Saturday, April 30, 2016

The end of April

Ch├ęz Tortorella had company last night. The seemingly ever-present ants and a mother duck. Ants are like a bad party guest. You know the type. They show up and bring all their uninvited guests with them. Last night, they just kept coming and coming and got into everything. I don’t have much, but what I do have I like to keep ant-free. To add to the fun these aren’t your typical picnic ants. Nope, these are red fire ants (Solenopsis mandibularis) and they bite. Here’s a lesson in Myrmecology (look it up). Fire ants don’t actually bite. Unlike many other ants, which bite and then spray acid on the wound, fire ants bite only to get a grip and then sting (from the abdomen) and inject a toxic alkaloid venom called Solenopsin, a compound from the class of piperidines. That’s a mouthful of biological and chemical babble. If you’re ever in the area, watch out for these nasty little suckers.

As for Mrs. Duck, she’s a Muscovy duck. Muscovys aren’t native to South Florida but they’re

everywhere. Like the pythons we have around here (yeah, pythons), these birds were introduced illegally and were released primarily by private individuals for ornamental purposes or as pets.

Mrs. Duck was sitting on her four eggs. There’s another one around the area with five ducklings in tow. Many people see these ducks as a nuisance. I don’t. Live and let live. They’re kind of cute and the ducklings are hysterical. Okay, so I’m easily amused. I tossed her a couple of cookies. The cookies the ants had gotten into. I made sure the ants were gone first. Mr. Duck showed up, too. He downed a cookie before moving on.

Well, that was my night and early morning so far. Now I get to figure out what to do with myself for the rest of the day and night. As I write this, I’m sitting in the dining court at the mall. It’s air conditioned, there’s food and restrooms. They say, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” “They” say a lot of things. I’m not sure who “they” are but they have some spot-on sayings and euphemisms.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Sitting on the concrete

When I got off work from my freelance gig, the guy who drive me to and from the sub shop deposited me at the shopping center. I had nothing to do, so I just sat there on the concrete. At least it wasn’t raining. I went to Target to get something to eat. I bought a container thing of salami and cheese. Browsing around Target, I was really stunned at how expensive food is. The salami and cheese was around $4.50. That might not seem like much, but when you’re counting every penny, four bucks seems like a load of dough.

I mentioned in the previous post about the looks you get from people. Last night was filled with those

looks. The hair salon in the center does a brisk business and Wednesdays and Thursdays it’s open until 8 pm. I don’t know exactly what the women do in there, but the 8:00 closing time means they don’t leave until around 10 pm. It seemed the evening was a parade of artfully coiffed ladies with peering eyes. It would have been funny if I wasn’t so self-conscience about my appearance. The looks seem to express to me, “Watch out for the bum,” or “How pathetic.”

I thought I’d watch a bit of t.v. to pass the time. I might be homeless, but I can still get some entertainment on my iPhone. I can, at least, when I have a wifi connection. Fortunately, the shopping center has wifi. It does, most of the time, at any rate. Apparently, I’m right on the edge of the wifi signal. So, t.v. on the iPhone is something of a hit or miss proposition. The best I could do was watch a Twilight Zone episode. It seemed to fit since my life has become a starring role in my own personal Twilight Zone.

After the show, it was time to nestle up and try to get some sleep. I laid out some plastic on sidewalk and tried to get some rest. The ants, however, had different plans. They drove me nuts. I'm a bit buddhaistic in that I believe in relocation rather than killing. Relocation wasn't an option, so I sprayed some insect repellent around the area. Another stroke of luck was having the repellent in my bag.

I use my briefcase as a pillow. As soon as my head hit it, my mind started racing. What would tomorrow be like? Do I have enough money left for a cup of coffee in the morning? And, of course, recounting how I managed to get myself into this situation.

