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A Woman named Books.

July 19th, 2012

She has red hair. Or least she did when I last saw her three years ago. She was on the street, but she cleaned up good. I liked to look at her. She asked me not too. “I’m not having sex with any homeless guys.!” Somewhat preemptive on her part. Dave1 called her spiteful. Dave was separated. I’ve never been married. I’ve never come to terms with the issue of being a good provider.

She said her name is Books. I don’t know why. I don’t think she’s spiteful. Maybe, she just doesn’t want to raise her kids under a bridge.

1Dave was one of the first to reach out to me in this my third round of homelessness. Without prompting of any kind, he gave me a pair of scissors. I used it for a hundred different emergency repairs – a valuable survival tool. I was grateful to have it. I woke up in the wild one morning and couldn’t find it. It was stainless, but it’s probably rusted beyond usefulness by now. I’ve bought and lost scissors since then – not the same; not a spontaneous act of kindness.

Longtimers at the Shelter all love Ray. He was a semi-invalid when I first met him. He quickly became an invalid. He was quite clearly in a lot of pain. I never saw the sweet and funny side, but I can confirm the curmudgeon. The family stressed that Ray was very spiritual, but very much at odds with organized religion. The Bishop from the Church of Latter Day Saints who ordained Ray a priest in the last year of his life, assured us that Ray quite literally was still with us even as the Book of Mormon assures us that Christ is still with us. I well understand the temptation to lapse into eschatological reverie, but I fear that it leads Fundamentalists – whether they be Islamists, Christianists, Marxists, or recycled Harvard Economists – into error.

Joe is tangible. He said he met Ray lighting an oil drum at a peace demonstration in 1991. He and Ray thought Bush I’s Iraq I was about oil. I believe them. And I believe Joe that fatherly advice from Ray has helped him survive in a ruthless world. Capitalism cannot be simply wished away.

i found her again.

August 6th, 2009

This happened a while ago, but i need to catch up on it.

i had not been to St. Francis House in a while. There had a been a shooting. That’s euphemism. There was a murder. But that’s what drew me there. Despite the clientele being a tad rustic, violence is usually dealt with swiftly and without injury. They have a metal detector at the door and you have to be searched if you want to have a meal. Their record on murders is about the same as Harvard.

They have a uniformed Boston Police Officer on duty. Several staff people also work security. They all carry walkie-talkies. One of them is a beautiful young Latina. The last time i had been there she was ‘with child’. This time she was abundantly so. i was glad she and the baby had not been hurt. Still i was unsettled. i asked her if she was going to take some time off for the baby.


“It’s going to be a beautiful baby.’

i queued up through the Atrium. Most of the folks sitting at the tables in the middle of the room had their heads up. Only a few trying to catch an unauthorized nap. Sleep is a bigger problem than even hunger for the homeless. i made my way around the outer ring of the room. Finally, i got to the staffer with the walkie talkie – it was the Latina, but she did not want to be engaged. We got the signal that there was room in the dining room.

There she was – the Aviatrix. She had some sleeping gear which she did not when i met her. It was light – appropriate to the weather. Somehow she survived the cold. She sat by herself. And she ventured into animated conversation with herself. I dared not try to sit with her. On the way out, I tried to get her attention, but she did not remember me. The bag holding her gear was torn. i vowed to try to remedy that.

i got a couple of brand new plastic bags from the Shelter and a companero and i went down to the House. She was there. Her fair chubby cheeks were pink from the sun and her perfect pug nose was bright red – almost ready to peel. She was, as often before, engaged in animated conversation with herself. i tried to offer her the bags, but she quite vehemently shooed me away. Women in those settings often would rather not know what the men want from them. Understandable. She touched my life oh so briefly, but she offered me a moment of clarity in my confusion. But i cannot return the favor. Sadmaking. i left her again … in animated conversation with herself.

i asked the woman by the metal detector, “Please don’t let anyone hurt the baby.” As if she needed to be told. But i needed to say it.

[This one is going to be extremely hard. It will change quite a lot for a while. You are more than welcome to watch me struggle with it, if you care.]

