Walking through Santa Monica is a trip. Although its a beach city you get an LA vibe because of all the different people who live there, work there, and tour there. Stopping in the promenade to watch a group of self-proclaimed acrobats and break dancers I began to experience this new place. One of the performers was from Brazil, another form Argentina and a third from San luis Obispo, the host introduced them so his port of origin remained a mystery. They shamelessly panhandled for money and made racial jokes which produced some nervous laughter and lowered eyes from the surrounding crowd. They urged us to come closer and advised us not to leave. Promising to give a good show in return for rich white people’s money. They started their work doing some pretty amazing stunts. Someone in the crowd shouted something about the American dream. After the street show the crowd dispersed leaving the odd dollar or two behind them.
A man plugged into a speaker strummed loudly on a guitar, his black vest embroidered with celestial bodies glinting in the sun. Not far from him a rather forlorn looking girl snag “My Heart Will Go On” pleading with the passersby for an audience with her look.
We passed numerous homeless people sleeping on the grass with piles of blankets and cardboard boxes, or working their daily job. Begging. They held up their bits of cardboard declaring their homelessness in bold black marker letters. One man sat in a wheelchair cradling a sign in his lap that told each passerby that he was in need of hand surgery. He rested his withered hands on either arm of the chair. As I walked down the pier I ran into another crowd watching a man who claimed he would be the first “black African American to fly” and that he was happy to be out of prison, but “DON’T RUN”! he yelled as his face shifted rapidly from an impish smile to a serious, hard mask. “The police are right there”
He played music through a speaker from a gold iPod nano and danced to an “animation” mix he said he made while in prison rather than fighting. He would occasionally reach down into his bag and pull out a Michael Jackson, or Obama mask and continue his dance. At one point a little black girl gave him two dollars and he yelled “Thank ya sister! Martin Luther King, Martin Luther King!” The little girl looked confused and looked back at her dad asking what he was talkin’ about.
A little farther on a woman with a painted face, in a faded purple belly dancer costume clanking together a pair of zils in either hand and balancing two swords horizontally atop her head. I continued on past the caricature stalls and cotton candy vendors to the edge of the pier. Several people had set up fishing lines, some possibly hoping to catch dinner. As the faces lined up on the railing stared out at the vast ocean I turned to look at them. Some stared longingly at the sea, others gazed at their lover standing by. A man who clearly carried his house on the purple mountain bike next to him jerked up his fishing pole and I watched him start to reel something in. I looked at the people several of whom had turned with interest to this small commotion. He seemed accustomed to people stare at him like another attraction on the pier as he tried to catch fish beneath the pier. He hauled up a small fish and a man above him asked if it was a catfish, he replied through several missing teeth that it were a drag’n fish. Another voice said nice cat and he said even louder that it were a drag’n fish if you would look its cuz it has a face just like a drag’n. No one seemed to hear him.
Walking back along the pier I noticed a poster board sign hoisted above my head by a wooden stake assuring me that God (& Jesus) were the energy in the universe, and more that I didn’t catch. On the backside I was given the opportunity to see David the preacher man’s youtube video all about it. I looked at the man who I assumed to be David, holding up the sign, walking down the pier with his eyes straight ahead. I passed the flying man, who had restarted his act, promising to fly again for a new group of people and the acrobats were still dancing and “passing the collection plate a second time like church”. A black man wearing nothing but a neon green thong hanging some scraps of leopard print cloth was talking about just standin’ there bein’ blessed and nek’ed.
Most of these people were asking for money, but they had another common thread. They had no time for shame. People bared their bodies, danced, sang, exhibited their lagging, or lack of hygiene, and need for clothes, slept, caught fish, ate, and spoke to crowds of people, without missing an opportunity to ask for more money. Most of these things are considered private by the middle class. Desperation and pleading did not seem to be a part of the mentality of these people. Rather they acted as if this was their daily job and they were just doing what they needed to do to get by. For the majority that means exploiting themselves and accepting that they have been stripped of their privacy because they have been stripped of their homes.