Showing posts with label cold. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cold. Show all posts

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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07 November, 2012

Chicago Intermezzo 2: First World Problems, Part 1 (Juan of the World)

Throw away the lights, the definitions,
And say of what you see in the dark

That it is this or that is that,
But do not use the rotted names. 
                                                       -- Wallace Stevens

The area of downtown Chicago around Union Station turns into a ghost town after one in the morning. And when you're pushed out into the night when Union Station closes -- at one in the morning -- there are few options for places to go. The bus stop shelters are already taken, and the nearest 24 hour anything is a Dunkin Donuts manned by a grouchy old man of Middle Eastern descent with a cell phone ear bud that he talks into all night while listening to gangster rap. None of those things are issues alone. But when those are combined with a clear contempt for customers and an even clearer contempt for anyone trying to find a place  to wait out the night, any other option is preferable.

Of course, there's the Day's Inn on the corner of Canal and Harrison; but rooms there start out at $159.00 a night (not including the city tax rate on hotels).

My other option, and the best one I could come up with since there was a threat of rain, was further down on Harrison Avenue; and it was one I am very familiar with: The Greyhound Bus Station. Since I didn't have a ticket, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I got booted. Experience told me that overnight they do ticket checks to make sure that everyone there actually belongs there. Union Station opened again at 5 in the morning, and I knew better than to think I could get away with staying at the bus station all night no matter how much I moved around.

At 3 in the morning, the announcement I didn't want to hear rang out over the intercom: ticket check. The security guard and off-duty cop were making their way around, looking at everyone's tickets. It was time for me to go. Although it was little comfort, I was not the only one ejected into the night; but I was the only one that didn't have an idea of where to go. The handful of people who exited the station at the same time I did clearly had ideas on where to go and wasted no time in getting there. They dispersed and disappeared into the darkness. As I turned the corner at Harrison and Canal, a cold spitting rain started to fall.

I made it to Union Station's main entrance before the rain got too heavy. There were already a few people in front of the station, waiting for it to open, but I was able to find some shelter from the weather huddled behind a cement doorway under the overhang. It was almost 3:30. If I was lucky, a custodian would unlock the doors maybe ten minutes before 5. Any other options meant exposing myself to the weather and potentially losing a spot that, even if I had to stay on my feet, was, at least, shelter.  So I stayed put.

With that part of Chi-town still being a ghost town at 3:30 in the morning, I leaned against the doorway, my back to the wind and rain, and allowed myself to close my eyes and enjoy the relative quiet ...

which was broken by the sound of a truck (sans muffler), the tumbling open of rusty door hinge and the shuffle and tumble of fast food wrappers, the clinking of bottles, some muttered conversation, and a quick slam of the door. The truck sped off before the intoxicated idjit realized Union Station was closed.

I quickly discovered why when he did his best attempt at a sober stride up to the door, reached out to open as if he expected it to swing wide open to greet him, only to be denied.

"What? Not open? How can it not be open? This IS the train station, right?"

He looks around, waiting for one of the three of us huddling out of the weather to answer.


I nod, hoping mainly that stating the obvious will shut him up.

"And it's CLOSED?"

Again, I nod.

When'll it open?" He sets down a bottle of beer that he'd been hiding in one of the inside coats of his pocket. I raise my right hand, palm open and mutter "5." Then I nod towards the very visible signs on the inside doors indicating the station's hours.

He immediately got his cell phone out and called someone. Having no luck, he muttered something in broken Spanish and punched in another number.

"Oye!" He said when someone answered. He went on to explain mostly in English that the station was closed. Whoever he talked to was clearly not impressed.

"What you mean, you're not picking me up?!"

Apparently not. He hung up, cussing in two slurred, broken languages. He dialed a few more numbers, to no avail. Finally, someone picked up. But she would have none of him either. I say she because first he tried sweet talking her, and he didn't even blink when the bottle of booze at his feet exploded from being shaken and placed heavily on the sidewalk.  The sweet talk quickly faded, though -- I got the feeling she had been the recipient of his "Baby please..." before -- and when he could not use game to talk her into driving downtown from West Elgin to pick his drunk ass up, he tried another tact.

He offered her jewelry.

Yes, really.

Personally, I'm shocked she didn't wet her panties right there and promise to chauffeur him around all of Chicago and collar counties wearing a thong.

When his phone battery died, he dropped it on the ground, stomped on it, and walked out into Canal Street, hoping to catch one of the taxis that had been driving by and slowing down a bit hoping for an easy fare at the end of shift.  Naturally, when he was trying to actually hail one, they would have none of it. He even managed to stop two of them by narrowly avoiding getting ran over. Neither of them would have anything to do with his too-hyper-to-just-be-drunk ass.

Maybe he should have promised them jewelry.

