Showing posts with label homeless. Show all posts
Showing posts with label homeless. Show all posts

17 January, 2020

from Louisville: Another city on the make

2.

There's a coffee shop walking distance from the shelter. These days I haunt coffee shops like I used to haunt bars. I went to Freddie's on Broadway because it was a cheap, cash only dive bar that asked no questions and only required people not to offend the general atmosphere. That place was also a wonderful archive of all things masculine from the 20th Century: hand drawn wrestling posters, beer steins, collector booze bottles from the 1970's, I hung out at Rubbie's because it's a neighborhood bar close to home, the happy hour prices are good, and the well bourbon was tolerably good. That bar was also a good bell weather for the last Presidential election.

Angry white men
trying to hold back
a changing world
like they grip their beer

Now I rotate between a handful of coffee shops in the city. When I'm scribing for pay or working on my own words, I go to noisy coffee shops, like the one close to where I live, or the one close to the shelter. When I'm meeting people, I go to one of two Heine Bros. On Bardstown Road because the white noise doesn't distract my ears from conversation. When I want to hang out and read, or talk to people who have also either stepped off or were pushed off the wide path , I go to Highland Coffee. They each have a thing I like better there than any other coffee shop. Heine Bros serves a turmeric chai with black pepper I really like. Highland has a nice selection of herbal teas and makes a cup of coffee. Sunergos, in my neighborhood, has the best cappuccino in the city and serves delicious cheddar chive drop biscuits that make for a good lunch.

Pockets of warmth
in an increasingly chilly cityscape
regardless of the season
regardless of the temperature.

Please & Thank You on Market and Shelby is a short walk from the shelter. They have wonderful herbal teas and the best blueberry lemon muffins in the city. I go there to scribe or to work, and to eat a muffin after I finish my short shift in the shelter coffee room. Lately I've run into K, a woman I met when I volunteered with one of the local homeless outreach organizations. She's usually sitting out front, a few steps off to the side away from the corner. When I can afford to, I get her a cup of coffee. Sometimes she's flying a sign. Sometimes she's waiting for her boyfriend J, who is always either off trying to find work, off trying to do some good deed that will, when he tells the story, never be repaid in kind. J has a demon in his gut like I do. When I see her I ask whether J has been drinking, so I know whether I'll see him or the demon. They are always in a state of emergency... being moved on, lost a tent, stuff stolen, scrambling to avoid snow, rain, cold, heat. Their home camp in Butchertown was bulldozed a few years ago to make room for a soccer stadium. The investors through money at the city to house the residents of Camp Campbell quickly for the good PR boost. Nearly all the former residents of Camp Campbell are no longer housed now. But there aren't any news cameras around to notice.

Erasure – delete a line
delete a camp
delete a person
a collateral damage
for the marketing collateral

Part 1 posted on Instagram. Check it out!

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 April, 2019

Field Notes, from March 29 2019: Oh, The Humanities


Air palpable with earnest outcries
read to the appropriate audience
words spent on prayers to gods
too busy to grant wishes

(From my last day at AWP:)

The folks I saw yesterday (Friday) were not out today. I want to believe that the old guy flying a sign on the corner of Halliday and MLK -- who, up close, doesn't look much older than me -- got what he needed and was able to sleep in doors last night. I want to believe that Tanya J. McDonald -- who told me her name 5 times and who was clearly released from a hospital with no sense of where she might end up -- was able to find peace and safety and some comfort in mourning her mother's death.

I saw them. I looked them in the eye and took their hands and helped in some small, temporary way. I want to believe it made a difference.

But I don't feel that optimistic today.

There's something about all the appropriate mourning and moaning here that's just so far-sighted in all the wrong ways. People see injustice at a distance and want to engage it. But when it's up close, they overlook. Or worse, they look through it like it's air.

Of course there's talk about Trump and  the peril to democracy -- mostly by white academics. When I hear work by writers of color, or by immigrant writers, or by people recounting stories of assault and the abuse of power, there is no presumption that democracy is in peril.

There is no presumption that democracy exists at all.


Beauty is abandoned
in the course of natural process --
the fragrance lingers,
a memory seized
right in the moment breath freezes.



