From my distant in-law Ron yesterday, who loves and used to vacation a lot in Key West with his beloved wife, before she passed away:
SLOAN – My first thought is, there but for the grace of God go I. My second thought is, the homeless communities have rights. My third thought is, the regular hard working tax paying communities have rights. My fourth thought is, I am glad I don’t have to decide where those two rights bump into each other.
You know what I am trying to say. You have the right to pee. You don’t have the right to pee on my shoes.
The working taxpayers, their customers and vacationers have the right to the quite enjoyment of their communities. The homeless communities have the right to co-exist. It is going to take some really smart dudes and dudesses to meet the goals of both communities in both the human sense and the legal sense.
Hi, Ron. There despite, or with, the Grace of God, went I. What a jolt that was. I was in total shock. I figured all along God was going to do a last-minute rescue, since God knew I was not able to do it. God did not do a last-minute rescue. I could write a book about the funny looks, comments, I got from people after they learned where I had come from before they met me. I sometimes still get the funny looks, comments.
I suppose I really should not claim to have been homeless in the sense everyone else but one person I met on the street was homeless. I knew it was a spiritual work assignment, as did that one person I met in on Higgs Beach one morning know his being on the street was a spiritual work assignment. We understood the program, and both were refreshed to find someone else on it, amidst a sea of people who knew nothing about the program. Homeless people who knew nothing about it, mainstream people who knew nothing about it.
That fellow was not on the same assignment I was on, though. He was just passing through living on the street, headed elsewhere. I was marinating in living on the street, acquiring the experience required to speak with knowledge to the issues in public forums. I did not realize that at first, but before a year of living on the street mostly had passed, I saw the plan and how it was starting to play out.
In March 2001, I started showing up mornings at the Key West library with a missive ready to fall out of me. I got there a few minutes before opening time, so I could get right on a computer and type the missive as it fell out of me onto the monitor screen. Back then, patrons were allowed an hour on a computer each day, and the library was open six days a week. I had six missives a week fall out of me, and with what little money I had, I printed out 10 or 12 copies each, and then got on my Bicycle Bob-donated second bicycle and pedaled around distributing that day’s edition. Mayor Jimmy Weekly always got one at City Hall. A few homeless people I knew always got one. And a few other people got one.
At the top of each missive was this theme:
The pen is mightier than the sword, thus the sword defends the pen.
My recollection is, I published the missives anonymously.
I remember a sort of funny, in hindsight, misadventure with a deputy sheriff after 911, which was when the city’s mood toward homeless people shifted to oppressive. The library didn’t let you nap in the library, and I was in there one day reading, and started feeling that “pass out” sensation coming on. Back in those days, and still, I passed out twice a day usually. It looked like taking a nap, probably was that, too. But I knew it heralded something from the Spirit coming in, for after I awoke, I would see something new to do, or ponder. It happened in church services, public meetings, and just whenever.
Usually when I was outside and felt it coming on, I would head for a park bench somewhere and let it have me, and after maybe 45 minutes it would be over. This time, though, I went outside and walked the short distance to the little pocket park next to the library and sat on one of the benches in the shade. I often had a sandwich for lunch in that little park, and maybe I had one that time, too. I also nodded off, sitting straight up, and when I snapped out of it suddenly, a deputy sheriff was standing over me. The deputy I had seen on duty in the library that day.
He said I wasn’t supposed to sleep in the park, since it was part of the library. I said I knew that, but it came over me. I passed out. Oh, did I have a medical problem? No, it was a God thing. It happened a lot. A what? A God thing. The deputy was a bit agitated. I got up to leave, he followed, nagging me. I stupidly asked if he didn’t have anything better to be doing, some criminals to catch? Bad move.
He whipped out his citation pad and started writing me up. He asked for my ID. I gave him my Alabama driver’s license. He asked where I lived? I said I had no place to live. “At large,” he said, wrote that on the ticket. He said I could not come back to the library. I said, What? “Yeah, you’re banned from the library.” I said I was in the library every day. Everyone working in there knew me. He went inside and got the older fellow who worked in the back room. I did not know him, because he worked in the back room. The older fellow said he had to side with the deputy, I could not come back.
Then, the deputy ordered me off the sidewalk. I said it was a public sidewalk, he could not order me off the sidewalk, I was not breaking any laws. He put his hand on his Glock, I guess it was. I said we should be doing something else. He said he looked forward to his day off, so he could go fishing. Get off the sidewalk meanwhile. I said I didn’t have to get off the sidewalk. He whipped out his two-way and called for backup. I said why did he do that, he had the gun? All the while, the older man stood watching, saying nothing.
I walked over and unlocked my my bicycle off the rack and pedaled off. It was over a year before I went back into the library, and there was no problem. Today, they carry copies of Heavy Wait. They have had me present at the monthly book club. I am always welcome.
One other library story, which was in the spring of 2001, when I was putting out the one-page missives.
Shorty after arriving at the library, I was overwhelmed with the urged to do a number 2. I went to the men’s bathroom. A homeless man was in the toilet stall. I waited outside a while, about to burst. No movement inside. Homeless men frequently stayed in that stall a while, shaving, washing, etc. I couldn’t hold out any longer and went into the women’s restroom adjacent, which I knew was empty. I locked the deadbolt behind me, so nobody could come in. I started doing my emergency business, and somebody started knocking on the door. Then, somebody started pounding.
