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.

up on the roof

Aside: The new Jamiroquai album is my album of the spring. And probably a good chunk of the summer.


I would have taken a better photo, but I was in a rush.

Not long after we moved into a new place, I explored the building. The second time I went up a flight of stairs, that time to get all my steps in for the day, I discovered that maintenance didn’t closed a normally locked door all the way.

So I went in.

I wound up on a portion of the roof, but the access door I found didn’t open to much and didn’t lead me to a place with a great view. I also didn’t want to do a lot of exploring because we have real security here and I didn’t feel like explaining how/why I was somewhere I clearly wasn’t supposed to be.

I forgot I took this photo (and two more that give away exactly where I live a bit more, so I’m not posting those). When I came across it a few days ago, it reminded me of a story.


In the 2002-2003 school year, I lived in James River Hall at CNU. If one stands in a certain spot next to the original residence hall at CNU, Santoro, and stare at James River Hall, you get one of last two views of how the campus looked back when I was a student. It makes me sad.

But I digress.

JR is a four-story building, but the elevator goes up to five. Nearly everyone I talked to in the building mentioned how they pressed 5 to discover that nothing happened. It aggravated us. It clearly was a four-story building. Where did 5 go? It had to go somewhere, because why else would it be there?

One day, I was in an English class in Ratcliffe Hall, which once housed the English department. And political science. And facilities for our field sports. It was a weird place.

But, as I was saying, I was in class, and right before it started, my future fraternity brother Dorian ran into the room and yelled, “The 5 in James River works!”

The only thing that could have piqued so many college students’ interest would have been someone announcing that there were kegs somewhere.

Someone asked him what was there. He said he didn’t know because he wanted to tell people first. A group of us decided to go straight there after class.

We packed into the elevator and — yes — the 5 illuminated when pressed and we started heading up.

When we got to the fourth floor, the doors opened, and a woman was confused when none of us made a move to exit.

“Are … you going down?” she asked.

“No,” Dorian replied. “We’re going up.”

She stood there as we didn’t budge and the doors closed.

A few minutes later, we were on the fifth floor. It was just a mechanical area. When we turned around, we couldn’t find a button to recall the elevator. There was a staircase, though.

“Hey!” another woman yelled as we popped out of a seemingly decorative wood panel in the wall across from her open room door.

“Just materializing out of a wall was more exciting that what was up there,” someone said.

And that is why I go down every hallway and try every door that isn’t someone’s apartment in every building I live in.

‘we want the text’

I’m fairly certain I’ve told this story before. I’m too lazy to look for it. I can’t remember the year, so there’s a chance I told this tale within 24 hours of it happening.

Despite not knowing the year, I remember what happened clearly one weekend evening at CNU.

For a while, my college newspaper used a bartering system for some of our advertisers. One of them was a pizza place that’s now defunct. I’ll leave it nameless, though. I was new to the paper’s executive board, and it was a rite of passage for the new editor to pick up the pizzas and subs we got in exchange for running their ads.

It was a bum deal.

The subs were greasy, and came with a special sauce, which appeared to be more grease. The pizza was gross. Just. Plain. Gross.

But it was free, and we were literally starving college students. If you’ve been in college, you feel for the homeless man you see eating something out of the garbage, because there was a point partway through junior year when you had $2.48 to your name and came close to rationalizing it like George Costanza.

Anyway, I was told to go down there, tell him I was from the paper, give him the proof copies he requested and he would hand me the food. Simple.

So I get sent down to the pizza joint, which of course, wasn’t owned by Italians. The owner had an extremely thick accent that sounded more Eastern Bloc than anything else.

So I walked in, the guy greeted me and I did my part.

The dude then started reading the paper. I didn’t know what to do for a moment. Finally, he broke the silence.

“We want the text,” he said.

“What‽” I said, adding You want the sex? in my head after that incredibly apt interrobang.

“The text! You wrote the text from the Aztec. We want the text!”

“Oh, you want a review.” I replied after a sigh of relief, going on to say I’d mention it to our food critic.

He then went back to reading the paper.

“Um. …”

Finally, someone from the kitchen came to the front.

