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by Ron Cruger
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Lady on the bench
2007 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
La Jolla, California is a lovely town. It’s a high income, classy place.
The ocean meets the land here and forms lovely inlets and caves. Seals live, mate, have pups here, protected on a portion of a lovely
beach. A large grassy knoll above the rolling surf offers picnickers a perfect place to eat, lay back and listen to the sounds of
the waves of the Pacific Ocean making landfall.
seagulls ride the thermal winds during their constant search for food.
In quaint, tony La Jolla town merchants have placed wooden benches, two or three to a block as resting points for weary shoppers.
There’s a popular book store on the main street of La Jolla. Famous authors appear there, signing and selling their books.
There’s a wooden bench out in front of the book store. On this Sunday morning a homeless lady was sitting on the bench. I’ve seen
her around town a few times during the past 8 years. She pushes a shopping cart filled with old clothes, a pot or two, some shoes,
and dozens of plastic bags filled with things of which I do not recognize.
She was about 5 feet 3 inches tall. She was overweight by 30-40 pounds. Her faced needed a good washing. She wore a T-shirt, a silky
black dress, a faded pink sweater and an army jacket. She had cheap plastic rings on 3 fingers of each hand. Her hair was mostly grey
and needed a shampoo. Her fingernails were long and dirty. Her eyes darted from sight to sight. She smoked a stub of a cigarette,
inhaling deeply. Her teeth were deeply mottled.
to talk with her. I wanted to know her story.
up to the bench, smiled at her and sat down on the far side of the bench from her and her cart.
“Hello, is it okay if I sit here for a while?”
away from me and said, “Suit yourself.” I had made a bad start.
I tried again. “Nice place, this La Jolla, isn’t it.”
snorted, spit on the ground beside the cart and said, “Better than some.”
I reached into my pants pocket, pulled out a 5 dollar bill and held it on my lap for a moment. I saw her eye meet the bill.
She said, “Whatcha gonna do with that?”
yours if you’ll talk with me.”
“What you want
me to talk about?”
“Just tell me about you
and your life.”
“Gimme the fiver first.”
I handed her the bill and said, “Here you go.”
She put the fiver in a jacket pocket, stretched her legs out and appeared to relax.
“Where do you want me to start?”
“Where were you born?”
“I was born in Brooklyn.
My father was from Haiti and black. He left us when I was 2 years old. Never really knew him. My mother was Spanish from Detroit.
They were both alcoholics. I had 4 sisters. When my father left us, my mother got drunk every night until the officials came and took
us kids. Two went to live with our grandmother. Two were taken to Detroit to live with an uncle and aunt. I never saw my sisters again.
Never saw my mother again either.”
“They had me live
with my mother’s sister in the Bronx, but her husband did things to me so when I was 12 years old I ran away and lived in Brooklyn
for a while.”
I interrupted her and asked, “What’s
your name? Would you like a cup of coffee?”
is Rosy and yes, I could go for a cup.”
her, “Wait here, I’ll be right back, Rosy.”
was back in 5 minutes with a cup of coffee for each of us. She had waited for me.
“You want to hear more? I’ve never told anyone about all this stuff.”
“Yes, Rosy. I want to hear all about you.”
eyes darted to mine as though she was performing a lie detector test on me.
“I’ll go on, but don’t try no funny stuff with me.”
have a deal, Rosy.”
“Well, I got a job washing dishes
in Brooklyn during the day and I met a pimp and did tricks for a couple of months, but I hated that. The pimp beat me up a couple
of times. Maybe that’s why I hate men. Don’t trust ‘em.”
I had saved a few bucks so I bought a bus ticket to Los Angeles. I slept in the train station the first few nights. Then I got a job
as a maid in a small hotel downtown. Got fired ‘cause they say I stole some things from the rooms. I didn’t know if they were going
to have the cops catch me so I took a bus to San Diego. I roamed around downtown for a few weeks. Found some friends and we drank
together. Even did some drugs. Stole from some 7-11 stores, but I got scared of being caught. That’s when I hitchhiked to La Jolla.
That was in 1981, I think.”
“Why did you come to La
“Why? Hey, I heard that La Jolla was a rich place.
Lots of wealthy people. Nice weather. I got a job as a maid in one of the small hotels by the beach here. I worked for almost 2 years.
Then I got fired. They said I was stealing from the guest rooms.”
“Then what did you do?”
“That was the last real job I ever
had. I found a couple of friends who live on the streets. They taught me how to beg, how to spot the rich people who live here who
feel sorry for us and give us money once in a while. I don’t like it, but I check out what time the restaurants on the street throw
out their old food. I eat pretty good. I sleep in vacant buildings and sheds. It ain’t too fancy, but I get along, been doing it for
26 years now. I keep moving along. Never been arrested here. Don’t cause no trouble for nobody. Some of the churches around here let
me take showers and they feed me and my friends on Sundays.”
“So, Rosy, what are you going to do with the rest of your life?”
“Just what I’m doing now. Ain’t got no dreams left. Would like to see my sisters again if I could. At least once, you know. Don’t
know if my mom’s still alive. Don’t matter, I guess.”
I took another look at Rosy’s face. Underneath the aging lines and the wrinkles. Beyond the grime, Past the pain. On the other side
of the years of bare existence, of smashed dreams there was a Rosy just like all of us. Maybe just a bit less fortunate.
I handed Rosy a twenty and said, “Thanks. That meant a lot to me, Rosy. Take this and get yourself a good dinner tonight. Maybe I’ll
see you here again.”
“Yeah, sure. See ya around.”