Outreach is a subspecialty of the trade of social work. It is a very small portion of the increasingly corporate Social Work Enterprise. The City of Cambridge has one program of Outreach – First Step. They have a van that cruises the city and attempts to get the City’s most hopeless into contact with the City’s other social services. When the Ashanti Woman1 was living in the Gates of Harvard, Marty2 from the First Step Van paved the way for her into The System. The lovely Dr. Alan Counter3 had a role in subsequent events and received most of the credit,  but I’m sure that First Step did the heavy lifting4.

Arthur ostensibly works for Tri-City something, but I think it’s him and maybe his wife does the accounting.  He roves the community meal circuit and the drop-in centers to see what he can do. Mostly he ends up, honestly or dishonestly, executing The Model. He is highly resistant to thinking outside The Model.  When someone is so unyieldingly stubborn, there is little I can do for him.

1 I noticed her well before it became apparent that she was homeless – two and half years before she went into a shelter. Her round face peeking out from her long traditional African robe flowing in the breeze, she was handsome. She looked lost. I tried to help her find her way. I must tell you about it. So many stories, so little time.

2 I had met him when he came to the Lamont Library with her husband, but I did not make the connection. When I later tried to find Marty, First Step told me he had left. Just last night, The Advocate, who knew him, told me that he went back to California to rejoin his wife. Sometimes things work out.

3 Making generous allowances for the fact that he is an administrator, Dr. Counter is a decent person. He quite rightly suspected that I had confused the Angela Davis who visited Harvard to elucidate the prosecutorial misconduct in the case of the Jena 6 with the Angela Davis of the Black Panther Party.  He unconfused me – on that point, at least.

4 I don’t know whether Harvard administration compensated the City for getting their butts out of the wringer. The negotiations around Payment in Lieu of Taxes [PILOT] take place privately between the most powerful person in the City Government, City Manager Bob Healey, and somebody who is several levels below The President and Fellows.

Meeting Arthur

April 2nd, 2009

Arthur is a nomad, like many of the people he works with. He is also a L.I.C.S.W. I met him at Bread and Jams. I had been going there for a while and felt compelled to comment on the staff, especially Carlos. I had just met Arthur and didn’t know what to think of him. I told him that the staff made the place what it is. I meant it as a good thing. Arthur said, “I’ll take that as a compliment.” I don’t know much about what’s in the  DSM  [Official Site] [Wikipedia], but I guessed that his diagnosis had the word ‘Narcissism’  in it. I can say that because I was not under the cone of confidentiality then. I don’t know what I can say now except that he is an interesting case, but I’m concerned that I may not be able to do him any good.

Celtic Ink

March 25th, 2009

She sits across the table from him at the Bone Pain, her elbows on the table. She leans toward him as she speaks. It is important. She is earnest. Her long blonde hair flows down to her shoulders and bounces to underline her point. She has just enough baby fat in her face to look perfect for her age – a twenty something working class beauty. I can’t hear her, but it looks like she is telling him he’s the one. I’ll bet she’s too smart to say that, but I’ll bet he knows that’s what she’s saying.

He sits with his shoulder toward her. i think he had Jesus turned to her. I hope he wasnt’ showing her the grim reaper. He only rarely looks in her eyes. A shame – they are beautiful earnest eyes. I think he is afraid – afraid to be too close to her. I think he is afraid – afraid to be to far from her. He is right to be afraid. He who plays too hard to get – for whatever reason – doesn’t get got.

Celtic Ink, trust me on that.

I’m not saying it’s easy. I have a clue about what I don’t know. People struggle horribly with it. When they fail, it seems to be shattering. But when they succeed, they seem transformed. They make me feel like I have missed something. Something important. Something dangerous, but worth the risk.

The Judys

March 25th, 2009

There are two – Judy kitchen and Judy parlor. Judy kitchen arrives at First Parish in mid-morning, but is not the beginning of her work. She has already be shopping. Shopping for us – we, the homeless. Her leg seems to have healed. I don’t quite know how she managed the long hours of cooking while she had her leg in an immobilizer.1 I ran into her on the subway once. I think she told me she had worked for Haley House. I have not had a chance to find out how she got from the Catholic Workers to the Onetarians. There is never time at community dinner. If she is not presiding over the kitchen, she is talking to one of my colleagues more desperate to be listened to than me.

