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Though they live in the bushes and forage for food in supermarket dumpsters, they insist they're not bums. 'Bums,' they say, 'are not welcome in Temescal. . . . We don't want characters like that. . . . It gives us a bad name.' They are . . . : . . . Temescal Canyon's High-Class Tramps

April 07, 1985|NANCY GRAHAM | Times Staff Writer

Where but in Pacific Palisades would you see a tramp whiling away a sunny afternoon practicing his golf swing?

That's how Ben Cutway 38, president of the "National Assn. of Temescal Tramps," spends some of his time.

Cutway, 38, the unofficial spokesman for the decidedly unofficial group, also builds doll houses, using whatever material is available. He offers them for sale daily on a fence in Temescal Park, along with his paintings.

But at night, or when the school children come to play in the park, Cutway moves his gear up the hill, where he and most of his friends sleep.

There are six of them and they emphasize that "we're not bums, we're tramps."

"A bum," Cutway said, "is someone who walks around with his hand stuck out. They are not welcome in Temescal. . . . We don't want characters like that going to the Palisades. It gives us a bad name.

"Everybody here is responsible for his own condition. If they want to pitch in and help others, that's fine. If one of us comes up with food or clothes, we share."

Most of the tramps stash their belongings in the bushy area above the park, which is private property, according to a spokesman at the recreation and parks department.

Some residents worry that the tramps will make it unpleasant for people to come to the park with their children, and some merchants also object to the hobos.

But John Harrington, who has owned a camera shop in the Palisades since 1958, said, "At first you object to them; then you have sort of a kindly feeling toward them. You feel sorry for them. You wonder how this can happen.

"People are kind of benevolent toward them."

Park employees also treat them well, Cutway said. When he broke out in a rash after contact with poison oak, he got some salve from a park gardener who had been given the medicine by his own doctor.

"The tramps don't bother anybody," the gardener said, "They never ask for anything without offering something in return.

Added Cutway, "We have to get along with the park people, so we try to keep our messes to a minimum."

They also have to get along with the police.

"There is as wide a range of types of transients as there are residents in the Palisades," said Sgt. Lee Spargo, who oversees the officers who patrol the area for the Los Angeles Police Department. "There are some constructive, cultured ones that I kind of enjoy having around. Some cause serious crime problems in the area, like thefts from motor vehicles and burglary."

The Pacific Palisades hobos say an enterprising tramp doesn't have to beg or steal to live the good life.

Cutway lives in a burrow, hidden in the brush above the park, outfitted with a cot, sleeping bags, a poncho and a tarpaulin. He protects his paintings and a few tools with plastic garbage bags. After a family of opossums invaded his cardboard food box, he began to store food in a metal box, he said.

Much of that food comes from trash cans and dumpsters, he said.

At that moment, a middle-aged tramp who calls himself Kito arrived with groceries and spread them out for a communal lunch. A cellophane-wrapped package of grapes discarded by one store looked fresh enough to sell, as did the other fruit and vegetables Kito had salvaged from a dumpster.

Kito is said to be from Bulgaria. He smiles at friendly strangers but doesn't talk much.

Cutway laughed, recalling the time one of the tramps bought a barbecued chicken at a local market.

"Right after that," he said, "someone came in with some chickens he had gotten from the dumpster. They were just as good as the one the guy bought, but the market had thrown them away. We got them free."

One market, the tramps insist, discards the entire contents of its delicatessen trays at day's end when several fast-food retailers also dispose of leftovers. One of the more popular brands of yogurt can be found in the dumpsters when it reaches the expiration date stamped on the cover.

Things that can't be found in dumpsters, such as tobacco and paper for roll-your-own cigarettes, or a saw and glue for use in doll house construction, are purchased with money received for salvaged aluminum cans.

Several members of the "association" own second-hand metal detectors, useful for finding lost money or jewelry.

'Interesting Hobby'

Lenny, a dignified man with a full head of white hair and well-trimmed mustache, calls metal detecting an interesting, and sometimes profitable, hobby.

It has taken him up and down the beaches, to deserted hobo jungles and to areas near parking meters in Beverly Hills, he said.

Lenny, 56, is vague about his past. He was an ambulance driver for five years and occasionally does odd jobs. He was married once but said, "I never did want to settle down."

Lenny doesn't spend all his time in the canyon. A couple days a week, he rides his battered old bicycle into Los Angeles and stays with a friend. He enjoys his solitude and resents the hobos who wrongly assume he wants to socialize.

"I don't like bums," Lenny said, "but I've met a lot of nice people right here in the canyon."

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