THE UNDETECTABLE HOMELESS

computer"
Weekly Cyberlog

                 First, an apology for the error regarding the DOUG and PAM story mix-up in
                 the last two Cyberlogs! I have a tape recorder in a state which appears to be
                 demise. I had talked to two couples in the Brimfield area who are doing the MA
                 flea market shows and then moving on south for the winter fleas. Their life
                 experiences are so alike that as I listened to the on-and-off-and-then-static
                 recorder, I wrote the first story as I heard it and then moved on to another very
                 similar couple*s adventures, including staying at a camp that, while not a
                 nudist one, had something to do with "nature"*in fact, the second one involved
                 the Greens (party, that is). When I translated the second story from the
                 recorder (in handwriting) and then went to the computer to type the Cyberlog, I
                 must have flipped the tablet pages and confused the couple*s names and
                 stories. The first Cyberlog is correctly Doug and Pam, and I will get the proper
                 names and exact recorder contents of the other couple for next week*s
                 Cyberlog. I haven*t recorded such similar experiences in one day before; it was
                 like finding couples on opposite sides of a galactic mirror...in some alternative
                 plane. They even looked like they could be related. Both women had been in
                 the same field, and both men were patted on the belly as the women kidded
                 them about getting fat. My adding the same photo of the J&J and nature camp
                 signs in both Cyberlogs (actually appropriate for the area) denotes either that
                 I*m becoming senile or shouldn*t be typing on the computer while watching a
                 re-run of "Home Improvement." My addled behavior seems to "one-up"
                 Tim-The-Toolman." However, it is important that one understands that sooo
                 many couples are attracted to the "Snowbirding" bit regarding moving around
                 the country for circuit fleas and antiques shows. It is a solid strategy for making
                 a living while really enjoying a "fun" type of lifestyle.

                 AND NOW ON TO REGULAR "BUSINESS"!!!!! THIS WEEK I*M FOCUSING
                 ON A TERRIFIC TOWN IN WHICH TO BE AN UNDETECTABLE
                 HOMELESS PERSON. AND THAT IS NOT MEANT TO BE A "JOKE."
 


                 I*m going to give away a terrific secret and I feel rather guilty about it. But there
                 are just too many people searching for such a haven as our economy
                 continues a downward spiral for those who used to be "the middle class." It*s a
                 bustling small town where a homeless person can survive in extremely
                 pleasant surroundings in public and yet anonymously * living out of a vehicle.
                 Very little money is needed, just for food...and gas if one wants to travel to a
                 "big town" where there*s a Wal-Mart and a mall, big library, coastal peninsulas
                 with wonderful parks, etc. [We*ll ignore car insurance and repairs for now.]
                 There is a plethora of free parking, lovely streets with upscale shops to roam
                 all day and a major modern store to enjoy 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
                 There are many visitors to these so-called outlet stores [I see retail prices, but
                 no one seems to care], consequently "everyone" comes often so no one stands
                 out as "visible." I*m sure that other states have similar towns. However, this is
                 a great long-summer hideaway. But more of that secret after some
                 observations.

