On Vacation, All by Myself – New York Times

Charming and slightly sad story of a 15 year old who decides that he needs a vacation. I just love that he takes off to savor the freedom of doing what he wants, but is outraged by the idea that he might be running away. Even at 15, it is quite clear in his head that he simply needed a vacation – and one that wasn’t being directed by other people. I totally remember feeling what he describes. I’ll be looking forward to reading Pete Jordan’s new book, “Dishwasher: One Man’s Quest to Wash Dishes in All 50 States.”


NOT knowing what I’d eat — or if I’d be eating at all — I decided to play it safe and dumped two dozen red multivitamins in a sandwich baggie. I stuffed the baggie into the pocket of my corduroys.

Then I pulled on my coat, grabbed a rolled-up sleeping bag and the brown paper bag that contained my clothes, and left the note on the kitchen table.

As I slipped out the front door of my family’s small San Francisco apartment, I shouted “See ya later!” to my brother Joe — the only person at home. From the living room, he called back, “Where ya going?”

“Out,” I said, then closed the door behind me.

I was 15 years old, and it was August. The note on the table read: “I’m taking a vacation. I’ll call when I get there. Be back in about three weeks.”

At the crummy summer camp I’d attended when I was younger, every hour of the day was scheduled, which I didn’t find very relaxing, and on family vacations — where a consensus was needed to do anything — I always had to tag along after my four older siblings. I rarely got to do what I wanted.

So I caught the streetcar to downtown and boarded a Greyhound bus.

I rode five hours, out from under San Francisco’s persistent fog cover, to Lake Tahoe — which had what I considered to be the two key ingredients of an ideal holiday locale: fogless weather and miniature golf. Upon arrival, I folded my coat under my arm and called home, collect. My mom sounded worried.

“Are you coming back?”

“Of course I am,” I said.

“You’re not running away?”

“Running away?” I was insulted. Living in Haight-Ashbury — a magnet for runaways — I’d met plenty of teens who’d fled home to live on our streets and sleep in our parks. This sojourn usually lasted only until a squad car pulled up to the corner where my friends and I were hanging out. The cops would pluck the runaway from the crowd, stick him in the car and ship him back to his suburb/state of origin. It was exactly that environment that I needed a break from.

“I just wanted to get away for a while,” I told my mom.

“Well,” she replied, “just keep in touch then.”

After buying and applying some sunblock, I hiked straight to the miniature golf course. As far as I knew, it was the closest one to San Francisco. Continue reading “On Vacation, All by Myself – New York Times”

Paycheck to paycheck is harder than ever!

NEW YORK – The calculus of living paycheck to paycheck in America is getting harder.

What used to last four days might last half that long now. Pay the gas bill, but skip breakfast. Eat less for lunch so the kids can have a healthy dinner.

Across the nation, Americans are increasingly unable to stretch their dollars to the next payday as they juggle higher rent, food and energy bills. It’s starting to affect middle-income working families as well as the poor, and has reached the point of affecting day-to-day calculations of merchants like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 7-Eleven Inc. and Family Dollar Stores Inc.

Food pantries, which distribute foodstuffs to the needy, are reporting severe shortages and reduced government funding at the very time that they are seeing a surge of new people seeking their help.

While economists debate whether the country is headed for a recession, some say the financial stress is already the worst since the last downturn at the start of this decade.

From Family Dollar to Wal-Mart, merchants have adjusted their product mix and pricing accordingly. Sales data show a marked and more prolonged drop in spending in the days before shoppers get their paychecks, when they buy only the barest essentials before splurging around payday.

“It’s pretty pronounced,” said Kiley Rawlins, a spokeswoman at Family Dollar. “It seems like to us, customers are running out of food products, paper towels sooner in the month.”

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, said the imbalance in spending before and after payday in July was the biggest it has ever seen, though the drop-off wasn’t as steep in August.

And 7-Eleven says its grocery sales have jumped 12-13 percent over the past year, compared with only slight increases for non-necessities like gloves and toys. Shoppers can’t afford to load up at the supermarket and are going to the most convenient places to buy emergency food items like milk and eggs.

