I have seen many different sides of the homeless experience. I would still be that way today if it weren’t for the assistance of a few wonderful people who gave me the support structure that I needed to get a job and eventually get my own house. While not everyone is going to be as blessed as I was, I do think that there are things that people can learn from my experience, and I hope to pass those on to individuals who have found themselves in similar circumstances. One of my best tips is going to the thrift store.
There is one in every neighborhood, each laden with a vast array of gently used items that can be recycled with love and care. I have repurposed numerous things, but recently one of my favorites is a colorful beach umbrella from Just Beach Things. Nothing marred its surface and not a tear in site, so I knew it had a lot of life left for trips to the beach. I often dream of a short vacation at the shore. I see myself driving along the coastal highway with the umbrella ensconced in the trunk, ready to pop open and protect me from the glaring rays of the sun. While I was outdoors a lot of the time day and night as a homeless person, I now relish some fresh air and a cloud-enhanced blue sky. It is certainly a different experience when it is by choice. As a survivor, my fantasies can easily become reality if I am resourceful. The thrift shop sure helps. I get furniture and fixtures galore so that I can save enough for that trip to the beach on an extended basis. I allow myself to daydream a little and it is a new experience.
I see the umbrella spread its shade over my matching towel as I sit and watch the crashing waves. Kids are splashing about in the shallow waters, some eagerly seeking souvenir shells. I delight in the dogs that follow their owners, prancing behind and avoiding the foam. Sometimes they stop and sniff at something creepy and I don’t want to know what it is! Beaches are great for people and animal watching and interesting things are bound to happen. I have seen umbrellas blow over and sunbathers turn to red crisps. Swimmers explore the coves and surfers wait for the big one which seldom happens. I love it all.
When the time comes to pack up and go home, I am a little sad. There is nothing as relaxing and invigorating as a day in the sun. You get more than some much-needed vitamin D; your spirit is expansive as the vista before you. My budget umbrella is a witness to the realization of my dreams. Like me, it doesn’t want to fold up and go back to real life. It fills at its best in the natural elements of sand and water.
People say that there comes a time when birthdays are no longer relevant. You get past that urge to celebrate at some point in your life. I have never understood this point of view. I am grateful to be alive and kicking and I want to give each milestone its due. I have been through tough times as a former homeless person and I have learned about survival in this cruel world. Thus, when another big day rolls around, I mark it with a celebration. It might be a party or just me with a big hunk of cake. As the years go by, I feel more and more like treating myself to something special. It could be a meal in a fine dining restaurant, a day or weekend trip, a new sweater or a pair of shoes. I say to myself, “you deserve it.” I guess I do. We all do. We need to give ourselves credit for where we have come in life. You don’t need to belabor the past but just live in the moment and anticipate the future with a positive attitude.
Given this personal philosophy, I didn’t say no when a friend asked to help me throw a party in my own home. This is not something I do regularly if at all. I have people over in small gatherings for snacks and chat. Now I am going to revel in being another year older in the proper way—good food, decoration, music, festivities, and all. My friend’s suggestion has come at the right time. I am ready to make a bigger deal out of my birthday than I usually do.
The party was wonderful with all my favorite people in attendance. Adult birthdays aren’t often a big deal so I was pleased and surprised that I got personal gifts of all kinds. Then there was one big package, wrapped beautifully with mounds of ribbon. I opened it to find another box within a box within yet another box. The old nesting dolls trick. When I got to the smallest one, I opened it with glee. Inside was a fabulous G-shock watch, the one I have always wanted and a copy of Timepiece Quarterly, where they reviewed the best G Shock models. I never indulged as it seemed like too big a splurge for my budget. My friends had pooled their money to get me the coveted device. I don’t know why I had hesitated. I suppose it was because I thought the fancy watch was frivolous in that I use my cell phone to tell the time.
This is a silly attitude since most people I know have a watch and a mobile phone. Owning gear is a point of pride with many and there is no reason to limit yourself to just one. I now sport this stellar watch and enjoy all its incredible features. I love knowing I can get it wet without worry. I will have the current time to the millisecond and never miss an appointment. I am in heaven.
