The city renamed this road for him (and it intersects with another named for his wife) a few years ago. I noticed a few days ago that Google Maps never updated. I respected the Rev. Curtis West Harris Sr. too much to let this stand.
A few days ago, I saw this Washington Post analysis of homelessness and hunger among college students.
I scoffed. This is nothing new.
I knew at least one homeless college student. There were days when I was absolutely famished and didn’t want to ask my family for help because I was supposed to be an adult and doing this on my own, briefly had three jobs and, in theory I was guaranteed — up until my senior year, when my dorm was demolished there wasn’t enough housing and I could have been homeless if not for my fraternity brothers and I renting our unofficial official house — three meals a day from the dining halls.
This didn’t end after graduation. After a few months of only eating beans, getting the occasional Wendy’s sandwich, gorging myself on whatever baked goods showed up in the newsroom and willing my credit card bills (and gas prices) low enough for some meat, I asked my mom for food.
From 2006 to 2009, my mom bought me groceries. Occasionally, she still does. I also try to raid her freezer whenever I visit. It’s more of tradition at this point. Or she sees a killer deal through the connections she still has from the restaurant industry.
Typically, whatever she bought me was all the food I was going to get for about a month. On paper, I made enough to live. I got paid between $22,000 and $24,000 a year at my first paper. I don’t exactly remember, but I know I made less than $12 an hour and absolutely did not reach $25,000. My rent was about $600. I had utility bills and a car payment I wasn’t expecting to have. I had college-related debt to pay back. From the start, I would get my check stub and realize that the entire thing was spoken for. And then some. I had a bank at the time that gave everyone up to $500 to use, minus overdraft fees, after hitting zero. You had 30 days to get your account back into the black. I mastered having about $5 in on the 29th day and then jumping back down to -$480.
I was constantly tired. Journalism is not an 80-hour job. We pretend it is. I’ve never worked at a paper where people put down ever hour they worked. I don’t see how some people have a second job beyond reporting. I walked into every day of my first six years or so of journalism not knowing when I’d get home at the end of the day. Even when I had food to cook, I’ve come home too tired to cook it. I went a day or two without eating because I didn’t have time to eat or had no time to prepare anything. When I lived alone in Petersburg, I’ve passed out because of that on more than one occasion.
On one particular occasion in early 2007, it took me entirely too long to have time to cook the chicken I put in the fridge to thaw.
It definitely had started to spoil.
I was in no position to waste food.
Yes. That happened.
Despite heavily seasoning it and baking it until it nearly was burnt, I almost couldn’t bear to eat it. Luckily, I had some liquor, so I figured it would help kill the germs or help induce vomiting later.
I kept it down. I don’t know how, but I kept it down.
This still feels embarrassing, although a dozen years have passed. It’s because I went too long being too proud to ask for help. And then, when I asked for help, I was too ashamed to ask for more help.
You’re better off looking back at the time when you had to eat at a soup kitchen despite being in your chosen career than looking back at the time you cooked and ate rotten meat.
You won’t believe the problems I’ve had with my homes over the years!
- Petersburg: My HVAC unit crapped out in the middle of the summer while I was gone on a long weekend. It didn’t turn off for at least four days and spurted water onto my carpet. Additionally, the refrigerator crapped out and started leaking nasty brown water. It was never fully fixed when I moved out.
- Hopewell: Somehow, this was the only place I’ve ever lived that did not have a mildly catastrophic problem.
- Richmond, No. 1: Furnace ran out of oil due in part to spat between my two roommates. One felt that he shouldn’t have to chip in for heat since he all but used his room for storage while he lived abroad.
- Richmond, No. 2: The furnace died during a snowstorm. The components that needed to be fixed were on the roof. Lived next door to building owned by slumlord whose tenants once ran a gas-powered generator 24/7 on a wooden deck and wound up on the news. (Jacksonville, N.C., for six months while legally still living in Richmond: Local tap water smelled and tasted strongly of chemicals without a filter. The entire neighborhood was infested with palmetto bugs, as it is its natural habitat. Also briefly lived with a squatter.)
- Charlottesville, downstairs: Camel cricket infestation. Dryer malfunction led to brief mold problem. Hot water in the tub would not turn off. Occurred on a weekend, plumber did not come for at least three days. Upstairs tenants sang folk songs weekend mornings, including a full-on jam session one day.
- Charlottesville, upstairs: Entire ant colony moved into K-cup machine. Another moved into my rear passenger door. Sewage line completely failed. Roof leaked. Once got comically squirted with pressurized hose to toilet. Downstairs tenants were gamers who played at full volume at 3 a.m.
- Richmond, No. 3: New management wanted old tenants to leave. Clogged gutters led to the main entrance being nearly impossible to use during rainstorms. Roof leaked so badly that water cascaded from the third-floor apartment onto ours on the second floor.
- Richmond, No. 4: Washing machine would fill with water after completing the spin cycle. HVAC broke several times. Maintenance unclogged an upstairs drain, violently sending wastewater all over my kitchen.
