Posts tagged “field work

City Paint Phoenix 22 – Mesa United Way

It’s been over six months since I shared an installment of the street-art or building murals that I’ve encountered in the greater Phoenix area.  I suppose it was good timing, then, that something caught my eye the other morning as I was out in the field for work…at 137 E University Drive in Mesa….  The address was not on my itinerary for places to visit, but I couldn’t drive past without stopping to make a few images.

A previously unseen (by me) mural glowing invitingly on the side of the road…on the side of the wall at Mesa’s United Way building, actually.  While I thought the deeper meaning of the mural might have something to do with enriching the lives of Mesa’s children, families, etc., it was actually sponsored by one of the local power companies, Salt River Project.  Click on the highlighted words to see more about the “#Powerisallyours” campaign.

As far as the artist is concerned, I had seen one of his other murals on the backside of a coffee shop in Phoenix, but had not yet visited it to make any photos.  Click on his highlighted name to learn more about Addison Karl, a multi-media artist from Munich who has murals all over the world.

If you’d like to see the earlier posts of street art and building murals from the greater Phoenix or Salt Lake City areas, you can scroll down to the Categories widget at the bottom right-hand side of this page and click on the “Street Art – Graffiti” link.

As always, thanks for visiting and spending a few minutes of your day with me.

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Toward the Transient Camp….

There’s a branch of the County’s credit union on the east end of the building, downstairs, and just west, to the left, there’s a drive-through rolling garage door that one can access with their County badge or after speaking with the person at the other end of the button that’s available at the key-pad.  The sign above the drive-through garage door said “Employees Only,” so I figured that meant I could park in there, given that I work for the County, as well.  After I pushed the button at that key-pad, the speaker-man’s voice said to go ahead and park in the next garage, the one just a bit further west that has a sign over the drive-through door that says “Public Parking.”  Whatever….

I learned on a particular summer afternoon that it’s better to park on the right-hand side in that “Public Parking” garage, as the sun will stream in through the mesh-wire covered window spaces and heat your vehicle just as if you were parked outside…and because the pigeons fly in through the open drive-through doorway, perch on the water and electrical conduit over the left-side parking spots, and then shit all over your vehicle for however many hours you’re parked there.  Go inside the jail and speak with an inmate, listen to his variously interesting or depressing stories, and then come back out to your roasting vehicle and deal with pigeon crap on your windshield.  Park on the right.

There’s a plastic tarpaulin type thing covering the slanted and handicapped-friendly approach to the jail’s public visitation check-in waiting room just south and east of that parking garage.  Years ago, that covering wasn’t there and it was only ever hot in that outdoor and public smoking waiting/approaching sidewalk ramp area, only ever hot, cement upon cement, with metal doors and institutional 1960s era buildings that house the low-risk, minimum security prisoners.  Of course, back then, in those years ago, I could just walk in through the employee entrance and go straight back to the clinic where the nurse would have the inmate/patient already waiting for me in one of the exam rooms.

But times changed, years passed, regimes came and went, another disease investigator did something stupid and raised the institutional ire of America’s Toughest Sheriff and he or his minions decided that we could no longer have such simple and ready access to his prisoners, could no longer occupy one of his valuable exam rooms for half an hour or longer, and we were then relegated to visiting with the rest of the “privileged” people, the public defenders, chaplains, social workers, probation officers, and other miscellaneous agency volunteers, in the glass or wire-mesh separated individual visitation rooms, or even at one of the handcuff adorned wood laminate covered tables in the larger room.

Those privileged people and uniformed staff could watch and try to read your lips and cameras could watch with their silent eyes, but in those little rooms, you would be away from their direct listening and direct loud voices talking over the other visitors’ questions, asking canned questionnaire questions with flat voices and bored eyes and slow fingers that typed slow answers into open laptops one key at a time, two keys and the space-bar, or the robust look-at-me laughing of fat-cheeked White men with their sweating red faces, backwards collars, and bad breath; we would be away from all of that.

This particular jail had an open room with those dark wood-grain laminate tables and slide-in benches, all of which had been bolted to the tiled floor, all of which had been deemed visitor and inmate friendly and safe and not able to be lifted and thrown at someone in anger or whatever.  The tables had a huge “U” bolt affixed to the scarred and worn table-top surface and a pair of handcuffs that the previous sheriff, the toughest one in America, had painted pink, along with the inmates’ boxers, t-shirts, socks, and gelled flip-flop sandal-type shoes (those things weren’t “painted,” but were dyed or manufactured in pink…an apparent insult by said sheriff to the incarcerated manly men?).  The pink paint was chipped and flaking off the otherwise chrome-plated handcuffs, maybe somewhat symbolic of the regime that had been removed after 24 years’ time.  The inmates’ outfits are orange now, or white with wide black stripes, or maybe black with wide white stripes, whichever you choose, like institutionalized and tattooed zebras with the bold letters of “MCSO” on their backs.

