Showing posts with label Louisville. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Louisville. Show all posts

27 March, 2020

Social Distance Diary: A Walk in the Park

This near hollow tree is still standing. I take a lot of comfort from that.

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. - Herman Hesse

We went on a walk in Iroquois Park last weekend, along the horse trail a bit. Just to get some air. Just to get a little daylight together.  We picked the horse trail because there were fewer people there; not that there were a lot of people, because there weren't. But with the outbreak and my wife's work, we're being super diligent about social distancing and have been... even before Andy asked us to.

I love being out in nature, and I count it among my blessings to live where I have access to a park system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. He, like John Muir, had an inkling of humanity's relationship with nature, and of our need for it.  More people know that Olmsted helped design Central Park in New York than know he designed "The Big Three" parks in Louisville.  At the core of his design philosophy was an idea that may have come to him when he was traveling in secret across the Pre-Civil War south and writing the articles that would eventually become The Cotton Kingdom: that it nature should be left to be nature because that's how it best serves people. (Never let it be thought that he was some prescient eco-warrior, because he wasn't.) He was very much opposed to manicured landscapes that were very much in vogue... a manicured look that was meant to suggest mankind's dominance over nature.  

Iroquois Park was originally designed with this in mind; and even though some very unOlmsted-like things have been added over the years, the amphitheater is a boon to the south end and to the city, the playground is well maintained, and while I'm terrible at basketball, I don't begrudge anyone a pick-up game in non-outbreak conditions. A large part of the park is still maintained much like Olmsted imagined it. Fallen trees are allowed to rot where they fall as long as trails aren't blocked. During our walk, I noticed where a tree that had fallen across the horse trail was simply cut in the place that blocked the way but left on both sides.

As humans -- as monkey not long from the trees -- we sometimes can't help ourselves but to leave a mark. Amanda asked me on our walk if I ever carved my initials into a tree. No, I told her. I always felt bad for the tree.

This expression of hypersensitivity didn't surprise her; she knows me too well.  She pointed out, though, that as long as the carving doesn't go all the way around the circumference of the truck, that it will simply grow and expand with the tree.

She wasn't asking because she wanted to carve our initials into some poor tree; but she did notice I was taking pictures of some carvings that attracted my attention:




While I can't bring myself to make such marks, I do appreciate that the tree carries on in spite of it for the most part. I suppose if I felt like I had permission to carve into a tree, I'd consider it. But I'm not one that the trees have decided to talk to. Not yet, at any rate.


I was talking to an old friend recently who takes stunning photographs of far flung places. He told me  that a person gets some perspective when he stubs his toe on a 5000 year old tree. This tree may not be that old, and I (surprisingly) didn't tub my toe on it. But I derive a great deal of comfort from it, and the others being there. 


21 February, 2020

Refrain: A is (still) for Adjunct*

As of this writing, I haven't stepped into a college classroom in a teaching capacity for almost four years.  Although I wrote about my exile and failed attempt to get back in great detail at the time, I haven't really written about it much since.  I think maybe I was too close to it all; too angry about it all; too focused on what I lost beyond a job I cared about -- maybe the last job I really cared about. A job for which I believe I had (and still have) a genuine calling.

Four years after National Adjunct Walk-Out Day and the Louisville Teach-In, very little about the plight of adjuncts has changed. Every late summer or early fall, the same stories, or rehashes of the same stories, cycle through the media. Stories of teachers living in their cars, living on the street, skipping necessary medications and meals in order to do the work they love to do.  Four years after and I'm not angry about it anymore; there's no room for anger when all it does is burn. My anger burned everything around me and almost burned me alive; it almost burned me, but it did nothing to burn down the injustice. I'm past the anger.  All that's left is the story. 

And even though I'll be posting bits of it here as it comes, a story has too much weight to just live in the digital world. It's time to bring it forth, like all buried titans.




Officially, I separated from the University of Louisville on April 20th 2015, of my own volition. But by then I'd been isolated from my colleagues and been subjected to increased scrutiny by the department.  Everything was fine at UofL until I tried to write an article for LEO Weekly about the working conditions of Part-Time Lecturers, also known as adjuncts.  By that time I'd already been banished from every Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) campus after the marketing and legal teams stalked me across social media in order to find the slightest pretext to get rid of me. And why did they even bother with one more disgruntled, underpaid, overworked, and generally exploited adjunct in a statewide community college system?

Because I was the most visible organizer of The Louisville Teach-In: a two-campus educational action in conjunction with National Adjunct Walk Out Day (#NAWD).

Up to this point, the fact that I have all the documentation to back this up hasn't meant much; I did my due diligence. I inundated them with FOIA requests. I gave my story to a local reporter, along with copies of all my findings.  I went to the Kentucky Labor Cabinet. I contacted the National Labor Relations Board. I reached out to at least one fellow colleague, a tenured humanities professor with local status some activist cachet for help. None of it did any good. The reporter wrote a very nice story and did nothing with my FOIA research. The Labor Cabinet was only concerned about whether I was being denied Worker's Compensation, the NLRB informed that because I worked for a public institution, the NLRA didn't cover me, and my esteemed colleague took a pass because he was too worried about fighting for people who already had health insurance (i.e., full-time faculty).  I took it as far as I could without hiring an attorney – which, since I couldn't afford an attorney, meant the end of the road.

Before I even really begin this story, I'm going to tell you how it ends: with me not teaching. Goliath stomped David. The Philistines still run the once golden kingdom.

But it's not that simple, either. It can't be, because this is an American story – one of the few truly American stories, stripped of bootstrap and Manifest Destiny mythos, where the plucky activist  gets steam-rolled by a giant, mindless machine. Maybe not Horatio Alger. But definitely Frank Norris.

