■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
He looks 30, but his identification card says he is 22. His movie-star looks quickly catch one’s eye. You may have seen him several places around Hemet, perhaps parking lots and strip malls. Let’s call him Jimmy; that’s close enough.
When he hit me up for “some change for a sandwich,” I told him I’d buy him lunch if he’d answer a few questions for me.
“What’s the gimmick? You ain’t a cop are you?” he asked warily.
I assured him I was not, that I’m doing a study of kids on the street. He seemed skeptical, but over a hamburger and fries at Burger King he seemed more than anxious to talk about his life.
Truth is, I told him the truth. I’ve been working on a series of homelessness in Hemet for several weeks and have regularly reported my findings.
“You probably think I grew up in some kind of dysfunctional home on the wrong side of town,” said Jimmy, who is from a small town outside Amarillo, Texas. “That’s what most do-gooders I meet think. It is not true. My father is a civil engineer. My mother don’t work. She was always home for me. Nobody beat or molested me. None of that crap happened to me.”
Then why did he end up on the streets of Hemet bumming hamburgers?
“You ever been on the streets? Everybody tells me to get a life or go apply for welfare or something. Do I look like a welfare case? I’m fit to work but the minute I tell some joker I don’t have a regular address, that’s the end of my chances of getting a job, even at a fast food joint. I’ll bet you never tried to get help from the government. Well, maybe you did. Social security, probably.”
I assured him that was not the case and that I’ve had bad times. He almost snickered. “Yeah, sure.”
It doesn’t matter what he thinks of me. I wanted to know about him. He still hadn’t told me much. So what brought him to Hemet?
“Not much to tell. I broke up with my girlfriend. I knew a guy who was going to Hollywood to be an actor, so I went along for the ride. My folks still don’t know where I am exactly. I called my mother when I got to Los Angeles, and I told her I made it to California. She cried so much I hung up.”
How about Hemet?
“Oh yeah,” he was dipping fries in catsup and had a red spot under his nose. I concealed a laugh. “Like, I went to L.A. and met somebody coming to Idyllwild and I came out here for the ride.”
When was that?
“In January last year. People were nice up there. I slept on some couches and in cars, but it was too cold for me.”
He admits to drifting down the hill to Hemet, where he met a girl with an apartment. They broke up and he moved out.
“Look, I ain’t dying on the street. Lots of people worse off than me,” says Jimmy. “I get some yard work and stuff once in awhile, but I spend the money on food. I got my own spot in a hallway. Somebody gave me a blanket and a pillow. That’s all I need. Look man, I ain’t crying. I make due. This summer I’m gonna make it down to the beach. I’ll find something. I don’t intend to be on the street forever. I got my own hopes. I’m not dumb.”
I wondered if he just resented authority.
“No, not really. I don’t like stupid rules.”
He never did give me an explanation as to his seemingly lack of ambition.
I’m sure some of my readers will see him as a bum who deserves what he gets. I don’t think so. He had nothing but good things to say about his family back in Texas. The good folks in Hemet were OK to him. He thanked me for the meal and said maybe he’d see me again. I said, “Maybe.” We shook hands; I thanked him. As I left he had his head into a newspaper someone had left on the next table.
Jimmy is not typical of the homeless I’ve spoken with. He’s an exception. He’s not complaining, he’s just one of those guys who is experimenting with life. People who have appeared less likely to succeed have surprised us with heights they reach in life. Some guys have their own ways of living. Maybe Jimmy is one of them. Just sayin.’