Posts Tagged With: tattoos


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Continuing the saga of my homeless brother Norman, here he is with his little dog and his bike. He lost the dog the last time he was arrested.  He had taken over a condemned house. With a house address, he was able to get a bank account and begin collecting his social security which amounted to about $1,200 a month. He dug a new sewer line, fixed leaks on the roof, put in new flooring, a toilet and new plumbing. Over time,  he put in a washer and dryer and television set. He made friends with the neighbors.  He lived in this place for three years and invited a couple other homeless guys to live there too.  Then, he decided to plant a garden with veggies and marijuana. A neighbor reported on him and the police came to “his house”, knocked on the door, arrested him for growing marijuana. (The other two guys vacated the minute the cops came to the door.)The cops would not let him secure the house nor make arrangements for his dog.  Directly to jail.

In court, Norman could make a deal with the D.A. but he refuses. “If you do, they own you. They can just pick you up at any time and slap you back in jail for looking cross-eyed at someone.  Probation for me is useless. I can’t get anywhere on time. I don’t have a watch or a calendar. I often don’t know the time of day or what day it is.”

While in jail, another brother picked up his mail and deposited his checks and paid for his storage building.  Without family help, he would have had to reapply for Social Security all over again, and wait for it to clear, from 6 weeks to  3 months.  When Norman returned to “his house”, the place had been stripped of everything he owned. His dog, gone.

He made his way back to a homeless camping area under the freeway in San Leandro. Someone told him  about a mobile home park in Hayward with vacancies.  It was a run-down place. He walked up to apply. The woman took one look at him and turned the sign around and said she had no vacancies. He was scruffy and dirty again, by this time.

Norman is personable. People like him.  He makes it a point to befriend the storekeepers he must depend on so they know he doesn’t steal. He manages to fend off depression through his Bible and his faith.

Desperation is the most common ailment of the homeless. It sucks away any sense of well-being, hope or strength. It is naive to think that homeless people, single men especially, who can’t afford housing and basic necessities, should somehow be kind and sweet. Homeless people can be scary, full of tattoos, drunk and offensive, druggies, often panhandling aggressively. They don’t want to be dirty and stinky and loathed by all who see them. So called normal people with homes and traditional lives suffer from depression, drink too much, beat their wives, and kick the dog.  They can live their messy lives behind a locked door. But the homeless are treated like trash and we expect them not to be depressed, hungry, angry, criminal and ill?

It kind of reminds me of the old debtors prisons. You go prison for stealing a loaf of bread because you are hungry. You can’t get out until someone pays your way out, but you have no money to make that happen. Are we that medieval?  The way some cities treat the homeless, the answer is yes.

Everything has changed again for Norman. He is in a burnt out house that he is slowly fixing for the owner using his carpentry skills. He is not paid. With housing, he is stable, relatively sober and upbeat. The owner buys materials and arrives with his tools, one or two days a month. The owner takes the tools with him so no one can steal them while he is gone. (Not exactly the best neighborhood.)

At this new place, he has something to love-a stray cat;  He has a place safe from young street punks who steal his bike and shove him around, just because they can. Here guys on the street have offered him friendship and marijuana. He doesn’t trust them and so far has refused any involvement with them. It is easier to do when you have a locked door.

The owner, (to remain unnamed), is a guy Norman built a house for about 10 years ago when he was homeless but still working for food and booze.  It was before he had his stroke and before he could collect his social security. This man allows Norman to use his address for his mail when he is living on the street.

Norman has a throw away phone for which he buys minutes so he can communicate with me. He has a know it all attitude about some subjects and can be irritating at times.  I listen as patiently as I can.

Currently, his Social Security has been  reduced to $780 a month.  Social Security is on auto deposit now, and they promptly deducted Obama Care from his check.  He has no way to get to a hospital, or establish a relationship with a doctor. He recently had a toothache and was in considerable pain. But, he couldn’t get to a dentist either. His income and ability to find a place to live is further from reach then ever, when this house is finished.

His bills are few without rent. He has to pay his storage fee. When on the street he has electricity in his unit and he can cook in a crock pot and sit in a chair and write his letters. He has a place to keep his papers safe and dry.  But, no shower, nor place to sleep.  Still, it is a refuge of sorts that the manager of the storage building allows because he likes Norman.

Meanwhile, in this house, he can shower and keep himself clean.  He is stable and has a sense of purpose. He writes letters to public figures like Elizabeth Warren, President Obama, Governor Christie. He writes long letters to major newspapers and sends me copies of them.  He is a bit mentally impaired in that he thinks he is part of the political scene and is influencing others for a better America with his letters.

