Burlington Rains Again

Out early. Not much movement. The sun didn’t appear. No peek through for the breakwater. Overrun with water, the birds barely have a place to sit, at least from where I stand. Too humid for comfort, air also has some sediment from a fire which burns in my eyes. Cannot drink my coffee. Out of here.



Kids at Camp Gan cannot figure out what to do. Supposed to go on a boat ride. No way to challenge the lightning or rain. What to do?


Kelly sits on Cherry St, moved from Main. People complain she has a place to live and doesn’t need to beg. Its her job. But she sits in the sun, dressed well, courteous to a fault. Not many who don’t know her or can pass her by. Misses Paul.


Richard stays sober until he doesn’t. Hasn’t had to go back to treatment. Hangs out near Lowe’s and Hannafords. Ramp out of order for him. Ruggededly handsome. Lives nearby in the woods, somewhere.



Don’t have his name. He has mine. Struggling. Living in the woods. Hasn’t smoked in a while. Sweet and kind. Has friends.



A musician. Used to play a horn. Lost his teeth. Never saw him before. James Harvey, he calls himself. Been around here longer than I have. Has a brown dog. Looking to pick himself up and play again in the fall.


Ed Larrabee. Met him at the beach. He ventured to North Beach to escape the craziness on Church Street. Has a heritage he can be proud of. No place to live but he knew where he was going to crash tonight. Has a book about the Middle East which he wants to read, but he fears he doesn’t know enough to make it worthwhile. Understands people, but not injustice. Exudes self-confidence and personal strength.



Don’t ask me how any of them arrived in a place where I can picture them. And, they don’t ask me why I am in their midst.

Richard North Exiled To Main Street

Richard used to control the area near Price Chopper in South Burlington. He has been put off Church St and barred from City Hall Park. But he hasn’t given up on Burlington, yet.

Tough work, if you can deal with sitting on the pavement. Paul used to say it was good work if you could deal with the rain and wind. Paul died on a grate. Richard doesn’t sit alone. Skippy sits nearby, alert and oblivious.

And then there was this new guy who said when I asked him his name, “I have been called many names….”




Coyote Smith on Church Street

One day I have to look at some of the older photos of my people. I recognize the people whom I have seen before, weather beaten and aged. Some like Coyote lift my spirits, connecting me to other old friends from the street, here and departed. I remember photographing him, but not his wife, a woman whom he said befriended Paul. He told me Paul was going to stay with them the night he died in the street, but never made it. Lots of people from the street look out for one another.

Eric Saw His Family For Christmas


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?


Paul O’Toole’s friend The Chief


Chief came by to wish Paul a Merry Christmas.

“Did you see Rita Markle? COTS would not have taken him in if he was drunk. I told Tim and Wayne that he was dying. His lips were blue. He couldn’t stand or breathe…”

Chief and Jason built the memorial. Someone stole the sign and the Buddah. Paul’s friend from the store across the street gave them the sticks to make the cross.

Paul O’Toole’s Friends Grieve


Paul sat on Cherry St after he woke up, whatever time or day it happened to be or when he wasn’t in jail (criminal trespass and open containers) or at the hospital (car accident, beatings, or falls). People walked by. Some gave him money. Some gave him food. He was always courteous. People who don’t know each other have lost something in their lives without really knowing what it was or how to replace it.

Autumn bought votives and candles.

She wanted to take him home, but he wouldn’t get clean.

Very sad, both said, and not fair.




Tom O’Brien Knew Paul O’Toole


I met OB on Cherry Street paying his respects to Paul. He gave Paul a few bucks every once in a while; Spoke about life with him. “A blessing and gift you gave me,” he said when he looked at my image. “I needed to feel a real emotion about this. Too often we walk by people with a false smile on our faces. I’m not feeling so alone, anymore.”

I wonder who will be next in line?


Paul’s Place


He’d sit on Cherry St, just up the street from Rite Aid. Before the Gear Exchange moved to Church St, the yellow jackets would chase him from under the enclosed area in front of the door.

Sometimes he put his crate near the wall near the grate so he could stash his beer (avoiding a ticket for an open container) and his litter (so he wouldn’t be burdened during travel).

Told not to block the sidewalk, he’d sit close to the street, putting his box or his butt in a place where cars backing into a parking space wouldn’t hit him. He’d also chase the sun.

He usually travelled with his friend, Eric.

He went to the park occasionally. He didn’t like the drug scene, the phony friendships, or the antics. Eric learned from him, helped him and was with him close to the end. Eric is now alone on the street.

Paul O’toole Be Dead

Someone found Paul dead on a grate in downtown Burlington, probably in the same place I had found him time and time again. I just wasn’t around this time. Many tried to help him, too. They weren’t there either. Come on now; we all got lives. His sister, Mary, and Matt Young had a plan in place to put him back in treatment. He went to FAHC, I am told, and wasn’t able to deal with the protocols. So he died, needlessly, or so it seems. So it goes, Vonnegut would say.



No one has published a book for do gooders, especially those who don’t expect and aren’t interested in thanks for their charity. We do mitzvot because we can, not because we want something in return. Let us thank others for the chance to give, before we ask for thanks from those we serve.



Others out there who are also in need should not suffer the same fate. While we can never do enough, we should not stop trying, despite the best efforts of those in trouble to resist or obstruct. Our community is only as good as our committment to those least desirable to help.

You might think our friendship wasn’t worth the effort! Could be. But, I will do it again, gladly. And may God comfort his family among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. Amen, brother.