There's something honky-tonk about boardwalks. Here in Venice there's flophouses mingling with architected houses that weigh in with a several million dollar price tag. Bicyclists with helmets, skaters that might have a marker stuffed into their socks, mommies pushing swings not high enough for toddlers who love the swoosh and freedom of flying up to the sky and drug/drink addled homeless in varying states of decay. Tucked into doorways, under bushes, church steps and sometimes the middle of a sidewalk, they rest, half hidden under a blanket. Luckier ones rile the city up by living in their cars or small trailers. The beach and then the ocean are for everyone. Kelly Cutrone read palms here.
You get used to the homeless as quickly as the sightings of Bruce Willis. Churros and designer pizza, flipflops and Lanvin ballets. Gentrification is held at bay, barely.
I live on a walk street two blocks from the beach, parking is in the alley behind my house. My neighbor's house is blue and she parks under a mature lemon tree. It could be somewhere in the South of France and is very removed from the fracas and raunch of The Boardwalk.
A man reading a book and eating a sandwich in the shade of that pretty tree last week, half-hidden by a parked car. A few hours later I backed into my parking spot under a pepper tree and he was still there, half-hidden under a blanket. My fingers ready to tweet for help to Venice311.
Incongruously, white Ed Hardy sneakers poked through the edge of the blanket.
"I'm an Iraqui vet. I'm hungry .. I need help."
I returned with a bottle of water and an organic green salad from Whole Foods. He looked at the healthy greens and then at me. Ah, not a salad eater ...
Venice311 knows everything that goes on here and how to get things done. Who should I call for help. Antoine stood up, a slight man clean shaven and neat. He was so skinny. I drove him to get a hamburger. He waited patiently outside, telling me he was ashamed that he wasn't dressed well enough and didn't want to be around people. Venice311 and I came up with an emergency plan. She drove her large SUV to my house to park. A large roomy back area with a sleeping bag.
I let Antoine into my house for a shower, telling him sternly that if Papa Bear, my 120 pound Bernese, sensed that I was anxious at all, he would promptly eat Antoine. He accepted that with another sweet "yes, ma'am."
The next morning Venic311, Antoine and I sat at my kitchen table. He'd been in the Navy for eight years, the last two in Iraq and was being treated at the Veterans Administration in Long Beach for PTSD. Someone had laced a cigarette with crystal meth a few months ago and he'd stopped taking his medication. He'd found his way to Venice and hung with a small group of addicts and drunks who slept on the wide steps of a nearby church, staying together for protection. A quick downfall, and maybe the speed of it saved him.
His grandmother in Louisiana had brought him up; he'd been too ashamed to call her for help. I handed him the phone and he made the call, a hard thing to admit to this much-loved woman that he'd gone awry.
We took him to the Clare Foundation, a place that won't turn away someone who needs a hand and to detox. He was accepted into their 30 day program.
He may very well go back to finish training to be an MRI technician. He called yesterday to thank me .. "thank you, Miss Madeleine." And immediately let me know that he didn't think he could become a vegetarian, very politely. Candy, pringles and gatorade would be nice.
It didn't end well actually. He was kicked out for fighting and I don't know what happened after that.