Social Studies

Aug 12

It was early but the parking lot was full. I headed on to the alley but was promptly stopped by a hand signal to back up from a gentleman in a wheelchair. I put the car in reverse and he kept motioning me further and further back. For a moment I considered the possibility that he was delusional and that I had by virtue of my caffeine addiction played right into his daily traffic cop routine here in the alley behind the Vanderbilt Starbucks. But then the magic happened. Just as I cleared a massive SUV on my left, its backup lights flashed on. This stranger in the alley had handed me a parking space. Free of charge. I pulled into the spot with glee and when I exited the car I yelled over to him:“Looks like I might owe you a cup of coffee.” And you know what he said?“Caramel Frappuccino.” I couldn’t help but laugh, “Caramel Frappuccino?” I said, “that’s your poison?”“Yes.” When I brought it to him he blessed me and said his name was Jacob. “Like Jacob’s Ladder,” he said. “Easy to remember that way.” I asked him what his job was and he told me he was the “Parking lot Sheriff.” I asked him if he ever ran people out of the lot for parking where they didn’t belong. He said he couldn’t run them out but that he does make sure they understand about that “$200 tow truck” that would be on it’s way, just minutes after they lock their car door. “This is Vanderbilt” he said, “they ain’t playin’ around.”

It was early but the parking lot was full. I headed on to the alley but was promptly stopped by a hand signal to back up from a gentleman in a wheelchair. I put the car in reverse and he kept motioning me further and further back. For a moment I considered the possibility that he was delusional and that I had by virtue of my caffeine addiction played right into his daily traffic cop routine here in the alley behind the Vanderbilt Starbucks. But then the magic happened. Just as I cleared a massive SUV on my left, its backup lights flashed on. This stranger in the alley had handed me a parking space. Free of charge. I pulled into the spot with glee and when I exited the car I yelled over to him:

“Looks like I might owe you a cup of coffee.”

And you know what he said?

“Caramel Frappuccino.”

I couldn’t help but laugh, “Caramel Frappuccino?” I said, “that’s your poison?”

“Yes.”

When I brought it to him he blessed me and said his name was Jacob. “Like Jacob’s Ladder,” he said. “Easy to remember that way.”

I asked him what his job was and he told me he was the “Parking lot Sheriff.” I asked him if he ever ran people out of the lot for parking where they didn’t belong. He said he couldn’t run them out but that he does make sure they understand about that “$200 tow truck” that would be on it’s way, just minutes after they lock their car door. “This is Vanderbilt” he said, “they ain’t playin’ around.”

Aug 10

Hope everyone is having a wonderful Sunday.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful Sunday.

[video]

Aug 09

[video]

Aug 08

[video]

Aug 07

“There is nothing more beautiful or essential in the world of wire walking than simply walking on the wire, but in circus school no high-wire walker is learning that. They don’t walk beautifully, or elegantly, because they don’t love it enough. They are not inhabited by the wire.” — Philippe Petit, whose World Trade Center wire-walk was 40 years ago today, talks to Calvin Tomkins: LINK

(Source: newyorker.com, via newyorker)

Aug 01

So you’re at Dollar General

in Madison. You’re the sixth person in a line of nine. The front doors roll open automatically just as a guy walks by yelling into his phone. He stops in front of the open doors because apparently he can’t yell and walk at the same time. And loud enough for everyone in line to hear he says:  "Alls I gotta’ do Lisa is get out of the state of Tennessee. Ain’t nobody comin’ after me once I’m gone. I guaran-goddamn-tee it!"

Jul 30

The (Real) Flavor of Vodka

**This is an edited version of an old blog post. My apologies to those of you who were kind enough to read it the first time around. All of the people mentioned in this story have long since died of alcoholism. And stubbornness. 

I went to the liquor store twice today. Is that really what angels do? Because you know I’ve been called that repeatedly and I’m thinking there’s a whole population of people, myself included - who would disagree. Angels don’t buy people six cartons of cigarettes and a case of vodka, do they? Where does it say that angels are big fat well-meaning enablers?

Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t grow up around alcoholism. I got to know it as an adult, as a professional, a caretaker, and as a friend. I hate it’s guts. Which is why when Jesse asked me to make a liquor run this afternoon, I shot him down. I had just been to the liquor store for Barney whose usual is nine half-gallons of the cheapest vodka there is. 

Back when I was doing similar runs for Steve, I once went off on the guy at the liquor store. He said he sold liquor to the same alcoholics every day, sometimes two and three times and it didn’t bother him one bit. I still can’t figure that out unless he was an alcoholic himself. I told him I didn’t know how he slept at night. He chuckled and lit a fresh cigarette off an old one. As it happened, he was a nice guy and listened to my ranting without taking it personally.

