• Staring Straight in the Face of a Homelessness Scam

    On the last day of 2009 a man on the street asked me for money. It’s not unusual in Long Beach, but I recall this encounter vividly because immediately afterwards I wrote about it for the Long Beach Post, wrestling with the question in light of our encounter, in which the man presented himself as regretful and humiliated at being a victims of circumstances that forced him to beg for a few dollars so he could take some food to his wife and young child, with whom he was holed up in a local motel because a fire had devastated their home, and effusively thanked me for the three dollars I handed him.

    “Was I being had?” I wrote. “I have no idea. I don’t pride myself on being a great reader of people. Whatever the case, I once again found myself wrestling with the question that overarches any situation of this type: When to give, and how much?

    Today I no longer wonder whether I was being had, because now I know that I was. And I know because last month, just a mile away from our 2009 meeting, the same man approached me with exactly the same story—the fire, the motel, the wife and child, the desire only for food.

    Initially I didn’t recognize him, but as soon as he started in on the story, there was no room for doubt. As I let him take me through the sad tale, welling up with tears exactly as he had four years earlier and presumably has done thousands of times since, my heart raced. I did my best to repress a smile as he handed me a Veterans Administration ID card to backup part of his story. “CULLEN, BOBBY JR,” it read, a deep crease in the plastic obscuring the pictured face. The VA stuff I recalled; the card was a new touch.

    Any second now, I thought, he’s going to be on to me that I’m on to him. But I had the advantage: I’d been told this story only once, and only by him (and written about it, of course), whereas he had given this performance to thousands of people over the ensuing four years. Besides, what were the odds?

    In tears he made his plea, and I handed back the card. “You know, it’s funny,” I began. “It was December 31st three or four years ago—I don’t remember exactly—when you stopped over by the Library Coffeehouse over on Broadway.” “Is that in California?” he asked. That stopped me for a moment. I almost said, “Nice touch,” but I wanted to get to where I was going.

    “Yes,” I smirked. “And you know that. Because you told me exactly the same story, with all the same details—the fire, your wife and kid, being a veteran, asking for food.”

    “That’s impossible, sir,” he said. “We came to town 11 days ago.”

    “Look,” I said, smiling now, “you can do this performance all you want, but you know and I know what this is.”

    “You must have me confused with someone else,” he said, beginning to walk away but seemingly unable to let the act go. “Have a nice day.”

    “Hey, man,” I said, almost gloating, “I see you. You can’t fool me, and you can’t fool yourself.”

    The mask was starting to slip at this point, his combination of artificial indignance and genuine embarrassment almost palpable. “Not all Black people look alike,” he said, backing off down 4th Street.

    “That’s true,” I laughed. “But I’m talking about you, a shameless guy trying to scam people out of money with a bullshit sob story. Bobby Cullen, Jr.—if that is your real name.”

    “That’s not what the card says,” he barked, reminded me very much of myself as a mendacious child desperately trying to deflect my interlocutor away from a lie in which I’d been caught. “That’s not what the card says. Want to look at it again?”

    “That’s okay, ‘Bobby.’ I see you. See you around, pal.”

    “Yeah,” he said, now simply angry. “Keep smiling. That’s a pretty good smile for a White guy.”

    He turned on his heel, and I laughed and watched him, then turned away to sit for a bit on a nearby bench. But I was up a minute later, annoyed at myself for not snapping a picture. I guess during the exchange it would have felt too brazen. Plus, how often in life do you live out telling someone off exactly as you would have hoped? I couldn’t chance ruining the moment. But now I wanted a visual keepsake. I walked back to the site of our encounter and cast my eyes up 4th Street: he was nowhere to be seen.

    I read the words painted on the building at the site of my second meeting with “Bobby”: Raise us above the differences and distinctions that divide us. Lots of ways to take that if you believe the universe talks to you. I’m more of a non-believer, myself. But I’m all for the haves and the have-nots finding the common root. I’m a big fan of transcending all those bad binary relationships: rich-poor, giver-taker, scammer-scammed. Humans on both sides of these divides would be better off if humankind managed to dissolve them.

    Probably we can’t, not completely, but that doesn’t mean we as individuals can’t raise the net level of humanity by playing our small parts: working to minimize both avarice and abject poverty, giving where we can and taking only by informed consent, not running scams on others and exposing those who do.

    Attention all human units: Be on the lookout for man, African-American, late 40s, 5’10”, lean/healthy, neat in appearance, completely bald (head most likely shaved), possibly carrying a Walgreens bad, cries on command, telling a sad tale of a house fire and a wife and child back the motel, he really hates to ask, he’s a working man, he’s never asked for anything in his life, but if you could help him—in any way—get some food for his family. Answers to the name “Bobby,” though there is reason to believe this is not his real name.

