James Leon resides in an undisclosed desert sanctuary with a beautiful significant other and their tribe of furry kids. He writes screenplays...read more & essays, in addition to shooting his own films. His first feature, Dropping Like Flies, is due in 2017. Currently editing 3 books and working on a 4th.
In the middle of December, Brad had picked up my family of three black cats and me at a hotel in Los Angeles to take us to a homeless shelter in Riverside. Had it not been for our mutual friend, Bette, who found the place, we would have been on the streets. All my life of being shuffled around, it had never come to this. If it weren’t for the cats, there would possibly be more housing options. However, the cats are my babies and there is no conceivable way that I could part with them.
Some people probably think that’s foolish, but they are either not cat-people or just don’t understand the bond between us. I had Wookie-Mama since she was a kitten and upon her having a litter of five, Mr. Stealth and Lily-Cat joined us. The mother was five years and her two kittens were three years old. There had been brief stints when they were separated from me, which was very difficult. Now we were going be in homeless shelter together and fortunately found one with a kennel.
As Brad, the cats and Joe sat in his mini-van at the parking lot of the shelter, we watched the people line up. Many were over the age of thirty and as old as sixty or seventy. It looked very grim, especially to someone who had never experienced something like this before. I had even asked Brad, a fellow cat dad, if there was any way that he could house us for a short time. His answer was no. Then out nowhere he said:
“Who knows, maybe you’ll meet a pretty girl.”
Looking over many of the dumpy and elderly inhabitants, I scoffed at such an idea. Mentally and physically, I was not in right place to be thinking of such things. Plus, what kind of girl would want to hook up with a guy like me? Before this hardship and even during it, I had a clear sense of priorities that were about manifesting my creative endeavors. During long stretches of celibacy, I didn’t care about meeting a pretty woman or girl. The ones that I had encountered were all materialistic and the limited funds from General Assistance and Food Stamps weren’t considered aphrodisiacs. If anything, women were a deviation from the original path and plan. So, walls were built and my focus remained on the cats and improving our situation.
Once checked in, we were led to the small, separate building behind the shelter, surrounded by a long iron gate. Inside the kennel, there several cages that held cats on the left and dogs on the right. At first, I was told there was a limit of only two pets, but since they had cages available, all three of my cats were allowed. Brother and sister, Mr. Stealth and Lily-Cat would have to share a space, while Wookie-Mama got her own. Their neighbors were two small dogs, which was annoying for them.
However, this was the situation and they had to make do with it. On weekdays, kennel access was at least three times, but the weekends were even more limited. The first night was the hardest since the shelter overcrowded. I along with many other guys got a mat and had to crash out on the floor of the cafeteria. Perhaps it could have been much worse, but it definitely wasn’t pleasant.
Over the course of the next week, I began to adapt to this environment. Getting in line early during the evening hours usually guaranteed a proper bed on one of the bunkbeds of the men’s dormitory. Asleep by ten in the evening only to be awoken at five or six in the morning. Coffee and doughnuts before sent out into the streets. Brief kennel time, but then by the afternoon, two hours to hang out longer with the furry kids. Dinner was around six or seven, compliments of whatever local church or donations from neighborhood businesses. One last kennel visit, before the doors closed for the evening around eight. I began thinking of the song “Soup Kitchen” by Dirty Rotten Imbeciles:
“Like an alarm clock, our mind’s know the times…”
Every day I was writing over coffee in the morning, recording every dream from the night before. Then even penning epic letters to various people who I knew wouldn’t respond. Reading books when my mind could focus on them or sitting two hours a day in the public library catching up with the online world. Spending all the time that was allowed with my cats in the kennel. Anything to jump over the series of hurdles and stay on track with getting out of the situation.
Thankfully, I had a small mason jar of weed that was able to be smuggled into the shelter undetected in my backpack. I stayed sane despite the chaos of the shelter, never changing my clothes, showering or even taking my boots off to sleep. I brushed my teeth and shaved, but had an aversion many of the occupants. I pretty much kept to myself, talking to a small amount of the least annoying or threatening shelter occupants.
After about five days of being in the shelter, Christmas was forty-eight hours away. I don’t celebrate the holiday and became even more of an atheist being around many of the reforming junkies, addicts and alcoholics that had found god when it suited them. Keeping my ideals muted to avoid sermons from non-professional religious spokespeople was another way to avoid insanity. While waiting in line to get in for the night, an attractive blonde woman in her early thirties walked by me. She was a new and turned her attention towards what I was doing, sitting cross-legged and writing in my journal.
“Hey, you look like you’re too smart to be here.”