And a canary or two.
______________________________
* Title originated from this LEO Weekly article by Laura Snyder

17 July, 2019

Letters from Trumplandia: Born of the River -- Louisville, Kentucky

Yesterday, 50 homeless people were displaced in the #compassionatecity. Contemporary urban living means dueling with the cognitive dissonance created by political reality chaffing against the marketing. Bourbon and BBQ for the tourists, for whom the mayor stands, while human beings are treated like the dirty laundry no one wants to deal with.

But this is, I suppose, just one more day in Trumplandia, one more day in the Mayor Greg Fischer's shiny mirage -- the photo op he lives in as he attempts, poorly, to salvage his political legacy.

This wasn't the Louisville blog I wanted to write. I wanted to write in response to a recent call for Belt Publishing -- a publisher I respect, by the way -- for writing for about Louisville for an upcoming anthology. In their call, they refer to Lousiville as a southern city... a mistake that many people make. The local Chamber of Commerce -- otherwise know as Greater Louisville, Inc. -- bills us as a southern city. Local liberals, progressives, and some of the radical left call Louisville a "blue island in a sea of red." All the people whining about the removal of Confederate statues and brandishing the stars and bars as if Kentucky was part of the Confederacy embrace this southern niche with the same vigor that the majority of the country also embraces it.
Mayor Greg Fischer (WDRB)


The truth, with all due respect, is this: Louisville is not a southern city. But it is a river city.
Unfortunately being a river city along the Ohio River means owning the muck that comes with it. Louisville's history of exploiting and isolating populations. The West End and the black community with a botched bussing plan, redlining, and imminent domain. The city's unofficial war against The Russell Neighborhood. Shanty boats. Nativist Know-Nothings and the Bloody Monday Riots. The slave trade. Gentrification. Keep going back. There's more to find. Too much more.

We are not a southern city, with all due respect to southern cities who have the actual geopolitical and culture underpinning to make that claim. The mistake people keep making about Louisville is that they keep trying to insist it's a southern city. It's not. Louisville is born of the river, and the river pre-dates any geopolitical classification.

Unfortunately, we are responsible for the muck that comes with it: Economic piracy. Greed. Exploitation. Dehumanization. Because just like the river flows west and into the Mississipi, so does the muck. Inhumanity spreads like a disease, whether it's the city's policy of dehumanizing the homeless or Trumplandia's policy to dehumanize people at the border and put children in concentration camps.

And no, I'm not suggesting all the evil starts here. But some does wash up on shore on it's way.

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03 June, 2019

A Tip for Traveling Well (Back in the Tall Grass)


Top of Iroquois Park, Louisville, KY: an Olmsted Designed Park
The top level of Iroquois Park in Louisville, Kentucky is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. It's only open to motor traffic one day a week, and most of the time it looks like the city has all but forgotten about it: tall grass, hidden brambles, vines, and flowers. The path through the tall grass eventually disappears and even though the earnest saunterer isn't that far from the road or from civilization, the wildness of the place takes hold and for a moment, it's possible to forget the nearness of  what has come to pass as civilization.


One of the blessings of my life is that such a place, and others like it, are so close to where I live. I've taken this for granted in the past because, well, my head wasn't quite turned right. I'd allowed myself -- with all the best intentions in the world -- to get distracted by work, by the demands of building a business that I built for what may have not been the best reasons, and by the trappings of a civilization and system that I'd spent years avoiding and actively fighting against.

But as I find myself back in the tall grass, having wandered off the marked path in favor one that I
have no choice to have faith in rather than the sure thing I can see, dictate, and, to a limited degree, control, I feel more free than I have in a long, long time. I was so busy trying to make up some kind of professional life after the one I loved (education) seemed to have left me behind... or, to be more accurate, filtered me out... that I missed the opportunity to really step off the path. Yes, I tried a few creative things until I put together some sort of business plan. But the business took all the energy and left me little room to breathe. And you may point out, Isn't that just the way it is?

No. It's the way I decided it was. That doesn't mean it was true. And no one had any control over it but me. I'd trapped myself in a maze of my own creation, with a monster of my own creation to whom I ceded all control of my life.

When I was finally able to see... or I was blessed with the chance to be able to see... what I was doing to myself, I knew that I had to get back to something basic:

PACK LIGHT.

On any journey, the things you carry are the things that can both help sustain you and make your life miserable. In some cases, the thing you're lugging around will kill you if you let it. So let go of what you don't need. Hang onto what sustains you.

The real bitch of it is that only you can figure out what those things are. But once you do, the tall grass is calling.





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30 April, 2019

On Being Present In Spite of the Kentucky Derby

Hawthorns. Yep, they hurt.
I travel for the same reasons I eventually come home. This is often difficult to explain to people who either aren't pushed in seemingly opposite directions by the currents or who have denied their impulse for wanderlust and diaspora. For those who are similarly afflicted as I am, no explanation is needed, but please, brothers and sister, bear along while I wander this thought to some stopping point or another. 

It's a short leg, I promise.

There are currents at work in both cases, but in neither case am I afflicted by a sense that something is missing or lack of satisfaction. The only real difference is this: when I'm out, I attune to the rhythm of the road almost immediately, like stepping through a door. But when I come home, there's always a reentry process, like having to wait in a decompression chamber so that my lungs can breathe the air of home again.  It's not even about the tangible things in my home life -- my sobriety, my relationship with Amanda, my needy dog or apathetic cat, the house and the familiar and comforting things housed there. Where I have the most trouble is in the intangibles: things that I am compelled by socialization or cultural imprinting to care about: the condition of my yard; seemingly petty and oddly mean-spirited technological issues; the status of our battle to keep the bank from taking our home, in spite of us doing everything right in order for that NOT to happen; business clients who don't pay their invoices on time; obligations created out of cultural necessity -- like most bills, showering, and wearing pants; and locally, the hubbub over the very decadent and very depraved Kentucky Derby -- that fastest two minutes of sport that create that have contributed to a pendulum like boom and bust economy, not to mention labor exploitation, sex trafficking, and the continued exploitation of the city's homeless population in an attempt not to offend the tourists who come here, piss in the street, and call it bourbon.