I try to get there early, before the public defenders and questionnaire questioners arrive, try to get one of the visitation rooms on the far side of that great room with the handcuffed tables, which I did manage to do on this particular day.  They are small rooms, probably only four by six feet in their floor-space taking dimensions, and they have a smaller dark wood laminate table inside with two bright orange resin chairs with their chrome metal tube legs and back supports.  The rooms are so small that one has to move the inmate’s chair to even close the door.  And then it’s just you and him in that small room with the window in the door and the narrow dark gray walls and your pen and paper and his pink-paint chipped handcuffs.  Rooms 1, 2, and 3 are favored over Room 4, as only Room 4 has exterior windows and catches the ever burning sun.  The ventilation in the room sucks and it’s only minutes before you’re starting to feel sticky and irritated.  Interviews never go well in Room 4 because nobody wants to be there…and because infrequently showered inmates don’t smell so nice in Room 4.

So I was in Room 2 wearing my three shades of blue plaid button-up untucked collared shirt, blue jeans with a slightly fading left knee, and black and gray New Balance shoes.  The patient came into the room with his bright orange jumpsuit, white socks, tan gelled flip-flop sandal type shoes, buzz-cut haircut, multiple tattoos on his face, neck, arms, and hands: tear drops next to the left eye, a woman’s name on his neck, children’s names on his arms, spiderweb on his elbow, and whatever else thrown into the mix, along with his official MCSO inmate ID bracelet.  I didn’t wear any tattoos, just a $17 dollar watch from Wal-Mart and a Road-ID wrist band with my emergency contact information so the EMTs or coroner’s office know who to call if I’m found incapacitated (or beyond) while out working in the County or hiking in the desert or mountains.

The man came into the room with a smell so warm and alive, yet nearly dead, like fermented and plastered skin and sweat and oil sheen on an old pillow case, so thick and unwashed that its fibers and weave were lost.  It was more than a smell; it was like a cellular mist kind of odor, a vaporous emission with a flavor, a taste that rode from the back of my throat and up into my brain on a rail and informed me at that deepest level that he is dirty and stained, yet human and alive and close to kin, or like a brother, even, that I would know in the dark; his hands were mine, and if I steeled myself enough to look closely, to stare and examine the depths of his eyes, I might see them as my own, or as our fathers’, full of a hope and despair that we might know like the ticking of a clock or the falling of sand down through an hourglass holding the time in our lives, joined and separated as worlds and planets apart, as eons of thought and memory gone, passed unbidden between the cells of our hands in greeting touched.

Still, we were quite a contrast, the inmate/patient and I, sitting in Room 2 of that particular jail a couple of weeks ago.  His blood test was positive for syphilis and negative for HIV, he had already received his three weekly penicillin injections, and was going to court the next day with a hopeful release coming shortly thereafter.  We spent about an hour talking about his infection, his drug use, his 38 year-old self living between the Street on the east side of town and his aunt’s house on the west, his being a self-professed “entrepreneur” who earned a living by dumpster-diving and rescuing various household items and video game terminals from said trash cans.  He said people “get mad and throw everything away…perfectly good cameras, Xbox and PlayStation consoles, watches, iPhones, kitchen appliances, you name it.”  He managed to get arrested, this time, he says, after having just climbed out of a dumpster while wearing only his boxers and a pair of socks.  He said the police were called about a noise disturbance or some other shit happening in the alley, said he was minding his own business and didn’t notice everyone else running away, said the cops ran his name and then told him that he was going to jail on an old warrant.  He asked if he could at least put on his pants and they told him no.  The man explained to me that he had finally turned his life around, was focusing on staying out of trouble, taking care of his kids, not using so many drugs, all of it; he was getting squared away and then the police showed up.

The conversation also touched on risk behaviors and sexual partners, those people who could be the source of his infection, or a spread, the unwitting origins or beneficiaries of his known or unknown sore(s), the new homes for his self-grown and cork-screw shaped bacteria that entered their blood streams within 30 minutes of their couplings, that would incubate for three or four weeks and then cause sores on their bodies, on their organs of generation, or in their mouths or nether regions…whatever body part they used for that fleeting act that exposed them to his sore(s).  The literature claims that they are painless, the sores, unless they’re infected with another bacteria or virus, and they can be the size of a pinhead or a quarter, so maybe they would be unknown, or maybe they would be noticed and not of concern.  At any rate, some would get attention and some would get neglected.  The neglected ones would resolve on their own and the sore’s owner would be relieved or still unconcerned…for another couple of weeks or months…until the rash appeared in chicken-pox form, or like a heat rash, or welt-like, but not itching…spots on the palms of their hands and soles of their feet, or chunky wart-like protuberances or wet and snotty sores in their mouths or other mucous membranes…maybe they would even lose their hair, clump-like disappearances, or fading and gone mustaches or eyebrows.

If those things weren’t enough to encourage some health-seeking behavior (medical attention), they, too, would resolve on their own in a matter of time, again bringing relief or unconcern to their bearers, as no treatment is necessary to make them go away; it’s what they do, all on their own.  If they’re lucky, it might be many years until anything else happens to them, or if they’re really lucky, they’ll never have another problem, big or small…but if they’re unlucky to any degree, they might start to lose their vision or hearing, they might suddenly have headaches and dizzy spells, difficulty thinking or remembering, or trouble walking upright, they might even suffer a stroke from an aneurysm in their brain…or have any number of other things happen to them.

