The Endless Bucketful of Peanuts

Homeless Tales Part 2

The Santa Cruz library is a haven for the homeless. Sure, most folks look at the homeless as dirty and lazy, but if they would slow down and forget their “rush rush” life, they might just see amazing stories such as the endless bucketful of peanuts.

I witnessed this scene while waiting for the library to open. Rose and I had shown up a little early it turned out, although we didn’t know what time the library opened or for that matter, what time it was in the first place. Just then this scraggly guy in his 30’s, wearing dirty army clothes and looking like he just climbed out of some bushes, came strolling up carrying a 5 gallon white bucket. He sat down on the bucket, waiting for the grand opening too. Nothing out of the ordinary it would seem. But then he got up and peeled off the lid that was sealed tight and started to take out his wadded up army clothes that he either had from serving or from the surplus store. He pulled out each balled up wrinkled shirt or pants one by one, giving it a little shake and looking it over before throwing on the cement. Then he found what he was looking for – out came his fingers gripping a lone shelled peanut. I guess it was lodged in the folds of his wear. He scrutinized it, blew on it and ate it with slow deliberation. He dug out some more wadded up shirts and pants, and another peanut fell on the ground. Maybe it fell out of a pocket, I wasn’t sure. Again he eyed it critically, blew it clean and ate it. He then proceeded to wad up his clothes one by one and stuff them back into the bucket, sealing it with the plastic lid.

I was amazed how many clothes he could get into the bucket. At first, I guessed that he had a spilled bag of Planters Peanuts like the kind you buy from a vending machine. I thought about buying a bag myself. I found myself watching him as I’m prone to do, trying to surmise his persona. He was sort of furtive, legs crossed while back on the bucket, shaking his foot. Well, he jumped up, ripped that lid off again and started digging out his wrinkled apparel. He found another peanut and went through the ritual again before consumption. He reached in again, scraped around the bottom and came up with another Planter’s, again blowing on it, tossing it into his mouth and chewing it down. I was like, “Wow! This guy must be hungry!” He proceeded to haphazardly repack the clothes, pushing down hard to get that lid on.

At this point I was looking around trying not to stare, because the anticipation was killing me wondering if he was going to dig into the bucket again. Plus my mouth was really watering for the taste of salty crunchy, well I hoped they were crunchy, peanuts. Sure enough, he got up and ripped off the lid again. Those lids are not easy to get off because they seal up tight and he was really pulling and gripping that bucket to rid it of the lid. I looked around and saw a nearby lady watching with consternation. She couldn’t take her eyes off this man and his ritual. I think she was appalled at his actions. Who could blame her, she had a normal life and this just didn’t fit into her reality. This time he was digging deep, as if the bottom had a hole in it, reaching for that elusive golden nugget. I was wondering if he was going to fall in, but then up he popped with another peanut, blowing the dirt off before devouring the tasty morsel. I began to wonder about the origin of this charade: whether he had inadvertently packed away a shirt with a pocket full of peanuts, or whether “empty the bag and recover the peanuts” was a game he played to pass the time, or better yet, was it a method of rationing his scanty snack supply. Your guess is as good as mine.

Everyone was watching now as the clothes got jammed and crammed in again, fighting to get out, hoping to stave off the next round of inspections and interrogations of digging deep in those pockets that would be pulled out to make sure they were not hiding anything. Lint covered peanuts, mmmmm. I just couldn’t get over how many peanuts were in there and why he didn’t find them all in the first place. His clothes always ended up everywhere as he searched intensively for more. Yes, he found another of course, unbelievable. I was hoping it would be the last because I couldn’t go through the agony of him prying that lid off again and digging through those clothes. As he got the lid on again, the doors opened, to which I said, Thank God!


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Homeless Tales: Trip to San Francisco

Homeless Tales

Little did I know that my promise to God to help others included being homeless so I could understand the plight of the homeless and how they are treated by those that give them help. I laugh when I hear about rich people going on reality trip homeless vacations to “experience homelessness”. What a joke! It must be nice to know that they can go back to their normal plush lifestyle. The only way to really know what it is like to be homeless is to be forced into homelessness, forced to sell everything you own because you have to live in your car, with no income at all and nothing to go back to.


