Time. It's all we really have. Money comes and money goes. Fame or infamy can fade with time. And often do. Today's notoriety is tomorrow's old news. Tomorrow's headlines will be replaced. Nothing is permanent, but everything is always here, all the time.
While packing up my stuff, I found two calendars from the year 2002. They are wall calendars. One is a collection of vintage black and white New York City images: Central Park, the flat iron building, Lady Liberty, Grand Central Station. It retailed for $11.95, but the price sticker on it says $.50. I must have bought it after the first of the year, when it was past its prime, and marked down. At that time in 2002, I was still homeless in Tampa, Florida.
The other one is a 2002 Deluxe Calendar. On its pages are black and white photos of various New York City landmarks. The Empire State Building, where my son's godmother worked the last time I saw her, and St. Patrick's Cathedral, the Brooklyn Bridge. Oddly, along with these famous landmarks, there's also an aerial photo of a brownstone on West 76th Street, three blocks north of where I once lived. On this calendar there is no markdown sticker. I must have bought it for the full retail price, at or near the end of 2001, when I lost my job, and when I--already living close to the edge--became homeless.
I guess it means something that twice I chose to buy calendars with New York City scenes. Even after ten years in Florida, it's never occurred to me to buy a Florida calendar. I've been living here, but never did I belong here. I've worked here, rented apartments here, even completed my college degree here in another part of the state, but I've always felt disconnected from the strange culture here. Fiercely clannish at one extreme, to the exclusion of any outsiders--and eternally transient at the other. When I first moved here I found--by accident-- in the telephone directory's white pages, a listing for the Ku Klux Klan, complete with street address and local phone number. I wish I had saved it-- a relic of recent history to show the disbelievers-- but it's true, and it can be checked.
Fox News takes a lot of flak for being the mainstream media the liberals hate. I don't like labels much, and never have. Liberal, conservative, whatever. It's how you treat your fellow beings that matters. One of my favorite supervisors was a republican who taught me how to crochet.
Last night Fox reported that the local county commission, with a budget surplus in the millions, voted against using any of it to help the 11,000 homeless persons who try to live here, 40% of whom include families with children. Instead, the budget surplus will be used to build a noise blocking wall, and a dog park.
Dog park. That brings back memories. When I had to leave my apartment, my dog became homeless with me. I called my friends, my dog's vet, business associates, and a couple of agencies that advertise as animal rescue operations. I even called the local Humane Society. Twice. Left messages that were never returned. I told every one of them that if they would take my dog and give him shelter until I found a job and an apartment, I'd pay for his food, and vet bills. And I meant it. But I got no response.
For about a week, my dog spent his days in the car with me, and afternoons, when the sun was strong, we went to local parks, got out of the car, played frisbee in the shade. One day in November, I parked the car under a large tree, all four windows rolled down as far as they'd go, a bowl of water on the seat next to my dog. It was morning, still a slight chill in the air. I went inside the apartment to use my son's computer to type my resume and send it. By noon, I was done, and I'd brought my dog inside the apartment, where I could referee him and the four cats living there. He barks incessantly around cats. The neighbors had been watching me as I went about my life, and one of them called animal control officers about the dog in my car that morning. When they banged on the door, my dog was inside with me.
They wrote me a citation. For animal cruelty. Because my dog was homeless. And nobody would give him shelter until the police were banging on the door, and I frantically called my son's fiance at work, terrified the dog police would take Butch and euthanize him at the pound. Then my in-laws took him in.
For a total of 17 months I was homeless, and I paid for my dog's food, paid for his vet bills, drove to my in-laws house at least once a week to visit him, play with him, bring him the treats he liked: bagels and pizza.
So back to the calendars that never hung on anyone's wall. I don't even remember buying them. At Christmastime I gave calendars to people, but not these. They are still wrapped in cellophane. Because I had no wall to hang them on. Maybe they rode around in the car with me all day, all through the year 2002. It wasn't until almost March, 2003 that I found an apartment I could afford-- nine months after I'd found another job.
In the new apartment I still felt homeless, and I never did buy any furniture. I sat on the floor to eat my rice, that now finally, I could cook myself. My dog, living with me again, sat beside me. I sat on the floor to write my briefs, on legal pads.
The apartment building changed owners a year later. The people living there moved out--rapidly. They were people who worked in restaurants, struggling artists, musicians; one was a student. They saw the handwriting on the wall. The new landlord raised the rent $200--all at once, and charged tenants for water, for gas, for electric, for trash pickup.
I too, saw the handwriting on the wall, but I had my dog to consider. The only places that would rent to a person with a dog wanted a lot of rent money, money I didn't make. I stayed awhile, until all my savings were gone. And once again, my in-laws stepped up, took my dog into their home. This time he was older, and one month shy of age twelve, he died. We'll never share an apartment again.
When I hear about a $12 million surplus, I can think of some good uses for it. In a city with no compassion for its homeless, but plenty of resources to punish. Plenty of money to build walls. Plenty of money to build dog parks for dogs with homes. If this city won't spend money to help homeless people, what about their dogs that are involuntarily homeless? Couldn't a park be built for them--with a temporary shelter staffed by volunteers to keep them alive until life gets better for their owners?
Or how about this--spend some of that $12 million on Gatorade, for the schoolchildren of this county who play sports, and run in the heat. Two of them have died this year, playing football outdoors. Is $12 million enough to make free Gatorade available at all times to every kid in the school system? Today, four more kids were sickened by the extreme heat and humidity. These kids were indoors, in a school gym with broken air conditioning. They were playing volleyball, running. Two were taken to the hospital. Two were treated at the scene. $12 million buys a hell of a lot of Gatorade. And this is not an ad.