“Oh, do you want your food?”


When I returned to the newsroom, I learned that everyone else knew everything that happened would happen. I also learned that they had been putting off having the critic do the restaurant until the end of the academic year because they knew it would be absolutely atrocious.

It was. Oh, it was.

We had a “Finger-Lickin’ Good Scale” from 1 to 5.

“It might as well say, ‘On the Finger-Licking Good Scale, we give it one finger — the middle one,” and editor said.

Obviously, that edition was the last one that carried the pizza ad.

‘imagine your worst nightmare times 15’

Because of the Super Bowl, and “All N My Grill” being in my head for about six months, I grabbed Missy’s first two albums when I went to my mom’s house last week. I have a spindle with some hip-hop and R&B albums I “retired” from my collection after my tastes changed began drifting away from what I considered my jams back in middle and high school, and I’ve noticed that I’ve been reclaiming albums as of late. I’ve been chalking it up trying to cling to my youth after a few years of being well on the wrong side of 25 and attempting to right the wrong of abandoning entire genres of music because I was becoming “educated” and “cultured.”

Thursday afternoon, I finally got around to popping in Da Real World and it wouldn’t play. I was adamant that it wasn’t scratched, so naturally, I started cursing at Nicole’s radio, which I plan on replacing within the next 12 months anyway. I finally inspected it to discover that there was some schmutz on it so I licked my finger and wiped it off, because I’m a grownup now. About a decade ago, I would have licked the entire CD. I was almost at work at that point, so I decided to wait until after work to give it an official spin.

I took a different route home than normal, and I’ve completely forgotten the track order, so the string sample I was looking for started (about 45 second into the video at the head of this entry) when I was less than half a mile from my house. I decided that I’d ride around until the song was over, which led me to 10th Street Northeast and East Market at about 11:30 p.m. While I was waiting for the light to change, a disheveled young man clad in a superb blue blazer, a bow tie, boat shoes, khakis — you know, the whole nine yards — started crossing the street to where there was no sidewalk.

“Where the hell is that UVa student going?” I asked myself as I realized he was walking to my car.

It happens a lot. I have a black Nissan Altima, a.k.a. the black Lincoln Town Car private taxi of the teens. I’ve largely stopped driving down Water Street on weekends, because every time my car is stopped for any reason by the Downtown Mall, I get hailed. There’s been more than one occasion that a drunk person has tried to get in. I’m glad my doors lock automatically.

I turned the music down (I didn’t want to because ALL N MY GRILL) and was about to tell him I wasn’t a taxi when I saw that he was more distraught than disheveled.

“How close am I to the Corner?” he asked.

The Corner, the restaurant-retail strip on University Avenue opposite the University of Virginia, unofficially begins at 14th Street Northwest. The grid starts over downtown, and I’ve long suspected that some wayward UVa students see the numbers going up regardless of which direction they go on Main Street and assume they’re heading the right way until they reach worst combination of them all: dark and unfamiliar.

“Dear God, that’s like two miles that way,” I replied, pointing west.

“Isn’t it just another left up here?” He was standing by the front passenger-side door. I could smell the booze on him.

“No, you keep going that way and you end up at the river.”

“Oh my God, how did I get this far?” In an apologetic way, he eventually asked if I could drive him to the Corner.

I cleared off the stuff I piled in the seat and told him to get in. I wasn’t worried as was obviously a student, waifish it wasn’t the first time I’ve given a stranger a ride since I’ve had my license.

My wife is going to yell at me about that.

I headed down Water and the student mentioned that the Corner was just to the left, which would have been his right a few moments before when he said it was another left. At this point, “left” was the railroad tracks and the Belmont-adjacent neighborhood that has been renamed the Strategic Investment Area because it’s about to be gentrified by way of bulldozer.

I pointed out that we were passing the bus station and the Downtown Mall was to our right. He calmly freaked out while texting. He told me he though he was on his way to a friend’s place in the Flats @ [sic] West Village. I asked if he wanted to be dropped off there, but he was adamant about going to the area of the Jimmy John’s on the ground floor of what is about to be The Graduate Hotel.