There are battles here that are worthwhile, and ensuring that rich touristas have positive few of the town I have chosen to call home is not one of them.  But am glad that of the things I hang onto from being out, the things I continue to foster with my personal daily Practice, the idea of being focused on the here and now remains central to my decision-making process about how to (and if) to interact with any of it.

When I'm out on the road, I work to maintain a relaxed but present state of mind, and I try to stay open to whatever experiences and people I can. Through my daily Practice, I'm working to maintain that same relaxed but present state of mind off the road. It's more difficult than it sounds because, in spite of the hassles of traveling (including a lost suitcase), the distractions of a stationary life can fill the ol' brain chamber up with all kinds of things that can distract me from remaining present and being open to the world as it unfurls itself on a daily basis. Things that cause me to miss the beauty and the savagery that are just as present here in Louisville as they are on the road.

Whippoorwills sing
as the coffee cools.
The dog naps, defying
her need to hunt the song
down. Here I sit, listening


waiting for something
maybe the sound
of a gong: a guide,
a rhyme, a tune
encoded in each ring.


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26 March, 2019

Field Notes, 24 March 2019: Beautifully Savage

[Indianapolis:]

Part of me wanted to miss the bus, or for something to go wrong in Louisville just so I could have one more minute with her. It's always like this. Even when I'm compelled to go, there is such a desire to stay, to damn the consequences. And indeed, there would be consequences. I've seen that before, too.

Some aspects of every trip are the same. Indy and the buzzing lights. Chicago Union Station and the great, depressive and beautiful vacuum of that city. Longing and loneliness. And the obligation to write it all down, to somehow make it all make sense, if only for myself, but maybe -- just maybe -- for some other poor asshole out there who is equally torn apart by a need to Go and to See. Someone else who is tortured by the desire to stay, to leave the road for someone else.

At the 2:45AM ticket check I was again asked about a confirmation number. I'm starting to feel punked.

Buzzing overhead lights
and a four hour layover.
Thoughts of you make me wonder
why it feels so necessary
to be anywhere you're not.

[Near Chicago Union Station]

Of course the ridiculous worries about the "confirmation number" were unfounded. The desk worker in Louisville was clearly mistaken/misinformed/harried. The security guard at the Indy station was probably just being a dick because he picked up on my displeasure about the ticket check. They always state the same legal caveat "I am not biased and will check anyone regardless of what they look like." This gives them the blankt authority to racially and economically profile anyone they want without fear of the guard or the company being sued. And naturally, there are any number of ways to abuse tacit authority at 3AM in a Midwestern bus station.

Power is so predictable.
Give authority to a beaten man
and he will beat anyone down
with savage impunity --
in particular, whoever he blames.


Canal Street Entrance, Chicago Union Station
[In the Great Hall, Union Station, Chicago]

The Great Hall is gorgeous. The lights, the statues, the columns and marble staircases. A mish-mash of Greco-Roman with Digital Age minimalism forced into the crevices. Ornately wrought columns and digital screens. Nothing is so American as our nostalgia for the past that never was -- the carefully and assiduously reconstructed one we write ourselves into as the denouement.

Beautiful as they are
all our grand monuments
harken back to a past
reconstructed from afar
so it necessarily includes
us, whether we belong or not.




[Harmonee Ave/Glenview, IL]

Loaded for bear
more people than seats
our steel horse barrels westward
breaching the ragged edge
in search of soul, Big Sky and light.

[Flooded plains outside Columbus, Wisconsin]

Downed and drought
are the only cycles
anyone can really count on.
Everything else is Faith.

[All that's left is the thaw]

Snow lingers west of the Wisconsin Dells. Dirty, tired looking stuff. Knee high piles along the outside
St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN - Union Depot (MSP)
edges and corners of muddy unplanted cornfields. Tiny blankets wrapped around the base of young sycamores and trimming along creek beds. It's all over but the melting here. 


The sun broke out for setting
just east of La Crosse --
piles of dirty snow like shrugged off clothes
lay around the edges
of soon-to-be plowed fields.

[Black River, WI]

Broken up ice islands
The waters are high.
We're coming upon the Mississippi
to breach the great boundary
into Minnesota.

Every time I travel I'm awe struck by how beautiful and how beautifully savage the landscape is.


[First 'Air Break'/ Flood Fight]

Chatted with a woman name Kristy and a man named Dean, both from Fargo. They were strangers to each other but both going home. When they found out they were both from the same place, they started talking about the 'Flood Fight.' Every year when the snow melts, people volunteer to make sandbags to stave off the inevitable flooding of the North River. Dean is volunteering for the first time in several years. Kristy volunteers every year, but her job allows her to volunteer and get paid for it. Dean said they are calling for 1 million sand bags this year. Kristy said they are expecting floods about 41 feet, worse than 1997.

All I said was that water always runs down river eventually. All I thought about was how much we don't need the water to rise anymore at home. But that's life -- it's all connected and everything runs downstream eventually.

