2023.35 : Homelessness - Adult Fare

San Jose, California, U.S.A

Blame no one. Set people straight, if you can. If not, just repair the damage. And suppose you can’t do that either. Then what does blaming people get you?

— Marcus Aurelius

The dirty little secret about being homeless is the intensely profound, albeit brief, moments of freedom from being a wage slave. On the flip side, wage slaves think they know what it’s like to be in survival mode. They have no idea until they lose literally everything. To survive on the streets, with no support, the business of keeping our meat prisons alive is all-consuming. “All” is so easy to read past. “All” as in tunnel vision that has a horizon so near it feels like it’s always on you.

How do I know? I’ve lived on the streets, with and without support. And I’ve been a wage slave.

I’m in college, paying my own way. I’m in my first apartment, kinda. I’m sleeping on a bed in a room that barely fits three beds; I had one of the beds. The owner and the other roommate share the beds. I had a job that came to a sudden end. The new job, a grunt position in a moving company, had just started, and payday wasn’t for two more weeks. My pride wouldn’t allow me to cry out for help to those who lived far away to come save me. And, no credit card.

I was late paying rent. First a day, then two, then three. It would be several more days before I could save enough money from tips to pay. The owner was not pleased. I was not pleased with myself. I packed my bag, not bags, at 10 pm and headed out into the night to drive away.

Another thing they don’t tell you about living below the poverty line is how things can deteriorate so rapidly. I couldn’t drive away. My car had been stolen that very night while my landlord was chastising me. As life would have it, this wasn’t the first attempt by the thieves to steal my beloved El Camino from my best friend; they had tried and failed the week before but couldn’t figure out the funky clutch. This time, they succeeded. Only to have it returned a week later. Someone in the apartment drove me to my work, dropped me off. I let myself into one of the moving trucks and made a bed for the night.

I worked all day. Just enough tips in cash to eat, with a few bucks remaining.

Terrified I would lose my job by being discovered sleeping at work, I began to walk. As night fell, I couldn’t think of which of my friends from school I could turn to. My mind was consumed by one thought: must find shelter. Must sleep in relative safety so I could work the next morning. I could think of only one place.

On Hollywood Blvd, one of the many movie theaters was a porn cinema. That’s right, it played porn movies 24 hours a day on a projection screen. I paid the entry fee. 7-11 bread would be all I could afford for breakfast. I found a seat far from others. I held my bag tightly on my lap. I put my head down and slept. Until they had to change movies, that’s when some lights came up, and much to my surprise, a stripper came out on stage beneath the screen and danced her heart out as the latest hair metal stripper song anthem blared. Ugh. Must sleep. The next porn movie started. Oh, precious sleep.

Three nights of that. In that time, I helped the manager at my work with a couple of headaches and received good feedback from co-workers and customers. I leveraged that to ask for permission to sleep in the storage room until payday. He agreed. A co-worker discovered me there the next morning and stole my bag of dirty clothes as I slept.

I think of all that when I drive by the Burbank Theater, captured in its current state in this week’s photo. A glorious theater once that showed the best Hollywood had to offer until it didn’t. Then adult fare until it didn’t. And now, abandonment until some ghastly mixed-use, soul-crushing complex imprisons even more wage slaves.

And now… know the photograph.

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