“This is bad. I’m not even that drunk. This has been a bad year.”

“What’s been going on with you?” My first thought was that I had a suicidal student on my hands.

“It’s been a bad year,” he repeated. “You know, with everything that happened. I live in Kellogg. Hannah lived with us.”

He was referring to Hannah Graham, a second-year UVa student who authorities say was abducted and murdered by Jesse Matthew Jr. after wandering from the Corner area to the Downtown Mall a few months back.

“They never gave us all counseling, just the people who lived with her and her friends,” he continued. “We were just … we needed someone. … They never told us how to get back and now here I am. Thank you for taking me back.”

“No problem. It happens. If I had a dollar for every time I wondered how I got back to my place in college …”

“No, this is really bad. Oh God, I know where I am now. I was so far off. … You’re not a taxi, are you?”

“No, I work at the paper, I was on my way home from the newsroom and just happened to take the long way.”

“Oh God, that’s even worse. This is a nightmare. Imagine your worst nightmare times 15. That stuff happens with Hannah and I have to get a ride back to the Corner … no offense.”

None taken.

I pulled over at a loading zone on Main between 13th and 14th Northwest. I asked if he was going to be OK. He said he was going to be fine now that he was back, apologized again and insisted on giving me his last three bucks. He eventually headed into the 24-hour convenience store on the block tapping away on his phone. There were some cops nearby. I hoped he’d be OK and set off for home.

I’ve been home about two hours now. Although I’m certain one of his texts before he got out of the car was “He dropped me off near Boylan,” I’m a little worried. I also feel a little queasy.

If I had a dollar for every time in college I’ve wondered where I was or barely know how I got home, I’d be a wealthy man. I wandered around Savannah, Georgia, drunk and alone about seven years ago. It was my first time there. It wasn’t a problem.

Nine times out of 10 nothing bad happens. Drunk twentysomething Elliott wandered home or back to where he was staying. Sober thirtysomething Elliott drives Drunk UVa student back to UVa Adjacent.


I now really, really want Charlottesville to rename the northeast numbered streets.

I can’t stop thinking about what could have happened to that kid if I didn’t want to hear some Missy. I can’t stop thinking about how numbered streets ascending in both directions in an entertainment district could lead to huge problems. I can’t stop thinking about how something as simple as NE or NW on a street sign might have contributed to Hannah Graham’s demise.

I’m sure that guy’s vomiting into a friend’s toilet right about now or will be in about eight hours, but I’m still fretting a little. We don’t think about the consequences of something bad happening when we’re wastefaced when we’re feeling invincible in our undergraduate years. I guess I’m concerned because of all the “Dude, you were so drunk and stupid” dollars I would have amassed from my time at Christopher Newport University.

When I posted the abridged version of this on Facebook, one of the comments was, “You’re officially a grownup.”

I guess I am.

Stay safe out there.


Suddenly, pressurized water shot out of the floor, sending me back against the wall. The geyser then slammed into the ceiling, drenching me further before I fought the stream and shut off the valve.

Less than two minutes after I shut off the water, my wife came in and asked how my day was.

“I’m soaking wet,” I said as I glowered in the doorway of the bathroom. I then went into a few minutes of expletives.

That was Tuesday. Let’s go back to Saturday.

Although I work most Saturdays, I get to sleep in till noon if I want. I typically don’t, but I can.

What I don’t do is get up at roughly 7 a.m.

There was a series of knocks on my front door. I didn’t care. Then I heard a key in the lock. Why, oh why, is my landlord here unannounced at 7 a.m.?

He was a bit frantic.

Apparently, my house was leaking sewage into the apartment below. It just so happened that the new guy downstairs was moving in as this happened. There has been a series of minor plumbing issues in this house since I was downstairs. I don’t know why we stayed in this building either, but we’re definitely moving on within the next six months.

But I digress.

We were told to a plumber was on his way to figure out what was going on. Our bedroom shares a wall with the bathroom. So much for going back to sleep.