-MKP
~

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01 February, 2019

Your Eight Cups Runneth Over - The Annual Count


It is this - that everyone in the world is Christ and they are all crucified. That's what I want to say. Don't you forget that. Whatever happens, don't you dare let yourself forget. ~ Sherwood Anderson

Eight of Cups
In my 20's and through most of my 30's the tarot card I associated myself with the most was the Eight of Cups. It cropped up a lot in readings, though in different contexts, which -- if you put any credence in that sort of thing -- can change the meaning. It's a card full of disappointments, abandonments, desertions, and disappointments. Cups, as a suit, are associated with water, and, being a Pisces (the most waterful of all the water signs), this appealed to me on multiple levels. Not that I ascribe any particular magic to the cards; if nothing else, I think they tend to reflect the energy of the person that uses them and can sometimes provide murky, if not downright fortune cookie-like guidance to wrangling questions that are probably better answered by detachment rather than focus.

Lately, though, The Hanged Man is more in my thoughts. And while I haven't indulged in tarot in more than 20 years, I still find the metaphors meaningful in a sort meta-psychological way. Like many literature majors in recovery, I am a symbol junkie. and because I'm a symbol junkie I know symbolism can be found anywhere, and nowhere -- other than literature, tarot decks, and The Freemasons -- can more symbolism be found than in government. The same is true of the annual count.

The annual count is an exercise in futility; for any number of reasons the count is always inaccurate, and generally used as a PR device by the city to trumpet their "responsible" stewardship of city resources. But like most forms of futility, it must be carried out anyway. Local media often frames it as a huge undertaking done by the Coalition to better assess and provide resources to the homeless community. The Coalition doesn't necessarily discourage this view, though it doesn't endorse it, either. At the Wednesday night training, for example, the facilitator stated that the reason for the count was so that the Coalition could have up-to-date numbers for it's annual grant application. This annual grant is worth $10 million.

So, basically, as a volunteer for the count, I was there basically as an unpaid census worker.  Unpaid... but they WERE going to provide breakfast after it was finished.

I went out on a team of 4 with Amanda and two other very nice ladies, one of whom is a regular volunteer with the outreach organization I also volunteer with -- an organization that DOES NOT see any of that $10 million.  Our route was a short one, maybe a little over a mile of Bardstown Road. This was an advantage. We would be able o scour a relatively small area pretty thoroughly. This was also an advantage, because it's a route Amanda and I went out on often on weekly outreach... so it's one we already knew. This would help not only because of time -- we pretty much had from 4am to 6am -- but because the overnight/early morning temperature was -5.

Amanda and I decided it was best to leapfrog the area. Park, walk a few blocks and look for people, then circle back to the car and drive up to the furthest point we walked. This would keep up near the car, and allow us to keep warm. Our partners appreciated our plan, though initially thought we were being a little silly since our route was  "only about mile."

We made our way up and back, up and back, and up and back. Walking in the cold reminded me of my time on the street in Chicago -- which makes me both love and fear that city with a symbolic and mystical equity. Other than the 4am staff at Cafe 360 and one guy who was couch surfing (so, by definition of the grant, not technically homeless) we didn't run into anyone. I was glad, too. And so was Amanda. It was too cold and that stretch of Bardstown Road is too far from resources to be there in that weather. But we also knew that if anyone was on Bardstown Road, it was not going to be in that area, which is all business and residential. Our section from Bonnycastle to Winter Ave was a high traffic area during the day and prime panhandling real estate; but even the homeless don't always live where they work.

We are, after all, a nation of commuters.

After we finished and went back to the hotel, we checked in and left our partners to the provided breakfast -- which, we had already heard, included some very suspect eggs.  Before Amanda took me home and went to work, we had time to grab breakfast at Waffle House where the eggs were not at all questionable and the hash browns were smothered and peppered.

And here I come back to The Hanged Man. Often portrayed as a willing sacrifice, occasionally
portrayed as Judas, The Hanged Man is also associated with Christ and with Odin, both of whom, according to the stories, hung themselves on trees -- one as a sacrifice for all mankind and the other to gain all knowledge and wisdom. I think of The Hanged Man as maybe the most overlooked, most misunderstood card in the tarot deck that, along with the Death Card, have been woefully abused by movie and television scribblers for years. I think of The Hanged Man and I wonder, as the numbers are compiled and fed into the Public Relations machine with the same efficiency that they'll be plugged into the Coalition's annual grant application, who is being betrayed, who is being sacrificed and what wisdom is being gained.





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16 January, 2019

from Record of a Pair of Well-Worn Traveling Boots -- Anticipation

I was traveling when my wife and got together. Our courtship was one of distance and of patience: letters, emails, phone calls when a charged battery and available cell towers permitted. The pattern of my leavings started even before that, though, back when we were still just friends, still in our 20's, both of us, I think, still searching, though for very different things. I remember going to tell her I was going to drop out of college. It was a deliberate trip out to see her. I went alone because anything I said I only wanted to say to her. She greeted me in a gorgeous sun dress and when I told her I was leaving, the light left her face like the sun disappears behind a storm cloud.  

But because our courtship probably would not have existed without my leavings, they have been a part of our relationship from the start. 

She knows I have to go from time to time because the ticky-tock thing in my gut won't stop long enough for me to stay home like normal people do. I call that behavior normal because it is the most common, and for those who choose it I say have at it. I love my wife and I love my home -- Louisville, Kentucky breaks my heart like no other place I have ever lived. But still, when the wind kicks up, the current shifts, and urge to go sweeps up upon me, it's bad business to ignore it. And though I've written about it before, I feel like I need to reiterate: traveling as I do is not the same as a vacation. It's true that I often visits friends when I travel. But a vacation is, by definition and practice a respite from normal living to go and do something outside of the daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly routine for the purposes of being able to reintegrate back into that same routine with renewed vigor.

I decided that was bullshit 20 years ago, and life has done nothing to change my mind.

