Thursday, November 20, 2014

Gropin' Mouse

First, Michael Douglas ordered milk. Mr. Weiss suggested the drive thru on Arlington.

I had never been to a drive through before with a van full of students to order milk before. So, I thought it was a great idea.

And man, did we save time. We drove into the MJ Drive Thru,

"Do you have milk?"

"Blue or red?"

"Um, blue. Let's go Democratic milk."

In no time, I was forking over four of Fox's bucks and holding a gallon of blue labelled milk -- 2%.

We had time before our 7:17 PM appointed meeting with Michael Douglas in the back alley of the Mayflower, so we decided to visit the library to distribute some Project HOPE Thanksgiving Dinner fliers. Mrs. Weiss gave the students some hats she had knitted, and off our little ones went, into the library.

While the kids made their way through the library, I helped out Allan and Betsy with food and hand lotion.

The kids came back successful, delivered fliers, hats, and conversation.


We made our way to Jimmy's eventually to try to help with his Internet problems, worked on it for a while, but didn't succeed. Something with the router, we thought in the end.

While some of the kids worked on Jimmy's computer, he introduced the rest of us to his family by pointing to people in a newly hung picture on his wall. The family reunion photo had been taken this summer at his sister's house. What a great shot. What a great show of family union.

Friday, November 14, 2014


Batball. It's complicated.
Part of the goal of Project HOPE is placing students in a situation where they're in the spotlight, where they have to decide, where they have to adapt -- they're the teacher, we're the observers.

Students often have difficulty with this. We spend so much of our time making sure the school day and lessons are so structured and organized that the students don't have the opportunity to work through the disorganization that is real life.

Sometimes we challenge our students on Project HOPE to come up with creative names for themselves or "what if you were a color?" questions. Their first reaction to to ask for the rules or for clarifications, and our first response is "No, there are no rules. You decide."

Last night we placed a lot of responsibility on the students. They distributed all the food in the alleyway. They told people to wait for seconds until everyone else was served. They carried the conversations.

The thing is, the kids can do it, and they do a great job. The hard part is convincing them that it's okay to do or that they can do it at all.

This is one of my favorite parts of Project HOPE. Students are placed in the driver's seat. Students learn by having to adapt. Students are faced with the oddity of reality.

There are no classrooms out on Project HOPE. There are no rules, and the reality is what the kids make of it.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sniper Diaper

There was a line shouted by a distant soldier from the film A Bridge Too Far that my younger mind thought went, "Sniper diaper!" Well, that's not the line. Actually, it could be. I'm not really sure, but given my older knowledge of World War II, I've never come across any information on battle diapers.

So, I began talking to a fellow short guy last night, and after some initial hilarity, he said, "Well, being short didn't hurt my ability in Iraq to take out my sniper target from a mile away." Wow. I couldn't quite beat that one. Maybe my ability to drink coffee? I can do that pretty well for a short guy.

For the next 20 minutes, he told us of his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. He mentioned this gun and that gun, all of which went in one ear and out the other. The kids seemed to recognize the models.

"So, how do you hit something from that far away?" I asked.

He rattled off a list of important factors, "You have to take into consideration the curvature of the earth, the humidity, the . . . the . . ." Way too much for me to understand. The curvature of the earth?!

This dude, now on the streets, was once responsible to taking out high-level military personnel in Saddam Hussein's guard. He was responsible for gathering intelligence that would lead his team to targets.

"What do you feel when you take out a target as a sniper?" a news correspondent once asked a colleague of his.

"The recoil."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fragile China

Spoke to China outside Mama's. She's scared and upset. A couple weeks ago, she was attacked in the park across from her modest apartment. A man who she had been with for a while, smashed her in the back and then the head, leaving her unconscious. She showed me the bruise on her back, a discolored mess of purples and oranges. 

She claimed that people in her little complex saw, but everyone ran inside or turned the other way.

China lives in a neighborhood that breeds illicit activity. There doesn't seem a way to claw out of the poverty, the drugs, or the sadness. All she knows is the world of the rough streets. The cops avoid this area, and don't take the complaints not very seriously. It's hard to blame them, but at the same time, when China's calls for help went unheard, it didn't give her much confidence in the system, so why should she try to take the good road?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cookie Benjamin

Glass Eye
Paranoid Aguanator
Horinger and Jim Jam sat chillin' in the back of the van. Jam looked good. He sounded good. They talked about when we first met.

Six years ago, Jam sat strung out on heroin outside St. Bernard's church. It was cold, and the stone steps felt harder and sharper than usual. I brought out my sleeping bag to give away, and Jam was all about it.

I handed it to him, and he led me around the corner where he slept on the side stoop.

He asked for a ride, and I said no. Given his condition, I thought it best not to stick him in a van with some students.

He exploded with rage and shouted heroin-inspired insults.

I didn't know him like I do now. I was intimidated but stood my ground.

Horinger showed, and Jam softened.

"I like your hat," Jam told Horinger. "You're cool." He paused, "This guy," he said turning to me, his face morphing into a craggy image resembling the side of a rocky mountain, "this guy's a @#$$%$%^$%^@^$%&$%@@#$^."

Now, Jam is off heroin, has been for six years. Last night, we reminisced, smiled, and had a great time.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

No Tents To Be Found

Along the tracks. Tentless.
Four years ago, Akron police combed through the woods in Akron, tearing down the tent cities that sat along the railroad tracks. Men and women came back to find all of their belongings trashed, their few possessions gone.

Weeks prior, signs were posted along the woods warning of the coming raid, informing the occupants of the tent cities that they were trespassing.

Some of our friends packed and moved down the tracks. Some friends took down their tents and laid low under some tarps away from the eventual raid. When the raid was over, they resumed their life in the tent city. Others, however, stayed, and they lost everything, from identification to the few memories they had of better days.

Case Western University School of Law is now taking on the case of our friends, suing the city of Akron.

Beacon Journal Article

If you scroll through our 2010 blog posts, you'll find references to our friends moving away from the tracks. We lost contact with many of them after that. This happened just a little before we were told not to come back to St. Bernard's--"don't feed the homeless," like a sign at the zoo.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

New company brings fresh fun

Alley Bill
Vang and Bang

Main (of Jim's front porch fame) opened up and told stories of his youth in Alabama. One of eight boys, Main was given the nickname by his mother, who also nicknamed a couple other brothers, Pig and Dick.

Other than three wives, Main disclosed that he killed his best friend when he was 21. In self defense, he claimed. The now 52 Main said he received only two years probation. He's learned a lot since then, he said.

We stopped by Susan's post off Perkins, and while she stood across the street at the back of our van, Horinger and I took her spot so she wouldn't lose any potential donations. Horinger held Susan's sign, while I made my own: a jack-o-lantern face. We received no donations.

Standing on the side of the road, flying a sign, we noticed the many drivers who refused eye contact or who made the awkward effort to pull well beyond us when stopped at the light, almost pulling into the crossing street.

Alley Mark, out from jail, told us how to get a panhandler's identification at the downtown police station. The double doors, not the single door. This point must be understood.

Apparently, anyone who is willing can obtain a panhandler's license. I might be getting mine soon. I like identification. Who knows what the poll workers in November will ask to see.