Then he yelled "FUCK IT!" and threw the rest of his hidden bottles of booze into the street. The shattering glass and murdered booze echoed in the night. After that he ran a block towards Harrison, hoping to catch another taxi. On his way back towards Union Station, he nearly ran into yet another taxi that narrowly avoided hitting him. I was surprised ... and relieved... when this driver, who was clearly desperate for a fare, agreed to take him off into the night. It was 4 in the morning. The rain stopped and I could feel the first inkling of moonset and sunrise in the temperature of the wind and a faint change in the color behind the clouds.

29 February, 2012

A Baboon in New York, Part 3: Coney Island Blues

[Apologies for the lateness of this post. Slowed down some by this bug I caught in Norfolk and delayed by the absence of WiFi on the train. Expect my Boston update: The Beantown Massacre tomorrow. I have some catching up to do. -Mick]

“I am waiting for the war to be fought 
which will make the world safe for anarchy” 
                                       ― Lawrence Ferlinghetti, A Coney Island of the Mind

(My friend Steve on the pier at Coney Island.)
I couldn't end my time in New York without going to Coney Island. But except for the day I spent with my friend Susan in Lower Manhattan, the weather was rainy and on the chilly side. And yes, I KNOW it's been a mild winter, more or less -- at least, every place I've been on this leg of the trip; and I KNOW, it could be a whole lot worse.

But you also have to keep in mind that cities, other being places where a lot of people can live on top of one another in a geographic location that can really only sustain a quarter or less of the population currently existing there, are also amazing wind tunnels.

It was Friday when I went, with my friend and other host Steve, to Coney Island. I had sort of an idea what it was like, based on descriptions. It's one of those places I've always wanted to see -- at least since I first read Lawrence Ferlinghetti's  collection of poems entitled A Coney Island of the Mind. I didn't quite know what to expect off season. I knew the rides would be closed; I was sort of hoping that the freak shows and the burlesque would still be open.

I know, I know. The world is a freak show, and why go to a burlesque when there's internet porn? Because there's something a scantily clad woman hiding behind large feathers that's just Sexy Awesome.

That's right. Sexy Awesome. There's an artfulness and a playfulness, to it. A sort of intimacy that's more satisfying. And yes, it's a fake intimacy. It's a show. An act. So is going to strip club. (You do know, don't you, that the girls don't REALLY like you, right? They're being nice so you'll tip them. Like the cute bartender in the low cut blouse who talks you up. It's business. You know... like marriage.


This is Dannie Diesel, Aka Danielle Colby Cushman of American Pickers  fame. This is  what real burlesque looks like.

This is the bunnygator. One of the acts I missed because the show was closed for the season. :(

The train ride from Queens to Coney Island was a little over an hour. There's something soothing about the rocking and sounds of trains... even subway and commuter rail... so Steve and I both ended up falling asleep. Every once in a while the jolt from a stop or a start would wake me; but that never lasted long. It's nice to be able to drop off and catch a short nap; that's one the things I like about public transit. (It helps that I can sleep just about anywhere, including sitting straight up. I can also roll my tongue and bend my fingers back. Oh yes, Ladies, I am a CATCH!) And every time I opened my eyes, there were fewer and fewer people on the train with us.

Eventually, the train went from underground to on elevated tracks. We were in Brooklyn, and fast approaching Coney Island. Mythic places have always fascinated me... everything from Stonehenge to the Georgia Guide Stones, from the painted desert to that big ball of twine, from the St. Louis Basilica in New Orleans and the graveyard where Marie Laveau and Dr. John are buried to the places that are only sacred to me: Menifee County, my father's grave.

Coney Island is one of those places that, for good or bad, and probably mostly bad, has always had mythic resonance. It's magic. It's camp. It's kitsch. It's crass. It's classless. It's beautiful and gaudy and bawdy;  it's right on the Atlantic Ocean, a body of water I hope to someday cross and go to Europe. Choppy winter waves like the ones I've seen in Norfolk's Chesapeake bay, and the Hudson River in New York have seemed an appropriate metaphor for the things I'm experiencing, the changes in my life. Choppy, but steady. Consistent, but with multiple and dangerous under and cross currents I have to maneuver. And since I am, first and foremost,  a poet, I can't resist an apt metaphor.

The ocean wind was cold and it was spitting rain, which made it difficult to see. The first thing we did was go to the Nathan's Hot Dog Stand, which was one of the few things not associated with the train terminal that was actually open. Coney Island off season is on the desolate side; a few locals who came out to crowd the hot dog stand, there was no one around.

My primary reason for going to Nathan's was that I was told, quite specifically, that I need to go to Nathan's and eat a hot dog. I confess that one hot dog more or less tastes like another to me... except for veggie dogs and turkey dogs which, even buried under multiple layers of chili, onion and peppers, kraut, ketchup, mustard, and cheese, still taste like shit and should be removed from the pantheon. All beef dogs are better. Nathan's are -- technically -- kosher, which means they are prepared under the strict rules of Koshrut Law.

