Roswell

Roswell, New Mexico, 1980
South of the town of Roswell is the old Air Force base. It was a huge military complex, bigger that the town itself, and though the base was closed, the place still served Roswell with an excellent International class airport. In addition to this, many of the buildings were re purposed; the Eastern New Mexico University had a sizable branch here, as well as a Job Corps Center. I was part of this Job Corps Center, and in fact was in the first group of young people to arrive when it opened in 1979. Every few days a bus load of kids would come, until finally we had 500 altogether, but that took some time. For a while it seemed as though we had the whole abandoned military base to ourselves, and abandoned was the word for what we found.
Technically we were trespassing, but there was no one to stop us; we would sneak out during our free time and weekends and explore the various buildings. There were dozens of barracks and while the rooms were stripped of furniture there were an array of things left in lockers, such as photographs, books and magazines. But we did not need to look for dates to know when last this base had been used; in many places we found poems and songs quoted on the insides of the lockers doors, all concerning the fact that these men did not want to go to Vietnam. It seemed that this was one of the last places they found themselves before heading overseas.
The other buildings also had objects left behind; clipboards and file folders and the like in office buildings, springs and coils in maintenance buildings, and even an oxygen tank in a medical building. And then there were the hangers. One hanger had helicopter parts in it, including the giant rotary blades. Some had old parts of vehicles. And one hanger we found had a room built inside of it. It was this hanger that my small group of friends decided to call our hang out.
What made this hanger special to us what the strange room that was built inside. Made of cinder block bricks, this structure had no windows and a very serious door. This door was made of metal, and was between three and four inches thick, and though it must have weighed an incredible amount it moved easily on its huge metal hinges. And yet the door was not perfect; something had happened to it, because it was bent so that it could no longer close properly. This imperfection was critical for us…no one would ever want to be in such a room as this with such a door as that. But a cinder block building with a thick metal door inside of a airplane hanger was not the strangest thing about our new hanging out spot, because inside of this room was a picnic table covered in light green shag carpet.
This was exactly like the wooden A-frame picnic tables that are found in parks, about six feet long with benches that are bolted to the frame. The carpet was carefully nailed to the table and benches. The table only barely fit into the room; there was only about an inche or two on any side and we had to climb onto the table in order to reach the benches. It was obvious, even to our young minds, that the building had to have been built around this table though none of us could think of any possible reason why anyone, and especially the US military, would build this structure. But we did not let this mystery stop us from using it for our own purposes, for this place was perfect for us to play Dungeons and Dragons and be nerds. We would meet regularly after classes with candles for light, sometimes three, sometimes four of us. Then one day one of our group came bearing a package from home.
I am certain that us Corps members enjoyed getting boxes from home just as much as any soldier did at this base in the past. As our friends shared the home-made cookies with us she read the letter from her father as she pulled the various presents from the package. Then she came to a book, and her father told her that he thought she might enjoy this book that had just been published because it had happened in Roswell, New Mexico. It was called “The Roswell Incident” by Charles Berlitz. Being the nerds that we were, we decided to take turns reading it to each other. None of us knew anything about Roswell, and we certainly did not know about what happened here in 1947. We read with both excitement and trepidation…this was a book of people…not just one but many, claiming to have seen aliens and one was thought to have been brought to the very Air Force base where we lived and went to school. Reading about the alien and how it suffered, we paused often, looking around the cinder block room and the ridiculously large metal door. Had this crazy, little room been built to keep captive the alien from 1947? But what about the weird shag carpet? And why was it in a hanger? Even the possibility that this might have been a holding cell for that poor alien, if he existed, was crazy, but not much crazier than the carpet-covered picnic table in the cinder block building inside of the hanger in Roswell, New Mexico.

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FATHER RUBY

I’m reblogging my earlier stories.

I don't expect you to believe me; true tales from an unlikely source.

FATHER RUBY
Honolulu, Hawaii
1985


In my seven years living homeless on the island of Oahu, this was the only church that I knew of that offered coffee and donuts before its service. The Episcopal diocese church. Another anomaly was that the service was held early, 8am each Sunday, which is much earlier than most churches. It was held at a magnificent stone cathedral with ceilings so high and walls so thick that it reminded me of a castle, only in miniature. The beautiful cathedral was surrounded by lovely statues flanking great metal doors that opened wide to greet the parishioners. But that was not where the service with the coffee and donuts was held; that was not where Father Ruby preached. He gave his sermon in a small wing of the complex, off to the far right. It was no less beautiful than the rest of the cathedral, and…

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The KFC

I’m reblogging some of my earlier pieces.

I don't expect you to believe me; true tales from an unlikely source.

