Category Archives: Homeless

Hot Air

Rights Without A Home

Well, whaddya know? Our big sister up to the north, Indianapolis, this week passed a law to protect the homeless.

The homeless, for pity’s sake.

How very retro of the Circle City. Hell, you’d think this was 1964 or something. This development is so earth-shaking that the story is being carried in Al Jazeera, for chrissakes.

Not only that, AJ notes, there a whole goddamned “movement” to protect and care about those w/o McMansions or even well-appointed refrigerator cartons in this holy land. Can Al Jazeera be talking about the same country I know?

Refrigerator Carton

Home?

Acc’d’g to the story, homeless-protection laws are being passed in places like Washington, D.C., Madison, Wisconsin, and Duluth, Minnesota. Okay, these three are People’s Republics, primarily run and inhabited by subversives, preeverts, and pointy-heads whose political and philosophical spectra run only from pink to red. But Indy?

Yes, Indy. Under the new law, awaiting the mayor’s pen, the homeless would be guaranteed “the rights… to carry out basic human functions such as sitting, standing, eating and sleeping in public areas.”

Heavens. Gov. Mike Pence surely tossed and turned all last night. Not only are the homeless not billionaires, thereby not worthy of due respect in this Free Market, Ayn Randian, I-got-mine-and-to-hell-with-you nation but they’re not even hundredaires! How can a patriotic American even think about them?

Apparently, Indy Council guy LeRoy Robinson has been thinking of them. He sponsored the bill. I didn’t know anything else about him, but I like him.

Robinson

LeRoy Robinson Of Indianapolis

So I did a little digging into this Robinson character. Is he a Russian plant? A member of ISIS? Kim Jong Un’s man in America? Perhaps all three?

Here’s what one prominent Indy att’y said about him when he was running for his City Council seat:

I have watched Leroy grow since childhood into a very well rounded young man with a passion for his community, education, and public service.

Evidence, perhaps, that he wasn’t born in Kenya like some other elected officials we know? We’ll see.

He’s a former schoolteacher, which automatically should disqualify him from US citizenship if the likes of, say, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have their way.

Last fall, Robinson displayed on his City Hall desk a sign reading “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” along with four other council members.

I’m liking him more and more.

Funny thing is, he’s a Christianist, which should be cause for me to sniff dismissively. But maybe — just maybe — his religious belief has inspired him to care about silly things like education, justice, and the homeless. If so, he sounds to me like an honest-to-gosh follower of Jesus Christ — as opposed to those who say they are but aren’t.

Tears Of Joy

The National Weather Service is going way, way, way out on a limb and predicting high temperatures over the next five days to range from 43º today to 56º Wednesday.

I think I’m gonna cry.

Bird & Flowers

Can It Be?

House Boy

It was learned these last couple of days that no House Republicans were slated to attend the 50th anniversary celebration of the first of the Selma marches and the Bloody Sunday police riot that shocked the nation — well, some of the nation — on March 7th, 1965.

Bloody Sunday/Selma

John Lewis (Foreground) As The March Commences

Today’s celebration has been attracting pols like bumblebees to bright pink flowers. Jeez, even George W. Bush says he’s going to attend (of course, he doesn’t have to worry about alienating Right Wing voters anymore.) Everybody, it seems, wants to get in on the civil rights act. Everybody that is, except Congressional Republicans.

The tsk-tsking that all Republican members of Congress had better things to do today — including get their cars washed, shoot a round of golf, and clip their toenails — came as an embarrassment to the GOP. So last night, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told the world that, yes, he’ll be in Selma this afternoon.

Perhaps he’ll see what it’s like to be a token.

In any case, do you need any more evidence that no matter what Republicans say, they really, really don’t give a shit about dark-skinned folk?

Hey, while we’re on the subject, here’s a reminder. You oughta get yourself a copy of the graphic novel, March: Book One, illustrated by B-ton resident Nate Powell. It’s the story of then-civil rights activist and current US Congressguy John Lewis’s road to Selma. Lewis was clubbed on the head by one of Alabama’s state troopers and suffered a fractured skull that day fifty years ago.

Bloody Sunday

John Lewis Hits The Ground

Here’s my January 2014 interview with Powell on WFHB and here’s a longer interview I did with him for for the April 2014 Ryder magazine.

Daylight Savings

Set your clocks ahead tonight, woohoo!

Clock

Son Of Seymour

This should make a certain percentage of Bloomingtonians happy and a certain percentage nauseated: a new biography of John Mellencamp will be released next month. Titled Mellencamp: American Troubadour and written by David Masciotra, the book is being published by the University Press of Kentucky and is due on booksellers’ shelves April 6th.

