Thursday, December 28, 2000

Mayor's Job Is Just Politics

I'll bet you all think I'm going to crab about the election. I know what people expect of me, I get fan mail. That's right, people write to me and say things like, "Dear Dr. Wes, All you ever do is complain, you carping bilious nattering freak… " Everyone thinks I'm a big whiner. Well I'm not going to do it this time.

Instead let me share a letter from a satisfied reader:

Dear Dr. Wess,

I here u have rit thet I am ilitable illitu that I'm not gud with wurds. Aktuelly I didn’t here it my bruther red it and he told me. He sez u also sed I am not as compassionate (didn't no I cud spel lik that did u?) as I hev sed I am. I wil show u how gud I am with wurds. I even rote this pome witch u can stik in your crabby colum.

So u think I'm not compassionate?

When I ain't dun nuthin yet?

Well I'll have u no

u libral so-an-so

yore sociopolitical (I can soo spel, see) band-ade-applyin

muny-flingin and freedum steelin and while I'm at it

deth row-inmate-sparin

Anti-ballistic-missile-not-buildin (hah!), baby-killing, and

2nd-Amendment-Rights-takin-awayin (take thet!)


is all wet.

-- Anon Anun I'm not telling u my name

I really appreciate input like that, Mr. Name, and be sure to keep your brother reading!

While we're talking carp, our glorious Mayor Schell is beginning to look more like a candidate for Bush's cabinet. What else could explain this recent exchange with a Beacon Hill resident (quoting from Schell's monthly talk show on KUOW.)

["Chris"]: "We have a very small business district that's being badly affected. What are you going to do about Tent City and when?"

[Mayor]: "I absolutely agree with you. I don't think living outdoors in a tent is acceptable conduct. And I do think it is by and large a political statement."

OK, Mr. Schell, the honeymoon's over. I've been nice to you so far. I didn't say hardly a word about you the whole first year you were elected except to wish you a happy birthday and offer to help you with your arithmetic.

Did I complain much about you last year? Yes, but who didn't? You had your WTO, what did you expect. But I wasn't the one who said you looked like Uncle Fester from the Addam's Family. I could have, but I restrained myself, because I was being a nice guy.

No more. You've made me mad now.

SO. Our Mayor thinks living outdoors is "unacceptable conduct." What a coincidence. To most of the people living at Tent Village on Beacon Hill having to live outdoors would always be "unacceptable," particularly in winter. But since they don't have the kind of power our Mayor has, they accept it anyway, as the alternative, more shelter beds, isn't happening.

So far, reading Mayor Schell's comment all we have is the usual failure to grasp the fundamental facts of homelessness which we here at Real Change have come to expect from a Mayor who thinks the homeless should just retire to their villas in France and leave him alone.

That's not what has us fuming. What has us fuming is Paul Schell's little deprecation of political statements of the homeless.

Are the homeless of this city not entitled to make political statements? "Chris", Beacon Hill resident, can call into KUOW every month to complain about Tent Village, but when the homeless complain about a lack of any alternative it's just politics?

Last month I was invited to speak at a Shoreline Community College philosophy class. They wanted to hear about the politics of homelessness, in that ethics is an important branch of philosophy, and politics is the sub-branch of ethics that concerns life and power in the cities.

Maybe Paul Schell could benefit from a course in ethics. He might learn to give proper respect to political statements, which are after all only statements about what is right.

Meanwhile, since when is sheer survival a statement of any kind?

Friday, December 1, 2000

Your Random Election

If I'd known we could elect the dead, I would have voted for Lincoln.

Some of you may recall my very generous offer to sell my vote to the highest bidder over five dollars. At least one of you took note of that offer. In fact Pooky Glax, probably alien quantum life form, who may or may not have run for US President this year, gave me ten dollars sealed in a box with some guy's cat to vote for him. For Pooky that is, not the cat. I'm betting the cat will die.

So I voted for a quantum life form. Since that was the only bid I received, thank you all very much, I voted for Glax for President. But I hardly expected him/her/it/whut to win. He/she/it/whut didn't exactly campaign.

So imagine my surprise when I woke up November 8 and learned that there was no certain winner of the Presidency! It turns out that Gore and Bush must be two of Pooky's quantum states! Uncertainty Rules!

But enough about what I don't know. What I want to discuss today is something I know a lot about, namely stupidity. In fact I consider myself quite the expert on the subject.

Don't get me wrong. I can be as smart as the next guy, when it's my turn and the wind is at my back. But when I want to be stupid I can out stupid most anybody. Cause, let's face it, most people don't even try to be stupid. How can they expect to excel at it? Truth is, most people don't even know the different kinds of stupidity. They get them all mixed up.

Like when George Bush signed that law allowing hand recounts in Texas, then sued against it in Florida. That's stupid, but is it world-class stupidity? I say no. I say I can top that with both hands tied behind my back standing knee-deep in setting cement. I spit on George Bush's stupidity!

