By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Hearing this, Nancy deflates. ”I’m gonna go out and have a cigarette,“ she says, wheeling past the young man from O.T., who is being fed lemonade through a straw.
Mack‘s life story, which he tells in exhaustive detail, is laden with bad decisions: knocking out the windows of downtown L.A. department stores before the age of 10; burglary and car theft; two-thirds of his 55 years spent behind bars in juvenile halls, Soledad, Jamestown, Paso Robles, Folsom; and a 30-year relationship with crack cocaine, which he does not consider a factor in his misfortune.
”I was going to jail way before I knew about cocaine. It hadn’t had nothing to do with me, ‘cause see, I never have been busted for drugs in my life.“
He asks a visitor to butter his bread, and then does not eat it.
”They got me for running on parole, ’cause I would not come up there and [drug] test -- I stayed dirty a lot. Last time I got discharged, I caught the bus and went to Santa Monica. I met Nancy on the beach. She say I blinked at her,“ he says, watching Nancy wheel back in. ”But I didn‘t like that beach. At first I used to say to Nancy, ’I don‘t know how you can do it, I got to get the hell away from here.’ It was too cold, rain. But she tough, she‘s been out on the streets. She goes out and do her thing, getting the money every day. I mostly be sitting. That was basically it. She’d bring the food to me. Nancy‘s good at panhandling. She wasn’t ashamed of what she was doing.“
He looks at Nancy, looking at him. ”She can get them people with that look, I guess they was feeling sorry for her.“
Nancy exhales a mirthless ”heh heh“ and shrinks in her chair.
Nancy and Mack go back to his room, where the TV is already on. An occupational therapist comes in and applies a hot pack to Mack‘s shoulder.
”That feel good, this here,“ says Mack. ”Since I been injured, I try to deal with it. I don’t even really think about it. I try to take care of my needs.“ Mack closes his eyes as the O.T. manipulates his right arm across his chest. ”Mmm, that‘s a good stretch when you come this way, all up in the socket. Feel them tingles. Oh, I passed some gas.“
Nancy and Mack sit in silence for 10 minutes, watching TV until it’s time for Mack to go lift weights. Nancy says goodbye to Mack; again, they do not touch.
Nancy is depressed during the drive back.
”He‘s never gonna walk. That would be a true miracle if he regained that ability, but I doubt it. And all this talk about his sisters, and wanting to be more where they live, which is more toward San Bernardino. I want to go back to Santa Monica.“
She stares out the window.
”What I want to avoid is being stuck in a board-and-care where you have people who are in la-la land. You’ve seen people who just rock back and forth from the Thorazine and other medications, or they sit there and they kind of have a dead, glazed look? I don‘t want to be in that kind of situation, or where people are talking to themselves, or where they get violent and act out, things like that, uh-uh. That’s one of my options, or maybe a sober-living situation, which would mean of course sobriety. It might mean not being able to go back to Santa Monica. I really just don‘t know. Ideally, I’d like to go back there, sure I would. And so does everybody else.“
Duane Bartsch, a lawyer, is suing the city of Santa Monica for $1 million on Nancy‘s behalf, claiming the parking lot should have been closed; the case has yet to be heard. Mack has been moved to a nursing facility in Claremont, where he recently underwent the amputation of his lower leg. Nancy is still a resident of Harbor Convalescent Hospital, and is trying to decide whether to be transferred to a board-and-care or wait for a Section 8 apartment or go back to the streets. She’s been taking Access Paratransit once a week to Santa Monica, to panhandle.
”It‘s good, though not nearly as good as when I was in the brace and wheelchair,“ she says, the fixator having been removed several months ago. ”I used to force myself to stay out and make $20 a day. Now, I’m getting about $10. It just depends on Lady Luck.“
Has she been drinking?
Does she want to?
”Now and then, I want to.“
Does she think it will be hard to keep from drinking, should she wind up back on the streets?
”It‘ll probably be harder not to, yeah,“ she says. ”But I could live there, if I have to. I’d have to go to Sears and get a sleeping bag and everything. All I know is, I could live there. I know how to stay out of trouble.“ She laughs the scorched laugh. ”And I also know how to get into it.“
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