03 June, 2012

Homo Viator (The Westward Expanse) Eugene, Oregon: The Great Lane County Paper Chase

Children must be considered in a divorce -- considered valuable pawns in the nasty legal and financial contest that is about to ensue. -- P. J. O'Rourke


...I never try to protect a society which does not protect me -- indeed, I might add, which generally takes no heed of me except to do me harm... -- Alexandre Dumas




Eugene, Oregon -- Other than being the home of Grindbone brother and friend Noah S. Kaplowitz, his girlfriend Becca, and their kids, has a lot of history tied to it. Once a hotbed for union activity... the Wobblies were active here in the 1920's, as well as in the 1990's and early '00s, when then mayor Jim Torrey called it "the anarchist capital of the United States"... not to mention a regular stop on the Grateful Dead Tour... Eugene is still a city made for wanderers and pilgrims. There are no loitering laws, apparently, which makes it a popular summer location for transients, nomads, and other folks who spend a considerable amount of time on the road. And, as Kap and Becca pointed out, there's a lot social nets for folks in need...state and local housing and food assistance, shelters and employment assistance, and the like. It's also a college town -- which speaks neither well nor badly of it -- which means that not only are there folks who really do live Out and About, but there are legions of kiddies who look like they do.

Don't let the apparently overwhelming amount of humanity here -- say, as opposed to someplace else like Norfolk, Virginia -- fool you. Because apparently the state of Oregon has, over the past couple of years, cut funding to children with special needs -- children like their son Henry, who will need life long perpetual care.

Which is to say: the Powers That Be are doing an effective job of turning people's frustrations against one another instead of having it focused on them... where it belongs.

This is nothing new, of course. Coal companies in Kentucky used racism to slow the formation of unions -- a tactic which is still highly effective in border states like Arizona where it's easier to blame the brown hordes than it is to address socioeconomic inequities created by a  near-fascist state government (that was barely kept in check by former Governor Janet Napolitano. I say barely because the fact that she is a Democrat does not nothing to prove that she was inherently more empathetic to the concerns of others. In fact, that she's a Democrat might actually prove she's more of a hypocrite. At least GOP'ers, Tea Bagger Yahoos, and socially irresponsible Libertarians are honest about not giving a shit. It's not much of a higher ground, really. But I do appreciate the absence of bullshit, even if I can't sell my soul wholesale in order to subscribe the shallow rhetoric.

A lie.
If you're unclear as to how completely fucked the system is, look at Family Court.

Kap's friend James asked him to go to court with him. James was notified 22 hours prior that his ex-wife was taking him to court over custody of their kids. James, who coaches his sons' baseball team, is active in boy scouts, had is generally well thought of by most of the people who know him -- even though he's a loud Milwaukee Prussian and a salesman to boot.

His ex apparently left him for a (recovering) junkie.

Naturally the court system is working double-time to ensure that the children are in the best environment.

Anyone familiar with the well-known objectivity of the legal system knows instinctively what this means:


  1. James is guilty until proven innocent, and the burden of proof is on him and not his accuser.
  2. To the court, regardless of common sense, Mom and her junkie BF can provide "a more stable and conducive home environment."

On the outside, the Lane County Juvenile Court Building looks a corporate business park. The only real indication that it isn't is when you walk in and have to empty your pockets for the metal detector. The guard, a retired mall cop who waived people through if they stepped out to smoke, couldn't have been less interested in making sure the building was secure... unless of course, he simply unplugged the detector and advertised free toilet paper.

On the inside, it reminded me slightly of a bad museum. Kids sitting around, waiting to go to court. Grown ups sitting around waiting to find out whether they get to keep their kids or whether they are going to lose them, grown-ups wandering around wondering why they have to outside to smoke. The only art I could find were two badly done murals extolling the moral superiority of whitey and a fatally flawed and watered down historical timeline of the history of slavery. The case worker, who looked like an anorexic 12 year old, was more interested in helping James' ex than in getting a detached picture of the situation.

By the time we got into the court room, two things became clear:

  1. James' ex was playing the system like a skin flute, and
  2. The judge, while she didn't seem to buy any of it, nonetheless, had no choice but to inflict a broken system on a situation where it wasn't necessary.