Part I : Trip to San Francisco

Rose was a couple weeks away from being due with the baby. We had been sleeping in our Jeep along the Monterrey coast for the last three months. What started out as a simple trip to the Salvation Army to scrounge for some food turned out to be an epic adventure north to San Francisco. There wasn’t anything to eat except bottom shelf peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and stale sourdough. That’s when I heard a strangely familiar female voice loudly emanating from another room. She came out limping and we recognized each other. She screamed and said that she was praying that she would see us. We had met a couple weeks earlier at a Santa Cruz church food shelf. She was homeless, living in her rental car. I had helped her with the cold she had. She was amazed at the healing power of acupressure. I can work on people anywhere because the only equipment I need are my hands. The last thing I said to her at the time was that she better return the rental car or risk getting thrown in jail. Too bad I was right. The police had arrested her and she had just spent a week in a local jail.

Now, one has to have a picture of her to better understand her predicament. I nicknamed her Susie Q because of her affinity for sweets, snacks and treats. She had a professional background with a good, loud speaking voice and absolutely no street-smarts. Susie Q was an example of the many homeless in the Bay area that live in their cars, working during the day and sleeping wherever they can at night, such as rest stops or along the coast highway, wherever the cops won’t harass them. She had lost her job, probably panicked and rented a car to live in. Obviously the rental car companies consider this theft so it was just a matter of time before she was arrested.

She was in desperate need of a ride to the pickup spot for the local homeless shelter bus because she twisted her ankle in jail. Since it was close by we agreed. Not sure of the exact location, we drove around for a short while until we found the stop by a duck pond, helped by the fact that there were other homeless people waiting. As we waited in our Jeep Cherokee, Susie Q. told us that the rental car company was holding all her possessions in San Jose. What she really could use, she confessed, was a ride up there to get her things and then a ride further up to San Francisco to a recently opened shelter on Pier 80. I was in empathy as I felt for her loss of control of the situation and especially enduring a week in jail. Plus I was worried if I was putting too much stress on Rose being pregnant but she agreed as well. As I chewed on making the hour and a half trip, I told her to make sure the place was open and to arrange to pick these things up. Suspense was growing as the bus showed up just as she finally got through on the phone to the rental car manager. The guy agreed to have her things ready and, with the bus waiting, we made the decision on the spot to drive her to San Jose.

It was 4:30pm and we had until the place closed at 6 to get there. As we drove up Hwy 101, she told us of her harrowing time in jail while sharing her Keebler cookies. She was a bit scared for her first time behind bars. While she was in, the rental car company dropped the charges after she paid them a large fee of a few thousand. Unfortunately she was held for several more days for reasons unknown. We laughed a lot as she made light of the whole situation but I could tell it was traumatic for her because of the repeated thanking us for the ride and how much a godsend we were.

With clear traffic and not getting lost, we barely made it in time. After getting hold of the manager, a person drove up with her stuff. Oh my God did she have a lot. I’m glad the Jeep had a rack on top or we wouldn’t have been able to take it all. I mean she had a couple suit cases, a few duffle bags and the rest they had stuffed into plastic garbage bags. She had car stuff like antifreeze and oil and some cans of food from the food shelf which we graciously turned down. The hapless woman’s life was on display as she rummaged through her overflowing bags filled with her possessions such as clothes, lotions, notebooks, women’s magazines, and flip flops while looking for her lost pound of pot and all the while complaining that the police had confiscated it and hoped they were enjoying it. My jaw dropped when she said that this wasn’t the half of it because she had two storage lockers, one in San Francisco and one in New York. One of the hardest things about being homeless is having to part with your possessions, but you have to do it or end up overloaded and burdened as she was.

You have to realize that when you decide to help someone, you have to go all the way because you never know how much it will take and how much worse it might get. It takes patience in order to help people in need.

We had to make an extra pit stop for her at a coffee shop and she also bought us some food at the grocery store for which we were thankful. It was getting dark as we headed out for the second leg of our journey to the homeless shelter on Pier 80 in San Francisco. The company Oracle had abandoned a hangar there and the people recently turned it into a shelter. I was a little worried because the place was not listed on the internet and had no phone number, and she was slightly overconfident about it being there, just like she was adamant that she wasn’t going to be arrested by the cops for the unreturned rental car. But I wanted to help because I knew she was in a state of panic after being homeless and spending a week of hell in jail.

