Sunday, December 2, 2012

DOUG KNAPP - Struggling to keep romance alive, while sleeping under a carport.

In the movies, love is romantic in the rain.
But in real life... not so much.

In the movies, maybe there’s a sudden cloudburst that chases the laughing young lovers into a hidden shelter, where they end up embracing and kissing.

In real life, when you are homeless and in love, and it’s been pouring down rain for about a week, and you are sleeping in a soaking wet tent, or in the back of a pickup truck, staying in love is a bit more difficult.

When I met Doug Knapp, it had been pouring down rain, on and off, for about a week. Another major downpour was expected that night. I met him on a Saturday Morning, at the free breakfast at the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

He was wet, and cold, and miserable.

His speech was not slurred, but it was a bit fuzzy... as if perhaps he was coming down from something. I don’t know from what, and I didn’t ask.

As we spoke, he rocked back and forth, ever-so-slightly. Maybe he was rocking because he was trying to get warm. Or, maybe he was rocking because of his physical and emotional pain.

Doug is a very nice man. He is very polite. His is fifty years old.

He begins telling me how grateful he is to the people of Auburn, and especially to the Seventh Day Adventist Church, for how much the church has helped him and his wife.

Doug says that he and his wife have been homeless for a little more than three months. Prior to becoming homeless, he and his wife had been staying at his elderly mother’s house.

But his mother sold her house and moved into an assisted living facility.

Doug and his wife had to move out. They became homeless during the middle of the August heat wave. Now, they are trying to survive the rain and the cold.

Usually, I interview homeless people by myself. But on this morning, I had a helper. A young student from one of my business law classes at the college has come with me. He wrote a paper about the homeless for one of his English classes. On this day, he is tagging along with me, so that he can meet some of my homeless friends face-to-face.

I’m sure that the young college student is wondering the same thing that I am wondering.

So, I ask our homeless friend, "Where is your wife right now?"

Doug gets a pained expression on his face, and shrugs. "I don’t know," he says. "I haven’t seen her for about three days.

"We had a fight, and we split up.

"We had been sleeping in the back of a pickup truck, to get out of the rain. But it was pretty rough in there, and she got... she just got... well, she got pretty frustrated.

"She isn’t really my wife. I just call her that. She’s actually my fiancé. We’ve been together for about four years now."

I ask Doug if he is still sleeping in the back of the pickup truck.

"No. Not since I split up with Tammy.

"Last night, I didn’t have any tent, or anywhere to go to get out of the rain. So, I ended up sneaking over to the apartments over in the greens. Those apartments have carports instead of garages. I sneaked under one of the carports, and hid behind a car, and slept there.

"I worried all night that someone might come out of the apartment and catch me there."

"You mean you didn’t know the people who lived in the apartment where you were sleeping?"

"No. I was just desperate to find someplace where I could get out of the rain, and get a little bit of sleep."

I am so grateful that my young college friend is with me to hear all of this. He is a fine young man, from a fine family. He is tall and good looking. He is on the basketball team at the college. He is an "A" student. He arrived at the church this morning in his newly-purchased BMW. Although he might still be too young to fully understand it yet, his life is richly blessed.

There is a good chance that the rest of this young man’s life will be changed by what he sees and hears on this morning.

Fortunately, this young man is wise enough to have known that before he came here. That’s why he came.
At that moment, our interview is interrupted.

Doug has been watching the door while we talk. Suddenly, he gets excited.

"My wife just came in," he says. He points to one of the women who has just come in. "That’s her, over there. I haven’t seen her for two or three days."

"Do you want to go over and see if she will talk to you?" I ask.


"Go ahead then, Doug. You go and do what you need to do. That’s more important than this. We can finish this interview some other time."

Doug nods and smiles. "I promise you that I’ll come back to finish it," he says.

"Don’t worry about it. Just go and see your wife."

Doug takes off to talk to his fiancé.

My young college friend and I conduct an interview with a different homeless man while Doug is gone.
About twenty minutes later, Doug comes back. He is smiling. He and his fiancé have reconciled. He wants to finish his interview before he and his fiancé leave together.

What is the hardest part about being homeless for Doug?

"No ability. Having no ability.

"The closeness. The being too crowed together all the time with other people. And all the drama and the bickering. And the tension.

"We get by every day. But... this should never have been. I never dreamed that I’d be homeless.

"It’s this economy.

"I have twenty years of experience as a line cook at restaurants.

But, I also have a felony on my record. So, even though I’ve been off of parole for quite some time, when I apply for a job, I don’t get it. My experience doesn’t count enough to overcome the fact that I have a felony on my record. And what bugs me the most about it is that the hiring people never even bother to ask what the felony was.

"It bothers me that I can’t be a better provider for Tammy.

"The best job that I ever had was back when I was working in the deli at Albertson’s as a meat slicer. That was good, steady pay, and good benefits.

If Doug had a magic wand, so that he could be or do absolutely anything, what would he be or do?

"I’d help everybody out. But... there’s so much to take care of. So many needs. And some people do get a bit greedy about what they need.

"But there are a lot of blessings in being out here too.

"Like, one day, there were four of us sitting together, and a lady drove by and stopped, and asked us if we were hungry. When we said yes, she went to Dennys, and bought all four of us a really nice lunch, in carry-out boxes, and gave it too us. It was really nice of her. She was a real blessing."

I ask Doug if he has a message for the world.

"Share the love," Doug says.

"Don’t turn away.

"Some people seem really embarrassed when we homeless people walk by. They don’t even want to look at us.

"I do panhandle, occasionally. But I don’t do it to everybody. I don’t do it to women."

I ask Doug what he believes makes him special and unique in the world.

"I’m compassionate. I’m polite. I have good manners. I’m consistent, and caring.

"Being homeless has opened my eyes to a few other things too. Now, I do want to get involved."

I ask Doug what it’s like trying to maintain a love relationship with Tammy while being jobless and homeless.

"I plan on being with my wife until the day that I die," Doug says.

"My wife is so beautiful.

"I... I want her to have a house.

Tears come into Doug’s eyes.

"We’re going to have a house, someday," Doug says.

There is a long, quiet moment, while Doug struggles to hold back his tears.

I reach across the table to touch him gently on his shoulder.

"We’ll say a prayer for you that someday, you’ll be able to make that happen for your wife," I say.

The young college man is watching. I don’t have to look at him. I can feel him. There is a sort of gush of compassion for Doug that is flowing out of the young man.

He really is a fine young man.

It is good for all three of us that he is here.

Doug nods, and says thank you.

Then, Doug stands up to leave. He says that he would like to stay and talk to us some more, but he is worried that his wife wants to leave. He doesn’t want her to leave without him.

This is the one-hundred and second article in a series of articles about Auburn-area homeless people, written by local attorney, author, and Sierra College Instructor Bob Litchfield.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I counted up the number of articles in this series that are actually interviews, instead of articles about related subjects. The total number of interviews is about ninety. But some are repeat interviews with the same homeless person. So, after this article, the number of additional interviews that I still need to complete to have interviews with one-hundred Auburn-area homeless people is about fourteen.

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