    Also be on the lookout for genuine opportunities to help—in any way—those less fortunate than you, those truly in need. When we are raised above the differences and distinctions that divide, there will be no looking down on anyone.

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  • RLn NEWS of the Week

    Students Connect with Global Executives
    SAN PEDRO — On March 27, the International Trade Education Programs will honor 23 student scholars from six Southern California high schools at its 14th Annual Scholarship Dinner, themed “Crafting Future Careers,” on March 27, 2014 at Crafted at the Port Los Angeles in San Pedro.

    More than 400 global and civic leaders representing some 100 major companies and organizations join 270 students to showcase the yearly achievements from 2,200+ students in International Trade Education Programs academies from Barstow, Carson, Gardena, Long Beach, and San Pedro High Schools, plus four at Wilmington’s Phineas Banning High School.

    The annual, sold-out event will also recognize special student achievements. Phineas Banning High School student Jasmine Valdez will receive the year’s memorable Carol Rowen 180 Degree Award for her dramatic turn-around from a 1.5 GPA to a college-bound student and academy council member. In addition, the newly established Martin D. Chavez Scholarship Fund will present its second annual awards to six International Trade Education Programs students.

    Other scholarships include awards from the Los Angeles Air Cargo Association, the Foreign Trade Association and the Harbor Association of Industry and Commerce. (more…)

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  • Health Care Enrollment Fair

    March 27

    Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in collaboration with the Office of Rep. Janice Hahn is having a health care enrollment fair, from 4 to 8 p.m. March 27.

    Certified enrollment counselors will be available to enroll community members into Covered California and insurance programs.

    Details: (310) 833-3223; http://mtsinaisanpedro.org
    Venue:  Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church
    Location: 225 S. Mesa St.,  San Pedro 

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  • Dine With a Queen in Long Beach

    By Lyn Jensen

    Beachfront dining is an everyday sport here in the South Bay, and 2014 has brought a remarkably summery winter and spring, even by California standards. That means we can enjoy Long Beach’s waterfront before tourist season hits. If you’re visiting the city harbor and looking to get away from chain restaurant menus, you’ll find Parkers’ Lighthouse offers a variety of unique dining experiences.

    Having recently added Queensview Steakhouse on its top floor, Parkers’ Lighthouse now offers two restaurants in a single location. The building itself is one of Long Beach’s landmarks, with architecture that slightly resembles San Diego’s world-famous Hotel Coronado. It’s the place across the channel from the Queen Mary, dominating the Shoreline Village complex against a backdrop of the Long Beach downtown skyline. (more…)

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  • Getting Older, Not Always Gracefully

    By Lionel Rolfe

    Getting older was supposed to be easier than this–more like a wonderful long vacation. But of course, it hasn’t been that way. My wife left me just before I turned 70 and I’m still not getting along with it too well a couple of years later. I don’t have enough on Social Security to survive, so I’m still working part time at my old high-stress journalism job. And becoming something of a lonely and grumpy old man in the process.

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  • Environment Advocate Seeks LB Council District 7 Seat

    By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor

    Joan GreenwoodFor more than 25 years Joan Greenwood and her late husband, John Gailey, have embraced the Long Beach community as their own.

    Now, Greenwood is looking to leave her mark by running to represent the city’s Council District 7.

    “I have been inspired to run for the 7th District council office based on my 20 years of commitment to improving the quality of life and the environment in District 7,” Greenwood, 65, said. “All initiatives start at the neighborhood level. So, I have focused on the air quality impacts and opportunities within the neighborhood to provide activities for younger children.”


    Greenwood, a project manager and environmental consultant for CSC Targee Inc., is best known for her work on the board of the Friends of the Los Angeles River. She became concerned with air quality issues in 2000. She was the president of the Wrigley Association from 2004 to 2007 and a founding board member of the Wrigley Area Neighborhood Alliance. As resident of Wrigley, a neighborhood that is directly adjacent to the Interstate 710 Freeway, she lives in a high-risk zone for pollution impacts. (more…)

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  • Homeboy Industries Honored at Noche de Estrellas

    By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor

    Aquarium of the Pacific Trustee, Dr. Martha Molina-Bernadett, presented Homeboy Industries with an award on March 14. Jose Osuna is the director of employment services at Homeboy Industries and a Long Beach resident. He accepted the award on behalf of the organization.