                 It*s the beginning of August and my travels have been more than just
                 interesting. It isn*t much of a surprise to find many more people living out of
                 RVs, motor homes, and trucks than in previous years. The business world has
                 come crashing down on the middle class, the poor who hoped to make some
                 progress are feeling dire poverty, and there are humongous yachts and luxury
                 sailboats cramming every harbor. It is true: the rich are getting richer and the
                 rest of the population is becoming so strapped that "poor" has taken on a new
                 meaning. It really means the difference between eating the same foods, buying
                 normal prescriptions, and living "as usual" and yet coming up short at the end
                 of every month * paying high amounts of interest on credit cards (with no way
                 of ever paying them off) and dipping into savings that deplete too quickly for
                 any plans regarding a future. If you hear ANYONE saying that the economy is
                 better now than 4 years ago, just send them to this site! Social Security (and
                 Disability) checks do not meet the cost of living and the health co-insurance
                 premiums have jumped to "But I don*t spend that amount each year on medical
                 care." However, it is insurance against the possibility of having an emergency
                 medical situation, and everyone who has the co-insurance policy is afraid to
                 drop it. Fear pervades, from health issues to job stability to housing costs
                 (repairs if not buying). And speaking of housing, why is "affordable" housing
                 now up into the $225,000+ range? What family of three with two jobs adding
                 up to $70,000 a year can afford a down payment, settlement charges, a
                 mortgage and property taxes on a house that costs over $225,000? Apartment
                 rentals are considered "normal" at $825 a month for a one-bedroom box (but
                 with a child, one needs two bedrooms!)...and those aren*t in the "good
                 neighborhoods." Those are more likely to be priced at over $1000 a month plus
                 utilities for the one-bedroom. That*s $12,000 a year just to have a place to eat,
                 sleep, and watch TV. Now add that child (you can*t afford the one, so think
                 carefully about having any more!), and the price of a two-bedroom apartment
                 hits around $1200 a month, and that $70,000 income just isn*t going to be
                 enough. So, say the experts, it is cheaper to buy a house than pay rent. Oh,
                 really? Where are the large and not-needed savings for the down payment and
                 all costs before moving in, immediate repairs, landscaping, property taxes,
                 water and sewer bills, etc. etc.? Well, the rich have the money. I don*t know
                 where all of the "showing" money (e.g., yachts and luxury cars) is coming from,
                 but the people I*m finding who USED to be able to live "normally" * among the
                 mainstream population * can*t figure it out either. As I*ve said before, they
                 aren*t just stunned; they are confused. I*m talking about teachers,
                 administrative assistants, car salesmen, beauty shop workers, and
                 self-employed shop owners. More and more of the people I*m finding who are
                 now living out of vehicles had well-paying jobs and expected to remain stable
                 until their retirement funds were due. And then life was supposed to be "safe."
                 Every day I hear of more companies closing and lay-offs from plants (etc.) that
                 are downsizing. I just heard about even more major companies using overseas
                 employees because the company executives frankly and proudly talk about
                 available cheap labor. And I don*t mean sweat shops. Learn what is happening
                 in India. I think it was a "60 Minutes" or other such investigative show that just
                 did a piece on Indians doing our income taxes, banking, and other personal
                 credit card business transactions. The labor was so cheap that even I was
                 surprised. I was further shocked to find that my supposedly American-made
                 computer company has all of its call-in technical help in Canada and Mexico.
                 No wonder companies don*t need an American labor force; they just send our
                 once-American jobs over the ocean to countries where English is taught just
                 for the purpose of stripping away American job opportunities. It now has a
                 formal label: out-sourcing. That is supposed to make it acceptable. We, the
                 listening/watching audience, were assured that our personal lives and
                 business transactions are "secure" and free from public access. Sure.
 

                 Okay; back to the very functional "homeless" who are living undetectably out of
                 RVs, motor homes, station wagons, and trucks...in very pleasant surroundings,
                 not in downtown slums with Welfare vouchers or food stamps. I*ve been
                 driving through cities, medium and small towns, and very rural areas. There
                 are so many places to appear to be living as a worker-bee, but in actuality,
                 what seems to be a mainstream lifestyle is just a facade. Acting is not restricted
                 to paid actors. I*m not saying that these very functional people are happy or
                 unhappy with a life that isn*t chosen; that is an individual decision and I*m only
                 relating the stories they tell me. My recent foray into coastal Maine small towns
                 has revealed that Freeport is a great place to spend one*s days, especially
                 from May to November. I*ve been there before and if I hadn*t been deliberately
                 searching for the anonymous homeless, I wouldn*t have noticed them either. I
                 just take a lot of time looking for "signs." First of all, how many towns have
                 many acres of free parking, among forested and private places with no one
                 caring about who comes and goes? No need to; the many shops and L.L.
                 Bean*s two huge and beautiful stores have enough business to bring the
                 spending public to Freeport. Why bother to stop those with money by
                 discouraging them with parking meters when there is so much open land
                 adjacent to shopping? And just a short drive away is a stunning harbor with
                 views to the ocean. The homeless park (no fee) amid the other out-of-state
                 RVs and cars. The local fishermen/lobstermen have worse looking vehicles!
 


                 I met two undetectable homeless ladies who were living in Freeport last year
                 (and still are), and this year I met two new women who never expected to end
                 up in a serious financial dilemma. I*m sure there are more, and I know that one
                 man I saw but did not approach is also living out of his RV. I spend so much
                 time searching for, following, introducing myself, and then interviewing these
                 perfectly "normal" people that I*d have to remain in one area too long,
                 shortening my traveling time over 8-9 states.
 