Following the map, we found our way in the dark to where Pier 80 supposedly was. I took a wrong turn and ended up driving through a pot-hole trucker parking lot. Going back, we saw a large fenced area with some people milling about with a guard shack and large hangar. Pier 80 at last! Susie Q jumped out and had to scream through the fence to get the guards’ attention. To our serious dismay, they responded by saying that she had to check in at the main office downtown in order to be let in. She begged, pleaded and told them what she had been through and that we had driven all the way from Monterey, all to no avail. These people were strangely overzealous in following the rules.

Frustrated and upset, we set off following the vague and dubious driving instructions the guards had given, which might have been fine for a local, but not for us and especially not at night. Note that most of the streets in downtown San Fran are one-way and if you get messed up, you have to drive around several blocks to get back to where you wanted to be in the first place. It’s even worse with a back seat driver who isn’t sure where she’s going. It was 9:30 pm by the time we found the shelter, on a dark street and surrounded by homeless loafers. Susie Q disappeared inside the ominous looking building. The only place to park was in a nearby pitch-dark alley which turned to be a hideout for potheads of the homeless world. Not scary at all! Thirty minutes passed, and I began wondering what we were going to do with her stuff if she didn’t return.

She returned at last with an AOK that she could go to the shelter. We drove around in circles trying to find the freeway entrance back to Pier 80. It wasn’t fun anymore because we were all tired and irritated. Upon our return, we were surprised to see an older Chinese man guarding the gate. Without even knowing us he said, “Yeah, you come in!” with a big inviting smile and we all laughed. It’s too bad the guy wasn’t there the first time we showed up.

As we pulled up to the huge hangar, a couple of people came out to meet us with several huge bags, into which they began piling her stuff. That was a great relief because I was afraid we might have to keep her things for her. I had forgotten how heavy all her belongings were when I loaded them onto the Jeep the first time, but I had a burst of energy to get it down again so as to get back to our motel a couple hours away. We wished her well and was glad she had a safe place to stay. Interestingly, we passed a rest stop along the freeway jam packed with cars with steamed up windows from people sleeping in their cars. Wow, we got back after midnite!

We never heard from Susie Q after that night. She probably lost our business card again. The important thing is that we had answered the call to help someone in need, realizing that we had met her for a reason. If God puts you with someone who needs help, then you are the one meant to help them. We still have the little vial of amber lilac perfume that she gave us as a thank-you gift. And we have a great story that we’ll always remember!

We made a perfume reminiscent of that perfume.


Adventures at the Airport

lil JesseMy father worked for Northwest Orient Airlines when I was growing up. I remember he would come home in the morning after working the night shift, dressed in all that clothing with the airline company emblem. I would be eating cereal and he would always put his cold hands on my neck. B-rrrrrrr! Then we would watch the news, it was all about the Vietnam war. Interestingly, many of the people whom I have helped are Vietnamese and have been through those times, carrying wounded memories of their changed lives. I began my healing then as my dad always had a headache and he commanded me to sit on the armrest and put my forehead on his to take away the pain. “Sit still!” he would say.

Actually, my helping might have started earlier when he was at the hospital, some of my first memories, with a broken leg. He was lucky to be alive because he was blown up in a welding accident. He was welding a gasoline truck in an airplane hangar. The explosion sent him up to the rafters of the hangar and he bounced down to the cement floor below. I heard he was in the hospital for 6 months. During our visits to see him, my dad commanded me to get him the hassock, the first big word for me, and put his leg in the cast on top of it.

Since he worked for Northwest, there were flying privileges.  We were at the Reno Airport and my dad spots an old man coming down the escalator. He says to me that we should help him get off. The man, who I thought was homeless, saw what we were up to. He let go of the moving railing and clutched ahold of this paper bag he had. I thought that he thought we were going to accost him. Holding onto the bag caused him to start rocking back and forth. He fell at the bottom. Man he was heavy as it took all my and dad’s strength to lift him back up. I wasnt sure if he was grateful or not. Dad was psychic and helpful I learned. Yes the man fell and we helped him.