And while it's true that I love being home when I am home, I always feel like I'm in between trips. No matter how present I try to be, no matter the fact that I love my life, my wife, our home, and the grand art we are creating in building our life together, the fact is I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to better perfect my pack so that when I go, I'm as streamlined and prepared as possible. I buy clothes based on durability and utility (pockets).  It's not even an active thing on my part. It's just how my brain is wired.

So when the wind kicks up... I go.

But I always know the way home, even if it's the long way.
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04 January, 2019

from Field Notes: 3 Jan 2019 - Those Isaiah Moments

I did it to myself. I should know better than to not ask more questions. When a last minute metro council meeting to talk about the city's half million dollar PR band aid came up, I should have known better. No one tossed me under a bus. No one tried to surprise me. No one but me, anyway. Me and my Isaiah moments. Me and my  "Here am I - send me" arrogance that put me on a dais with the mayor, two councilpeople and the usual suspects for a grand public circle jerk featuring Mayor Greg Fischer and Wayside Mission's Dominatrix-in-Chief, Nina Moseley
.
Though to be fair, it may be not appropriate to call it a circle jerk. The Victorians had a name for it. The medical cure was  "Hysterical Paroxysm" - or, an orgasm achieved when a (male) doctor administered a "pelvic massage" to a female patient suffering from "hysteria" (being human.)

It was my Isaiah moment, my urge to Do Something that did this to me.

I was mentally prepared for a committee meeting. This is a scenario in which I am very comfortable speaking. Public meetings, metro council, committee, open mics, performances -- I'm very comfortable. The easiest place to hide is in front and up on a stage, because no one actually looks at you when you're in the spotlight. People see all the things they carry with them, all the things they expect. The most invisible spot in any room is in the spotlight.

And that, Dear Friends and Readers, is where I thrive, most of the time. In the land of ghosts.

But it was my vanity, my ego, and --more importantly -- my sense of Rightitude that suffered when, at the behest of a councilwoman who is acting like she wants to be mayor, I took to the dais in a show of "solidarity" for the city's new half-million dollar band aid to the homeless situation here in River City.

I was planning for a committee meeting.  What I walked into was one of the mayor's political dog and pony shows.  He spent a good deal of time talking about what great mayor he is and all the good he's done and to make some unnamed (well-deserved, I have to add) digs at Bevin and Trump. Then one well-meaning bureaucrat got up and laid out the details of where the cash is going and two more politicians talked about how much this is going to help. 

There were two of us on the dais who were not, in some way or another, directly employed by the city. The other guy was the head of another small homeless outreach organization. When the press asked for one of us to speak to some of the issues, I stepped up... I guess, because, you know. Ego. Vanity. Urge to Do. Whatever. And all of my Isaiah moments came crashing down because I spent the whole time, listening to everyone pat themselves and Nina Moseley, whose homeless shelter is as overrun with abuse of power as it is bedbugs. And when I was done stuttering through an answer to some question about there's absolutely no way the city or any outreach organization can convince people to go inside when they're more afraid of the mold and bedbugs and questionable administration practices than they are the cold.

I said it more diplomatically. Which is to say, stilted. And I was ushered off by the mayor who always knows he knows me but isn't sure how so that Nina Moseley could do her best humble brag because Wayside, (not) inexplicably, is getting the lion's share of the money.

So I there I was, on the dais, trying to be diplomatic, trying to show "solidarity", when, in fact, all I was there for was window dressing so the mayor could try (again) to seal his political legacy, so a councilwoman could gain a little political capital, and so the Queen of Bedbugs could be hand massaged by the Mayor of Louisville.

And yes, it will, as a by-product, help some of the city's homeless community. And what will we have to show for it? Some good programming, a bit more outreach, and a big PR band aid for a boondoggle of what is supposed to be a homeless shelter. 

And what will I have to show for it? Nothing. Nothing but the difficulty I'm having forgiving myself for standing on the dais in some bullshit "show of solidarity" when the offense against my sense of Rightitude was so palpable that at least two different people on the dais noticed. 

What I will I have? My inability to forgive myself because when I did have the opportunity to speak, I did not call for oversight and accountability.

May God forgive me, because I don't know that I can.

All the words in the world
matter nothing if they echo,
fade and forget their own meaning.


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26 December, 2018

On meditating with your demons

Learn to meditate with the monsters.
Sit down and sup with the demons.
But don't let them feed you.  - from Field Notes: 26 December 2018


Zhong Kui, the Demon Queller
One of the things you hear in the rooms is that holidays create resentments, which end up leading alcoholics back to the bottle. My family is pretty supportive and not as dysfunctional as other family situations I've heard about in the rooms and on the streets. But there are times when life jams up and somewhere between the anxiety of trying to be a good guy, a decent husband, and an empathetic listener, it's only with the grace of God, a loving wife, and a good sponsor that I managed to stay sober.

Coming home from my latest trip west, on another failed trip to find the real Los Angeles in the glitter that is LA, I threw myself into the list of Things That Needed Doing. It fell sometime while I was traveling eastbound through Missouri that the wife and I were going to host Christmas dinner with my family. Now, this isn't exactly a stressful thing, in and of itself. My immediate family is smaller than some and none of them are particularly taxing. But it falls at a time when there is a lot going on.

Specifically, my father-in-law is dying. 

This spreads out in several different ways. Everything is being done to keep him comfortable and right now, he's doing as well as can be expected with Stage 4 Large Cell Carcinoma. In other words, lung cancer -- the kind not brought on by smoking, but as a side effect of the anti-rejection drugs he takes so his body doesn't reject the kidney transplant he received 6 years ago. My mother-in-law is approaching the whole thing with as much stoicism as she can, which is in her nature, and my wife is trying to follow suit, though stoicism is not in her nature at all. 

For me, Christmas is mostly about keeping things moving -- 10,000 wheels all in motion going in different directions -- through the season. I'm trying not to focus on my own issues wrapped up in all this, or the feelings it brings up about my own father's death and my general anxieties about people I love dying. 

