Mary Marcus: Heat Wave

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For weeks now it’s been unrelentingly hot. Even four miles from the water it’s hot. The pavement is hot. If you don’t put up your heat shade your car is fusion temperature. Unless you have AC (which thank God we do) anything but cold food is out of the question.  The people are hot. The trees are hot (some of them are exploding for lack of water). I’m seriously thinking of getting Henry a sunhat.


Henry in a sunhat

It also seems to me the drought has increased the number of homeless people, why, I don’t really know. It’s only an observation. But there are homeless people everywhere, sunburned and hot. And listless. But everybody is hot and listless, why should the less well nourished and housed members of the race be an exception?

I had parked the car on 7th near the 7-Eleven in Santa Monica, where some developer is going to tear down one of the old pre-war buildings with the cool terrazzo entryway and wedding cake decorations on the front, and build yet another Italianate live and work zone with a cappuccino joint and a gym inside and charge eight zillion dollars a month in rent. Henry and I were walking on the shady side of the street when I saw him: him and his cart of possessions which included piles of clothing tied in neat piles close together, and huddled inside those belonging a dog, about the size of Henry.

The homeless man was wearing sunglasses and so was I. His face was covered in a full black coat of beard. The only parts of his face you could see were the little places of cheek at the bottom of his glasses.

I am for the record, afraid of fleas, lice, bad smells, a hand suddenly reaching out to get me, and many other things as well. I generally don’t give to male homeless individuals because I don’t want to get that close, females are a different story.

But the homeless man (who on second glance) appeared to be someone about my son’s age, wasn’t asking for money. I snuggled Henry’s leash closer and walked by.  Was it the sight of the homeless dog that made me dig in my wallet when I was by then at the corner? No doubt. I didn’t have much cash, five singles, which I knew I could hand over without touching flesh. It was a skill I developed years ago and why other than the fact that I’m generous by nature, don’t give coins, because to give coins, you have to touch the palm.

I went back. Handed the bearded person the cash and he smiled. A big white smile with good teeth. His little dog smiled too.

“Thanks,” he said. I said, “My pleasure! And better luck!” He didn’t bless me as I’m often blessed, especially by one old woman who works the Farmer’s Market on Saturday whom I haven’t seen lately. (Do I hope she’s still alive, I don’t really know.)

He said, “My dog is happy to play with your dog!”

But I snuggled Henry’s leash up and said the truth, “Henry’s a little skittish. I don’t want him to scare your dog.”

“Hey, I get it,” the homeless lad with the thick beard said.

I knew he got it, that I didn’t want to touch him, his dog, or anything within ten feet of him. But he said it cheerfully, without making me feel guilty. He was glad to have a few bucks.  He did not judge my motives. I wished I did not automatically assume he had communicable scourges to impart.

I walked away. I thought of a night many years before when my son’s Sunday school class had gone to a homeless shelter to bring dinner one really cold night. The nights here haven’t been that cold in a long time.

We had brought on instructions, these long sheets of pre-cooked frozen lasagna. And the parents were busy setting the sheets out.

It was my son who noticed that the parents and the kids were setting out frozen slabs of lasagna, not bothering to use the restaurant style ovens that were right behind us. He pointed this out, and the Sunday school teacher and some of the parents put the frozen pizza slabs in the oven.

Then one of the homeless men spoke up. “Most of the time they expect us to eat frozen lasagna!”

My son had noticed before anyone else. And I was proud of him. If it still often shocks me that he is running for office as a republican, at least he’s a compassionate republican. I continued walking slowly in the heat with Henry.

I wasn’t so proud of myself, refusing to let Henry play with the homeless dog, just because I am afraid of homeless dogs, as I am of homeless people.

A typical bleeding heart liberal, that’s me. On account of my son, I’m now a registered republican, with any luck, I’ll learn compassion.

When they tear down that nice old building, I’m guessing a lot of old time tenants are going to be out of luck. I hope that young man with his dog keeps his good teeth, and gets himself and his furry friend off the street.

How exactly does one get off the street?

I have no idea.

I’m not so proud of that either.

Henry in a Sunhat, illustrated by the wonderful Aimee Levy.


Mary Marcus is the author of The New Me and the newly released Lavina. Visit her website for more.

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On September 3, 2015
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