About an hour later, we got the bad news. We needed to use as little water as possible until Monday, because an entire plumbing crew needed to rip out half of a wall, because, 70-odd years ago, entombing all of the wastewater pipes inside thick plaster walls was a brilliant idea.

I went overboard with my share of rationing because I have 24-hour access to the newsroom and its running water.The biggest plus is that the newspaper building has showers from its former life as a defunct company’s headquarters. Showering is another thing I can now check off my “things I’ve done at work” list.


Monday morning was a 12-hour day. I got up around 6 a.m. to get out of here before the workmen came. At 7:30, I was already at my desk and had deluded myself into being chipper. By 7:30 p.m., I wanted to die. And had three hours of work left to go.

Also, I was told that the carpentry crew would be on their way bright and early Tuesday to replace the wall and re-install the sink.

Today is my day off. My only day off until next week because one of the editors has a family issue to resolve.

By 7:30 a.m., I was sitting in a Waffle House because I don’t do breakfast food and didn’t know where to go. It made me miss Third Street Diner in Richmond. I really wanted pancakes and a screwdriver.

I hung out at the library downtown for a bit, ran a couple of errands before realizing there was one I couldn’t do and then came back to the house, hoping they were finished.

Seeing that the carpenters were still here, I nearly gave up and set out to sleep in my car for a few hours. Since I don’t have a driveway, I considered crawling into the trunk, since it’s empty and there are two ways to get out of it when the lid’s closed and I unlock the backseat. It took too much effort to sequester myself in a way in which I couldn’t be seen, so I asked how much longer it would be then took a quick drive.

Finally, they were finished. I fell asleep within 10 minutes then, upon waking, discovered that the toilet wouldn’t flush.

From experience, I checked the valve. From inexperience, I didn’t check the hose.

picture it: baltimore, november 2003

story within a story

This is a cell phone photo of a blown-up disposable camera photo. I also used a makeshift lighting umbrella to take this because I didn’t feel like taking this off the wall.

The time before my blog is a weird place. I had a lot of adventures in high school and college, and I can’t recall an awful lot of them because I didn’t get to write them down.

I’ve been trying to piece together one of them.

In November 2003, my sister’s mother-in-law got remarried in Baltimore. As I’ve probably mentioned ad nauseam, I’ve spent a lot of summers in Baltimore growing up because Theresa lived in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, up until about 1998 and my mom shipped me up there to keep me away from the horrible children in my neighborhood. Like the one who’s serving a life term in Florida that I’m pretty glad about.

So, my mom and I were invited to the wedding. Well, it was more like I wound up going because my mom doesn’t like driving long distances. I didn’t get my own room, so I wasn’t amused.

There was a nasty, cold rainstorm the night we got there, and the hotel’s satellite TV went out because of the driving rain. My mom sometimes goes to bed early, and I was utterly bored, so I told her I was going for a drive. She was a little concerned, because it was Baltimore and all, but I told her I would be fine. I’ve totally been there enough to know where not to go, especially at night.

So I went.

I was gone for while so my mom called to check on me. Another thing I’ve probably mentioned entirely too much is that my mom has this incredible knack for calling me at the worst possible times. The absolute worst. She called me about when I needed to make a turn because what was straight ahead was a part of town I’d never visited before.

I shouted half-sentences to her and abruptly hung up after saying I missed my turn.

Then the news came on.

The top story was this: Man found at Ripken home reportedly fled kidnappers.

If the link dies, here’s the first two grafs, by Laura Barnhardt:

The three men who left a naked gunshot victim near Cal Ripken’s house on Thanksgiving night likely didn’t know they were in the former Oriole’s neighborhood, Baltimore County police said yesterday.

The shooting victim, identified yesterday as 20-year-old Brian Holmes Robbins, told police he was kidnapped near his apartment in the 1100 block of St. Paul St. in downtown Baltimore and released in a field near Ripken’s Worthington Valley home nine hours later.

Ripkin called police not long after I told my mom I missed my turn, and what exactly transpired was still unclear when the news came on.

Meanwhile, I was outside Towson and finally got my bearings in the pouring rain and poor visibility (because I needed to clean the inside of my windshield).