Back in the day before security was an issue at the airport, there were people, especially people of various religious ‘cults’, who would sell, ungraciously, items and hand out pamphlets to unobliging fliers. Dad, however, didnt get mad at these people. One time in Las Vegas, a young woman approaches my dad from out of nowhere and begins to pin a small flower on his chest. She asks if he wants a flower. Yes, he said, all of them! She froze in a stare as she didnt know what to do. My dad maneuvered and walked away. I looked back and she was still frozen, holding that flower pin up in the air to someone who wasnt there.

This knowledge would come in handy for me later in life. I held a job as a postman. Read Charles Bukowski for more clues on that life. I used to get defensive as many people would come out and complain that I was late or something. I thought how could I be late. Is there a set time for your mail to be delivered? I then remembered my dad’s story about the flower lady. The next time it happened this lady came out to me and told me very sternly that I was late. Instead of getting upset, I said, ‘yes I am!’ in an agreeing manner. She too froze, as I kept walking to the next house. Two houses down I looked back, she was still there, holding the mail I had given her, with a blank look on her face. Its amazing when you agree with people who are mad at you.

Chapter 2

(After writing this today, coincidentally, I read that a disabled man had to crawl off an airplane. This happened 18 years ago. It was a serious situation, not editing what I wrote now, trying to make light of how tense it was)

I became a helper at the airport. Quite often there are people who fly who need help getting in and out of the airplane. I always offered to help. It gave me a sense of being good to help those less fortunate than myself. They tested me one time for sure. They being those spirits who have guided me in my crazy life. Perhaps the spirit was my dad because he died when I was 20 of cancer. His last words were not to follow in his footsteps and work for the man and die of cancer. Well there I was at the airport where he worked. So anyways, there was this man with a condition that left him unable to talk well and walk. Actually he could stand with someone to hold onto for balance. The planes I worked with had steps to walk up and down to the cement ground or what we called the ramp. Big propellers right there. This man, I held onto as he walked up the stairs. It wasnt funny but it turned out to be when his legs walked up without his body under him. Off he flew. I thought why didnt he have someone, a caretaker with him.

Some time later, Im there on the ramp, directing planes and throwing bags, and I hear that there is a problem with a passenger. Its that guy. He has to go to the bathroom really bad and is screaming. I felt sorry for him in his state because he had a hard time talking and no one to help him. The flight attendant lady just wanted him off the plane. However he kept pointing to the restroom right there in front of him. He couldnt get there on his own. I did as I was told and helped him off the plane. Boy he was mad. On the ground, he was yelling as best he could and pointing at the bathroom up on the plane. I noticed that I was alone, that everyone took off. I had to yell at him to quiet him down. I just told him that I was going to help. I waited for the the small shuttle to arrive and got him aboard. Im sure he really had to go! The shuttle driver needed help starting the vehicle as I was starting to get upset myself. It took forever to get to the gate as I guess the driver didnt understand the situation. To make things worse, the passenger assist people flew the coop as well when they saw me wheeling him in. Then the security, had to make sure he wasnt a terrorist undercover as physically disabled man when they double checked everything for metal. My God! So I get him to the bathroom and I thought it was over. Well God had locked the door so no one had to see me hold the guy up to the urinal and pee. Thank goodness for velcro pants! Later outside because there was no one there to pick him up, I felt terrible and humbled as he apoligized to me as I helped him have a cigarette. I never knew how difficult it was to be handicapped. Looking back at it now, I should have said to hell with everyone and helped him use the bathroom on the plane.

Other times were more glamourous at the airport. One time, the band, Loverboy, was boarding the plane. There were no ramps or jetways there, everything was outside. So I saw them and I said to a younger co-worker, I was 30, “I used to rock to those guys when I was a kid”. One of the bandmembers overheard me and shouted back, “hey we are STILL kids!” I told them I took nice care of their equipment and the lead singer, Mike, turned around as he was walking up the steps and said thankyou, very nicely. That was cool! The luggage compartment was in the rear of the plane, right behind where they were sitting, so we gave them an encore performance, singing their big song, “everybody’s working for the weekend!”. I heard them laughing.