The really stupid thing to do, George, that would prove to everyone that you were city council material and that you might have a promising career in politics or at least as a grad student in poly sci, would be to call for a study. Instead of just being a governor in the one state that doesn't really permit them.

The Ballad of the Palm Beach Election Board

or, Opus 2000, If John Henry Could See This, It'd Kill Him Dead

by © Dr. Wes Browning

Palm Beach had itself an election board,

They worked from six 'til five,

"Raise up them ballots and put 'em down,

We'll count 'em to the Lord's Day or die."

The board said to the Secret'ry,

"You're nothing but a RepubliCAN,

That butterfly ballot won't beat us down,

Or we'll die with cards in our hands."

The Secret'ry faxed out to the board:

"I hear a pewter a-humming, lads."

The board faxed just this to her: "Oh Lord!"

"That's our volunteers you hear a-counting chad(s)."

The board was a-counting on the left side,

The machine was a-counting on the right.

No I lie, the machine, it was a-finished

Four days before Saturday night.

The board's now a-lying on its death bed

Not any of its recount alive

And these were the last words the board done said:

"Bring me a contest, before I die."

The board had a little capital,

Her name was TallahasSEE

They faxed and briefed her court all day,

Saying, "Tally, let our counting be complete."

Tallahassee, she would not see them,

Their heart was broken through,

And while the Secret'ry's master had filed a suit,

They died with cards in their hands, it's true.

Apologies to W. T. Blankenship, wherever he is. Come to think of it, apologies to everyone.

Wednesday, November 1, 2000

Safe Harbors For All

This is one promise from me to you, my reader: I won’t ever claim to understand politics better than you do. I will never claim to understand politics at all. OK, I might, but when I do it, I’ll be lying. You have my word.

Take the Safe Harbors idea. It makes absolutely no sense to me. Since I don’t understand Safe Harbors, or Tag-n-Trak as we call it here at Real Change, it would be absurd of me to discuss it here.

Therefore I will, because that’s what I do.

Let me start by saying that the fundamental premise, that we don’t know enough about the homeless, their movements, what they do with their time, where they eat, and where they sleep, is an awesome, thought-provoking premise. A premise that just makes me wonder what planet our City Council weekends on.

But then I think, yes, there are clear advantages to our government in knowing where each individual homeless person reports two or more times per day. And instead of resisting this improvement in the way we govern our citizens, I should welcome it. I should see it for what it is: the beginning of a fabulous new future.

Therefore I have decided to go beyond embracing Tag-n-Trak for the homeless. I am ready to embrace this concept for all of Seattle, and promote the adoption of Safe Harbors style programs for all Americans.

Lets say you are an American and you need to use services that our government currently provides. Freeways, for example. Let’s say you want to use a freeway.

The way it is now, people use freeways without any accounting. Oh sure, we are able to know how many cars are on the freeways at any given time. But who are in those cars? Do they really need the freeways they’re using? What entrances and exits are they using? The fact is, we don’t know that information. Information like that is vital when our government allocates funds to improve our freeways, or determines when and where new freeways should be built.

My proposal would make that information available. Each time you entered a freeway you would be required to stop at the beginning of the ramp and supply your name and ID and the names and IDs of all your passengers, and state all of your destinations. When you left the freeway at an exit you would provide your names and IDs again. Any passengers lacking ID would be required to leave your vehicle and obtain the necessary ID before continuing on their trip.

The information so obtained would be kept strictly confidential. It would be used, anonymously, to create a file of your complete travels on the interstate freeways, which would never be used by unscrupulous individuals, corporations, bad renegade politicians, or Tim Eyman. The only way the information would be used is in the aggregate. That’s the “Safe” in Safe Harbors: if you can’t trust your government, who can you trust?

But that’s just the beginning. We need to clear up the Mercer Street mess. There are traffic jams on Rainier Avenue, 45th Street, gosh, even 3rd Avenue. So we’ll have to know when and how each individual motorist and their passengers access every major thoroughfare in the city.

Eventually, I see a day when you won’t be able to pull out of your driveway with Aunt Zelda in the back seat, your Irish Red Setter Big Stupid at your side, and your two sons in the trunk, without all five of you being registered and tracked electronically. You won’t even being aware of it. Won’t that be great? Think of the boost to the surveillance industry! Seattle could be number one in yet another high tech field, and we will have more billionaires!

But it doesn’t end with roads. When you’ve walked down the sidewalks downtown have you ever tossed trash into a public waste receptacle? Of course you have, because tossing it anywhere else is illegal. Well now, with my proposal to expand Tag-n-Trak, you will have to give your name and ID every time you use a public garbage can, and your waste will be weighed. That way, our city will be able to determine just how many public waste receptacles are really needed, and where.

I am looking forward to the day when we apply the Safe Harbors idea to everyone, including City Council members and the computer geeks who are eagerly awaiting their employment. I’m sure we can all agree, that will be a brave new world.