I finished the emergency and flushed the toilet and opened the door, to be greeted by a deputy with hands on hips, not happy look on face. He said men were not allowed in the women’s restroom. I said I knew that, but it was either that, the men’s room was full, or I went outside and did it on the sidewalk, or in the parking lot or in the bushes. There was no other alternative, other than doing it in my pants, which I was not inclined to do. It was like 10:15 in the morning. There was no store nearby. No nothing nearby, which had public bathrooms.
A Mexican standoff developed. Finally, the deputy told me not to do it again. Maybe he’d had an emergency pit stop himself in the past. Some time later, I learned of another bathroom in the library, which very few patrons knew was there. Men and women used it. I started using it because it almost always was available. The men’s room continued to be a crapshoot, if you needed to do #2, because the toilet stall was a hangout for homeless men.
I could tell lots of bathroom stories from when I was homeless, some you would like reading better than others. Stories at the public bathrooms at Higgs Beach and at Mallory Pier, on opposite sides of the island. There was a public bathroom at the end of the bayside of Simonton Street, and there were public bathrooms at the Martin-Luther King Center in Bahama Village, and at Smathers Beach near the airport, and at Bayview Park next to Truman Avenue. I think I probably contracted the MRSA infection off a toilet seat at Higgs Beach.
But those aren’t the other bathroom stories I could tell, some of which you might not like to read. When you have to go, you go. You know that. I know that. Every person breathing knows that.
So how about a hilarious cop story. A wet, windy, chilly night in November 2003, I am sleeping on a bench in the misting rain under a thin blanket under the large Higgs Beach pavilion closest to Casa Marina. It is a rough night, the bench is uncomfortable, I keep waking up and having to turn over, pull the wet bank back up over me. Before dawn, my by then good friend, Police Chief Buz Dillon, comes to me in a dream, says, “It didn’t work out.” I wake up, hearing lots of voices and laughing.
I look around, two KW police cruisers parked beside Salute. Oh, shit. I’m going to jail. The park is closed from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. I’m not supposed to be there. Then, I hear women laughing. One comes by from the water side wearing about nothing. Then another comes by wearing her hand over her you know what. Lots of laughing between the women and the cops, all about same age, early-to-mid 20s. Another cruiser shows up, lots of chatter and laughing from inside that cruiser with the other cops and women. The third cruiser leaves.
I get a chance to speak with the woman who was butt nekkid but now somewhat clothed. “How do you get away with being on the beach without getting arrested for being on the beach and not having any clothes on?” She says, “I fuck the cops.” She laughs. I laugh. She goes over and gets into the back of one of the cruisers with two of the boys in blue, and they leave in somewhat of a haste, it seems. I hear laughter out of the windows as they head off to what I suspect is a fun time together. Am darn jealous, and figure I’m not going to get arrested with the goods I have on the cops.
When I put that into my missive later that day at the library, and sent it to my now fairly large email contacts list, Buz Dillon darn nearly had a coronary, probably because it was so hilarious, and probably because it was so conduct unbecoming. I don’t think it came anywhere close, though, to stopping Buz’s heart, as when I ran for mayor earlier that year and the bright idea came to me about half hour before a televised candidate forum at Comcast near the homeless showers at the police station (no longer, alas) to promote dressing Key West’s police up like pirates, as a publicity stunt.
When I ran for mayor the next time, 2007, I suggested offering homeless people jobs as litter cops and dressing them up like pirates and giving them fake swords, daggers and pistols to swashbuckle around Duval Street avasting and growling at litter bugs, threatening them with walking the plank and so forth and so on, if they didn’t pick up their trash. Got me interviewed on a nationally syndicated radio show in the Big Apple, and other radio shows around the country, including a station in Hawaii. Didn’t get me elected, thankfully.
Then was the time back in the early spring of 2001, when this drop dead beautiful topless blond on Higgs Beach, sitting on her blanket, she’d been there all morning, and the day before, all by her lonesome, asked me if I had the time? I rummaged around in my daypack and found the alarm clock I’d bought in Mumbai, India, and told her the time. She thanked me. I left.
I found myself thinking last week about that. I found myself thinking, surely she was in Key West to let her hair down. Why in the hell didn’t I ask her if she would like to let it down with a homeless lawyer, who sometimes had gotten along pretty well with women in the sack when we liked each each other, and he didn’t have any strange disease to worry about, and when she went back to where she came from, nobody would be the wiser. Hell, maybe she would have taken me home with her.
Sloan – I know you are telling the truth about your adventures on the street… because, you can’t make that stuff up.
Key West really could have used you as a mayor, but you are right, your life would have been a living hell.
Not pictured, because I cannot find a photo of her, St. Dorothy Sherman, Key West homeless people’s Patron Saint, who started the soup kitchen and devoted her life and her money, with much help from her husband George, both my dear friends, to serving, feeding, clothing, taking to doctors, buying medicines, etc. etc. etc. homeless people in Key West. Here are some of her soup kitchen’s patrons.