Mike was savoring his first good cup of coffee in 16 days. He had gotten out of rehab just six hours ago, and he explains that he and the other patients were only provided with weak, decaffeinated coffee in the morning. He has stopped at this Starbucks on his way to Pacoima to retrieve the marijuana he had stashed in a bush before checking into rehab.
“It was Mexican weed,” he says. “Only costs about an eighth as much as the medical stuff.”
He tells me that he checks into rehab whenever he gets tired of living in homeless shelters. He has been in rehab and mental facilities in 11 or 12 states. “I’ve worked in them too, as a therapist,” he says. “Mostly playing guitar for people, so I’ve seen them from both sides.”
He entered his first facility in his early 20s, after his parents threw him out of the house when they caught him taking acid. He tells me the best facilities are in Utah, where the private chefs prepared steak tenderloins. Other places, like one in Illinois, are “worse than jail.” He has been in jail too.
He explains the process for checking himself into rehab. “They make you fill out a bunch of forms,” he says. “But I just tell them I hear voices.” He chuckles but then adds, “Which I do,” as if to assure me that he isn’t gaming the system. And then he smiles reassuringly and says, “But I’m not hearing voices right now.”
Like many homeless people, he has a courtly politeness, happy to talk and share his opinions, but quick to agree to a different point of view if challenged on his own.
He is smart. At the rehab facility he just left in El Monte, he was distressed the medical director had all the patient files in stacks of manila folders around her office. Mike pondered whether to lecture her on the benefits of digitization, but decided against it.
He excuses himself and walks to the front of the coffee shop to get a newspaper. When he returns he is shaking his head about a story of a couple of drug dealers in Chicago who were arrested for having seven tons of cocaine. That both amuses him and offends him.
That leads him to discourse on current events, and he eventually gets to the Nobel Peace Prize. “I can’t understand why they gave it to Gore,” he says. “I really can’t understand why they gave it to Obama. But I guess he got it for not being Bush.”
He chuckles at this. And then he wonders if tomorrow he’ll be able to cash the check he has, because the check is made out to his social worker. Analyzing world events comes easily; routine matters, like bus schedules, can be a challenge. He plans to go out looking for an apartment tomorrow, hoping for one bedroom, but grudgingly willing to settle for a nice studio. He has not lived in his own apartment in a long time, and he is looking forward to finding one — after he retrieves his Mexican weed.