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Notes on a Naked Fat Lady

I was driving through Santa Monica with a bright and observant 4-year-old friend named Nicole when she suddenly pointed and said, “What’s that?”

We were heading east on Wilshire. I looked in the direction of Nicole’s point and said, “That’s a naked fat lady.”

“What’s she doing?”

“Well, she’s walking up 2nd Street.”

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“Why?”

“I’m not sure. She is striding along with great determination and her jaw is set in such a way that I suspect she is on a very serious mission.”

“Maybe she’s going to Disneyland,” Nicole said.

“Maybe she’s already in Disneyland,” I replied.

Nicole laughed. It was the sound of wind chimes on a summer breeze. When I say she is bright, I do not exaggerate. She understands the peculiar twists of irony.

The woman weighed at least 250 pounds. I am not passing judgment on her appearance based on obesity alone. Had she been 8 feet tall, the weight would have no doubt been magnificently proportioned.

But she was only 5-foot-4 and she was fat.

About a block away, I found a policeman.

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“There’s a naked fat lady walking up 2nd Street,” I said.

He looked at me the way policemen everywhere look at well-intentioned but muddled citizens who don’t really know what they’re seeing.

“Are you sure?” he said.

“I may not be sure of a lot of things,” I said, “but I’m sure there’s a naked fat lady on 2nd Street.”

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He shrugged. “That’s Santa Monica.”

Her appearance was propitious. I had been receiving telephone calls all day regarding a column on the Sacred Homeless of Santa Monica and, I learned later, she was one of them.

My point in the column was they are not all as cuddly and grateful as we think they ought to be. Some are playing with less than a full deck and others are just plain damned mean.

The naked fat lady was a case in point. I’m not sure she was mean, but I wouldn’t have attempted to reason with her. Don’t tell me she was a poor, sick person. I already know that. You don’t walk naked up 2nd Street unless you are.

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But she was more than that. She was a metaphor for the unpredictable nature of the dispossessed and our oddly tolerant manner toward their dementia.

Charles Manson was a poor, sick homeless person too. What a pain he turned out to be.

The telephone callers were furious at me. “Whole families are homeless and hungry!” a man yelled. “Would you see little children starve?”

How he got from dangerous street people to starving children was a lesson in the adaptive qualities of skewed logic.

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“Hungry children don’t hold a knife at your belly,” I said with as much amiability as I could muster.

“I didn’t think you’d know what the hell I was talking about,” he said.

“Just don’t give them any money and they’ll stop bothering you,” a less hostile caller insisted.

It’s the Bears-at-Yellowstone Technique applied to Palisades Park. Feed the bears and they’ll just want more. If you don’t give them more, they’ll eat your arm off.

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Let’s post signs: “Warning. The street people of Santa Monica are dangerous and should not be given money. Enjoy them from a distance.”

“What happened to the naked lady?” Nicole asked the next morning.

I had just been hung up on by a caller who said I ought to spend time on the streets myself to find out how tough it is.

I have spent time on the streets and it is tough. But I decided back then that work, while unpleasant and demanding, was probably less dangerous, so I got a job instead.

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“I don’t know what happened to the naked lady,” I said to Nicole. “Maybe they shipped her to a carnival.”

I wasn’t in a charitable mood.

“Someone should help her,” Nicole said. Bless the compassion of children amid the irascibility of adults.

What do you do with a naked fat lady?

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I telephoned the Santa Monica P.D. “She does that all the time,” a dispatcher said. “We took her to a shelter, but she’ll get out and do it again.”

“I feel sorry for her,” Nicole said.

I do too. But you still keep your windows rolled up. Enjoy them from a distance.

Mark Twain said: “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.”

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“You ought to be in a zoo,” an angry caller said.

I already am. And so, alas, are we all.


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