Friday, September 1, 2000

Acceptable Solutions For Our Time

We here at Real Change are very sensitive to the charge that all we ever do is whine about homelessness. Instead of proposing practical solutions that our city and county governments would find acceptable, all we ever do is write an occasional editorial calling for affordable housing, blah, blah, blah, treating people with dignity, blah, blah, providing services that cost money, blah, blah, blah.

So I’ve decided to rectify this situation, medically speaking. I’ve decided to set forth a number of proposals for solving homelessness, that are all calculated to be acceptable to our hard working local government officialdom and their deserving, fully paid-up, allies. Please feel free to refer back to that last sentence, frequently, as my brilliant ideas become confusing to you below, as they surely will.

My first proposal addresses the very heart of the homeless problem. And it won’t cost a dime. We declare homelessness to be a personal disorder. We get the Feds to go along. OK, that part might cost some lawyers’ fees, but you were spending money on lawyers anyway. This way they’ll be doing something productive.

Here’s the beauty of it: once homelessness is a disorder, everything we do about homelessness can be put down as therapy or rehabilitation. For example, you can put homeless people to work on contracted work-crews, and not have to pay them minimum wage! Because it would be therapy! The government gets the contract money, and gets to keep it, “to pay for other needed services.”

Have I got your attention, Heidi Wills? This kind of thinking is just your speed!

My second proposal deals directly with the chief complaint of all homeless people. They have no places to sleep. My solution is so effective that you will be able to present it as proof of your compassion. Hey, if they don’t need to sleep, they don’t need a place to do it, right?

So when a homeless person asks for shelter, instead we should give them methamphetamines. We can cure them of their need to sleep. OK, meth isn’t 100% effective, so we’ll still have to give them shelter every four or five days, but (do the math) that would allow us to get rid of half our existing shelter space!

Moreover, it would not be necessary to dump meth-crazed homeless people on the general public. As part of the meth-treatment, we could require the recipient to work on one of those work-crews I was talking about, until they come down. Then we could repeat the therapy as needed. I think you can see that the public benefits could be enormous.

Like all great solutions, the trick is making the problem solve itself. Of course all that meth will have to come from somewhere. Perhaps an arrangement can be made with the city’s police. Something like the popular gun-buy-back program. We could offer donuts to our cops for their hoards of meth. Hey, don’t tell me you don’t know what happens to unreported drug confiscations. Cops work long hours around the clock. Think about it. 2+2=4.

But eventually a city-owned meth lab could cheaply produce more than enough for all of our homeless, and also replace our cops’ stashes.

Once we have done so much to eradicate the problems of homelessness in Seattle, we will generate a new problem. We will make Seattle a magnet for homeless people all around the country, and the world. Therefore it would be irresponsible of me to make the proposals above, without also offering the means to prevent a massive influx of homeless immigrants.

My proposal is inspired by the great work of Mark Sidran. I could not have thought of the brilliant idea that I am about to explain, were it not for that giant of civic and social engineering. If I have been able to see further than he, it is only because I have been able to stand upon his towering head.

Sidran’s great genius was to realize that if life in Seattle were made miserable for homeless people, they would go away. I know, that sounds simple-minded, but it works! They did go away! They went to Los Angeles!

Trouble was, Los Angeles was worse! So they came back!

So you see, Sidran was right, but we must go further. We must out-Los Angeles Los Angeles. We must make Seattle a living hell for everyone who has to be outside.

Los Angeles has lousy air. We can top that. We can scrap Metro. We can have poisonous air and poisonous water in just a year. People living outdoors will start to drop like flies. Not that that will be the intent of the program. No, the intent of the program will be merely to encourage homeless elements to look elsewhere for comfort.

We already don’t let them sit down. Let’s not let them breathe. That should finally do it.

Saturday, July 1, 2000

Space-time Keeps It's Shape

A Poem Regarding Humor’s Essence,

Or Opus I Lost Count, Can I Get Back to You on That?

by © Dr. Wes Browning

Some say the essence of humor is hostility.

I say it’s clown squeezings.

Extra virgin clown, first cold press.

Some say comedy is always ultimately cruel.

I say, here, have some grated Bozo.

Or, clown-ka-bob, made from tenderized marinated clown.

Or, crushed clown with chives, clown croutons,

or filet of clown, minced mime,

chipped clown on toast,

mime pâté, or clown à la mode

Yes, these are all excellent, I admit,

but I still say the essence of humor is

clown squeezings.

I think it is high time to give credit where credit is due to some of the many wonderful people who help make this paper the constantly changing reality that it is. I don’t know what that has to do with the poem above.

No, wait! Yes I do! I wouldn’t feel so generous if the Real Change weren’t “featuring” me this month. I am feeling heartily squeezed! And look out, I am about to squeeze back! I’m a little garlic, and I’ve got some juices!

I’m being “featured” because I went to Portland. Imagine that. Think what would have happened if I had went all the way to Walla Walla! Or Boise. Or San Jose! Especially since I don’t know where San Jose is. Do you know where San Jose is? Never mind.