My experiences seemed to deepen. This is while I was still employed at the airport. After going to a concert at this local venue in Minneapolis called First Avenue (where Prince performed his movie Purple Rain), I was walking down the street sidewalk, still downtown, and out of nowhere, this young street girl comes up and holds onto me. She wanted to trade sexual favors for money. I looked at her barefeet and told her no, however, I would give her some money anyways. She started to tell me her terrible plight and broke down crying, as she sat down on the sidewalk to pee. I helped her up, dug in my pocket for some money and handed it to her. Well, other street people had seen me dole out the cash, because within seconds, I was being surrounded from every direction, being yelled at for money. I ended up running all the way out of downtown.

The next day after leaving work, I saw this guy pushing a motorcycle in the center ditch on the highway. I drove around on the next exits and returned – I had a pickup truck. I pulled up and asked this guy whose face was beat red, pushing this motorbike uphill, if he needed a lift. Like I needed to ask. We threw his bike in the back and he told me to go to his work, which happened to be a gas station. He insisted and I said ok to his filling my tank up. The lesson, you should give to receive.

Chapter 3

When you are flying ‘standby’, sometimes you have to wait the whole day to fly because there is no guarantee that there is a seat with your name on it. Its pretty boring to have to wait all day so you try to find something to kill time. I would ride the moving walkway up and down many times, even walking backwards to help that clock speed along. So there I am, last flight of the day and they gave me a spot on that plane. I think I was 18 at the time. Around the corner appeared this two elderly people. He was tall and overweight and she was much shorter and not too slim either. It looked they had walked the whole way instead of taking the easy moving walkway because his face was beat red. She makes a right turn into the lady’s room and he started to walk right towards me. But then it turned for the absolute worst. He grabs for his heart and collapses face first into the floor. Im cringing right now thinking of the sound it made. I mean he was tall and he really just fell over like a fallen tree. Poor guy! Just then, these two people sitting adjacent to me right in the middle, jumped up and started performing CPR on this guy. Just happen that one was a doctor and the other a paramedic. Although what happened in the next 30 minutes Im not sure whether that guy was lucky or not. He had died. His jaw had been broken and they had to give him a karate chop to get it open again. I really don’t have a strong stomach for that. After beating on his chest a few times, he became conscious and let out this horrendous scream. They tried yelling at him to tell him what happen to get him to calm down or something. It didn’t matter because he died again. More beating and breathing and he wakes again screaming. This went on a few more times. I couldn’t take it. This was not like the movies. How many times have you seen a movie where they are trying to resuscitate someone and when they can’t bring them back to life, they give up after maybe a minute? Thats not real at all. These people working on him were so dedicated and motivated to bring him back to life, even with all the gut-wrenching screams. Ok 5 minutes later, and this lady, who was with him, comes out of the bathroom. She was oblivious to what was going down. There is a crowd around the man on the floor and she starts yelling and calling-I won’t say his name for his sake- over and over again. She notices him on the ground and screams at him, “What are doing on the floor ….? Actually I had to laugh. I exited into the guys bathroom to get some air and water. 10 minutes had passed and they still couldn’t keep that guy alive. I was like, because he was in so much pain like I had never seen, to just let him go, but obviously I don’t work in the ER. By 15 minutes, the paramedics arrived. These guys had some real machinery-the electric stun gun paddles. Real crazy stuff! His mouth was rigged open and they yelled ‘clear!’ as they gave him a jolt. His body jumped and down and again some more screams and they kept at it. I think they were able to give some painkiller because he wasn’t yelling so loud anymore. Wow after 25 minutes, he was finally stabilized. We got the call to board and that was the last I saw of him. Obviously he missed his flight but had lived. I thought how amazing it was that it didn’t happen on the airplane.

Last thought, don’t die at the airport because they might not handle your remains with any dignity. One time when I was working at the airport, a guy died enroute just before landing and they left his body in a baggage cart most of the night. It was kind of creepy just knowing that there was a man dead in the cart where you were working. When I clocked out at 11pm, he was still out there. I couldn’t believe that no one had picked his body up!

check out this video of an airport adventure by Tame Impala

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