James' visitation was severely cut and restricted to supervised visitations... which pretty much ruins every plan he made for his kids for the summer. The kids are in the temporary custody of the mother. Apparently because the oldest -- who is 10 -- doesn't want to talk to a shrink -- it means something is wrong. I don't know the details of the situation intimately. But it doesn't take a genius to see that when you have a caseworker who doesn't collect all the facts, a system that will award temporary custody to someone who can cry on command, and a judge who needs to make sure she covers hers and the system's collective asses... all at the expense of the kids ... something is wrong. Somewhere.

We were there along with James' former boss -- who was there to refute a statement by the ex that he was fired because of his anger management problems -- and it all felt so... predictable.  Like every person associated with the system was sleepwalking through the proceedings. The only time the children were brought up directly was when an agreement was made for the first supervised visitation. The court appointed attorney who was supposed to be there to look after the best interests of the children sat and scribbled. The social workers yammered. The judge rolled her eyes. The Court Clerk told me to take my toboggan off.

It was a grand day for American Justice.


24 February, 2012

A Baboon in New York, 2.2: A Baboon on Wall Street (Cont.)

"The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see. " - G.K. Chesterton


"The observer is a prince enjoying his incognito wherever he goes." - Charles Baudelaire

After three or four days in one place, I start to get itchy. I've noticed this since I started this trip; I intend to visit my friends and family for a week, and after 3 days I'm starting to think I need to get my shit together and go. This urge has nothing to do with being tired of the place I am; and it certainly has nothing to do with the gracious company of my hosts.

And I'm not all that surprised about the return of the itch; I've had it as long as I can remember. What surprises me is that it's kicked into hyper drive. What used to take at least a month is taking a few days.

I'm not entirely sure what it means. It may not mean anything. It may mean I'll have to do this forever. Or until the bones in my feet and ankles disintegrate into dust.

This thought isn't nearly as disturbing as it maybe ought to be.

Another thing I'm noticing is how easily I slip into that ethereal social class that has been given so many names, almost all of them derogatory, full of judgement, fear, and derision.

Because a lot of times, when people refer to other human beings as bums, it's a rooted in fear. Fear of The Other. Fear of The Truth... that Truth being that most of us are closer to being without a home and without a job than anyone wants to admit. And, yes, there are those who feel no need to help their fellow human beings, feel no responsibility to help the least of us -- and I won't get started on them here.

Since leaving Ashland, I've been called out at least once in each city by other travelers -- you may call them bums, you may call them homeless -- at this point, I prefer to think of myself as something of a conscientious malingerer -- which is to say,I'm a traveler, an observer of the human condition. A a techno-hobo. A bum.  Lately I've been lucky enough to visit friends. But I'm also aware that I can only crash on people's couches for so long before my itch to get away and their need to not have their routines permanently disturbed will get in the way of any good visit. And I also realize that I am more fortunate than many in similar states of living and most who could consider themselves better off. The universe has not seen fit to give me a temperament that would allow me to make tons of money or to be the family man my father was; but I am absolutely wealthy in regards to friends. And I hope that I'm able to return the favor, in some fashion to each and every one of them.

I wrote briefly about the first time this happened in Norfolk (Nor'fuk) -- still Number 1 in my list of Most Inhospitable and Wretched Places (which also includes the whole state of Alabama, a Denny's Restaurant in Lexington, Kentucky, and every Gym and Health & Wellness Center on the Planet. So you know, I take this list very seriously.) It happened to me again in the Washington D.C. Greyhound Bus Station. That time, I was again approached by someone trying to ask for money. The man, who was black and was probably around my age, stopped short and started talking about how he knew we were alike -- called us brothers. First he talked about how cold it was outside. Then he said something like this.

"I know," he said. "I know you and me, we're alike. You know... you're like me. You... uh... travel around. Yeah. The blue eyes," he said. "The blue eyes, they don't lie."

He then stood up to approach someone else who might actually have money; but before he left, he shook my hand.

When I was down in Lower Manhattan with my friend and very kind host, Susan, I was approached yet again. The subway ride from Queens to the World Trade Center took about an hour, and it was early afternoon by the time we got there. Susan took to the place where she participated in an Occupy Meditation Circle. It was this circular space created with the bricks and some cement benches to surround a tree that, when it was planted, was meant to be a memorial for the victims of the 9/11 WTC attacks. She explained that during the first Occupation of Zuccotti Park, there had been an altar of sorts.