Long story short: Plumbing hates me. Or at least water.
WHEN I WALKED to work from near the NewMarket Corp., I used to know if I was on time by where I saw Radio Raheem. If he was near the plasma donation center, weaving his way through the smokers either waiting for their rides or waiting for their turns, I was late. If we crossed paths closer to Main, I was good.
The man who amplified music from an unseen device disappeared a while ago, before the plasma center moved to a location closer to its clientele of do-gooders and $50-needers, before police shot an axe-wielding man at Third and Main.
I had seen the man hours earlier when was shirted and his hands were empty. As he crossed my path, I said “RVA all day,” to myself as I noticed his kilt in the early morning. I thought not of him again until the news reports and seeing his final smudge linger on the pavement for an unusually long period across from 3rd Street Diner.
“RVA all day,” I said again.
In my younger and drunker days, I often was a denizen of that former Confederate hospital, eating mounds of food of questionable quality on tables of questionable cleanliness, surrounded on those late nights with my fellow dregs of society who first tried to fill the void with alcohol and then pancakes. Or slices from the ostensibly Italian pizzeria as the bass pulsed from the gay bar a few doors down and the back gate of the Times-Dispatch rattled as the late shifts filtered out before the nearby blocks grew as still as the terminus of Third near the Downtown Expressway or the blocks approaching and passing the convention center before the bifurcation into Fifth Street and a ramp from the interstate.
Or the portion lingering in a dying, cloven neighborhood, anchored by a church calling itself the Temple of God with the Last Day Message. And a cemetery.
Something noteworthy happened over the weekend. If this were a few years ago, I probably would have written extensively about it. This time was different.
I have said numerous times that I’m not writing this for anyone but myself and this really is an extension of my memory. I don’t want to forget this weekend, but I feel that talking about it would do nothing but make it about me. In this instance it wasn’t just about me.
So, that’s that.
(This is going to be a little long, and you know this because it started with “So.”)
Anyway, so I had a dream last night that was pretty routine. I have next to no suspension of disbelief in my dreams, so all my dreams are about nothing. If I fly in a dream, for example, I eventually tell myself I can’t fly and I wake up. If something absurd happens, I tell myself it defies logic and I wake up. Over the years, it has turned into having dreams about going to the grocery store, having a semi-normal day at work and stuff like that. I enjoy that because it means I sleep through the night.
In last night’s dream, it is 2018, when our lease ends, and we go on to buy a condo. It’s in a converted office building that had a Wells Fargo on the first floor. Because of the banking scandal, Wells Fargo had merged with another bank and shuttered some branches. My dreams have elaborate background information. I’m a writer. I always cook up background. It’s getting to the point that I fear that I’m going to have a dream that mimics reality to the point that it implants a false memory.
So, we bought the unit that was the Wells Fargo. A few days after we moved in, there was a street festival near the condo, and it’s annoying loud in the main living area. We retreated to the bedroom, in hopes that it isn’t as loud, and find out that it nearly is soundproof. While we’re in there, I inadvertently hit the buttons that controlled the bank’s drive through lines.
“Pull your car up,” I said to Renée.
“Just pull your car up.”
As she got her SUV, I found something to put in the pneumatic tube and ripped the drywall off the window. Whatever. It was our condo. I could get a professional make the window fully functional later.
“Wait for it,” I said.
Then I sent something over. It was sweet. So, so sweet.
I sang the praises of how I we could use the tubes, since they still work.
I then went outside. The festival was ending and I found a lost kid in a Wells Fargo van they left behind. That didn’t make sense, so I woke up.
But now I want a pneumatic tube.
I really, really want a pneumatic tube.
Whenever my wife falls asleep on the couch —
despite at least one light being on
and the TV playing —
I turn out the lights
and the TV
and I make a small pillow fort out of the six pillows on our bed
and I sleep in it.
For the past three years, I occasionally become intrigued by a collection of food and drink photos in what apparently was an old break room in my newspaper building’s basement. When I first asked about them, I didn’t get a straight answer about their origin. My response after that was something along the lines of, “Well, it was the ’80s. I guess we can be thankful it doesn’t look like The Max.”
I haven’t thought about that room in a while, since we haven’t had a new reporter in a while. Typically, I make them walk around that giant building with me during their first week, because parts of it are weird and creepy and they barely know who I am.
A couple hours ago, I got an email from someone in San Francisco who was doing a reverse image search of these bananas.
An identical print is in his office, and he also was intrigued. So he wanted to know what I knew about them.
Now I’m intrigued all over again, since my response was “Um … kitsch?”
I didn’t do a good job of cropping the color image. As I should have gone to bed 2½ hours ago, I really don’t care.
Remind me to put this on the playlist for when we renew our vows.
That was longer than intended.
A week ago, my vacation was just winding down. Earlier today, I wrapped up a quick trip to Richmond that nearly came by surprise because the past week went by pretty fast. I like it when work weeks do that.
So, stay tuned: The recount of vacation is coming in a few hours.
I didn’t take a lot of photos, but here’s one.