My mom called again, frantic. I think it was one of the rare occasions that I’ve sworn at her; I couldn’t understand what the hell she was talking about. Once she asked me what I just said to her, established that she was making sure that I wasn’t naked and bleeding on Cal Ripkin’s front doorstep and I said something along the lines of I very well could be if you don’t get off the phone and let me drive in peace, everything was cool-ish.

The next day, at the wedding, we took the photo included here. The entire weekend nearly faded from memory until my mom gave me a copy of the photo a few months ago. All I knew was it was the weekend that particular crime happened, and the carjacking of Ripkin’s mom almost exactly a decade later pretty much drowns out this incident.

When that story broke, I said, “Again‽”

Everyone, of course, assumed I was referring to his mother’s kidnapping the year before.

“No. I was in Baltimore when a carjacking victim wound up naked and bleeding at his front door!”

If I were Cal Ripkin, I’d consider living another state.

Project 792

I started a post title with a capital letter, which hasn’t happened consistently in at least five years.

That’s how you know this is serious.

I took a shower earlier and had one of those grand ideas that most people forget once they get out. Thankfully, this one stuck.

It helped that it was an idea that couldn’t dissipate: I have enough short stories amassed for a book so I should do that.

Unlike my novel, which is too large to be run correctly in this Chromebook (I’m going to get a new computer within the next year), the short stories are in the bowels of this blog or in Word documents that are more palatable to this machine. Compiling this all should be a huge problem unless these 10 or so stories are more massive than I think.

The next street is how I’m going to present this collection.

Although times have changed in the past 10 years, I’m still a little leery of self-publishing, especially since I want to go through the formal publishing house process for Brown River Blues when the time finally comes. From working in a related industry, I know that the circumstances of being published in some form or fashion can have a major effect being published in the future. If you’re at a weekly for an extended period of time, it reduces your odds of getting to a daily. If you’re at publication with a blatant agenda, that could have a huge effect on your where you go from there. If you can prove yourself in a bad situation, and/or generate a buzz from freelancing, you can pretty much go anywhere. How I proceed with Project 792 cannot be a decision I take lightly.

The name comes from one of my tags here, which was inspired by an entry that was one of my first that wasn’t me rambling about everyday life. I now think that particular entry is shit. The name also is going to be the name of the collection, minus the “Project”:


Obviously, there will be better typography for the book cover.

While I put this all together and figure out how to get a collection of short stories out, I want to be held accountable every step of the way. Once the wedding is over, I’m going to get to work on this in earnest. Apparently, there’s a way to give the illusion of two separate blogs in WordPress, which is what I’ve just done, I think. This way, much like a lot of the stuff with the wedding, you can somewhat pick and choose what you want to read about here. Everybody wins!

I’m excited. I hope you are. It’s time for a new adventure.

1797: graham

i am eating graham crackers

this reminds me of a story

when i was a younger than six my cousin who went by both seal and bear lived in a green house on fulton street in phoebus and

he had a seemingly endless supply of graham crackers

i instantly fell in love

every time i went to his house i asked for graham crackers and i ate so so so many

one day






i was outraged

i commanded my sister theresa to  beat him up

seal was over six feet and 300 pounds

theresa about five one 130 soaking wet

the transgression was not avenged


Ralph was a cheat. Because of that, he was standing, bound and gagged, with Cindy at the edge of an enormous meat grinder at the Outfit’s new rendering plant.

He loved his wife. She was his gal since before he ran numbers for the Outfit when he was still in short pants. He wished she weren’t there attached to him. He wished that she would live, remarry, have children and forget about him. But it was her love and coming home early that bought her to the edge with him.

In a few moments, the blades would make them inseparable. Every drop of blood, every cell, every literal fiber of his being would be combined with hers. They would transcend till death do you part. No one — not even the girls in the back room of the “paint shop,” not Cindy’s father, not even the men of the Outfit — will be able to tear asunder what had been joined at the county courthouse. They would cleave as they are cloven.

As Elkins and Knuckles pushed them down to their quick ends, Ralph smiled blissfully though the terror.

Cindy cursed the day she ever came across him at Tony’s fruit stand.