69.My $39.00 Veterans Week

1909058321.jpgI spent part of my “Veterans Day” in Tricentennial Park in Albuquerque, NM. I was laying in the grass against my backpack. It is funny being a homeless veteran. I do not advertise it. I was sitting near the sidewalk though. Being close to the sidewalk, people walking by started walking around on the grass opposite me so they did not have to go near the “homeless guy”. I felt like telling them I was a veteran also to double their guilt. It was so frustrating that day.

I was dressed in my oxford, t-shirt, cargo pants, hat, sunglasses (all recently laundered except the sunglasses) laying casually against my sleeping bag attached to the bottom of my backpack. It was a wonderfully sunny day and i was laying on some lush green grass under the shade of a nice tree. I was watching kids practicing soccer, people walking their dogs, and other families just having a great day in the sun enjoying a nice Sunday.

I first noticed something wrong when a woman jogger approached and erratically changed course on the sidewalk! I looked around alarmed like I was going to be attacked myself. I looked around and there was no one behind me. The next group walked by normally sort of and then the next walked on the edge and did not acknowledge my “hello”.

I realized then it was me. I was the one that was the “problem”. I was standing out as homeless because of my backpack blaring HOMELESS. My gear is neatly packed, I do not look like a skid row bum. I returned to laying against my backpack trying to be nonchalant but I was so saddened. Had I been up in the mountains too long? Had I been so cut off that I had forgotten how I am viewed? I stay away from the cities for many reasons. I was feeling crushed. I am still saddened when I think about it. I remember how I was when I was not homeless. Actually I still feel normal . Actually I still am normal. I just have to live “rougher” than most. When people see me without my “stuff” they feel ok to come talk to me and carry on intelligent conversations. Actually at times I am not sure how intelligent they are though.

There are days when “normal” people just wear me out. People when they see someone with “stuff” tend to become nervous. Is it a knee jerk reaction that we do not want to become involved? That involvement takes time? That time might cost something? The looks I have received though that day in the park though and the overt actions made me realize that no matter what I do to stand apart I am still “classed” with those with needles sticking out of their arms and bottles of liquor in their hands.

Or so I was thinking until I had to think back to when I was in a storm three months ago in North Carolina. It was my second night of homelessness. I had to figure out if I was going to survive homelessness, I was going to have to be tougher. That homelessness is a series of life changing and life making moments. This experience in Albuquerque was again just reliving an old lesson that I had already learned over and over again. What I was experiencing was some of my old shyness, and some remorse for my current situation. Well I still have that everyday, I admit I hate being homeless and seen that way. I hate being reacted to it that way. I hate being “between jobs” even if it just handy man jobs.

I am in Albuquerque for one of my great VA experiments. I am going to see if the Vets Center and other agencies can give me some assistance. Its been over a month since the last debacle in Birmingham, AL at the VA there. I tend to try them every month and a half to see if I can find someone knowledgeable or if there was a funding loophole somewhere. I am thinking of even accepting the food stamps so I can get a Veterans Preference for hiring as sad as that is. To say the least my pride is taking a battering of late.

If it had not been so far away from real employment and the medical attention I needed, I would have loved staying on the hillsides. It was very peaceful though sometimes lonely. The nature and beauty and wildlife was something you could not buy anywhere in a lifetime.

What I see in the cities with the dirt, despair of the homeless on the streets, their cold and substance abuse issues. I see them shooting up, constantly begging, glass eyed, and I do not want to be here. I know why the people run from me. It makes me sad. I am growing to learn. I am in a class. I wonder how long a lot of these homeless have been out here. I yearn for my hillsides. This is the last chance I am giving this coming to a city I think. I do not feel safe here. I feel caged in. I do not want to be in a shelter with these people. I do not want to be locked down with people like this. These people are desperate for drugs and booze. I do not feel safe. I am watching them huddling behind buildings shooting up, or throwing up in darkness. I am watching the police do nothing but drive past. It is like The Night Of The Living Dead.

I made some errors in the week coming here during Veterans Weekend. I needed medical attention. My head was bothering me. I wanted to go the the VA. I was in a strange city and did not know where the hospital was. I am from smaller cities and had been a long time since I have tried reading bus schedules or trust strangers in the bigger cities. I am also carrying everything that is dear to me and valuable to my survival.

Monday is the “Celebrated” Veterans Day. I am the project of a High School. The Homeless Veterans Survival Guide was invited to speak to a Drama Class. Boy was I scared. I spoke about veteran homelessness of course. The students were more interested in survival phases, how I lived and moved. Why I am doing what I do. Why the government does not take care of its soldiers. I had to explain it has always been that way since the First Great Wars. When the wars are over, they want to forget the soldiers. So many questions for such a short class.

I finally make it to the hospital on Wednesday. I am tired. I have to inprocess for eligibility. I am out of my “nerve pills” and am a train wreck. I am supposed to take as needed and have been out for weeks. I have “as needed” for a few days now being in town! This town deserves the reputation it gets as seen on the TV show “COPS”.