Judy Parlor works on serving the meal. Sometimes she brings her son. I saw him once in the kitchen through the serving window. He did a quick pirouette. Not a studied movement, but one of those playful apparently meaningless movements that young boys do… IF… That’s what they mean, “I feel safe in this world. I thrive.’

Judy Parlor takes my empty plate and reminds me again to keep my silverware. It’s the umpteenth time she has reminded me. But I keep getting fooled because the silverware is made of plastic designed to be thrown away – but not after only one course. I like when Judy Parlor reminds me to keep my silverware. It makes me feel safe in this world. Even as the guy with half his teeth spits out half chewed food – I thrive.

1This miracle of modern medical technology replaces the plaster cast. It is made of space age plastic and velcro. You can unfasten it, with care, to wash or scratch an itch. I regard it as a genuine example of progress.

Glorious Night

March 6th, 2009

I have not had one since I came inside.  I had several glorious nights outside. Social Worker Deux reminded me. One night turned out to be the most glorious night of the year. There was a scattered mosaic of small clouds carpeting its way out over the water. The moon was full upon full – the moon at its closest approach of the year. I was snuggled in the tall reeds – a bent reed mattress below me; a horseshoe curtin of reeds protecting me from censuring eyes, but open to the water. The waves textured the reflected moonlight.

I had enough dacron from the Goodwill to be snug1. I had my olive drab jumpsuit.2 And of course, my peace bling. I had not walked through the Monument to get there. I did not want to be seen. More importantly, I did not want to anger the Dead. I assume it was alright to be where I was. They didn’t say nuthin. It was just the moon, the water, the ducks, the reeds, the Dead and me. It was glorious.

1. No Kafka, I’ve never been a bug.
2 A mummy bag is better than a rectangular sleeping bag in cold weather because it contains less air to be heated by body heat. Similarly, a padded jumpsuit is better still.


March 5th, 2009

Res ipsa loquitur

Res ipsa loquitur

Millions more morttgages are in the ‘foreclosure pipeline’. President Obama’s ‘rescue plan’ provides help to only those almost able to make their payments by themselves. There will be many more joining me and my colleagues. We need a moratorium on foreclosures and we need to significantly write down the value of the mortgages.

Res ipsa loquitur

I found her.

February 5th, 2009

i was out looking at public housing and had to go to the bathroom. The Station is one of the few places where the restroom doesn’t have a dress code. As i entered the waiting room, i noticed a familiar set of faces – a subset of my colleagues, The Blenders. They look not too much funkier than normal traveler funk – indistinguishable to the unschooled eye. They blend in.

i saw a familiar looking jacket. i hadn’t seen it in daylight before, but it was the same jacket – Air Force. She was The Aviatrix. She had a round face – full and pink – oddly cherubic. She wasn’t pacing as before. She was seated, but talking to herself in a very quick animated way. You’re always guaranteed to win that kind of argument – and lose it too.

i was afraid to approach her. Not that she would pound me, [the same editorial comment still holds :)] too many witnesses. It was as if i were homeful – afraid that her madness might be contagious. i summoned my courage. i had a mission – a mission i had been on since my last night outside.

She had a makeshift bedroll – rather thin for the current temperatures. i had been looking for her since mid December. She didn’t have the gear to weather the cold outside. i tried to get some to her, but i couldn’t stay ’till after midnight. i have a curfew now. Two days after i ‘came in’ i found a synthetic mummy bag. A mummy fits your form, no extra space to heat with precious body heat. Synthetic stays warm wet and drys quickly. i wanted her to have it, but i couldn’t find her. Well, if she was determined to stay out, i wanted her to have it. i wasn’t sure i really should. What if i encouraged her to stay outside? On the other hand, the social workers are always pushing people to ‘go in’. They think it’s just so much better than being outside. They are homeful. They are crazy.

i asked her if she was keeping warm at night. i didn’t understand her answer right away. She asked about me. i told her i was inside. Where? Cambridge. She thought i should go to D.C. That’s where she wanted to go, but they wouldn’t let her. The olive jumpsuit may have convinced her i’m a veteran. i never served, but i am a casualty.

But she’s inside. So the skimpy bedroll is enough. i was pretty sure she would survive without my help. But i didn’t want to take the risk. She’ll survive. i didn’t know what more i could do. i wished her well and left her in animated conversation with herself.