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February 27, 2013

Call Me Red

So, I walk outside of Amante and there's a guy working the street. His eyes light up when he sees me. He's homeless, but I don't recognize him.

He starts in on his pitch. I reach inot my wallet and dig out a magic $5.00 bill. Offer it to him, and wait for the wild ride to start.

His name is Danny.

I'm from Mississippi. He's from Alabama.

He pulls up his pants leg to revel his lower right leg. It doesn't look good. Looks like he might lose the leg.

"What happened?" I ask him.

"I got a cut, it got infected, I started picking at it. Now they're going to do a skin graft on it."

"Well, that's good. That's good that they're going to fix it," I offer.

He's from Alabama. Recognizes my Southern accent immediately, and comments on it.

But he's out in San Francisco now. Doesn't really like it out here. But he's out here.

"Do you have any family?" I ask him.

"Yeah, but I don't want to bother them. I have a brother, but he has responsibilities. He has three kids. I don't want to be a burden on him. He's doing his thing. I'm doing mine."

And I think about that. That's exactly how I feel. I mean, I'm doing my thing. My family is doing their thing. Like, I'm not asking them for anything. Every man must feel this way. Danny is no different.

"Do you live on the streets? Aren't there shelters you can get into?" I ask.

"Well, yeah, but man, the thing is this. You go into the shelters at noon, and you put your name on a list. And, if you're between here and here on the list, then you might get it, but otherwise, you have to stand outside to see if you're going to get inside. Plus, even if you do get inside, there's like 200 people in the shelter. I mean, it's not really any place that you want to be."

"Yeah, I had another guy tell me that you had to sit in a chair and wait for like 6 hours to find out if you'd get in for the night..."

"Sit in a chair? I don't know where in the hell he was at...we have to stand outside waiting to find out if we get in or not."

Look, Danny. I've got an idea that I'd like to help some people get off the streets. You know. Maybe I could help you to get off the streets.

"Well, I've already applied for Section 8 housing....and a few other things. I'm just waiting for them to come through. But it takes a while. I've been waiting a year and a half for the Section 8 to come through..."

"Yeah, I had a friend on Section 8...he had a place...he was up in Portland...he was paralyzed...."

"But it worked out for him, right? He got inside, right?"

"Yeah, Danny. He got inside," I replied. I thought about Bubba, the last time I saw him. How we drove out to Ken Kesler's farm and helped ot paint the bus of the Merry Pranksters.

"That's good that he got inside," Danny offered.

I think about the way he said it....that he "got inside." I've never heard it put that way before. That's sort of the goal of these people, I think. To "get inside". To get off the streets.

"Yeah, but he's not around any more," I offer. Sort of trailing off. Bubba's gone. He's a fading memory now.

"Look, Danny. I've got an idea that I'd like to help people get off the streets. Maybe, I could help you. Would you be willing to talk ot me on camera...to tell me your story on camera. Maybe I could help you to get off the streets?"

"Oh, sure. Yeah, man. That's no problem. Are you with that other guy that's doing this?"

"What? What other guy? Doing what?" I ask.

"There's another guy...he's doing the exact same thing. He goes around and films people. And talks to them. And tries to get them off the street..."

"Seriously? Who?"

"He's a black guy...a really light skined black guy...he hangs out at Montgomery and Pine...by the Walgreens there...."


"Yeah. You're not with him?"

"First I've ever heard of him."

"What's his name?" I ask.

"Man, I wish I could remember. But you'll see him. He walks up and down the street. Over on Montgomery and Pine. At the Walgreens there."

"Do you have a card?" he asks me. It's a reasonable question. I hand him a little piece of paper. Just something left over from my motorcycle ride last summer.

"This doesn't have your phone number on it," he complains.

I write my phone number on it.

"Would you mind if I take a picture of you?" I ask.

"What's it for?" he asks.

"It's not really for anything. Maybe for my website."

"Who do you shoot for?"

"Just for myself. I just shoot stuff that I see. Birts. Flowers. Graffiti. Murals. Buildings. People. I'm sort of a street photographer, I guess," I offer.

I want to take his picture, but I want his permission to take his picture. I don't want him to feel like I'm mocking him. Or that I'm exploiting him. Because that's not really my goal.

"Well, here's the thing. If you could give me $5.00 more, then I could get off the street for the night. And then, if you could give me $2.00 more, I could have bus fare. Unless you have a transfer. That would work also."

But, I jsut handed the guy a $5.00 bill, so I'm not overly anxious to hand him any more cash. I'm well aware that this is a bottomless pit I'm throwing my money into. I'm not stupid. On some level, I suspect that I'm just fooling myself by this entire endeavour. It's a ship of fools, after all.

So, I hand him another $5.00.

"And two more for bus fare," he complains.

So I give him $2.00 more. I've handed him $12.00 in about 4 minutes. He's making more than me at this rate.

Finally, he agrees to let me take some shots. I blow through a few frames and show them too him.

He complains that he doesn't look good, but there's a limit to what the camera can do. It isn't a time machine. It's more like a mirror, albeit an imperfect one.

"Look for me in the morning. I'll be in front of the Walgreens," he explains.

"Dude.. I walk by the Walgreens on Sansome and Bush every day of my life. I've never seen you there."

"No, man. I"m at the Walgreens on Pine and Montgomery."

"OK. You're one block over. I got you."

"What time will you be there in the morning?"

"9:00 a.m."

"I'll see you then. Oh. Also, if you see me, call me 'Red'. If you call me Danny, I'll probably keep walking. That is my name, but I'll probably just keep walking unless you call me Red."

Posted by Rob Kiser on February 27, 2013 at 12:36 AM


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