We talked about those things and the need for him to tell me who he has had sex with so I could find them and get them tested and treated…cured.  He was open during the discussion and told me everything I could want to know, told me about the trans-gendered man and the two women he had been with in the last eight months, told me that he met the trans-gendered man at a local Burger King and then walked to a transient camp and had sex with her there, said he met one of the other women at that camp, as well.  The man told me what they looked like, how I would be able to tell that they were the people I wanted and not someone else, told me how tall and dark they were, how their faces were thin from drugs and how their noses remained large as their cheeks sunk in over the months, and then gave me the time-frames in which their exposures had occurred.  The other person was on the other side of town, closer to where his aunt lived, a girl he met as she was riding her bike through the neighborhood; they had sex in an abandoned house four or five times over a week or so, said he wouldn’t know where to begin to look for her other than by simply walking the streets in that particular part of town.

The transient camp was located at a “T” in the alley that was just south and east of an intersection that I knew well; it happened to be directly east of where we had our clinic in the long-ago. The alley itself hasn’t changed over all this time; it remains a thoroughfare of garbage trucks, a shortcut for neighborhood kids trekking from one place to another, a convenient dumping place for people who live in neighborhoods where they don’t have alleys, and it is now an increasingly utilized space for the growing numbers of un-housed people whose lives have gone to shit by choice or by circumstance.

Within several days of visiting with the man in that particular jail, I went to the streets and found the transient camp in the alley, just where he said it would be.  In the photos above, you can see that several someones actually frequented the place, ate there, maybe even slept there, but nobody was there when I visited and nobody has responded to the cards I left for the people on the chairs in the photographs.  As evinced by their names, transients are not long in areas where we sometimes find them; maybe a couple of days or weeks, but not likely for months, as was the situation in this case.  The man in the jail said he had last seen these people 2-3 and 5-6 months ago…so they could be anywhere now…or nowhere.

***Homelessness in Arizona Annual Report

***The Face of the Homeless

***Phoenix’s Homelessness Defies Answers

***Central Arizona Shelter Service (CASS)

***Phoenix Rescue Mission

***Salvation Army, Phoenix

***Phoenix Homeless Shelters

***Turn a New Leaf


Alfalfa field (work)….

I was heading west on County Highway 85 (MC85 for any locals reading along), also named “Buckeye Road” in its eastern environs, going toward the town of Buckeye, where I hoped to find someone who had some positive test results and was in need of medication.

My work with the health department takes me to various corners of the county…all of them over time…so I get to go places and see things that a “normal” office job likely wouldn’t provide.  Sometimes I go to jails, city parks, transient camps, doctors’ offices, hospital emergency rooms, or psych wards…and other times I’m actually out “in the field.”

The US Department of Agriculture’s “2012 Census of Agriculture” (the most current one I could find) for Maricopa County, Arizona, provides that there were 2,579 farms consisting of 475,898 acres of land at that time.  Those numbers reflected a 38% increase in the number of farms and a 2% decrease in acres of land since the previous census, dated 2007.  I provide all of that to simply state that there remains quite a bit of agricultural land in the County, with most of it being situated on the outskirts of the more densely populated areas.

For those interested, this Wikipedia article provides that Maricopa County has a total area of 9, 224 square miles, is 132 miles wide from east to west, and measures 103 miles from north to south…it has a greater land mass than seven states, is the fourth most populous county in the USA, and has a population of 4,307,033 (2017), which is greater than that of 23 states.

I took my camera to work with me on this particular day because I was hoping to make some photos of the melon and corn fields that are near my home, on my way home from work…when the light would be softer with the setting sun, etc…so I had it with me when I was in the field driving hither and yon…passing field upon field of corn, cotton, hay, onions, and alfalfa.

A five minute stop on the way to Buckeye allowed me to get down and personal with a surprisingly fragrant field of alfalfa at about 10:30 am on a day that was supposed to get up near 115 degrees.

I found the address, but not the person I was looking for when I made it to Buckeye…

…but I did bring back some unplanned bounty in the way of a few photographs…and testimony to the fact that Arizona farming can yield beautiful results!


City Paint Phoenix 20 – Hiding…maybe…?

I haven’t been near Roosevelt Row in some time…so it was a pleasant surprise to find some new (?) work.

This single mural is on the east-facing wall of 407 E Roosevelt Street in what is essentially downtown Phoenix…on what I understand to be an art gallery named “modified/arts.”  I don’t know the name of the mural or exactly what the artist is conveying…but I don’t want to, either…the possibilities and what they strike in my mind are enough….

The artist is Hugo Medina.  Please click on his name for more information about him and his work.


City Paint Phoenix 16 – King Wong Whisper….

It’s been a while since I shared any of the city’s building art, but here’s another installment in the City Paint Phoenix series…something that I have named “King Wong Whisper,” as it appears that the young man is suggesting that we speak quietly…or maybe he’s encouraging us to not tell a secret….

King Wong mural 1

The images have been tucked-away in my phone since May of this year….  I was “out in the field” for work and happened to notice the brilliant colors on the side of the building as I drove past.  And I knew that I absolutely had to turn around and take a minute or two to grab a couple of photos.

King Wong mural 2

Amazing work…in my opinion…by an unknown artist on the north side of a strip mall located at 2545 N 32nd Street in Phoenix…”King Wong Chinese Restaurant.”  Click on the link to view the menu…and to see if you’re in the delivery area….

