One knows when Christmas is in the air by three noteworthy events: The volume of junk mail increases, stores begin stocking colored lights and all eyes turn toward the melancholy plight of the homeless.
Not that their situation isn't perennially dismal, given the conditions of a nomadic existence.
Sleeping under the Santa Monica Pier, for instance, is considerably less cozy than even Motel 6 accommodations, and eating out of a garbage can will never replace Mom's tuna casserole.
But it all seem somehow so much less joyful during the Christmas season.
Worrying about people with no place to go is not a new issue. It embraces the substance of drama that has always attracted the misty-eyed liberals among us, described by Mort Sahl as anyone over 50 who was a Communist in college.
And while they may be past the stage of going to jail for anything, taking white bread to the homeless in Palisades Park is an effort at altruism that is convenient and satisfying.
I give them credit.
They'll march and they'll sing and they'll serve soup all year round as proof of their under-grad commitment to better the world, when just about everybody else ain't even doing that.
However, this is the beginning of the season (traditionally right after Halloween) when we lift our hearts to Those Less Fortunate Than Us and when the entire Christian world flutters on the brink of charity for all.
I should be more specific, I suppose, and say we lift our hearts to people who are homeless and without food, because less fortunate in certain parts of Beverly Hills means only those unable to holiday in Switzerland.
The point is, it's time to lift our hearts again.
Not everyone is showing full charity yet, but then it's still early. When, for instance, Mayor Tom Bradley suggested placing 630 prefabricated shelters throughout the city, he got these City Council responses:
"There's no room in my district."
"It's not up to the council."
"They aren't wanted in my district."
"It isn't legal to do it."
"It isn't right to do it."
"We're too far from everything."
"We have enough poor people already."
"The cost would be prohibitive."
However, one council member, Ruth Galanter, did come up with an idea that surely will strike at the heart of social commitment this season of giving and sharing.
She's suggesting you adopt a homeless family.
I say you specifically, because after having adopted waifs and urchins and drunk police reporters over the years, I am out of the market.
The center of the adoption effort would be Venice Beach, which has become L. A.'s most popular encampment for the homeless. This is in Galanter's district.
Hundreds have moved onto the beach and this has naturally upset those who are paying $3,000 a month for an ocean view and not for a view of someone urinating in the sand outside their picture window.
Galanter realizes that and is suggesting that it's up to the people, not just government, to help solve the problem of the homeless.
Ergo: Adopt the Poor.
It's a perfect time to truck on down to Venice Beach, look over this year's crop and select the family of your choice. Shop early. Avoid the rush.
I ought to make clear, however, that Galanter did not intend to imply that the term of adoption only encompass the cheery holiday season. It should extend into the bleak days of January, down the flat roads to March and into the steamy summer.
The idea has merit, but it's got to have a leader to get it rolling. A celebrity, for instance.
I'm not talking Joan Collins here. She's already demonstrated her attitude toward the homeless by kicking Peter Holm out of the house.
Others, however, have manifested an interest in social causes that would make them ideal to lead an adoption drive.
Many would follow, for instance, if Jane Fonda, earth mother to the stars, accepted the seamiest of the nomads into her home, to prove that her commitment to lost causes is real enough to bear the unpleasantries that accompany them.
Willie Nelson, I'm sure, would do the same, and Morgan Fairchild and maybe Valerie Harper, who has expressed such keen interest in their plight, and Daryl Hannah and Martin Sheen and Kenny Rogers and Barbra Streisand and, God knows, maybe even Joni Mitchell.
Grand estates with sweeping ocean views would open to the homeless in the Malibu Colony and high up in the golden canyons.
Vast mansions in Bel-Air and Beverly Hills would be peopled by those to whom a tent is a palace.
Within the inability of the homeless to use a fork or carry a conversation or keep themselves clean or flush the toilet would lie the true test of commitment: in the smell and the feel of reality.
By that very measure, I doubt that many will ask the dispossessed into their homes, because it isn't the homeless they support, but the cause of homelessness that appeals. Distance makes the difference.
Flash is everything in Hollywood.