“It even costs more to get the basics like soap and laundry detergent,” said Michelle Grassia, who lives with her husband and three teenage children in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Her husband’s check from his job at a grocery store used to last four days. “Now, it lasts only two,” she said.

To make up the difference, Grassia buys one gallon of milk a week instead of three. She sometimes skips breakfast and lunch to make sure there’s enough food for her children. She cooks with a hot plate because gas is too expensive. And she depends more than ever on the bags of free vegetables and powdered milk from a local food pantry.

Grassia’s story is neither new nor unique. With the fastest-rising food and energy prices since the 1980s, low-income consumers are stretching their budgets by eating cheap foods like peanut butter and pasta.

Industry analysts and some economists fear the strain will get worse as people are hit with higher home heating bills this winter and mortgage rates go up.

It’s bad enough already for 85-year-old Dominica Hoffman.

She gets $1,400 a month in pension and Social Security from her days in the garment industry. After paying $500 in rent on an apartment in Pennsauken, N.J., and shelling out money for food, gas and other expenses, she’s broke by the end of the month. She’s had to cut fruits and vegetables from her grocery order — and that’s even with financial help from her children.

“Everything is up,” she said.

Many consumers, particularly those making less than $30,000 a year, are cutting spending on nutritious food like milk and vegetables, and analysts fear they’re further skimping on basic medical care and other critical services.

Coupon-clipping just isn’t enough.

“The reality of hunger is right here,” said the Rev. Melony Samuels, director of The BedStuy Campaign against Hunger, a church-affiliated food pantry in Brooklyn.

The pantry scrambled to feed 5,000 new families over the past 12 months, up almost 70 percent from 3,000 the year before.

“I am shocked to see such numbers,” Samuels said, “and I am really concerned that this is just the beginning of what we are going to see.”

In the past three months, Samuels has seen more clients in higher-paying jobs — the $35,000 range — line up for food as the fallout of the subprime mortgage woes takes hold.

The Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, which covers 23 counties in New York State, cited a 30 percent rise in visitors in the first nine months of this year, compared with 2006.

Maureen Schnellmann, senior director of food and nutrition programs at the American Red Cross Food Pantry in Boston, reported a 30 percent increase from January through August over last year.

Until a few months ago, Dellria Seales, a home care assistant, was just getting by living with her daughter, a hairdresser, and two grandchildren in a one-bedroom apartment for $750 a month. But a knee injury in January forced her to quit her job, leaving her at the mercy of Samuels’ pantry because most of her daughter’s $1,200 a month income goes to rent, energy and food costs.

“I need it. Without it, we wouldn’t survive,” Seales said as she picked up carrots and bananas.

John Vogel, a professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, worries that the squeeze will lead to a less nutritious diet and inadequate medical or child care.

In the meantime, rising costs show no signs of abating.

Gas prices hit a record nationwide average of $3.23 per gallon in late May before receding a little, though prices are expected to soar again later this year. Food costs have increased 4.5 percent over the past 12 months, partly because of higher fuel costs. Egg prices were 44 percent higher, while milk was up 21.3 percent over the past 12 months to nearly $4 a gallon, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The average family of four is spending anywhere from $7 to $10 extra a week — $40 more a month — on groceries alone, compared to a year ago, according to retail consultant Burt Flickinger III.

And while overall wage growth is a solid 4.1 percent over the past 12 months, economists say the increases are mostly for the top earners.

Retailers started noticing the strain in late spring and early summer as they were monitoring the spending around the paycheck cycle.

Wal-Mart and Family Dollar key on the first week of the month, when government checks like Social Security and public assistance generally hit consumers’ mailboxes.

7-Eleven, whose customers are more diverse, looks at paycheck cycles in specific markets dominated by a major employer, such as General Motors in Detroit, to discern trends in shopping.

To economize, shoppers are going for less expensive food.

“They’re buying more peanut butter and pasta. And they’re going for hamburger meat,” Flickinger, the retail consultant, said. “They’re trying to outsmart the store by looking for deep discounts at the end of the month.”

