How To Properly Accept Gifts From Homeless People:

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Dear Blue,

 

Barring any major snafus or emergencies, you are going to be born on Sunset Boulevard in a hospital they’re not even done building yet. In fact, I’m not entirely sure it’s just a hospital. Judging from the marathon walk from the parking lot to the elevators, I think they might have 747’s landing and taking off on the roof. It’s a huge place, and more than a little intimidating.

 

Just outside, there’s a Scientologist church draped in neon blue lights and a Carl’s Jr. In any other city, I might think this combination of buildings (hospital, crazy, food) would be strange. But this is LA, Blue. If something isn’t strange, that’s strange.

 

Don’t take that the wrong way. This is a magical place, Blue, and I mean that sincerely. I think you’ll like it. No other city has the same cultural heartbeat, the same creative cadence, as this place, and I’m glad you get to be part of that from your birth.

 

For me, it wasn’t quite the same. I’m not from here, and for a time, I didn’t like it. There are a lot of negatives to the LA scene. There isn’t a greater concentration of narcissists on the planet, and if you’re not careful, the relentless, steady push of ambition on every street corner can poison you. The rat race hits gridlock here, Blue. It’s a place so filled with dreams it clogs the air, makes it hard to see the sun through all the brokenness.

 

But that’s only if you let that side of things get to you. Otherwise, the weather is awesome, the ocean is right on your doorstep, and the food is fantastic.

 

I did grow to like it, obviously. I remember specifically the time my view shifted. It wasn’t any of that canned nonsense they always show on television that swayed me. You know…Thee surfing, the palm trees, the blue skies.

 

No, it happened on a subway. It was my birthday, and me and a buddy were heading downtown to the Staples Center to catch the X games. You’re going to love the X games, Blue. There are few things in life as entertaining as watching a man not die while hurtling himself hundreds of feet in the air while clinging to a stick with wheels on it.

 

So we’re going down there to watch grown men not die while flying through the air. We catch the gold line from Pasadena, then the red line. The red line runs from Union station and hooks around Pershing square before heading west. On its route, a lot of homeless dudes get on the train. Homeless people like subway trains. They’re the most accessible form of transportation, with only a sliding door providing a barrier of entry.

 

The train was packed. We stand there, holding on to the little metal hangers as the train sways back and forth. I feel a tug on my shirt. I turn around to see a homeless man smiling up at me, his sawdust hair fraying out in every direction and his sandals duct taped together. He’s carrying a can of shaving cream, and he’s bouncing it up and down in his palm as if it’s too hot to hold for any moment of time.

 

He smiles at me and says, “What’s your name?”

 

“Mike,” I say.

 

“Mike, it’s your birthday.”

 

He doesn’t even ask. He just says it, a foregone conclusion. There is no way for him to know this information. I’m not wearing a sticker that announces it’s my birthday, but he knows. And before I know what’s happening, he says, “Here’s your present,” and he slaps open my palm, slams the nozzle of the shaving cream down, and presses the button.  A mountain of blue-white cream fills up my hand.

 

“Happy birthday,” he says. And then he walks off the train.

 

Here’s the worst part. Because there’s no towels anywhere to be found, I have to go another four stops holding this pile of cream in my hand. My friend is cackling hysterically the whole time, and people make wisecracks about all the ways I can use my new present. For four stops, I am the center of attention on the train, and when people pile on the train, I have to maneuver around them, careful not to disturb them with my slimy gift.

 

When I get off the train, I wipe the cream off my hand as soon as I can. And the weird thing is I’m not mad. I’m not upset. I’m actually, strangely, kind of proud. He picked me. Crazy man with the shaving cream picked me. I felt special. I felt…like it was my birthday.

 

That was the day I fell in love with this crazy place.

 

It’s all a matter of perspective, Blue. LA is a town of experiences. Most of them are either obviously good or bad, but the occasional few are a mystery. It won’t be easy to tell what they are, and in fact, how you respond to the situation will make it one way or the other. And more importantly, how you respond will begin to make you one way or the other. The shaving cream in your hand will either ruin your day or make a good story.

 

I hope you know early on, Blue. LA is a city full of good stories.

 

-Dad

 

 

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