Wednesday, December 9, 2009

So His Name is DJ After All…

After my interesting encounter with the iPodster I decided to approach the other man in the park, someone whom I have met several times. He frequently loiters around the church premises, but to my knowledge has never participated in any of our meals, services, or ministries. He also has multiple names; nearly every time we meet he introduces himself as someone else. I suppose this makes him the ideal candidate for me to blog about. Maybe I should set his picture as the homepage.

I greeted him in the latest iteration of his identity just to see how he would respond. "Hey, DJ how's it going? It is DJ right?" I said, and was surprised to see his posture straighten, his face brighten, and his attitude change from despondent rejectee to cordial host. "Yeah, that's right," he said with a smile. He welcomed me into his section of the park like a playground acquaintance in grade school. We aren't close enough for him to trust me entirely, but maybe he could someday, if I keep showing up.

One of the things that intrigues me the most about homeless people is their ability to embody poignant irony in a way that would be hard to replicate elsewhere. Unlike the last time I saw him, DJ now owned a shopping cart. But it wasn't stacked high with mountains of junk or survival tools for living on the streets. From where I stood it looked like mostly old clothes, sheets, blankets, and pillows all neatly folded and arranged from smallest to largest. The side of the cart was imprinted with the name of its previous owner: "Linens 'n Things."

DJ was also in a different mood than before, and his appearance was quite improved. His voice, though depressed, was more cheerful. I didn't have to strain to hear what he was saying, and it looked like he had bathed within the past couple of weeks. During our conversation he made several off-hand references to medication, perhaps that's what helped. He also mentioned several churches and missions in the area.

He talked a lot about prison. About people wanting to fight him. How he hates the Church. About wishing he could get back to his wife and family in New Jersey.

Toward the end of our conversation I asked him what was on his hand, I had been wondering the whole time we had been talking.

"Oh, that's a wedding ring I made out of gum wrappers," he said. "I want all the ladies I meet to know that I am married. I want them to know that I already have someone I love."

Sunday, December 6, 2009

"iHomeless" Do They Have An App For That?

I spoke with DJ again today (more on this later). My wife had noticed him sitting in the park behind our church and asked me if I wanted to take him a blanket.

When I walked through the rod-iron gate, blanket in hand, I noticed that there was not one man in the park, but two. They were sitting on benches about 300 feet from one another, each apparently oblivious of the other's presence.

I decided to take a gamble and walk toward the man I had never seen before. He certainly looked homeless, at least initially. He had his hood up and was slouched against the bench with his chin on his chest. A couple of couch cushions were set up beside him as a make-shift bed. Now that I think about it, the cushions looked kind of new, not like the worn-to-threads dirty kind that homeless people generally find lying outside apartment complexes. He was wearing a dark jacket that looked a little worse for wear. What really caught me off guard, though, was the reason he didn't hear me when I approached him.

I tried to get his attention a couple of times without any luck, and succeeded only when I physically stood in front of him and thrust the blanket in his direction. That's when I realized why he was slumped over in such an oddly familiar pose. He was swiveling his thumb back and forth around the white circle of his iPod, blissfully unaware of the rest of Los Angeles.

He looked at me with a quizzical expression and popped out one of the earphones. "I'm sorry? Can I help you?" he asked. When he understood that I was only offering a clean blanket he politely declined and said that he would be fine. It was clear that I had disrupted the serenity of his self-imposed isolation. I decided to move on.