He said the last time he saw this was 2000-2001, when the dot-com bubble burst and the economy went into a recession after massive layoffs.

For now, low-price retailers are readjusting their merchandising and pricing.

Wal-Mart is becoming more aggressive on discounting. It announced Thursday it is expanding price cuts to 15,000 items, ranging from Motts apple juice and Progresso soups to women’s fleece tops, heading into the holidays.

Family Dollar, whose food offerings were limited to candy and snacks until two years ago, has expanded its mix of groceries like fruit cups, cereal and such refrigerated items as milk and ice cream while cutting back on shoes. This summer the chain began accepting food stamps.

Food pantries are also getting creative. Samuels said her church, Full Gospel Tabernacle of Faith, just started offering free cooking classes to teach clients who are diabetic or have other health conditions how to prepare vegetables like squash. It’s also offering free exercise classes.

“We are trying to make them health conscious,” Samuels said. “It’s not right to give them just anything. Our mantra is eat well and live well.”

Upscale bums in Beverly Hills

Great article. I think this might foster some conversation. Hawaii is another place where the bums have it good, not because of rich people but because of free showers at the beaches, wild food, fishing, and the throwaway society of tourism.


BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – Being homeless in this upper crust enclave is not exactly like living on the street in other places. There are handouts of $2,000 and bottles of Dom Perignon, lucky finds of Gucci shoes and diamond-encrusted bracelets, a chance to rub shoulders with rich and famous locals such as Mark Wahlberg and Master P, even empty houses to live in.

“This is the finest place you can be,” said Isaac Young, an affable 59-year-old with a wide grin and a smooth baritone voice who has been homeless in Beverly Hills since 1992.

In this manicured community of 35,000, Rolls Royces and Lamborghinis glide around city streets, movie stars live in gated mansions and Rodeo Drive price tags provoke gasps from tourists.

But the city also features about 30 rather scruffy residents who live in parks, bus shelters and alleyways.

They’re an incongruous sight amid the shows of superfluous wealth, underscoring the pervasiveness of the huge homeless population in Los Angeles County. Some 74,000 people live on the streets or in shelters, making the county the nation’s capital of homelessness.

“Homelessness is just all over, even Beverly Hills,” said John Joel Roberts, chief executive of Path Partners, which provides street outreach services.

But the homeless in Beverly Hills have direct access to something most street dwellers do not: rich people, who can afford to be pretty generous. They pull up in Porsches and SUVs offering trays of cooked food, designer clothing still in dry-cleaner plastic and odd jobs.

“They have a sympathetic thing for us and we’re grateful for it,” said a man with grizzled hair pulling a train of wheeled suitcases, an office chair and a stroller piled high with a motley bunch of items found in the trash. He would only identify himself as “Bond.”

Sometimes life even imitates the 1986 movie “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” in which a homeless man (Nick Nolte) is taken in by a hoity-toity couple (Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler).

At a park where homeless people congregate next to the Good Shepherd Catholic Church, Young found a benefactor who is allowing him to live free for a year in an empty house in swanky Benedict Canyon.

“He said ‘Here’s your second chance,'” said Young, who has lived in the TWA lounge at Los Angeles International Airport and on the streets of Hollywood, where he got wrapped up in drugs and alcohol. “I couldn’t believe it.”

A well-off couple from Manhattan Beach who also befriended Young gave him furniture, he said.

Young, who cannot read or write but composes poetry in his head and performs it, has six more months in his Benedict Canyon abode. He still panhandles to pay for expenses — actor Wahlberg gave him new clothes — but after a lifetime as a compulsive gambler and spender, he’s finally learning to save money and wants to get an apartment.

He has a good incentive. His eyes mist as he looks toward a stone park bench where he slept for a decade and promises himself it won’t be another 10 years.

Those lucky breaks are one reason why George, who would not give his last name, has lived in Beverly Hills for the past 16 years. “You never know what you’re going to meet,” he said, noting he once got $10 from Rod Stewart.

George, a lanky man who pedals a bicycle around town and sleeps on a building roof, said paparazzi and parking valets can be a problem when he panhandles outside celebrity haunts. But being close to wealth can lead to $100 handouts, or finds such as gold jewelry, video cameras and an Armani suit.

