[BRINDLEKIN TALES – Book 1: Chapter 4]
Nighttime, so photo doesn’t come out as well as it does by day, on my cheap smartphone. (I will update it to a better pic in a day or two.) But I didn’t want to wait till tomorrow, for you to see this. Deek brought them back tonight, because again it’s friggin’ cold. I am very pleased he did that, as I feared his own resentment about having them stay with me for so many days might get in the way of doing the right thing. But no, he DID do the right thing, and said he’ll pick them up tomorrow. This is real progress, Moira!
The doggies, so happy to get out from the cold are like dead wood…they won’t budge an inch if you try to get them up. Totally limp, I had to slowly place the jackets on, and then adjust their positions to align the top with the back, and then attach the Velcro tabs. They just lay there, while I did all the work, lifting the torso to get the opposite sides attached, etc. But there you are: two lovely warm jackets for two lovely little doggies!
Thank you from the bottom of my <3
OMG they look even cuter in the jackets…and they have no problem wearing them, easy peasy. Thanks so much again! They look kinda like turtles.
When Deek brought Wily & Tacof over for a FOURTH night in a row (unusual) because it was turning into yet another bitter cold evening, he showed great concern. And thanked me PROFUSELY for providing them with shelter. He also did NOT ask for an advancement on Saturday’s allowance, which he usually does. I’ve had to slow him down on this, because he had begun requesting too often. He can be belligerent…but it’s all bark and no bite. Deek is VERY independent to the point where he’s hurting himself. He is well adapted to living on the streets, seeing as he became homeless when he was still very young. Dysfunctional family, violent neighborhood largely composed of low income African Americans. Hurricane Katrina was the final blow towards him remaining there…so he and his cousin Aaron fled to parts west, until finally landing in San Francisco around twelve years ago.
I rarely see Aaron, and he and Deek don’t get together very often, either. They are cousins by marriage, not blood. And both a couple of handsome cusses. They used to be go-go dancers for a couple of years, in a gay club in New Orleans. They were already on the streets by then, but did a lot of couch surfing. The stories they tell me about rehab, and trying to plug into the system for help, are incredibly disheartening. The absurd demands put on them requires superhero strength that no human could possibly have! This is true all across the nation…and why I dropped out of training to be a social worker, deciding instead to do my OWN kind of homeless outreach for LGBT folks.
I should take this moment now, to reflect upon Deek’s good side:
He rummages nightly and comes up with all sorts of lovely, discarded items, that are clean and worth some money. Not just clothing, but quality bric-a-bracs such as vases, lamps, board games, children’s toys, electronic devices…and on and on it goes; the list is endless! He often finds a smartphone or two that still works for listening to music, like mp3’s. He loves his rap, thus I have garnered a HUGE collection of that genre, to upload to whichever phone he’s currently using. He also finds bluetooth speakers, so he can link them to a phone. Not to mention portable chargers on his discovery walks. He brings such devices to me now and then, for overnight recharge.
Some of these found objects are QUITE unique, and definitely collectible. He sets a choice assortment aside to hand out to others who live on the street…stuffed in a separate sack or box. And that is why some of the houseless call him “Santa.” (Though unlike the conventional Santa, he is skinny and pleasing on the eyes: the face of an angel with honey-brown locks that glint amber in the light of a setting sun or street lamp, when not tightly woven into corn rows.) But because he is so well known, and that he always stashes at least ONE item of value in his cart–and because when he finally crashes out on the sidewalk and sleeps the sleep of the dead–well, they steal. His doggies don’t always bark, but even when they do, Deek does not awaken. Sometimes, they even walk away with the entire cart, wagon or stroller! Thank god they don’t touch the pups. But Deek takes it all in stride, and builds up his possessions from scratch, once more. I RARELY hear him complain or whine about it. “At least I still got my dogs,” he says. They are everything to him.
And they obviously LOVE accompanying him on his nightly search, digging through this bin or that box or bag, for anything of interest or practical use. I sometimes see the scruffy trio strolling up Market Street late at night: a silhouette of Deek pushing or pulling the cart with doggies in tow, leashes fastened to the cart in one place or another. It is like an O’Henry tableau, an illustration in black and white from one of his lower class tales of friendship and love in seamy, urban locales. Think of “The Gift of the Magi,” only a gay, homeless version thereof.