2002
I simply cannot recall what road we were on, except that we were trying to get from California to Arizona – I think. There are some experiences that are so affecting, so harsh, that time and space fade away. This was one of those experiences, though you might be surprised at how slight it may seem at first. I hurts my soul to this day.
Two friends, a lovely couple, my dog and me. Hitchhiking is all the horrible things that you think it is, but it is also a ride when you are in need. So we were nothing but grateful when a man in a pickup truck offered a lift for a good hundred miles. Since I had my dog, GG with me I sat in the bed of the truck with her. It was cold, very cold, and if you have ever ridden in a pickup…

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Roswell

One of my first blog postings, when I stayed on the famous Roswell, New Mexico airbase while in Job Corps.

I don't expect you to believe me; true tales from an unlikely source.

Roswell, New Mexico, 1980
South of the town of Roswell is the old Air Force base. It was a huge military complex, bigger that the town itself, and though the base was closed, the place still served Roswell with an excellent International class airport. In addition to this, many of the buildings were re purposed; the Eastern New Mexico University had a sizable branch here, as well as a Job Corps Center. I was part of this Job Corps Center, and in fact was in the first group of young people to arrive when it opened in 1979. Every few days a bus load of kids would come, until finally we had 500 altogether, but that took some time. For a while it seemed as though we had the whole abandoned military base to ourselves, and abandoned was the word for what we found.
Technically we were trespassing, but there…

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THE GREETING CARDS

1987-2005
I left my mother’s house when I was sixteen years old and it is because of that fact that I do not think it is fair to judge her though the memories of a sixteen year old. She was at least as mentally challenged as I am, and that is all that I really need to know. Perhaps we will talk it out in Heaven, for I am certain that is where she is at this moment, but even if we don’t meet in the future, and never talk about our history, I’m ok with it; life can be very hard.
I was a horrible daughter, acting out all of my frustration and confusion in loud ways. Being rotten bothered me for a very long while. But I am not going to judge my challenged child-self anymore than I am going to judge my challenged mother. It took a good ten years for me to come to these decisions…That it wasn’t our faults, That we did not deserve to be judged, especially by each other, and That we might not ever be able to express our love and appreciation. I had a hundred reasons for never returning to my home town – all in my head, and it soon became a pain all its own…every time my mother had a birthday, or a holiday passed without contact I felt more lost. And then it hit me…like a whisper from heaven. I could not talk to my mother, but maybe I could whisper, through a card. I was homeless and destitute when this plan hit me and so how could I possibly send my mother a birthday card?
I must admit, I cannot remember the first time I “wrangled” a card for my mother, but soon it was a regular habit, all over the country, coast to coast, and everyone who knew me more than six months knew about this thing. Regardless of where or with whom I might happen to be, when it got close to a holiday, or my mom’s birthday, I would start asking. I just needed a card, even a post card would do, a stamp, and a pen to write with. I would ask people close to me, or perfect strangers sitting on a park bench and if I could not find anyone I would go to the nearest church and ask them. Once I even went to a Hallmark Store.
This all might sound terrible and imposing, but I wish that you could have been with me, even one time, to see the look on a person’s face when they heard my request. People are basically wonderful, I can tell you, and everyone was more than happy – honored even – to help in my quest of love.
I would put a return address if I knew I would be hanging around long enough to get a reply, but usually that was not the case. Being homeless is illegal, and I was always moving from place to place, city to city.
Many times, even with a good address, my mother would not respond, but I understood. Sometimes even a year or two would go by, but I knew that I didn’t want to stop sending those cards. Then five years went by. I sent a letter to the house, asking if perhaps my mom had moved, or maybe even died, but again, no response. Soon I changed to sending birthday cards and Mother’s Day cards. Then, after a few more years I sent only Mother’s Day cards, but I sent them every year, and I promised myself that I would do so until I died or someone asked me to stop. No one ever asked me to stop.
Then, I sent a mother’s day card…I can see it now, a painting in the Quaker style of a mother holding a child, plainly dressed but both joyous in their love. I imagine I always will always remember that card since it was the last. It was then that I heard from a family member who wrote back, shocked that I would finally, after all this time, write to my mom the very year that she happen to die. This person did not know about the years, the decades, of Christmas, Birthday and Mother’s Day cards. She had not told anyone. Year after year…all of the adventures I had gone on to fulfill my pledge, and the people I had begged to acquire these cards…I never even begged for money when I was hungry or cold. She never shared a word. No one in all of my family ever knew that I had been in contact all that time.
I don’t judge my mom, and I don’t want you to judge her either, anymore than I want to be judged by you. Our challenges are not the same. But I am glad at those cards; even though I did not get the warm return from them that I might have wished, I received a warmth and generosity beyond measure from all of those people out there who helped me, so lovingly, to get those cards, and to send them to my childhood address. And I choose to believe that while my mother did not share my cards with others, she felt my love from them, and feels it right now in Heaven.

