31 July 2009

Ricky's 50-Cent Story

I paid 50 cents for the rights to this story (my standard story-rate, unless it's really good, impressively animated, or props and costumes are involved) so I thought I might as well share it.

Story Status: True, Semi-Recent
Body Language: Limited arm movements, some raising of eyebrows, occasional tip back in the chair.
Tone of Voice: Soft, smooth, slow, barely audible at times.
Time: 8:50 A.M.

"I was in Mt. Pleasant, you know, and out of all the nights that I played the slots with the quarters I found under tables and bars, I won a ton of money that night. Came out to about $20,000. I thought about what I wanted to do with it, and decided I wanted to get the hell out of here, maybe go to Puerto Rico, where they make the rum, you know? So I bought a plane ticket out of Detroit to Puerto Rico, and got on a Greyhound from Mt. Pleasant to Detroit. I was drinking a lot on the bus, you know how I am, and I met this guy in the back of the Greyhound bus. He was a black guy, and he said that he was a truck driver coming back from up north, going back home to Detroit. We were drinking and everything, and he told me I could stay at his place until my flight the next day. He seemed pretty alright, which is what I needed, since I was carrying a couple thousand dollars in my duffel bag. Problem was I couldn't remember if I told him that, I was drinking, you know, so I can't remember what I talked about or what we said to each other. I have a feeling he knew about what was in my bag but what the hell did I care, I was so wasted. We got to his place, and he said we should go to his friend's house, hang out and party and all that. I said I'd go, and I tell you this was no "friend's house". This was an abandoned building that was taken over by some crack dealers, and I tell you Anna I was the only white guy there. That didn't bother me too much, and I was pretty loose at this point, so I started getting it on with all the guys, got into the stuff, you know, the crack and everything. Then they were all going into rooms with the girls, and I got up there and the girl was there with me and I sat there a while thinking about what the hell I was doing here, and I told the girl I didn't want to do it, I was so drunk, and I gave her some money and told her not to feel bad, I was just too drunk.
Well, when I went back downstairs, they guy I came with, he was gone. He left while I was in with the girl. I looked at all these guys by the door, and I looked at the door, and I saw that this door, it had about four padlocks on it and 2x4's in front of it, blocking the door and all. All the windows were covered too, and I started realizing where I was. There was two guys and they had their arms crossed and everything, but I was drunk so I just went up to them and told them that the guy I cam with, I had to go back with him, that I was staying with him. They looked at me for like an hour, then they nodded at each other and opened all those deadbolts for me.

Somehow, even though I couldn't walk straight, I caught up with the other guy in his car. That doesn't make sense now, but I know that's how it was. He was with his wife, and she was cool. I got in and he said he would just bring me straight to the airport. I told him no, because my stuff was at his house, and then he got really mad, and now I knew he was onto what was in it. His wife, though, she understood, and she brought me back to the house for my bag. He was getting kind of excited, now, kind of mean and getting loud, so somehow that wife, she knew what to do, and she left him there, and made me quick get in the car. She brought me to the airport and I got out with my duffel bag safe and everything. I was going to go to Puerto Rico and get away from all this crazy stuff.

But then Anna, I tell you, I saw this firetruck. And then I saw a couple more, and they were all around this plane. And Anna, I couldn't get on a plane after that. I couldn't do it. So I just went to the airport hotel in Detroit and had my own Puerto Rico. I drank and watched movies, and that was my vacation. That was my Casino winning vacation. And I tell you, Anna, at that hotel, they treated me really nice. Real nice."

24 July 2009


Ms. Marron is not a cat lady--that's the problem.

Simultaneously, both of her female cats got pregnant and had their own litters of kittens. Each Mother Cat became very posessive of her kittens, accusing the other of stealing her spawn--and Ms. Marron is finding it hard to separate the two feline families in her studio apartment. The kittens have got to go. Unfortunately, they're not at the cute stage yet (I argue that they never will be), and no one will take a handful 6-day-old kittens. Since she can't afford to pay to get rid of them, Ms. Marron is very grateful that she does not have cat allergies.


Brian always wears a backpack--this is not too unusual.

Like most people, he doesn't open it very frequently, and minds his own business. Yesterday, he decided to tell us his secret (and his passion, and his self-defense weapon). In his backpack, he keeps a 7-foot boa constrictor, as wide around as a 20 oz. soda bottle, and according to him, "very sweet and friendly". It's easier to carry her on his shoulders, which balances the weight better than the backpack, but for some reason, the neighborhood takes up an issue with this. He feeds it mice, which is how it wins points from the tenants of the Herkimer.


