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 He told me his license had been revoked for DUI.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.”