                 I met Greta as we both were resting in the shade in this flower-laden
                 "grotto"...right on the main street but very private, so chatting was easy. I had
                 followed her from a parking area which I*m used to watching because it is
                 literally surrounded by trees and other Rvs park there * but those are quite
                 obviously family-owned by monied people. One can tell; it isn*t that difficult! I
                 had seen her for three days doing the same things and returning to her vehicle
                 at night, turning on a TV as all other lights went out. I asked her, as I offered a
                 bag of chips, if she was "one of us." I had put my book down between us and
                 pointed to it. The title is Shadow Women: Homeless Women*s Survival
                 Stories. Every woman identifies with the title if it fits...and all have been eager
                 to tell why they are living an alternative lifestyle and are not "street people" or
                 "bag ladies" but certainly "homeless."

                      "I came to America with * my husband is in the service * Mike three years
                      ago. It was my second marriage and I just didn*t take enough time to think
                      about what might happen if I didn*t like living as a serviceman*s wife....We
                      landed in Louisiana and moved twice in a year. I just didn*t fit it in; I didn*t
                      like the Southern ladies and they didn*t like the ways my culture caused
                      me to act. We are very open and I guess I just said too much * especially
                      about your politics....Mike was transferred to Brunswick Naval Air Station,
                      and we lived there for two years. I still had trouble making friends and he
                      didn*t think I was trying. It caused fighting and when he drank too much,
                      he*d hit me. Not hard, but I didn*t like him anymore...and I wanted to end
                      the marriage. I didn*t have any real money of my own and the service
                      isn*t on the wife*s side, so I got no help at all. I was told to go to court if I
                      wanted a divorce but I didn*t have any money for a lawyer....I contacted
                      my relatives in Sweden, but they are not close and no one offered to send
                      me money to return. I even contacted our Embassy in D.C. No help
                      there....I found out that he was going to be transferred again, back to the
                      South, and I told him to go ahead. I wasn*t going to go with him. So, I am
                      called uncooperative by the military and I am the one who abandoned
                      him....He left and didn*t give me any money, so I had to get a job. Where?
                      I mean, where could I get enough money every month to rent an
                      apartment and pay for everything that I need to live?....Just as I was about
                      to go mad, a couple who lived next to us was transferred to the Middle
                      East....They gave me the title to their RV since they had no time to take
                      out ads and the wife knew I was in trouble. She didn*t like me much, but
                      apparently her religion taught her to "do good." I don*t think that they paid
                      much for it *or maybe anything * for I remember her saying something
                      about getting it in much the same way....I was just wandering down the
                      coast when I had to stop here because of a terrible storm. The next day I
                      walked around the town and was amazed. I could live here, unnoticed,
                      and all I had to do was get a part-time job to pay for food and
                      gas....Please let*s not discuss car insurance....I have a part-time job
                      selling clothing, and now I*ll have some background in American women*s
                      styles and if I have to move, I can have a reference....But I discovered at
                      L.L. Bean*s that Maine has a big sports and hunting foundation * all
                      nature related * and that is my specialty. Skiing, fishing, and camping, you
                      understand? Last year I got a winter job at a camping company and this
                      winter I*ll be able to lead camping trips * cross-country hiking, kayaking,
                      and skiing, and give skating lessons. I*ll be alright now, but I*ll still have to
                      live out of the RV in the summer months if I can*t land a full-year job.
                      Maybe I won*t have to go back home after all. I think I can begin by
                      making friends with the winter people in the mountains and river
                      regions...." (Greta, age 53, 2004 in Maine)

                 I like Freeport for more reasons that the town itself. It is an easy drive "up"
                 (that*s a bit northwest to me) to the Shaker Village at Sabbathday Lake and to
                 Poland Springs and farther to tourmaline mines and the increasing amount of
                 women who are undertaking self-sufficiency organic (edible) gardening and
                 farming in the hinterlands of interior Maine. I also can easily get to New
                 Hampshire from there without hitting the mountains...which my California car
                 doesn*t like since one has to change gears and Eulalia (my car has a name)
                 never had to do that before! What was very open country last year has
                 succumbed to development fever, and I was disappointed to see so many new
                 housing projects and construction for bypasses, etc. But in contrast to the
                 already overcrowded coastal towns, it is still "countryside" and the roads are
                 still bordered by farms, forests, and lakes.

