We don’t see each other much, and we’ve maintained the loosest of contacts over the 30-plus years we’ve known each other. I hadn’t heard from him for about 3 years when he called me last August.
Well, it’s finally come,” he said, almost brightly. “I’m homeless.”
“Come again?” I said.
Scott and I first met 33 years ago when he replaced my then-girlfriend in a shared house. She moved on to San Francisco, and I moved into my bread-truck home where I paid a minimum to friends to park outside and use their shower. (Can you say “hippie musician”?) Scott has always been a self-deprecating sort of fellow, mild mannered, and a bit loony. Great company.
He later moved in with a girl in our circle of friends, and they split up after he went to Colorado and learned massage therapy with a Far Eastern bent. Little by little we lost contact. He moved to Calistoga and did massage for a fancy spa. Then he tried and discovered that he liked crystal meth. What he didn’t realize until quite recently was that he was bipolar, and when he was up, he went way up. You know the down side.
About ten years ago he called me. He had moved back down to Oceanside and was living with his mother. She was retired and slowly failing, and he was her nurse for a long, long time till she passed away three years ago. In the seven intervening years he had only called once. But it was just the same as it always had been: he dropped a few names, I busted his chops, we laughed and swapped stories.
When his mom died, Scott decided that he wanted to re-pursue his dream of being a musical performer. He played OK guitar, and rudimentary piano, and he’d saved a bit of money living with his mom, so he wanted my advice on keyboards and PAs to buy. I guided him in a certain direction and found that he pretty much didn’t take my advice. Later on, I realized that he would always agree that my advice was sound and then never take it.
Back to last August. “What happened?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “I just got kicked out of a halfway house here in south Oceanside ’cause I’m not going to put up with their crap anymore.”
“And I’m going to go down to my brother’s house and get my stuff. Could you store it for me for a while?”
“Sure. What stuff?”
“Oh, the Korg and the PA,” he said casually. “They’ve been in my brother’s garage for the past three years.”
“What about New Orleans?” I asked. “How did that go?”
After Scott had listened to my advice about a keyboard, he’d gone down to Guitar Center and been talked into spending about $1700 more. He’s like me when it comes to keyboards — we want to plug it in, hit a few buttons, and play. Neither of us has the desire or ability to fool around with a lot of directions written by Japanese engineers or use MIDI (computer stuff). We both started on regular pianos, and we’re both technologically challenged. He doesn’t even know how to operate email. So for a keyboard, I’d recommended something simple to play costing about $700. Instead he bought the most expensive, hardest-to-understand thing down there.
He did follow my advice about a PA and bought a nice Carvin, an all-in-one four-channel mixer, amp, and speaker. So with that and a couple of mikes he could at least play amplified. As far as the keyboard was concerned, he never found out how to program it to play anything other than what came up when he pushed “on”: basic piano.
After one amplified gig, he decided that he was going to go to New Orleans and visit some of his relatives. He indicated that his mom had left him some “bottom land,” and he was concerned that his uncle might try to rip him off via the sand and gravel that could be mined there. He moved out of his apartment and stored his stuff in his brother’s garage.
“I never made it to New Orleans,” he admitted sheepishly.
“What the hell?” I was flabbergasted. “Where’ve you been all this time?”
“Oh, around here,” he said. “I worked as a swing-shift maintenance guy at that motel over by you for a year and a half. But my knees started hurting me so bad that I gave that up. I went on disability for a while and had a couple of bad spells with meth and this girl I should not have spent any time with. You know.”
“Mmm hmm. So you worked for a year and a half. Does that mean that you’ve been off work that long, too?”
It turned out that he had. He had been on physical disability but had failed to follow up on any “regrooving” — training for some new position where he didn’t have to be on his feet much. His money had eventually run out, and he’d run into a few days without food or shelter. About six weeks before this particular call, he’d checked himself into a psychiatric clinic declaring that he was suicidal.
“They won’t put you up unless you say you want to kill yourself,” he said. “I really don’t want to,” he confided, “but after a while you learn to play the game.”
It turned out that his bipolarity had been diagnosed about six months before, and he was on medication. Of course, since he was unemployed, Medicare was picking up the bill for the docs and the meds. He was still having a lot of trouble with his right knee — he thought he’d probably need surgery. The state had judged that he was now mentally disabled. Unfortunately, it would not give him enough money to really live on — only $800 a month. Enough to stay in a halfway house in a more or less structured environment.