I talk to the VA social worker (always an “as needed” situation) and she tells me I need to find a shelter for six months to get my VA package in order. She also notifies me that they will not transfer my neurology package from the other VA hospital because the “VA just does not do that”. I almost break down. I am done for the day. I leave with a list of homeless shelters she gives me and the admonition I better hurry to get there early “prayers are about to start”.

I look for a way to get out of town. I pull out my map from my back pack. At least it has a city map in the Rand McNally Road Guide. I ask another Veteran who was ahead of me in the prescription refill line about the buses and point on my map. He tells me what I need to know. It is getting dark and the wind is picking up with the temperature dropping. I start coughing.

I get on the bus from the VA, many stops. Getting jostled and continuously guarding my pack. Nervously watching for my stop and hoping the driver tells me where to get off at (the bus I meant). Of course he does not. I just happen to hear something and see a lot of people leave the bus and ask someone. The driver looks at me as if nothing happened, and like your fault for being new. I make my transfer and ride to the end of the line and to the mountains nervously. I am feeling worse and better. Seeing mountains closer and what I am used to getting out of the city lifts my heart. Coughing worsens, sinuses run, and ears start to hurt.

Make it to the end of the line. Feeling terrible, 35 mile an hour winds, cold chills, stiff neck and joints assault me. Feeling hot and not so good. Feeling thirsty, go to McD’s for soft drink and a sit down out of the wind. Feeling worse.  Begin realizing I am getting some sort of bug. Tonight I may not be able to camp. Its dark too! I do a reconnaissance of hotel signs looking for something glaringly cheap and might not hassle me too much.

$39.00 is pushing it, but doable. $48.00 damn tax! Too late I am feeling worse by the second as I drag my 55lb pack up the steps to the third floor in the 35+ now mile an hour wind. I am not used to a room. I am amazed by running water and having all the water I can drink. By being able to get up in the night to urinate, without freezing to death or having to decide if it is too cold out and hold it until morning. The bed is not right. I get my sleeping bag and blanket out and throw it over me. That is better.

I called my mother. I lie to her and tell her I am ok. That the day went well and I am feeling fine. I hate worrying her and if I told her the truth, she would cry and ask me to come home. I do not turn the TV on. I do not know what to watch and am not interested and would not want to watch a series in the middle of it. I am out of books and have nothing to read. I have the light on and cannot sleep. I am hungry! I am in civilization I can get something to eat! I get dressed and go to get something. Damn its 1:30AM and everything is closed. Try to get some sleep but there is too much city noise.

I am still not feeling good, all I have is some Dayquil and Alka Seltzer Plus. Day means Day right? So down goes the Alka Seltzer Plus for my cold. Turned off light at 2:00AM. The building and bed shakes from the wind. My God if I was outside I would have been fighting the plastic this night to keep it around me. I would still be sleepless. Police sirens wailing again.

Awoke at 5:45AM still feeling like hell. This is what I got for $39.00 plus tax in Albuquerque?

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1 Response to “69.My $39.00 Veterans Week”

  1. 1 morningaddiction
    November 15, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    Sometimes family is ones only salvation. You need to be somewhere for 6 months it looks like to get your VA package (which I as a civilian am not sure what that includes). For now you can be thankful you are not on the street corners doing drugs, digging in the trash for your next meal or wandering if the next homeless person will stab you just for your sleeping bag. Your family and friends are the first step in getting the help you need. They are the Americans you fought for, freedom for your loved ones and for your country. With their help you could go on to help other veterns. I feel it is hard for one person to try and fix the greater picture but in your own backyard you can get involved and make changes that hopefully will help to fix the many problems veterens encounter. Your family and firends will be the ones to stand behind you and help you in your conquest.

    My husband is a veteren. Reading your blog has changed me in the way I see what little I do for the veterens. In the past years I have always gone to a nursing home for the holidays to what I preceived as bringing cheer to the elderly who had no family. I always donated to crisis centers and sent my donation to the veterens who send me address labels. What very little I have contributed. Now I am a volunteer at the homeless shelters being a food server, baby sitter, reading, help with filling out applications for potential jobs. I also help with getting food stamps and assistance from the many places that offer it. Each city has food banks, places to get furniture, if you are lucky enough to have a home. There are many churches that help the homeless also in many different ways to small jobs, food, a place for the night. Its still very little and very frustrating. But I as one will do what I can to make changes in my community. If what I do keeps one veteren or homeless person off crack, off the streets and a chance for a better life then that makes one less homeless.
    Our country neglets their own. What little help there is for our people is sad.

    With winter coming fast you need to seek one of the many shelters that are out there. They are not the best, but its not a consentration camp either. They offer meals and a warm bed. An address to help get your meds and assistance started. Or if you are one of the lucky ones who have family and friends to love them and help they always need volunteers.

    You are always in my heart and I thank you for all you did to give me a free country to live in., the freedom of speech, of religion, and the right to be a free citizen.

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