March 20, 2006

If I Was Homeless I'd Live In Los Angeles

By Dan Keston © 2006

When I was younger, I used to live in an apartment building in Greenwich Village, and every morning I had to step over a different huddled mass on my doorstep in order to get to work. I never saw their faces; all I saw were the twitching feet slightly exposed to the blistering wind chill, and the hodgepodge of knickknacks that each person had accumulated from the previous day. Some people feel sorry for homeless people and want to give them money. Others feel disdain for the stranded, wishing they would go away. I, however, just walk by and wonder, “Why don’t these people move to L.A.?”

I know that people don’t choose to become homeless, but I can tell you that if I was, the first thing I would do is stick my thumb in the air and catch a ride out west. Out here, it rarely drops below sixty. There are buildings-a-plenty in which to crash. And let’s be honest: if you walk around looking a little ratty but hold your head high, chances are somebody is going to think you are an actor just trying to keep a low pro.

Don’t believe me yet? Here is a typical day for Dan Keston, a homeless, 32-year-old man.
6:00. Rise and shine. You are probably thinking that Homeless Dan should sleep in (because he can), but that is not how Homeless Dan operates, especially when there is a kind surf breaking down at the beach. After all, Homeless Dan had planned on surfing today, so he slept on the beach last night (also because he can). Homeless Dan grabs a longboard off a yuppie’s Venice boardwalk porch, then spends a few hours catching waves while the guy is off selling art lofts.

9:00. Homeless Dan puts the board back and walks down to Bally’s gym. This is Homeless Dan’s one expense, a $19 per month membership to Bally’s. There is no question that Homeless Dan is not the only member here who doesn’t work out. Homeless Dan has seen multiple people who regularly use this place just to get a hold of the showers and have a locker. Homeless Dan cleans himself off, puts on his one other pair of clothes, and heads out to get something to eat. He likes it at Bally’s. He joined after getting a free three-week pass.

10:30. The open air market. To be honest, Not Homeless Dan sometimes wonders why he ever pays for food. There are open air farmers markets in Los Angeles, everyday, that offer free samples of top quality meat, cheese, deserts, fruit, veggies and anything else you need to balance out your diet. Obviously constructed for people for whom going to the market just isn’t expensive enough, these “fresh” food places are the regular stomping grounds of Homeless Dan. On Wednesday and Saturday, the market is at Arizona and 2nd. On Sunday, it moves a half mile south to Main Street. Thursday in Westwood. Monday in West Hollywood. Tuesday in Culver City. Friday in Venice. Everyday, there is an abundance of free food, right outside your door.

Let’s assume today is Wednesday. After eating seven tamale samples (the equivalent of a full tamale), Homeless Dan walks down to the promenade. There he walks around like a tourist until one of the solicitors comes up to him and asks if he wants to see a free movie this afternoon starring Nicolas Cage and Christina Ricci starting at 3:00. Well, of course, Homeless Dan does. He loves Nicolas Cage.

In Santa Monica, studios are constantly doing market research on soon-to-be-released movies. In order to do so, they need to assemble an audience to watch and subsequently rate them, and these random folks ultimately determine a movie’s release date, marketing budget, and possibly the ending if it doesn’t test well. So, in other words, Homeless Dan is deciding the fate of a movie that probably costs $100 million, and is telling Universal, a billion dollar company, exactly what they should or should not do. Sometimes Not Homeless Dan, who works in the movie business, cries himself to sleep at night because he knows deep down that he has considerably less power than Homeless Dan.

It’s now 12:00. The movie doesn’t start until 3:00, so Homeless Dan has three hours to earn his shower money. Why the sad face? It’s not as hard as you think. Not Homeless Dan knows. Once, when he was in college and in a fraternity, during a hazing ritual he once made one of his pledges paint his face white and dress up like a mime and perform for money. He wouldn’t let the pledge back into the car until either an hour had passed or he earned $5.00. Fifteen minutes later the pledge came back. He gave him $16.43. He wasn’t even that good of a mime.

And that was Atlanta, this is L.A. In Brentwood, there’s used to be a guy named Mr. Wendell who sold poems for a dollar. Then he became the star of a song by rap superstars Arrested Development. Now he gets royalties. There was another guy on the Venice boardwalk who ate glass. Then he got his own show. Homeless Dan, on the other hand, just wants a little pocket change. Some days he just holds out the cup and shakes it. Other days he might try the “I just need a beer” sign. Anyway, he mixes it up to keep things fresh. Homeless Dan sees himself as creative.

5:00. The movie is over (Homeless Dan gave it 3.5 stars) and Homeless Dan walks a few blocks to the public library to check his email. Yes, he has email, and yes, he checks it often. It’s how he stays in touch with his friends, and cell phones won’t work for him because he has no place to plug in the charger. Plus, it’s free, as are libraries, which have email and internet access. Homeless Dan can spend an hour checking in with his parents, friends back east, research the daily news, and finally, find out what’s going on that night in L.A.

But first, it’s dinner time, so Homeless Dan heads down to the Santa Monica indoor mall for some more free samples. This food is not quite as healthy or fresh at the outdoor market, but Homeless Dan sure loves his chicken teriyaki on a toothpick. And his gyro lamb kebob samples. And his Wetzel’s Pretzel bites. And all the other mall food court tastes that are free and while he is not 100% sure what he is eating, it doesn’t really matter because fried + food = good. And beggars can’t be... well... you know the drill.

Let’s move on. The night is for the young and uninhibited, and if Homeless Dan isn’t uninhibited I don’t know who is. Los Angeles nights are packed with world famous symphony orchestras, sizzling hot independent bands, and comedy shows – far superior shows that most people anywhere else pay for – that just happen to be absolutely free. Just pick up an LA Weekly (which, in theme, is free) and find out what is going on. Listen to a world famous author read from his novel at Dutton’s. Catch a free jazz night at the MOCA. Listen to an open air concert at the Santa Monica Pier. If there a list, just tell them you’re Tommy Lee.

Exhausted from an exciting day of surfing, eating, and entertainment, it’s time to find somewhere for Homeless Dan to rest his head. I suggest he jimmy open the guest bedroom window of the three story home next to Not Homeless Dan. Owned by some jackass who bought it during the housing rush but never figured out what to do with it other than use it as a write-off against his other, larger real estate investments, it just sits there empty. Nobody lives in it. Nobody ever goes by. Except Homeless Dan.

You don’t have to be Homeless to know that this day sure beats a day of digging in the trash cans for leftover falafel on Bleecker Street and freezing your ass off while NYU students beat you up on film. But maybe you think that this article is still just a little mean and want to punch me in the face.

I disagree, and you shouldn’t. And I’m not just saying that because I’m me. I’ll admit, my sympathy level dropped after the incident1 , but still there’s no arguing that the day I described above is not much worse, and probably even much better, that the average day of you and me.

1 The incident happened when I was 14. My mother, upon seeing a man on the side of the freeway with a sign saying “Hungry. Will Work for Food”, pulled over and rolled down her window, offering him a paper bag with half a turkey sandwich. The man asked what it was. My mom said, “It’s half a turkey sandwich, I thought you might want it.” The man looked in the bag, then replied gruffly, “No thanks, I’m a vegetarian” and handed it back.

Dan Keston is a writer living in Los Angeles, CA.

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