The homeless man stood on the corner just up from the Santa Monica Pier by the triple water fountain that rested atop a column decorated with sea blue tile. He smiled, showing a set of mostly white teeth. He only wore tattered shorts, and the bottoms of his feet were filthy and revealed uncared for sores. His hair was unkempt and had formed dreadlocks that fell below his ears. He had a small paper cup in his right hand, filled it from one of the fountains, and then tossed the water onto different pavement squares on the sidewalk. We were in the souvenir store in search of magnets, coffee cups, and nice t-shirts, and while they shopped, I watched him from the store front window and could hear him through the opened doors.
“Okay?” he asked toward the sidewalk. I wasn’t sure to what he referred.
“I’ve got some blunts. You want one?” he asked a man coming out of the store, but the man ignored him.
One child wanted a drink, but the mother didn’t want to get close. “I’m thirsty,” he whined and tugged at his mother’s blouse.
“We can wait,” the mother said.
“No, I want a drink now.”
“We’ll get an ice cream.”
“Okay. Yes, let’s go.”
I learned from the security guard near the door that the homeless man went by Sam and lived in a tent just down from Santa Monica on Venice Beach. He combed the sands daily in search of treasures on his pilgrimage from Venice Beach to the Santa Monica Pier and back. He had a high school diploma, and had gone to the community college, but dropped out when he couldn’t pay back the loans. His already elderly parents couldn’t help him, and when his mother died, and his father lost the house, they both camped in an abandoned Winnebago on the road’s shoulder until they were herded to Skid Row in Los Angeles, an already sprawling fifty-city block homeless camp that had been there for ninety years since the 1930s. The guard explained that finally a tough-love judge had called for audits of charities and government entities and ordered a fund established to house and care for the homeless once and for all.
Sam and his father had headed to Venice Beach, but his father fell into the cactus garden in Beverly Hills, got an infection, and died. Sam ended up following a tarot card reader to Venice Beach shortly after, and together they scooped enough coins and bills in their hat from her readings and his dancing to outdated music to eek enough food to survive day to day. She’d told him she was going to Malibu one day, and he never saw her again. What little he’d made from panhandling, he bought food and legal marijuana and stayed high most of the time.
“What’s he doing with the water?”
“He’s feeding the gremlins.”
“He thinks there are gremlins following him around, and they are thirsty.”
“Gremlins like the ones in the movies?”
“Yeah. They were the manufactured Hollywood creatures in the movies. He’s tossing the water for them to lick off the pavement. The water evaporates, and it reinforces that they are lapping it up.”
“Well, to him, it’s real. I suspect he’s smoked some stuff that probably sent him even further over the edge. He’s harmless though. I can’t give him a lot, but occasionally, I give him a few bucks.”
It seemed to me that like most Americans, I was one paycheck away from being like Sam, and because I wasn’t like Sam, I needed to help in some small way. I walked outside.
He turned toward me but continued to fill the cup and toss water on the pavement. I handed him a fifty-dollar bill, and he put it in his pocket and continued to help his gremlins quench their thirst. The fifty probably wouldn’t help him much, or even for long, but I walked away feeling like it was the right thing to do.
Niles Reddick is author of a novel, two story collections, and a novella. His work has been featured in over four hundred fifty publications including 'The Saturday Evening Post,' 'PIF,' 'BlazeVox,' 'New Reader Magazine,' 'Citron Review,' and 'The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts.' Website: http://nilesreddick.com/