continued Gregarious and generous, Butch says that the blankets are for other homeless people. "Some of it belongs to me. Some of it I saved from the city throwing it away. I didn't get up in time to put it where it belongs" (a reference to his hiding place). "I look at the tags, and some of them are 'DDT FREE' for nonpregnant women. The thing is, nobody wants blankets in the middle of the day. They only want blankets in the middle of the night. They'll throw them off in the morning. I give them to people curled up on the street who look like they need a blanket. Y'know, the homeless don't sleep at night. You could get set on fire! I love the Reader. People wrap themselves in the Reader just to stay warm on the street! Put more Readers on the street, we need blankets."
The longer I talk with Butch, the more absurd his comments get. "You've caught me on my last day of being homeless. I'm about to hit the high seas. I'll have to turn this over to someone else who will follow in my footsteps. I'm going south -- to Mexico, where Americans have rights!" He starts laughing.
Across the street from the ballpark construction site, at 11th and L Streets, Dale Fairfield is filling his supermarket shopping cart with bottles and cans. Fairfield, 55, is scrounging through a vacant lot so littered that it resembles a landfill. He describes his situation with resignation. "I used to work for St. Vincent's, driving a truck. I worked for a place over on University and drove a truck there. I became homeless about 30 days ago. I'm an alcoholic."
Fairfield's cart is rusty and has no supermarket's name on it. "I found it one day out by a recycle place. I've got plastic here. Plastic goes for about 42 cents a pound. I've got bottles. They go for 5 cents a pound. Cans go for 90 cents a pound. I just dump it in now and sort it all out later."
Except for the recyclables, the only personal-looking thing in Fairfield's cart is a lumpy trash bag held to the lower part of the cart by a bungee cord and two small matching pieces of brown canvas luggage in the folding section near the handles. The luggage is bound together by an old silk necktie. "This is my bedroll. Up here are my clothes, my shaving gear, my deodorant, my soap. I guard the cart all the time. I sleep with it. It's at my feet. If it moves, I move. Those people you see with the little grocery carts, they're getting a check. I don't get any check. I wish I could buy one of those carts, so the cops wouldn't hassle me."
The shopping cart has been Fairfield's for about a week. "I had another cart, but the police confiscated it from me. I found this one and have been using it since. The police harass us a lot. I got a ticket not too long ago just for sittin' here. I got several tickets now for open container, illegal lodging. It's not fair. I'm homeless. Where am I gonna go? I sleep here, across the street, at a furniture store. I sleep wherever I think it's safe." At the very moment he is condemning the police, two police on bicycles go past and wave to him, smiling. He waves back and says, "Hi, guys!" He then says that those particular police are "real nice people. They care and you can feel it. The bicycle cops are pretty decent. I like them."
Although Fairfield says that he plans to get off the street, he doesn't offer any serious plan. "I've been an alcoholic all my life. I'm dry right now. That's why I asked you for money! Y'know, there's a lot of pain out here, and the alcohol depresses it. If a person don't have anything else for themselves, the only resort we have to go to is alcohol, so we're able to go ahead and cope with the situation."
Thomas Aloysius Reid III is only too happy to explain why he prefers a baby stroller. Reid, 44, has been homeless since he was 18. "When they built the Gaslamp back up, there was a lot of people going through the Gaslamp with shopping carts. And the police can tell you to drop your shopping cart and empty it out or go to jail. So, if I got a shopping cart full of bottles, which I have done, I would have to empty it out or go to jail. I just saw two cops today take someone with a shopping cart and dump their shit all over the ground. Period. End of conversation, no ifs, ands, or buts. But with this, I can go anywhere I want to. Anywhere. They can't tell me nothin' about this."
Reid says that he found his stroller in a dumpster in City Heights. "Forty-Third and El Cajon. I walk all over town. I walk to the beach from down here [Imperial Avenue]. I got my whole house in here. This is my bedroll --" he has a furniture blanket tied with bungee cords -- "my shoes, clean clothes, toothpaste and toothbrush. I got my radio. I ain't got no liquor." He points to a canvas bag labeled Eddie Bauer. "That's my clean clothes. I change my clothes every day. I'm goin' to be movin' up, but I gotta take it one day at a time."