Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Marilyn Monroe and

the Homeless Man

(a true story)

by Jack Kara, M.D.

In February 2009 we vacationed in Palm Springs, California and visited our daughters who live nearby. While there, my wife showed me an advertisement for a showing of Marilyn Monroe’s dresses. The advertisement was the famous picture of Marilyn’s dress blowing up from a street grate. Quickly I agreed to go. But when we got to the exhibit, I learned that there were no pictures of Marilyn wearing the dresses. It was only the dresses. Disappointed, I decided to skip the exhibit and waited for my wife outside on a bench in the sun.

The upscale view from the bench reaffirmed that this was one of the two very affluent, entertainment towns in California. Here, even the streets are named for show business stars. Next I observed the tourists who enjoy coming to this exhibit to admire and perhaps even fantasize about a woman who had everything—extraordinary beauty, fame, wealth, famous friends and famous boyfriends, and an expensive home. I then noticed that sitting quietly on a nearby bench was a man with a beard, wearing a black western hat, a brightly colored poncho, no socks, and tennis shoes. He appeared to be homeless, owning nothing but the small sleeping roll beside him.

I had always wanted to talk with a homeless person, but it was awkward trying to start a conversation. I tried this: “I’m waiting on this bench for my wife, but it is too hot over here in the sun. Can I sit on your bench in the shade?” He motioned me over. I sat down and started talking rapidly, so he would soon know I was not the police or someone to move him on. He quickly opened up and told me his name was Robert and some of his life story. Robert said he had been an “extra” in 52 movies but was now homeless. Then he said something that moved me from just being curious, to sympathy for him. He related that his parents divorced when he was three, and he never saw his father again. He said the only memory of his father was that he had painted the whole house green. At that time the family lived near the Marine Base at Quantico, Virginia. He said he used to have a picture of the family standing in front of a sign of the town’s name, but one could not see the first part of the town’s name. I asked him the last part of the town’s name. He said, “fries.” I told him: “Well, your family lived at Dumfries, VA.” He laughed and joked, “So that’s why we covered up the first part of the town’s name.”

I wondered why he hadn’t tried to find his father, but probably Robert thought the only way to find him would be to call telephone information, but that wouldn’t work because he did not know the city where his father now lived. I thoughtlessly suggested that he get on a computer and locate his father. Of course he had no computer or access to one. I was embarrassed that I had made this suggestion beyond his means. Then I had an idea. I told him I would search on my computer that evening and if I found his father, I’d come back to this same bench at 10 am tomorrow.

I did a computer search for his father and found two Edward James LaMoore’s. One was in Tampa, Florida and was 80 years old, which was about his father’s age. But the search site wanted a fee and my credit card information before they would supply the man’s telephone number. I tried a second internet phone service and they also wanted my credit card information. I was fearful of a credit card scam and reluctantly gave up on locating his father. Giving up so easily bothered me because I wanted to give Robert his father’s phone number, and he deserved to have it. I awoke in the middle of the night thinking of Robert and suddenly realized how to get his father’s telephone number without paying a fee or giving my credit card information. I could simply call 411 for Tampa, Florida on my cell phone and get his number.

The first thing the next morning I got the man’s telephone number using my cell phone and then called him. “What do you want?” the man said in a rough tone. I identified myself and said, “I’m looking for the Edward James LaMoore who was a Marine Supply Sergeant at Quantico Marine Base near Dumfrees, Virginia. “Yeh, that’s me,” he replied. I told him, “I met this nice man in Palm Springs who is your son, and Robert would like to say ‘hello’ to his father. Could Robert call you in an hour?” He answered, “No problem.”

So I drove into town arriving a little before 10 am. Robert was sitting on the same bench, but I parked half a block away from him. At that point I was afraid Robert might, because of resentment for being abandoned at age three, swear or yell at his father and ruin this once in a lifetime opportunity to reunite. So I hid in my car and wrote out a few suggestions for Robert to ask or tell his father. Then I walked to Robert and said: “I have located your father in Tampa, Florida, and I talked to him an hour ago.’ Robert’s eyes widened. “Your father said it is okay for you to call him.” I also showed him my talking points and said he could use or not use them. I suggested that he look them over a minute and then we’d call him.”

I dialed his father on my cell phone and handed the phone to Robert (picture above). He stayed with my script, asking about his father’s health, his work, did he remarry, have other children, etc. His father said his health was okay but he walked slowly; he had made a career out of the Marine Corps; he had never remarried; there were no other children; and he lived with just his old dog. Then Robert abandoned my script. I was standing about 15 feet away looking away from Robert but I could hear him talking on my cell phone. Robert said, “I was only 3 years old when you and Mom divorced and you left, but I remembered you painted the whole house, right?” His father must have asked what color because Robert laughed mightily and said “Green!” When the conversation was about over, Robert touchingly asked if his father minded if he called him again sometime. Robert said he might have to call collect because he was homeless. His father said calling was okay. Richard hung up happy, and said, “Thanks, Jack.” I had told him my name the day before and he had remembered it! Before leaving I gave Robert a long distance telephone card that had about 15 minutes remaining on it so he could call his father a couple more times.

A few days later the life-lesson of my first encounter with a homeless came to me. The lesson was--a few moments of kindness given to those who have so little from those who have so much can have a lasting impact on their life--and also an impact on the giver. I absorbed the lesson of this unique encounter, and it propelled me to attend a church meeting the next month on Affordable Housing. There I learned that the town where I had practiced medicine for 40 years had a homeless shelter. At that meeting I signed up to become a volunteer at that shelter.

I told this encounter with a homeless man to my daughter who lives in Hollywood, the other show business city in California. She also took to heart the lesson of the story and now does volunteer work for the homeless in Hollywood--where Marilyn Monroe enjoyed having a home and--wore the dresses in the display.

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