This is a memorial sort of slide show that I made for Steve back in 2006. It's a compilation of some of the photos that appear here on the blog and some others that were taken the last few months of his life.
It's been a long time since he died but I still miss his great stories and that optimistic charm. Sometimes I take my dog over to the cemetery and we have lunch there and I fill him in on all the fun stuff he's been missing. Stella reclines at his grave like a beauty queen and I'm always sorry they never got a chance to be friends. I know he would've fallen for her, much the same way I did. He had a soft spot for dogs.
Thanks for visiting this page and thanks again to Guy Clark for letting me use his song, Homeless. If drugs or alcohol have stolen your life, please get some help today.
March 22, 2007
This is one of the first pictures I ever made of Steve. He's the one in the wheelchair. There are more, buried somewhere in a file cabinet downstairs. I haven't seen them in a while. According to Barney (also pictured), Steve was doing pretty well until he got hit by the car that broke his leg. Prior to that, he was working regularly and for the first time in years, paying forty dollars a month rent for his apartment.
When the accident happened, his status as an alcoholic meant they couldn't send him home with anything to kill the pain. So naturally, he used vodka and that worked pretty good except that he had the cast on for ten months.
at 1:54 AM
June 15, 2006
Ever spent a day at the food stamp office? Technically, it's the Department of Human Services although I've yet to hear anyone who goes there, call it that. It's something like the Department of Motor Vehicles except at the food stamp office, you have kids. Lots and lots of kids. Sick ones, loud ones, miserable and happy ones, all of them, poor. Same with the adults.
You go there, and you check in with a lady at the front, who is dressed in a security guard's uniform. I assume that means she's a security guard but truthfully, if I were meeting and greeting all those people every day, I'd wear one too. Anyway, she gives you a pencil and a form to fill out and reminds you politely to return her pencil - and you do. Then, she says, Go stand in section A.
In another part of the room, there are about two hundred chairs, split evenly into two groups that sit perpendicular to one another. Did I say there were lots of kids? Everything is clearly marked and according to sources, far more streamlined than it used to be. So, we're standing in section A in a line that moves rather quickly. After a short burst of questions, my friend is given an appointment time of one forty-five in the afternoon. It is eleven thirty. He is told to have a seat and asked not to leave because he could be called early.
He turns and goes straight out the door and I follow him. There's a two person smoking station there on the street, in line with the exhaust fumes, along the edge of the driveway. Smokers are invited to stand on the curb or sit on a concrete flower pot, filled with sand and ashes and cigarette butts. It doesn't smell like people have urinated nearby but that's the impression you get sitting there. One that says, you're the fire plug, in case you didn't know. A lone, hispanic hot-dog vendor, yells ¡HOT DOGS! If you're thirsty, he'll sell you a 12 oz. bottle of water for a dollar and tell you it's the special price - for beautiful lady or (presumably) amigos, if you happen to be a man.
Once we sat among the throngs of people seeking assistance of some kind, I noticed exactly how many people there were, talking on cell phones. Some were calling everyone in their address book to pass the time. Others made plans to meet each other, hang out, get together, hook up. Of the ten conversations I overheard pieces of, no one reported being at the food stamp office. There were several other conversations, that were incomprehensible. At one point there was an extended Chinese family on the row behind us, an extended Hispanic family in front of us (five kids in tow), and three white, American girls on our left, all dressed in pink, all talking on the phone. More than one toddler was outfitted with a plastic cellphone, into which, they had their own private make-believe shouting matches.
It's amazing the degree to which parents have learned to ignore children who are yelling at the top of their lungs in public. In a lot of cases it was like they were hypnotized. A dad in front of us rewarded such behavior with the playful tapping of a newspaper, after the child had screamed for five minutes. He did this every five minutes. The mom never heard it.