(Which, as far as I can tell, means nothing for hot dogs. I mean, chicken beak and rat turds are still chicken beak and rat turds  regardless of how they're prepared... right?)

All in all, it was a good hot dog. It's not something I'd write to people and tell them they HAVE to go and do... but... well... maybe the adverse weather conditions were affecting my palette. 

After I finished my chili dog, fries, and beer, Steve and I walked down so I could take a look at the Atlantic Ocean. Except for three people who were huddled under the shelter leading to the beach from the street, there was no one around. I took some pictures, stared out at the waves. A significant part of this trip has been about learning to let go, and there's something about the rhythm of ocean waves that helps me do that. I stood there, making small talk with Steve about the ocean and the water and how soothing it is to me, about how the waves of the Atlantic crashing up on the deserted beach reminded me of the waves of Chesapeake Bay behind the cheap ass motel I stayed in while visiting Stella in Norfolk.

Staring out at the waves, I thought again about how I have come to one of those places that feels like the end of the world, if only to release the stress and pain and sense of failure that had been building up in me over the years and over the weeks. 10 years, I thought. 10 years is a long time to wear on a person. 

10 years is a long time to be together, To live together. To experience life together. It's not as long as some marriages last; but I've seen a lot of people who just coast through their lives hoping they'll make it to the end as quietly as possible. But really, depending on how you live, a lot of life can happen in 10 years, depending on how you lived. And, if nothing else, I know Melissa and I lived a lot. We moved around a lot. We started over a lot. Started from almost nothing a lot. Maybe we didn't last; but we lived more than a lot of people do. It was a full decade.

Catch and release. Staring out at the winter ocean, that phrase echoed with the crash of the waves. Catch and release. If we treated the important moments in our lives that way -- understand that each moment, or series of moments, is only ours for a short time and that at some point, we have to learn to let go... not just for our sake, for the sake of the other people with whom we share those moments,and for the sacredness of those moments themselves, then learning how to move forward becomes less about actually moving forward and than it is understanding how to begin again. Because sometimes, there is no moving forward. 

Sometimes, you simply stand in the same place and cast out a new line. Because the universe is vast and life is as vast as we allow it to be.

After letting the ocean spit on us for a few minutes, I asked Steve, who was standing there, patient as always, if he would care to go down to the pier. He agreed. As we turned to leave, one of the three people I spied in my periphery asked me for a quarter.

Now, I'm almost always good for it if I have it. And as I've stated before, I don't really care whether people tell me the truth; whether they really need a dollar for bus fare, for whether they need it to buy a bottle or a few rocks, or some food -- doesn't matter to me. Humanity shouldn't need a reason or justification. 

But I don't like being threatened. And there was something about this guy, this kid, really, he couldn't have been older than 17 or 18, half standing in a shadow, his entire frame ready to jump. He already had one black eye. He looked like he didn't care if he got another, even if all he got out of it was a nickel. And there were his two friends, who were hiding back in the shadows, quietly. 

I'd seen this approach before. It's one that works based on fear. It's not much different than being mugged, really. And while I knew I could put up a fight if I had to, I didn't really want to. This is one of those moments when you have to DECIDE to be a pacifist. It's a conscious decision. But that also means, not giving in to the fear, either. Not allowing people to intimidate you into acting against your instincts. 

So I said no. If he had approached differently, not ready to pick a fight, I would've given him something, even though I really had very little to spare. 

"Oh." He said, and moved back into the shadow as Steve and I walked away.

"Have a blessed day!" One of the other shadows... a girl, called out.

"I'm working on it."

And then the cat calls began. The insults. Calling me selfish. Calling me fat. Calling me other things. Saying that I couldn't spare a quarter, but that I had plenty of money for McDonald's hamburgers and chicken nuggets. So easy. I thought. So easy to read wrongly into someone's life. I didn't particularly care about them calling me fat. I can lose weight. But making assumptions about my life based on the state of their lives? I felt like turning around and telling them what idiots they were; it's possible to live this life and still demonstrate a little class, a little dignity. I've seen it. They need to learn it.

But I thought better of it, and my surroundings. And Steve. And my promise to myself 15 years ago, to try and do no harm to anyone. It's the promise doctors make and some of them even keep. 

And ultimately, I wasn't going to let them destroy the peaceful mood I was in.

We walked down to the pier. Standing on the pier is like standing near the edge of the world. Further down, people were fishing, even on a lousy day like that. Standing that close to the water without being in it, hearing and feeling the crashing of the waves against the wood, you start to feel the rhythm and vibration of the world. It's peaceful and terrifying. 

It's one of those places, you need to remind yourself to breathe. Return to the basics.