“Yeah, well…here I am.”
She started chatting and called me attractive, which was a boost to my crumbled self-esteem. Her name was Amy and her Christian family had sent her to this shelter after a blacked out bender. After dinner, it was movie night and the choice was “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. Once again, it being a full house, many people had to sleep on mats once the cafeteria tables were folded up. Amy had been one of the unlucky ones, whereas I had the top half of a bunk in the men’s dorm. Normally, I would have gone to bed during movie time, especially one that I knew by heart. However, I was enjoying the company of the most beautiful women in the homeless shelter. Although Amy was a flirty, social butterfly, she was an endearing Libra, a sign that is very compatible to my Aquarius nature.
As we got comfortable on a floor mat, she asked if I would mind giving her a massage, once we cleared it with one of the attendants. It was generally frowned upon by the supervisors if the men and women got too close or intimate. Upon receiving the approval, I rubbed her shoulders and fully clothed areas of her body. She melted into my palms while propping herself against my body, then curled up against my thighs.
Another supervisor named Jason walked by and said that it was time for us to stop. Not wanting to get either one of us kicked out, I decided it was time to retire to my bunkbed. Later, Jason came by to give me an Amsterdam t-shirt as a peace offering. The irony in that gift was the fact that my only visit outside of America was to Amsterdam in the mid-1990s. I ended up coming back after less than a week, worried that my money would run out and homelessness would follow.
The next day was Christmas Eve and over breakfast, I had a horrible headache from all the regular repetitive conversations. Once we were unleashed, Amy and I met up to smoke a joint between two factories on some abandoned railroad tracks. We had planned to hang out in downtown Riverside, but veered off in different directions for a few hours. When we reconnected at the shelter, it was after twelve noon. We went back to our usual spot by the train tracks to smoke more pot and talk. She asked for another massage for which I was happy to oblige. Inevitably, the topic of our mutual attraction came up followed by immediately by kissing. She mentioned having a bipolar disorder and had been collecting disability since her late teens. I took what was developing in stride, not certain of what to expect.
On Christmas morning, the shelter had a nice breakfast, but although a weekday, many of the staff members were off. Which for the occupants who didn’t have anywhere to go, most of them were going to camp out on the sidewalk until the evening when it opened again. Naturally, as one would imagine, the scene was rather depressing. Fortunately, I had a hundred dollars to my name and asked Amy if she wanted to go in on the rental of a hotel room for the day. She agreed in an effort to avoid all the male vultures that swarmed around her. It wasn’t easy being an attractive female in a homeless shelter and I was catching the brunt of jealous, macho dudes who wanted to hook up with Amy. The decision to flee proved to be best thing for both of us, expenses be damned.
As we walked over more train tracks to the high rise streets surrounded by more factories then winding up in suburbia, Riverside had seemed like a ghost town. Hardly any traffic at eight in the morning. Even though she was originally from this city, Amy didn’t seem to have any idea where we going and neither did I. One thing that was certain, our sexual chemistry was intense, having been connected by the hands after a safe distance from the shelter and losing a potential stalker of hers. We came to a Circle K gas station to retrieve a list of items. Coffee, snacks, condoms and cigarettes. Despite my dislike of supporting somebody else’s nicotine habit, it was my present to her. After all, once we got to our destination, she promised to “fuck me really good”.
We asked the employees of the Circle K where the nearest and cheapest hotel was. Both of the women cashiers seemed happy to give the Santa Cruz Inn as a suggestion. They even said that if we mentioned who sent us, we would get a discount, which was an added bonus. Thanking them, we headed in that direction. Although I was anticipating sex and sleeping in a bed, a shower was on top of the list. Amy was rambling about anything and everything, waving at anybody driving by. She even went on about how we should get married, which struck me as rather odd. Yet I attributed it to her being manic and wondered if she would relax once we were in a warm room.
By the time we arrived to the Santa Cruz Inn, it was nine in the morning. I rang the office buzzer, while Amy stood outside to smoke. She was worried that we might not be able to get in on the fact that she only had a photo copy of her ID, but I remained optimistic. Once the receptionist arrived, we went through the checking in. I mentioned that the Circle K ladies had sent us, which was working in our favor for a discount. Then the lady receptionist caught a glimpse of Amy and claimed that she looked familiar in a way that meant trouble.
Even though we were getting a good deal on the room, a thirty-dollar security deposit was added on and would be refunded providing the room didn’t reek of cigarette smoke when we checked out. Once we were all settled with a receipt, received a key and led to the room, I was down to having ten dollars, which was going to go to whatever food for the day.