A racing mind is a bad thing, me thinks. A large part of the thought speedway was feeling sorry for myself. When that started happening, I tried to shift my thinking and remember well-known people who were once homeless and rose above it. Actress, Halle Berry, once stayed in a homeless shelter in her early 20s; personal finance guru Suze Orman lived in her car; James Bond actor, Daniel Craig, was like me sleeping on park benches (when I had one); talk show host, Steve Harvey, lived in his 1976 Ford Tempo for three years before his big break; Drew Carey was homeless in Las Vegas enrollee to California. I guess I’m in pretty good company.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

My homeless journey begins

People often say, “Get a job,” as they walk by a homeless person. More often, though, they go out of their way to avoid eye-contact. Some will even cross the street or change their path on a sidewalk. I know because I’m one of those invisible people.

I never planned on being homeless. It’s something that happens, to paraphrase John Lennon, while your busy doing other things. In my case, I made the mistake to moving from Ohio to Florida. My mother persuaded me to move. “The warm weather will be better for your health.” A few years ago I had a couple of strokes. At first, the move was good. I was writing and doing freelance graphic design work and I wrote and published a few books. Actually, four in all. 

At the time, I was living at my mother’s house. Then, pretty much out of the blue, she decided to sell it and move into a retirement facility. That struck me beyond odd. The house was paid for. It was in a comfortable area and the neighbors were nice. She felt it was the right choice to trade a paid for house for a $2000/month rent.

Then moving day came in a whirlwind. She was in such a rush to move she started throwing stuff away rather than pack it up. My stuff, mostly. Stuff like my clothes, books I had collected over more than 30 years, my guitar and important papers. The list goes on. In the end, I was left with what I have now – a weekender suitcase with the few items of clothing I was able to salvage, my briefcase, my Mac Powerbook and a blanket.

Life without a home isn’t easy. I know that’s stating the obvious, but let me take you through a typical
My former bench
day. I’ve taken up residence at a strip shopping center. It’s not bad. There’s an overhang that keeps the rain off me. There was a wrought iron bench, that served as my bed, until a couple of days ago. The maintenance guy took it away and locked it up in one of the vacant spaces. In a cruel play, I can see it through the glass, taunting me. Now, I sleep on the concrete. At least I have my blanket. The bugs drive me nuts, though.

Back to my day. I get up around 6 AM give or take. Usually, I wake up several times during the night but I start the day at 6:00 AM. I walk over to the mall next to the shopping center to get a cup of coffee and wait for a guy to pick me up to go to the restaurant where he works. I landed some freelance graphic design work with the restaurant. They needed a new logo, menus and posters. Work is work and the owner gives me a few bucks at the end of each day, at least so far. I take that back. She didn’t give me anything yesterday. I’m hoping to something today. We’ll see.

The worst part of the day is when I leave the restaurant. Sitting on concrete, alone and completely bored, I pull out my phone and play Solitaire. Keeping my phone and laptop charged is always at top of mind. There’s no power outlet at the shopping center and I’ve got to remember to charge them at the restaurant.

I changed my opinion of myself during my time being homeless. My self-worth has pretty much
Me - Before
tanked. That’s no big surprise. I haven’t taken a shower since … I can’t remember when … or changed my clothes, let alone washed some. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m a bum. Because, I am a bum. Often, my look is complete with an unshaven face, holes in my pants and at signature stench. There was a time when I was a fairly good-looking guy who dressed well. Not anymore.

There’s a womens’ hair salon in the shopping center. The ladies there are, shall we say, a bit freaked out when it comes to the likes of me. I’m sure they think it’s bad for business. Judging by the people traffic, I don’t think I’ve created a problem. The ladies come and go with regularity. Sure, they try not to look at me, but they do. Looking is inevitable.
Me - Now

The other day I had the nicest thing happen. It was the weekend and I was sitting in my spot in the front of the mall. A little person, no more than about 6, came up to me and gave me $10. I was stunned. I turned to look and saw his mother waving at me. I said, “God bless you both.”

I’ll do my best to keep up with this blog by posting at lease once week. Share your comments. I enjoy hearing from you.