Yes, I know it's natural for people to die. I can intellectualize that all I want, but that doesn't change how I feel about any of it at the moment.

But I am learning how to sup with my demons. There really isn't any choice. And one of the people teaching me how to do is, oddly enough, my father-in-law. I don't want to dismiss his experience -- an experience I know nothing about, really -- but I do think of all the people I have seen in the process of dying, he is probably the strongest person I've seen. He doesn't always bear up well. He gets tired and cranky and I think he's probably as tired of being fussed over as he is of the cancer. But he doesn't just give up, either. He's resigned, I supposed as much as anyone can be. But there's a resilience to it all, too. He's waiting. He's tired, but he's waiting. He carries it all because that's where he is right now.

 I was asked as recently as today if the holidays made me want to drink. I can honestly say they don't. I don't miss drinking as much as I miss not feeling. But I know what happens when I try to manage my feelings with artificial means. So I pick them up, my little demons, my little monsters.  The ones that used to hound me minute by minute of the day. That's where I am right now. I pick them up, and take them with me and hope we all learn, them and me, how to get through this world that seems so much more appealing in the absence of feeling.




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30 November, 2018

Rubber Tramp Stories: The Story of R (Retread)

[I first published this story on my old American Re:visionary Blog. But, as I grow and expand my Rubber Tramp Stories, I thought it was appropriate to include them all under one tag on one blog.]

The train station in Carlinville, Illinois is nothing more than a ventilated brick box. Cement floor, a single bench, no heat for the winter and not even a fan for warmer weather. I got there around 11:30 in the morning. The train to Chicago wasn't going to arrive until 3:30 that afternoon. The sky was cloudy, the temperature cold, and it was spitting a particularly unforgiving rain that made me grateful for I didn't have to walk the miles from Litchfield.

Nothing about Carlinville impressed me enough to get wet wandering around to explore it. I noticed one clearly No-Tell-Motel on the way into town. (The sign listed a price differential between single and double beds, and the ambiance suggested that there should have also been a price differential for hourly and nightly rates.) I also took note of several bars, none of which looked trustworthy enough to carry my pack into. Other than the rail, which rolled by a deserted grain elevator, there was very little left to describe. Like every other town that grew up along Route 66, it was impacted by completion of the I-55 corridor. And it was clearly impacted again by changes in the railroad industry.

I was alone in the brick box for about 20 minutes before he hurried in and asked if I had a cigarette. And if I was slightly inclined to dig deeper into Carlinville -- named, according to an optimistically written Wikipedia page, after a former Governor -- talking to R would have changed my mind.
He assured me that if I was looking to get laid, that all I had to do was walk down the street.

"Ah," I said. "So they're trying to fish outside of the gene pool?"

"Gene pool. Yeah, man You got that right!"

A man on the run from something has a distinct body language. Jerky movements. Disheveled look. Given the mostly pale demographic of the town and -- except for the Indians who worked in the hotels and the Mexicans who did the service industry grunt work -- R stuck out simply because he was black.

After I was unable to give him a cigarette, he asked where I was going and where I'd come from. So I gave him the quick and dirty version. Hearing that I walked from Staunton to Litchfield elicited a wide-eyed shake of the head.

"Why'd you do that?"

"I had to get here."

"You didn't have a car?"

"If I had a car, I wouldn't need to catch a train."

That seemed to satisfy him for the most part. It also gave him a door to prove the current events of his life more interesting than mine.

R was not from Carlinville. He was from Springfield, Illinois, but came there via St. Louis. And he did it for a girl. The part that seemed to surprise him, even though he was standing in a brick box train depot waiting for the train that would take him back to Springfield with his few possessions in a 33 gallon garbage bag, was that it didn't work out.

"She's a white girl," he said. "And she's... you know... not thick." He repeated this several times throughout the story, as if he was trying to convince himself that it should have, and for those very reasons.

The story unfolded something like this: he met the woman he was trying to escape the day after he got out of jail. R explained that yes, "It was drug related stuff," but that he had cleaned up his act since and was no longer doing whatever it was that got him locked up. But, he admitted that, upon his release, he was on the hunt for the one thing he couldn't get while he was incarcerated. And it just so happened that he got call from a former cellie who had a girlfriend who had a friend.

"I was looking for a one night stand," R maintained. "But it didn't turn into that."

Upon his release, R had been sent to a half-way house to ensure that his rehabilitation would take. After one night with this girl -- whose name, I have to admit, I don't remember -- she took it upon herself to harass his Parole Officer and the Missouri State Department of Corrections to secure his release from the half-way house so that he could move in with her. When calling St. Louis didn't help, R, said, she drove from Carlinville to St. Louis five days a week in order to visit him and track down the dodgy P.O. Naturally, the development seemed to work to his advantage, so he didn't argue. And while he never uttered the word, the confluence of events must have seemed to him, at the time, serendipitous. And when his parole officer secured his release from the half-way house... making it clear that his only reason was to get the woman off his back... R thought he'd stumbled onto the love of his life.

His first indication that something was amiss was when he showed up in Carlinville and discovered that not only did his true love have two kids -- from two different fathers -- and that both of them were medicated for educational and developmental issues, but that she also lived with her sister, her sister's flavor of the week, and HER two kids.

To hear him tell it, his one true love did nothing except sleep all day, eat ice cream and want to fuck. She didn't want to deal with her kids. She didn't want to deal with her sister's kids. Apparently the sugar she ingested while watching Maury Povich was only to be used in the pursuit of more ice cream and sex.

