Land of
The Lost Souls

My Life on the Streets
Cadillac Man
If you plan to live on the streets, this will be your guide-book; especially if you have, for some strange reason, chosen New York.

Which I suggest would be foolish. Better: Miami where it is warm year around. Or San Diego (almost the same). Or Seattle (wet; almost no snow, though). Berkeley (great street people laws).

Or Santa Fe (you and the artists out there). Austin (for the crazies, but watch the cops). New Orleans (to join the people who lost their homes to the Big Storm, like you, are still looking for a place to rest their weary heads).

Or why not head for the traditional hangouts of the artists (Paris, Rome, Madrid). Venice, too, although, as one friend reports, "My younger son during his European month last spring, thought Venice quite weird."

    A urban planner in the Northwest, he wondered why the Venice Department of Planning and Development didn't issue citations to the buildings in which the ground floor was under water. I explained that all the buildings are probably in this category.

"Besides, Venice's Department of Planning and Land Use is still Austrian, so that nobody pays any attention to it, like anywhere in the United States."

§     §     §

Cadillac Man, not his real name we will presume, does give a few tips for those of us looking to spend our golden years out there on the streets. One is, at night, when you go to bed, behind the dumpster, or in the park, or wherever, sprinkle peanuts around in all four quadrants. Thus, if someone tries to sneak up on you, to beat you up ... Mr. Man had that happen to him ... you have a built-in alarm system.

Another: if you go "canning" --- seeking spare change on the street --- it is best to plan it for around Christmas. God rest ye: people are more merry then. And generous too. For your time-out periods, go to your neighborhood library. Librarians, in general, if you don't stink too much, will not disturb you ... although a recent book reviewed in the American Librarians' Booklist outlined some thoughts on how to roust the smelliest and most obstreperous of the bums.

Chip Ward, a Salt Lake City librarian, wrote "A dirty little secret about America is that public libraries have become de facto daytime shelters for the nation's street people while librarians are increasingly our unofficial social workers for the homeless and mentally disturbed."

    Fast-food restaurants, hotel lobbies, office foyers, shopping malls, and other privately owned businesses and properties do not tolerate their presence for long. Public libraries, on the other hand, are open and accessible, tolerant, even inviting and entertaining places for them to seek refuge from a world that will not abide their often disheveled and odorous presentation, their odd and sometimes obnoxious behaviors, and the awkward challenges they present to those who encounter them.

    Although the public may not have caught on, ask any urban library administrator in the nation where the chronically homeless go during the day and he or she will tell you about the struggles of America's public librarians to cope with their unwanted and unappreciated role as the daytime guardians of the down and out. In our public libraries, the outcasts are inside.

The article was subtitled, What Library School Didn't Cover, and went on:

    The library wrestles with where to draw the line on odor. The law is unclear. An aggressive patron in New Jersey successfully sued a public library for banning him because of his body odor. That decision has had a chilling effect on public libraries ever since. When library users complain about the odor of transients, librarians usually respond that there isn't much they can do about it. Lately, libraries are learning to write policies on odor that are more specific and so can be defended in court, but such rules are still hard to enforce because smell is such a subjective thing -- and humiliating someone by telling him he stinks is an awkward experience that librarians prefer to avoid. None of this was covered in library school.

§     §     §

The surprise in Cadillac Man's memoirs is that the most helpful people, at least to him, are the medics to be found in every telephone at 911 ... and the police.

Outside of a few insights like this, The Lost Souls is somewhat disjointed, doesn't have the linearity that some of us want to find in book on homelessness and the homeless. We immediately think, for instance, of Tropic of Cancer which is a superior pocket guide to surviving on the streets of Paris in the 1930s.

Then there's Orwell's Down and Out in London and Paris, an extended essay on being nickled and dimed in those two cities. Or, best of all, The Horse's Mouth --- how to survive in the streets as a dispossessed, shabby and proud, if not unimportant, artist.

--- Vicky Rodgers AIA
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