E DECIDED ON BEING HOMELESS ONE SUMMER BACK IN HIGH SCHOOL, mainly because our drinking and drugging were best done out of the sight of our parents. It was a weird adolescent sense of consideration and respect.
Considering the vast quantities of drugs and alcohol we were consuming, we were fairly certain someone was going to die or get really hurt so we needed to be in the appropriate surroundings. After squatting around Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, we eventually settled on an abandoned mental asylum in Van Nuys. It seemed perfect and poetic.
Considering the vast quantities of drugs and alcohol we were consuming, we were fairly certain someone was going to die or get really hurt so we needed to be in the appropriate surroundings.
The Asylum, as we referred to it, was behind the hospital off of Van Nuys Boulevard and Sherman Way where Gault Street dead-ends into Cedros Avenue. The neighborhood was completely quiet. The Asylum was covered with overgrown weeds, boarded-up windows, graffiti and surrounded by barbed wire and chain link fencing that fortunately had a couple of holes big enough for us to go through.
The building structure was divided into three different buildings. Each structure was three stories with the backs of all the buildings facing outward toward the streets. The layout of the buildings allowed for quite a lot of privacy from the neighborhood; you could be walking by on the side streets and not notice anything happening, save for the occasional loud glass-breaking or crashing sounds that we would emit from time to time.
We all made a pact that we wouldn’t just allow anyone to come in, that as a group we had to be cool with whomever one person decided on bringing as a guest. Naturally, as drunken punkers, this commitment to disciplined authoritarianism was short-lived and half-assed.
Most of us went to Van Nuys high school. Me, Jerry, Eugene, Surge, Octavio, Noah and a group of three kids named John (we gave each one an acronym to differentiate between the three; one John was CJ which stood for Crazy John; another John was AJ which stood for Armenian John and the last John was BJ which stood for Black John).
There were several others whose faces and names have all but disappeared in my pickled brain. Most of us were sophomores, juniors and a few seniors. All of us were punks, goths, metal heads, stoners or just weird and general fuck-ups with deep-rooted issues and an appreciation for hard rock, metal and substance abuse.
Somehow we befriended this straight-laced kid that lived near the high school. He worked at a liquor store off of Balboa Boulevard at the southern edge of Van Nuys near North Hills. We mentioned that were going to be squatting for the entire summer at some abandoned buildings. When he asked how we would eat, shower and do all the little things that a market-based society conditions you to think that can only be done with a job or money or parents with one or the other or both, we had already planned that out.
All of us were punks, goths, metal heads, stoners or just weird and general fuck-ups with deep-rooted issues and an appreciation for hard rock, metal and substance abuse.
“We’re going to spange,” I said.
“Spange? What’s spange?”
“Panhandle. Ask for spare change. Spange. Basically, we are going to be bums.”
He thought about it for a minute, mulling the concept of squatting over in his head, weighing out if it would work, imagining the day-to-day life of chosen homelessness.
That’s when he offered up his liquor store to us. He said that we can have whatever we want: food, beer, wine, whatever. Whether he felt sorry for us or wanted to vicariously live through us, since he had to work for the summer, we didn’t know.
It was me, Octavio and Jerry. We each had an empty Jansport backpack. We took the bus down Sherman Way off of Van Nuys Boulevard. The store was a descent size. Our friend was there behind the counter. There were rows and rows of candy and snack aisles, huge displays of energy drinks, chips, long distance calling cards, condoms, batteries. But none of this interested us.
We looked at the tall and wide commercial refrigerators. It started off with sodas, water, juices, energy drinks. And then the good stuff: beer, bum wine (i.e. MD 20-20, Night Train, Cisco, Thunderbird).
We looked around, saw that the store was empty. I looked up. No security cameras. Jerry and Octavio walked over to the fridges.
“Are you sure it’s ok? I mean, you won’t get in trouble or nothing?” I asked.
“No, it’s cool. No one takes inventory. And I can always say someone stole it.”
We opened up our backpacks and stuffed them full of as much beer and bum wine as we could. In addition to that we carried the rest in black shopping bags (but in retrospect we should have brought 50 gallon trash bags). As soon as we stepped out we found an alley and slammed some beer. We got back on the bus and made our way back to The Asylum. The summer had just begun. But things weren’t going to stay this good for much longer.
To Be Continued...