Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Josey Cleans Up Our Mess

Venice Beach has always attracted more than its share of eccentrics, and I shall write in far greater detail about some of them over the coming months. But Alma and I ran into a gentleman named Josey while walking the beach on Monday who exexmplifies the best of that eccentricity.

We first encountered Josey well over a month ago while walking our stretch of the beach but, at the time, we did not know his name or anything about him. At the time, Alma and I were in full 'trash collection' mode, picking up every discarded piece of plastic we could for her found art. One day, while walking, we crossed paths with a man who carried a black plastic garbage sack. The man wore a circus top hat on his head and had long shoulder-length straight brown hair that flowed from underneath it.

I asked the man what he was doing and he replied that he was picking up trash along the beach. I told him what Alma and I did -- that we were collecting discards to use in Alma's art. I expressed my personal gratitude to him for his efforts cleaning the beach. And there the exchange ended.

However, since then, Alma and I have encountered him at least 3 other times on our same stretches of Venic Beach, most recently on Monday. Each time we encountered him previously (prior to Monday), we had exchanged courteous pleasantries and gone our separate ways, but without knowing much about one another.

On Monday, we had begun our walk northwards from the Washington Blvd. Pier to the small breakwater a half-mile north. When we reached that breakwater, a foreign tourist standing there asked Alma to take his picture. While Alma was helping the tourist, I again spotted this same man whom we had seen before.

He was picking at various kelp piles there, removing the odd piece of paper and plastic that had gotten tangled up in the kelp and again placing them in a black plastic garbage sack. I waved at him and said a hearty "hello." This time he walked over bearing something in his hands. When he reached me, I saw he carried one of those rubbery toy snakes.

"Here," he said. "I know you two collect weird stuff for your art." He proffered the rubber snake to me.

"Thanks," I replied. I put the rubber snake in my recyclying bag. "Actually, though, my wife Alma is the artist and I merely help her with the collecting of materials."

I introduced myself and asked his name and he told me it was Josey. I next explained that I was doing a blog about our walks down on the beach while I was currently unemployed.

"Are you and your wife only staying here for a year?" he asked, referring to my blog's title.

"No," I replied. "But I sure hope my unemployment doesn't last longer than that." I explained our situation and he replied that he too had lost his job . . . working in a medical marijuana dispensary that the Los Angeles District Attorney had raided and shut down.

"I've got an RV and I'm collecting food stamps," he said. "So I've decided that cleaning the beach is the most important thing I can be doing right now. Besides," he continued, "there aren't any jobs anyway."

During this conversation, I watched his face to check for any signs of delusional thinking. I could see none whatsoever. Josey's eyes looked normal and his physical comportment had an energetic but non-manic grace. Although he was dressed like a hippy in denim jeans and a denim vest, Josey was not dressed in rags like one of the homeless waifs you'll see so often on the beach, tormented by his or her own internal demons. I finally concluded that Josey, while eccentric, is not that different from Alma and me.

But Josey is a "heroic eccentric," forged in the same mould as Henry David Thoreau. You may look at him and think "He's crazy." But I look at him and say to myself, "He's cleaning up the messes that others make and preserving and protecting our common patrimony."

And, for all I know, Josey looks upon Alma and me as harmless eccentrics too, if he thinks of us now. If so, I cannot say Josey's perception is entirely incorrect.

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