He was so thrilled with the suit that he wore it panhandling until he noticed he wasn’t doing too well.

“You have to have a certain look to get sympathy — dirty, kind of stupid, not aware,” he said.

He also knows an opportunity when he sees one. For a couple months, he hung out in a vacant house, lounging by the pool drinking up the liquor he found in a cabinet until the owner walked in on him. He managed to flee.

“I was just using the facilities,” George said. “I wasn’t robbing no one.”

That’s a typical scenario, said Beverly Hills police Lt. Tony Lee, but for the most part, the homeless don’t cause problems. They occasionally get arrested for petty theft or aggressive panhandling. They’re usually held for 72 hours for psychiatric evaluation and fined and released if deemed harmless.

Many are mentally ill but pose no threat. The city tries to refer them to counselors, shelters or drug rehabs, but they prefer street life, city spokeswoman Cheryl Burnett said.

Bond said some homeless avoid Beverly Hills because they’re turned off by the uberwealthy, who require a certain amount of deference.

“A lot of homeless don’t want to be with snooty, rich people,” he said. “You have to be respectful and not act like an idiot. If you’re a derelict, they’re going to call the cops on you. We’re the upscale bums.”

Banning the homeless, stealing coffee beans, Japanese suicide, Russian enemas, and ecoterror.

Honolulu council member Rod Tam has introduced a bill that would ban sleeping or lying down at bus stops. I think this is a great idea. Bus stops should be for bus riders. And they should look like this:

The problem with letting the homeless use bus stops as shelter is that it discourages other folks from riding the bus because not only do they sleep there, they shit and piss nearby, they leave their garbage (often their belongings), and they scare the hell out of timid commuters who might otherwise leave their cars at home.

We have enough cars on Oahu to circle the island 8.5 times if lined up end to end. That’s a lot of fucking cars. Way too many.

Tam is a controversial guy, either ignorant or naive depending on who you listen to. Recently he used the term ‘wet backs’ to describe hispanics, he claimed it was only because he was naive about the origin of the term…as odd as it sounds, that’s possible here in Hawaii. Local culture is pretty different from North America and sometimes folks here are pretty clueless about the political correct way of doing things. By nature, Hawaii is not a politically correct place. There is along history of people mercilessly making fun of each other here and nothing is off limits, not ethnicity, not gender, not deformities, not even sexual preference. All that is changing though.

Elsewhere in Hawaii someone stole half a ton of green coffee beans from Kailua-Kona. Big Island police are looking for 24-year-old Donimic Brooks, who is believed to be involved in the heist of the green coffee beans. My suggestion is look for the guy with the giant mug of coffee that he can’t hold without spilling.

Over in the other part of Hawaii, that we call Japan, there is an epidemic of the elderly killing themselves. I think it’s a good idea. The Japanese are sensible people. Always have been except for that idea about bombing Pearl Harbor.

And, those not so sensible Russians have unveiled a monument to the enema.

Tehy love to make statues in Russia, if not Lenin than an enema bulb. Lovely nurses though…they almost make it seem appealing.

Not so enjoyable is the conviction of Briana Waters, 32, of Oakland, Calif., in Tacoma (fair city of my birth). She was an Evergreen State College student who acted as a lookout in 2001 when others set fire to the Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle. The Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility, saying that researchers there were genetically modifying poplar trees.


The Holographic Universe, God, the monkey and the fire hose, and living in small houses

In fact, I’ve never read The Holographic Universe, but as pointed out by Ryan G. it does begin to sound a lot like spirituality ala Gurjieff, Buddha, Watts, and Fuller.

The point of the theory is that our material reality is all an illusion. The proof of this is that nano particles are able to communicate instantly with one another regardless of distance in space or time. This is the heart of most spiritual teachings as far as I am concerned. Even from a pragmatic point of view, none of this is real if you are dead, right? What happens to your BMW when you die? Where was your home before you existed? Life is an illusion. I happen to think it’s a pretty good one, but I do believe it is something unreal.

