• author
    • Stephen Cooper

    • June 9, 2016 in Columnists

    Homeless at Lamborghini’s doorstep

    Late on a Thursday night in Woodland Hills, California, the recessed lights of the Lamborghini store in North Los Angeles spotlight a gaggle of sleek, luxury automobiles. Like carbon fiber and plexiglass statutes standing in relief, their muscled torsos gleaming, they show off their voluptuous curves, bold coloring, and clean, sharp lines. Masterpieces of human ingenuity, these works of art demand to be ogled, to be gazed at, and above all else, to be seen.

    In the foreground, like in a soothing mural of a city at sleep, there’s a man, but he’s not made of paint. Seemingly oblivious to the world — just as the world is to him — the man is sprawled on a bus stop bench. He lies so close to the Lamborghinis that their cool light refracts off of the storefront glass, illuminating the remaining white of his soiled, tattered shoes.

    Across the street, rummaging stoically through a trash can in front of Whole Foods is a middle-aged woman. She’s got straight, shoulder-length grey hair, a weathered, noble face, and at least three layers of clothing despite the lingering layer of mugginess leftover from the day’s heat.

    Stoically, this woman forages, inspecting her finds quizzically, but also, in an experienced and depressingly practiced way. Periodically, she will sigh deeply, and sometimes add a plastic bottle or soda can to her burgeoning collection — already piled high it threatens to topple down from her overly-full shopping cart.

    Visible under the woman’s recyclables is a cornucopia of blankets, clothes, foodstuffs, a battered (but maybe not broken) clock radio, an umbrella, a few books and a magazine — last week’s New Yorker. The New Yorker lies on the cart’s bottom rung next to a framed photo of a smiling young woman; it’s a spitting — albeit much younger — image of the grey-haired woman now picking through the detritus of the rich to survive.

    The beaming woman in the picture has on graduation garb and she holds a diploma high above her head like the Statue of Liberty holds her torch. If you look closely, you’ll see that the glass of the picture frame is cracked.

    Seeping from doorways and neighborhood storefronts of still-open restaurants and bars comes contented laughter. The sound is shrill and jarring as it whistles down the boulevard, swirling past the sleeping (or maybe not sleeping) man with the Lamborghinis. Occasionally, an unintelligible shard of conversation — happy, animated voices — punctuates the din of the night air, before dispersing, slowly disappearing.

    Soon, young men and women the same age as the smiling girl in the picture frame, their dress immaculate — with hair, makeup and expensive outfits still impossibly fresh and unwrinkled despite the lateness of the hour — will emerge from the various establishments. They’ll spill out onto the sidewalk like a ragtag collection of wayward sheep. Shepherdless but feeling satisfied with sloppy stumbles now and again, they successfully make their way to their own Lamborghinis or Lamborghini-like cars. Revving well-maintained foreign motors, some lighting cigarettes for the road, they head for home.

    Barely taking noticing of this departure, the woman in front of Whole Foods digs deeper — she’s reached the bottom of the barrel now. And, across the street, the man on the bench rolls to his other side and pulls the drawstring on his hoody tight; he’s already home.


    About the Author: Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.

    • Simply gorgeous and bittersweet. The disparity in personal wealth in LA and also San Francisco is glaring and shocking. Many people who live in those cities tell me that after awhile, they homeless just disappear into the landscape. They don’t even notice them. Very symbolic.

      • Maya Spier Stiles North

      • June 10, 2016 at 9:14 pm
      • Reply

      I was a street kid. I have been homeless, although unlike the chronically homeless, it was not obvious. People think that the homeless are defined by their homelessness but more often than not, they were only one disaster away from it — just like those laughing, oblivious people only feet away. <3

        • Stephen Cooper

        • June 13, 2016 at 10:19 pm
        • Reply

        As usual, your comments are extremely insightful. Thanks for them, S

      • David Lacy

      • June 14, 2016 at 7:14 am
      • Reply

      What a brilliant piece, with fantastic, vivid imagery to boot!

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