City Hall Park
Larry Glen and Kevin couldn’t decide if the pieces which look like furniture were art. They had no trouble deciding that, on this cold day, it wasn’t a good idea to sit on either the sofa or the chair. Both are made of metal and it was 5 degrees.
I mean, what is art? The chair image ain’t the chair; it represents the chair, lacks the function of the chair, has its design, but it ain’t real. It must be art, eh? Too cold, though to talk with these connoisseurs about the topic. It was too cold to even have a camera; I shot with Canon S90, which I kept in my pocket where it fogged up.
Kevin came from Barre. “Don’t drink the water there,” I was told when we came to VT. He has stage 5 colon cancer. In town to go to the doctor and see his social worker, he hopes that Make a Wish will send him to Japan for his last fling to see amime and the life there. He don’t care about cold. He’s still alive. Go live, my man. You have courage.
Larry and Matt Sweet have a tent. No way these guys do the shelter thing; too many rules. Know how to camp in the tent. Keep out the drafts and cold air.
Joe knows some kids, maybe college kids, who let him sleep in a utility room. They give him beer, pot, and food. He offered me some of his pina colada. Not exactly a drink I would drink, assuming I would drink in the park on a day like this, even if I were thirsty or going through withdrawl. I associate pina coladas with warm weather and tropical breezes, not sub arctic cold.
Connor and Country. I cannot be sure. They were looking for someone or something, they thought.
Keith came out for tobacco. I could not see coming out for something to smoke. A hospital appointment, sure; you got nowhere to go or you don’t know where you are, sure; but tobacco …. What a country. We all get a vote, too.
Damn, it was cold. And the cold doesn’t usually bother me. Tomorrow, colder. Joe said only the really hard core would be out tomorrow. We will see.
Life goes on, though Chad thought I paid too much attention to Paul and not enough to others. He didn’t want me talking, smiling or breathing his air. “You look bad; you should go home.”
Mark knows its time to try Act One.
Amanda has enough self-esteem to put on eye liner. She has a court date at 1:00pm for a disorderly conduct that occurred over the summer. This state, which puts public order above all else, charges Dis Cons as a misdemeanor. That means if you use a vulgar term (whatever that means) in public, you could be charged with a crime. No offenses here. “Who’s your attorney,” I asked? “Just some Public Defender….” I didn’t shoot, because I wanted her to see my reaction. “Sorry,” she said.
Her boyfriend can still balance himself and climb like he did as a boy.
New guy, Gravel, is a traveller. Gotta love the guys who ride the trains. Adventurers, all. Hey, dude. I hope to have the time to speak with you. In the meantime, he needed shoes. Sharon and I got him shoes at the Shuk, the thrift shop at our shul, OZ. The proprietor charged us full price, even though we told her we were buying them for a homeless dude. “I have to payoff a $70,000 loan I took out to build this place.” So let me get this straight. Someone donates clothing for the poor. She put up money to fix a charity shop. I bring in clothes and make donations, too. I pay her $15 for a pair of used boots to give to a person whose feet will freeze without them to pay off her loan, which the shul has not absorbed, even though its mission is to do acts of kindness and benevolence. No wonder I don’t belong to OZ, right now. She threw in two pairs of ratty socks someone had the audacity to donate. When we found him, someone had given him boots, already. I found another person who needed boots. Two men took the socks.
“I wear 8 1/2-9.” “Take the 10s dude,” the traveller said, with an implorring voice, “no one wants their toes to freeze.” Joe draws. Earned commissary money in jail doing portraits of other inmates. Wants to have a show, but isn’t exactly motivated. Hasn’t even come up with a piece of his art to trade for a photo. There’s still time, dude.
He’s on his way to the Labor Department. To stay out of jail for not having paid child support, he has to get a job. Now, there’s a Hobson’s choice or some other quaint homily, simile or metaphor. There are no jobs. If he got one, he has to pay back payments for some kid he had as a kid when he felt feeling himself come inside someone who wouldn’t have an abortion was a cool thing because she was either on the pill, infertile, or just had her period. Now, in these times of economic turmoil when people with degrees and resumes cannot find a job, he has to go find work in VT in the winter, to support himself and his family from whom he is separated.
I worry that he could be next. In Paul’s final days, Eric dragged him to Act 1. He knew Paul was a mess, but he didn’t give up on him. Now he has no one to hang with or care about.