As usual I digress. I also exaggerate. I had another reason to think of talking about other people besides me — Stan “two r’s, two s’s, eight lines” Burriss, glorious editor person, remarked in his official editorial capacity last Wednesday, at an official editorial meeting, that he didn’t have a clue where Tent City 3 is anymore, and hadn’t for 4 days.

Let me put this in perspective.

We are talking about Stan Burriss, former president of SHARE (Seattle Housing And I forget what the R and the E stand for. SHARE. You know. Look them up in the phone book. Homeless organization. Runs self-managed shelters, Tent Cities, stuff like that. We’ve written about them three hundred times.)

This is the man who for the last five years, every time there has been a Tent City, of any number, has said to me, “Say, Wes, you know, it wouldn’t hurt you to go up to Tent City and look around. You just might learn something. And you could write about it, and educate people.”

Every time he has said that, I have said, “What? I’m a teacher now? I’m writing a humor column! Knock, knock, is anyone home?”

So do you all see what an amazing turn of events we have witnessed here? If Tent City has had to move so often that Stan Burriss, of all people, can’t keep track of where it is, surely the foundation has moved under our blush and highlight, so to speak, hasn’t it? Or anyway, that’s how I feel about it.

There is another man who is deeply involved with Real Change whom I’d like to talk about. I am speaking of a man who I have known for many, many minutes, nay, days, Scott “SXN” Nodland, Real Change Board Member, once and probably future Treasurer of the Board and Real Change Landlord.

Scott once told me (this is an exact quote) “I want all the money!” That helps explain why those of us at the Real Change affectionately refer to Scott as “our Real Change Yuppy-Scum Landlord.”

Don’t misunderstand, we love our landlord. The expression Yuppy-Scum is just our way of acknowledging that Scott makes both Frazier and Niles Crane look like trailer trash. If there’s a Yuppy in Seattle who can kick Crane butt it’s our Scott! You want to talk Brie? You better know your French provinces buddy, ‘cause our guy is fully armed!

Anyway I’ve gotten carried away again, and have failed to explain that the reason I should be calling attention to Mr. Nodland is that he has somehow managed to become some kind of housing director or other at the Low Income Housing Institute, aka LIHI, aka, some other organization we’ve written about a half zillion or hundred times.

The way I see it, I live in the best of all possible worlds. Tent City keeps finding places to move to, not only faster than the city can follow, but also even faster than Stan can follow. The Real Change maintains a presence on LIHI. Meanwhile, space-time retains it’s shape, as I was sure it would.

Thursday, June 1, 2000

One Man's Wrong, Another Man's Oopsy

Yesterday, against my better judgment, yours truly and a Duck of intimate acquaintance walked into the evil McDonalds. If you know downtown Seattle and you know your local McDonalds, you probably know the one I mean already.

I'm not talking about the lawyer's McDonalds that only operates during lawyer's hours. I'm not talking about the visiting businessmen's McDonalds that has the exotic fish and caters to the traffic between the Westin and the nudie palace. I'm not talking about the tourists' McDonalds, the one built where the revolving restaurant will land when the big one finally happens.

No, I'm talking about the really evil McDonalds, the one that has the country-western music piped in all day long in spite of the fact that probably not one in 10 of their customers ever heard Merle Haggard, or would care if they did.

Not that there's anything wrong with country-western, mind you. I love a good yodel or a nasal whine or some pale guy with a severe iodine deficiency pitching a bitch and a moan now and then. Such things keep me alert and functioning in a way that, say, Jimi Hendrix never could. While it might make sense to book Willi Nelson at the Apollo for one show or even two, or hell, even 30, you ought not to make it a permanent engagement. You ought not to say to HELL with what the regulars want, EVER.

So there we were. Ducky orders a #6 and says "supersize it, please," and Cashier (actually the Manager, it turns out) taps at the pictures on her cash machine and says, "that'll be 11 dollars," so Ducky says, "No way!" so Cashier says "Way! Read my register!" and so Ducky says "There must be a misunderstanding" and Cashier says, "No there is no misunderstanding, you're just wrong."

Well, guess what? It turns out Cashier was charging Ducky for TWO supersized #6's. Whoops!

After Cashier was empowered to realize this fact, via repeated emphatic assertions during which I offered to teach her arithmetic for free, she excused herself by saying "It was just a misunderstanding." [Italics added for the purpose of drawing attention to the mega-irony of it all, i.e., her mega-duh-ness.]

At this point I'll bet you're all thinking, "Wes, you've really lost it this time, what could any of this have to do with homelessness?" and "What's the name of your Duck, and is she anyone we know?"

The answers to these questions are very simple. Consider for example the first question (since I don't feel like answering the second) for which the answer is merely Tent City and live-aboards.

See how that ties in?