                 I discovered my first identifiable hobo on this trip. Maybe some of the hidden
                 homeless that I have interviewed in the past are really nomads and live like the
                 stereotypical hobo, but I have never considered that term before. I do recall
                 one lady who declared herself a gypsy and somehow I dismissed the label and
                 included her in the "homeless" class. Hobo life was part of my academic
                 folklore readings, and I had a concept of how they live...which is certainly
                 different these days than after the Depression and even into the 1950s. Of
                 course, there are less trains traveling across the U.S., and the "bulls" watch
                 the train yards more carefully these days. I owe a smiling debt of gratitude to
                 Fran DeLorenzo, who has a Hobo Page on the internet with as much
                 up-to-date information as one could want on hobo life in the past and as of
                 today. We have been emailing back and forth, and this old hobo is not just a
                 talented minstrel, but a gem of a gentleman for educating me about hobo life as
                 it IS and not just as it is conceived by the general public. Do go to his
                 enjoyable and informative website: www.minstrel@worldpath.net and pursue
                 an interesting journey into the "*boeing" lifestyle. Anyway, I came to a
                 railroad-crossing track on a back road leading to the Shaker Village, and had
                 just stopped to buy some food and bottled water at an old country store.

                 I couldn*t see any trains coming, but from a short distance, I could see a man
                 limping along with a very tired-looking dog at his side. On impulse, I waited just
                 to see them up close, and I was already getting a paper bowl ready with water
                 for the dog. Now that tells you too much about me! The dog*s obviously bad
                 condition worried me more than a man walking the railroad track...and he
                 didn*t look that good either. As he approached, I put the bowl down and
                 gestured toward the dog. The man stopped, took off his backpack * which was
                 age-worn and dirty * and sat on a big rock while his dog lapped up water. He
                 nodded at me but didn*t say anything. I sat on another rock [Maine should be
                 called the Rock State. I*ve never seen so many rock walls and rocky ground
                 since Irish films, especially "The Quiet Man."] and took out sandwich material
                 from my cooler and made myself a cheese and ham sandwich. I asked him if he
                 would like one since I had a lot more and it might spoil before I got back home.
                 He waited a few seconds before he nodded. I actually thought he might be
                 mute, so I asked if he minded if I gave the dog some of the ham. Then he said
                 that it would be appreciated. It took a few more minutes before I got any
                 commentary out of him, but I persisted with questions. He responded to the last
                 question, and I got this on my recorder:

                      "I follow the tracks because of habit, from the old days, and they always
                      lead to a town or a house with some place to get a few hours work. I*ve
                      been having hard times since my wife died and I just up and left
                      everything we had. Which wasn*t much....I like being alone now. I don*t
                      want to be with anyone. Everything hurts. And I can only work in one
                      place for a short time and then I feel like I have to move on....I don*t know
                      if I*m searching for anything at all (in answer to my question). I*m just not
                      right in the head now. I*ll just keep going along the tracks and see what
                      happens." (No Name, age about 60, 2004 in Maine)

                 I did ask his name as I introduced myself, but he didn*t offer his. I asked him if
                 he knew Fran (who lives in NH) and he nodded a "yes" but didn*t elaborate,
                 even when I tried to get him to do so. When the dog looked like his nap was
                 sufficient, the man got up, put on his backpack, and started to walk away. He
                 nodded to me and I watched him and his faithful companion follow the tracks
                 on the other side of the road. I now have a distinct itch to attend the many
                 conventions/"Gatherings" of modern day hoboes, as they occur across the
                 country at what they still call "Jungles" * but with laptop/email connections for
                 communicating. They elect Kings and Queens, make vats of their famous Hobo
                 Stew, entertain each other and the town*s members, and provide "monikers" in
                 celebratory fashion. The stereotypical male hobo has a family, home,
                 computer, and usually is self-employed. He travels when it is imperative, and
                 the female hoboes are usually married, mainly to male hoboes. The once-used
                 Signs that were chalked by hoboes to direct others to good places and people
                 and the ones to avoid are just about gone now, but I did see one at an off-ramp
                 from a truck stop which looks very much like one from books by hoboes. Those
                 are numerous; hoboes distinguish themselves from tramps and bums as
                 workers for food or money, and most have some talent (e.g., minstrels,
                 storytellers, metal workers, wood carvers) that they use when traveling or at
                 their encampment-shows. They insist that they have always had a code of
                 ethics to ensure that there will be no crimes among their brotherhood, and
                 deny any connection to those who break that code. Most hoboes now are older
                 and "ride on the [train] cushions" while younger, stronger "*boes" still ask for
                 "where to catch out" from various railroad yards as they hop a freight. I keep
                 learning new and fascinating things as I travel. Maybe this is "how to stay
                 young when getting old."

FOUR


  islandr@goeaston.net

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