I feel he needs to know that he has some self-worth; that his opinion is worth something to someone. That someone cares about whether he lives or dies.  Isn’t that what we all need?  A sense of self-worth with some dignity?

In one of his letters to the editor, he wrote:  “A fox has his den, a bird has her nest, but the son of man has no place to lay his head.”

So, what is the answer? More tomorrow.


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Three days ago, we visited Bisbee, Arizona.  Copper mining was the economical force in Bisbee from 1880 to 1975. In producing copper, the mines also brought up gold, silver, lead, zinc, and magnesium which doesn’t account for the beautiful and colorful minerals appreciated by rock hounds all over the world.

I don’t know what they do with giant pits after the riches of the ground are removed, but the area around the Copper Queen Mine is colorful to drive by.  The mine itself is available to tour, though we chose not to go. I’ve been on mine tours before and Jim doesn’t like to face 51 degrees for two hours.

The Historical Society Museum in town covered the mining operations very well and was very interesting.  They don’t allow pictures in their museum, but some of the same photos are available from other sources. Mining equipment out front  gives you look into the old style of hard rock mining.

They sent men down in these cages with candles and a lunch bucket. It was moist and cold; full of rats. The men didn’t kill the rats because if the rats vacated the mine, they knew the gas had reached dangerous levels. It was their signal to get out.

The main brewery in town sits at the head of Brewery Gulch and is still a brewery today. A 1906 Tuscon newspaper described brewery gulch as such:   The street is somewhat frightful from a sanitary point of view. It is covered in slime several inches deep and about four feet wide from which come a nauseating odor …it remains a disgrace to the city.

We teased Casey,from Kansas, the bartender, who served us a good IPA and a brautwurst.  The brewery also has a unique lime flavored beer that I liked. I got a taste, I didn’t drink more than one brew, just in case you suspect me of being a hard drinker.

We poked around town. Interesting old buildings are everywhere, like this triangular building. The streets are hilly; there is much to see and do. A person could easily spend two days exploring Bisbee. Keep that in mind when you go.

A rare sight, a Young Women’s Christian Association. We saw one in Douglas, as well. They were most likely needed in these rough western towns full of hard-working, swearing, fighting, swilling, gambling, tobacco chewing men.

I’d like a stairway just like this, except I don’t have a place to put it.

The elegant old Copper Queen Hotel is still in business.

The Copper Queen dining room.

And the bar with the traditional nude painting popular in those days. No self-respecting woman ever entered these doors.  Now, the bartender is a woman.

Now why didn’t I think to put cute little piggies in my windows?

I wouldn’t want a giant fly over my door, but, hey. If you have a business, this one certainly attracts your attention.

When we arrived in Bisbee, we had planned to stay at a VFW instead of Belle Starr’s Ranch. There I discovered a microbrewery.  It wasn’t open for lunch, and the VFW was not a suitable place to park. I was determined to find Electric  Beer before we left town, and I did.

They serve it at the oldest bar in town, St. Elmos.  Here we met Frances, an Indian woman who was born and raised in Bisbee and her picture was on the wall on her pony as a child. The place is loaded with pictures. The three women we talked with told us it was the friendliest and best hang-out in town where the locals get their brewskis.

I quizzed this guy about his tattoos. He said he has thousands of dollars invested in his body art. He took off his shirt and let me photograph him. He has a fabulous olive oil tasting bar, really posh and beautifully decorated with great art work. Nice place to stop.

I’ve painted the Bisbee miners as hard-drinking,gambling men, etc. But they were family men too, just earning a living with the brute strength of their bodies, with no health care and very little safety in the mines. It was hard, often crippling work. They had formed a union and asked for two men on an ore car, no blasting while men were in the mine, non-discrimination, and other safe working conditions. They were flatly refused and voted to go on strike. The mine owners contacted Federal authorities to put a stop to this strike. When refused, they met with Sheriff Wheeler who put out posters to gather a possee for 1,200 men who were told they were putting down an insurgency. It was the largest possee ever assembled. What the mine owners did was establish a group of vigilantes. They hauled the miner’s out of their homes and gathered them in a baseball field. One man resisted and was killed. They were beaten and questioned and if someone could vouch for their non-union participation, they were allowed to return to their homes and jobs. The rest, about 1,300 of them, were loaded onto train cars, without food, water or money and taken on a 16 hour ride and dumped in the desert. This happened in America the land of the free. I was astounded. A part of history I had never heard before. A reporter followed the train and got them help from the Sheriff of the neighboring county who gathered them up, set up tents for them, and gave them three months to do whatever it took to get their lives back in order. Not much happened to the mine owners or the sheriff. To read an account of this deportation check the link below:

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