Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

The night I became ‘homeless’

I have always had a fear of not having a place to live, and that has motivated me to keep working and keep a roof over my head.

Stories about the homeless often are about the loss of dignity, the maltreatment and the abuse the people endure. I know that as a man with no small measure of pride in my life, the thought of having to pretend to be religious for a handout, and to sit somewhere and know rich people are having parties and galas to “raise money” for the homeless would make me shake with rage.

Countless people have gotten into the business of the homeless nonprofit, and done well – at least, for themselves. Getting rich on a government contract to provide housing is considered to be worth the months or years you have to spend in prison, especially since it’s usually easy time. I mean, no one punishes stealing money that harshly, unless you’re egregious about it.

In any case, I know that thanks to family contacts, I don’t have to worry about being on the street. But there was this one night when I spent half the night on the street. The best part was, I didn’t have to because I had a home. So maybe I wasn’t technically homeless.

In 1979, I was young, a bit wild and off the leash, as it were. I had finished Marine boot camp and electronics training, and was off to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, awaiting assignment. Living in the receiving barracks wasn’t fun, but it beat the heck out of Memphis. For New Yorkers, California was like a revelation back then. Sun, fun, pretty girls – way out of my league, but I liked to look – and all sorts of leisure activities made me wish I’d grown up there.

By comparison, New York City was gray skies, gray streets and gray everything. Even when it rained in California, it wasn’t like in New York. I had flown from JFK airport on a Boeing 747 and had sat next to a pretty young girl in her teens who thought I was the coolest thing. Mind you, even in the oversexed 1970s, all the girls I met were in the virginal 1950s – at least toward me – but this girl was different. We actually cuddled – after we moved an inconvenient person sitting between us to a different seat – and kissed afterward.

I hadn’t even left LAX, and already I was liking this state.

Like everybody else, for me weekends meant liberty, and some guys clued me in on this: Liberty meant Laguna Beach, about 15 miles away, according to Google Maps. It might have been on the other side of the world for me, without a car back then, but there was transportation to be had.

My first time there almost was my last time on earth. I was having a great time, drinking and walking around. The beach was awesome, the girls were pretty, the sun was shining and it was all good.

But I hadn’t learned all that well yet that drinking had consequences, like blacking out. In a flash, it went from a sun-drenched afternoon to around 11 p.m., and things were very different. People I had talked with were not as friendly, and said I had behaved like a jerk earlier. I was walking around the now-deserted streets, mostly sober, and wondering what the heck to do.

I was homeless. Well, OK, I wasn’t homeless. I had in my wallet money and an ID card that, if I showed it to the MP at the gate in El Toro, would get me on the base. In a barracks was a rack for me sleep in, and in a locker were my clothes and other gear. But I was homeless at this point in time, and I was scared.

Where had it all gone, the beautiful day, the pretty and lively girls, and the party atmosphere?

I tried to check into a couple of hotels, but the clerks were adamant that they had no rooms available.

In desperation, I paid a dime to get into a pay toilet, occupied a stall and sat there, pondering my options. I could spend the night in the stall, but I was worried about someone else – maybe like me – coming in and seeking refuge. I was about to consider hiding and sleeping in a trash can, and had removed the lid, when it hit me. Call a cab. Get back to the base. Come back to Laguna Beach, but don’t drink.

I went outside, found a pay phone with a phone book, and called a taxicab. The driver came out and, at about 2 a.m., took me back to the base. I flashed my ID, walked into the barracks quietly, undressed and went to sleep in the rack Uncle Sam had provided.

I really don’t remember if I went back to Laguna Beach. I think I spent more time on the base. Soon, I was on my way to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona, and the memories of that wild night faded. I could have been “rolled,” or even killed. I’m glad nothing bad happened.

But I still think sometimes of that day that seemed to become a very lonely and scary night in a flash, and it’s a lesson I’ve carried with me for the past 32 years.

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April 10, 2012 - Posted by | Education, Life lessons | , , , ,

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