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Category: Humans

There in the Jungle
When I was as lad, my cousin Bob and I searched for adventure in the wildlands among the large, undeveloped tracts of land beyond his suburban Sacramento home. Those wilds are covered over with development now, but in those days, the life there consisted mostly of thatches of unkempt growth and of birds finding their lives among the criss-crossing levees and railroad tracks that cut through the otherwise empty wildness. There was also human life there…a small, squalid concentration of it. My cousin (who has always been more worldly than me) told me it was a “hobo jungle.”

I only glimpsed it once, in a Tom Sawyerish moment when we hunkered down just below the top of a levee and peered with wonder into this alternate reality. We couldn’t see much, just the smoke of campfires and dark forms moving about the encampment. What life might be like in that world was seen only in the unreal realm of our own imaginations.

The hobo jungles of today are not so mysterious. “Homeless camps” is the new term, and their world is now close enough to see clearly — at least if we look quickly enough as we speed by on the freeway. The Tom Sawyer flavor of my adventure is nowhere to be seen. That taste was also a product of our young imaginations. These are simply people, mostly down on their luck and mostly willing, even eager, to work.

My grandfather was a hobo for awhile, before he finally landed a solid job. He rode the rails all over the country, even to the Klondike gold rush in 1899. I know it was a tough life, though I don’t remember him talking about it. He worked wherever he could and slept wherever he could get away with it. He had no shame about that life, my father told me, but was always careful to distinguish between a “hobo” and a plain old “bum.”

That distinction is well-made today as well. There are, to my eye, plenty of hoboes among the homeless, people who are a good break or two away from grabbing hold of the bottom rung of the ladder. For now, though, they are rubbing elbows in the camps with other hoboes, and with bums, and with the mentally ill.

There may even be a few adventurers among them as well, people (men mostly, I would guess) who are curious to dive into a world free of any expectation or the need to obey. That was me, once. It was a real adventure, that is certain. I wanted the freedom at the time, and I wanted the uncertainty. So I hit the road with just a backpack and a vague destination. I slept in places I was not supposed to be, and miraculously I was never hassled by the law.

But I was no hobo. I knew I could return to my old life any time. I could simply hop a flight and end my experiment with disconnection. I was never seriously up against any of the real trials that the involuntary homeless face. There was no chance I would go hungry. I had some money and some friends along the way and people I could call to bail me out. There was some danger, but nothing I couldn’t escape by just moving on. No hobo has that kind of freedom. A bum does, but I suspect he will have an even harder time escaping his way of life.

Believe me, it is a hard existence, even if your time there was spent as a bit of a lark. I was relieved when it was over. I won’t be going back, not if I can help it. My grandfather and all the other hoboes in the jungle didn’t have that choice, nor do most of today’s homeless. They want out of the life that circumstance has dealt them.

There are no easy solutions to their predicament, but as long as they are there, it is our predicament too. Even if we catch only fleeting glimpses of them, they are here with us in the community. Right over there by the freeway, in the jungle.
Squirreled Away
I’m willing to admit that, for a rodent, squirrels are kind of cute. The fluffy tail, the hindleg squat, the wide-eyed munching, the wacky scampering — they are all pretty adorable. They’re no chipmunks, of course, but they are certainly more lovable than rats. And way more than gophers.

I have noticed, however, that people who share a neighborhood with squirrels (as I do) don’t find them quite so charming. We don’t like the bird feeder burglaries, or the fruit theft, or any of their other in-your-face behaviors. And there is something about their brazen appropriation of your personal space for their own use that is particularly galling.

Still, I didn’t take up arms against them. Unless they managed to get inside the house, it was live and let live between us. So we had reached a kind of equilibrium around here, albeit a starkly unequal equilibrium. The squirrels were free to gorge on seed meant for pine siskins and dark-eyed juncos, and I was free to eat the occasional underripe D’Anjou pear. The squirrels could cavort and caper all over my outdoor furniture, and I was free to watch them from my living room lockdown. But there was peace.

Then it all ended. The tree-climbing rodents disappeared, leaving behind their abundance of fruits, nuts, and seeds. The woodlands around my house, once filled with the sound of their exuberant barking, fell oddly silent.