King Wong mural 3

Another bit of iPhound art…..


field work

There was a time when I wondered why it was called “field work,” but I never asked about it, and after a while, it didn’t matter.  It became one of those words that just was, it represented things that were both inside and outside of its clear meaning; it was a job thing that those who did the work knew about and those who didn’t might wonder about for a while and then not, after the conversation or topic was discussed or reviewed, or maybe not…it came to be understood for what it was, we were out of the office looking for people…out in the field, sometimes literally, literally out in or near the fields, maybe sometimes just driving past them, watching brown skinned people bent over in their labors plucking and pulling some vegetable or other from the irrigated desert something, hauling it in sacks, placing it in waxed and sun-warmed boxes that lay in rows between the rows, becoming heavy with their loads of that some thing or other…and sometimes I’d pass other fields and become so transfixed with what grew there that I had to pull over and get out and look at them, at it, at what was growing there, to ponder those things up close and with my flesh and senses in a way that I could never do sitting behind a desk or absorbing intended meanings by reading someone else’s printed words about what they had beheld out there on the side of the road when they were there…watching harvested carrots tumble from a truck into a bin and then carried loudly away on a conveyor belt into a tin-covered shed with blue-jeaned and white-shirted black-haired young men scurrying about…intentional, purposeful in their scurrying as fighter jets from the nearby air base passed, screaming loudly overhead…jet noise, the sound of freedom.

These became my fields, my stretches of irrigated and corrugated earth that smelled like a warm and freshly opened bag of sour-cream and onion potato chips when the onions were being harvested, or expanses of red and pink and yellow and white blossoms lying restless in the breeze atop their green bushes of rose leaf and thorn that stretched to a near horizon of Phoenix’s western desert, or the rows and rows upon more of the same of white cotton bolls rich against their brown and dried plants of late summer, soft and marvelous in my gentle and searching fingers, waiting to be harvested by rolling machines that were loose from chains and whips and had drivers with air-conditioned cabins and cup-holders…rolling, plucking, chopping and raising the desert dust again to fly perpetually away in the breeze and gone…they became my fields that live in my memories and my printed words…and maybe even in my heart, as these things sometimes do.

I was back in the field again the other day in the place where I started doing this county-level work so many years ago…and while I did drive past fields and fields, some sown and most fallow or raw in their desert form, most of my time was spent in the figurative field of city streets and neighborhoods, apartment complexes, and doctors’ offices, visiting and searching, finding some people and taking a small tube of their life’s blood from them, finding another some by going door to door in an apartment complex asking, do you know Tom, do you know Tom, I’m looking for Tom, have you seen Tom today…not finding some other people, but finding people who knew them, people who loved and dreaded their homecomings when they get out of jail this weekend, people whose lived lives are worn in their tired and wrinkled faces and hands, in their faded tattoos that spoke of prior affiliations or devotions…of tears shed for lovers and sons who were sent away, and in the sweaty palms of anxious little sisters and daughters who carried their futures in their swollen bellies and were shyly proud of being the only one who had never been to jail…they wore those lives on their persons and in their slurred and whispered words that echo still in fresh memories that are only a few hours old and are reminders yet of other fields and visits…and other found and unfound people.


Reading Steinbeck…again…

Reading Steinbeck makes me long for the days when I worked with the health department, makes me long for the time when I used to be out and among the people, touching their lives, sometimes touching their hands or bodies in ways that let me know that they and I were alive in a human sense that also touched me in my deepest heart.

As I write this, tears are coming to my eyes and my throat is getting tight at remembering that life, that previous life when my days were filled with more than the talk of a police radio and the answering of 9-1-1 phone calls, when I could drive about the city where I lived, my city and county where the people were mine and I was theirs and charged with doing something for them.  I could see and feel them, could smell their smells and walk in the dust of their roads and unkempt back and front yards.

I long for the smell of a hot palm tree as it is baking in the August sun with the pigeons and other birds shitting down on those people and me and my car, where I could walk among the duck shit at Encanto Park when I was taking a break from my many field visits and rest in the shade or watch the white middle-class moms taking their three and four year-olds decked-out in Oshkosh-by-gosh jumpers and short-sets to play in the sand entrenched playground while watching the transients wander between the bathrooms and pay phones, watching who might be watching them and not.

I would sit in my car and watch the people who came to the park on their lunch breaks, wondering at who they were speaking to on their cell-phones, or wonder at what they were reading or writing as they sat at the picnic tables and looked up every now and then as the swarm of pigeons took wing and brought up the dust and dirt from their wings and the ground in their leaving.

I long for the days when I would walk down 12th Avenue and Buckeye and feel the stares on me as the locals wondered what they hell I was doing in their neighborhood.  Some would recognize my white car and white self parked along the curb and come out to talk with me, while many others stood inside at their windows waiting for me to leave.

I can see the area still as it used to exist, with Dixon’s Club on the south east corner of 13th Avenue and Buckeye, old gray and purplish stuccoed building with the one scraggly Palo-Verde tree there on the corner with the dirt parking lot and old wooden door jamb that had seen many fights and raids and strange white cops darken its doorway, and then across the street on Buckeye proper at 12-something west, the Social Club and its parking lot on the east side of the building where I got some blood on my hand after drawing someone at the trunk of my car, with my little black fanny-pack of a blood kit, elastic band to tie off their arm, the tubes and needles and alcohol wipes for cleaning the puncture spot…the wipes that came away filthy brown most times and lightened that tiny patch of skin where I would insert the needle to take some of their precious blood to see if it was tainted with the curse of syphilis.