Once we inside the hotel, Amy and I kicked up the heater, then got comfortable on the bed. It was such a relief to not be around multiple people, surrounded by four walls with an access to our own bathroom. As we both agreed, a shower was first on the agenda. We peeled off each other’s clothes, kissing intensely the whole time and jumped into a warm shower. Her breasts were larger than what I preferred, but there weren’t any complaints on my end. We dried off, then made a beeline to the burrow under the covers. I wanted to perform cunnilingus on her, but being a Christian with conflicting morals, she opposed it. She insisted that I slam three of my fingers inside of her. Upon doing so, she moaned loudly with pleasure.
I made it a point to blank that of hers comment out. While there was a seven-year age gape between us, this was no place to discuss topics of who had more experience doing what. Spoiling the mood for a fluke of a sexual encounter wasn’t in the cards. Eventually, a condom was slipped on we carried on with our intentions. While it was brief, we both climaxed and cuddled underneath the blankets. Amy wanted to have a cigarette, but I had to remind her to do it outdoors. After all the activities and it only being before noon on Christmas Day, I was ready for a catnap. She had other plans and could not sit still.
“Let’s go smoke some weed.”
I had about half a joint’s worth and since she wasn’t going to enjoy the limited sanctuary of the room, we went for a walk.
Every year in downtown Riverside, they hosted a Christmas Day light show. However, it being daylight hours, it was too early and hardly anything was open, as to be expected. I simply did not care and wanted to nothing but relax indoors. Amy kept babbling, waving at passing cars and trying insert herself into the lives of the random people who obviously had other plans for the day. Within an hour or so, she had inhaled the pack of cigarettes that I bought and wanted more. There was no way that my last ten dollars was going to cigarettes. She kept making promises of giving more good sex. Regardless, I was not falling for that manipulative trap. Then she took it to another level.
“Well, if I don’t get cigarettes or weed, it’s going to suck for you.”
Her threats fell on deaf ears, as I wanted to sleep and was going do my best to block her out. Amy decided to hang out in the courtyard or parking lot with the intention of finding somebody to sponge a cigarette or whatever else she needed. Briefly we tried watching the television, but it being primarily holiday programming, there was nothing interesting on.
“Oh look, they have a Duck Dynasty marathon on today.”
Amy went back outside, so I tried to sleep some more. Eventually, she came back to say that she met a dude who was going to hook us up with some weed. However, we had to go hang out in the CVS parking lot across the street. Since her disability money didn’t come into her direct deposit, I questioned how we were going to buy it. Most dealers in the twenty-first century don’t usually sell their product for less than twenty dollars. Then again, this was Riverside and I wasn’t familiar with the local practices of random dealers. Since we needed food and CVS was the only place that was open, I agreed to head over there, trying hard not feel like some desperate teenager grasping to a lost cause.
Once we arrive, more people traffic started to flood the store and parked in the lot were two squad cars. There were a couple of street guys who were holding court in the patio area of the closed Starbucks. This wasn’t looking too good and Amy insisted that we go up to them, while paying no attention the cops who were scoping out anybody for suspicious activities. Going to jail on a holiday in a city that I was not connected to seemed like a nightmare that could be avoided. While she approached the guys, I stayed closer to CVS and called my mum to see how she was spending her day. My family felt bad that I was homeless, but weren’t in any position to help.
At some point, I went up to Amy and her new buddies. It was amusing, because early in the day, she was rambling about us getting married. Making a point to say that if we ran into anybody that she knew, I was to be introduced as her husband. With my resources vanquished, that was no longer the case. She was looking to reel in the next sucker. While she introduced me to the guys, my attention was more focused on the cops. Needless to say, the guys were put off by my bulldog front and warned me to watch my back. However, not one of them had any idea when the supposed dealer dude would return. So I decided to head back to the hotel and a reluctant Amy followed.
No sooner back in the room, the female counterpart was again antsy. I didn’t know what to do at this point. Sex wasn’t an option any more until her needs were met and the likelihood of them being acquired seemed next to impossible. As she treated the space like a revolving door, I tried to drift back to sleep. A couple brief winks, but nothing for too long. Being a babysitter for adult children was never my cup of tea. When Amy returned from one of many endless trips outside, she actually had good and surprising news.
“The couple that live in the space next door invited us over to have Christmas dinner with their family. Plus, they have weed and cigarettes!”
Finally, her chattiness had paid off in a way that exceeded my expectations of where the day was going to go. It was depressing to be homeless during the holidays, but to get laid and a free meal was the closest thing to good fortune that one could hope for while in such a predicament. Throwing on some shoes, I headed next door with her to meet these generous people. They had a residential living quarters that had a kitchenette area. We walked up the corridor of stairs to the second floor. It was a nice two room mini-apartment and private bathroom, but completely packed with people, possessions and clutter.