Eric went home for the holidays. Street workers/outreach say Mom calls in everyday. No room at her house for him. Brother home after some financial disaster, according to Eric. They let him take a shower. Gave him a hat, two pairs of socks and food. He doesn’t want the kind of help that he would get if he had a reasonable diagnosis. “I am 30. I got years to go before I’ll admit to any disability.”
Jim always tried to help. He stopped a woman from being groped on a bench. Cleaned City Hall Park in the early mornings. He looks out for his daughter, Amanda. He picked Paul off the ground, several times. Last week, he knew Paul was in trouble. “His color wasn’t right. He couldn’t walk. Wouldn’t share a beer. Not right what happened to him…. We have lost a few recently. Got to keep walking to stay warm.”
Yeh. No one wants to freeze to death. Cold ain’t as bad as dying.
Who is looking out for Jim?
Just relaxing, which is what parks be made for. Were the housing problem to be solved, many of the other issues creating tension like overcrowded prisons and illused hospitals would be eliminated. Then feeding people healthy foods and educating them about civic duty could be the focus of public debate.
Mic just wants to go home to take care of his dogs.
They wanted to change their lives, but not this way. They know the story better than I but will have trouble telling it until they grieve. The pain seemed very real and very palpable. But it covered up the issues, whatever they may be.
Larry doesn’t know what is next for him or them, but he mainly cares about himself. He has a tent on the hill. Awaits his retirement. He lives here. Has survived with a smile.
Mikey lips. He just keeps moving and talking.
Amanda almost took the shot as it passed out of the tent. Very, very upset. She had high hopes for the success of the encampment. Almost got killed.
They said the dead guy served in Iraq. Turned out he didn’t. But he could be counted as a casualty whose suicide should be blamed on the war. Some dude put a flag on a stick at half mast in his honor.
Medic for the assembled, but not as credentialed as she would have to be to handle the myriad of afflictions, diseases, and accidents which could and would occur. How about a clinic? Does it take medicare and have malpractice insurance. Better not take in the aged or infirm who may have special needs. They probably won’t do knees or hips. Gotta hope there are no outbreaks caused by people who don’t wash or foodstuffs that have been contaminated.
Connor is a traveller. He has family who recently moved Burlington, so he says. Rides the trains. Might spend the winter in Savannah.
Candidate for Mayor, Bram, and Police Chief, Mike, spoke. Shows their concern for the safety of the assembled and respect for the issues. Park will probably stay open from 6 am to 12pm for all, but not for overnight, as if anyone would want to sleep in the park, unless they didn’t have another place to live. Its still a public park and our inability to house the people should not be an excuse for ceding a very public and popular space to people, some of whom have connections to the community here which some of us would call tenuous, at best. Will the rules applicable to all apply to the people living in the park? Will it be an asylum?
But, with all the watching and listening, I still don’t really know what this is all about. I can tell you what some say. I can tell you what I saw. I read the signs. Down with Wall Street; the 99% (many of whom work) should have their way to do what I am not sure. So go sit in the lobby of Merchant’s or People’s bank. Do what Willie Sutton would have done (don’t steal), but just follow the money. Don’t have a rock concert. People won’t take you seriously; they will think you are in this for a free ride. Don’t get drunk or stupid or let people hut themselves or others. See if you can get a loan to go to school or start a business. Build something. Better yet, grow something. Work on a farm and make food without chemicals. Participate in the system without being greedy. Share the wealth you accumulate with friends and family and other like minded souls. Teach what you know. Barter your services, if you have skills which can be traded. If not, get a job at a place that pays a fair wage. Volunteer when you have spare time. Set a good example.
If there are no such places that you feel comfortable frequenting or working for due to their antedeluvian policies and practices , picket them and don’t buy their products. Be a leader. Be Ceasar Chavez or A. Phillip Randolph or any number of great Americans who stood up for the rights of others. Ghandi. Mother Theresa. Yes, I left out a good deal and a great many, but this is just off the top of my head without much thought.
I read the Communist Manifesto. I know management will get as much out of labor it can. I know the only way to change it quickly is through an uprising of the proletariat. But we don’t have a proletariat anymore. We don’t have a middle class or a working class. If workers were to strike, they would be fired and many would line up for their jobs. The entrails of the National Labor Relations Act which force management and ownership to collectively bargain lies dead in the streets, just like it was when they struck Pullman. Businesses will do good without controls, one party says, so long as you don’t need a place to live or healthy food to live on or health care if you are so unfortunate to have a sickness or impairment. If they stay in power, nothing will trickly down. There’s nothing new about what has been going on in the present that hasn’t been protested in the past.