If you have never owned a home of your own, life is simpler. You live with your family who take care of most matters or you rent a place that comes with a gardener and a handyman, if needed. I am so pleased to have a home now that I never balk at menial chores, inside or outside of the house. I take pride in taking care of everything myself and keep up appearances as best I can. Most people don’t find the time to keep the house in shape, but I do. There are always a few idle hours on the weekends. I have a to do list and just go down one item at a time until everything is done. I also have a purchase list of items I would like to add to my household inventory such as new dishes, pots and pans, a new coffeemaker, and a more updated toaster. Slowly but surely I save up enough to get all these basics. If I really want to splurge, I will get a new washer dryer combo as the existing one has seen much better days. This is also the case with the fridge and stove. I knew this when I bought the house, but having old appliances meant paying a lower price. I will eventually start looking for sale merchandise and get everything perfectly new.
On my next list are items for the backyard. I want a portable above ground pool so the kids can celebrate summer in style in this new home. It doesn’t have to be enormous, but also not a kiddie diminutive size. I want a veritable pool, not an inflatable budget type. They make sturdy and durable above ground pools in all sizes and they come with a heater for temperature control. This is not always necessary since the water is warm from the hot summer air. However, if the kids want to have some water recreation in the spring or fall when it is a little cooler, I can control the temperature with ease. It is a great pool that is easy to clean and refill if you want to get to scrubbing the bottom. To save water, I do this only after considerable use.
So I went with my heart and got the pool instead of appliances. It is much more fun. Just ask the kids. We have pool parties and invite friends and neighbors to join in. I serve hamburgers from the grill, ice cold lemonade, and cookies. No one leaves without being well fed. In the summer I plan on these get-togethers at least once a week during the summer. The kids certainly celebrated the new house in style the first time, but now it is almost a way of life when school is out. You can indeed have a portable pool (the above ground style) on almost any budget. I have enough saved to tackle my appliance list in due time.
Everyone needs a breather, a break from your regular routine whether it be a regular sports activity or work. Everything requires time off. We all have different ways of relaxing and some don’t need it at all. Just a meal out, a movie, or a concert would be fine. It just means giving yourself a treat now and then as a kind of thank you for surviving. It is a way of having recreation or entertainment in our lives. This is a requirement for a healthy well-balanced life. Those of us who work find it most important to schedule respite and rest or we can burn out. Just repeating the same tasks every day and having the same place to go can be a chore. Man is not a machine. It is called the humdrum aspect of life and we all face it. We need variety and amusement and as frequently as possible. No wonder there is so much choice of things to do for recreation. For some it can be enjoying their favorite music; for others it can be working crossword puzzles and games. We gravitate naturally to that which relaxes us the most.
For me, the best way to relax is to go to the health club. I am so fortunate that my company sponsors memberships for full-time employees and it is, indeed, a major perk. I look forward to a good gym workout a couple of times a week, especially when it is followed by a dip in the salt water hot tub. I don’t know many clubs that have them so I consider myself lucky. After a tough day in particular, it can help you unwind to the max. No wonder it is so popular and there are always people waiting their turns. But you can’t stay there too long lest you hear a few protests. But we learn to share. I could soak for hours, however, because it does me so much good. It is soothing to the soul.
What it is about water that is so therapeutic. Also, I think the salt water has special properties that chlorinated water lacks. I think it is healthier for the mind and body and it certainly spares your skin which can dry out and become rough and flaky due to harsh chemicals. Salt water is a natural environment that I enjoy on a regular basis. I need to thank my company with a letter soon to let them know how much I appreciate the gym membership. Who ever thought up this idea was a genius. I would rather have it than free tickets to ball games, coupons for salon treatments, discounts on department store purchase, and the like. I may be unique in this respect, but I doubt it. Who doesn’t like a free workout session now and then. Gyms are becoming super popular and more and more working people are making them a regular habit. They are sometimes beyond your financial means, however, and they are often ruled out. Not at my company. Praise be to the management who thought of this perk.
Having lived on the streets, I know the meaning of insecurity. I know what it is like to be watched or tailed and to be the object of a mugging or theft. I know what it is like to lose precious valuables, as modest as they might be. As little as the homeless have, they are always objects of scrutiny for evil doers who find them easy prey. Now that I am in a safer realm, I still think about my personal safety and think owning a handgun might be a practical move.