OK, I'll spell it out. You've got the city saying to the Tent City people over and over again, "You are wrong to think that you should have the right to sleep outdoors." You've got the state saying to the Lake Union live-aboards over and over again, "You are wrong to think that you should be allowed to sleep in the boats that you are already allowed to moor on Lake Union."

City and state say: "You are wrong, wrong, wrong." "Look at the register." "We added it up, and according to the way WE read the law books, you're WRONG!" "So go away, wrong-goes!"

Meanwhile, the Tent City people are just saying, "Look, there must be a misunderstanding here, we're alive, we need to sleep, we've got to sleep SOMEWHERE, so where will it be?" And likewise the live-aboards are saying "Look, there must be a misunderstanding, there's no law that prohibits people from sleeping on their boats; if we can moor our boats here we should be able to stay on them. If we can stay on them we can sleep in them. We haven't made a mess of the lake," etc., etc., etc.

The homeless and the live-aboards are all saying that there is a problem her, something needs to be worked out. The city and the state are saying that there is no problem, that they (the city and the state) are in the right and the others are in the wrong.

It's not about who is right or wrong, it is about solving problems.

When the courts have finished with it, I guarantee you that the city and the state will say: "We said what we said because, you see, it was just a silly misunderstanding. Ha, ha, ha, we thought we were right and you were wrong. It was just a natural mistake."

Now I don't want to start giving governments advice – I'd much rather ridicule them. But wouldn't it be a good idea to look ahead, see how things are going and try to skip the boring parts to get there?

Just a thought. Please don't just tell me how wrong I am.

Monday, May 1, 2000

That Noun Won't Verb

What is the meaning of life? I ask myself that question all the time. And self answers, “Well, you can figure it out, can’t you? There are what, five dictionaries and three thesauri within easy reach, aren’t there? Why don’t you try one?”

Do you see why I’m in therapy? Stupid superego.

But the dictionary doesn’t give the right answer. It says: meaning, n.,
of, prep., life, n. Noun preposition noun. That can’t be.

It has to be noun verb noun. Or noun verbs noun. Or nouns verb nouns.

“See noun verb noun! Verb, noun, verb!” Or “these nouns will verb anything that verbs!”

Yes, that’s getting there.

Meanwhile, while all those nouns are verbing for the sake of perpetuating the meaning of life, I’ve taken up a new way of biding time. In the past when I have had time to waste I always just sat in the corner and cringed. Now I read Schell Mail.

What is Schell Mail? It would be better to ask what are Schell Mail. They are e-mail messages that are sent to more than 4400 subscribers to Mayor Schell’s one-way e-mail distribution list, 61 of them so far.

I’ve been subscribed for several months, ever since an anonymous “friend” told me about it. I think it is wonderful that our elected officials are warming up to the new communications technology, using it to keep lines of communication open to um, our information-hungry citizens who uh, want to know stuff. About local politics and all that.

OK, so I don’t care. But that’s just me. I’m sure there are tons of information-hungry civic-minded citizens out there who just eat up the mayor’s little notes on how we are going to fund this noun verbing that noun, or how we’re going to keep paying for the verbing we are already doing. So check it out:

Do it now! Check out Schell’s picture on the site! Woo-woo! Then read the archives of all previous Schell Mails. It’s better than cringing in the corner!

“Why is Wes promoting Mayor Schell’s web site?” you ask. Good question. The answer lies in the legal tax status of Real Change.

Real Change is about to become a federal nonprofit organization, after having been only a state nonprofit for all these years. “What does that have to do with Schell’s nouns verbing, Wes?” you ask. Right you should. Well! It all hinges on fine legalistic details of IRS regulations that I could learn about in any good prison library, I’m sure. But I can’t make heads or tails of them out here in the sunlight.

All I know is that some of us (“staff”) are going to have to refrain from certain activities that might be considered too “partisan”.

And what could be more partisan than telling you all to get a load of a shot of Mayor Schell grinning at you out of your computer screen like he just cut loose a fluffy?

Seriously, we are all pretty sure around here that I’m not “staff”. For one thing, I’m not paid. For another thing, I’m not ever going to get paid. Not now. Look up “nonprofit” in your favorite dictionary. That noun don’t verb.

In fact the beautiful thing about all this is that it could very well be that round about none of us is staff. Almost none of us get paid around here!

Still, it never hurts to err on the circumspect side, as they say. So if I’m going to ever say something disparaging about a politician, such as to say that G.W.Bush is not smart enough to handle his handlers, for example, I should say it now.

If I am going to distort facts, such as to say that Al Gore is secretly a member of the Flat Earth Society and uses leaded gasoline in his vice-prez-mobile, I should distort those facts now while I still have a clear shot.

If I am going to say something inflammatory, such as “Pat Buchanan, you are no Jesse Ventura…” this is the moment. Our lawyers may hold me back the next time, and it’ll be too late.

Getting back to Schell Mail, I really want to urge everyone to read the archives. Allow me to quote some high points, you’ll see why it’s so great.