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23 December, 2011

Two Short Seasonal Poems and An Unrelated Bit


December early morning sunshine
it fools me into believing
the earth is warm. But one step
outdoors and the cold wind
rippling my bearded cheeks reminds me
the tree limbs aren't bare
for no reason. Christ, I think
why can't they stick to
warm weather holidays?


This season of fat men with a penchant
for breaking and entering leaves me
odd, at the bottom of empty scotch bottle
searching the chair cushions for loose change
to put towards a pack of smokes or a cheap 40
that will help me stay warm. Winter has a way
of seeping into my bones; and it will not depart
no matter what prayers and hymns I sing.


Souls, like old wool socks, wear thin at the points of heaviest wear.
The difference is, you can always buy a new pair of socks.

10 January, 2011

And Counting

Christ. 388 days and the tundra
is still expansively contracting.
Fields of green and brown corn
have turned shit and soil brown,
laced with remanded snow
and lingering ice. It was once
explained to me when I was
very young: in the winter
the world sleeps
and the soil rests
to prepare for the spring
for what was once a plow
but is now a machine that cuts
more and better; plus, the cost
is more and better than most
houses and has taken the place
of hundreds of men and
man hours. It's big business here
and the corn is owned by companies
and seeds, like our future is copyrighted
by the anonymous holding company
that bought our parents' futures
cheap with promises
of a peaceful old age replete
with fat corn fed dreams.

25 January, 2010

Late Night Early Morning

This is one of those houses where
You hear ghosts whispering
In the water pipes. Late at night
An old woman speaks through
The drops and the drips
Echoing under the kitchen sink
And old men moan in the wind
Clattering against the porch storm windows.
These nights on the tundra
Are long and still and silent;
Semi-melted snow glazed over with
A fresh layer of frozen rain
Is all that remains
Of the storms that blew through today.
The cats uncoil in their warm corners,
Stretch, and fall back asleep.
Sitting in my chair, hoping for dreams
I can hear you in bed, moaning
The way you do when you are dreaming
And speaking to the ghosts
Who whisper quaint secrets
In your left ear at 2 in the morning; and
Though you will not remember them they will
Leave you dimes to find in odd places
As proof of their presence. As I
Nod off, I think I hear another salt truck;
But it is only
The old man on the porch stomping his boots
To remind me he is there and that
Snow will need shoveling
In the morning. Tomorrow,
The mail carrier will run late and the letters
In the local papers will outline opinions
Memorized from pews on the previous
Sunday morning. All the talk
In the restaurant on Main Street
Will center around fresh gossip,
The government, and the odd apathy
Of visiting grandchildren. Later in the day,
Down the street in the local bar, drunken farmers
Will talk of planting and shrinking subsidies
And make fun of their wives –each dreaming of when
Her breasts were firm
And the ground not so unyielding.
Then they will go home to fall asleep
In worn out recliners, lulled to black and white dreams
By the same whispers
That are keeping me awake tonight.

05 January, 2010

The Old Desk

I keep beer out on the covered front porch.
It’s winter in Northwest Illinois
and the relentless cold makes for great
refrigeration. My wife hides my beer
behind an old school desk she bought
at an auction; she says
she doesn’t want it to be
the first thing people see
when they visit. I laugh and tell her
her worries are cute and that somebody,
(not me) ought to be concerned. It’s possible
to derive some comfort from knowing
all your paranoia is justified. Our neighbor
notices when I take walks, asks me
when I see him at the post office
if I’m looking for work, and he pays attention
to whether we use our car, or when we leave
the garage door open. I can tell in people’s faces
when I see them on the street, or at the (only) bar
they’re trying to decide if I’m “ok” enough;
I want to tell them
the beer on my porch is probably
their best indicator, though most of them
will never come close enough to notice.

When she brought the desk home,
she (proudly) informed me
she only paid 50 cents. (She said)
It was too good a deal to pass on
and besides (she insisted) she was thinking
of me. It would be cute upstairs, where I write;
It could sit in the corner and I could use it
to put books on. But the desk
has done its duty; the seat
is smooth and splinter free –
worn by countless student asses,
made sore by the wood
and by the hours spent
learning cursive and reading
from old primers and struggling
with long division. The wrought iron legs
are rusted from years of exposure
through creaky floor boards and clapboard windows,
wet boots, and the dry heat
of a coal or wood burning stove. The desk top is
splinter and graffiti free, and has a hole
in the right hand corner for a bottle
of fountain pen ink. When I carried the desk in
from the car, I left it on the porch
where the orange rocking chair was
that she left to sit in when she goes
out on the porch to smoke. The desk will hide
a couple of cases of beer and some liquor,
too. Every night when I lock the front door
I think about locking the screen door too; but then
(I remind myself) this is not a town
where people steal your beer;
it’s much more intoxicating
to take note of visitors and
driving habits and the frequency
with which I (do or don’t) leave the house