For months now, a homeless writer we call “Dave” has been sending us dispatches from the streets of Las Vegas. While his stories are impossible to independently verify, together they add up to a vivid picture of life among the homeless.
In this summer heat, we need to drink water like a camel — a gallon a day. Drink water til you pee water. If you have never experienced heat exhaustion or stroke, thank God. If you have nearly died from solar stabs, you know the outcome, and the pain. Bus stop, 108 degrees in the shade: Gal I know was dying from dehydration, boiling away, slowly but surly. “I know I fainted, and that was the end,” she told me later. No, not the end, the beginning of something: “I do remember an old man on a bicycle near me, then everything went black.”
Luckily, that old man, the Good Samaritan, just appeared and knew what to do. Got help, and didn’t steal or take advantage of her while she was out.
Later, at the UMC ER, the old man with a patch over his right eye introduced himself to her as “just another homeless jerk down here.” He rode his bicycle 10 miles to the hospital to make sure she was healing. “He sent me a get-well card, then offered a dinner, which I had to take.” A homeless man helping a young gal with no expectations of anything in return. Now that’s something.
I got to talk to him briefly, and his story was pretty simple: “She was dying and I wanted, needed, to help.”
An ancient proverb goes, This world suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. “Just try and take my bicycle from me, I’ll kick your ass,” my friend says. And he means it. So no one tries. Deviant body language speaks volumes down here. I know a dozen folks who in the past month have been rewarded with terrible black eyes from fights, busted lips and broken knuckles from assaults. One guy has a new facial contusion just about every week. “I get too drunk and do stupid shit like trying to beat someone up, or falling down.” On the other hand, my friend just got the boot from the gym where he works out. “I left my luggage lying around when I walked off to 7-Eleven for some juice. Only gone half an hour.” But the rule clearly says, Abandoned property will be removed and loss of privileges will result.” My friend isn’t impressed. “I’ll do what I want, it is my gym and there should not be a law against leaving luggage unattended.” My friend believes in law and order: “My law, my order.” He is an anarchist at heart. And not afraid to shove someone around, even the boss at the weight room. We’ll take care of ourselves just fine, is his motto, and I’ll take what I want — like three sandwiches at the soup line when the doorman told us to take only one so there will be enough for the latecomers. “Then don’t be late,” was his reasoning. Same goes with jaywalking, stealing beer from the liquor store, counting cards at the 21 table, trespass, drunk in public. “This is Las Vegas, goddamn it, we should be able to do as we please,” he says. I think that attitude is one reason the police are so vigilant with the homeless. One thing is certain, there is a lot of cruel behavior that happens on Skid Row. We may not talk about morality and ethics, but believe me, we have some pretty well-defined codes of conduct. Logic has its own gnarly course on Skid Row. And there really is no honor among thieves. Another reason Metro cops are always close by.
Another homeless guy, an artist who prefers the street life, going to his studio to paint, has this attitude: “My kids, they know where I am and don’t care; they’re adults and doing their own thing. I don’t think about them, either.” I hope this guy never winds up in a hospital, in critical condition, his children left out of the situation. I’ve met dozens of homeless who go to the ER with life-threatening injuries and have no desire to communicate with family. Theirs is a haphazard existence with death just being the next stage in their dismal lives. There is no meaning just sadness. When I had my heart attack last August, in Kingman, Ariz., my kids were the first to know. When I began walking the Corridor of Hope, between Catholic Charities and Salvation Army, still in recovery from my heart attack, suffering amnesia and dizziness, I was lost and alone. I suffered with a lack of security and significance, just a bum on the sidewalk with no allies. But I had my background and my friends from years past. They encouraged me to get back to being part of the bigger society. I am recovering. I’ve found that I can be at the morning free breakfast at The Field, or in the lunch soup line at Catholic Charities, or at dinner at the Rescue Mission and be attentive to the lost souls around me. One definition for the word adventure is to arrive. I think I have arrived here in Las Vegas.