From Schell Mail #10 – Pushing for an EZ Grant: “I was reminded, however, that not ALL of DC thinks Seattle is the greatest thing since push-button dialing. My hotel rejected my local credit card. I tried to tell them about our triple A bond rating, but they didn’t go for it.”

A Washington DC, hotel turned down our mayor’s credit card! Wow!

From Schell Mail #15 – The War on Drugs #2 and the Millennium Project: “Wow!”

Our mayor started an e-mail with “Wow!” Ejaculation!

Saturday, April 1, 2000


In these times of uncertainty and stress, nothing makes us feel more stable and secure than being annoyed the same way day after day.

First there was WTO. I won’t even get started on that. Then there was the cancelled New Year’s gathering on the Seattle Center grounds.

Now they implode the King Dome two blocks from where I live and I have to stay indoors because I might be struck by flying dust motes.

All of this reminds me that I haven’t ever discussed here what StreetWrites does to justify it’s existence to me.

Oh, sure, there have been articles in the Real Change for years now about StreetWrites, our writing workshop and support group for homeless and low income writers that spawns a good deal of the poetry in these pages and more and more of the prose. But I haven’t written any of those articles, so my unique perspective hasn’t been
perspected. Let’s rectify that.

My favorite StreetWrites activity, in line with what I’ve been discussing, as regards stability and security, is the topical writing exercise. This is a practice begun by our founder, Freeman, “who needs no first name.”

Freeman, who should be called Freewoman, began by just asking the collected group to write when they met on workshop nights. They said, “What about?” So she said, “I don’t know.” And then she threw out a subject like, “What’s the meaning of life?” And they liked it. There is no explaining human nature. Each workshop I could barely contain my dread, waiting for the next announced topic.

Freeman, in workshop, Feb.29: “What are your symbols?”

Me: Symbols are very interesting, and I'm very glad you have decided to ask me about them. Everything about symbols is symbolic, and that's what makes them so great.

First let me answer the question, "What is a symbol?"

The word symbol comes from the ancient Greek, syn bolein, a verb
phrase meaning to toss together. Therefore, the mother of all symbols is the tossed salad. Other popular symbols of symbols have been the three bean salad, and more recently, the Caesar salad.

Symbols do not have to be vegetarian however. Nor do they have to be
tossed, although it helps. Take pigs, for example. Pigs are symbols.
If you toss a pig, that is a better symbol. If it flies through the
air by itself that's even better. Now imagine a whole herd of pigs
flying through the air. Now you have one fine symbol. Gosh, what are
you going to do with it?

Freeman, in workshop, March 14: “Three questions. First, what is justice?”

Me: Justice is what you have got when you got what was coming to you.

“What is social justice?”

Me: Suppose it was a bunch of people that was coming to you. That would be social justice.

“What is economic justice?”

Me: Suppose it was a bunch of money that was coming to you. That would be economic justice.

Other examples.

It might be a lot of tickling that was coming to you. Don't look now,
but here comes the tickle monster. That would be tickle justice.

Or maybe a truckload of ice cream was coming to you. If you step aside at the last minute, and they let you have the ice cream, that would be ice cream justice. If you don't step aside at the last minute, that would be truck justice.

Freeman, in workshop, March 7, “What is love?

Me: Thanks once again for asking such a wonderful thought-provoking

Needless to say, some of my thoughts are getting very irritated at
being provoked all the time, and a couple of them are in the woods
right now looking for sticks to poke you with.

But all in all we love being provoked, because it reminds us that we
are still here putting up with it. Instead of making boring new
friends in a pine box. Thank you, thank you.

So we have thought of one meaning of the word "love". I love it when
you motivate me to get out more. I love it when you remind me that my true purpose in life must
be something else. I love the good things that you do to me, unwittingly.

So much that I'll be back for more, next time. Ooh, Baby!

Wednesday, March 15, 2000

Guest Column by Anitra L. Freeman

This is Anitra, Upon Whose Kitchen Floor Wes Has Sometimes Slept. Wes has a bad cold right now, which he says is my fault (because he's sleeping closer to me than the kitchen floor these days), and therefore I have to write his column for him.

Wes says I am starting out very well, staring at a blank white computer screen. He then gave me a tip to get started:

[insert column here]

Wes has just left the room, leaving me clear to talk about him with Cindy, Muse of Few Words. I ask Cindy, "I want to structure this column like Wes does, in the form that I have called a Wessitur: an apparent sequence of non-sequiturs that sneaks up behind a political subject and bonks it on the head. How do you suggest I start?"

Cindy says, "Say something about Wes now."

Wes was skinnier when I first met him (he also says that this is my fault, in spite of the fact that he does most of the cooking.) We were both homeless at that time, in October 1995. Wes attempted to teach me the use of acrylics, at StreetLife Art Gallery.

He still attempts to teach me math. I retaliate by singing sea chanteys at him.