I would then drive the sample back to the clinic and deliver it to the lab and watch patiently as the techs spun it down and then took a drop of the serum and mixed it with the reagent that would quickly, slowly, or not at all react with its charcoal grains that meant those people or persons had been touched with that curse, that same curse that made me scream in my soul at receiving the blood test results of the newborn that was four times higher than its mom’s blood results taken at the same time.

Reading Steinbeck causes me to see the little insignificant things in life and marvel at their simple-ness and integral-ness to what we call life.  He draws a big picture but fleshes it out with the details that I seem to be away from now that I’m in an office or call-center all day.  I hear the distress of people on the phones or the excited-ness of the officers as they’re chasing someone and the usually calm voice of the sergeant saying that we are not in pursuit and watch the new dispatcher get amped-up and tense in her typing as she’s trying to get it all down in the officers’ radio traffic….

I see the same two hundred people every day or week and they all look the same in their uniforms and combed hair and large and cumbersome work bags and headsets and their lunches and breakfasts and coffee for their two best friends and supervisor who used to be only their friend but is now their friend’s supervisor, and the radio consoles and phones and computers for call-taking and dispatching and the tables that move up and down and the many chairs that must be arranged so just so in the corners to hold their extra bags and the ones that nobody wants to sit in because they stink or have strange stains where the person’s crotch would be sitting or the one wheel doesn’t turn or it’s wide enough to be a loveseat and some of them bring all kinds of shit from home with them that their desks look like their office at home with pictures of kids and husband and dog and their personal box of Kleenex and Lysol wipes and their three pens and packages of gum and this book and that and the notepad….

My car used to be my office, too, as I drove around from one side of the county to the next, taking my little binder with green cards that represented infections or contacts to infections and carried my notes of efforts to contact and find them on the back, and my pens and pencils in the cup holder and the extra napkins from McDonalds and Jack-in-the-Box and Filiberto’s and Armando’s and Adelberto’s and Los Betos from my own various lunches and breakfasts amid the wandering of my city and then.

I now drive only two or three roads to get to work and back and the commute is a sterile representation of only getting from one place to another, not the driving about and looking for people and noticing the shrimp shack or burger shack where they served pancakes or menudo on the weekends or used a small pickup truck to block the entrance to the car stereo shop when it was closed for business….

Sometimes I’d drive to El Mirage or Surprise and wonder at the surprise of being there, or wonder at what was seen in that first mirage seen out there so long ago before it had a sign naming the year of its incorporation and how many people lived there at the last count…and its cotton fields along which I would stop and pick a couple tufts of the white stuff and wonder at the years of oppression of people who were dragged from African shores to pick the stuff….

I would stand there for several minutes and wonder at the dirt and the irrigation channels and see and hear the aircraft from Luke AFB nearby and be thrown further away and into my childhood where these sights and sounds were a comfort and a normalcy of everyday stuff and business, and then get back into my car and drive past the fields of roses and other flowering bushes and shrubs and be amazed at how fields and fields of the things could be grown here in our hot scorching desert and then cut and shipped to other parts of the country or world to adorn people’s dining room tables….

Then I would drive past fields of onions being picked by hunched over brown skinned people and there would be a smell of sour-cream-and-onion potato chips in the air and I would drive to the far western side of Maricopa county in the truly bum-fuck-Egypt part of our world and find myself surrounded by the huge and monstrous and beautiful female cottonwood trees in full bloom with their white cottony shit flying thick and cloudlike in the afternoon breezes among the trailers and mobile homes parked and anchored in their allotted spaces with the Big-Wheel trikes and Tonka trucks tucked under and beside the wheeled homes that did or didn’t have the nice grating or plastic wall skirts all around their homes….

And the people were gentle and welcoming or suspicious as to why I would be all the way out there in their neck of the woods with my health department identification looking for their daughter or son or whomever and is the water not ok to drink out here or what?

When I read Steinbeck I wonder how I could abandon those field and dairy workers and their little families of infected people and cousins, leaving them to other devices and treatments when I used to be able to tell them to go to the clinic and don’t have sex until you do and the smell of chicken and cow shit is strong on the hot breeze as I stand there in the scorching sun with sweat running down my cheeks as I also smell their beans and ham hocks and rice cooking on the stove, emitting their own clouds of steam or the chilies roasting on the fifty-five gallon drums with the smoke penetrating the neighborhood and my clothes so that I still smell them when I’m driving home to my house in Glendale or Peoria and find some of those same chilies at the ABCO market or Food City…and I could look in their dark eyes and see the hope and trust or wonder or doubt as my white self told them what they needed to do to take care of themselves as their little Juanito ran around in his diaper and nothing else eating a peach with stickiness on his face and hands and arms and belly as he chased their dogs from the trailer to the shed and back….

Now it perturbs me when someone steals my favorite spoon out of my desk drawer at work and I feel the need to send scathing emails to my coworkers accusing them of thievery or asking who dropped the coffee bomb on my desk and among my pictures and I used to not care about such things as I drove my client to Jack-in-the-Box on the way to the clinic so I could buy her two Jumbo Jacks and a large curly-fries and a large Coke because she only had a package of dry Ramen noodles yesterday….