Book Cover

I don’t know why it is but tons of my adopted town’s citizenry love to tell stories about how their girlfriend’s brother-in-law once ran into Mellencamp at some hardware store and the rock star emeritus was all kinds of a-hole-ish. Sometimes I think peeps expect guys like Mellencamp to pump their hands and say, Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being a fan. Can I pay for all your stuff? I s’pose it never occurs to folks that they might be the hundredth person to grab him by the arm that morning and stutter, You’re…, you’re…, that guy…. Right?

Or, maybe he is a jerk. I dunno. Read the book and find out.

She Likes Us! She Likes Us!

Search me as to why I missed this a couple of months ago but let’s celebrate it now: Comedian Amy Schumer named the Comedy Attic one of her 10 fave clubs in the country in USA Today.

All the rest were pretty much big city joints — the Gotham Comedy Club in New York, Punchline in San Francisco, Hollywood Improv in LA and the like. Schumer’s list ran in the paper’s January 11th edition. She had this to say about Jared & Dayna Thompson’s place and our thriving, throbbing megalopolis:

It’s the Midwest, but they’re nobody’s fool. The people are smart, and I love the culture there, and the restaurants and the bars. It’s kind of a happening city.

Schumer

Funny Girl

Hot Air

Yes And…

“Life is much richer when you say ‘yes’ than if you say ‘no.'”

So said Richard Branson to the Chicago Sun-Times some years ago, as reported by Neil Steinberg in his column today.

Branson

Richard Branson

Apparently Branson’s bank account (accounts?) would bear this out. He’s one the the richest guys around, natch, making his dough through such ventures as Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic Airways. It isn’t just money, though, that makes for a rich life. As long as you have enough to eat, a roof over your head, health care, an education, friends, and family, your life can be as rich as Donald Trump’s (or richer because I can’t imagine Trump’s world being at all fulfilling — either to me, theoretically, or him, in reality.)

Anyway, Branson appears to be one of those guys whose def. of success does not include the annihilation of you, me, or anyone else. He’s a win-win type of primate. Capitalism of late seems a hyena-versus-lion proposition, as in I’m eating and if you’re starving, what do I care?

Today’s world, as defined by Trump, the Kochs, the oil companies, and the Wall Street banksters, is a win-lose prop.

So huzzah for Branson and his riches, pecuniary and otherwise.

Saying Yes has been a philosophy I’ve tried to adhere to (often with success, even) ever since I studied comedy improvisation under the late Del Close and Charna Halpern at the improvOlympic (since renamed, thanks to trademark lawyers, iO Chicago). I started going up on stage to create skits and scenes without a script back in the winter of 1986. I even was part of an improv troupe that put on a weekly stage soap opera called “Children’s Hospital,” along with such notables as comedy guru Mick J. Napier and musician Jim Tomasello. At the then-improvOlympic, I worked with and watched such future Hollywood stars as Mike Meyers, Chris Farley, Lili Taylor, Joel Murray and a raft of others.

Close/Halpern

Del Close & Charna Halpern

The single defining commandment of iO was “Yes and….” In fact, boss Charna Halpern‘s business card read “Yes and….”

It’s a simple idea. Whatever suggestion or proposition someone makes on stage, you go along with it. You build on it. You say to the person who proposed it, “Yes, and…,” and then you build an even taller skyscraper of imagination. If your stage mate says, for instance, Here we are an a spaceship to Mars…, you don’t say, Aw, that’s crazy. You say, Yes, and when we get there, we’re going to hunt for extraterrestrial badgers with our ray guns. Won’t that be fun?

On our first day in class Charna (who taught the intro course) told us the Yes and…. thing not only would make us good improv performers but would actually help us in our daily lives. It sounds almost cultish or at least self-help-ish to say this, but she was right.

I’ve striven to say Yes rather than No as much as humanly possible in the ensuing three decades. Think of all the arguments you’ve ever had; as a rule, they arise when someone, maybe you, says No.

Some examples:

  • Wife: You know, sometimes I feel you don’t pay attention to my issues.
  • Husband: No. You don’t pay attention to my issues.

  • Person A: Life is bleak. I wonder why I should go on.
  • Person B: No, it isn’t. You just need to snap out of it.

  • Person X: The Israelis must be able to defend themselves.
  • Person Y: No. They’re murderers!

  • Person 1: The Palestinians must be able to defend themselves.
  • Person 2: No. They’re murderers.

On the other hand, one can go too far, albeit rarely, in saying Yes to everything. To wit:

  • Rush Limbaugh: Sandra Fluke is a slut.
  • Sane person: No she isn’t. You’re an asshole.