Soon after I started going to StreetLife Gallery, Wes drafted me for the Real Change Editorial Committee. I retaliated by starting StreetWrites, to help more homeless and low-income writers develop material for publication. Wes said, "Okay, I'll attend, but you have to do the work."

How am I doing, Cindy? "At about this point, Wes says something else."

Speaking of something else, last week I attended the Seattle Police Department's first organizational meeting attempting to put together a Homeless Advisory Council. I was unhappy to see that I was the only person there who was a "community member" (still counted as low-income and formerly homeless) instead of a service provider or public official-- and I was only there because Timothy "Editor-God" Harris, Director of Real Change, was in production crunch on the paper. Tim made me feel a bit better by explaining that invitations did go out to SHARE, WHEEL & HOP -- but they went out very recently. Membership-driven grassroots organizations need more lead time to make decisions than top-down structured organizations. Adding in that the strongest memory most homeless groups have of such advisory councils is the sensation of having one's butt turned to rubber with the raised words "Whatever You've Already Decided" lettered on them, then pounded up and down -- and caution lengthens the lead time.

Speaking of caution, caution lengthened the lead time in the relationship between Wes and I. Within weeks of meeting each other we were spending large amounts of time together -- we were both officers of StreetLife Gallery, both writing for and editing Real Change, and we just hung out, because we made each other laugh, we sparked ideas for each other, I could say one sentence and he instantly knew what I meant, cutting my tendency to discourse at length and earning the undying gratitude of thousands.

But first, I was staying in shelters and he was Camping Out on Fern Hill (the exact location of which he still keeps secret in case he might have to use it again.) Then I got housing but Wes didn't; he could only visit me three nights a week at The Union Hotel, where he really did sleep on my kitchen floor, and we talked for several hours each night like kids at a slumber party. It was July 21st, 1997, at 4PM (I got the date and time from Wes) that Wes walked into the Real Change and handed his last pack of cigarettes ever to Tim Harris because I had mentioned that I wouldn't get intimate with a smoker's mouth. Then he didn't sleep on my kitchen floor any longer.

Speaking of lengthening, we were both divorced. Wes had a history of severe child abuse and suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had a history of relationships disrupted by my bipolar disorder (manic depression). We were both used to being prejudged, misjudged, and making bad judgments about others. A lot of reasons for caution on both sides. We're now regarded as the happiest couple in the Union Hotel, mainly because we come in about 3AM each morning laughing manically over such things as the application of the policy of Harm Reduction to late-night transit.

Maybe homeless people and the SPD will someday be cracking jokes together, working comfortably side by side, hanging out together. Also the physically disabled, and those with mental health / chemical dependency / developmental issues: other groups that the SPD is hoping to have new Advisory Councils for. If there's enough common ground; enough support; enough patience. If someone gives up their cigarettes, or whatever other habits are in the way.

How did I do, Cindy? "You left out poetry."

Haiku for Wes

He sleeps on my kitchen floor
while I check my email.
I need no Valentines.

Write On!
© Anitra Freeman 2002

Wednesday, March 1, 2000

Rocks Are Hard Dirt

I want to tell you all to stop controlling my mind. I tell you dirt is nutritious. You are trying to stop me from knowing that, by focusing contrary brain waves on my truth receptors. You are wrong to do that. Smart people like me, who read, know eating dirt is good for you. Ask any smart person like me who reads, like Jesus or Moses. (Moses used to read stuff on rocks.)

Did you know that rocks are hard dirt? Yes, it’s true. It shows you how much God loves dirt, that He wrote the Ten Commandments on a hard form of it. Praise dirt. (It is also highly nutritious.)

I don’t know if this has anything to do with dirt (?), but this week the Seattle Times reported that Kate Joncas, a human, said that establishing two hygiene centers downtown was “right”. She said that it can’t be good for a neighborhood “to concentrate that many needy and damaged people in one place.”

I agree totally with that, which is exactly why I steer clear of neighborhoods where I see too many television antennas on the roofs.

So I was very sorry to hear that Kate Joncas, also Downtown Seattle Association President, said she was sorry to have said what she was misquoted saying. Because it was so true. Homeless people and people like me who have been homeless are damaged. By homelessness! That’s why we don’t like it! “Duh!”

Speaking of duh, I’m reminded of the Third Man Theme by Anton Karas, which has no words, and was originally performed on a zither, which has a sound that is extremely difficult to reproduce vocally.

So when I “sing” the Third Man Theme, it sounds like this: “DUH duh duh duh DUH, duh duh, *dum dum*, DUH duh duh duh DUH, duh duh, *dum dum*, etc. What a great movie theme! It rocks!

So what does this have to do with dirt, you ask? Well long ago, between the first time I was homeless, and the second time, I spent four cool days in Vienna, or as I like to call it, the Third Man Theme Park. (The Third Man was a movie that was made in 1949.)

