Saturday, November 15, 2008


The following stories contain information that some may find offensive, vulgar and graphic. The path which I took was dangerous, lonely and cold. Some of the names of people and places used are fictitious in order to protect the identities of those involved.

One morning I woke up from my cat hole at about 5:30 AM. It was winter, and the weather was cold and breezy. I was shaking like a dog shitting raiser blades, it was so cold. I went to the labor hall to warm up and find some work for the day. Feeling like shit after running the streets all night, I walked inside across the chipped grey paint of the dirty concrete floor and sat on an old wooden bench, waiting for work. The labor hall was an old brick building and inside there was no real heat. Thank God, because the funk of foot, ass, and dirty clothes was enough to knock out Mike Tyson in the first round.

A labor hall is a place where the homeless go to find work for the day. People who need temporary labor workers will call and request workers and pay the labor hall something like $15/hour per worker. The labor hall will then pay anyone with a warm body and a pulse $7/hour to go out to the job site and work. These jobs include anything from digging ditches to working in warehouses, anything that is manual labor. The work is first come first serve, so in order to get a job, you have to show up between 5 and 5:30 in the morning. If they call your name for work they’ll ask if you are capable of doing a specific job. They might ask, “Can you fly a jet or a space shuttle?” You damn better say, “Yes,” even if you can’t spell jet, otherwise you may not work that day.

On this morning, a guy was late for his repeat job and I was given his work ticket. About 15 to 20 of us, packed like sardines, were trying to squeeze ourselves, along with our bags of clothes and food, into a van when this guy showed up. He didn’t like that I had taken his job, so he started poppin shit to me.

He said, “I’ve been working this job for 2 ½ weeks. Don’t get on that fucking van. That’s my job!” I just ignored him and continued to walk towards the van. “I’m talking to you, tramp!” He yelled angrily as he approached me.

I turned back to him and said, “I understand, man, but you need to talk to the clowns inside.”

A tall, slender man stepped between us and said, “Get this shit over with, cause I can’t be late to work. I need my damn hours.”

The other guy replied, “Fuck you!”

The tall, slender guy snapped back quickly, with a smile, “Bitch, can I get on top?” which we all found to be funny.

The guy turned to me with anger and embarrassment, but before he could speak I said, “Sounds like a personal problem to me. Yeah, we need to get to work, so you’re holding us up with this miscellaneous bullshit.” He cursed and walked away.

On the work van, the guy who stepped between us gave me his name, Edward, as he handed me a grey box cutter. “You’ll need this on the streets.”

Edward was about 6’ 1”, 190 lbs, with a long face and high cheek bones. He was a veteran who had never fought in an actual war. The only war he fought was the demons inside and the streets to survive. Unknown to me, at that time I too was also fighting demons which brought me and many others to the streets. We worked at the same job site. He worked inside doing carpentry, while I was outside using a Chinese backhoe; the name for a shovel. That day, Edward had no lunch, so I shared my lunch with him. As we ate, I learned that I wasn’t the first person he had tried to get food from. “These guys wouldn’t give a crippled man a crutch to walk across the street if they owned a lumber yard”, he told me. “Son’s of bitches.”

Working outside that day reminded me of working for my schoolmate’s father, clearing farmland and cutting firewood for his home and mine once the tobacco was harvested and the potatoes dug. This taught me how to operate heavy equipment. But it was this farm where I also learned to use a much smaller shovel. Not a Chinese backhoe, but a shovel that held a powerful, white substance; cocaine.

After 8 hours of hard work, Edward and I returned to the labor hall where we picked up our checks and his bike. Edward asked me, “Do you have a bike?”

“NO! Damn sitting down and walking at the same time.”

He smiled and said, “Can you sit down and drink a forty at the same time?”

“Damn straight! If you’re buying the first round.”

We stopped at a local downtown hang out, the Sandwich Shop. I remembered as a child, my family would come here to enjoy hot dogs, chips and water. As Edward and I entered the old, battered building the smell of hot dogs and fries was replaced with the smell of cheap perfume, Black & Mild cigar smoke, and stale beer and wine. Cakes and candy on the counter were substituted with ash trays, pickled eggs and pigs’ feet. The place was packed; corn freaks (black women), pink toes (white women) and of course chicken heads. With loud music on the juke box, a few people were trying to dance. As Ton Loc sang “Funky Cold Medina”, Edward introduced me to the owner, Kim, an Asian woman. She asked us what we would like to drink. Edward replied, “you.”

She said, “Stop staring at me like dogs. Now, what would you like to drink?”

Edward said, “These two dogs would like to a have a forty a piece.”

“Coming right up, Top Dog, and Lead Dog.”

From that point on, this is what Edward and I would be known as on the streets.


The year was 1992. I remember Whitney Houston in the movie “Bodyguard”. Janet Jackson released the song “That’s The Way Love Goes”. Bill Clinton was elected president. I don’t recall who played in the Super Bowl. I was getting so high; I didn’t know the difference between the Super Bowl and a soup bowl.

