Troy Musslewhite hung on a dock railing off plush Lido Isle Wednesday evening, waiting for the Cormorant to sail into view so he could join his family for its scheduled Thanksgiving cruise.
Always wary, the 11-year-old declined comment on nearly every issue, engaging in a touch of verbal debate worthy of a man twice his age. "I don't want to be famous," he said. Asked why not, he answered: "I want to be what I am." Asked what that is, he said: "I'm poor, and I'm forgettable."
Troy and more than 100 homeless men, women and children from shelters throughout Orange County were treated to a turkey dinner and powerboat cruise through Newport Harbor Wednesday afternoon, compliments of a local cruise company.
As they piled on board and got under way, the scene was worthy of a TV movie-of-the-week. With its ragtag load of passengers stowed safely on board, the Cormorant steamed off into the setting sun, past opulent homes where chandeliers winked on as the vessel passed by at dusk.
Palm trees and sailboat masts were silhouetted against the orange sky, egg nog flowed like water, and there were three whole turkeys left after the group had finished dining.
It could have been a cruel journey filled with ironies, akin to taking a child on a shopping trip to famed New York toy store F.A.O. Schwartz and warning: "Look, but don't touch."
That very thought had crossed the minds of the Cormorant's crew members, said cruise coordinator Katthi Arch, as they planned the pre-Thanksgiving celebration.
"This is all we have to offer," Arch said, "and we are in Newport Beach. But we figured that a lot of the people would enjoy being out on the boat and having a traditional Thanksgiving dinner."
Arch was right. The adults carried themselves Wednesday with a dignity and hope forged of surviving rough times, and the children--Troy included--cavorted as always. It was an hour-and-a-half respite from the real world, a miniature vacation with plentiful food, beautiful scenery and charming hosts.
"It's fun," Troy said as he trailed his empty plate over the ship's railing. "It's the first time I've ever been on a big boat like this, and a few minutes ago, my meat went overboard. But that's okay, I was done anyway."
"You see that boat over there, the Lynn De-Bell? " asked Leslie Wall, 26, as she pointed at a huge yacht docked near the Cormorant. "Someday, I'm gonna have one. There ain't no reason why I can't."
Hard Times in Denver
Hard times and bad luck had brought Wall, her husband and their three children from Denver to the Orange Coast Interfaith Shelter for homeless families in Costa Mesa. They had worked hard and tried to save. But children kept arriving--her second set of twins is on the way--and a flagging economy cost them both home and jobs.
In Denver, Don Wall was a maintenance engineer for a local hotel, and the couple managed the apartment building where they lived. But last August, Don was laid off, and a bank foreclosed on their building. Jobs were scarce, so they headed West.
"And here we are," said Wall. "It can happen to anyone, no matter how high you are, you can come crashing down."
Even though life had turned rough for Wall and her growing family, it was Thanksgiving eve, and there were still things to be thankful for. "At least we have each other," she said. "The way I look at it, we could be a lot worse off."
Wall turned to her daughter Crista, 4, and started their familiar family drill.
"What's the most important thing in the world?" she asked the child, who hung on a railing gazing at the yachts before her.
Crista looked up at her mother and answered: "Staying together."