Neighborhood regular sparks chats and compassion

| January 28, 2021 | 0 Comments

ACQUAINTANCES visit with Giorgio on the boulevard and throughout the neighborhood on his daily walks.

Frank Sinatra liked Italian food and regularly downed three shots of bourbon while waiting for his table at Chasen’s. Hitchcock preferred champagne, fruit and French cuisine. Mick Jagger showed up at restaurants after a gig at the Roxy in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce.

So recalls Giorgio, the 56-year-old Larchmont Boulevard regular from behind his possession-piled shopping cart, a man who I got to know over several months of conversations.

Windsor, Chasen’s

Giorgio used to have an apartment in Hollywood and a girlfriend from Kiev named Leonida and a succession of restaurant jobs in some of the most famous celebrity haunts: the Windsor and Chasen’s, among others. He once went to Jack Nicholson’s house as part of the Chasen’s events catering team and, reports Giorgio in his typical staccato delivery, Nicholson is a nice man and a very heavy drinker. “He liked Scotch. Black Label on the rocks. Very smart man.” Giorgio remembers that he made him a food tower with caviar and all the accoutrements.

Fixture on the street

But now, on nearly any morning, when shoppers and coffee fiends can be found picking up a newspaper, a cold brew and a muffin on the boulevard, that’s where Giorgio will be, relying on the kindness of strangers to provide a meal and human contact.

Giorgio is as much a fixture on the street as any of our favorite storefronts.

Stocky, with dark grey waves spilling from under his (often) burgundy beanie, and with a seemingly perpetual head cold, his sad eyes reflect a lifetime of disappointments. Over his years of homelessness, at least nine by all accounts, he has developed a routine.

Most mornings, he can be found near Peet’s Coffee, standing with his cart in the road, just behind the line of parked cars. Sometimes he asks passersby if they can get him some food and, from my observation, many oblige. It’s equally obvious that some are Giorgio “regulars,” handing him an unsolicited meal or coffee. Once I watched as a young woman retrieved cash from her friend in a waiting car and handed it to Giorgio. Another handed him a warm beverage, “just because.” He once asked me for a sandwich since a well-meaning Good Samaritan had given him a bagel, which he couldn’t eat because he has too few teeth to properly chew the dense bread.

People stop to chat, filling him in on the news of the day, asking for his opinion about current events (he keeps somewhat informed, in spite of protesting that “I stay away from news.  There’s too much news!”). About the coronavirus, he scoffs at the severity, saying, “Either you get sick or you don’t.” About his life? “Complicated.”

Kind acquaintances

Giorgio speaks fondly about people who have regularly stopped to talk with him or give him food or money, some gone now. He calls them his friends, such as the man who came alone for a bagel and coffee every morning (“No wife or dog with him!”) and they would talk. Three months after this friend had been diagnosed with a tumor, he disappeared, and Giorgio assumes he died. These stories intermix with those from his days in the working world, before he lost his job and was evicted.

Ally Carstarphen, a shift lead at Peet’s Coffee, who has known Giorgio for three years, offers, “Sometimes we’ll give him a free coffee. He’s always been very kind to talk to. He talks a lot!” She continues, “He talked to me about being a bartender. He’s always making sure I’m getting paid enough and how he’s hoping that [Peet’s workers] were all well.”

NGA also reaches out

Local resident Marilyn Wells, co-founder of Stories from the Frontline (, a local group promoting affordable and supportive housing as an effective solution to end homelessness, says she also knows Giorgio. She recently recounted: “We had an interesting conversation at an NGA meeting a number of months ago. I was heartened to hear that so many of the women in the group also know Giorgio and have reached out to offer him food or clothing, knowing that he doesn’t want any help beyond that when offered. 

“Our discussion at the NGA meeting began with our growing concern about the increase in homelessness in our area and how we can get involved. NGA member from Windsor Square, Olivia Kazanjian, said, ‘We talk about how homelessness is growing at such a rapid rate and we can’t stay on top of it. Our neighborhood truly is a village and it’s important to take care of your village.’”