And I am not marching anymore, because I don’t trust the rebels, or the leaders they crusade against, to do the right thing. Very sad, but true.
The class system some abhor, still prevailed and dominated in the camp. The more political lived up front. They had an assembly led by the meritocricy. People had their say. Decisions were made, just like in the Colonies. Eventually they might allign. A Continental Congress would be needed, just like in the old days. No one would fund them, unless a Steve Jobs would emerge and invent a never-before-heard-of-but-needed instrument of change. So, maybe they would go to war, Peter Sellers style, to get reparations to build their community. Who would lead and who would follow? They would have priests (those who had the collective knowledge) or maybe it would be big brother. Damn. Lord of the Flies. 1984. Oops (not Rick Perry style), a literary reference. Will there be a library or a reading room? And who will select the tomes or magazines. Free internet, they get already. Maybe they won’t need books.
All the problems faced by all civil societies would eventually bring them down, from the simple to the complex. You need water and toilets. You need sanitation, security, hospitals, snow and leaf removal to survive. You need to have rules. Anarchy will not make it in a public park. Neither will democracy. But the bigger question is does the City move them with nowhere to put them or leave them there and invite more disruptive and disquieting activities?
I dunno, but I be thinking and watching.
Water buckets use a lot of energy, inefficiently. Can’t be providing liquid for drinking and cleaning from a few pails. Let’s see who pulls the detail and what happens when they oversleep or spill. Why not pipe it in? Who will pay for the water and insures its clean? Hey. I forgot. Some of the residents may not drink water. And, without rules or any moral suasion, they may not even have to bathe or wash their clothes. One porta san ain’t going to do it either.
Eventually they would need a building code to prevent tepees from shedding skin. Structures can collapse, injuring people and property. Securing them to the ground would be the beginning of a permanent structure. Others may wonder why the property wasn’t opened to public bidding before the squatters took over. Will there be building code that limits size, space between buildings, or color?
Not many being fed from this canteen and not much variety. Need more food than a tent can store, if the community is to be fed. Will there be a dietician? Who will determine if the food is eatable? Will anyone who wants to join the group be welcome, even if they cannot pull their weight? Attracting more residents who need assistance could put a strain on our already strained social service network if the special assembled bunch cannot handle them. How many more can the Emergency Food Shelf take? Perhaps they should deliver.
Whom do you take care of first? And how? And I wonder if the group that assembled really wants to be a part of a community or just be their own?
A tent has been erected in City Hall Park. When I asked what it was, a genius replied, “its a tent.” Later investigation revealed its a place to meet. Who will meet or what they will meet about remains a question. What their legal title or authority to live in a public space remains equally problematical.
John’s dressed to the nines for a court appearance. He wears medals that signify nothing, but he wears them proudly.
Not sure I understand the movement as constituted in Burlington VT. Stood around for a while listening. One guy complained that college costs at UVM were too high to send his kid to school. One guy said his kid left him to go live with his mother because the father could not support the kid in the manner the kid wanted to be supported (which could be why the mom left).
“What am I doing here,” he asks himself.
Amanda shares her views at the Community Forum. “I have a place to put a legal tent,” she told Stuart Ledbetter, a TV news reporter. “I ain’t on drugs. Don’t see nothing wrong with sleeping in the park… I am exercising my 1st Amendment rights to protest.”
Larry seems happy being Larry, though he’s coughing and wheezing, wondering what to do when the cold hits. Could have a place if he would take care of Scotty, whom he says is too crazy to live with. “He could burn the place down while I am sleeping.”
An accident that didn’t kill anyone, but could have. Mother pushed the kid out from between the cars. Her leg got nicked. Baggage squashed.
Greg took too much sun to his face this summer. Spent his money unwisely, so he cannot travel to Texas for the winter. He is staying at St. Paul’s with Debbie, where my show,”God Faces the Street,” opened this week.
A little early for Nicole.
Jimmy told Richard, “you are too drunk, too early.”
I watched the cops frisk him when he got here in April. He acted friendly, offering things to people, talking a mile a minute. Came up from Fla., he said. Never spoke with him until mid-September. Interesting guy.
“Been all around. Make my money recycling. I know where to go; usually its where no one else goes. I make a living and live on it. Worked in Arkansas on a chicken farm for Tyson. Hard work. They give you vitamins to strengthen your forearm muscles. You got to hang 30 chickens a minute or they put you in the slow lane–20 chickens a minute, but they are wet. Lot of women work, doing chickens; strong women.”