Not in a position to be snooty or unappreciative, I kept an open mind. David and Susan, were in their mid-forties, just a few years older than me. They had six children, five of which lived with them and the eldest was on his way. Amy had made herself comfortable in their bedroom as the wife loaded up the bowl and passed it around. It was great relief to know that dinner was going to be provided for the night. Originally, I thought the evening was going to consist of microwavable food and the obnoxious company of my female shelter buddy. Then check out time would happen at eleven in the morning and then back to the sad building of homeless occupants.
David and Susan were your average married couple that would not have been out of place living in a trailer park. They and all of their children were crammed into these two conjoining rooms, paying way too much monthly rent. David had taken over his deceased father’s business, which like them wasn’t doing so well. Christmas presents for the kids had been provided by a charity service of their church. To make matters worse, they were behind in their rent and by January, they would be facing eviction. Even more troubling was the fact that both husband and wife were long termed crystal meth addicts. Only a few weeks prior to this, I had left a warehouse in East Oakland the lease holders were a married couple also tweekers with three kids.
It made me question what was going on with my generation of people who held the façade of Traditional Family Values, but open to interpretations and excessive double standards. I took great pride in avoiding the mistakes of my parents and these people who were close to my age. While my life was far from perfect containing its own set of issues, I was not subjecting young children to dangerous conditions both mentally, physically and emotionally. With regards to my family of three cats, many outsiders probably considered my priorities vastly askew as well.
David asked, “Did you call your old man today?”
“No. We really don’t get along too great.”
“Well, whatever your differences may be, remember he’s the only dad you have.”
I tried to tune out the lecture. Even if David had a point, I hated being talked down to, especially by someone who presented themselves as a racist, hypocrite who had contributed to the over population of our chaotic society. Amy and I were there for a meal, which was still hours away from being completed. While she seemed to content to smoke all their pot and borrow from their seemingly endless supply of cigarettes, I needed some alone time. Susan acknowledged that their family and lifestyle was overwhelming. She was fine with me disappearing back to our room until dinner was completed, apologizing for the delay.
Upon laying in bed, contemplating my own life before drifting into a catnap, I debated about skipping the big meal. Amy’s attention fluttered between the family upstairs, to random people in the courtyard and occasionally me. Despite being stoned and having access to cigarettes, her interest in sex had shifted. It didn’t bother me, because there were other concerns on my mind: Wookie-Mama, Mr. Stealth and Lily-Cat. While my intention was set on spending the night in hotel room, I was hoping to make it back to the homeless shelter to make the last kennel call. I had only seen them briefly before we left earlier that morning. Separation anxieties started to take hold, which increased my panic about our situation.
Eventually, Amy came back and said that dinner was finally ready. It was as dark and there was a still a long hike back to the shelter. Susan apologized for the long wait, but it proved to be worth it. David called for his family to say grace which was laced with profanities and screams of hungry children, I sat in silence until given the okay to dig in. Whenever offered a free meal, I always showed appreciation for those who provided it. Many times in the shelter, I would hear a few homeless occupants who complained about some of the better meals that were cooked for us and thought of them as being ungrateful. This meal with these people wouldn’t have happened without Amy’s help. I was thankful for the family sharing it with us, when clearly they didn’t have to.
After getting a small portion of seconds, I tried to fend off much fatigue. Amy had hardly eaten anything and seemed more interested in depleting their supply of cigarettes. Susan and David expressed a justified annoyance by her insertion to their family’s space, but were polite about it. I didn’t want to just eat and run, but they understood my plans. Leaving on good terms, hugs, handshakes and words of well-wishing were passed on. Next was the trip back to the shelter and my female counterpart was not thrilled, but there was no way she was going to be left alone in the room that I paid for. All the while we walked to catch the last kennel call, she complained about how bored she was and moved at slug’s pace. This had to have been one of the strangest Christmases that had I have had, but it wasn’t over yet.
Fortunately, we arrived at our destination right on time. Some people were spending time in the kennel with their cats, walking their dogs, while many were in the parking lot having a smoke break before being locked in the shelter for the night. I spent those precious moments with my cat family, while Amy hustled and flirted with others for cigarettes. When it came time for the occupants to go inside, I had to hunt for her, which was no picnic. She puffing away at a bong while holding a cigarette and sitting in somebody’s car who wasn’t registered in the shelter.
“I’m walking back to the hotel now. Your stuff is still there. Are you ready to go back?