The No-sayer (in most cases) puts a halt to the progress of any conversation or plan. The word itself is combative. It’s fearful. It stops time. I try to say Yes whenever I can (and, as I say, I occasionally succeed.) Yes is freedom; No is not.

Try saying Yes all day today. You might be surprised.

Career Counselor

Who is this son of a bitch, Abdul Hakim-Shabbaz?

That was the first thing that jumped into my mind when I read his horribly mean-spirited piece in Tuesday’s Indy Star recounting his clever, fun prank of asking panhandlers for money.

Hakim-Shabbaz

Abdul Hakim-Shabbaz, Social Reformer

He wrote:

There is nothing more annoying than trying to enjoy a meal, cigar or just some quiet time and have people come up to ask for money. And since the City-County Council Democrats continue to block any meaningful proposal to get these guys off the streets, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I decided to turn the tables on the panhandlers and start asking them for money.

So he hectored panhandlers for money. What a wit, no?

No — as if it’s necessary for me to answer that for you.

In order to put these poor, homeless bastards in their place, he actually asked them for a handout. Pardon me, while I catch my breath; I may laugh myself into a heart attack.

And that would be because I, unlike Hakim-Shabbaz, actually have a heart.

He thinks a lot of the panhandlers he must endure as he digs the good life in downtown Indianapolis are really frauds and leeches. There’s the woman who “claims” she’s disabled but is able to push around all her Earthly belongings in a shopping cart (now there’s a great con job, eh?) Then there’s the kid who’s selling candy for charity but the sharp-as-a-tack Hakim-Shabbaz notes the charity is a different one every day.

Hoohoo, haha! — he began asking them for money. Oh man, he’s killing me!

So who is this social observer on a par with Wilde, Dickens, Sinclair, or even Marie Antoinette? Turns out he’s a talk radio host/attorney/standup comedian/college law instructor. Here’s his own bio on his website.

I suppose Hakim-Shabbaz might advise Indy’s crew of panhandlers to do as he did; that is, get jobs as talk radio hosts/attorneys/standup comedians/college law instructors. Then they wouldn’t ruin his day by asking for money.

You know, it may be easy to become a talk radio host/attorney/standup comedian/college law instructor just like him. All you have to do is work hard at being an asshole.

Paris

Here’s the latest on the passing of RE Paris.

Paris

According to her son, Eric, she began having trouble breathing at home Wednesday morning. She managed to call for an ambulance but by the time it arrived, it was pretty much too late. No details yet on why she had trouble breathing, although she’d been physically ill for a while, thanks in large part to being too broke to afford health insurance premiums.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“In America, sex is an obsession. In other parts of the world it’s a fact.” — Marlene Dietrich

THE LEAST OF US

Here’s a classic good news/bad news story.

The IDS reports this morning that the homeless are welcome to use Indiana Memorial Union facilities.

The East Lounge at IMU

You know, it’s easy to be magnanimous with people in need as long as they’re cuddly and harmless.

Professional athletes, for instance, are great at this. They’re forever flitting from one children’s hospital to another, signing autographs, bringing game-worn jerseys, and hugging kids made bald by chemotherapy. And, yeah, the poor kids are thrilled to pieces. They grin and swoon. How can anyone with a beating heart not embrace some unfortunate little one who’s dying of cancer?

But what if the needy person stinks or is obnoxious? Things get a little difficult. Take a guy who’s 52 years old and scraggly-bearded, who hasn’t changed clothes or had a full bath in weeks. How quickly is the shooting guard for the Indiana Pacers going to wrap his arms around that guy?

And don’t get me wrong. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in the Monroe County Public Library and have chosen to move from my table when a homeless dude who smells like hell sits across from me. Or when a half dozen homeless folks set up camp at the table next to mine and loudly argue about who’s a better friend of whom.

Suddenly, I’m not a saint.

Not Easy

It’s not easy being a saint. The people who run IMU, though, have made the hard choice and we should salute them.

“We are a very public building and invite everyone into our building,” IMU official Thom Simmons tells the IDS.

That’s the good news. The bad news? Just that there are homeless in this very, very wealthy land.

SEX, SEX, SEX, SEX, SEX, SEX, SEX, SEX, SEX, TAXES, AND GUNS. AND SEX.

Another h/t to my pal R.E. Paris. She messaged me yesterday, pointing out that the Republican Party in some backwoods South Carolina county is demanding its members sign affidavits that they’ve never had pre-marital sex.

“Would You Be My Wife And S&M Submissive?”

Wow!

Oh, and that “Your spouse cannot be a person of the same gender…,” and “You cannot now, from the moment you sign this pledge, look at pornography.”