The first night I was on the streets, I had three suits, two pairs of jeans, one pair of boots, and one pair of dress shoes. I laid down on the side of a building, using some of my clothes as a pillow and the rest as a blanket. In the middle of the night I woke up to the wretched stank of a man pissing near my head. He peed on some of my clothes. I got up and just walked around all night.

The next day, I slept in the park. I knew I had to find safe shelter for the night. I walked down the street and met a man who was cleaning windows. Later I named him Mr. Window, kinda like the song Mr. Wendell by Arrested Development. I stashed some of my clothes in an abandoned building. Mr. Window took me to the homeless shelter where 200-300 other guys slept.

The shelter was a trip. Like in an old western saloon, anything went. As guys slept on military cots, others were selling just about anything; hot dogs, cigarettes, clothes, anything they had. It was almost like the New York Stock exchange, but the smell was awful, and I mean awful. I thought I would play a hand of cards with some guys at a table, just to get to meet some people. A guy told me about a temporary service which paid every day. So I decided to check it out the next day. I needed money. I needed money!

The next day, I got up around 5 AM. I shit, shaved and showered, put on my suit and tie, dress shoes, and was ready to get a job. I knew I looked GQ and was ready to impress my new employer. I arrived at the place and saw a bunch of poor lookin guys with bags and dirty clothes. I’ll never forget the look on the straw boss’s face when he saw me. He looked me up and down and said, “Are you goin to work today?”

I said, “Hell yeah, if you got work.”

He said, “Not dressed like that. Do you have any boots?”

I said, “No.” He asked me what size I wore and reached back on a shelf and grabbed me a pair of black rubber boots. These boots smelled worse than the piss in my face two nights before. Imagine me with a pair of black rubber boots, a hard hat, and a suit and tie. I looked worse than Pee-wee Herman.

They took us to do a demolition job on an 8 story building. It was a cold, windy day in the heart of winter. All I had on was my suit, and I was freezing. I worked hard simply to keep warm. After 8 hours, they picked us up and took us back to the labor hall to get our checks. I had never seen a check like that before, and had never been paid so little. I told the straw boss that the check couldn’t be right. He assured me that it was. $6.50/per hour, times 8 hours, minus taxes, $1 for the hard hat, $1 for the boots, and $2 for the ride there and back. That left me with $34 and change. I asked him where I could cash such a so called check. He directed me to the local store downtown, which would charge me another dollar, which pissed me off even more. With my remaining $33, I bought a forty and a pack of cigarettes to ease my frustration. My self esteem was knocked down, my pride was hurt and my spirit was broke. That’s when I realized, I was homeless.

With my remaining $28, I bought a pocket rocket, a jack rock, or a bleem; you guys probably call it crack cocaine. I knew the jitter so well; he gave me a complimentary for $20. So I was off and running, chasing ghosts all night. All $20 of dope will do is make you want more. One blast is too many, a million is not enough. I went to Jurassic Park, a nickname for a park in town, where I found a corn freak. A corn freak is a sister who smokes dope. I needed someone to talk to, anybody, and I knew the dope would do the job…and more.

With no more money, no dope, and now no girl, I went to my cat hole; a hidden place where a homeless person sleeps. I went to that labor hall a few more times, and then I tried another labor hall. That’s where I met Top Dog. In the next few months, I learned quickly and the streets became ours.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Hello, my name is Ricky. I’m 43, single, no children, 5’ 11 ½”, 185 lbs. I love to cook. I like quiet walks in the park. I like to travel. I like contemporary art. I read romance novels. My favorite books are A Tale of Two Cities, and The Rise and Fall Of The Zulu Nation. I listen to 80’s soft rock, Rick James, Barry White and Marvin Gaye. I write poems. I am homeless.

In the countryside of North Carolina, I grew up a country boy who loved the city life. As a teenager, I fell into drugs and alcohol and dropped out of high school at the age of 17. Throughout my 20’s and 30’s I used and sold drugs and eventually became homeless in 1992. Not only did I lose my home and my fiancĂ©, but most of all I lost myself. My world began to spiral downward. It was like the streets had a spell on me. Drugged out every day, I lived on the streets with no care for myself or others. I made my money working at labor halls, but made most of my cash street hustling.

I’ve made some poor choices and some bad decisions, but I still hold my head high. A while back, people once asked, “Do we get our 40 acres and a mule?” I say, Hell no! You get your 40 hours just like everyone else. If you work hard for your dreams and your children’s dreams, you know what you get? -Fulfillment; a satisfied heart and soul. I’ve been blessed to meet some wonderful people in my life who actually care. I’m working hard to start a new life. I’m not poor or rich. I’m not white or black. I’m a child of God.

So the next time you turn the corner of a street and see a homeless person, remember they’re a human with hope. And the dollars and change in your pocket may last them to the next corner, but a kind word and a change of heart may last my street brothers and sisters a lifetime.

I don’t want a hand out. I want a hand up. I’ll see you again on the corners of Rick’s Street Life.