“Are you sure?
“No, I’m fine where I’m at.”
That was all I needed to hear. It was in my best interest to just go back alone and get a good night’s sleep without any distracting forces. As I headed along the dark streets, hoping not to be jumped, thoughts about what to do with Amy’s suitcase and numerous bags plagued my mind. Did she really expect me to bring it back to the shelter in the morning? I certainly didn’t feel like doing her any more favors, but couldn’t leave them on the hotel’s grounds and risk losing my thirty-dollar deposit. The vindictive side insisted on throwing them in the garbage or leaving them in the street. However, I wasn’t going to extend multi-levels of exhaustion any further.
When I was back in my room, it was such a wonderful calming feeling. As tired and drained as I was, sleep seemed almost impossible at first. Fortunately, I caught the end of the Mel Brooks classic, “Silent Movie”, which served as an anti-metaphor with regards to how the bulk of the day was spent. When that ended, there was an interview with Brooks followed by another film of his “To Be or Not to Be”. Finally, probably around midnight, sleep won the battle and it was glorious.
Sometime after four in the morning, there was a loud, impatient pounding at the door and a familiar, rambling voice outside of it.
Even though the sound was annoying, I playfully sang the question, “Who is it?”
It seemed all too obvious that I was not rid of Amy quite yet. Apparently, she and a couple of people had come to the hotel, but got as far as the parking lot before the hotel’s manager and security guard caught them. Their mission was to retrieve Amy’s possessions by any means necessary. However, their plan was foiled. So Amy, the manager and the guard came to my door. She was rambling about wanting her stuff, which I was more than thrilled to release. In an attempt to add insult to injury, she went on about how I was being manipulative, which was not the case. As I picked up her suitcase and bags, she demanded that my hands not touch her possessions.
She then uttered, “I’m not mad at you. I just feel sorry for you.”
I retaliated by saying, “Will you please pick up your crusty panties too?”
Like many of other things that I had said during the course of the day, that comment had flew over her head.
The guard accompanied Amy inside to retrieve her belongings and the manager wanted to know who rented the room. Having the foresight for something like this when we had checked in, it was wise to ask for a receipt and I happily provided the print out for him. Once Amy had all of her things, the guard escorted the troubled woman-child off of the premises. The manager was sympathetic and apologetic for the disruption. He said that if there was any more problems to dial zero and he would call the police, then extended my check out time to noon instead of eleven.
Even with the interruption, I went back to sleep almost instantly. Many concerns would later race through my mind, but they would not induce insomnia. Waking up a few hours before having to vacate the room, I picked up a coffee and muffin from Starbucks. Took one last shower and changed into some clean clothes, the did a little more journal writing. As I went to the office to return the key and pick up my thirty-dollar deposit, the receptionist lady from the day before was there.
“I understand there was some excitement early this morning.”
As she waited to hear from the housekeeping ladies about the condition of the room, the receptionist lady said that Amy had created problems at that hotel before. I was thankful that she allowed us to stay there, because it was fun for a very little while, but after a certain point it was just draining. Regardless, it was better than camping out in front of the shelter, where fights had been breaking out all day on Christmas. Once the housekeepers gave the okay, the receptionist gave me back my deposit. All in all, it was worth the price of the rental, even with the drama that Amy had caused.
Heading back to the shelter, I looked forward to spending more time with my cats, while prepping for any more surprises from the other occupants. My guard was thicker than before and if any of the gossip-hounds pried me for information, they would be met with vagueness. There were some of the men had expressed envy or jealousy over me “winning” the affection of Amy when she first arrived. One guy had even called me a “lucky dog”. I suppose it was true, but the sensation didn’t last for long and perhaps best that it ended quickly instead dragging out.
Two days after Christmas, I sat in the cafeteria during breakfast which consisted of coffee and doughnuts. Michelle was one of the first older women who befriended me along with a fellow Aquarian and elderly cat lady named Sandy when I first came to the shelter. Both of them were curious about what had happened to Amy and I on Christmas. Carefully choosing my words, I told them, sparing any unnecessary details. Apparently, Amy had disappeared after a woman in a tent outside of the building had beat her up.
In a deadpan tone, I replied, “Well, she probably deserved it.”
While I didn’t wish harm on Amy, it was difficult to feel sympathetic towards her and anybody like that. The ones who exist strictly for their own gain, using people guilt-free and when the resources are drained, they are gone. Much of 2014 had been like that and as the final days of that year drew to a close, I couldn’t wait. Even though I spent New Year’s Eve in the shelter and asleep before the midnight hour, there was an optimistic feeling about 2015.