Jerry doesn’t have a home. Feels lucky he has a place to stay. “Spoke with HUD; certificates cut back.” I don’t really understand the system, but the so-called cutbacks scheduled for a few days from now cannot mean more housing or social welfare for those unable to care for themselves.
Confined to wheelchair, he parked himself outside a State store. No way to tell what he got from passer bys on their way to buy happy juice. He seemed resigned to doing all he could do to make it.
Bitterly cold out there. He just sat. “You still takin pictures?” I brought my book over to him. Just some recents. “I know him,” he said of Larry’s image, “old-timer.” Knew Karl, the poet, also. Does that mean something I don’t really appreciate? He’s saying that they are making it and so can I.
I see these guys so irregularly. When I do, it makes my day to know they live. Living hand to mouth. I have never done that.
He stays at the shelter on North Street. Looking for a more permanent place which may only give him shelter from the storm. Not ready to ask why he needs it or why no one else has come forward to help. No family. No friends. No social service worker. Wait until it is my turn.
Great eyes, eh!
So, Larry’s friends moved him from the camp during the cold spell. He has a foot problem from his inattention to sores and his inability to change his own clothes. They cleaned him up, raised his spirits and protected him from the elements. Maybe friends overstates the relationships. Hard to tell. The word connotes closeness. Knowing intimate details doesn’t make people close, only vulnerable. But, if you cannot be hurt, then what?
How do these guys qualify as home care attendants? No resumes in this business. You show up for duty, ready to serve. Still gotta live your life, somehow. Mishegas. Oh, how I wish they understood mishegas. I left last night to go to shul for shabbos, Matt said l’chaim. How’d he know? Who cares. I walked into the camp. Saw one of my images on the wall. Not interested, though tears came to my eyes. JFK’s image also hung on the wall.
So, my friend Karl Berry, the poet, will have hip surgery. He motors around on his scooter, stopping at Starbucks to write a few verses. MS, cataracts, arthritis and who knows what else. In two weeks, he gets his hips done.
He carries a lot in his head, translating it into poems. Writes a little like the beats, Baraka more than Ginsburg. Has a CD out with an image I shot. The pith helmet seems out of place in Burlington. He doesn’t care.
He looks a lot more like Rembrandt than Robert Frost.
Seriously cold, I will tell you. He had jammed his walker up against the wall in front of Macy’s. Got caught in a space in the pavement. Veered left. He put on the breaks and sat down. I approached, watching him applying absent muscle to an effort to stand. He wavered, shivering and almost toppled. I feared he would fall. “You all right? Need some help.” He wispered that his legs hurt. He said he couldn’t hear and could barely see. “I live at Cathedral Square, up there.” “Don’t fall dude. We will make it together.” A woman, not dressed for the day, helped. She told me she just conquered breast cancer. Her son is a 30-something and needs a hip replacement. I had two, but later. She double-teamed the walk across the street and then left. Stopped at the Courthouse for a breather. Always nice to be there when I don’t have a case. Took a while, slowing down to go down hill. And we did make it back to his place. And me to mine.
Alida White died. Never heard the name before, but world wide it is pretty popular. Not that people live up to their names, unless someone named them Thor or Boomer, but this particular name would require its carrier to be noble and giving. Can’t say she was or wasn’t, because I didn’t know her when she was her; I only knew her when she had an inoperable tumor. And at her age, when you get that condition and you haven’t had time to do all you wanted to do, that is a pretty difficult way to have to face everyday, never knowing when one will be your last.
I entered her life briefly through my wife’s good deeds. The family needed help with meals. So Sharon, along with friend’s of the family and members of OZ, a synagogue we have a passing relationship with, cooked for them. I made portraits of the family for a school assignment at Hallmark Institute of Photography. They cleaned the house, dressed up, and rearranged the furniture. Alida and Marcia put on makeup. Sometimes people don’t take family portraits as seriously, even though they should. You never know. We shot for a while. The lights didn’t work. I didn’t know how to arrange them in the space as effectively as I could have and should have. Alida tired. But never showed any lack of interest. She just tried to be as beautiful and real as she could be.
Now, photographers shoot for many reasons. And they have pithy quotes about what a photograph is or isn’t. Sure, it is a document, one that freezes the moment, capturing all that is going on in 1/160 of a second, give or take a few fractions of a second. It doesn’t speak, at least not out loud, and it lacks motion, though not gesture. You cannot touch or hold it. I only requires you to feel it.
They didn’t know me or my camera work. And I didn’t have time to get to know them. At some point, they would all look differently. From my side of the camera, they were all beautiful, knowing that the images I made would document their lives forevermore. We met electronically for a few seconds, controlled by the light and the emotions. A beautiful moment which will allow them to hold each other for an eternity.
When we went to the house for a shiva call, even though the survivors don’t do shiva, the house was full of friends. Food filled the table. The noise levels were high. They had taken one of my images which I had printed and delivered and put it on a postal size card with one of Alida’s favorite poems of the back for people to take as a remembrance. I had no idea they had done this. The rabbi said that my image was with her in the hospice. Who knows if she recognized anyone in it? But for them, it symbolized their love for one another and served as a memory of life as hers was slowly ebbing away.
Lewis thanked me. No thanks necessary. It was my honor and a mitzvah in the truest sense of God’s word. This is one reason for me to have a camera.
Cold and damp. Chilling. Trudged in through the snow. Carried some food, batteries and socks. Some live in the woods by choice. Others because they don’t have one. Larry and Matt do as they want. Don’t have to deal with what goes on. Both give thanks for what they have.
My hands were so cold I couldn’t find the shutter. Batteries didn’t keep their charge. The guys felt free, hardly feeling the freezing temperatures. Batteries run a radio. Socks and powder stave off dead toes. Canned food can be heated. Next time clean long johns and sterno. Not for me to judge, just hope they make it through the winter.
Just great characters, worthy of all the love, help and support which all of us feel entitled to.
Needs to know which devil to attack first. As one of the survivors told me, “he need to give up the dope and the alcohol….” But which one first? And the where does he go? Cannot possibly seamlessly merge back into the system, unless taken care of. Do we? A line gets drawn in the sand. Join up to receive. If not, what?
So, what’s the problem? Heroin. Does he do a substitute? Alcohol? Can we dope him up to get him off the sauce? He has court cases. Will he be sober enough and healthy enough to go to a treatment facility? I make him laugh. He makes me cry. I want him to be well. Nothing I can do for him at the moment. He sits and begs. People look at me from the nearby diner, not happy about him being there and wondering why I do what I do. I don’t shoot them. They are only secondarily my subjects. Can my images change opinions? Who knows?
Never asked where the name came from. He knew people with whom I went to New York Law School. We may have met back in the 60′s. He bought me lunch, then disappeared.
Larry has retired. Tired of the town. Tired of the street.
Mark constructs and creates.
Matt spends some time on the outside. Works now and then. Carries around Leaves of Grass.
Me. I marvel at their courage and their ability to not need creature comforts.
Rodney King died before he turned 50. His beating, painful as it was, followed by the acquittal and subsequent riots, promoted awareness of racial inequities in our country. Too bad we need chaos to promote learning, not only about ourselves, but the national ethos we support.
Would have liked to see him beat the demons and survive. The great experiment in which America has been engaged suffered a setback when Mr. King became ten-minutes-famous, but it advanced as people who never thought about the problems realized how deep and pervasive they were and are.