Do we really need any more evidence that the GOP is obsessed?

ELECTIONEERING

Barack Obama’s White House shocked the bejesus out of Chicago by moving the G-8 Summit from my hometown to Camp David.

The May pow-wow had the potential to be as wrenching an experience as the 1968 Democratic Convention. Obama’s political advisers sure as hell are not going to let their man suffer the same fate the late Hubert Humphrey did.

Law And Order

Mark it — the Obama brain trust is as politically astute as the gang that Bill Clinton assembled 20 years ago.

That c-note I have riding on the Obama reelection looks like a smarter prop every day.

PULP HISTORY

Did you catch the motion filed by Sirhan Sirhan’s lawyers in an attempt to get the RFK assassin out of prison?

Sirhan did not fire the kill shot, they claim.

The Jordanian-born, Palestine-state advocate put a slug in Robert F. Kennedy’s cranium on June 5th, 1968, in a Los Angeles hotel kitchen. Kennedy died the next morning.

Sirhan’s attorneys say, yeah, their boy was on the scene when the gunshots rang out, but he didn’t kill the presidential candidate.

As is the case in all high-profile shootings, conspiracy theories began bouncing off the walls seemingly before Kennedy was even loaded into the ambulance. The most persistent theory has it that a security guard standing behind Kennedy either inadvertently or as part of a plot fired the deadly bullet.

Me? I have little patience for conspiracy theories. Public officials have a hard time filling potholes efficiently and promptly. They usually can’t even agree on what time to break for lunch. So how are they gonna put together an airtight plan to topple the Twin Towers, whack the president, or capture extraterrestrials?

Once in a great while, though, conspiracy wingnuts raise a point that might just pass the sanity muster. For instance, why couldn’t a part-time security guard who was probably trained for all of two and a half hours have accidentally fired his gun in the chaos at in the Ambassador Hotel kitchen?

But Sirhan’s lawyers say the security guard wasn’t the shooter. Someone else was — and their boy was a patsy.

Wrestling With Sirhan

Here’s where they lose me: Sirhan, they insist, was “hypo-programmed” by conspirators. His role was to serve as the fall guy while the real hit men did their thing.

Oy! You know what? A lot of people are gonna buy into this fever dream. Too many folks in this holy land can’t tell the difference between reality and cheap fiction.

The Pencil Today:

TODAY’S QUOTE

“All personal belongings, tents and possessions must be removed from People’s Park on or before noon on Thursday, January 5, 2012.” — Mayor Mark Kruzan’s order, posted at 6:30pm, Wednesday, January 4, 2012

SHOWDOWN

Well, that’s that. Maybe.

Mayor Mark Kruzan has given the bum’s rush to the Occupy protesters at People’s Park.

They had until noon today to clear out. Cops posted eviction notices on lamp posts last night at about 6:3o. That triggered  a rush to City Hall where the City Council was gathering for its regularly scheduled meeting. Occupiers packed the chambers to express their displeasure. A few of them vowed to resist the ouster.

Occupiers At Last Night’s City Council Meeting (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/Herald Times)

City Council member Steve Volan told the Herald Times he wished the mayor had provided more notice not only to him and his colleagues but to the Occupiers.

My guess was there’d be at least a bit of trouble.

So, I packed up my digital camera and my pocket voice recorder and went to People’s Park a little bit after 11:00 this morning. Here’s what I saw and heard:

The big M*A*S*H-style tent is already gone, as are several of the other, smaller tents. People are busy gathering gear up and trundling stuff to nearby cars. Several sweep up half a winter’s worth of salt and pebbles from the decorative masonry walk.

A guy stands up on a bench and starts howling about the death of somebody or something. Immediately, six or more voices rise to drown him out. An older looking dude barks, “Hey ____! Fuck you!”

One young woman wielding a broom tries to calm everyone down. “Keep your dignity,” she says, almost mantra-like as she swept.

I ask another young woman why people are on the guy. “I don’t want to make any judgments about people,” she says, but she pauses, making sure I know she’s judging the fellow. Another guy who overhears my question comes up and angrily explains: “That’s _____. He’s sexually assaulted two people in this city.”

The young woman nods in confirmation. The guy on the bench will continue to circulate through the crowd for at least the next hour and a half, challenging the Occupiers to take up the cause of the dead man. And each time, voices will be raised to drown him out.

A couple of people begin the human megaphone trick wherein they loudly proclaim an announcement which will be echoed by the crowd.

“Mike check…,” the two say.

“Mike check…,” the crowd repeats.

“It’s 40 minutes until noon…,”

“It’s 40 minutes until noon…,”

“There’s still stuff…,”

“There’s still stuff…,”

“To be picked up.”

