We settled into life at the Casa Alta, a hotel complex across from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Specifically, we were right across the street from the big roller coaster and could hear the screams each winter weekend when it was open. We also could open our back door each afternoon and see the train, to the delight of my children. My daughter was nearly a year old--we still lived there on her first birthday in May. There was a kitchenette where I cooked our meals and fed us all on $108.00 worth of food stamps each month, in 1980.
We looked longingly at classified ads for rentals so we could have a real home but while rents were just barely affordable, the first/last/deposit required to get in was beyond our means. We started looking at the Sacramento Bee, which showed rentals that were much more affordable and required less money to get into. We knew our hotel rent would increase as soon as the summer rates hit in June.
We finally came up with a plan--we would stay with a friend on her rented property and pitch our tent there, and live very cheaply for a month in order to save up money for a rental in Sacramento. Once in Sacramento we would rent an apartment and Mahasraya would grow pot. (He had previously tried to grow psilocybin mushrooms in our bedroom in West Los Angeles, but failed due to contaminants in the culture.) I was very unhappy with his plan and worried about getting thrown in prison and losing my children, but I was afraid to rock the boat lest he start beating me again. He had stopped when I returned to live with him just before my daughter was born.
As planned, we got the apartment and he intended to grow pot just as soon as he got the money for supplies and grow lights. We spent a hot summer in Sacramento, broke from getting into the apartment, and Mahasraya took to stealing to get the lentils and rice we lived on. I pawned a wedding ring and later redeemed it. Finally we got a new (welfare) check and food stamps and could buy food. But Mahasraya did not give up his habit of stealing. One day he was stealing a bag of nuts and got caught. He tried to wrestle away from the store clerks who were holding him and one grabbed a bottle of wine and hit him over the head. He bled all over his shirt. The cops came and gave him the arrest paperwork and released him. It was a misdemeanor but he lived in fear of going to the county jail and so he decided to leave Sacramento. He would not go to court and even see if it was just a fine.
He called a friend to come and pick us up with our stuff. They rented an open U-Haul trailer. I remember that one of our boxes came open and some of our books flew out onto the highway on the way back to Santa Cruz.
Once in Santa Cruz we went to stay with another friend of his who was getting ready to leave town and would only be in his rented house until the end of the month. I remember cooking a pot of beans every day to feed us all and worrying about what we were going to do after that. We ended up moving into a cabover camper owned by yet another friend of Mahasraya's. We lived outside the "Creative Movement Center" that his friend, known as Redhawk, started. It was a warehouse that someone had outfitted with a wooden floor, mirrors, and dance bars, and the idea was that there would be a number of dance and martial arts classes held there. Mahasraya would teach martial arts, or so the plan went. There was a bathroom that we used that only had a sink and cold water, so we took sponge baths and occasionally borrowed a shower from our friends in the area. I hated being a beggar! I remember at one point we looked at a van for sale that had a makeshift bed, and I realized that to me the height of security at that point was to own our own vehicle to sleep in!
It was October and the nights were very cold. I always worried that my daughter wasn't warm enough and we huddled together in the upper bed, over the cab, under layers of blankets topped off with a heavy wool blanket that Mahasraya had stolen from someone years ago. My son slept on the other bed with Mahasraya. He was over 2 and a half years old at this point, his birthday being in January.
I suppose it was a good thing that my children didn't realize our hardship at this time in their lives. Every day we went to a nearby park and hung out most of the day, which to them probably seemed like a good time. I lived in fear that someone would find out we were homeless and take them away from us. One day a police officer knocked on the door of the camper and I opened it up. He told me he just wanted to make sure the kids weren't in there alone and in danger, but it scared me half to death. I thought that they would come back at night to bust us for sleeping in the camper, which I knew was against the law. We thought about going into the woods for the night and pitching our tent. I was terrified. In the end we decided to stay in the center until late, to see if they might come back, and if not then we would go back to the camper and go to sleep. They never did come and so we seemed safe for the moment, but I never forgot my fear.
Mahasraya had an acquaintance named Bob who knew the art of Kali stick fighting. They had shared their different martial arts styles with each other, something he often did with friends. It turned out that Bob had a friend who was a cocaine dealer in Los Angeles. The dealer needed a guard for a few days and Bob suggested Mahasraya. So we were left alone in the camper for a few nights while Mahasraya went to L.A. and guarded the dealer and his cocaine.
The first night he was gone I woke up with a start when the camper shook suddenly. I got up and grabbed a knife and stood, ready to defend my children. I listened carefully and heard the sounds of a very inebriated man who apparently had stumbled against the camper as he walked home from a nearby bar. Relieved, I went back to bed but didn't sleep well, spooked by the encounter and aware of our vulnerability on the street.
When Mahasraya returned he brought back a free sample of the dealer's product. I had never tried anything stronger than pot, and in fact had never even had an alcoholic drink at this point. But I was so worried about being homeless that I thought it would be a harmless one-time diversion from our troubles. We walked around the corner to Ocean Street and bought some Marianne's ice cream to go with our high, then came back to the camper and after our kids were asleep we tried snorting cocaine.
Ouch! People actually pay to do this to themselves? That was all I could think as my nose burned, an unpleasant taste invaded my throat, and then a shaky, unpleasant "high" overtook me. I fail miserably at enjoying intoxication, I must admit. I couldn't even say that I had some bad cocaine--this was from the dealer's own stash, so presumably it was top quality.
We were in the camper for two months when Keshava and Mahasraya decided to try going to Oregon to get in touch with a guy who was advertising in the Mother Earth News that he had rural property for sale at $100.00 per acre.
to be continued