• Drinking away the pain in beautiful Monterey

    by Erika Fiske

    homeless luisAt 50 years of age and homeless, Luis is a mess, and he doesn’t seem to care. In fact, he says he hasn’t cared in a long, long time.

    Luis was born in Oakland to a father of Cuban decent, who liked brandy, and a vodka-drinking mother of German decent. Luis likes beer. Over the years he’s had plenty of it—enough to kill more than a few brain cells. Enough, in fact, to land him along a road north of Watsonville recently, where he thought he was walking on a Monterey street. “I was delusional,” he said, chuckling. “I didn’t know where I was.”

    Much of Luis’ past has disappeared from his memory. Even this story of the walk north of Watsonville had to come from another homeless man, Levi, who was sitting nearby with a parrot on his shoulder. Luis left rehab a few days ago, and he wasn’t one of the success stories. He was glad to be out, back among his friends, doing whatever he likes, drinking.

    There was a time when Luis worked and had a family. For years he was employed in roofing, construction and oil fields around Oakland and Bakersfield . He married and had five kids, but left them all. “I spent 14 years with a girl who became my wife, and we had five children together,” he said. “After three children I left, then came back and had another, then left, and then came back and had another. There was a lot of alcohol involved. I left about 20 years ago.”

    Luis doesn’t know what happened to any of them. “I never really knew my kids,” he admitted. Over the years he lost the family he grew up with as well, many to cancer—his mother, stepfather, a brother who disappeared, a sister who was murdered and his uncles and aunts. It was his sister’s death at 26 that stayed with him despite all the drinking.

    “An English teacher in the Catholic school shot her with a 357 Magnum on her balcony, and then shot himself,” he said. Either Luis never knew the reason behind the shooting, or forgot after a few hundred bottles of beer.

    While on parole for having a controlled substance, Luis met another woman and had another child. They also are gone from his life. He wound up homeless and has stayed in the Monterey area for the past 10 years. Luis doesn’t volunteer much about his life, his dreams or his regrets, probably because they were washed away long ago by the alcohol.

    But he does admit to a few regrets. “I started too soon. I grew up too early—working and starting a family. My parents and everyone were dying, and I was on the streets at 17,” he said. “Nothing I ever done good, ever came out. But I know what good is, and I know how to survive.”

    Luis chuckled between his comments, sounding very much like a cartoon character named Goofy. Sometimes he produced a troubling cough. His hand went to his left chest once, where he complained of some pain. Luis’ blue eyes peered out from skin browned by life in the outdoors. The nearby parrot took a walk to some lettuce leaves by the tree, but dropped the wilted greens and returned to Levi. Another bearded homeless man joined the group.

    Luis said he’s stayed in this area because of the food, including sugar and candy treats, and the treatment by others. “There’s such an abundance of food here. And people treat me nice,” he said, smiling and chuckling again. In fact, Luis said he’s treated better now than when he worked.

    “I’m old, and my body hurts. I can’t do work like I used to,” he said. “I’m happy now, except for the aches and pains. Alcohol is the only thing legal to me for pain. It’s legal, and it kills the pain.”

    Another homeless man reminded Luis of the time he stood on the corner with a blank sign. A woman stopped and asked why he was holding a sign with nothing on it. “ ‘I can’t read and write,’ you told her. Then she gave you $20, and took you to the grocery store to buy food,” he said. Everybody laughed.

    So, can Luis write? He took a paper and pen and wrote “Secret Information. What’s Up,” after asking how to spell secret. Luis can read and write.

    What he can’t seem to do is find his father, the one with the Cuban heritage. “My father had the same name as mine. He was a laser welder at Alameda Naval Air Station,” he said. “I don’t know where he is.”

    Luis stopped to roll a cigarette between his tobacco-stained fingers. “I can get more out of a pouch than I can from packs of cigarettes,” he explained, lighting the cigarette and taking a puff. Nearby, the parrot settled down on Levi’s shoulder, fluffing his feathers. Soon everyone will disperse to their tents for the night, or just a blanket.

    It will be a wet night again on the Monterey Peninsula.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on February 1, 2013

    Topics: Homeless Chronicles


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