26 January 2013

Willie and his wife, Anabelle, came to Los Angeles from Monroe, La., where they were local farmers.  “We wanted to come see the city,” he tells me, sitting in his motorized scooter outside of the grocery story. 

In a story as old and predictable as time, he and his lady fell in with the wrong people, who took their money and cast them into the street once they could no longer pay their share. “We live on Skid Row,” Willie says. “When we were staying in the Mission, there was too much drama.”  So he prefers the streets to the shelter, I ask. Yes, he says.  Every morning around 5 a.m. or so, the street sweepers come and roust them to move, although sometimes they sleep near a Starbucks and get to stay there a little later. 

The folks back in Louisiana don’t know that Willie, 61, and Annabelle have fallen on hard times. “We took a picture of a pretty house and sent that to them and told them that’s where we live,” he says. 

Every morning, he gets on the bus downtown on his scooter and comes and sits outside the grocery store, asking for a little help. Almost everyone completely ignores his quiet, polite, “Excuse me” as if they don’t even hear it. Imagine what it must be like to say “Excuse me” a couple hundred times a day and 99% of people don’t even acknowledge that there is another human being talking to them.

Similar to my story last week, when I put my $10 into his cup, which has about 37 cents in it, there’s no recognition that he’s just received a relative windfall. 

Willie stakes out the grocery store, collecting what he can. Annabelle’s daily activities sound a little more circumspect and tragic. Willie vaguely tells me she goes away for awhile and comes back and sometimes she’s beat up. I can’t tell if there’s drugs or prostitution involved and suddenly feel it’s too intrusive to ask...or maybe I don’t want to know.

As I start to walk away, Willie wants to keep talking. He’s afraid that he’s maligned Annabelle to me, a complete stranger. “I’m no saint. I’m an alcoholic,” he says. “I love her. She’s younger. She’s a good woman. I’m just trying to be the man of the house and take care of her.” 

This afternoon, I’m going to a party for the volunteers who work with The Giving Spirit, a Los Angeles based organization that I wrote about on Jan. 2  Twice a year, they distribute bags filled with goods for the homeless. They coordinate with shelters, but because the vast majority —more than 75%— of Los Angeles’ homeless are on the streets, they also go to Skid Row and under bridges and other areas where the homeless congregate and hand out the bags.  I wonder if I can get one for Willie. 

Jan. 26: Willie

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