I remember seeing LT standing in a phone booth. He called himself LT because he dreamed that he was a lieutenant in Vietnam. He most definitely served there, but like most soldiers he commanded little beyond his own survival. He was an unrecognized hero who fought the demons of American paranoia who were amped up on communist dictatorships.
His clan—his tribe of the homeless—sat on a planter box while he stood in the booth. I approached the clan on a cool, gray day. Soft packets of moisture had drifted from the sky across the sidewalk and colored the concrete.
LT had heard back from the welfare office. The system chose him to receive SSI, but they had made contractual provisions: thou shalt not drink; thou shalt not remain in your clan; and thou shalt not squander tax payer’s money.
He stood in the phone booth reading. I approached him curiously. He didn’t acknowledge me. The clan had welcomed me as usually they had even though I didn’t live on the streets. I drew closer and he read all the more intently. He was an ordinary man trapped in the freedom of belonging to a clan of alcoholics, drug addicts and driftwood. He stood as if waiting to cast off his disguise, dawn his cape and become superman. He had to imagine himself as the hero he felt that he had never been. He did emerge from that phone booth one day. He claimed his check and left the revolution.
He and his woman found an apartment in Oakland. They separated themselves from the clan. Shortly afterwards, the clan disintegrated. Kelly, unable to defend herself against the enemies that gnawed at her life, died in a silent, blind rage of alcoholic poison. Gerry with a G lay stiff in a corner one day. Life collapsed upon him. There was no one to hold up the walls or push him out of the way. Superman had left town.