I had found her at her shit-hole trailer at Sixth Avenue and Jones that day and looked into her home and saw daylight shining up through the plywood covered floor and the kids were missing some of their front teeth as they eyed me suspiciously and asked me in their maturity what I wanted with their mom….

The older one noticed that the last name on my ID tag was the same as his and asked if I knew his family…and his name was also Josh, like my 12yo son and he was going to be 12 in November, too…and he was cute and had the same gentleness in his eyes as my Josh did/does…and I wondered at how life could be so unfair and so fucked-up for this little Joshua when things seemed and were so nice for my little Joshua….

I could smell his house and home and filth and dreams for the rest of the day, even after I blew my nose several times, chewed sharp and tingly gum and had enchiladas and salsa for lunch…I could still smell those things of that other Joshua’s house as I drove home to mine those several hours later after taking his HIV positive mom to my clinic so we could also treat her gonorrhea and chlamydia and try to convince her to stop sleeping with her boyfriend who was already dying from AIDS….

But she wouldn’t and didn’t and we came to see her on the foster care review board and later saw that she died and was no more and that her other children went the way of the wind and some and now I’m concerned with ferreting out the problem with the radio and is it the jack or the bottom part of the dispatcher’s headset that suddenly crashed and made the sergeant call me to say that we lost our dispatcher so we’re going car to car, thought you’d like to know….

I know there are Steinbeck stories in the radio room and among the 9-1-1 operators…and their hair is so shiny and their perfume or lotion smells so sweet and their cars are so pretty in the parking lot and the digital picture frames of their children and vacations are so expensive and their cruises are so interesting and so far removed from the shit side of life…and they do have their trials and difficulties and their parents die violent deaths in car accidents and murder-suicides and their lives do suck sometimes too….

But somehow there is no parallel between this and sitting in the small interview room of the clinic or sitting in the dirt under one of the ancient eucalyptus trees in an alley on the south side of town while a hugely fat, dark purple-black man who just told me about the hood rat who sucked his dick and gave him syphilis changes the subject so quickly and asks me if I know Jesus….

I love reading Steinbeck.

***This is a Favorite Re-post from November, 2009.


Yellow-Brown Afternoon

Eucalyptus trees with silver-dollar leaves shaded the chocolate-hued men, those with the ancients’ lines around they eyes and steel and yellow-gray crowns upon they brows, slow and stony and tumbling-down voices, and gnarled fingers like busted-up tree limbs that moved the ivory tabs of black-dotted things this way and that along the scarred and pigeon-shitted table top.

“Don’ be lookin’ over here, you ol’ cheat, don’ be looking over here; git you ol’ yella eye-balls onto you own side a thisyer table.”

“They’s only echoes now,” like the cars and trucks on the overpass, like the train that rumbles slow down on the city track, ‘neath the palm trees on the other side.  “They’s only echoes now, them memories that still live and rattle yon in you brain.”

Images alive in the past and yesterday with a scorched-grass and dusty smell that rides in the nose-hairs for a long day; they’re like swollen and knobby coffee-milk fingers reaching into those lost recesses of tainted dreams, scooting those domino pieces to the side again, sliding them face-down and around, picking-up five or two again, and lining them up sideways at a slant.

“Pass me that bag, Mistah Scott…’f you don’ mine.”  If it were my can in the brown bag I’d have offered me some sitting there, just to see what I’d have done, to see how colored the skin of my soul was on that yellow-brown afternoon.

I fingered the blue card in the manila coin envelope and slid it back and forth, took it out and brought it in again, watching lazy mouths work their chew, work their salted seeds and spitting shells; I thought about the places they’d been, the lies they’d heard, and the promises failed, as the lines wore deep into their chocolate and honey-colored skin.

“You don’ know how to play this, do you, Mistah Scott?”

I used to play it some as a kid with my sisters, said I.

“Yah…maybe so, but not like we doin’, though, ain’t that right?  Not like we doin’ out here ‘long-side the overpass with pigeon shit all over the goddamned place, not like that, didn’ you?”

No, we played inside on the kitchen table…sometimes in the living room…but that was a long time ago.

“Couldn’ be too long ago, Mistah Scott, you just a young man.  You couldn’ tell me ’bout no long time ago, not yet no-how.”

No…not yet, no-how….


Kissy

The skinny black man sat in his tumbledown chair and stretched his legs out long and long across the patio there.  He was wearing a tattered straw hat that had a bright red and frayed ribbon laying droopily around the brim; it might have been attached at some point in its various pasts, the ribbon, but today it was laying loose against the hat’s crown with its thrice-tied knot to keep it all together with itself.  A hot breeze stirred through the patio columns and caused the screen door to complain with a creaky voice at having to move so when it was content not to at this time of an afternoon and summer day.

“I tol’ you and your partner the other day that I don’ know nothin’ ’bout no Peaches,” he said from below his hat brim.  His mouth moved like he was holding pebbles inside his cheeks, keeping his lips all in a pucker and moving still; I couldn’t see his teeth, as they were hiding behind his fleshy and purple lips, but I knew from a young lady’s description, that he was missing top and bottom twins on the left side of his mouth.  He had caught a tire iron or a bottle there during a mid-alley brawl on a last-July evening; said people started calling him “Kissy” after that because of the way he always pursed his lips when talking so nobody could see the remnant and damaged teeth within.

