Author: Nelson Morais
Date: Jan. 8, 2016
Even though I am officially schizophrenic, I saw a lot of myself in the character of Cameron (“Cam”) Stuart in the film, “Infinitely Polar Bear,” which I rented on DVD recently. Stuart is a bipolar man played by Mark Ruffalo who lives in Boston in the late 1970s. The film was written and directed by Maya Forbes. It first appeared in competition at a Sundance Film Festival in January 2014. A division of Sony Pictures released it to the general audience in June 2015. Because of its understandably quirky nature, which would not appeal to a mass audience, I’m sure it bombed at the box-office.
The chain-smoking Cam is married to a woman (the beautiful Maggie, played convincingly by Zoe Saldana), who with two young children love him dearly, and who put up with Cam’s eccentric (to say the least) behavior. When the film begins, Cam has had a nervous breakdown, which leads to his losing his job and being hospitalized. His wife and kids greet Cam as he gets ready to leave the mental health hospital. He has either “the Thorazine shuffle,” or is drugged out and sluggish due to Lithium. He says, unconvincingly, “I feel great!” Maybe better, but certainly not great, by the looks of it.
Maggie moves into a rent-controlled apartment with her children, working at low-paying jobs even though she and Cam are college-educated. She struggles to provide for her and her two girls, played beautifully by the director’s daughter, Imogene Wolodarsky, and Ashley Aufderheide. Meanwhile, Cam’s mind improves temporarily, and he moves from a halfway house to out on his own.
Maggie applies and is accepted into graduate school at Columbia University. That means she must move to New York City, which leaves Cam and the kids back in Boston, with the bipolar, tempermental, and alcohol-drinking Cam to look after them. He switches back and forth from keeping a clean and orderly apartment, to letting cardboard boxes pile up in the home, as well as parts of a bicycle he never gets around to fixing. In fact, there are a lot of items (some would classify as junk) he never fixes or throws out.
The film includes moments and scenes where Cam, who later admits he has not been taking his mental health medicine since he took the responsibility of running the household with his children (with regard to not taking prescribed medicine, “been there, done that” — read my ebook, “From Homeless to Heaven”), gets angry and lashes out at people. At one point, he takes his kids to see a mansion a relative generations previously had lived in. However, the new owner doesn’t know the Stuarts, and is himself unhappy with the fact that Cam has invited himself over and is giving his kids a tour of the house without the new owner’s permission. The two men — Cam and the house owner — argue. I was reminded of the time, when I was homeless and not on medicine, that I lashed out at a woman in Boone, N.C., who I asked for change. She said, “You can’t do that (meaning panhandling was illegal in the city),” but I promptly retorted, “Yes, I can,” and so we went back and forth. I thought I was Jesus Christ, and therefore had the authority to panhandle anywhere I felt like doing it. Our argument escalated, and she left and called the police. An officer came up to me, and I took his suggestion to get on a bus, rather than going to jail, and left.
Another time, I went to an upper class bar, even though I was homeless and hadn’t bathed in a while, and got into an argument with a bartender who charged me the regular price for a draft beer. I thought I had arrived in time to catch the last few minutes of “Happy Hour,” so when he charged me full price, I told another bartender something offensive I won’t repeat here about the man who sold me the beer. That led to the first bartender grabbing my beer out of my hand, and promising to call the police if I didn’t leave immediately. I walked out, but yelled, “Go right ahead — call the police. I don’t care!” I trembled with anger. Once again, I thought that was no way to treat the Savior and Messiah of the universe.
Fortunately for others (VERY fortunately), when I was homeless for six years in the 1990s and not taking mental health medicine on a regular basis as prescribed, I did not have a family of my own that had to put up with me. Even so, however, I did have three sisters and their families, and a cousin, I had been close to, that I did not communicate with during the years I was homeless, primarily in North Carolina and Florida.
Also like Cam, I recall living in rooms or even houses (temporarily), where I let dishes pile up because I thought “God” was telling me to leave them for someone else to wash.
I believe “Infinitely Polar Bear” has only two drawbacks: the title, which does not sum up the movie in any way; and an abrupt ending that cries out for some sort of resolution. Even so, Ruffalo is so good in the movie, and the script so good and believable, I was really drawn in to the story and the major hurdles the Stuarts faced as a family. I highly recommend anyone wanting to better understand a person with mental illness to rent the movie and watch it. It really is that good.
I was happy to find out online that Ruffalo was nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a comedy or musical, for his portrayal of the bipolar character in “Infinitely Polar Bear.” Yes, the movie is hilarious and unpredictable at times, though it’s far from being a light-hearted comedy. To me, it was infinitely heartbreaking, as I essentially watched myself and the pain I inflicted on others on the screen.