Two hours and forty-five minutes after we arrived, a bitter woman with a clipboard called my friends name. She dismissed me without a glance and proceeded to interrogate him about his work history in her office. She suggested he sign on for a job placement program. He told her he was unable to work due to alcoholism, illness, homelessness and his impending death. She wasn't buying it. In her mind, it translated to lazy. He sat before her, all one hundred twenty pounds of him while she insisted he prove that his situation was dire. As if showing up to ask for food stamps wasn't proof enough.
If this woman, this shining example of insensitive, cookbook social work, had taken a look around the waiting area, she might've noticed that the man in her office was the most desperate person there. He didn't own a cell phone or a car or a pink outfit or a new pair of Nikes. He couldn't afford a hot dog if he wanted one. He was sober, polite and respectful. Yet, there was the badgering, a lecture and a phone call, before she temporarily approved one hundred fifty-two dollars a month in food stamps. That's five dollars a day. She made it clear she was doing him a big favor and he thanked her for it.
One day about a month later, I spotted a stray envelope filled with cigarette butts. Ironically, it was pre-addressed to the Department of Human Services. There's that woman's proof, I thought. Desperation, sickness, poverty, death; all right there in that envelope, as far as I could see.
Why are you saving these? I asked him, and you know what he said?
For hard times.
at 4:22 PM
March 30, 2006
Speaking of grocery carts, Steve and I found ourselves (last) Friday, at the Kroger Pharmacy where I pointed out (with mock accusation) , a sign to him upon which was written:
All grocery carts are the property of the Kroger Co.
He said he thought they might be missing a few.
Also, a guy passed us on a bicycle with half a plastic shopping cart hitched to the back of it. The wheels on the cart had been replaced with bicycle tires. Steve identified it as originally having been "the property of Home Depot".
(Note: Originally, these words were posted on my other blog, with a picture of Barney carrying a giant yard bag full of laundry. This one, his personal laundry/grocery cart, had already been posted. The whole conversation reminded me of the designer chairs being chained together. In fact, I use that imagery sometimes just for a good giggle. )
at 9:44 AM
March 27, 2006
"I've been reading about cirrhosis of the liver."
"Did it say on there that it'll kill you?"
"Did it say it was a long, slow, painful death?"
"Nothing that a length of rope and one of them tree limbs out there wouldn't fix."
"You better be careful with those tree limbs. They're rotted. You'll hit the ground and that tree limb will follow you right down."
"Then I'll wake up and somebody'll be saying:
'Mr. Grady, on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your pain?'"
at 11:53 PM
March 20, 2006
When we all get up to Heaven, St. Peter is going to be on a lunch break.
Instead, there's going to be a guy there, that goes by the name of Shorty.
He's gonna' be kicked back in one of those collapsible nylon chairs you get at Wal- Mart, with a 40 oz. Natural Ice in one hand and a cigarette in the other. I think a lot of people are going to be very surprised.
My apologies for leaving you all sitting. Lots of things have been happening and first I should say thanks for the kind words and e-mails of late from a wide variety of people. Your thoughts and comments are not only appreciated but many times thought-provoking and educational.
The last three weeks have been something of a blur. There are too many stories to tell and not enough time to sit and write but eventually, I'll have to tell them because there is beauty and humor, even in the worst of it. Also because there are a couple of people who will hound me like a dog, if I don't.
To answer the pressing question of my last post... Yes.
Steve dialed his family from my cellphone that day and although it was an emotional experience for everyone, I believe it went very well. The good thing (and with someone else it might have been very different) was that they were happy to hear from him. It allowed him the chance to reconnect in his own way and it spared them the phone call that for years, they believed would eventually reach them.
Yesterday, Steve returned to the hospital and was admitted once again with another round of complications. At the moment however, he is resting comfortably, in the care of some good nurses on the fifth floor.
A few days back, he saw this photo on my computer screen and announced:
"I know that's in a rich neighborhood."
"Really," I answered, "how can you tell?"
"Well" he said, "they're not chained together. If they were in my neighborhood, they'd be chained together."
If you've got time, check out Yellow Cab by anthropologist, Robert Leonard.
at 9:45 PM