by Daniel McMullan
I guess we all think about death. Strange musings at 3 a.m. The popular vision of a line of black cars following a sleek Mercedes stretch hearse. Then it hits you.
You were awakened by a passing garbage truck and a cold wind. And at 3 a.m., you are homeless, and as a homeless person, a garbage truck will probably be your hearse. At least that’s how I envision it. Be nice if they at least had a long one — painted black.
Years ago when I was homeless, I had a good friend named Yumi. He was always making funny, fanciful things out of things he found in his days of wandering and shlepping free meals. Then he would bring them up to Sproul Plaza where we divided the pizzas donated by Greg’s Pizza and other booty of the day.
We would all eat together and entertain each other. He was a riot and always made me laugh.
Every night in Berkeley, it rains. Unless you are outside at 3 a.m. or get up so early that you see that the sidewalks are wet, you will never even notice. When I lived indoors, I just assumed it was from yard sprinklers. But it is really a fine mist that comes in off the Bay.
Tiny little rain drops that are death to the elderly homeless. The fog rolls in on little cat paws. The grim reaper is a cat lover. Every fall, I see it happen to the older people without homes, some coughing, then serious respiratory distress, Then, “You oughtta get that checked.”
Then, a trip to the emergency room, never to be seen again.
I visited Yumi twice in the hospital. I noticed visits elicit better treatment (or any treatment) to homeless people, so it is not a duty I take lightly. He seemed to be doing better the second time I went and I told everyone he was doing better.
The third time no one was in the room. I asked the nurse about him and when she asked me if I could “wait a minute,” and picked up the phone, I knew.
Blood was pounding in my ears when the hospital’s social worker came out to speak to me and I didn’t hear a word she said. She kindly scribbled something on a piece of paper that I jammed into my pocket, mumbled a thank you and quickly turned away, something in my eyes.
It was a few blocks away, taking the side streets back to the park, with my eyesight clearing, when I pulled the paper out of my pocket. Alameda County Coroner… Blah, blah, blah… Blah, blah… Blah blah….
Later that night up on Sproul Plaza, there was a memorial for Yumi. I remember us lighting candles with a dollar bill. That was in remembrance of the time Yumi got a small amount of money in an inheritance and burned a bunch of it, yelling, “I got money to burn!! I got money to burn!!” I remember using some of the “not totally scorched” bills the next day, and getting some really suspicious looks.
I asked around if anyone knew if he had any family and it seemed there was no one. I tossed and turned all night in my sleeping bag, having weird dreams in my out-of-the-way spot on the Psychology Porch. One dream, I actually wrote down, it was so vivid.
It was about Yumi and how a crazy contraption/collage he made anticipated a new soft drink and a corporation was after him for leaking their big product launch.
Funny, as I was writing this story, I accidentally found it again after not seeing it for 25 years. But what was mostly on my mind that almost sleepless night, was: Tomorrow, I will call the coroner.
The next day I went to the Center For Independent Living. Back then, they had a phone in their lobby that homeless people could use. They recognized that most homeless people had a disability. They don’t do that anymore — provide a phone or recognize…
I called the coroner and as soon as it started ringing, I was collecting my thoughts and realized I didn’t even know Yumi’s real name. We found him through the date he died and the hospital he was in.
The man at the coroner’s office gave me the rundown. The fee would run over $600 and was likely to go up when all the storage fees were added. We had $400. We made many attempts but could not bail him out. I often wonder where Yumi is.
Actually, the list is very long of the folks I wonder about. I did find out where Teddy was. Since he died in Vallejo, the authorities there said he was cooling his ashes in a Catholic cemetery up there somewhere. I knew Teddy was a Catholic/Krishna, so I didn’t feel that he was in unfamiliar company.
As I write this, my longtime friend and activist Matt Dodt is in a similar situation in San Francisco where he was helping set up an event and had a massive heart attack and died. Massive heart, massive heart attack… Now he is captive.
Today in Alameda County, they read off the fees: $321.00, $359.00, $140.00, and 83 dollars a day storage while they do due diligence. Sounds like it is built to be expensive. I sure hope that comes with a continental breakfast.
If I die while you’re around, please don’t call anyone. Find a box, dig a hole, say some words, say a word.
Mum’s the word.
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Gimme Some Truth
Compiled by Daniel McMullan
What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal. — Albert Pike
I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it. — Mark Twain
If you don’t think every day is a good day, just try missing one. — Cavett Robert
In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present. — Francis Bacon
Age appears to be best in four things; old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read. — Francis Bacon
The way of fortune is like the milky way in the sky; which is a number of small stars, not seen asunder, but giving light together: so it is a number of little and scarce discerned virtues, or rather faculties and customs, that make men fortunate. — Francis Bacon
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. — Phil. 4:8