Cindy has a pet mouse--I think she caught it at the Herkimer.

She successfully took it up at 20 ft. streetlight pole the other day, and sang its praises to anyone who would listen--they seem to listen more attentively than when it is a few inches from their nose, which was the first method she tried. Her mouse manifesto lasted as long as she got attention for it.
I think she was just protecting it from Brian's boa constrictor.

20 July 2009

Alcoholics Don't Litter Half-Full Beers

They all call Sam "Old Man", including me, because he looks like he's about 98. He's really more likely to be in his 60's, but he's an alcoholic, and it ages you faster than having five kids under the age of five.

Despite his kind-old-decrepid-man appearance, Sam goes to jail weekly (his open-mouthed mugshot is usually good cover-fodder for BUSTED!!! magazine.) They get him for trespassing (watch how far you stumble off the sidewalk, and try to steer yourself street-side), for public intoxication, and most recently, for littering.

Sam was sitting by the statue on Division and Fulton, drinking his favorite beer (any beer). He set the can down on the statue to give his forearm muscles a break, and was arrested for littering. This was how the conversation went:

"Sir, you are under an arrest."

"I'm not done with my beer yet!"

"You seemed like you were done when you left your litter on the statue."

"Litter! Hah! Lady, I'm an alcoholic. Alcoholics don't throw away half-full cans of beer."

"Come with me."

"At least let me finish my beer and then arrest me for public intoxication!"

Sam says the police women wanted the rest of the beer, and though I told him I doubted it, I did wonder what exactly it was she wanted.

17 July 2009

Ben on Panhandling (Anna, I'm not a panhandler. I'm a hustler.)

Ben filled me in today on his panhandling theories and ethics. He claims to be the best in the city--a city in which people can get arrested for panhandling for asking someone to give them the time.

Best place to be: Rosa Park Circle, though the police know it too.

People to ask: College kids, businessmen, couples (especially if they're on a first date, and look like they want to impress eachother)

People not to ask: Elderly folks, people with disabilities, moms with a lot of kids. That's just disrespectful.

Best score, recently: A $50.00 bill

Worst response this week: "Get a job and get off the streets, bum." But at least it wasn't handcuffs.

Worst response ever: A good solid beating.

How to approach a college kid: "Hey man, I really want a beer. Help me out?"

How to approach a business man: "Excuse me, sir, but my girlfriend and I stay under the bridge down here, and we're just looking for a meal. Can you spare some change?" Always use the food thing with the business guys, he says.

How to approach me, personally (we did a test. I pretended to be someone walking by, and critiqued him afterward): "Hello, ma'am. I'm just looking for 50 cents for some french fries. Help me out?"

My follow up questions:

What are you really going to use it for? Booze.

What if I bought you french fries? I'd eat 'em, and then try someone else.

Where can you even get french fries around here? We're in a pretty inconvenient location. That's how I usually get the 50 cents.

My answer: I want something out of this, too. I'll give you 50 cents for a really good story.


He's 275 of pure muscle mass branded with indecipherably menacing tattoos (they're either snakes whipping dragons or barbed wire strangling a sea monster), wearing a dark leather vest and two snarling eyebrows crowned with a do-rag. As he walks to my office door, the floor shakes noticeably, while I hope no one notices the same motion in the clipboard in my hands. Can you say... intimidating? (Better yet, can you spell it?)


Our meeting ends like this:

"Oh yeah, I love pastels, but I really prefer watercolor--watercolor detailed with black ink. It's my best medium. In fact, can you write down what kind of pen that was? It flowed so well. I need to get me one of those."

And once again, I am reminded that I don't. Know. Anything.

16 July 2009

8 Crab Ragoons and a Whole Basball Hat of Lo Mein Noodles

Eric has reported that there are strange cults meeting in the graveyard out where he works. He wouldn't know, except the only employment that he could find is too far away from the homeless shelters for him to stay there are night, so he camps in the woods by the graveyard.

"What did they do when they saw you?"

"I didn't let them see me! I covered myself with leaves! Hell, I was scared!"

Because of his new leaf-covered bedroom, Eric has been able to keep his job, and just got paid. Eric hasn't had $400 in his pocket for a long time.

"It's messing with my head. I can't stand it. Anna, I can't carry this much money. I'll drink $100 of it, and by that time, I'll either lose the rest, or someone will steal it. Anna, you have to keep it for me."