Altar in Zuccotti Park
From Flickr, by Michael J. Nolan. The altar was  also cleared  along with the rest of the encampment by NYC Cops in the dead of night. I knew Dorm RA's in college like that. They'd "test" the fire alarm at 6 in morning to catch girls in the shower. Classy.

Being there... at Zuccotti Park, in the shadow of the World Trade Center Site, close enough to Wall Street to make the city barricade it like something truly important goes on there ... gave me reason to pause. When I first heard about Occupy Wall Street, my initial impression was skepticism. But as I watched, and as I learned more about it through the eyes of my friend Susan, I wanted to leave Mount Carroll and see it for myself'. That didn't happen, for a variety of reasons. Sitting there, in what was for Susan still sacred -- though changed -- space, I tried to come to terms with the fact that it's entirely possible that I missed out on the beginning of something that could come to have more significance once Spring arrives. And in some ways, even though the space was "clean" -- the only remaining evidence there was a couple of guys at the other end of the plaza -- one flashing a homemade Pro-Union sign and the other -- according to the words written in white marker on the black sheet he used as a cape -- was a "OWS Black Knight Til Death."  They were both engaging people in an apparently polite way, since no one -- including the jackbooted private security guard -- did anything against them.

The wind was on the chilly side. Even though it was in the mid-50's, skyscrapers and city streets make great wind tunnels; so it felt a bit cooler than the actual temperature. I had also forgotten to eat something. I also didn't have any cash on me; but I asked Susan if she could spot me for a hot dog or something, which she graciously did.

Based on recommendations -- or exhortations, depending on your point of view -- from friends, I was looking for both  a Nathan's Hot Dog Stand or a Sabrett Hot Dog Stand. But there weren't any, that I could see. The nearest vendor was a Halal guy, selling everything from kabobs to chili dogs to hot sausages. I ordered a hot sausage and a bottle of water, and Susan got one of those giant salted pretzels -- it was the only vegetarian food he had.

While we were standing there, a man approached me. (I wrote a short poem about him.) He asked if I could  "buy a brother a hot dog." I turned to face him. He was a bit older than me. His skin was dry from exposure; I could tell from the grayness of his skin.( Sometimes, when Blacks have dry skin, their skin tone goes a little gray.) I told him, quite honestly, that I didn't have any cash and that I was, in fact, bumming off of someone else. He laughed and said it was okay. We shook hands and chatted for a bit. He told me he'd just come in from the South; didn't say how far south, but I could tell from his drawl that maybe he was North Carolina... not that he had just come from there necessarily. He looked around and up at the buildings. Then he laughed and smiled and said,

"I like it here."

"You do?" I asked. I figured it was at least warmer down south; but I've also learned that there are things that are more important than the weather. Just because it's warm doesn't mean you want to sleep out in it. "You be sure to stay warm," I told him.

Then I turned because the vendor was handing my lunch. I looked down at it and thought about sharing it the guy; after all, who knew when the last time he ate was, or when he'd eat again.

But when I turned around again, he was gone.

Susan and I talked about the interaction later, after she had read the poem. She said she was getting ready to buy him a hot dog when he disappeared. And seriously, it was like he evaporated. He's been on my mind ever since. And I hope he's okay and that the city's being kind to him. I wish I had been able to be a little kinder, or that he had stuck around so I could share my food and talk to him about where he was from.

But that's how it goes sometimes. You meet other travelers, and then they're gone.

A BIG thanks to SCOTT "Funny Man" MCNULTY for a gracious donation to the re:visionary fund. Every little bit helps. And I appreciate it mightily.



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10 February, 2012

An Ohio Valley Yankee in Virginia, Part 3: The Welcome Wagon

Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless.
-- Thomas A. Edison


My plan, such as it was, was sublime and simple. When I got into Norfolk, the first thing I would do was call the Dorothy Day House. For those not familiar with Dorothy Day or the Catholic Workers, that's what fucking Google is for. Seriously, though The Catholic Workers are rooted in Christian Anarchism, with a touch of liberation theology. They have done good work since The first Dorothy Day House opened in the 1930's. They also ran Joe Hill Houses of Hospitality.

These are names you should know about. Look them up. And after you read the inadequate blurbs on Wikipedia, go and read more about them. It's part of that history the school board, the government, and your parents didn't want you to know about.

