I have learned many things from my Grandpa Miltie; He was born in Minnesota to a Norwegian immigrant dairy farmer, the third of seven children. His family moved to Hickman, California, in 1947. They lived in the Foster Farms ranch house and his father worked for the Foster family. Although they were very poor, they lived a very good life. He and my Grandma moved to Los Angeles in the Late 60’s, (the Valley to be specific) a city much different than the small farm towns of northern California. He always struggled that no one took the time to “give a damn” about anyone in LA. It was not uncommon for my grandpa to pick up a homeless guy and take him out to breakfast, sit with him and shoot the breeze. There were times when I was with him, man was that uncomfortable! We’d just pull over to the side of the road, Grandpa would yell (and I mean yell) “Get in, we’re taking you to get something to eat”. He met many characters that he still remembers by name.
We met so many really cool people, they weren’t all drunks or drug addicts (like most people think) and a lot of them had some really interesting stories. One guy, we’ll call him Joe, [You’ll have to excuse me, as I, unlike grandpa, do not remember his name] was a professor and he well, he just lost it. I guess we’d call it “cracking”. Joe was really out there but soooo super smart, but it was as if he lived in a completely different world than the one that surrounded him. We sat for nearly 2 hours at Du-Pars on Ventura Boulevard eating, drinking coffee & hot chocolate and talking with Joe. One of the things he kept rattling off was a quote from Jefferson that I had to look up ‘cause I couldn’t remember it in it’s entirety. “Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have … The course of history shows that as a government grows, liberty decreases.” His story was filled with loss, loss of work, family, friends, and finally his mind. He was a different type of survivor.
Last Wednesday while visiting the Coffee Bean on what I often refer to as, the other side of town (only ‘cause it’s full of color, and by color I mean colorful with character!). I walked pass a table with a notepad with all sorts of scribbles and drawings. The scribbles, upon closer examination (yes, I am nosy!) were circles and lines all precisely placed with intention, each circle contained a series of words in a point size that looked maybe a 4! Perfectly organized chaos is how I would describe it…sorta beautiful mind stuff. I figured it was some college student or high school kids stuff and didn’t really give it much thought.
Ruben, Ruby and I sat for about 15 min before I noticed the disheveled man slumped over on one of the chair near the entrance, he was sleeping and trying to warm up from the bitter coldness that we’ve had here as of late. He was not bothering anyone, not causing a scene and from what I could tell no one even noticed him, except one particular employee. She walked over to him, shook him and rudely yelled, “Sir, you cannot sleep in the store!” he briefly opened his eyes said “huh” and returned to sleeping. I wondered at that point if I was in there with my baby, and I dozed off, would I be treated with such distain…I suppose it was another ten minutes or so when a security guard walked into the shop, he grabbed the man by the shoulder and shouted “Sir you have to leave the premises”, the man was disoriented and confused asking the guard “Is there something wrong? Have I done something?”. He proceeded to walk towards the middle of the store instead of the door; the guard shouted again “The door is this way sir”. The man looked back at him and gestured, “I am only going to get my things”, walking to the table with the notepad, and a cup of coffee. He quietly closed his notebook, picked up his pencil that was whittled down to a stump and packed his things into a worn out backpack. Only asking one more time “I don’t understand, did I do something?”. The guard escorted the man out of the shop and undoubtedly off of the premises.
My heart dropped and stomach turned as I watched this chain of events, this man had done nothing wrong. He in fact was a customer by way of his cup of coffee he purchased. I know that I have bought a cup of coffee and sat for hours in a coffee shop with out ever being bothered, in fact at our local establishment, we are regulars. I just could not let it go, I walked over to the espresso machines to ask the employee [yep, the same one who shook him] if someone had complained about the man to which she offered me in haste “NO” and “You just can’t sleep in the store!”. I asked her “If I were to fall asleep here, would you have called the guard if I failed to wake when you shook me?”. She would not look at me. I then asked her “Was the man causing any problems? He was after all a paying customer”. She turned her head and looked away as if I was not even there.
Here’s the thing, I get that the homeless and transients can cause much trouble. I understand that many times they can be belligerent and rough. I would understand even if another patron complained, because that is not good for business and it is after all a business I GET all of that. But there was no compassion, no grace. This man was someone’s son; somebody’s someone, just to be thrown out like the trash.
My Grandfather taught me that everyone has a story. That man had a story.