NGA is “National Giving Alliance Hancock Park.” The group provides wish list items to a number of agencies in the local area, such as Alexandria House, Good Shepherd, Imagine LA and Hollygrove, that care for unhoused neighbors.

Newsstand visits

Before taking a walk around the nearby streets or heading back to his bus bench home, Giorgio often stops in front of the newsstand and Rite Aid, hoping someone will buy him more pain reliever for his aching back and legs. Someone usually does, including the morning I watched as a masked woman emerged from the drugstore with the news that the over-the-counter medication Giorgio requested was sold out. Could she select a different one for him? He agreed and she went back inside, exiting with a generic version and a receipt so he could return it if it wasn’t to his liking.

Brian Jang, owner of Above the Fold newsstand, calls him “George.” (Giorgio is fine with either.) Jang explains that his stand serves as something of a hub for the boulevard, with regulars leaving utility payment envelopes with him to give to the mail carrier, for example. So, too, they often give him things for Giorgio. “People have left a battery-operated radio for him. Things like that.  Little things that they think he might like or want.” Jang has also seen people hand gifts and money to Giorgio directly.  “$50 occasionally, $100 from one gentleman.”


Jang has also witnessed the darker side of Giorgio, the Giorgio who loses his temper, spewing vitriol when a police car drives by, saying they bother him, spouting off about some perceived wrong. When he gets belligerent, Jang tells him he can’t talk to him that way and Giorgio calms down or moves away. That’s a view I’ve observed, as well, when he has gotten agitated over politics or over one of my questions that he deems too personal (he won’t share his last name, for example) or the lack of aid he’s received from the government. He says he deserves social security and disability payments and says he once went to that office to fill out the correct forms. “Take a number!” he yells, recalling the rule. He claims that when it was his turn the man at the Social Security window closed his position and went to lunch, telling Giorgio he’d be served first when he returned, but the man never came back. Giorgio plans to try again. Sometime. Maybe.

He bemoans America’s complicated systems, our civil and penal codes. When asked how he knew about them, Giorgio reveals that he used to spend a couple of hours every Sunday in the library, writing it down “free of charge.” He’s astounded that he would say, “I need some information,” and the librarians would get it for him. “There’s a lot of things at the library. Job search. Books with names and addresses.” He liked researching companies, when they were established, how many people worked for them. He recalls one company entry. “They started with 40 [employees]. They grew like pizza! I learned a lot of things in the library.” He no longer spends time there.

Origin story

LIFE ON THE STREET is tough and often depends upon the kindness of strangers.

Before Giorgio took to the streets, before his time cooking and serving in the city’s best food establishments, there was Giorgio’s origin story.

Giorgio was born in Naples, Italy. The youngest of six, with four older brothers and one sister, he has fond memories of his childhood. Apparently, he was a bit of an athlete, playing soccer, as do most European children, but also tennis, which he continued when he moved to the States. He traveled some, to Paris and England, mentioning how wonderful English pastries taste. He tells stories of visiting his sister’s farm, where they’d have fresh-killed chicken dinners and homemade wine from her vineyards.  “It was wonderful,” he remembers and smiles.

Giorgio doesn’t drink anymore. Or maybe “just a taste sometimes,” he says, although he smokes five or six cigarettes a day. He likes sweeter blends, Marlboro and Dunhill, rather than bitter Pall Mall, but prefers loose tobacco.  He talks for a long time about the relative merits of different brands and how difficult it is to quit.

I wonder about his health. Does he ever get seriously ill living on the street, smoking, and dependent upon handouts for food? He’s healthy, he insists, pointing to a grandmother who lived into her 90s and a strong mother. His father, an industrial plant worker, drank too much wine, however.

They are long gone, but his sister and a brother who lives in Rome are still alive, as far as he knows, although he seems to have lost contact with everyone.

He’s proud of his siblings’ accomplishments. One brother had moved to Germany and worked for Lufthansa. Another worked on cargo ships in the oil industry. He marvels, “In Saudi Arabia oil comes out of the ground. You make a little hole and the oil comes up like water. Like a shower!” His lone sister became a linguist and studied philosophy, with a special interest in Kant.