But you know what the sage says about best laid plans.

The bus dumped me in a section of downtown, at the intersection of Virginia Beach Blvd and Monticello Ave. There was nothing. A huge parking lot -- on the other side of which was a hub for Hampton Road Transit. Some not too friendly store fronts, light industrial buildings, and the former location of the Union Mission -- which is now located on the exact opposite side of town. I had a general idea where the Dorothy Day House was in relation to Stella's house... it's about 7 miles away... but I had no idea where I was in relation to either of those things.

When I called the number, though, I was told there was no room. The guy I talked to was genuine, apologetic. He asked my name, and where I was coming in from. He recommended a few places to get in out of the cold, and told me where I could meet a bus and come to church if I wanted.

After I hung up with him, I immediately started thinking. I knew how much money I had; I knew it wouldn't stretch very far if I had to rent a hotel room. The Union Mission was an option; but I was dead set against Stella seeing me that way. I mean, she knows me well enough to know that I'm probably not above sleeping in a shelter. And it was bad enough that she would probably figure out -- I thought -- what was going on her Dad's (former) home front. 

Spending my money on a motel -- even a cheap one -- would also mean cutting my visit short. I would need to make sure I could get out of Norfolk with enough money in my pocket not to starve, and not to get stuck.

My next move was to walk around, and see if I could get my bearings. The Norfolk of my memory is an unpleasant, ugly place with only one highlighting factor: the fact that my daughter lives here. Nothing about that had changed. I don't like Norfolk. I don't like that it's a military town. I don't like that my daughter attends a school that commonly makes the news because some kid brings a gun to school or because of some fight that gets out of control. I don't like that a significant number of things that I object to are glorified here: war, government, nationalism, popcorn patriotism, group think.

And I didn't like the fact that the guy from the Dorothy Day House understood very clearly, but tried not to tell me, that there was very little help for the down and out here. Other than the Union Mission, he said there was one other place where they opened up a gymnasium and let people sleep on the floor when the weather's cold.

Not promising.

As I walked around, trying to stretch out my legs and figure out what I was going to do, a black man in a long dark coat approached me. Well, more point of fact, he stumbled up to me. I don't know if the man was drunk, or high, or just... off. But I was familiar with the look. Long dark coat, the kind department stores donate to clothing barrels.  Fresh pajama shirt. Khakis. Worn out gym shoes.

"Hey man," he said. "You gotta a dollar? I need a dollar to catch the bus to the mission."

"Sorry, man," I said. "I just got here myself."

"You got a cigarette?"

"No," I said. "Wish I did, though."

He hobbled off in the direction I had come from. I kept walking, waiting for inspiration, when I heard a voice. It was the man I had just talked to. He was motioning me back over.

"Hey," he said. "You want a cigarette?"

"Sure." He came out with a mostly fresh pack of Camel Menthols. "Here," he said. Then he reached into his pocket, pulled out some change. "You want a dollar?"

"Nah, man," I said. "You need that. For the bus. To the mission."

"Let me worry about that!"

"Listen," I said. "Thanks for the smoke."

"If you got a dollar," he said "and an I.D., the lady in their..." he motioned to the Exxon Station behind me. "they're running a special. A dollar and an ID, they'll give you a pack of cigarettes."

"Good to know," I said. "Thanks. Take care." I figured the "special" was some form of charity on the part of the cashier, so I didn't bother asking. 

I walked around some more to get a better idea of the territory. I walked near the Chrysler Museum of Art; one particularly uncomfortable looking museum employee -- who's job it was, I suppose, man the door -- eyed me suspiciously. Maybe he was worried that I might want to see the art. Maybe he was worried I might offend the memory of Lee Iaccoca. 

I knew I'd have to deal with accommodations, soon. It was early afternoon, but the day would pass quickly, and I didn't want to 1) be caught outdoors, or 2) be put in the position of having to ask Stella's mother for a spot on the couch. As far as I can tell, the last seven years or so has been the longest streak that her mother and I have actually managed to be civil with one another -- including our marriage. That civility, however, is based entirely on the fact that we never talk, rarely communicate, and try not to acknowledge one another's existence. 

That meant an additional expenditure and a shorter visit.

Then I decided to get in touch with Stella.