another kind of Black Friday hidden in plain view – Key West, mostly

On bigpinekey.com’s Coconut Telegraph yesterday, Thanksgiving Day:
Giving money to the so-called homeless is a waste of time. Doesn’t anyone remember Mr. Golden Voice?
Yes, he was given a job at a radio station and was not able to keep his act together. Something people who are determined to fix street people should keep ever in mind. I don’t usually give street people money unless they are getting on a Greyhound bus headed for some place else and need traveling money for food. I often have bought street people a meal. I sometimes have told street people that boozing is not doing them or God any good. I sometimes have told mainstream people the same thing. I once asked Key West Mayor Morgan McPherson at a candidate forum, if missing spending time with his family was the worst thing about being mayor, which he had said, did that mean he was going to spend less time in bars and more time with his family? He replied that sometimes he just needed a drink. That seemed to satisfy most people in the audience.
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Also on the Coconut Telegraph yesterday:
[Homeless Art] Dear Mr. Norway guy, I am so glad you had fun viewing the local natives, i.e. the homeless. Aren’t they cute? They can do so many clever things, like crapping on your yard, passing out on the sidewalk in front of your house, yelling obscenities in front of your kids, fighting over who gets the last swallow of booze and best of all, getting injured following their lifestyle and making all of US (not you) pay for it. I did not notice you mentioning making a large or even a small donation for the care and maintenance of these great tourist attractions. Since they rate as “free entertainment” you should immediately correct your dereliction.
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Actually, it was an American woman with a PhD in Marine Fisheries Science, who is married to a Norwegian man.
Yes, there are plenty of homeless people in the Key West area, who are just as you describe.
However, Hidden In Plain View is not about raising money for local homeless people. It is about art, poetry and music which relates to homeless people.
Perhaps if you take in the showing at Studios of Key West, you will develop more tolerance, but probably not.
Perhaps some day you will be homeless and then you can hate yourself for that. You already hate yourself for something, otherwise you would not be so bitter toward homeless people.
I can’t help but wonder if you ever did any of those grubby things you have seen homeless people do? I have seen people who were not homeless do plenty of grubby things on Duval Street. And even worse things in Duval Street joints. And even worse things elsewhere.
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After reading this part of the Editorial in The Key West Citizen today, I wondered if the author and the Editorial Board considered how their words might include homeless people?
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No need to sanitize our community character Ask anyone who has moved to the Florida Keys, or more specifically, Key West, why they left the frigid north, and, of course, they’ll tell you it’s for the weather. Of course it is. What’s not to like — unless there’s a hurricane out in the Atlantic making a beeline for the Keys? But if you ask people who came here, say 15 or 25 years ago — residents whom some like to call “freshwater Conchs” — they might give you a second reason. They came to Key West for the funky community character. It’s hard to describe “funkiness.” It’s a laid-back way of life — before you discover you need two or three jobs to survive. It’s live and let live. It’s that you meet people who are doing all sorts of things in Key West that are far different from the way they made a living up north. Maybe they were doctors or business people or factory workers. It doesn’t matter in Key West. They live the way they want to live. Maybe on a boat. Maybe as a handyman. Maybe still in the same profession. The laid-back (funky) Key West has a way of sucking in visitors and making them residents.
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It is a fact that Key West attracts homeless people because they know they won’t freeze in the winter, they know there is a free homeless shelter, they know there is a soup kitchen which feeds a good meal daily, they know there are free medical services, and, if they are veterans, they know there is a VA clinic, all in Key West.
There is a nice lead story in The Citizen today – www.keysnews.com – about the soup kitchen, where I ate hundreds of meals. Dorothy Sherman started the kitchen years ago. After she went to her great reward and was eulogized by Peter Batty at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea on Valentine’s Day, 2004, as a living saint, Angela McCain, who had worked beside Dorothy, took over the kitchen and runs it still.
I remember one day several years ago at the Conch Duplicate Bridge Club, Angela, a darn good bridge player, and I were talking about the kitchen and the city’s determination even back then to change homeless people. She said, “It’s our job to feed homeless people; it’s God’s job to change them.”
Mostly, Angela meant street people. That was before the big increase in homeless who live in their vehicles and with friends and relatives. The people who do not like being homeless and are in shock and want more than anything to get back into housing and having a job. The people who truly can be helped, because they want to be helped. The people who are terrified they will end up being street people like the men featured in the two comments on the Coconut Telegraph.
There even are street people who fear they will end up like those men. Street people who don’t cause anyone trouble. Street people who are doing their best to just get by each day, who just want to be left alone. There are all kinds of street people, just like there are all kinds of mainstream people.
