Clifford Vaughs wanders the streets of Fort Lauderdale with a hard-cover copy of The Closing of the American Mind tucked under the cast on his arm.
The arm was broken when another street person beat him with a two-by-four.
He can be found sitting on a bunk in the Salvation Army`s emergency shelter or standing in a food line waiting for something to eat or sleeping in an abandoned pickup truck.
Vaughs is homeless, one of about 5,000 homeless people in Broward County.
But something is different about this man.
His speech is refined; he talks rapidly but carefully, occasionally retracting one word in favor of one more precise. He speaks in a clipped Boston accent reminiscent of the Kennedys: Cahn`t, he says, and ahsk.
Often he spends his days reading in the Main Library in Fort Lauderdale -- the only place for homeless people to spend their days free of harassment, he said. The library houses a copy of a film, Not So Easy, narrated by Peter Fonda -- produced and directed by Clifford Vaughs.
To anyone with interest, he hands a copy of his three-page resume.
Here is a man who worked with Julian Bond in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, who was an accomplished photographer, who worked with Dennis Hopper on the production of the movie Easy Rider.
Here is a man who, as a reporter, covered Gov. Ronald Reagan in California, who was co-owner of a company that supplied news clips to television and radio stations around California, who was reporting from the Ambassador Hotel the night Robert Kennedy was shot.
Homeless, now. Why?
-- Whether as a civil rights worker, photographer or journalist, Cliff Vaughs was always fearless, seeking adventure, taunting fate.
He is a small man, a light-skinned, freckle-faced black. Strands of gray fleck his hair, but he looks younger than his 51 years.
In the early `60s, he moved from Boston, where he was born, to California. He met friends who were preparing to go on a freedom ride.
``I told them it would be a boring trip,`` he said. But all of them ended up in jail, and one of them got his back broken.
After hearing that, Vaughs signed up.
He joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and became a photographer in the South.
``He took fabulous pictures of southern scenes, movement scenes, voter registration scenes,`` recalled Bond, a Georgia civil rights leader. The photos went to newspapers and magazines throughout the country.
For one of his first photo essays, Vaughs smuggled himself onto a plantation and found a woman living with nine children in a one-room shack. None of them had been to school. They wore burlap sacks.
``They were sleeping on straw,`` Vaughs said. ``It was the most amazing sight. There are horses and cows and sheep that are living better than these people were.
``First I couldn`t believe it. And then I cried.``
SNCC workers earned $10 a week; they stayed in safe houses where black families would put them up at considerable risk. There were bombings and beatings, and people were shot at. Some were killed. Others suffered permanent emotional scars.
``I think that it flipped everybody out,`` said Casey Hayden, activist Tom Hayden`s first wife, who worked with Vaughs in Mississippi. ``Some people got back into the mainstream, and some people didn`t.``
Most came to rely on the civil rights community -- a community that eventually crumbled.
``There you are, sort of out there, because you`ve cut your strings to the mainstream,`` Hayden said. ``You`re like out in the deep water with no buddy, and it`s sort of disorienting.``
She said that Vaughs was ``a West Coast motorcyclist, a lot of leather and no shirts.`` Hip before anyone else was hip. Scary, a little; reckless.
``I think that`s what attracted me to him,`` said Wendy Vance, the third of Vaughs` four wives. ``Finding this wild man in the South, a true adventurer. ... There was just some sort of fearlessness in all situations. It did not occur to him that he was a moving target on this motorcycle.``
At a march in Selma, the civil rights leader John Lewis refused to stand next to Vaughs. ``You are crazy,`` Lewis said, according to Vance. ``I will not march next to you.`` The fear was that, somehow, Vaughs would make himself a target.
Francis Mitchell, one of Vaughs` best friends, thinks the work in the South explains Vaughs` later life.
``I don`t know of any more shattering disillusion than to discover that, for some reason or another, the people of the United States persist in their monumental bigotry,`` Mitchell said.
Vaughs denies any disillusionment. But he refers to his work in the South as ``my most committed years.``
``It seemed like this was one of the few worthwhile things I could do in my lifetime,`` he said. ``Anything else would pale.``
When asked how the work affected him, he retreated into a scholarly discourse on anthropology, dynamics and Gestalt.
Friends initially are shocked to learn Vaughs is homeless: He was so resourceful. But, within a minute, they accept it. It fits. He was reckless too many times. Irresponsible. He liked to be a victim.
In the mid-60s, Vaughs returned to California as regional coordinator for SNCC. His job, combined with the political climate, gained him entree into the Hollywood community. He raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for his organization.
Vaughs was attracted to Hollywood stars, friends said. Bond recalls meeting Tony Franciosa, the actor, at Vaughs` house.
He made the papers. A 1966 article in the Los Angeles Times quoted him as calling for Watts to secede from Los Angeles.
In the late `60s, Vaughs took a job as a reporter for KRLA radio in the Los Angeles area.
``I always regarded him as my best friend and worst enemy,`` said Lew Irwin, who was the news director. ``The guy has all kinds of potential, but he`s one of the most self-destructive people I`ve ever met.``
Vaughs carried the fearlessness he had shown in the South into his new career.
``At one point, he was covering a march in Berkeley,`` Irwin said. ``He held a camera in the face of one of the policemen who was beating up one of the marchers. Police descended on him and beat the s--- out of him.``
He was hospitalized. Vance, his wife at the time, recalled that Melvin Belli, the noted lawyer, offered to represent Vaughs. Vaughs said, and Vance confirmed, that then-Gov. Reagan also called him in the hospital.
