Down and out in Beverly Hills.


Merv Griffin. Beverly Hilton Hotel.

It was the fourth day into my stay at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and I was sitting pool side and trying to spit words on a blank page. Writers block was killing me so I left on an adventure down Santa Monica Blvd.

These are the stories of 3 homeless people I talked to while walking around Beverly Hills.

Somebody’s gotta tell it.

Quincy

I met a homeless black man sitting in front of the fountain in Beverly Hills right after Santa Monica Blvd. He wore a blue wool jacket on top of several layers of clothes, black dress pants and a baseball cap that barely sat on top of his bushy hair. I noticed him holding onto a small red broken mirror, the kind you’d find in a little girls vanity set. He was just staring at his reflection and mumbling.

I asked him if he wanted my muffin, and he asked,  “What kind is it?”
I told him blueberry and he accepted my treat upon further inspection. I sat down beside him without an invitation. He started to eat the muffin hungrily, watching himself in the mirror. When I asked him his name again he looked into the broken mirror, and whispered to no one in particular, “I’m so sad”

I told him my name was Yoko, he smiled for the first time revealing small broken teeth and said, “I’m Quincy” and shook my hand, still holding the mirror in the other.
I said, “What’s with the mirror Quincy?”and he said softly, “My hair is bugging me. It’s so itchy under my chin” and he scratched the thick, mangled hair on his face. All I could think about was the phrase my hot little Portuguese hair stylist says to me as soon as I sit in her chair, “Change your hair, change your life.”

He kept staring at his reflection repeating, “I’m so sad.”

I wanted so bad to make Quincy happy and all it would take was a good haircut and shave. But we were stuck in Beverly Hills! Where the hell was I going to take this homeless black man for a good clean shave and possibly change his life?

I got up and touched Quincy’s arm and told him I was from Canada so he knew he could trust me and said everything would be ok. I was going to come back for him.

I left Quincy where he was so I could go find him a place to get a haircut.
I only went to three salons but they were ‘booked’ for the day.

By the time I came back Quincy was gone. I felt like I failed him.

Giselle
I walked around Beverly Hills  for a few hours and lost my sense of direction. It happens frequently.
Feeling hot and tired and slightly dumb, I dropped my bags by a parkette and guzzled my water, carelessly soaking myself like I was in East LA-and not Rodeo Dr.

Suddenly someone hands me a napkin and say’s, “Wipe your face sweetie, you got it all over you.” I turned around to see this little old woman in her 70’s dressed in all black attire- long sleeved blouse, long skirt, panythose and black shiny shoes. Her face was pale white with rouge cheeks covered with old age spots and crimson red lips that were drawn in way over her mouth. She wore huge Jackie O sunglasses and her thinning hair was parted down the middle.

I would have thought she was one of the rich folks but it was her lack of teeth that gave away her status in life. I took the napkin, thanking her and asked her name. She said, “It doesn’t matter” with a thick German accent. I told her my name is Yoko and she said, “That’s a nice Asian name. ” I told her I was from Canada and asked her where she was from? She said from Berlin. I said “Where Cabaret and Burlesque started. That’s cool!”

“Oh my God, Yes! That was the era darling!! My name is Giselle and I was a cabaret performer back in the day when people were cool. Now, everybody’s a piece of shit walking around trying to be somebody.”

I liked Giselle instantly.

She seemed to suddenly dance around me holding onto her buggy and recalling the day’s when life was grand in Berlin, Germany in burlesque and cabaret clubs. Her husband apparently was a young Canadian soldier who died in the army and she lived here for a while a long time ago. She stopped and reached into the buggy and grabbed bird seed and started feeding the pigeons saying “Can you believe some shit head left a mouse in a cage in the garbage. I’m going home to look after him now. Ahhh, that was the era,” and started to hum a saucy cabaret tune.

Before I knew it, the bus arrived, Giselle stood by the door and yelled to me, “That was the era darrrling!”

Wonderful Jennifer Jo-Hes

It was too hot that day in Beverly Hills to be wearing a black raincoat and hoody but Miss Wonderful Jennifer Jo-Hes, a black woman in her mid thirties was doing just that. Sitting on a park bench along Santa Monica Blvd fixing and rearranging her items one by one in the buggy in front of her.

I came by and asked if she was hot in her raincoat and she said, “No honey, I’m fine. The raincoat keeps the sun off me.” I introduced myself and asked her her name. She said with a big smile on her face, “It’s Wonderful” in a southern drawl.

“My full singing name and the one you may know me by is Wonderful Jennifer Jo-Hes. I use to be a singer. Well, I still am but I’m waiting for my money from the record company. They owe me something like ten million dollars.”

“Why do they owe you money?” I asked. She said with a stern look on her face and sweaty upper lip, “Well, actually, my family owe’s me money too because I was a young singer and they were taking care of all my earnings. My father spent a lot of it on himself and the family. They would make me sing all the time for the cash.”

“Can you sing now?” I asked, curious to hear if her story was true or not. Hey, you never know?  “No, I refuse to sing now. I’m angry.” She said. “Why are you angry if you can sing? That’s a blessing from Jesus! Praise everyday you wake up with a song if you can sing, Wonderful.” I said hoping she wouldn’t smack me for going all Christian on her. I saw a look of complete anger wash over her brown eye’s and she said,

 “I’m angry at God for not giving me my money. I suppose I could sing to Jesus but Jesus was just a man and he sinned like we do. I don’t talk to Jesus I talk to God for my money. I won’t sing til I get my money. I just want what’s mine in this life. That’s all I’m asking for child.”

She turned her head away from me.

The only thing I got her to sing was what she said she was famous for,   “It’s the top 100 with Casey Kassssemmmmmm”.

She told me to google her.

I did when I went back to the hotel. There was nothing.

 

Each one of them taught me something about myself and life.  I carry all of them with me.  

Everybody’s got a story. Take the time and listen. 

The American dream starts looking blurry when everybody’s doing the same thing to achieve it. Everybody wants to bsomebody but don’t forget a

Give somebody a hand, give them HOPE.

If you want to know what true hope sounds like….listen to the music of Tom Waitts and a tramp composed by Gavin Bryars, called “Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet”…

Here is the story behind it. Read it, then listen for yourself.

“In 1971, when I lived in London, I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in the area around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station. In the course of being filmed, some people broke into drunken song – sometimes bits of opera, sometimes sentimental ballads – and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”. This was not ultimately used in the film and I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one.

When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song – 13 bars in length – formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way. I took the tape loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee.

When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping.I was puzzled until I realised that the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man’s singing.

This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment that respected the tramp’s nobility and simple faith. Although he died before he could hear what I had done with his singing, the piece remains as an eloquent, but understated testimony to his spirit and optimism.”

Jesus blood never failed me yet….

Yoko Sanchez