To hear him tell it, she screwed him raw. And in every way possible. And when he was too exhausted to get it up "I'm not as young as I used be, you know" she would insist that he do something else to fill her appetites. And then she expected him to take care of the kids, who wouldn't listen to him. And then she expected him to make her a sandwich. And then clean up the house. And then go buy her some ice cream.

I was waiting for him to admit to something involving a ball gag and a french maid's outfit.
Instead, he told me about changing the sheets on the bed.

Apparently, there was a day when his own true love actually left the house -- for reasons he didn't explain -- and he took it upon himself to change out the sheets on the bed. She had told him he could find clean sheets in a Santa Claus bag in the hall closet. He found the bag and starting digging through pillow cases and sundry unmatched soft goods until he stumbled upon something that wasn't so -- soft.

Actually there were several.

"I'm telling you," he said, "she could open a dildo flea market!"

He found out later, however, that not all the dildos were for her. Apparently she was hoping that R's time in prison made him a more amenable catcher to a stiff pitch.

He reiterated several times that he might have loved her "a little," but "The bitch is crazy, and those ain't my kids!" And while he never said so, I'm sure the Santa sack of toys didn't help,

Even love has it's limits.


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12 November, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 4


Two people in as many days have died on the streets as Louisville settles into the first cold snap of the year. One of them died next to a local homeless shelter that, in theory, provides overnight protection from the elements for the city's homeless.

The first cold snap is hard because no one ever seems to see it coming -- in spite of past precedence. I see this as a fundamentally positive thing about human nature... it's our ability to hope for the best regardless of experience. But when it comes, no matter how much those of us engaged in homeless outreach try and plan for it, it still hits like a steel toe boot to the nuts.

We did a better than average job planning for it this year. I'm not the only one who obsessively watches weather patterns, so between the merry OCD/ grumpy old men in our group and the lovely folks that donate there money and donate supplies for us to pass out every week, we were able to get a few things together.., hand warmers, sternos, some coats and blankets and sleeping bags.

But there are moments in outreach when the wheels and cogs are laid bare and there is nothing to do except embrace the sadness and anger just so you can find more people before the hot meals get too cold and the supply of socks and handwarmers run out.

We've been serving a younger couple on our regular route for a few weeks. He's a more or less fresh out of a detox program. They say they want to get to Florida, closer to family. Last night was a White Flag night here in Louisville, which means the temperature is cold enough that shelters will open up and allow more than the usual number of people in to get out of the dangerous temperatures.

Unless you're on the Permanent Ban List.

And when we mentioned that it might be a good idea to get to a shelter, even it meant being separated (because none of the shelters here have facilities for couples or families, which means that couples are separated and fathers have to sleep in a different space than their wives and children). But he told me that since he was on the permanent ban list, he couldn't go in. Not even on a White Flag night.

As far as I know, this couple made it through the night. But the temperatures this week aren't going get better.

Later that night we met up with other outreach volunteers near a new encampment. Another couple.
They had a tent, at least, but no blankets, no sleeping bags, no kind of heat. And meanwhile, outside of the Wayside Mission on Jefferson Street, people were sleeping on the sidewalks, some without blankets, and a few with no shoes.

There's nothing worse than feeling like you fell short even when you do your best. And even if there wasn't such a thing as a Permanent Ban List that includes White Flag Nights, the fact is there isn't even enough beds for people willing and able to get into the shelters. The number of homeless folks on the street are up and it only breaks into the public conversation as something unsightly that people don't want to see through their NIMBY sunglasses.

There's nothing like the sick brick I get in my stomach when I see someone out on outreach knowing they may not survive the night. There's nothing like the dread of knowing that the odds are someone will find them in the morning, dead.

And someone finds them... anger and sadness doesn't quite cover it. Not by a longshot. And when they're found footsteps from a place that, in theory, should have been able to prevent it

Anger and sadness don't feel like nearly enough.



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24 October, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 3

Letters from Trumplandia
Part of outreach means we end up seeing some the same people over and over. Sometimes we don't see certain folks for a span of time because they went inside, or got sober, or started getting treatment for their mental or addiction issues.  And that's always a good thing. I'm always happy to see our folks, but there's a few that I would be happier to never see again, if only because they need to get off the street for their own safety or health.

But sometimes we don't see people and we feel the dread in the pits of our stomachs.

The area around Wayside Mission is a heavy population area, not just because of the homeless shelter, but because of the large homeless population that lives adjacent to the shelter. Some of them won't go in -- concerns over safety, petty street feuds that spill over or are exacerbated by the shelter's policy of giving some residents the job of policing the others, regardless of their capacity to be able to do so, and the shelter's policy of splitting families --  and some of them can't because of legitimate bans due to violence or drug use that endangers other people.

Amanda and I hadn't served down there in a while because of shifts in the population and changes in the routes over the last year that we hope does a more effective job of serving as many of the community as possible. Historically, people have been run off from the downtown underpasses and around the shelter at three watershed moments here in Louisville: before Derby, before the State Fair, and when cold weather sets in. The motivations for these are different, but not really. The city likes to "clean up" it's image for big money events like Derby and the Fair, and whitewashing the city's homeless community is one way, besides planting more rose bushes and cutting the grass along the highway, that the city does that.

LMPD annually engages in a more focused harassment of the city's homeless at the onset of cold weather, apparently for the benefit of the homeless. By all accounts, the thought is that by putting pressure on the community to move on, the city is helping push them to the shelters or other services.

Mick Parsons, blog, TrumplandiaThis sort of thinking is an example of the staggering disconnect between the bean counters in Metro Council Chambers and reality.

But as the official and unofficial sweeps continue, it never ceases to amaze me who is able to fall through the cracks. This past week, Amanda and I went with the route that currently serves the underpasses as extra support and to make it easier to pass out meals and supplies.

