I met a couple I'll call "Debbie and Brian" on the boardwalk at Venice Beach as I was serving a meal with Food Not Bombs. Like many of the folks who come to eat with us, Brian was badly sunburned with a deep tan and tired from walking around. I liked him instantly; small, handsome and muscular, he won my heart with his sweet smile and southern-boy politeness. He was accompanied by a pretty sunburned woman in a long batik wrap skirt and a macramé purse. She was younger and more earnest-looking than most of the young bohemians strolling along the boardwalk. They seemed new to the streets. I served them both plates of greens and potatoes and bread pudding.
"I'm so happy you guys are here," said Debbie. "We've been looking for a shelter all day and haven't been able to find one that can take us."
I took a break from serving and sat with them in the grassy area we call "the Food Not Bombs Lounge". The young woman, Debbie, played with the puppy of one of our volunteers. She told me she loved animals and had worked in an animal shelter for five and a half years while living in Alabama. She recently returned to California after being offered a job in the post office. But things fell through, and she and her roommate drained their bank accounts paying inflated prices for temporary housing in shabby motels on the West Side. Then they met Brian at the Greyhound bus station. The three new friends put their belongings in a locker together and headed for Venice Beach. "I used to think no one would mess with me out here hitchhiking, but I've been in some bad situations," she says. "I don't travel alone any more. That's why I am so glad I met him--he keeps me safe."
"Food Not Bombs" Brian said out loud. "I like that"
"You like those words? 'Food not bombs'?" I repeated, smiling. He looked far off and dreamy
"Yeah" he said in his sweet drawl, "but I think you guys would really hate me if you knew what it is I do."
I knew instantly what he meant. "I wouldn't hate you," I said. "I want you to stay home."
Brian is a Marine, on "Morale" leave from Iraq. At twenty- two, he's spent the last seven years raising his son as a single father in New Orleans.
"I joined the service to get out of my neighborhood," he told me.
I know first hand that the military steals our poor to send them to war. "My brother has been to Iraq two times," I whispered.
He looked surprised that I would have a brother in the military
"My brother went because he had never done really well in school and my mom said he had to go to community college or go to the military," I told them.
"Yeah, my mom was all for it back before she didn't think they'd send me to Iraq" he said. "Then after the first month when I got back from boot camp, I got my orders and she was real upset. I have everything set up though. If I die, I got it set up where my mom will get everything and she'll get all my benefits. "
"I hate hearing him say that. I don't even want to think about that!" Debbie squeezed her eyes shut.
Brian has lost three friends already.
"He has nightmares all the time," said Debbie.
"I've been thinking about smoking pot," he told me. "Then maybe they wouldn't let me go back. I don't want to go back but I have to or I'll get thrown in jail forever." "Yeah," I said, "but I think that's better." I was thinking "better than killing people" but he could read my mind and I didn't have to say it out loud.