I have a dear friend in Key West who looks like a street person, with a beard and hair he never trims. He drinks when he can. His health is terrible. He lives in subsidized housing thanks to disability payments. Otherwise, he would live on the street until he gave up the ghost, which would be pretty quickly because he simply would not be able to survive living on the street and/or staying at the homeless shelter at night.
How did he get to be like this? As a boy, he was pretty ordinary, other than he was a very good up and coming chess player, and he liked to draw mandalas which would have made any high Tibetan Buddhist lama stand up and take notice. He didn’t care much for school and drew mandalas in class. He played in chess tournaments. That was his life until he reached age 18 and was summoned by his draft board.
He declined to be inducted and sent to Vietnam. He was indicted and hauled before a federal judge and given the option of induction or prison. He chose prison. 3 years, starting age 18, he lived in a federal prison because he did not want to go to Vietnam. Imagine, if you can, what 3 years in a federal prison would do to a young man that age. To a young man whose only aggression was focused on winning chess games.
He took on all comers for three years in that prison, day and night, and never lost a game. But when they let him out, his soul was broken; his life became one disaster after another. He left the Pacific Northwest and came to Key West, where he has lived many years.
Lots of people in Old Town know and like him. All the wait staff in Harpoon Harry’s know and like him. He used to dine there regularly when he had more money.
He used to run the coffee counter at Anchors Away, the local version of AA and NA. He made a little on the side there, which subsidized his disability checks. He was sober. He mentored others trying to leave addiction behind. He took on all comers at chess over the counter.
That’s where I met him, because I was attending meetings as a requirement of being in the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition residence program. I wasn’t particularly addicted, but it was required that I attend daily meetings if I wanted to stay in FKOC’s program. So I attended, and I met Patrick, and I watched chess games, but did not play.
That was before I was told in a dream in early January 2005, “You need to learn how to play chess.” That was how I started playing chess with Patrick and people he knew, at Anchors Away, even though I no longer attended meetings, because I was not in FKOC’s program. At that time, I was living in a Chevy Blazer and showering daily at the public showers at the police station which parents of the school next door made the city get rid of.
Disaster then struck. One of Patrick’s good friends went missing. Finally, Patrick went to the fellow’s home and found him, dead. Dead for a while. I was really bad. Patrick undertook to help the fellow’s family wind down his affairs, distribute his personal effects. It took a while.
And it took Patrick back into earlier traumas.
A woman he had known and loved had drowned in a river in which they were swimming, after they’d had too much to drink, or smoke, or both. He, miraculously, was saved after he heard to dive to the bottom, which he did, and the current took him out of the hydraulic in which they both were trapped. That wasn’t very long after he was let out of federal prison.
Disaster struck again. Anchors Away applied for grant assistance and received it. I’d never heard of an AA house doing that. I was astounded. The result was, they had to pay Patrick by check, instead of by cash, for his work at the coffer bar. They had to report it, Patrick’s disability payments were are risk. He quit working there. Not long afterward he was heavy on the sauce again, after years of sobriety.
At my invitation, he came to the Hidden In Plain View opening. No doubt, people who did not know him probably figured he was homeless. Everyone there except Jim Hendrick, whom I had introduced to Patrick a few years back and they started playing chess.
But if they talked with Patrick for any time, they would get to know one of the most interesting people they had ever met. And if they played chess with him, they would get their ears pinned back, most likely. I think Jim Hendrick finally took one game from Patrick, perhaps when he was napping from too much libation.
Patrick probably has hundreds of mandalas he has drawn, in files in his apartment. People into Buddhism and/or mandalas might wish to meet Patrick, get to know him, buy a mandala. They come through him, from somewhere beyond.
People who like playing chess, who want to improve their game, might wish to meet and play with Patrick. He likes playing at Harpoon Harry’s, which has a chess mat and pieces. I buy him lunch when we play there.
Key West school principals might wish to contact Patrick about starting chess clubs in their schools and him teaching students how to play chess, which will strengthen their minds and sharpen their wits. Perhaps a modest stipend could be paid.
No, I did not discuss any of this with Patrick. Anyone interested, contact me and I will pass it along to Patrick to see if he, too, is interested.
Meanwhile, as Vietnam did, America’s stupid white men’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan bred a whole new generation of street people and people who but for disability and subsidized housing would be street people.
If America goes to war in Iran, Syria and/or Palestine-Israel, there will be even more of that.
Sloan Bashinsky

About Sloan

Darn, that would take a while. Try the autobiographical pages in the header. Ditto for header menu pages at www.goodmorningbirmingham.com. Hatched and raised there, eventually I ran away from home. Here's a short list: Born 1942; male; single; accused of all sorts of imaginable and unimaginable things, perhaps some true. Live on Key West of Weird asteroid. Publish something most days on this website, been at that since July 2007. That's heaps of catch-up reading, probably not recommended.
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