My cousins, The Bull Of Gleaming Blades and CosomoNaughty, taught me how to become a Survivalist in the urban outback. How to live on the land, in the concrete jungle.
I’ve always been an advocate of men being Preppers, but an area that is often neglected is what it takes to be a true Survivalist. It’s easy to learn about and train in how to survive in the outdoors, the harsh Desert/Jungle/Woods where you live. On the other hand, if you live in a city, or typically urban area, that’s just not an option.
Most of us are miles away from the proverbial edge of town.
I have no idea what scenario they were preparing for when they decided to go off on this adventure of sorts.
They decided to play a game:
What if we couldn’t get out of town, but still had to hide!?
To answer that question they vanished for two weeks.
No warning, and no one saw them leave or heard from them while they were away.
They’d decided to study what people were invisible, or rather, who were the people that everyone saw, but actively chose to ignore.
It took no thought at all to realize that it had to be the Homeless. People throw around terms like Bum, Wino, Street Urchin, Hobo, and urban Camper as if they were all the same person. In fact, the ecosystem and balance they maintain is just as elaborate as the ones we use with our families, friends, and colleagues.
My cousins not only learned the system well enough to fool anyone not in the system, but they learned how to be conditionally accepted by the people living in it. Accepted well enough not to be outed, exposed, or cast out.
The rules they set for themselves were fairly simple. When they decided to go, they took no money, no identification, no electronics, nothing to wash with or brush their teeth with, and no weapons.
They scoured the second-hand clothing store and decided to buy a set of used clothes to wear, a used pair of sneakers, and no more clothes than could fit into a plastic shopping bag.
That was it.
Then they started walking.
One of the first lessons they learned was that they didn’t need a convoluted hard-luck story to tell, nobody wanted to know their story because everybody had one. The best way to fit in was to shut up and watch.
The people in the hovel they found under a bridge was populated by denizens of all ages and though mainly men, there were some women.
These grizzly veterans of the streets immediately knew my cousins had slept in a good bed and had a good meal not too long ago. Still, that must have been true for all of them at one point.
The first thing my cousins had to learn was panhandling, the art of street begging.
They told me that it doesn’t have to be a bottle of wine, but you have to have something to share: a can of food, lunchmeat, fresh water, anything to justify your spot under the bridge.
Nothing is free.
After half a day of barely begging a few dollars into their cups, they studied what the veteran beggars did. The veterans always worked alone, presumably because two adult men asking for something could easily be a set up to be robbed, or worse. So, they separated.
They also learned to feign the sitting slouch that made people pity you when they saw you on the sidewalk.
The hardest was the voice.
They quickly figured out that the loud, strong, booming voices they would have used to sell used cars was definitely not a voice that made people want to drop coins into your cup as they walked by.
There is a mixture, a balance of destitution, misery, and optimism that you have to emulate perfectly in a few short words to convince the people walking by that the few coins they dropped into your cup would be the difference between eating and starving that day.
Most homeless people aren’t faking it.
My cousins were barely adequate at it because they knew that at any time they could go home, they did improve by leaps and bounds as time went on.
Knowing who to direct your efforts towards was equally important. They learned to avoid all men that were alone. Old men thought you may rob them, young men didn’t care. The absolute best and most generous were young men with their young girlfriends or young wives. Men are always eager to show the woman they are trying to impress that they are compassionate and warm.
In the abstract, from the comfort of my keyboard, I can wonder if the motivations for donating to the homeless matters. My cousins assured me that it doesn’t. The food or money they get is desperately needed, no matter what the intention of the giver was.
Hunger set in.
Food is expensive, that’s why most homeless people don’t spend the money they get on it. If you are as fortunate as my cousins and I are, you never had to know that. We have enough food to fuel powerful bodies with quality meat. Homeless people are at the mercy of what they can find.
Over the weeks they were gone, they learned to navigate the hidden network of soup kitchens and homeless shelters that feed homeless people.
Side note: To be clear, my cousin wasn’t called The Bull Of Gleaming Blades because he was built like a lamb. He and I share the same genetic stock that gifted us with bodies that are like richly browned, teakwood minotaurs with more muscles than the mythical man-beast could ever imagine.
As it turns out, without proper nutrition any exercise, consistently, all that goes away fast!
They learned that not every place is open every day, or at the same times. Most likely to keep the societal outcasts from congregating there too often. Every place was different. They learned what places were free, and what places claimed to be free but would always push you into listening to a counselor talk after you finished eating, if you were lucky. Some places forced you to listen while you ate!
By listening and paying close attention to the seemingly “easy pickings” of Catholic charity, they also learned what Catholic institutions made you pay the low price of being forced to listen to a priest talk, and what catholic institutions made you pay the high price of being violated by a priest.
More than one person knowingly paid the price of their dignity in order to not starve that day.
When The Bull Of Gleaming Blades resurfaced, he was visibly thinner, and not in a good way.
Living on sandwiches that were more mustard than meat, donated stale cookies, and whatever packets of instant coffee he could hoard and be forced to drink when he had a cup of cold water to stir it into with his finger had nearly emaciated him. He was smaller and physically weakened.
Learning how to beg and where to eat was far less complex than learning where to sleep and who to sleep with!
My cousins had a slight advantage, there were two of them. They had a small measure of security between them. Not that it mattered much when they slept.
Just like any other community, there is a hierarchy. They had to find a spot closer to the street, away from the more secure center. They also had to navigate the roughly three social circles that governed the area.
- The relatively, and I emphasize RELATIVELY sane people that make up the core group.
People who are not a danger to anyone not trying to steal from them or hurt them. They were cautious. It took time for them to get close to anyone.
- The second group was made of people who had clear and obvious mental disabilities.
They may suddenly become a threat to themselves and the people around them. They had lots of names: Schizophrenics, the Section 8, Crazies, 5150. The ones who fought off silent, invisible assailants that only they knew were there. They ones that screamed out begging for mercy from the wind, those that took grim satisfaction in dissecting themselves with whatever crude instrument they could sharpen enough to pierce their own flesh.
Too many were actually Military Veterans who were never provided proper care and treatment after their service.
The way CosmoNaughty talked about them had dire and ominous undertones. He believes, just as I do, that anyone who spends enough time living on the streets will certainly be driven insane.
It’s simply a matter of when, not if!
- The lowest circle, the outcasts among outcasts, were the most dangerous. The looked and talked normal, but most people, even the mentally unsound had learned to avoid them.
These are people who had been cast out of the regular world and found no solace, nor forgiveness in the hidden world. Most homeless people were simply dirty, the ones cast into this group were seen as fundamentally unclean.
They were sexual predators.
No one shared with them or allowed themselves to be associated with them.
Fortunately, my cousins were warned early to stay away by the veterans. The veteran beggars and homeless people would never lose sleep over letting you learn the hard way that a day without begging enough money, or not getting to the right soup kitchen on time meant you didn’t eat that day. Even then, with that level of callousness, they would never allow someone new to the streets to be lured in by the unmentionables, because that would be unconscionable.
They ended up sleeping far enough away from the mentally unhinged to be as safe as possible, but not so close to the core group that they felt encroached upon, and as physically as far away from The Unclean as possible. They made it very clear that if anyone from that group even spoke to them, grave violence was the only solution.
Part of the stress of life on the street was always having to sleep with one eye open, sometime proverbially, often literally.
They lived this cycle for two weeks!
By the end of it, they walked away with a Survivalist skill set that can be learned but never taught. Fortunately, they have never had to use the things that they learned, that I know of.
Yet sometimes, when I don’t hear from them for a while, I look for them under bridges.
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