Thursday, March 06, 2008

115. An Encounter with a Homeless Man, Riverside, California

I remember Nicole Star*eski (sorry, very hard last name to remember) saying when initiating the writing for the Goleta Beach film project: "Just write anything. The most important thing is to INITIATE the process so we can start some email-based-dialogue and receive feedback." I guess I should treat this blog the same. Just throw out ideas for myself (and hopefully others will read), and when the time comes to compile thoughts for a full-blown film or any form of interactive media project, then we're in good shape. It's not good to keep ideas bottled inside.

I haven't talked to a homeless man since my encounter with Rick Moritz and Jason last summer, when interviewing them for a film project with Blue Horizons at UCSB. About a week ago I was leaving the Walmart of Moreno Valley (home to some of the most gigantic whale-humans I have ever seen) and saw this rather young guy with spectacles on, sitting on a bench. To my surprise, he asked, "Would you spare some change?" and my impulsive, automaton reaction was: "No, sorry. I only have a credit card." I walked away, but my mind wasn't processing the dichotomy: how can a very young, intelligent-looking individual be homeless, sitting on a bench, asking for change? I paced around the parking lot quite a bit, struggling because I needed to go home to work, yet at the same time I was intrigued to find out this guy's story. Finally, my curiosity and desire for spontaneity overcame me, and I returned to this man. I asked him, "What are you going to use the money for?" He said he needed something to eat. And I said, if we go in together, I can buy you some food. He headed toward the McDonalds inside the store, which kind of defeats the purpose of everything (especially after watching blips of Supersize Me), and he asked for a big-n-tasty, a three-dollar burger. I felt good, temporarily satisfying the hunger of this mysterious person. We had a highly engaging conversation throughout this time, and I found out these things from him: (1) His name is Jeff Fritz (2) he lost his job and lost contact with his wife and kid all around the same time (3) he's been homeless for around 6 months (4) he sleeps in a tent up in the Box Springs Mountains (5) being homeless is hard and fun at the same time, it's fun to camp out and sleep under the stars, it's fun to be independent and nomadic, not knowing what the next day shall bring (6) being homeless is a job and it's about acting to play on other people's sympathy (7) it's close to impossible to starve in America because people are too nice, too many people throw away food, individually or through a business, and people tend to hook you up (8) he's in Riverside because his cousin lives around here and sometimes he can give him food and a place to sleep (9) his consolation and "internal heater" on cold nights are cigarettes, his only luxury (10) he has an interview within a week at Job Corps in San Bernardino. Basically, Job Corps is a non-profit group that gets homeless people off the streets, provide them housing and basic training until they can stand on their feet with financial and territorial stability. Happy ending situation. I'm sure I learned more from Jeff than this, but I told him in my mind and my heart I have a funny desire to be homeless, and I became a field scientist (ecologist / earth scientist) simply because it's a more socially acceptable version of satisfying the craving to be nomadic, independent of a mass-production technologized society that knows you by number and not necessarily by name. A name with a story, that is. I told Jeff that I may contact him in the future because I want to make a film on homeless people, but focusing on the Gleaner Lifestyle in America. How people survive living off of other people's perception of "waste." There's a french version of the film "The Gleaners and I," and there's lots of room for improvement. I'm glad I talked to Jeff. I internally vowed that day that every time I feel trapped in a box, I must go out and do one thing that day I have never done before, big or small. And my encounter with Jeff really made my day.

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