So for once, I refuse Jesse and suggest that he buy a bottle from Barney. A minute later (as usual) I reconsider and tell him to get his money and get in the car. He has the shakes.

 Like Barney, I have spent years now watching Jesse’s health and his psyche deteriorate. We talk often but typically, I’m the only one listening.

 He gets into the car and speaks immediately to Stella (my dog, a Pit Bull) who is riding solo in the back. Having been passed out much of the last nine months, Jesse and Stella barely know each other but she’s always happy to have someone new ride along with us. She welcomes him, rubbing her chin on his shoulder. We pull out of the driveway and he informs me in a very matter-of-fact tone, that he thinks he will die soon.

 Since I’m already primed, I instantly agree with him and he looks at me with mild shock.

 ”You’re definitely headed that direction, I say. Do you want to? Die, I mean. Is it something you’re looking forward to?”

 ”I don’t care either way”, he says.

"Then you will", I concur. "And if you keep doing what you’re doing, it won’t be that far off, which I guess is lucky. Don’t worry," I add, "we’ll sit around once you’re gone and talk about how funny you used to be."

There is a long pause as we pass through the housing projects, past Steve and Brandy’s old liquor store and on down to Seventh. 

"When is the last time you saw a doctor?"  I ask.

"I can’t remember. I hate going to the doctor he says, but my legs are killing me and I can’t get out of bed."

"Do you think you’re depressed?" I ask.

He surprises me and admits that he is.

"So why not just go to the doctor and find out what’s wrong? Maybe it’s simple, like a pinched nerve or something. While you’re there you need to tell him you’re depressed and you want to feel good like you used to. Remember when you used to feel good?"

"Yes."

"They may not be able to fix your legs but you can feel better in your head about it. Maybe you’ll change your mind on the suicide by alcohol approach."

Then he blushes a little and of all things - giggles.

"What?" I ask him.

"The dog is licking my arm", he says.

I look and Stella has rammed her head between his seat and the door.

"Stella", I say in a half-hearted tone.

"It’s okay he says quietly, I can’t remember the last time a dog licked me."

"So you’ll go to the doctor?"

"Yeah" he says, "maybe they can figure out what the problem is. I can go to the V.A. Hospital."

We pull into the liquor store and he says he forgot his i.d. and do I mind going in after the booze.

"If you’ll watch Stella" I say. I don’t like leaving her alone in the car, not here anyway.  

He hands me a fifty-dollar bill and I go again into the same store where thirty minutes ago I bought a case of vodka, and get one more half-gallon for him. The man behind me in line, a bottle of Jim Beam in his hand, offers me a penny to complete the transaction coin-free. I take a deep breath and hope Stella is able to cast a spell on Jesse by the time I get back.

She doesn’t of course but he does agree to go to the doctor, which might translate to progress if it weren’t for that bottle of Skol he’s about to share his weekend with.

"You’re a good friend", he says, getting out of the car. 

"Yeah I know", I say after him. "I’m an angel."

(Note: Jessie died within a few weeks of this writing. The story, as it was told to me, went like this:  his cornea ruptured, he fell into the bathtub, became unconscious and bled to death from the resultant injuries. His friends found him a few days later.)

Jul 29

Jesse (circa 2007) 

Jesse (circa 2007) 

Jul 27

Irregular Women


"Lemme get a light from ya’," he said. She reached in her pocket for the brushed chrome lighter, once her mother’s, and handed it to him. He flipped the top open with his thumb and looked past it into her eyes for a second before striking the flame.

He pulled hard on the cigarette and studied her from the ground up before closing the lighter. Dodging a fresh curl of smoke with one eye, he said:

"Ain’t never seen no woman be carryin’ no Zippo.”

(pause)
 
"But then.."

He pressed the lighter into her hand and held it there, “you ain’t like regular women, is you?”

She managed to suppress a blush and he pivoted on one foot and walked away, the hand with the cigarette dancing above his head to some imaginary beat.

"That dude over there put a spell on me", she said later.

"What dude?" he asked pulling the hammer back high over his head.
 
It rang the asphalt with a loud crack and sweat flew out of his hair.  

"That guy in the white t-shirt" she said, looking over at perhaps twenty
(men in white t-shirts).

"Very funny", he said, swinging the hammer around again, and up.

[crack]

"Seriously, if somebody’s giving you a hard time, I’ll kick his ass all the way down that street right there, if you want me to."

[crack]

"No", she laughed, "that won’t be necessary, but thank you".

Jul 26

Jul 25