A tent city. Growing more crammed and more crowded. Sidewalk access more limited.
A pop-up colony of geometric domes. Gray stretch plastic structures. All generously donated. Each tagged with an American flag. Stars and stripes on guard duty.
Gary Gibbs – the outsider in clean clothes
Sarah Markson – recent homeless – driven
Charlie Foster – recent homeless – bitter
Millie Mae – compassionate homeless
Johnny Green – an angry man
The encampment appears congested, the energy chaotic
on the street
Johnny G: “You’re in the wrong place, man!” Johnny’s voice shatters the calm. “Hear me… this’s the pits!”
Gibbs listens, unable to catch the source.
Johnny G: “Yeh… you, man! …With the clean shirt on his back!” His words ricochet off the plastic.
Gary Gibbs: “Here!” Gibbs starts to pull the fresh, crisp shirt off over his head.
Johnny G: “Didn’t say I wanted it. Understand me, I don’t.”
Gary Gibbs: “Here’s a ten!” Gibbs pulls his shirt back on then shoves his hand inside the tent flap.
Johnny G: “Ten bucks! Hell, you need it more than I do. A damn, stuck-up drive-by just tossed me fifty.”
Gary Gibbs: “Good for you!”
Gibbs retrieves his hand with the cash.
OVER HIS SHOULDER
Charlie, this strange-looking fellow, suddenly appears behind Gibbs, breathing down his shoulder. Without warning, Charlie spins and grabs Gibbs by the wrist, snatches the bill and holds it high to let sunlight illuminate the paper.
Sarah: “Give it back to him, Charlie.”
From out of nowhere, Sarah closes in next to Charlie.
Charlie: “Hey wise up, girl! He ain’t as broke as we is.”
NO SOCIAL DISTANCING
Sarah: “Give it back!”
In less than a second, with the bill now firmly in Sarah’s hand, she bites deep into Charlie’s fingers. Charlie struggles not to acknowledge.
Concealing his pain, Charlie finally manages to yank back his limb. He then reflexively sucks a mouthful of blood from the fresh wound and spits it out.
Millie Mae, a middle-aged woman, one of life’s genuine survivors, watches intently as she shakes her head in disbelief.
Millie Mae: “Damn! Poor Charlie. He don’t deserve that,” Her voice carries from the next tent over. “He sure could use the cash.”
INVITATION IN THE MAIL
Millie May: “How much you got on you?”
Gary Gibbs: “Practically nothing. Just another ten. That’s it.”
Gibbs pulls his pants pockets inside out, emptying them to prove his point.
Milly Mae: “Then that has to do!”
Millie Mae wastes no time. She reaches out and grabs Gibbs’ second ten before he can stop her.
Sarah: “Charlie Foster, just where’re do you think you’re going?”
Sarah watches him pluck the first of Gibbs’ tens from her hands and head down the street.
Charlie: “Time for a change of scenery. Woman, I’m sick of getting ass-fix-ee-ated, sucking up them same polluted fumes all day long.”
Sarah: “Sure, Charlie! Tell me, who isn’t? …Sorry I bit you so hard. Didn’t mean to. Honest I didn’t. You certain you’re okay?”
Charlie: “That depends!”
threats or promises
Sarah: “Listen, Charlie, don’t think I really wanted to hurt you. ‘Cause if I did, your paw there would be all knuckles and stumps.”
Charlie: “That so? What a bitch!”
Sarah: “Thanks! Appreciate the flattery.”
Charlie: “Don’t kid yourself. I’m headed to the clinic to get me a tetanus shot.”
Sarah: “Your call.”
Charlie: “Hope you ain’t rabid. Are you?”
Sarah: “No way, dummy! ‘Cause Tetanus and Rabies ain’t related. And I have neither. Sorry to disappoint you.”
Charlie: “You sure?” He rounds the corner, dropping from view.
Sarah: “I’m also vaccinated and am Covid free! As of last Tuesday.”
This twenty-something-year-old woman looks much too together to be on the street.
Gibbs: “Don’t you have a home.”
Sarah: “Anyone ask you?”
Gary Gibbs: “Listen! I’d like to help.”
Sarah: “Go on! I like flirting. But it won’t get you anywhere.”
Gary Gibbs: “Wasn’t trying.”
Sarah: “No? Why not?”
Gary Gibbs: “Looks as if you and Charlie are together. Wouldn’t want to come between you. ‘Sides, I honestly would just like to get to know you a little better.”
Sarah: “Hey, think I’ve heard all those lines waitressing.”
Gary Gibbs: “Probably have.”
Sarah: “Then what do people call you?”
Gary Gibbs: “Friends call me Gibbs.”
Sarah: “That your name?”
Gibbs: “Short for Gibson. Originally was Gary Conner.”
Sarah: “Gibson. Hmm! You’re a guitar man.”
Gibbs: “Used to be. Now, I work for a talent agency. One that reps ‘em.”
Sarah: “Well, Gibbs, my friends and everyone else calls me Sarah.”
same people, same setting
Sarah: “I always earned my own way until this fucking pandemic struck. Worked for everything I got.”
Gibbs: “Then how’d you end up here?”
Sarah: “They shut the restaurants down. The ones where both Charlie and I worked. The very same day. Then they furloughed both of us. Just after we’d blown every dollar in Greece. Six-months of savings. I was screwed. Couldn’t find a way to pay everything off.”
Gibbs: “Sorry. Sounds tough.”
Sarah: “Don’t try to be funny. But I wouldn’t dream of trading those experiences for anything.”
A RATIONAL TUNE
Gibbs: “Tough living day-to-day?”
Sarah: “Never used to be. Always found something out there for tomorrow. Until now.”
Gibbs: “How about Charlie? He okay?”
Sarah: “He can handle himself. But it’s not a life.”
CIRCLING HER MIND
Gibbs: “I hear you.”
Sarah: “You ever been on the street?”
Gibbs: “Must have me a lucky star.”
Sarah: “I thought I did too. The nights are the killer. Sleep for me is a luxury. Mostly scattered. People all around getting high. Many a little crazed, scavenging through everyone else’s gear.”
Gibbs: “Can’t imagine. No, actually I can.”
Sarah: “Waitressing used to get me down.”
Gibbs: “You don’t miss it?”
Sarah: “Hated it. But now, I’d go back in two seconds. I’d take any job. Any damn thing. I don’t need a lot. Honest.”
Gibbs: “When I was a kid, my grandfather had a good friend named Harry. Harry always spoke to me about life. The big picture.”
Gibbs: “Harry once said: ‘Money is frozen sweat.’ That image always stuck with me.”
TIME FOR TRUTH
Sarah: “Why? You really believe that?” She stared Gibbs straight in the eye.
Gibbs: “Back then people earned a wage they could live on.”
Sarah: “They could save a little too.”
Gibbs: “Now, anyone successful puts his money to work instead.”
reality cuts through
Sarah: “Hey Gibbs, sweat’s gone way out of fashion.”
Gibbs: “Yeh, perspiration is just another worthless commodity.”
Sarah: “Don’t use them fancy words on me.”
Sarah: “Here, Gibbs, people need a little help.”
Gibbs: “Clearly. And you do too.”
Sarah: “We all do… Can’t believe I once even had a few dollars stashed away. In a different life.”
Gibbs: “I hear you, Sarah, and I want to help.”
Sarah turns. She says nothing, just slowly walks away.
About the Article
A quick encounter with homelessness 2021and life in a tent city in southern California.