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music inspiration by Carlos Santana (“Borbeletta”)

Without Deviation, Progress is Not Possible

by Larry Ciptak
November 27, 2012

Trying to be philosophical about something I don’t understand is fundamentally dishonest. Yet that’s what most of the postings concerning my homeless encounters are, pseudo-philosophical diatribes about how entrenchment in this particular subculture is enlightening me.

Truth is, I’m not sure why I do what I do, what good I’m actually doing or what I’m really getting out of it.

It started out as a social experiment, deviating from normal “street rounds” typically involving custodial care (giving out food and clothing) to one of direct involvement with a particular homeless community. After six years of handing out hundreds of coats, blankets and sacks of sandwiches, I was tired and burned out. So I took a break, got married and went into hibernation on many levels for about six years. Since that particular social experiment failed I wanted to get back into the homeless scene, but involving less work and more strategy. So I headed out to the streets, no idea of where I was going and eventually found one encampment that for some reason just felt right, where I could get involved on a weekly basis, rain or shine.

But my role? Who the hell knows. And who cares? As the weeks progress and the concrete gets colder, I find myself looking less for meaning in the experience. This is just what I now do on Monday nights and I put less thought into it as time goes on. It just is what it is, whatever it is. Maybe someday it’ll come together and make sense in some big picture, but right now I’m content letting it be elusive and inexplicable. Let go into the mystery, advises Van Morrison.

It confuses some homeless that don’t know me when I explain that I’m not there with a church group or non-profit entity. They ask why am I really there. I tell them I don’t know–but do you need a blanket or a pair of socks? Then instead of moving on to the next camp, I go sit with Mick and the other guys and hang out for at least a few hours. And I do this every week. Sometimes we cook out. Most times we play football in the street for an hour or so. After four or five months of doing this (who’s counting) I’ve become accepted into the tribe. I come and go without fear or worry and know that if anyone were to mess with me, I’d have at least two or three guys on top of them within seconds. If you’re worried about my safety–under a bridge in a drug-infested neighborhood, alone and at night–please don’t. I’m safer than you can ever imagine.

So I’ve deviated substantially from the typical “help the homeless” routine. Frank Zappa said, “Without deviation, progress is not possible.” Early on I took others with me (safety in numbers) but found that including then was cramping my style. I knew I would be more effective on my own. So I began going down the North Side by myself, and that’s what I’ve been doing since. If you want to go out and help the homeless (and put together some stuff to take them), I’ll gladly take you–just not to my spot. That particular underpass has become sacrosanct to me.

To everyone who has donated blankets, clothes, coats, long johns, food and all the other wonderful items, I can assure you that everything is distributed fairly and is genuinely appreciated. That much I can state as fact. Whatever else comes out of my mouth might just have a good dose of bullshit mixed in with it.

Larry Ciptak
2:30 a.m. 11/27/12