Veterans Day makes me think of Joe, a tramp who I knew and photographed for ten years in the Los Angeles freight yards. He had fought in Korea and had severe PTSD, which was not really recognized in those years. He made rice pudding by going through the dumpsters in Chinatown for leftover rice and in the trash of coffee shops for the last of the non dairy creamers that had been thrown out. It was actually pretty good!
He survived because he was a loner and didn’t drink, unlike the other tramps I met. He didn’t talk to anyone else but talked to me because of my dog, Casper. When the tramps saw Casper, they knew I was not a threat. That made it easy for me to get to know them and photograph them in a non-threatening way.
I knew Joe for several years in the seventies. One day, I noticed that he had gone. The spot by the electric tower where he cooked, he had left two books on the cement platform. The books were old and had come from the San Diego library. “How to Make Money with your Camera” was the title of one book and the other was called “The Study of Man”. I did not take the books because I did not want to disturb anything and as a documentary photographer, I never disturb things. I thought that Joe had left me the books, but I wasn’t sure. I thought maybe he would return, but I never saw him again.