By E.M. FREDRIC
Great friends are hard to find… difficult to leave and impossible to forget
HOLLYWOOD, CA (THT) 11/23/18 – When Sir George called me to say, nonchalantly, that he was in the VA hospital in Westwood, “I think they want a pet scan or somethin’…” I raced to his hospital bed and was shocked to see my ex-homeless friend with at least a four month old scraggly beard on his chin. I shaved him – which took almost an hour because the nurse would only allow me to use disposable razors – while he complained about the food and how long he had been waiting. Never did he tell me what he had been told was wrong. He just said that his lungs were being checked because of the ongoing cold he had. Having been through my mother’s death from lung cancer, I was scared for him and thought he was clueless. Little did I know that he knew his outcome, it was his way of getting me there without having to tell me he was dying. My friend had reached out and as much as I was stunned, I was honored to be with him.
I had met Sir George Miller – that’s how he introduced himself – while serving breakfast and lunch at GettLove’s original headquarters on Selma Avenue in the heart of Hollywood at the social services building behind Blessed Sacrament. (GettLove is Aileen Getty’s homeless organization.) The kitchen was abuzz in random energies with a multitude of personalities all there for one purpose – to get the meals out on time while hot and get prepped and ready for the noon crowd. We served hundreds of the local homeless daily, Monday – Friday.
The kitchen was filled with laughter, ribbing of one another and a stressful but joyful job to some, volunteer position to others – like me. There’s much to learn when working alongside the homeless and I had the best of trainers in my other new friend – Don Porter. He helped run the morning crew and at the time was still homeless himself – on drugs by night, sober in the morning – ready to meet the crowd he knew well and Don never, “took any &*it” as he frequently said, from anyone.
None of the women were ever allowed to walk outside into the outdoor patio without a male presence and Don was right there. A frail, sickly looking Father Christmas of a Dicken’s Tale with a wicked laugh would lead the way out. We would lose a two-year sober and newly housed Don, not long after Sir George to the same disease – lung cancer.
I had heard of Sir George for a few days when I first went – Cyndi who worked there – told me I would know him when I saw him. She was right. There was a tall but thin, scowling black man trying to stay away from the others when I placed his plate in front of him. He started to say something then his face broke into a smile and he quickly looked down. From that day on, we became friends talking more each day and he told me how he became homeless after years of working as a security guard in Bel Air and other high end neighborhoods. His wife had died and he ran out of work so he was living in his car when GettLove found him… or he found them.
Sir George hated being homeless and didn’t want to be lumped into the same company of who visited us which made me laugh. Don and he got along but it was a mutual respect of having been on the streets. George wasn’t a drug addict but he had his addictions to cigarettes. Within a year of knowing him he was placed in a beautiful apartment on Franklin Avenue not far from Selma Avenue where he had a doorman, Friday night films and loved looking at see the cityscape at night. He would call me and say, “I love you. How are you? You doing okay? Guess where I’m at? Where it all began… where I found a home again after I met you and the people at GettLove.”
Every Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas there were gatherings but George would rarely appear unless I rang him up and said you better show up because I’ll be there. He did on a few occasions and everyone was happy to see him. One Halloween and Thanksgiving. I didn’t know it was our last holidays together. He came in with a cane. Cyndi (Cynthia Dawn Basich) who was a friend to us both – and then employee of GettLove – said she thought he had been sick but neither of us knew how badly.
When you’ve connected to others on a different level – not one of stature, or what most consider another’s measure of success but on a simpler human plane… it’s a remarkably freeing feeling to have a friendship that isn’t bound to rules. To be able to lift up a phone or answer with the simple words, “I love you, too. How are you today?” To watch someone go from being homeless to being housed then being there before he went home to rest and die – is not something I will ever forget or not be moved by. Sir George Miller had sang back-up in old bands that went so far back – I can’t remember who they were but I heard an audio recording he found once.
He made me feel special by ringing me up just to see how my day was going. Always asking if my son was doing okay. If I was down or upset, he always had a keen eye on the issue and told me to keep shining and staying strong to who I am. We had always said we would make time for meeting for a real lunch or dinner when he found his place but it didn’t work out. I had asked him once but he said soon and I believe in hindsight it was that he knew he was very ill and that he was too proud for me to see that.
At the hospital I found myself immersed suddenly in a palliative care meeting and was told the gravity of “Mr. Miller’s diagnosis.”
As the doctor saw the look of confusion on my face he said, “You weren’t told what is wrong?” and then proceeded to explain in front of everyone in the room that my friend was dying and there was no treatment plan other than keeping him comfortable. I kept my face turned to the doctor so George wouldn’t see the tears streaming down my face and when I wiped them and looked at him, he wouldn’t turn to face me. He needed me to know this way. It was our unspoken agreement now.
Sir George Miller went home the next day and we kept in touch until one day I got the call that he was gone – not long afterwards. I thought back to the times I would be with a friend and the phone would ring and I would chat away with Sir George and when I got off the question always was, “Who was that?” But the look on another’s face when I said, “My ex-homeless friend.” has never left me. “You are friends with someone who was homeless?” Yeah and I still have friends who are homeless and one day it could be you or me or anyone… we’re not so different.