Houseless, not Homeless
February 19, 2019 – Dash Point State Park, Federal Way, WA
The women’s bathroom at Dash Point State Park is a microcosm of off-season camp life, and it is there that I’ve had some of my most memorable encounters. Two nights ago, I entered to the sounds of a concert, unlike anything I’ve experienced. She stood near the sink, a blond-haired waif of a girl, dressed in glittery sandals, jeans, and an oversized black jacket. She gripped a phone in one hand, tilting it down as though about to snap a selfie. Her eyes told me that life hadn’t been easy.
As I stood at the mirror brushing my teeth, she burst into song. “…o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave,” voice bouncing off the walls of the restroom infused the song with an otherworldly quality.
The stranger taking a shower didn’t hold back.
“You have an amazing voice. You should be singing professionally.”
“I like to sing in the bathroom. It gives the song an echo effect.”
“You don’t need any effects. Your voice is incredible without them.” said the shower girl. And it was. Maybe it was the unexpectedness of it all, but I swear it was the most angelic voice I’d ever heard.
The woman with the voice told us her story. “You know, I auditioned for American Idol way back when Paula Abdul and Randy were still on the show. They were in Seattle and 6,000 people showed up. I got to sing in front of the judges. Ryan Seacrest is nice—very down to earth, but he’s really short. You wouldn’t know that by watching him on TV. Anyway, I didn’t get through, the judges had their minds already made up by the time they got to me.”
We shared stories about the campsite host, the one Brent calls “Ranger Tiffany.” The day after the big snowstorm, when we lost power, she made the rounds, visiting all the tent campers and declaring we had to leave due to an impending storm which never materialized. But I suspect the real reason was not the snowstorm. Some of the tent campers are “houseless”. They are part of an itinerant population who, during the off season, wander from one park to another, staying for 20 days, the maximum allowable stay. The “American Idol” girl was booted out of her tent that day, but I managed to persuade Ranger Tiffany to let us stay. Later that night I returned to the restroom and American Idol girl was still there. “It’s warm in here,” she said wistfully, and I hoped she had somewhere to sleep.
Living here in the tent is my “fuck you” to everyday routine, the one I’ve followed faithfully for the past 10 years, while waiting for the miraculous de-transformation of my ex-partner Diego. For Brent, it’s a bit of both. Negative circumstances (loss of a business, the death of his mom) dumped him on the path to homelessness, but it’s his rebellious, “fuck you” attitude to society with all its rules and regulations that put him there as well.
The night I met Brent, my eyes were opened. Friends and family were horrified, concerned for my safety, worried about my sanity. Even my daughter-in-law, who is one of the most open-minded people I know, didn’t want me to take Brent anywhere near the house (I was staying with them at the time.) She is internet-savvy and the best person I know when it comes to getting things done. So naturally she did a criminal records search.
“You know that Brent just got released from doing 30-days in jail on an assault charge?”
I was prepared. “Yeah, he told me that. When he was at the homeless encampment, a couple of guys came into his tent and threatened his dog Loki. He got into a fight with one of them and the guy ended up in the hospital. But I’ve checked his background too and he doesn’t have any other assault charges, just a couple of DUI’s and controlled substance (marijuana) charges.”
Ok, I’ll admit it, if my daughter hooked up with a homeless guy who had just been released from jail, I’d be horrified as well, so on some level I understand their concern. But my answer to their warnings was always the same. “So, you say you’re not trusting my judgement of people?”
I’d talked in depth to Brent and I knew in my heart that he was a kind and honest guy. I’ve been on this earth for more years than I care to mention, and my built-in “radar detection” hasn’t failed me yet.
In just under a week, I was scheduled to return to my son’s house in Hawaii. Visits with friends and family in Washington would take up just about every day of that week. I wanted to get to know Brent, but how do you get to know a homeless guy? Go visit him at his tent? It was the first time I’d felt the disadvantages of my nomadic existence.
Now, we’ve met halfway. It’s the only way we can be together. I laugh more than I’ve done in years, rarely use my phone, and I’m reading again—real books with pages to turn. Sleep comes easy now. In my old life, I would wake up at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, then toss and turn until dawn. Maybe it’s the quiet, the fresh air, the warmth of a body next to mine?
Some would say I’m crazy, and by their standards I guess I am. But If you sit back, go with the flow and trust your instincts, life can be more rewarding than you ever could have imagined.