14 April 2009

In Between

Home on the mind again. Only in part because I am preparing to move. More so because I encountered an old acquaintance residing indefinitely in the in-between. That place that can be so disorienting to most of us, leaving the comfort of the known home and moving on to the lesser known, albeit just down the road.

He stood at the buffet piling his small plate especially high, as if the one meal of the day. When he turned, he smiled broadly. “I remember you,” he said, extending his hand. “Michael. We met at the bookstore, the signing for Faye.” “I remember,” I said, shaking his hand. He had introduced himself to me that night as a celebrity photographer, a Hollywood party-crasher. “Are you crashing this party as well?” I asked. “Not really,” he replied and shoveled a fork-full of pasta into his mouth. “Good eats,” he said.

We were at an opening at [seven-degrees] for a Laguna Beach artist, a friend of mine. Carefully hung on three long walls were richly colored depictions of local scenes. Zinc at lunchtime. Class at Laguna Culinary Arts. The view from the library. “Are you still writing for the newspaper?” Michael asked. “No, not for some time. I’m with Friendship Shelter now.” “Really? Wonderful. I’m proud of you,” he said. An odd response from a casual acquaintance, but I saw in his eyes a true sense of pride. “And you?” I asked. “What are you working on?” “I’m in between things. In fact, I don’t have a home myself these days.” He told me he was sleeping on the beach. He was freshly shaven, his pants and jacket clean and unwrinkled. One might never have imagined his circumstance. He explained that he cleans up at hotels and public restrooms. “Just in between,” he repeated.

I introduced him to the artist, Sue Thompson. He admired her work and we chatted about the richness of the Laguna Beach palette. “Proud of you,” he said as Sue turned to greet another admirer. He excused himself for a moment to seek a second plate of food. Another well-known local artist stopped to ask him what kind of wine he would prefer. “I don’t need any,” Michael responded, but the friend said, “Just $3 a glass – merlot or cabernet?” Michael shrugged his shoulders. “Merlot I guess.” The three of us chatted about politics and recessions. Good conversation, but I was conscious of the fact that I would shortly return to my digs and Michael to the darkness.

When I bid good-bye, Michael pressed my hand warmly. “Take care of yourself, Michael,” I said. “You bet,” he answered and nodded with appreciation. “You too. Proud of you.”

I wondered that night as I opened the door to my sea view cottage, what it might be like to sleep on the beach night after night. Not as an adventure or for the delight of a starry night, but because there was no alternative. One cannot escape such imaginings when working with the homeless. It is always top of mind. Michael is yet another reminder that these are not throngs of unknowns, these are more often the talented, the thoughtful, the dignified remains of human beings trapped in a very difficult place. In between the before and the unknown.

Note: Check out more wonderful paintings like the above at www.suethompsonart.com

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