Personal Charity in Santa Monica
I moved to Santa Monica 40 years ago when it was pretty much a holdover from the Age of Aquarius. You could eat free at the One Life café and pay whatever you wished. You could hang out indefinitely at the Pooh House on Main Street sipping coffee and playing chess. Third street mall was a disaster area of vacant storefronts. It is now occupied by trendy boutiques, an Apple Store and even a Tesla Showroom. Santa Monica was a quiet hippie town then. I used to go for walks in the evening.
Every once in a while I would talk with one of the locals, someone I would meet on the street. Like the very Arabic man, around five feet tall and stocky, who talked the best word salad I had ever heard. Totally schizophrenic but friendly, with the warmest smile in the world. He always wore some kind of blanket over his head and body, a dark face and scraggly beard peering out from under his cowl. We would exchange two or three totally meaningless sentences, and then I would give him a few dollars, sometimes five. I always looked forward to our brief meetings. And then he disappeared.
Around a year later he came back, this time missing one eye. Otherwise he was just like before, perhaps a little more bedraggled. Then he disappeared forever.
I lived right on the Ocean, in an apartment that right over the beautiful Pacific Ocean. I could walk to all the restaurants on Main Street a few blocks away. One night I decided to walk over to the Pioneer Boulangerie for dinner, a few blocks away. On the way a man walked up to me and told me that he was hungry and could he have a few dollars for some food.
He was not very well dressed, and he was obviously not a man of culture. He didn’t smell too good either. But I didn’t find that out until later, in the restaurant. I declined his request for money and instead offered to take him to dinner with me. Seemed like a good idea at the time. He accepted.
The two of us rapidly became a topic of discussion for our fellow diners. The waiters and management had no idea how to handle the situation. I was a regular customer, but my companion certainly wasn’t. They brought dinner, mostly because they didn’t know what else to do. I asked my companion why he was not eating, since he was so hungry. “I’m an alcoholic and I have no appetite.” At that point I lost my appetite as well and we both left. I gave him a few dollars.
It was Saturday morning and I was living in a ground floor apartment. Three bedrooms for $315 a month in 1970 in rent controlled Santa Monica. There was a knock on the door. A young man, very nice looking, who asked me for some help. His car was being repaired a bit south, at the repair garage at Nielson and Brooks. He was short twenty dollars and could I lend it to him. Sounded good to me, so I offered to walk with him to get his car so we could pay for it together.
We headed south, walking together on Main Street in the beautiful Santa Monica sunlight. We actually got around half a mile before he admitted that there was no car, no repair, and that the entire story was a scam. We parted company and I walked home.
It was a beautiful Santa Monica evening and I was strolling on Wilshire Boulevard, a few blocks from the ocean. A nice looking young couple walked up to me. They were obviously homeless. They asked me if I could help them. They seemed interesting, so I started asking them a few questions. Like where were they from, did they have any local friends and so on. The young man did his best to answer. He told me that they could not apply for any kind of aid because they had no mailing address, and that they were broke and hungry. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, the girl started in on me. I was just like all the others, nosy and stingy, nothing but a lot of questions, and that she had known all the time that I wasn’t going to help them. She was one angry woman, letting out her frustration and disappointment and futility, all directed at me in a surprising loud and strident tirade.
I had just been to the bank that afternoon and had a bunch of twenty dollar bills in my pocket. I pulled out one and gave it to the young man. Then another, and another. They both became very quiet. I don’t remember how many twenty dollar bills I gave them, maybe six or seven. This was 1970, and twenty dollars was a reasonable amount of money. I was having fun. Then I said to the young man, “Let’s talk”. I said to him very quietly, “get rid of her as fast as you can”. Then I walked away
There are always opportunities for charity. Most are anonymous, like Red Cross or Good Will. I strongly prefer the personal kind. Might as well get a little fun out of it.