Deek has a mesmerizing Louisiana accent, and tells the greatest stories about his former life in New Orleans. And how much he misses his foster mom, what a good woman she was. I’m guessing she was black, but I’m not sure. While she was still in this earthly realm, he’d phone her every month. I’m sure he was a heartbreak in her life, along with all her other adopted children, in one way or another. She’d also send him some money. Don’t know how he arranged collecting it, but I’m assuming he had a friend with a real home and proper ID to take care of this.
He has mostly black friends, and is very good to them, as they are to him…some are housed. They know of our friendship, and because of that I have protection across the board. Sometimes when Deek’s mood swings toward the dark side, causing him to turn against me for a time, they will admonish him. “Zeke’s your best friend,” they’d say. “Go see him and patch things up.” And he does.
In all my years of homeless outreach, I’d always select one particular person for a friend, vetting them for reasonable stability and maturity. Importantly, I didn’t want to get close to anyone with a shopping cart! Which would just complicate things immensely, seeing as I live in just a single room, and they couldn’t bring all that stuff inside. I’ve known some street people who are free of carts and other bulky, portable storage, who somehow manage to live well, keep clean, and maintain a friendly disposition. Then one day almost a decade ago, Deek shows up in the Castro. I sensed good things about him, but thought:
“That damned shopping cart is a deal breaker.”
So, over the next several weeks I’d observe him from a distance, as he ambled up and down the streets, pushing a cart before him, always stuffed to the brim…a hefty weight that definitely provides much exercise, especially when going up and down SF’s notoriously steep hills. One day as I was walking up Castro from 18th Street, lo and behold, there was Deek approaching from the other direction. With a Safeway shopping cart, of course. So right then and there I took the plunge and addressed him:
“Excuse me, but I’ve been noticing you for some time now, and thought it would be nice to finally stop and talk. My name is Zeke…what’s yours?”
As I extended a hand which he readily grasped, he flashed a pearly smile that blew me away:
So there you go, Moira: “Zeke & Deek,” the story of how I wound up with a shopping cart in my life, against all wishes, for the sake of friendship. Now, back to where I started this email, talking about his worries over this cold snap and the doggies:
So the next day, which is now (with the mongrel waifs resting on the bed beside me as I type) I thought more about what he said last night…and it struck me:
HE IS GOING THROUGH CHANGES! His love for the doggies has led to a profound dedication and responsibility that demands the kind of maturity he never expected, or even imagined. Meanwhile I have just last evening, been approached by a kind neighbor, Hanna, who knocked on my door to offer a few large bags stuffed with clean, used clothing. She knows a bit about my friend Deek and the dogs, and wanted to hear more. So we talked about that in the hallway, and other interesting topics. Her concern came to me as a surprise, since she’s been living here with her daugther (who is African American and adopted, while she is Caucasian) for more than eight years, and has hardly acknowledged my existence before, let alone talked to me for any length of time.
The door to my room was ajar as we chatted away. And, about ten minutes later, I thought I heard Deek’s voice summon me through the open window. “Wait a moment,” I told Hanna, and ran back inside to poke my head out to see if I was right. Sure enough, there they were across the street: Deek and Wily and Taco. So Hanna and I wrapped things up, I deposited her gifts in my hovel, then rushed out to see Deek and the doggies. He asked what took me so long, so I told him about my neighbor who just gave me bags of used clothing.
“Why’d she do that?” he questioned, with a tone of accusation. “Is this about your Amazon wish list?”
“No,” I replied. “She’s aware of my outreach to the homeless, that I sometimes donate clothes and food in the Castro. And this is her way of apologizing for misjudging me in the past.”
Well, turns out Deek was interested in Hanna’s donation, and asked me to bring the bags to him. Which of course I did. Knowing that, whatever items Deek rejected, he’d hand out to others. Or maybe trade.
But my point here is to remark upon how quickly Hanna’s gift found its recipient with such perfect timing!