What had happened? Well, I guess you would say (if you were a squirrel) that the neighborhood had gone downhill. Young toughs roamed the woods, menacing the residents and chasing them up trees. Friends and loved ones went missing. Your yard became a dangerous place to raise children, much less hoard your nuts.

All because of the cats. The cat to one side of us is mostly of the indoor persuasion, but I don’t think that distinction would mean too much to a squirrel. On the other side, that neighbor is putting up two feral cats. They’re shy, but they look as if they might already have a few squirrel murders on their records. And then, there’s the newcomer, our cat. He’s mostly squirrel-curious right now, but the way he tears into his stuffed bunny, I’d say that the squirrels were well-advised to blow town.

Behind them, they left a changed world. No more spilled birdseed on the ground (though the birds have other problems now). I can hope for a ripe pear next fall. And, most importantly, my domain is free of rodent usurpers. The rats will always be there, I suppose, but they would be wise to watch their backs. It’s a cat’s world now, and they hold sway here in the neighborhood.

At least until the coyotes show up.
No Fair
Who do you complain to, exactly, when the whole world is treating you unfairly? No one cares, and why should they? They’re part of the problem. So no one will listen. And that is, obviously, unfair.

I tried looking for a support group, but there weren’t any. So I actually started my own. No one showed up. I guess I should have seen that coming. I checked, and there is no unfairness hotline listed on any government website. More unfairness!

I even tried praying, but all I got back was this deep whisper reminding me that I didn’t believe in God. So what am I supposed to do?

The sad truth is, you’re the only one who’ll listen.

Hello? Hello?
Fear and Clothing
Writing about your dreams is a little like writing about your cat. Nobody is very interested. Since I have already ignored the cat caveat (just once, though), I might as well go ahead and tell you about my weird dream.

I am not going to relate a wild, disjointed adventure featuring all kinds of creatures and celebrities. Those kinds of dreams can never be adequately conveyed in the waking world. That’s one of the reasons they are boring to hear about. We all enjoy those kinds of grand scale, all-star events, but they just don’t travel very well outside our own subconscious. No, this dream was pretty simple, really. It was the naked dream. That got your attention, didn’t it?

Anyway, you know the one — you’re out in public somewhere, and all of a sudden, you discover that you are completely naked. Not a stitch of clothing, and people are looking at you with alarm. They are too nice to say anything, it seems, but the looks on their faces are quite telling.

I hadn’t had one of these in a while, but my reaction is always the same: brazen it out, pretend that everything is okay. No need to be concerned, folks, I’m naked on purpose. See how casually I’m acting?

I wasn’t exactly sure what meaning such dreams have, so I googled “naked dream” just to see what the head doctors have to say about it. Well, it turns out I am a sniveling coward with a persona shot through with crippling insecurities. Also, I am likely hiding some hideous secret that would repel anyone who found out. Of course, I already knew all that, but it is kind of sobering to have it confirmed by a panel of experts.

This might be the point at which you would ask, “Okay, he was naked and embarrassed. So what? Kinda funny, but now I’m bored again.” To which I reply, “Please, bear with me. I haven’t gotten to the surprise ending yet.”

In this naked dream, I wasn’t completely without camouflage. Apparently, I had been out shopping in my dream when the nakedness struck, because I was carrying a shopping bag. That is strictly a waking world deduction, of course, because dreams don’t usually make sense in the way we’re used to. And yet, it was sensibleness that made this dream so remarkable. If you don’t count the inexplicable attack of nudity itself, the rest of the nightmare actually made sense. In spite of my embarrassment, I took careful stock of my situation and settled on the best course of action.

Buy some pants! Right? If you need pants but you don’t have any, that is what you do. So I walked into a men’s store (in a dream, it’s right there in front of you). The guy behind the counter immediately knew what I was looking for. He didn’t ask why I was naked (too polite, I’m thinking), though he did shoot me a suspicious look.

I found a nice pair of blue denims. They looked as though they might be meant for a younger man, but they were 36/32…and they were on sale! Unfortunately, that’s where the dream ended, so I still wasn’t sure if the fit and style were quite right. But that is okay. The point here is that I had not panicked. I had confronted my problem and solved it — quickly, confidently, and in a flattering color!

Indeed, I am quite proud of myself. I may still be a craven weakling with a terrible secret, but I’m also a capable, can-do guy. In my dreams, at least.
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~ H, Santa Cruz