A Walk in the Park ain’t what it used to be. Just a couple of years ago you could walk in the park and nobody would bother you for change. You could feed the ducks pieces of bread. You could sit at a table and eat your lunch and enjoy the view . . . and use the bathroom whenever you needed. Now, however, it’s almost like people are lined up to ask strangers for change, I think some people are fighting the ducks for bread, and picnic tables either provide a dry place to lie down, or go underneath to give a guy a chance to have an ersatz roof over his head. And bath rooms? Locked up tight and early.
I lost my job and my wife a year ago. It was a poor paying dead end job, so no savings, no car, and not much else. The wife was smart. We were both too young. She should have left sooner. COVID didn’t help the situation much. I’ve been on the road ever since. Actually, on the road kinda means you actually going somewhere. I guess I’m just on the streets. I gave up on tents. They’re targets for both the police and dope heads. People, well regular people anyway, think homeless people gather around the campfire shooting up, passing around a bottle of cheap wine, and living the good life. I wish. Being homeless is cold, wet, dirty, and fearful.
You can usually count on supper at the mission or sandwiches at some churches, but that means you have to be nearby, which is often difficult. I’m sure most people have seen more than one shopping cart hoarder pushing a cart piled high with everything they temporarily own. The problem with shopping carts is that you become a prime target . . . a slow moving target. Some try to hide their carts in the bushes while they collect sandwiches or have a warm dinner. Frequently they return to an empty cart or a missing cart. Empty carts never go back to the grocery stores.
I’m doing better than okay, but it took me a while to adjust and choose how to live safely . . . mostly . . . and always look for a decent job.
The changes started taking place about nine six months ago as I wandered the trails in Wright Park. I picked a sturdy tree with spreading roots above the ground to cozy up in for the night. It was about twenty feet off the pathway. I sat there and started thinking about the park as my home and the neighborhood as my town. The problem was the danger. I thumped my chest and said, your gotta work this out. I looked up to heaven, but only saw tree limbs. I thumped myself again and suddenly the image of Tarzan the Ape Man ran howling through my brain. I laughed and said to myself, “Yeah, you’re some Tarzan. You couldn’t handle dangerous wild animals.” Then I answered myself, “But here there’s no dangerous wild animals like lions and tigers and bears. Here the danger is on the ground . . . homeless people like myself, druggies, and police. However, if I were in the trees I would be safe.” It was an “Ah hah” moment.
The next day I was up early approaching everyone that didn’t look homeless . . . and a couple who did. Then I hitched a ride to Harbor Freight, which usually has good deals on tools and tarps. I bought thirty feet of rope and two sturdy fiberglass tarps. I came up a few dollars short, but the guy behind me, who was in a hurry, made up the difference, while I fumbled around in my pockets. Outside the store I thanked him and asked if he could give me a ride. He said, “Only if you’re going in my direction.” I wasn’t but I remembered that a St Vinnies Thrift Store was just off his path a bit. He even dropped me off there.
At St Vinnies I scouted out some things I wanted and then crossed the street and hit people up for change going in or coming out of a Mexican restaurant. I like tacos with real tortillas. It was popular and I was needy. Back at St Vinnies I bought a back pack, a serviceable wool blanket, some heavy socks, a checkered shirt, some underwear, a jacket, and a pair of slacks. I stood on the curb with my thumb out and someone I had nodded to in St Vinnies gave me a ride back downtown, just in time for a free dinner.
After dinner I walked to the park and chose a different tree to cozy up to. I crammed everything into my backpack and what didn’t fit I sat on. The moon was hidden by clouds, rain clouds unfortunately. I was a little worried about the bright blue tarp I covered up with, but I neither heard nor felt any passersby present.
I woke up all cozy like. I hated to get up, but prostrate on the ground is not the way to remain healthy. I got up and wandered before I found the perfect tree for my headquarters. Actually, it was directly across the street from the park. The tree was on a lot with an old mansion, now reduced to apartments, and it didn’t look like any windows had a view of my tree. The ancient tree was a madrona with a good healthy trunk and several boughs that could both support and hide me. The junction was a good twelve feet on the ground. A tall laurel hedge ran from the sidewalk to the tree giving me cover and the hardwood laurel with its twisted and sturdy branches acted like a ladder.
I took a break for coffee and the cheapest burgers at MacDonald’s. I had several places where I could afford to buy something to eat and use the restroom. By nightfall I was well situated and soon fell asleep in a tarp hammock. About an hour later I heard rustling. It struck me that nocturnal animals had the advantage. I hadn’t planned as well as I should have. I began planning a trip to Dollar Tree for the morning and making a mental list. I drifted off and woke up all in one piece.
I got a ride to Dollar Tree and bought some acrylic paints and paint brushes along with several small flashlights, some plastic storage bags and some handi-wipes. When I came back I was able to give my tarp a camo look that blended in with the madronas peeling red bark and the dark green leaves. I bought some cans of white chicken and some muffins. I was so proud of myself as evening came I got a great idea. I walked around the base of the tree and marked out my little home with my own pee to let any wild animals know who was living here now. Wrapped warmly in my camo hammock I drifted off to sleep only to awaken to rustling noises again. I drifted off again and later opened my eyes to the new day. Up and at ’em I went looking for a job. All clean and friendly; I thought I had made some good progress.
As I returned that afternoon I climbed up and stretched out in my swinging bed. Soon I was napping . . . and almost as soon I awoke to rustling. My heart was beating like a tom-tom. I pulled down my covers and surreptitiously peered over the edge of my swinging bed. Directly below me was a young buck nibbling on my lower tree limbs. I chuckled to myself and enjoyed watching him eat.
The fifth day of occupancy at my tree limb hotel, I heard giggling when I did my nightly marking task. As far as I know animals don’t giggle. I zipped up my paints and took out two mini-flashlights. The giggling stopped. It had to be coming from the laurel hedge, my stairway to the limbs. I carefully and quietly worked my head inside the hedge. My eyes shifted left and right in the darkness just before a huge beam of light blinded me right before my nose was almost flattened with blunt instrument. I held back a howl and staggered out in retreat. In the dark yard everything was normal. No giggle, no rustling. I worked my way back into my normal approach to the madrona and soon in my hammock with my mind trying to figure things out as my nose returned to normal. The rustling continued until I fell into a confused sleep pattern. I got a late start the next morning.
My funds were getting low, but I didn’t care. I went to the supermarket. I was bent over and looking at the pastries when I heard a familiar giggle. Looking through the glass case I could see two young women talking about six feet behind the counter. The giggler had her back to my. She turned around and when she saw my face she let out a bray like a donkey. I felt like a fool. Giggles said to come back at ten, which was her break time.
Giggles turned out to be called Jane and was as nice as she could be. Although she had a job, she didn’t make enough for transportation, an apartment, and a deposit. She was living in the laurel. She called it her hedge fund. We were married a month later and we’re still saving for a big move. For our honeymoon I created a larger hammock and we stayed in three different city parks. We kid a lot . . . Me Tarzan, she Jane.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.