    Aquarium of the Pacific Trustee, Dr. Martha Molina-Bernadett, presented Homeboy Industries with an award on March 14. Jose Osuna is the director of employment services at Homeboy Industries and a Long Beach resident. He accepted the award on behalf of the organization.

    Aztec dancers greeted an audience of about 200 people — mostly Latino families — March 14, at the annual Noche de Estrellas (Night of Stars inSpanish) that the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach organizes.

    Noche de Estrellas is a bilingual (English and Spanish) evening filled with environmental educational opportunities for all ages, Latino music bands, disc jockeys, arts and crafts, food and drinks, and the experience of visiting the Aquarium and its animals at night. This event began in 2010. Its first award recipient was actor and activist Edward James Olmos.

    This year the aquarium honored Homeboy Industries, an organization serving high-risk, recently incarcerated and former gang members, who are trying to change their lives in Los Angeles. Rev. Gregory Boyle founded Homeboy Industries in 1988, using as its slogan, “Jobs Not Jails.” The nonprofit offers tattoo removal, job training, employment, legal services, case management, and mental health and substance abuse services.

    “Homeboys Industries does so much for so many and they’ve done it for so long that I believe it’s always a good time to honor them,” said Dr. Martha Molina Bernadett, an Aquarium of the Pacific trustee. “This is an especially important time as Latinos are such an important fabric of Southern California and Father Boyle’s work is so lasting.” (more…)

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    Charges Filed for Suspect in February Murder

    LONG BEACH — On March 14, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filed murder and weapons charges along with gang enhancements against 24-year-old Joseph Avila.

    Avila was arrested March 12, at his Long Beach residence for the murder of Robert Anthony Proano. Proano was shot and killed Feb. 10, near Myrtle Avenue and Artesia Boulevard in Long Beach. The motive of the murder is believed to be gang-related.

    Anyone with information regarding this murder is urged to contact Long Beach Police Homicide Detectives at (562) 570-7244 or visit www.LACrimeStoppers.org.

    POLB Cargo Dips in February

    LONG BEACH — On March 18, the Port of Long Beach announced that import volume was down 2.7 percent, while exports were up 2.1 percent at the POLB in February, compared to the same month in 2013.

    Overall cargo volume dipped 2.6 percent due to an 8.3 percent decline in empty containers. (more…)

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  • Buscaino Advocates for Harbor Area in D.C.

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — On March 14, District 15 Councilman Joe Buscaino discussed his recent travel to Washington, D.C. in his e-newsletter.

    Buscaino traveled with seven colleagues for the annual National League of Cities conference and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce’s Access DC program.

    Their presence in D.C. is critical because Californians get back only 76 cents of services for every dollar of federal taxes paid, Buscaino wrote.

    He said that he advocated three things:

    1)    Councilman Mitchell Englander and his “Save Our Streets” initiative, a multi-billion dollar project to fix Los Angeles’s failed streets and sidewalks, while creating 40,000 jobs.

    2)    The revitalization of the Jordan Downs Housing development in Watts, which could potentially receive a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods Initiative planning grant. That, will be leverage into a billion dollar investment.

    3)    The Port of Los Angeles, one of the most important economic engines of the region. (more…)

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  • UC Patient Care Workers Authorize and Announce Five Day Strike

    OAKLAND — On March 14, the University of California’s 13,000 Patient Care Technical Workers, represented by AFSCME 3299, announced that they voted 97 percent in support of authorizing an Unfair Labor Practice Strike and informed the University of their intent to strike March 24 through 28.

    The strike stems from growing incidents of illegal, bad faith bargaining by university administrators. This includes unilateral implementation of contract terms and benefit cuts, and the university’s 11th hour demands for sweeping new layoff powers, which could leave UC Health facilities short-staffed and patients vulnerable in the event of medical emergencies.

    AFSCME 3299 has filed unfair labor practice charges detailing each of the violations with the Public Employment Relations Board.

    Read the charges herehere and here, and the strike notice letter here.

    Though UC has repeatedly suggested that financial constraints are contributing to its collective bargaining practices [1], UC Hospitals netted more than $632 million in operating profit this past year. [2] Since 2009, annual hospital administration payroll costs at UC have swelled by more than $100 million, equivalent to an increase of 38 percent. [3]

    Two UC Hospital CEOs (Mark Laret of UCSF, and Ann Madden Rice of UC Davis) just made the Becker’s Hospital Review list of CEOs of the top 25 highest grossing “non-profit” Hospitals [4], each receiving more than a million dollars in compensation. Laret’s arrangement, in particular, includes six figure cash bonuses tied to profit goals. [5] (more…)

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