We can't keep people's money here--we've talked about it frequently, because it is something that many people request when they recieve large sums of money. They trust us more than they trust themselves... or the banks.

"I can't keep it Eric."

"Then I'm screwed. What have I been working for these last two weeks?"

Eric has a locker here at Degage where he keeps his clothes and hygiene items. I made a deal with Eric. If he would trust me, I would hide his money in his locker, somewhere he couldn't find it, and get it for him when he asked me for it. There's another part of the deal: he has to be sober when he asks.

Eric consented.

It was really hard to find a place to hide a large sum of money in someone's relatively organized rectangular locker. But I found a really good place. I'm not telling you where.

The next three times I saw Eric, he was completely wasted.


"Anna, only $20. Please."


Eric tore apart his locker for three days looking for his money, and couldn't find it (victorious!) He never cursed me, except to say "Damn, Anna, you sure know how to hide!"

He came back two days later, and passed my self-sacrificial breathalizer test. His breath was bad, but non-alcoholic. He was on his way out to dinner, and was taking a friend. He wanted $20. He waited in the bathroom while I got it from him.

After his dinner, Eric came in with a flower--a flower that looked like it was pulled up from the roots. It even had some dirt on it still.

"Thank you, Anna. I'm so glad I can trust you. I had 8 crab ragoons, and a whole baseball hat full of Lo Mein noodles. I would have never been able to have that without you."


And to whomever's garden was ransacked for the sake of Eric's thank you, I apologize. But I really appreciate that flower.

07 July 2009

I Love Paulie, His Staples, His Racoon Eyes

Paulie got so drunk last week, he blacked out in his apartment and had to get staples in his head. He also evidently fell asleep in the sun with his sunglasses on, because when he came to talk to me, his face was impressively tan with the exception of white circles around his eyes.

"It's not all fun and games anymore, Anna. This is for real now, I guess."

Most people wouldn't describe a life of homelessness as "fun and games" at any point, especially not at the beginning. But Paulie is 19, and spent the first year after being kicked out of his parent's house in Holland volunteering to take out the trash at Tini Bikini's so he could hang out with some of the girls. That was fun.

Then he got bored, so he got a job. He got a job by smiling. He's cute.
He worked at the Bistro and got to eat the "best food ever. All the time. You would like it." That was fun.

Then he decided to go back to school, so he applied and recieved a Pell grant. He registered for four classes at Community College, dropped three, and barely attended one. Not as fun.

Then he got sick of sleeping by other dudes--older dudes who weren't as good at gelling their hair as he was. So he applied for an apartment at Verne Barry Place, subsidized government housing reserved for those with physical and mental disabilities. Paulie turned in his ADD diagnosis, and got a nice, newly furnished, studio apartment for free. The girls from Tini Bikini's weren't allowed to come up and visit, though, so he got bored.

So he started drinking again (he never stopped drinking, but at least he got distracted during the daytime). There's a rule downtown that any sort of voucher (bus tickets, Degage Dollars, food stamps) were worth half their price in cash. Instead of $150 in shrimp and potato chips (Paulie's favorite foodstamp expenditures), he could get at least $70 in alcohol. Sounds like fun.

But last week, sporting staples in his head, Paulie smiles less. Time to do something about it, he guesses. Time to look into detox, rehab, maybe a more supportive group of friends.

But this week, he forgot the fear he felt when he woke up on the floor of his apartment, his head bleeding. This week, he's back to his MP3 player, asking me to look up the dates of the concerts at Van Andel.

This week, I hope that the love I show Paulie (I love Paulie) is not as helpless as it feels.

01 July 2009


When we were applying for Sandra's birth certificate, a document she needed to obtain housing, she was pretty sensitive when I was asking her for information about her mother and father to put on the birth certificate application. She had never met her mother, she told me, and she didn't really like thinking about her because she didn't know how to think about her. She didn't know what she was like, or if they looked similar, or if they had a voice that sounded the same, or anything. She didn't know how to think about her, so she didn't think about her.

A month later, Sandra's birth certificate came to us in the mail. She had never seen it before, so after signing it out, she looked at it very closely. Suddenly, torrents of tears started streaming down her face. Unable to speak, she pointed at her signiture on the sign-out sheet for the document, and then pointed at her mother's signiture on her birth record. They made their S's exactly the same.

After that point, Sandra fantasized about her mother, speculating that they probably had exactly everything in common. With this one hint, Sandra now felt that she knew how to think about her mother, and somehow, just because of her handwriting, she forgave her.