Tasmanian Times

Mandy Jackson-Beverly

The Lady with the Keys


After spending a blissful four days in LA on my own, it was time to head back home. My iPod was on shuffle, I was happy – grateful for the solitude and hoping to hold on to my serenity at least until I hit the Pacific Coast Highway.

The traffic stopped for a red light, and as I pulled up behind the car in front of me a shape caught my eye. A woman who looked to be in her late 50’s, early 60’s sat on the curb of the street to my left. Her hair was disheveled, parts resembled straw but mostly it looked greasy, her face was streaked with dirt and her baggy clothes were un-kept and although they once may have fitted her, now hung loosely over her body. Behind her was a shopping trolley full of stuff; to her right was more stuff. She was busy cleaning her nails with a key – one key, on a crowded key chain.

This was Lincoln Boulevard and Brooks – this is the Venice I’ve known since I lived here in the late 80’s. After my car had been broken into twice and a person murdered around the corner from me, I moved. I’d even begun to question the bravery of my dog and two cats that ran for cover with every car alarm that echoed through the streets. I’ve had friends who’ve lived in Venice for years and love it; mind you, areas of Venice don’t look like they’re part of the same city nowadays. The little house on the walk street where I used to live is now part of a very trendy, expensive part of the new Venice.

As I sat watching the homeless lady clean her nails I wondered why she had so many keys. Did she have a place to call home – with a lock? That explained one key, but what about all the others? I looked at my own key ring dangling around by my knees – I could account for four out of seven keys hanging from the karabiner, but not the other three. I have absolutely no idea why I carry them around.

Maybe that’s how it is for this lady too. Perhaps they’re keys to her past, a haunting reminder of who she used to be, places she used to call home, or maybe she just likes keys. I thought about a recent documentary I’d seen – Finding Joe – about the life of Joseph Campbell, and wondered if this woman was living her bliss. It must be quite freeing not to make rent or house payments, or to buy groceries that you may never use, or to live wherever you choose.

Years ago when I had worked with David Bowie on a music video, he had hired a group of homeless actors to work as extras. They were some of the most interesting, humble, alive people I’ve ever met, and at the end of the shoot I offered them clothes. One of the men didn’t have much of a coat and winter nights in LA can be cold. I grabbed one of the overcoats we’d used in the shoot and presented it to him.

He looked at me and chuckled, I asked him what he was laughing about and he said, “I know you mean well, but I already got a coat… and anyway it would just be another thing to carry around.” He wandered away into the dark night, smiling – I was left holding the coat. There were about thirty homeless people there that night, and all I could give away were a couple of pairs of sox, two pair of gloves and a hat.

The Lincoln traffic began to move as the opening piano riff to Gloria Gaynor’s, I Will Survive, eerily drifted from my iPod. The car in front of me veered into the next lane leaving a new car in its place. I looked at the sticker on the bumper, it read – Expect Miracles. ©

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