that the bottle or can in your hand may very soon be exchanged for coke of a different kind.

In any case, whatever money comes to hand is a fleeting thing and the more money, the more fleeting in it's direct course to crack. And it doesn't take as much money with today's street prices to keep a crack habit going. An amount as small as a three dollar chip can be had which is enough to just start their day with larger target objectives in mind. The preference is to wait and to get at least a six or triumphant twelve dollar rock together with this whole process being repeated countless times throughout the day. Crack is ferociously compulsive and the more that is smoked, the more
that is craved.

This world remains thriving with no forthcoming solution to make it any less so and as things stand, the inhabitants will unquestionably die on these streets. However, our social norms withstanding, some of these homeless may just be more content being there than we are seeing them there. Carving out a life outside of our, many have developed routines and hustles into exalted King Rat like positions in their world and may want to be left alone to it.

But then there is the one hustle where worlds collide and becomes a problem for the Urban Pioneer to co-exist with; theft.

Having your stuff come up missing every now and then is a part of downtown life that a new resident needs to learn to deal with. Having been a new resident, I have never been so pissed off from getting ripped off down here. I have busted people red handed in the act, chased them down and physically caught them...only to then let my grip go and them slip away. Never have I had such a mixed emotion of absolute anger mixed with absolute pity. They had just stood there and just didn't get it. They were truly shocked that I would be so furious. Its like they felt they were only borrowing these things and my response was irrational. Everything is recycled down here,'s like fair game to them and I should be expected to know that they are homeless and if they can get at it, they have earned it.
One needs to learn the art of sharing down here.

Given all of this, consider the story of Mr. Dave:

Mr. Dave is probably the neighborhoods most illustrious homeless character but every neighborhood here has a Mr. Dave.

Mr. Dave has lived in the area for years. This is his back yard and his territory. He knows everything that's going on here; new construction projects, new people moving in, all the loft parties, gatherings of people and goods and where to get anything and everything. He also knows all of the neighborhood gossip and neighborhood melodrama. Dope fiends always have a lot of melodrama, if for no other reason than just because of their view of the world.
Mr. Dave is constantly on the move at high speed with an overbearing optimism and a patronizing salesmanship that's almost a parody of the quintessential used car salesman. He addresses everyone formally with "Mister" or "Miss" usually attached to a first name that lends an additional portrait of his service to you. He tells you what a glorious day it is, how rich you will soon be, how good you look and other transparent bola-bola. Mr. Dave could have made a fortune in the real world selling almost anything.
And everyday he does come with things to sell or pawn off on you that he's magically found, scarfed from some dumpster or moreover, maybe stolen. Things, he raves, that are 'specially just for you.
He's relentless...and annoying. So fucking annoying, that it goes beyond annoying to being funny and then back to annoying again. Plus, I'm sure half of this stuff really belongs to my neighbors and I'm waiting for the day he tries to sell me something that belongs to me.
Things disappear around here at a constant rate and when they do, I then go from being annoyed to going almost berserk. I have yelled and screamed at Dave some of the worst things I have ever said to another human being in my life. I've gone the gamut from being nice and understanding, to threatening to call the cops to just plain physically throwing him out the door and threatening violence. I have had the extreme pleasure of eighty-sixing him from the neighborhood for the absolute rest of eternity only to have him get back in again. He has an uncanny ability to worm his way back into your life just a millimeter within your tolerance level. He only needs that eye of the needle...
Its also just hard to not like Dave with all his boundless patronizing and optimism and then not eventually forgive him once again for the nine hundred and eighty sixth time.

Mark Bava
Mark Bava is an artist, event producer and one of the former partners of Little Pedros Cantina in the Artsit District of Los Angeles