We were also tasked with finding a family that had been in the area the last few weeks -- a couple with two small children. Usually, we serve them in their vehicle, but they have insisted to outreach workers in the past that they go into Wayside at night. This isn't the first time we've heard this, or seen it in practice. The city has very limited resources for homeless families. So when they do go to shelters, families are split up.

This is one of those cavernous niches that the homeless fall into; because even when there aren't any children involved, and even if they can prove they're married, couples are separated -- effectively isolating them from the one person they count on for mutual aid and survival. And while this can sometimes help vulnerable people escape dangerous situations, the families are collateral damage.

We didn't find the family. Their vehicle was not even parked out front, in spite of the fact that it was spotted earlier that afternoon when the kids were riding their bikes on the street. If we had seen their vehicle, that would have meant they were at least in the shelter waiting room before the staff at Wayside split them up for the night. Because it wasn't there, there is no telling where they were on a night when the overnight temperatures were going to reach freezing.

Sometimes it's who you don't see that gets to you.

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10 October, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 2

[This is Part 2 of a series that I'll add to intermittently. It may come in waves of two or three posts in a row, or it may be weeks or even months in between. The focus of 'Invisible City' is my experience working with and around the homeless community. The first part is here. Thanks for reading.]

In addition to the usual route paperwork, I carried a list of 100 or so names. 

These are the names of people whose camps were scheduled to be cleared as of Monday October 8th. As of this writing, the three camps in question are cleared. Although there's a certain inevitability to this, it's hard for me to ignore the timing. Not only is it running up to an important mid-term election, with the mayor up for re-election, but -- more importantly -- cold weather is coming. And although not everyone had moved as of last Sunday, I wanted to carry the names of the people we will need to look for -- our organization and every other outreach organization that serves the Louisville's homeless community. 

With cold weather coming, the main thing at the front of my mind is that once again, there will not be enough beds, even for those willing to enter the shelters. The city will say there's enough, because they always do... or actually, they say nothing and point to the various shelters with an inferred, collective shrug that allows them to pass the buck. After all, the homeless don't vote.

But we didn't find anyone on that list this past week. We may when we go back out to serve. While there are some factors that make how camps disperse somewhat predictable, the truth is it's hard to predict what any one individual will do. We did find a guy in the middle of a seizure. We saw him on the sidewalk on a side street, and when we checked on him, my wife realized she knew him from her job at a local men's shelter. He was prone to seizures, and because the homeless in Louisville no longer have someplace to store their things.

While we were there with him -- he was in the process of trying to stand up and get his bearings back
-- one woman yelled down to us that he was on spice... which he clearly wasn't. Another drove by and asked if we needed him to "dial 5-0" and we assured him we did not. The only reason we hesitated in dialing 911 was because the man was in the process of getting back up on his feet and would have turned down transport to the hospital, anyway. As if being out on the street in Louisville isn't scary enough, he's got to deal with frequent seizures that leave him incapacitated for short periods, increasing his vulnerability. He's in the process of trying to get disability, but there is no streamlined process. And, because he's homeless and has no where to store his stuff, he has to carry his entire medical history with him ALL THE TIME.

Then, adding insult to injury, the default position anyone might take in seeing him is that when he's in the midst of a seizure -- a condition that is not his fault -- he will be mistaken for a drug addict. Because that's where people's minds go, almost every single time.



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04 October, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 1

Trumplandia, Mick Parsons, Dirty Sacred River
Bone thin and tiny even before she tried to fold herself into the air, her eyes were large, dark, and brimming.  She looked young; too young to be living under an underpass or in a camp that is slated for clearing by the city. It was Sunday night and she looked like she needed to be somewhere rushing through homework she'd put off all weekend instead of looking towards one more night in a homeless camp.  Her eyes told me she was almost as scared of being found as she was of whatever led her to where she was at. She hadn't found short term ways to coping -- the shit spice (lately mixed with Fentanyl)  available on the street for 50 cents a hit, or booze, or the needle. The outreach workers who found her said she wasn't alone. That some guy had been hanging around and disappeared when they approached.

I'd seen her some downtown, and she was rarely alone.  Some of the other outreach workers wanted to try and find out if she was, indeed, underage. And even if she wasn't underage, we were all concerned that she was a victim of trafficking... or that if she wasn't then, she would be soon enough. It wasn't just idle. The camp where she was staying has been the root of several reports of what looks like trafficking. But stories aren't proof and proof is hard to come by.

The city's recourse is to clear the camp, which it has started the ball rolling to do. The outreach
Louisville homeless compassionate city not
organization I volunteer with and other small organizations try to work with the Coalition for Homelessness and the city to find them resources, fast track them for housing (if possible) and at least keep in touch with them so that when they move, we can find them.

People who don't know that I do homeless outreach talk about the increase in Louisville's  homeless population. Part of that is due to some recent, temporary, policy changes on the part of the city. The annual clear outs for Derby and the State Fair did not happen this year thanks to a ton of negative press the city garnered for razing a camp with no warning last year. But that sort of thing doesn't last. Politically rooted compassion lasts as about as long as the news cycle -- which here can only bear so much content that verges somewhere near actual news before it implodes under the weight of college sports, and whatever new that falls under the flag shadow of Trumplandia. There are a fair number of people here that want to complain more about bike lanes that aren't really bike lanes and play partisan politics rather than actually fix things... and several of them keep getting elected to Metro Council.

There was no way to prove she wasn't underage, and CPS rarely, if ever, works on a Sunday night anyway. I suppose we could have called LMPD, but it's crap shoot with them. If we get a good cop, they will try and help. If we don't, they'll just slice and dice people's tents and ticket them for littering. We were able to at least get this young woman to agree to go find the resources we pointed her to.

Most of the time, that's the biggest win we get in those situations.


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