Running roughshod over the homeless
Author: Nelson Morais
Date: Jan. 2, 2016
In Pomona, when temperatures dropped to the 20’s during the Christmas holidays, police were reportedly issuing citations to homeless people for loitering, while code enforcement officers stole the homeless residents’ personal property and crushed it in their garbage trucks.
Ron Williams is a former sergeant for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who has been working hard for some time now to see a homeless shelter built in Pomona, which is located in Southern California. Not surprisingly, local officials and law enforcement oppose his efforts.
Ron asked rhetorically in a letter to the editor sent to a local paper, “Where is the sense of urgency as seven homeless individuals have died on the streets in the past two months? What is the city’s plan for the homeless residents as events reach a critical stage?” He also wrote this telling passage: “Roland Bishop, his girlfriend, Gina Layton, and mother, Kim Coltran, produced 10 tickets they recently received for sleeping inside their vehicle, which was parked near a church in North Pomona. Bishop quipped, ‘The cops are giving out tickets like candy! They roll deep, like six cops, and they’re writing everyone tickets! They took all my stuff and trashed it!'”
One homeless man spoke affectionately to Ron of two of his friends who recently succumbed to the elements. “Pisa done froze to death at Garfield Park, and Cuba cashed it in in front of East End Liquor.”
When I was homeless for six years in the 90’s, getting off the streets and into a homeless shelter with a roof over my head, heat or air-conditioning, and a real bed, were luxuries to me, and such a relief. I believe strongly that the homeless residents in Pomona, and homeless people in all cities, deserve to have the same option.
Who, or what, are we celebrating today?
Date: Dec. 25, 2015
Author: Nelson Morais
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
That’s from the Bible’s book of Ephesians, chapter 2, verse 8. I hope your Christmas is a joyous one, as we celebrate and think about the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Merry Christmas to you all!
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Date: Dec. 19, 2015
Author: Nelson Morais
Christmas is almost here. We tell ourselves it’s not about the presents, yet we want to, and sometimes feel obligated to, give gifts to others. In recent years, I’ve not been able to afford presents or even Christmas cards because my monthly debts are larger than my wages. I’m not complaining; I’m just stating a fact. And I am working to remedy that situation.
I have a lot to be thankful for: a job, a vehicle, a beautiful house, a great roommate, and many dear “brothers and sisters” in the family of God. Most of all, of course, is the privilege to have a personal relationship with Christ. I heard pastor and evangelist Greg Laurie say on the radio the other day that how big we think God is affects how we face challenges in our life. The bigger the God, the smaller the problems seem to be. I’ll be frank and make a confession: I need to realize God is much bigger than I currently think He is.
My biological family lives far away, in Mississippi, Colorado, and California, so I don’t see them on holidays. However, I am so fortunate to have dear friends here in northeast Tennessee who invite me into their homes and lives at Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and, actually, throughout the year.
We celebrate at Christmas the birth of Jesus Christ, who lived to die on a cross 2,000 years to take away the punishment of our sins. He suffered unbelievable pain for us so that we may receive His gift of salvation. Have you surrendered your life to Jesus, who is seated at the right hand of Almighty God, and also wants to reside in your heart? And if you are saved, are you looking to Jesus for fulfillment? I hope so.
I wish you, dear reader, a joyful Christmas with family and friends. Most of all, I wish you to be filled with the Spirit of God, that you may find complete peace in Jesus Christ.
Remembering My First Christmas as a Homeless Man
Author: Nelson Morais
Date: Dec. 11, 2015
Christmas is just around the corner. I’m looking forward to spending it with my spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ here in northeast Tennessee. I do miss my biological sisters and their families, as well as my cousin Ernesto. I wish they lived closer to me so I could visit them.
I’m reminded of my first Christmas as a homeless man, in 1992. I describe what I did in the third chapter of my ebook, “From Homeless to Heaven.” For a brief synopsis of my six years of homelessness, go to my web site, www.homelesstoheaven.com
Here then is a recounting of my first Christmas as a homeless man.
“One day in West Palm Beach, just before Christmas in 1992, about five weeks after I had become homeless, I walked into a shabby-looking bar around lunchtime. I hoped to buy a hamburger with the five dollars a stranger had given me. It wasn’t quite enough money. Fortunately, however, a man at the bar who overheard my conversation with the bartender, spoke up and bought a hamburger for me.
It turned out “Glenn’s” generosity hid an ulterior motive. I soon found out he was an alcoholic and wanted to frequent bars in the area. He told me his license had been revoked for DUI. He therefore needed me to drive his van. That way, he would not get arrested for driving without a valid license, or for another DUI. I had recently retrieved my license from the company that towed my vehicle. That company tried to cut a deal with me and offered to give my vehicle and its contents back to me for only $200. That was $200 I didn’t have, or rather $195, if you count the $5 I had on me. I never did get my car back.
