A photo I once snapped of Royce Hummer as he was in a line during a food distribution in Santa Monica, probably six or seven years ago.
We’re trying to focus on the things that we are truly thankful for, and I’m thinking about Royce Hummer.
The last time I saw Royce walking around on the streets of Santa Monica, it had to be more than five years ago. Shame on me.
I’ve tried to track him down now and then but I haven’t seen him since. No one who I ask around the vicinity of the Ocean Park Community Center has seen him in a long while, either.
He might have been in his 50s or 60s, but having been homeless for years, yet sporting a nicely cut gray beard, it’s hard to tell how much all of that can really age a human being.
He was always buried under a pile of brown jackets, with a brown stocking cap on his head, and deep brown passionate eyes. He walked slowly, but his mind worked fast.
And he enjoyed talking about sports. Especially anything related to Cincinnati, for some reason. I can only assume he lived there at some time. The Reds and Bengals were stuff we could meet on one level and discuss news that either one of us may have heard.
I asked Royce once where he lived.
“Over in those bushes,” he said, pointing to an area near the Santa Monica City Hall front lawn.
I didn’t press it any further. I couldn’t. He was there just to get a lunch that our group was handing out, and maybe find some clothes from what we brought that he could swap out with what he already had.
It turned out that Royce was also a poet.
Somehow, he got hold of a manual typewriter and pounded out poetry. The black, gritty keys of this typewriter as they hit the paper, in various degrees of misprints and shifted black ribbon strikes, made his poems even more stark and real.
He would sell his poems on the street corner for a dollar apiece. That was how he made money to feed himself for the day.
He entrusted me one day to take a batch of his poems so I could run over to the nearby Kinkos and run off a few hundred copies so he didn’t have to worry about finding a way to print them up for awhile.
Of course, I kept a stack of them for myself to read.
The collection of poems that Royce had put together, he titled it “Truth,” and dedicated it to his daughter, Rebecca – another topic of conversation we’d have. He missed her. She didn’t know where he was. And he knew it was better that she didn’t.
I found Royce’s book of poems this week, and had a good cry while reading them again.
He’s not just a poet. He’s one of those street philosophers who knows far more than he’s willing to let on.
“i wanna tell you the truth,”
That’s how one poem begins.
“but you would just call me insane
“maybe laugh in my face
“but who are you to tell me that I am wrong
“don,t you understand that in the end we may all end up in the same place
“maybe you think you are finer than the flowers
“maybe you think you have a box seat in this life
“i,m here to tell you how wrong you really are”
His poem called “I Know” begins:
“i know what its like to have a tormented mind
“i know the feeling of a knife in the heart
“i know the lost of a soul
“i tell you i know”
I wish I could tell Royce today that I know how he feels, but I can’t. And I don’t.
I wanted to see if he had heard about Carson Palmer leaving the Bengals and going to the Raiders.
Or if he even knew that Joey Votto had been doing so well with the Reds. He loved talking about all the battles the Reds and Dodgers once had back in the ’70s. He reminded me about how Sandy Koufax was a much better basketball player at the University of Cincinnati than he was a baseball player, and wouldn’t that have been something if he pitched for the Reds instead.
Instead, I find another poem by Royce, maybe the one that gets to me the most this weekend, called “I Wanna See,” that includes the lines:
“i wanna see a get down and get dirty football game
“i wanna watch a good old baseball game
“i wanna see what makes you tick
“i wanna see you once more”
Truth is, I want to see Royce, at least once more, and I’m not sure if time has run out.