Dan Valentine – Homelessness

May 11, 2010

By Dan Valentine

Everywhere in America now you’ll see homeless pushing shopping carts filled with their last remaining possessions.

Yesterday I saw a disheveled-looking older gentleman, straggly-hair and all, right out of one’s worst nightmare, pushing a wheel barrel down a very busy highway here in Ensenada, two large black plastic bags filled with his remaining stuff.

Very, very sad.

He would push it, rest for a moment, then push it some more, going somewhere/nowhere with it.

Humans! We’re collectors.

When my friend and I sold our home in Texas, and I went off to Austin to start anew, we had a garage sale. Paintings, furniture, knickknacks, etc.

On a table in the driveway, we laid out trinkets. I had a large bag of refrigerator magnets from almost every place I’ve ever been. Vietnam, Scotland, New York, Philadelphia, South Dakota, Denver, St. Louis, New Orleans, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Capri, Berlin, D.C., Geneva, Amsterdam, London, Glasgow, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Japan, Guam, Micronesia, Belize, Cuba (twice), Charleston, Seattle, Las Vegas, etc. One time my friend and I were in Kansas City. I had her drive me across the border to get an Arkansas magnet. It really irked her. To this day I hear about it.

Well, anyway, an older woman purchased them all for $5 and came by the next day to say how much pleasure she had had that night. She had laid them all out on her living room carpet and simply looked at them, and it gave her great joy.

Where is this going? When I left for Austin, I had to put all my personal effects in storage. Some 60 boxes.

(When we bought the house in Friendswood, the movers came with my stuff–it had been in storage in Salt Lake–and my friend didn’t talk to me for three days.

In Nashville and Austin, I was paying $64 a month for storage. When I became broke, my friend picked up the tab for a while. Ron, at the Music City Hostel in Nashville, picked up one month for me, tho’ he looked at me bewildered as if to say: Why are you hanging on to it? You’re old, broke, homeless, your life is over.

Anyway, when my friend bought a place, and I returned to Houston, we got my stuff out of storage.

Two weeks ago–two days before I was to leave again–she said her I had to do something with my boxes or her parents, who were moving in, would.

What to do? Get a grocery cart? A wheel barrow?

The boxes were filled with files. My dad’s letters to me when I was in Vietnam, my mom’s letters to me, photos, all my by-lines, hundreds of thousands of words I had written and had been honing for decades. Plays, songs, screenplays, musicals, my dad’s unfinished shorts stories, poems, etc. Everything I treasured. Every piece of writing I had been working on and polishing for years. I went through each file in each box the first day, thinking to my self, “Well, I can’t throw that away. I can’t throw that away. I can’t throw that away.”

Next day, with no time remaining, I had to toss it all. Three car trips to the dumpster down the road.

Earlier that week I had to sell all my books. One signed by Richard Nixon, a hundred or so first edition books of musical plays. One I had paid $65 for. At Half-Price Books, I got $85 for ‘em all. There’s not a big market for bound musical plays in Texas!

After tossing everything, my friend said: Don’t you feel like a gigantic weight has been lifted off your shoulders?” Noooooo! But she knows how I feel. As I kid, she moved a lot and she was forced to give up everything through the years as a result. She has a few cherished photos from her childhood, and that’s it!

I’m slowly getting over my grief of losing everything, tho’ in the middle of the night, I’ll wake up and go, “Oh, no! I threw that away? Oh, my god, I tossed that?”

People lose everything all the time. In fires, earthquakes, in wars. You move on. I guess.

I have a small travel bag. I have my laptop. Hopefully, some of the printed stuff I tossed is on my computer. I’m afraid to look.

Dan Valentine, May 10, 2010

May 11, 2010

By Dan Valentine

What an enjoyable time I had yesterday. I hadn’t written off the top of my head–without rewriting and rewriting, polishing and polishing (taking all the life out of it)–and pushed “submit” in years, if ever.

It was so gratifying I asked Ed if he’d permit me to write a daily (or sporadic) piece on his website, about my adventures; how someone like me, or anyone, can become homeless; how you lose a million bucks; about my dad and mom and sister and brother; my years with Sen. Hatch; working for the Tribune; my years in New York, my travels; the times; my two marriages; my beloved friend in Houston; my love for dogs, etc. I have just enough–well, not quite–social security coming to travel from town to town, hostel to hostel, state to state …

And he said go ahead.

So here goes. No polishing, no rewriting, no editor (this could be a mistake). So forgive the grammar and spelling and typos. I reread yesterday’s comment and found the word “message” typed instead of “massage”.

Where to start?

My dad was a genius. IQ-wise. During World War II, he served in the infantry. Got malaria storming Guadalcanal. Sent to Suva to recuperate. Become editor of the South Pacific News. Wrote for Armed Forces Radio. Became good friends with two fellow soldiers. Together, the three had dreams of conquering Hollywood. One’s name was Jack Paar. Yeah, that Jack Paar. The other was Hy Averback, who produced “F Troop” and directed “MASH.” After the war, they got together in Hollywood, but my dad’s dream was to be a newspaperman. His father was one. So he left Hollywood to become one. My dad was born in Saginaw, Mich., and the state of Michigan gave a free car to every returning veteran or something like that. My dad drove to Las Vegas, decided to see if he could double his money. Lost the car, hitchhiked to Salt Lake. Looked around. Decided he didn’t want to stay there. Got a job in Nebraska with UPI or AP. Can’t remember which.

Back to the IQ-story. He got in an argument with an officer over something, words were exchanged. My dad said he was a stupid son-of-a-bitch or something like that and could prove it, spotting him 10 points on an IQ test. And the officer wrote him up for it. He was found innocent when an officer upon hearing the story said, “There’s no law against an enlisted man thinking he’s smarter than an officer.”

Which reminds me of another story. As I said, my dad was editor of the South Pacific News, and one night he got a call from another officer to deliver a paper to him, hot off the press. My dad said, “I stopped delivering papers when I was ten,” and hung up.

A few minutes later, an admiral showed up and said, “Who said?”

It was Admiral Halsey.

My dad meekly said, “I did, sir.”

And Halsey supposedly said, “That was a damn good answer, son.”

My point being? How does someone like me, with more than a million bucks at one time, become homeless? The answer is: My dad was a genius. His first-born son ain’t!!!

Tho’ my dad has been wrong about some things. He used to say, “I’ve never been rich and I’ve never been poor. I’ve had the best of both worlds.”

Joe E. Lewis used to say, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.”

My dad was wrong. Joe E. Lewis was right.

Tho’ I would not trade this experience for anything in the world.

Found thoughts: Dan Valentine, Jr.

May 11, 2010

Some months ago I wondered about a guy who wrote a column for the Salt Lake Tribune, before we were colleagues on the Senate staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch.  (How many incredible things in that sentence?)  I had lost touch with Dan Valentine, Jr.

Dan surfaced, and surfed the highways, surfaced again — and started writing a daily dispatch.

His words interest me.  I hope you’ll find them interesting, too.  I’m going to give each dispatch a post of its own, to highlight them so each can have a chance to get some of the readership it deserves.

Newspaper columns are high art, and high civics.  Newspapers are dying?  We still have need of good essays, short humor pieces, and the humanity that flows freely from the writings of learned and experienced souls.    Please give Dan’s work a read.

You can subscribe to this blog, too, and get Dan’s stuff by e-mail (along with other material from the blog).  Use the RSS button in the upper right hand  corner.

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