After high school, Giorgio graduated from a technical institute that he says was the equivalent of California State Polytechnic University. He learned to design and build a radio from scratch and he could tune in Morocco from it. This triggers a warm memory and his face lights up as he sings a Moroccan song, waves his arms around and dances in the street. After graduation he became a radio and radar operator on a submarine in the Italian navy.

Although he commemorated his time in the service with an anchor tattoo on his upper arm, he didn’t particularly like the military life with all its regimentation and rules. When his enlistment was over, he declined the offer to stay on, and he went back to work as a technician in the electronics field.  He eventually left Naples to join his brother in Rome.

To the U.S.A.

After 10 years in Rome, Giorgio sought his fortune in America; the reasons for which are unclear because Giorgio gets agitated when asked about leaving his homeland. What is clear, is that here he found work in the restaurant industry, first with relatives in Miami, then New York, finally landing in Los Angeles. Dates don’t always add up in Giorgio’s stories, but he claims to have moved here in 1986.

He’s very animated when talking about food and his restaurant work, where he says he held almost every kind of job, from waiter, kitchen worker and busboy, to bartender and host. Giorgio often remarks that restaurants are like the theater, with set roles. “You have to be welcoming and funny,” he remembers, suddenly transforming into a grand-gestured maître d’ on the restaurant stage. “You have to say, ‘Hello, come in, I’ve missed you!  I have such a good pasta for you today. You’re gonna love it!’” He continues, “When I was a waiter, I needed to go with whatever the customer liked.” He imitates a typical long-ago exchange with a customer expressing a sauce preference. “‘I like red!’” He’d rejoin with “Yes, yes, red!” “‘I like green.’ Yes, yes, green!”

Good times and bad

I recently read a novel that posited that all time exists at once because we are vessels of all our yesterdays, todays and tomorrows.  Talking with Giorgio is like that, a stream-of-conscious ride through good times and bad. Sometimes there’s a sudden glimpse into a once-happy man who took his sweetheart out for complimentary drinks and dinners at friends’ restaurants, or a hint about his intellectual curiosity. For example, he’d love to go to Griffith Observatory, but says, “I have no way to get there.” He likens being in a space capsule to being in a submarine, which he understands.

He asks, “What’s the difference between ache and pain?” and “Why is it sometimes a clock and sometimes a watch? They both do the same thing! Why do you look at a watch and say ‘It’s five o’clock? O’clock!’”

Often there’s a foray into cooking, his own (“I’m a good cook.  Oh, yeah! Fish, paella!”), or restaurant menus. His favorite place was Chasen’s. He says they were nice there and he liked their food. “French onion soup. Very famous French dish: bouillabaisse. Special pasta, with cream of mushroom, tomato, chicken, artichoke sometimes. Fish with butter, garlic and lemon. Delicious!”

Interestingly, Giorgio often veers into a discussion of the relative worth of products, comparing athletic shoe brands or noting that pork chops are less expensive in Latino markets and Volkswagens cost one-and-a-half times more in Beverly Hills than downtown. Then suddenly he’ll plunge into disappointment and anger, all layered into seemingly one space.

Giorgio’s people

Most of us can share memories and build new ones with family and friends in person or, these days, over cell phones and Zoom accounts. Giorgio only has the people who deign to talk with him on the street and who are his de facto community. He settled on our beloved boulevard because “No one bothers me here,” a reminder to us all that the unfortunate among us are often disdained, asked to move along, swept out of sight.

I once asked Giorgio if he had a place to wash up and if he would go to a shelter. “I don’t go to shelters,” he insisted.  I looked over the collection of worn blankets, dirty tops, crumpled tissues, cigarettes and technical manuals in his cart. “Do you need anything?” I asked. “A winter jacket? A thermal blanket?” Giorgio paused, pointing to his clean black sweats. “I changed my pants,” he beams.

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