Bringing Up Those Metaphors While It Rains Red Ink

Rain fell all over the Civic Center on Tuesday, and, for once, it wasn't even the metaphorical kind. It was the real stuff, soaking the unprotected and forcing them to run for cover . . . but there we go again with the metaphors.

Keeping herself dry just outside Santa Ana City Hall was Sandy, a 51-year-old homeless woman ("Say I'm 39") who has spent the past five years, off-and-on, around the center. Like all homeless people, she's got a story to tell about how it all ended up here, waiting for a bus in the rain to take her to the Armory where it's warmer and the food is better than what she's used to, but instead she's asked about the county bankruptcy.

Who knows, perhaps she feels some kinship with county government, in that she spends much of her days on its turf. It may seem like a world far away and, yet, it's right at her doorstep.

As it turns out, she has been keeping up with the story. A couple of things puzzle her.

"They sure let something get out of hand," she says. Is she the mistress of understatement or just trying to be nice?

"They sure have a sketchy way of handling money. They had the money put over here and over there. They weren't stupid. They just didn't have everything done in an orderly fashion."

It would be stretching it, she says, to say that county employees amount to any kind of "family," although she watches their comings and goings year-round. "We don't really come into contact with very many of them," she says. "We don't know anyone who works in the offices, other than the ones who try to give us orders . . . and the ones who give us food--we all know them, they're nice."

Sandy had money once, some her mother had left her, but it's gone now and she's making it on about $20 a week, she says. "They have enough money to run the government," she says of the county. "We don't. What were they doing with their money? I should have read more so I know everything about it. They have a certain amount allotted to everything. Do you think somebody was pilfering some of the money?"

She's not saying any of this accusingly or snidely. She seems genuinely baffled. "Maybe they didn't take the money. Maybe they just overspent. You'd think the county would have enough money where they could cover everything. We don't have that kind of money."

Her point is becoming rather obvious. The county screws up, they can find a way out of it. A person like her screws up, there's no relief in sight.

"They keep spending more and more and running short, but it all winds up in the end. Us, we get a certain amount a week, then I use it till the next week rolls around. That's the big difference. You might say we're bankrupt. But our bills are all paid."

She appreciates that she's stumbled into a nice ironic twist, but it's not as though she's trying to be profound. "We all feel stupid in the first place, being around here," she says of her homeless companions. "But we all stick together. There's always a couple, maybe one, that doesn't do stuff right, who goes to the bathroom outside, and everybody else gets in trouble. Then you feel ashamed of yourself."

So, Sandy won't make the point, and neither will I. It's up to others to ponder whether there's any sense of proportion between what happens when people with money and influence screw up, versus people with neither. To tell you the truth, I don't think Sandy really cares that much about such philosophical meanderings.

Her world is taken up with much more mundane concerns, like how to make a pot of spaghetti last for three days. Or whether her idea of getting a bunch of homeless people and putting them in a "crummy hotel" where they could share costs would actually work.

Accordingly, her observations on things, made while looking for shelter in doorways or corners, are rather simple: "Government's got to work everything out. It's a democracy, and we hope for the best. That's what we vote for."

She promises to keep up with the county's situation. Maybe she'll talk things over with a couple of her friends who are more current on the problem, she says.

In the meantime, there's the matter of staying dry tonight and getting to the Armory and finding a bed. A matter of reconciling whatever missteps she may have made in the past with the reality of survival.

"It seems like every time I come down here, it rains," she says of the Civic Center.

But at least, she had the sense to come in out of it.

There we go again with those crazy metaphors.

Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.

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