I guess I need that extra added security in my life, based on paranoid old habits. I want to walk the streets without fear and live in my home in peace. I want self-defense and a deterrent from crime perpetuated against my person. It only takes one incident to make you a convert, and I have seen plenty already. I am going to apply for a concealed carry permit, buy the appropriate firearm, and a matching holster.
The gun is a fairly easy choice as I have many friends in law enforcement who have taught me about gun safety and usage. They have recommended several suitable pistols for self-protection. The holster is a little trickier. I don’t need a fancy leather one as long as one I pick is comfortable and stays in place. Concealed carry holsters come in various sizes, shapes, and colors and they also have some designed just for women.
I am not going hunting so I opting for an “urban” version that is a daily item of wear. I want total concealment yet ease of withdrawal. I want something on the body as opposed to a concealed carry purse that I could set down by mistake or have stolen. There are various adjustable waist band styles of different widths and there are under the arm units. I am not even considering an ankle holster at this time nor the more unpopular under the middle of the bra style. Tuck in types that stick in the waistband seem a little free and easy to me. I am fascinated that some holsters come in animal prints and that there are pistol pouches, compression shorts, and thigh models.
Wearing a waist holster will certainly keep the gun on my mind and its eternal security presence. It won’t be socked away in a zippered pocket or pouch. It will be a constant reminder of daily threats to my existence and the newfound security I will soon feel. It will be housed appropriately at night in a gun box under the bed that is bolted to the floor. No kids will come near it and it will have a special electronic lock to be sure.
The belly band is a versatile holster and really my top favorite. I can adjust it to be worn high, low on the hips, or rotated in another position. I like the 4-inch size soft elastic model that comes in natural, black, white or, heavens, black lace! It is breathable fabric for a warm climate.
A homeless person is ignored and overlooked for the most part. It is like being invisible. Unless there is a direct confrontation, such as an appeal for help taking place, you become background to the hustle and bustle of city life. You get used to it and become immune to feelings. And even if you do address a friendly face, often there is a blank look and no response. It is the plight of those in need, especially in urban areas where familiarity seems to breed contempt. People pay lip service all the time to the situation, but few act on their words.
So you have to get by the best you can and work with what you have or are given day by day. Most of this includes shoes and clothing, occasional personal items like brushes and combs, and often some money to buy food. Objects become used for things other than what their manufacturer intended – items like corkscrews and lighters which are commonly cast off by people on a night out are used for a wide variety of different things. Soap becomes a luxury and shampoo, well, that’s a rare gift. If a significant amount is donated, it is accepted with profuse thanks, and is promptly spent. Here’s why. On the street, so to speak (it could be a park or alley), it gets stolen. You can understand that. What this means is that you go out and buy supplies for several days at a time. While you often share, as others have done with you, you wish you had a portable refrigerator to keep things fresh.
Having fruit and vegetables is a huge treat since they don’t keep for long. You don’t know where to put them. They spoil or get lost in the shuffle of moving about from place to place. When you have them, these rare treasures are to be husbanded and kept secure. If I had a small battery-operated mini refrigerator, I could store the excess for later consumption or sharing. It would be a little taste of technology not usually afforded the homeless.
I have seen people with such devices. They are often seen in tent cities where the homeless congregate and stay put for a while. There they are somewhat of an anomaly, but oddly enough, they can become a necessity of life. Once you acquire one as a donation or castoff from a store, for example, it becomes the center of attention. Remember, food and shelter are a way of life: getting them and keeping them. Your entire focus can be on your next meal. Having a storehouse of something fresh is such a boon as to be almost unimaginable.
The world takes things like portable refrigerators for granted. You have one, you fill it, you take things out, and you replace them. You do it as a matter of course, without even thinking. A homeless person looks at it differently. A refrigerator of any sort can make the difference between subsistence and good health. Health, of course, is an elusive thing, but it does dawn on you that staying alive means eating more than packaged cereal right out of the box. You don’t go so far as to rack up your vitamin intake, but you know that carrots or tomatoes go a long way toward keeping you out of the medical ward.