Glenn was about six feet tall, with an average build. He looked to be in his early 40s, and had a mostly upbeat disposition. He said his knees hurt from his job of laying tiles. I learned his live-in girlfriend wanted him to stop drinking and pursue a better-paying career. He showed me one of those specialty “How to Be a Successful Entrepreneur” magazines that she had given to him.
For a couple of days, I must admit Glenn and I had some great fun. After I took a shower at Glenn’s home in North Palm Beach, he gave me a clean Hawaiian shirt to wear. Later, his girlfriend got suspicious when she saw me with it on. She wanted to know why I was wearing his shirt. There was nothing improper about it. He was just being generous and helpful.
For merely driving the van, I got free alcohol and someone to have a conversation with; I was thrilled about that. Glenn liked to tease people, even strangers on the street. I also soon realized he wanted to pour his heart out to someone other than the girl he was living with.
We went to bars in downtown West Palm Beach, on South Clematis Street, including the legendary ER Bradley’s Saloon, and to a bar across a bridge in Palm Beach. At one watering hole, Glenn said to the female bartender, “Oh, baby, you’re looking good.” She went to her boss and we were kicked out.
As I noted, it was only a few days before Christmas. Glenn had not yet bought his girlfriend a Christmas gift. He knew she would be expecting a nice gift, but he apparently did not have any money of his own, or a credit card in his name. So Glenn took her credit card, bought cigarettes and gas with it at a gas station, and then tried to use the same card to purchase perfume at a department store in a mall.
They would not accept the card because it was in his girlfriend’s name. Boy, did Glenn get mad! I thought we’d both be kicked out of the mall because of the scene he made, but, fortunately, we weren’t.
Despite the gift-buying snafu, Glenn’s girlfriend was allegedly forgiving when Christmas rolled around. I wasn’t there, but he told me on a subsequent day that when she warmly asked Glenn what brand of perfume he had tried to buy her, he could not remember because he was, of course, drunk at the time he was shopping. He even asked me privately if I remembered what brand he had tried to purchase, but I couldn’t remember it, either. I could tell he felt bad about not remembering that important piece of information.
I spent a few days at Glenn’s house in North Palm Beach. He showed me his small marijuana plant he was growing on his screened-in back porch. Being ignorant of anti-drug laws, I asked him if it was legal to have one in your home. He replied,, “Of course! It’s my house! I can grow whatever I want!” (I learned later that he was wrong; you could not legally grow marijuana anywhere.)
At his home, Glenn and I listened to Neil Young, a favorite singer of both of us. Glenn was a Vietnam War veteran. He showed me photos of him after he returned from Vietnam in the seventies, riding a motorcycle across the U.S. Sadly, however, it was now two decades later and he still carried a great emotional burden because of an innocent Vietnamese villager he said he shot dead at close range. Looking back, Glenn said killing the man no doubt meant making life difficult for the villager’s widowed wife and their kids. It was a split-second decision he made, but one with consequences that had affected him ever since. He didn’t think he could be forgiven, so he continuously carried the emotional pain and guilt over his action.
One night, Glenn asked me to find shelter elsewhere. For some reason I never found out, his girlfriend didn’t want me to stay in their house any longer. I left on foot and at one point, all alone, I raised my hands above my head and recited the Lord’s Prayer. I did that for no particular reason; I just felt “led” by some unknown power to do it. I carefully walked through people’s backyards, behind fences, trees, and bushes, so I would not be spotted. I stopped for a while and lay down under some protective bushes, but that literally didn’t feel right, so I moved on.
At one home, I saw a beautiful strand of large multicolored Christmas lights atop a very high protective wooden fence. I couldn’t see anyone, but I could hear the sound of happy people on the back porch drinking and eating. It was a bittersweet moment. Christmas is by far my favorite holiday. That night in North Palm Beach, I enjoyed the sounds and camaraderie I overheard, but it also made me feel even more like the outsider. I was the worthless homeless man, shut out from the activities of productive men and women.
Glenn had told me on a previous day that I could sleep in his van, if needed. The van conveniently had a mattress in it for the many occasions his girlfriend got fed up with his drinking and kicked him out of their house.
I decided that was better than sleeping outdoors, so I quietly returned to Glenn’s house and slept in his unlocked van in his driveway. However, in the morning, Glenn was surprised and even angry to find me when he opened the sliding side door. He had forgotten he had told me I could sleep in it whenever I wanted to.
Glenn’s girlfriend shared a “going-away” meal of pizza among the three of us, followed by the smoking of a joint. She then made him drop me off at the Salvation Army in Westgate. He reluctantly drove me to the shelter, where we shook hands and said goodbye. I could tell he would miss not being able to talk to someone who was a good listener.
And that is how I spent my first Christmas as a homeless man.”