“To be picked up.”

Already the number of reporters and photographers on hand approaches that of the Occupiers. Ryan Dawes from the WFHB News Department whacks me on the shoulder. We agree to double-team for interviews.

He corrals a thirtyish woman who appears authoritative. She is Nicole Johnson, wife of Josh Johnson, one of the three Occupiers who was arrested on New Year’s Eve.

Nicole Johnson

“We asked for an extension from the mayor,” she says. “We did that last night. We had less than 18 hours to pick everything up. Our lawyer was there (at the Council meeting) because we knew stuff was going down but we just didn’t know what. So, the (Occupiers at Council meeting) consesused to ask for an extension. We didn’t know what we needed to be doing but we knew we needed more than 18 hours.

“It was a little unfair. We’ve been here for almost three months. To be gone in less than 18 hours is a little harsh.”

The eviction notices state that any tents or personal belongings left in the park after the noon deadline will be seized.

“We have a large constituency of homeless that live in the park,” Nicole says. “These tents here are tents that people have been living in. They have no place else to go.”

Nicole estimates some 20 homeless people have been sharing quarters with the Occupiers. She says some of the homeless have substance abuse issues which preclude them from being admitted to more traditional overnight shelters.

“We don’t even have detox in Bloomington,” she says. “And that is one of the things we’ve been doing here, a part of what we were doing anyway, and that is social services. There’ve been many times where we’ve had to bring individuals to the hospital because of alcohol poisoning, of the homeless. They would return to the park four hours later in full DTs. We would have to put them in the bed and watch them.”

I ask why the Occupiers did that for the homeless. As Nicole begins to answers she breaks down crying.

“Because they’re human! And you know, that’s one of the beautiful things that’s happened in this park.”

Nicole composes herself and then explains the decision-making process that these Occupiers had adopted. Everyone’s voice is heard, she says, all options and opinions are weighed. When people strongly disagrees with the consensus, they are welcome not to have to participate in that particular course of action.

“There is no forum like that,” she says. “There is no forum with that equality in our current government structure. That’s what we’ve been doing in the park.”

Ryan asks her how many Occupiers will remain in the park after the eviction deadline.

“We are staying in the park until eleven o’clock tonight (the usual park closing time).”

She then talks about how today’s activity — the tent breakdown, the cleaning up, the leaving — happened almost spontaneously. Then she points out a couple of tents in the far corner of the park, against the Bicycle Garage building. “I don’t know why people are setting tents up there,” she says. “I don’t know why people are meditating on top of the big bunk bed frames we built.”

Indeed, three young women are sitting cross-legged in the sunshine, their eyes closed, amid the activity. “So I don’t know what anybody’s planning to do at eleven when you’re supposed to be out of the park.”

She says her husband is at work at this hour. He’s to be arraigned tomorrow in Monroe County Court. She says the Herald Times has reported that the county prosecutor will charge him with two counts of felony resisting arrest with bodily harm to a police officer. She tells us to check out the You Tube footage of Josh Johnson’s arrest.

[The loudest voice in the video seems to be that of Nicole.]

Now she tells us that she and her three children stayed overnight at People’s Park when the weather was warmer but soon temperatures had become too harsh for them.

“This has been an amazing transformational period in my life,” she says. “This is really just the beginning.”

It doesn’t look like much of a beginning, though. People are still tearing down homemade structures and cleaning up after themselves. By now the number of reporters and photographers at least equals the number of Occupiers.

The human megaphone sounds again.

“Mike check…,”

“Mike check…,”

“We got two minutes…,”

“We got two minutes…,”

But that revelation instantly becomes a spontaneous song. Occupiers sing “We got two minutes” again and again.

Noon comes and no police officers or city workers are to be seen.

At five minutes past noon, a man winds his way through the crowd, sarcastically crowing, “What happens if there’s no violence?” He repeats the question, loudly in the direction of any journalists who, in truth, are in all directions here.

“What if there isn’t a fight?” he continues. “What happens? Then there’s no story! Then what are you gonna do?”

Moments later an Indiana University garbage truck pulls up to the corner at Dunn Street and Kirkwood. There’s a hush and then the human megaphone kicks on.

“Mike check…,”

“Mike check…,”

“It looks like…,” the leader says, her voice trailing off as she points at the truck. Now the truck pulls away. It had only been stopping for the stop sign.

“It looks like…, just a truck,” she announces.

A passing pedestrian walks up to the three young woman meditating on the bunk bed structure. He asks, “There’s still no leader here?”

“No,” one of the women says, “there will never be a leader here.”

At 12:20pm, I leave.

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