[An editorial recounting of my interaction with the young man who is camping at Frame Park on march 16, 2019.]
My visit with a camper on the plaza, Coalinga.
The light green tent is nestled among a grove of tall trees huddled in Frame park along the edge of the rose garden. There is a sign on the gazebo which states, No skateboarding, no bicycling, no loitering … but somehow, it does not specify camping. The gazebo is farther west, and the arched pergola circling the garden area is just over the short wall. I can hear voices coming from the tent. The speaking is low; conversational. I worry about annoying the people inside.
Then as I am crossing to take more photos of the tent, a man emerges from its depths and sits down at the green table. He has earbuds and something else. I walk over and ask if we can talk.
“Of course,” he says. So I sit adjacent to him; not opposite, but just around the next corner. I study him. He’s in his twenties or early thirties. his mop of brown hair is thick and fairly clean. There is about a week’s growth of a beard. his eyes are light and alert. About then, A cat sneaks from inside the tent to sit nearby. Her name, it turns out, is Fluffy. She is the man’s cat. She sniffs around and sits, licking her paws.
I ask the fellow his name and he mumbles an answer. I catch the first part, but the last name is indecipherable. I finally ask him how to spell it, and I got it. A local name. Hmm. he has a grandfather and a sister in town; maybe other relatives as well. He is from Coalinga, and after a bit of wandering, has come back to his roots.
He does not want to stay with his sister because her home is full already, what with her kids and everything. He thoughtfully discarded the idea of staying with his grandfather saying that his grandfather is at an age where he should not have to put up with things like those in his life right now.
“I have a lot of stuff,” he says. “My grandfather is old, and he just shouldn’t have to deal with all of that.” He pauses to take out a slim cigar and asks permission to smoke. It seems to give his busy hands something to do.
I ask who else is with him, as I had heard him talking to someone.
“Just me,” he answers, but quickly adds, “Unless this is my brother.”
He pinches his arm and nods.
“See, it’s neuron energy transfer,” he blows smoke and nods. “We are made of neurons and those neurons are transferable. It’s just like a computer when you get files or information. The soul is composed of neurons and they can be transferred organically or technically. There are a lot of things we know about the body, but do we really know our bodies?”
I nod and wait. There’s more to come.
“The soul elevates and drops. And there is piloting. That’s the movement of the soul. You can transfer neurons into someone else. And then you are in them.”
I am a bit lost, but continue to listen, taking notes.
“I was homeless in Fresno,” he randomly shifts gears. “I fell behind things and next thing, there I was.”
He proceeds to tell me about how his mother is an addict and when he was young, she was digging through the trash.
“You know, she’s old enough,” he says. “She needs her get up and go to get up.” He looks at the smoke drifting from his cigar. “I wish she’d just knock out her teeth and get dentures. I wish she’d get a nice job. I want to see my mom blossom.” his voice has softened and I can see the little boy in him, holding out hope for a hopeless situation.
He abruptly changes again, talking in a very different tone.
“It’s dementia or something,” he begins knocking ashes off the cigar between the square ridges on the table top. “There are memories inside my head, but they’re not all mine. They’ve been downloaded in there. But take a lot of vitamin C. That helps.”
He launches into a series of health advice, randomly jumping from the benefits vitamin C and how it costs so much here in Coalinga because he told all the store people how important it is, to making sure to drink enough water.
“I was going to Nebraska to visit my friend,” he shifts gears again. “I took the train and in Elko Nevada, they kicked me off.” I ask what happened to do that, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. He was homeless in Nevada for a couple of months, but it was bitterly cold, and eventually someone bought him a train ticket back to California.
“The planet has a nasty virus right now.” He proceeds to direct me how to avoid it. “Take an abundance of Chromium and Meganite.” He explains that meganite is just magnesium mixed with calcium, but it’s important.
“Pay attention to your organs,” he instructs me. “And you have to take that with protein. That’s what grows the bone marrow inside you.”
There is a lull and I ask him why he has decided to camp here in this park. He nods sagely.
“I have an appointment across the street at Turning Point.” He thinks it’s on Tuesday. Three days from now. He discusses what he hopes will happen at that meeting. He hopes to get some help. He states that he knows there is something not quite right in his mind because of the neuron transfers.
“When the USSR fell. Back in the 90s, they had a lot of technology.” His cigar has burned low and he continues to nurse it along. “They sold a lot of technology they had to countries all over the world. It was their chance to get money from all their work before communism collapsed. Technology can mimic dementia. Maybe that’s my problem. Technology lives in people now. There are micro cameras that can be put into eyes and your mouth. They can see and taste what you are doing. Or they can be mimicking the truth and replacing it in you. They watch everything. My thought process is following. I think I am being followed by myself. It’s important to know the difference. You have to be careful in the situation.”
By now, my brain is inside out and edgy from taking notes. I can see there is a problem here. He’s pleasant, fairly clean, never once used any profanity, and even apologized when he caught himself referring to me as being old.
He is one individual, caught in circumstances that seem to have spiraled out of control, and he has come back to the town where he grew up. Where he has family. And yet he keeps them at arm’s distance because he doesn’t want to intrude. He seems thoughtful.
I lean across the table to thank him and shake his hand. He hesitates.
“It’s pretty dirty,” he informs me. At this point, I don’t care. I can wash my hands later, but I want to touch this person in front of me. He seems to need contact. Real contact. If it was my son, I would want to take him home and feed him. Although he doesn’t look hungry. My heart is heavy for this person who seems to have missed out on a lot of things, and who is searching for answers and hope. He has told me that he needs to talk to someone at Turning Point about some other things that he needs to ‘take care of.’ It sounds ominous, and he adds that he may be in trouble; may be facing some jail time. Of all the homeless people I have met, this one seems to be really searching, hoping and planning for a next step. Whatever that may be.
I want to say something but there’s so many varied thoughts running through my head I don’t know where to start. I’m sure your journalistic instinct lead you to venture there but there seems to be so much more that kept you there to listen, without judgement, trying to understand why and how he came to be where he is in life. I’m glad that the little town where I spent many of my formative years has you, trying to move things forward.
As a former teacher here in Coalinga, I have a long past of listening to people, and can remember members of this family. I also am a firm believer that most people need to talk. They need to tell their story, and they desperately need someone to listen. I had to stop myself from making any sort of judgment. I just wanted to listen, and for this young man to know that someone was hearing him.
In truth, I am a very shy person, and it takes a great deal of effort to do this sort of thing. But I am becoming more able to reach out. I like to think that if it was my kid, someone like me might be there for them. I’m far from perfect. Seriously. I am very self-centered and lazy. But I am trying.