Some days, I still can’t believe it—I have a good job, and a nice, safe place to live. It feels like a dream. I am so proud of my house. I keep it as clean as I can. I still don’t have a lot of stuff which makes it easier. I didn’t get angry a few weeks ago when I cleaned out my gutters. I focused on the fact that I had gutters that needed cleaning because it meant that I have a roof over my head and nice trees in my yard clogging the gutters with their leaves. Maybe one day this will stop feeling like such a miracle but I sure hope not.
One of the first things I did when I moved in was buy some tools so that I could do some of the basic stuff on my own. It is a pride thing. I asked at the hardware store and the manager and I put together a pretty good toolbox for me to use. I’ve also added a ladder and couple of power tools, which feels unreal. I wanted a power drill and a paint sprayer so I can do touch-ups on the exterior when necessary. I want to keep this place looking so beautiful that people can feel the appreciation and love I have for my home standing even from out at the sidewalk!
To get the paint sprayer to work, I had to get an air compressor. My new friend at the hardware store set me up with a nice model that wasn’t very scary. We went through a couple of models at the store while I explained what I wanted it to do and she explained what each model actually did. We finally decided on a pancake style compressor. It is electric, not too loud, and is portable—it has little wheels so I can drag it around. I haven’t used the paint gun yet because the siding still looks so nice and lovely, but I did end up using the compressor today.
The garage was starting to get dusty and cobwebby, and I wanted to do something about it. I just couldn’t get into every little crevice by waving the broom over my head so I needed a better idea. That was when I saw air compressor. It was still in the box.
I unpacked it and got it set up. I attached the blower from the accessory kit I got for it and added my protective eyewear. When I got that thing going, let me tell you, it was great! I blew all the dust right out the garage door and that floor looked spotless. I blew the cobwebs right off the ceiling with no trouble at all. It was like using a vacuum but in reverse. The whole thing took less than twenty minutes.
I closed the garage, put the compressor away, and took a shower. I couldn’t believe it. Not just that I had to clean a garage—because I own a home, with a GARAGE!!—but that I had cleaned it so efficiently. Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go enjoy a nice hot cup of tea and a snack for a job well done.
Birthday parties can be challenging. Been there done that. Over the years, you attend a lot of them and they start to run together in one big celebrational blur. Kids, however, love them and don’t care if they are all alike, as long as there is cake and games. They enjoy frolicking about in a background and/or swimming in the pool. They love balloons and other decorations and the take-home goodie bags. They can’t get enough of birthday parties and would go to one once a week if they could. Sometimes they do happen that often if they are on the guest list of everyone in their class at school. My child is only one- year old and that birthday is a real milestone to commemorate. You can invite kids in the neighborhood or from school as a tiny tot doesn’t have individual friends as yet. I was really into the party and didn’t want to spare any expenses. I wanted basic fun and cute decorations and a big cake with one big candle. A one-year old can’t necessarily blow it out, but he can try and believe me, other kids will join in and help.
One of the things you see from time to time is a cheap bounce house for the kids. You can rent them in various sizes and themes and inflate them in the backyard. I had never used one before but I loved the idea. Kids can romp forever in these fun houses. I had to pick the type. I asked my kids and they voted for a castle. It comes filled with soft balls on the floor so they can sink into them and play hide and seek. I would hire a woman to play act a damsel in distress. She came with a pointed cone-shaped hat that had silk streamers coming out of it. She wore a beautiful medieval-style velvet dress. I also hired a young man to play prince charming. They were so cute together. Because I had decided on this theme, I naturally bought compatible decorations: paper plates with castles on them and paper cups adorned with the image of a princess. Of course, the cake was suitably iced with similar recreations. The kids were gleeful and couldn’t wait.
If you set up a good environment for a birthday party, everyone will have a really great time; and in this case, they did. I am not sure the one-year-old knew what was going on; but he enjoyed himself as witnessed by traces of icing on his tee shirt. Thus, I pulled off a unique party that was a winner for all participating. We had lemonade to go with the cake and party poppers galore. We also had a yard full of screaming kids. They went in and out of the bounce house dozens of times. It was a riot. I will have to think long and hard what to do next year. Maybe another bounce house with a different theme.