Vance said Vaughs was the associate producer in the pre-production phase of the movie Easy Rider. Dennis Hopper, the film`s producer and co-star, confirmed that Vaughs made the motorcycles used in the film.
Later, Vaughs produced and directed a film on motorcycle safety, called Not So Easy, featuring Evel Knievel and narrated by Peter Fonda.
Vaughs and Irwin formed a company -- Vaughs/Irwin Productions -- that supplied sound and videotape to California news outlets.
He was doing well. And doing drugs. Many people used drugs recreationally during the civil rights struggles but, in the early 70s, Vaughs began using heroin. Heavily.
``During my most productive period, I was using drugs,`` he said. ``I was what they call a working junkie.``
Times were different, he said. Sometimes he would be in a limousine with two Hollywood celebrities and four girls in furs, and they would all drive to a dealer`s house. And drugs were common at parties.
``It was just like serving cocktails,`` he said.
But friends said heroin changed him. ``His kitchen would change from gaily painted to black,`` Mitchell said. ``Junkies seem to like black.``
``Once he started using heroin, he was gone,`` Irwin said. ``From the time he became a junkie, it was impossible to have a real relationship with him.``
And then there is the matter of the boat.
Vaughs told Irwin about 1975 that he wanted to buy a boat, but could not get financing. Irwin co-signed the loan. Vaughs bought an old 42-foot, wooden sailboat and moved onto it with Mitchell.
``When everyone else was coming into port, he wanted to go out to sea -- when the wind was kicking up,`` Mitchell said.
Irwin said that Vaughs made about three payments on the boat, then he and a woman (not his wife) took off on it. No more payments. Worse, he took the boat out of American waters.
``I owed something like $24,000 on the boat, and the lenders wanted all that back immediately,`` Irwin said. ``So I was in big trouble as a result of that.``
Vaughs said he stopped making payments because Irwin called Mexican authorities and falsely told them Vaughs was running guns.
Vaughs, ever the adventurer, said that for the next seven years he made a living by hiring the boat out for charters. He admits he ran contraband -- cigarettes, beer, wine, liquor. He spent time in Puerto Vajarta, Costa Rica, Jamaica. He lived for a year in a jungle town in Panama.
Which is what the other homeless people on the streets of Fort Lauderdale call him now: Panama.
In 1982, he was arrested by federal authorities on charges of smuggling cocaine, marijuana and Jamaicans into Florida. After he was held in jail for six months, charges were dropped, and Vaughs said he was not guilty. He said he was hired to pilot another man`s boat in and out of Bimini. When he looked down into the hold and saw people hiding there, ``I said, `Charlie, how could you do this to me?``` he recalled.
``My downfall is getting busted and spending six months in jail for something I didn`t do,`` he said.
Lew Irwin, who had not heard from Vaughs since he took the boat and left Irwin in debt, got an astonishing prison letter from him.
``No mention at all about the boat,`` Irwin said. ```You`re my best friend. Send me $200 so I can buy things in the commissary.```
``The guy has no sense of responsibility,`` Irwin said. ``He just never thought of the ramifications of his actions on himself or others.``
Irwin did not send the money.
Instead, he came to Florida and repossessed the boat. It was trashed, and he only got about $2,000 for it. Vaughs had no money, and now, no boat.
After his release from jail, Vaughs spent a month in a halfway house in Miami. He had been off heroin since about 1974, but on his first night in the halfway house, another resident took him to a crack house, he said.
He spent most of the next month smoking crack.
He became a dealer, was busted in Fort Lauderdale twice and served several months in jail.
But he grew disgusted with the wrecked lives caused by cocaine and dissociated himself from the drug, he said. His mind now is clear and sharp. Still, he said he is unable to return to a mainstream job and istrapped by his homelessness. And his former drug-dealing employers pester him to return.
``I can get all I want from the drug side,`` he said. ``But I can`t get anything at all from the legitimate side.``
So he spends his days on the streets, nursing his broken arm, and his nights in temporary housing paid for by the Veterans` Administration, housing he must leave as soon as his arm heals. He rails against the agencies for the homeless, saying they do not help the destitute escape their terrible trap.
Wendy Vance, his third wife, doesn`t think drugs created his problem -- they were just another manifestation of it, of his long desire to play the victim.
``If you want to be a loser, what better way?`` she asked.
``This sums up Cliff,`` she said. ``An incredibly brilliant man who, when asked to spell his last name, would say, `V as in victim ... A as in angst ... U as in unhappy ...` When you perceive yourself as a victim full of angst and unhappiness, where can you end up except at somebody`s homeless shelter? And at this point, he was sitting on top of the world! He owned a company; we had a good marriage, a wonderful kid.``
Now, Vaughs is an expert on survival on the streets. He knows where the food lines are, which bushes to sleep under. He would like to resume writing but cannot, he said. Art and literature come after man has mastered agriculture and earned some leisure, he explained patiently.
``I`m still hunting and gathering.``
But he professes unconcern about his situation.
``This is just another day in the life,`` he said. ``If I didn`t experience this, I`d never know.
``I want to be free,`` he said. ``If I`m not supposed to park in the red zone, I don`t want to worry about it. I just park there anyway. And if I have to pay the ticket, I pay. But I`m free.``