 – I never said anything about Peaches, Kissy; I never told you who sent me looking for you; I just said I talked with someone….

“Well, I still don’ know nothin’ about her; ain’t seen her none, leastways not in a long time, not this summer anyways.”

– Well that’s ok, really, we don’t need to talk about her.  We just need to get you to the clinic and take care of those spots on your hands, that’s all.  You need some medicine, Kissy.

“Yeah, you tol’ me about that before, you and that other Lionel boy from your office, but I’m ok; Kissy’ll be jus’ fine.  These spots come and gone once before and I ‘spect they’ll do the same again, so you can go on now, Doctor Scott, don’ try and reason with me none either, just leave me set here of an afternoon, cuz it’s too hot to move and I’m waiting on my check besides.  So go on now…and if you’ll ‘scuse me, I’m goin’ to have myself a little nap….”


Reading Steinbeck

Reading Steinbeck makes me long for the days when I worked with the health department, makes me long for the time when I used to be out and among the people, touching their lives, sometimes touching their hands or bodies in ways that let me know that they and I were alive in a human sense that also touched me in my deepest heart.  As I write this, tears are coming to my eyes and my throat is getting tight at remembering that life, that previous life when my days were filled with more than the talk of a police radio and the answering of 9-1-1 phone calls, when I could drive about the city where I lived, my city and county where the people were mine and I was theirs and charged with doing something for them.  I could see and feel them, could smell their smells and walk in the dust of their roads and unkempt back and front yards.  I long for the smell of a hot palm tree as it is baking in the August sun with the pigeons and other birds shitting down on those people and me and my car, where I could walk among the duck shit at Encanto Park when I was taking a break from my many field visits and rest in the shade or watch the white middle-class moms taking their three and four year-olds decked-out in Oshkosh-by-gosh jumpers and short-sets to play in the sand entrenched playground while watching the transients wander between the bathrooms and pay phones, watching who might be watching them and not.  I would sit in my car and watch the people who came to the park on their lunch breaks, wondering at who they were speaking to on their cell-phones, or wonder at what they were reading or writing as they sat at the picnic tables and looked up every now and then as the swarm of pigeons took wing and brought up the dust and dirt from their wings and the ground in their leaving.  I long for the days when I would walk down 12th Avenue and Buckeye and feel the stares on me as the locals wondered what they hell I was doing in their neighborhood.  Some would recognize my white car and white self parked along the curb and come out to talk with me, while many others stood inside at their windows waiting for me to leave.  I can see the area still as it used to exist, with Dixon’s Club on the south east corner of 13th Avenue and Buckeye, old gray and purplish stuccoed building with the one scraggly Palo-Verde tree there on the corner with the dirt parking lot and old wooden door jamb that had seen many fights and raids and strange white cops darken its doorway, and then across the street on Buckeye proper at 12-something west, the Social Club and its parking lot on the east side of the building where I got some blood on my hand after drawing someone at the trunk of my car, with my little black fanny-pack of a blood kit, elastic band to tie off their arm, the tubes and needles and alcohol wipes for cleaning the puncture spot…the wipes that came away filthy brown most times and lightened that tiny patch of skin where I would insert the needle to take some of their precious blood to see if it was tainted with the curse of syphilis.  I would then drive the sample back to the clinic and deliver it to the lab and watch patiently as the techs spun it down and then took a drop of the serum and mixed it with the reagent that would quickly, slowly, or not at all react with its charcoal grains that meant those people or persons had been touched with that curse, that same curse that made me scream in my soul at receiving the blood test results of the newborn that was four times higher than its mom’s blood results taken at the same time.