Personally, I have a hard time thinking that life is pointless, just an accident. This is why I am not an athiest. To me athiests have to have more faith than anyone else. Watch a child or a sunset or a time lapse picture of a flower being born. Look at the atomic structure of anything. Fall in love. Is this an accident of chemicals? Even if it is, what is the genesis of those chemicals? Science itslef says that something cannot come from nothing…so there is something.

What or who is it? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone can know in this reality, this world, this plane of existance. It is why I’m not a Muslim, Christian, or Jew. It’s why I don’t listen to people that tell me that they have the answer. I prefer the philosophies that point towards it without knowing. Strip Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and other philsophical faiths of the added on trappings and you find they all really point to the same thing. We can’t know.Here is the first picture that comes up if you google an image of God:

But I choose to believe. There is something. A controlling intelligence, a cosmic soup, a collective I that the universe consists of. And in doing a little research on the Holographic Universe I like this sentence best:

In a holographic universe there are no limits to the extent to which we can alter the fabric of reality.

I believe that. I’m no muggle. It’s why a monkey can escape from an inescapable enclosure using a garden hose. I can tell you for sure that the feeling that monkey had was one most people never get to savor. Liberation.

Maybe someone just imagined The Gas Men into being. They pay you to pump your gas. Or maybe you would rather get hit by lightning, survive and then win the lottery. It happened to 16-year-old BreAnna Helsel. The Michigan teen survived being struck by lightning and went on to win $20 in the lottery the next day. Coincidence is more than you think it is. Your subconscious soul is somewhere other than you think it is too.

In this world, you can decide to go to China with no money to buy a ticket and then win $1000 on the same slot machine two seperate times. I did it. Really. It’s how I went to China. You can read about it in 20 Weeks a Bum and Asia Tales of a Bum. Whatever you can dream you can do. Why does science fiction precede real science? It’s simply because the scientists haven’t begun to dream about the possiblities yet.

Like imagine John McCain debating himself…actually you can watch this one already.

Or imagine stepping back in time to see a ruined cathedral fully restored.
. Another man’s dream becomes a reality. I will admit that religious people have an edge because they have a focus for change. It must be lonely to believe in nothing but your accidental self.

If you dream it you can do it. Just like Oklahoma which has declared itself sovereign of the U.S. Federal government.

Declare yourself sovereign I say. One way to do that is to start getting rid of your stuff. I’ve been working on it for a while and am still paring down my possessions at usdebooks.com. Other folks have gone even further and are calling it The 100 Thing Challenge! Can you live with just 100 things? I can tell you that while I don’t have much, I still have at least 100 things, probably several hundred.

Less stuff means you need less space, it means you can live more and work less. The Small House Society is a group of people dedicated to the idea. It’s healthier too!

On the subject of work, I’m enjoying the Nature Tour Job. Took a full vanload of people out this morning and showed them things that grow wild they can eat, shared the history of the Hawaiian Islands, and in the process sewed a few seeds towards the revolution of consciousness that is to come.

Six days into my fast. I feel good, but I may end it at a week. I am bored with not eating. I love to cook, I love to taste delicious things, and the mangos are almost ripe. So I give myself permission to end with 7 days.

Japanese man finds woman living in his closet

TOKYO (AFP) — A Japanese man puzzled by food mysteriously disappearing from his refrigerator got a shock when he found out a woman had been living in his home for months without permission, police said Friday.

The 57-year-old man living alone — or so he thought — in the western city of Fukuoka installed a security camera and called the police when he saw images of someone walking around his home while he was out.

“We searched the house in the man’s presence. We found the woman in the closet,” said a local police spokesman.

The woman, named as 58-year-old Tatsuko Horikawa, was found in a flat storage space only just big enough for a person to squeeze into lying down.

She had sneaked a mattress and several plastic bottles into the cubby hole, police said, adding that the women had been arrested.

“She told police that she had nowhere to live,” the spokesman said. “She seems to have lived there for about a year, but not all the time.”

It is unclear how she managed to enter the home undetected. Police suspect she might have been closet-hopping, moving from house to house.

AFP: Japanese man finds woman living in his closet