I went there precisely to see all the sights from the movie. I wanted to see the street (Stiftgasse) where Harry Lime (Orson Welles) was run over by a car according to the porter in the movie. I wanted to see where the porter lived. I wanted to see the Mozart Cafe. I wanted to see the Bahnhof (train station), I wanted to see rubble left over from World War II. I wanted to see a small scary man holding a puny dog.

And I did! It was great. It was all there, and I got to see it, all the while thinking to myself, “DUH duh duh duh DUH, duh duh...”

Well almost everything was there. There were no underground tours of the Vienna sewer system where Harry Lime (Orson Welles) took that fatal bullet from Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten). I really missed that, and I’m hoping that Vienna’s city council or whatever they’re called will eventually get with it and offer tours of the sewers, preferably with zither music piped in.

But all the best stuff was there. The high point of my trip was my visit to the Prater, where, on the ferris wheel, Harry Lime (Orson Welles) almost shoots Holly Martin (Joseph Cotten), before he finds out that Holly Martin (Joseph Cotten) has already told the police about him. While I was in the Prater ( it was very crowded, not like the movie, but at one point I passed a man with one leg who looked liked the balloon salesman in the film. I thought, “Cool! The Balloon salesman! DUH duh duh...” and then an old woman started shrieking at him in German.

She screamed how dare he appear in public where so many tourists could see him. She shrieked that he was disgracing Vienna and Austria by exposing his shame (his missing leg) for all the world to see.

At first I thought, “COOL! Anna Shmidt’s (Alida Valli’s) landlady!” Then I thought, “How wonderful it is that I live in a country where we don’t hide our damaged and disabled, where we actually do what we can to help our most injured to live full healthy public lives, where we care about people themselves and not about how they appear.“

That thought made my trip to Vienna the perfect fantasy! Thank you Vienna! Thank you America!

Saturday, January 1, 2000

Questions For A New Millenium

Recently a satisfied reader plied me with questions about the year almost ended. These are my answers.

Q. What did you do with your life this year?

I abused it, as usual.

Q. What was the biggest mistake you made this year?

Waking up.

Q. Did you meet any of your goals this year? Which one(s)?

I said to myself on 1/1/99, lets see if I can't be flat broke by the end of the year, so that while everyone else is stocking up for Y2K, I can look forward to dying of thirst and starvation the first week of 2000! And it's happened!

Q. Are you further towards some of your goals this year than you were at this time last year?

I am exactly one year closer to my goal of dying of extreme old age.

Q. What were your successes and failures?

I survived a trip to Cleveland.

Q. What did you learn?

I learned that I am allergic to Cleveland.

Q. What do you have still to learn?

Why did you take so long to ask? I have so much left to learn I will need another millennium to find all the answers:

What are the names of the Brady Bunch? Why was it called the "Rocky Squirrel & Bullwinkle Moose Show", when Bullwinkle was clearly the star? How may I withdraw $200 at a time from an ATM, even though I have no bank account and no credit cards, without being caught? Suggested by my ex-wife: could I be any more stupid? How many barking dogs does it take to change a light bulb?

How may I hotwire a 747? What day(s) is(are) garbage pickup? What is the song "Louie, Louie" about? Instead of making two-ply toilet paper, why don't they just make toilet paper that's twice as thick? Who actually watches Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee? Is there really a two-pack-a-day Barbie? Is that two packs of beer or two packs of cigs? Why? What does "Jedi" mean?

Compare and contrast: the production of maple syrup in Vermont, and the times you've been kissed by your aunt. How many words rhyme with "purple"? What does "mean" mean? Why were there four musketeers? What does cat toe-jam look like? Why don't cats want you to look between their toes? What do they have to hide? Are anarchists out of control or what?

Will English ever be spelled fonetikly? Iph naught, waigh naught? How many eyebrows does Brook Shields have? Did Monty Python have legs? How auld _was_ auld lang syne? Who was the first guy who ever said "I shall fear no evil, for I am the meanest, baddest, m*f* in this whole valley of the shadow of death"? Why doesn't everyone just shoot "chartreuse" in the head?

Can you tell me the way to San Jose? What does chicken taste like? What is a dash of pepper? A dash of hippopotami? How many smidgeons make a pinch? Did Whitey really respect the Beave? How Tricky was Dick? Was it really easy to dance to, or were they just joshin'? Whose brilliant idea was poodles? Dachshunds? Irish red setters?

Compare and contrast: Brazilian hand-puppets, and a performance of Leonard Bernstein's Candide. What was Paraguay's finest hour? "I fought the law and the law won." What, exactly, did the law win? What would Palladin have done for a living if he ever lost his gun? Quick, what do you get when you cross Captain Kirk with a female alien elephant? Too late...

What happened to 001 through 006? Were their licenses revoked? If I were a little tea kettle, that wouldn't be my spout, would it? What was the strangest thing Mick Jagger ever did with his lips? Was Keith Richards involved? Was there a chihuahua in the room? Were lawyers for Taco Bell alerted?

Q. Why couldn't you have written this column entirely about Y2K?

I could have, but it wouldn't have made any sense.