Reading Steinbeck causes me to see the little insignificant things in life and marvel at their simple-ness and integral-ness to what we call life.  He draws a big picture but fleshes it out with the details that I seem to be away from now that I’m in an office or call-center all day.  I hear the distress of people on the phones or the excited-ness of the officers as they’re chasing someone and the usually calm voice of the sergeant saying that we are not in pursuit and watch the new dispatcher get amped-up and tense in her typing as she’s trying to get it all down in the officers’ radio traffic…and I see the same two hundred people every day or week and they all look the same in their uniforms and combed hair and large and cumbersome work bags and headsets and their lunches and breakfasts and coffee for their two best friends and supervisor who used to be only their friend but is now their friend’s supervisor, and the radio consoles and phones and computers for call-taking and dispatching and the tables that move up and down and the many chairs that must be arranged so just so in the corners to hold their extra bags and the ones that nobody wants to sit in because they stink or have strange stains where the person’s crotch would be sitting or the one wheel doesn’t turn or it’s wide enough to be a loveseat and some of them bring all kinds of shit from home with them that their desks look like their office at home with pictures of kids and husband and dog and their personal box of Kleenex and Lysol wipes and their three pens and packages of gum and this book and that and the notepad…and my car used to be my office, too, as I drove around from one side of the county to the next, taking my little binder with green cards that represented infections or contacts to infections and carried my notes of efforts to contact and find them on the back, and my pens and pencils in the cup holder and the extra napkins from McDonalds and Jack-in-the-Box and Filiberto’s and Armando’s and Adelberto’s and Los Betos from my own various lunches and breakfasts amid the wandering of my city and then.  I now drive only two or three roads to get to work and back and the commute is a sterile representation of only getting from one place to another, not the driving about and looking for people and noticing the shrimp shack or burger shack where they served pancakes or menudo on the weekends or used a small pickup truck to block the entrance to the car stereo shop when it was closed for business…or I’d drive to El Mirage or Surprise and wonder at the surprise of being there, or wonder at what was seen in that first mirage seen out there so long ago before it had a sign naming the year of its incorporation and how many people lived there at the last count…and its cotton fields along which I would stop and pick a couple tufts of the white stuff and wonder at the years of oppression of people who were dragged from African shores to pick the stuff, I would stand there for several minutes and wonder at the dirt and the irrigation channels and see and hear the aircraft from Luke AFB nearby and be thrown further away and into my childhood where these sights and sounds were a comfort and a normalcy of everyday stuff and business, and then get back into my car and drive past the fields of roses and other flowering bushes and shrubs and be amazed at how fields and fields of the things could be grown here in our hot scorching desert and then cut and shipped to other parts of the country or world to adorn people’s dining room tables and then I would drive past fields of onions being picked by hunched over brown skinned people and there would be a smell of sour-cream-and-onion potato chips in the air and I would drive to the far western side of Maricopa county in the truly bum-fuck-Egypt part of our world and find myself surrounded by the huge and monstrous and beautiful female cottonwood trees in full bloom with their white cottony shit flying thick and cloudlike in the afternoon breezes among the trailers and mobile homes parked and anchored in their allotted spaces with the Big-Wheel trikes and Tonka trucks tucked under and beside the wheeled homes that did or didn’t have the nice grating or plastic wall skirts all around their homes…and the people were gentle and welcoming or suspicious as to why I would be all the way out there in their neck of the woods with my health department identification looking for their daughter or son or whomever and is the water not ok to drink out here or what?  When I read Steinbeck I wonder how I could abandon those field and dairy workers and their little families of infected people and cousins, leaving them to other devices and treatments when I used to be able to tell them to go to the clinic and don’t have sex until you do and the smell of chicken and cow shit is strong on the hot breeze as I stand there in the scorching sun with sweat running down my cheeks as I also smell their beans and ham hocks and rice cooking on the stove, emitting their own clouds of steam or the chilies roasting on the fifty-five gallon drums with the smoke penetrating the neighborhood and my clothes so that I still smell them when I’m driving home to my house in Glendale or Peoria and find some of those same chilies at the ABCO market or Food City…and I could look in their dark eyes and see the hope and trust or wonder or doubt as my white self told them what they needed to do to take care of themselves as their little Juanito ran around in his diaper and nothing else eating a peach with stickiness on his face and hands and arms and belly as he chased their dogs from the trailer to the shed and back…and now it perturbs me when someone steals my favorite spoon out of my desk drawer at work and I feel the need to send scathing emails to my coworkers accusing them of thievery or asking who dropped the coffee bomb on my desk and among my pictures and I used to not care about such things as I drove my client to Jack-in-the-Box on the way to the clinic so I could buy her two Jumbo Jacks and a large curly-fries and a large Coke because she only had a package of dry Ramen noodles yesterday…and I had found her at her shit-hole trailer at Sixth Avenue and Jones that day and looked into her home and saw daylight shining up through the plywood covered floor and the kids were missing some of their front teeth as they eyed me suspiciously and asked me in their maturity what I wanted with their mom…and the older one noticed that the last name on my ID tag was the same as his and asked if I knew his family…and his name was also Josh, like my 12yo son and he was going to be 12 in November, too…and he was cute and had the same gentleness in his eyes as my Josh did/does…and I wondered at how life could be so unfair and so fucked-up for this little Joshua when things seemed and were so nice for my little Joshua…and I could smell his house and home and filth and dreams for the rest of the day, even after I blew my nose several times, chewed sharp and tingly gum and had enchiladas and salsa for lunch…I could still smell those things of that other Joshua’s house as I drove home to mine those several hours later after taking his HIV positive mom to my clinic so we could also treat her gonorrhea and chlamydia and try to convince her to stop sleeping with her boyfriend who was already dying from AIDS but she wouldn’t and didn’t and we came to see her on the foster care review board and later saw that she died and was no more and that her other children went the way of the wind and some and now I’m concerned with ferreting out the problem with the radio and is it the jack or the bottom part of the dispatcher’s headset that suddenly crashed and made the sergeant call me to say that we lost our dispatcher so we’re going car to car, thought you’d like to know…and I know there are Steinbeck stories in the radio room and among the 9-1-1 operators…and their hair is so shiny and their perfume or lotion smells so sweet and their cars are so pretty in the parking lot and the digital picture frames of their children and vacations are so expensive and their cruises are so interesting and so far removed from the shit side of life…and they do have their trials and difficulties and their parents die violent deaths in car accidents and murder-suicides and their lives do suck sometimes too….but somehow there is no parallel between this and sitting in the small interview room of the clinic or sitting in the dirt under one of the ancient eucalyptus trees in an alley on the south side of town while a hugely fat, dark purple-black man who just told me about the ‘hood rat’ who sucked his dick and gave him syphilis changes the subject so quickly and asks me if I know Jesus….

I love reading Steinbeck.