I couldn’t find an image of the last card but it is similar to the one above, by Mary Cassatt.

The Bag Lady

THE BAG LADY
Wichita, Kansas
Winter 1978
This was my first time in Wichita; it was, and still is, a beautiful city to me, with areas of cobbled streets, a lovely, clean river, and gorgeous churches. The city had more snow than I was used to when I arrived, but I was delighted, since I was traveling with friends and we had a place to stay. Until they discovered that I was sixteen years old.
The phrase is ‘harboring a runaway’. It did not matter that I was a throw-away, and not a runaway; anyone caught giving me shelter could actually be arrested and get significant jail time. So it is hard to say that I was mad at them when they kicked me out. But they kicked me out in the middle of winter.
Outside I almost froze to death a few times, and I did once end up in an emergency room for frostbite on my hands, which still bothers me when the temps get below freezing. I did as I usually do when I’m homeless and afraid, I searched out churches to sleep near. The Pastors and Priests rarely called the police if they discovered me, and often they would let me stay the night. But Wichita had an incredible homeless population then. Soup kitchens often ran out of food before the line was gone, and I was too scared to stand around for any length of time while the men looked me over. I was losing weight at an alarming rate.
Then, late one night as I was walking to keep warm, exhausted from lack of sleep and food, not familiar with this town, I stumbled behind a large Catholic hospital. It was then that I noticed the hospital’s chapel. It was located inside a side entrance, with a little foyer just before the open chapel area with about a dozen pews. In the foyer was a sweet life-sized statue of the Mother Mary, surrounded by fake plants. These plants were huge, and the entire area was full of them, covering Mary’s legs up to the knees. I stepped in the building and was met with what I wanted more than anything one thing at that moment; warmth. It felt so good, that I knew, Knew, immediately what I had to do. I climbed behind the statue and nestling under those magnificent fake plants, I wrapped my body around Mary’s feet, and I slept.
Even at sixteen I had already learned the hard way how to keep myself secret. As soon as I heard a noise, any noise, I got myself out of there, and made sure to stay out of the area until it was well past midnight. I had found a place…a wonderful place.
But I was still starving. I had to avoid all forms of authority. I knew that I was would be arrested immediately, and never released until I turned 18 and I could not let that happen. But the faster I lost weight, the more I couldn’t think straight, or walk the miles to the various soup kitchens for hope of a meal. So, finally, at one point I was doing nothing but hiding outside of my hospital in the cold dark by the big trash dumpsters, waiting for it to get dark enough to go to the Mary statue. That was when I met the Bag Lady.
I call her that, but she had a shopping cart. We just don’t have a name for a homeless woman who pushes her belongs around in a shopping cart, so I refer to her as a bag lady. Back in those days all shopping carts were metal, and especially loud outside over dirt and asphalt, but she didn’t seem to notice; she rolled up to a dumpster like it was perfectly normal and without hesitating she bent right into the large, filth covered metal trash can. Within moments she straighten again, now holding a crushed fast-food bag. This she fiddled with until she tore it opened to reveal various pieces of trash…the wrappers and discarded ketchup packages. She tossed the bunch back into the dumpster and reached in again. This time she had one of those triangle sandwich containers, ripped wide open, but with one half of one sandwich still remaining. Without pausing the woman stuffed the sandwich in her mouth – the entire thing. Munching loudly, she turned and reached in again, taking a moment as she moved things around. Swallowing, she came out this time with another fast food bag, but clearly this one had weight. She looked right at me and nodded, her face serious. Her face was always serious.
This package held half a carton of french fries and about one-quarter of a cheese burger, and I expected the Bag Lady to inhale them as she had the sandwich, but to my surprise she sat on the curb next to me and handed me the hamburger. Astounded by all I had seen, I automatically took the offering and stared as she ate the french fries.
She looked at me, then the burger frozen in my hand, and she exclaimed loudly, “Hell, are you scared?!” and ripping the food from my hand she carefully removed the chewed edge of the burger, then replaced it to my palm. “There!” she told me, “No germs!”
Only a person who has been truly starving knows how good food really tastes, I am convinced of that. That cheeseburger was the world to me. I immediately felt my strength returning, and I didn’t feel the cold winter so badly. I think the woman knew how bad off I was; she ate her fries as quickly as I ate that partial burger, and we rushed back to the dumpster, both of us, looking for more treasures. I ate more that night than I had eaten in weeks.
Still munching the woman told me “Now you know, you can come here anytime to get food. Don’t go downtown to the soup kitchens anymore. They are too dangerous.”
I asked, “Do you get your food here?”
She frowned and exclaimed “Hell no! I’m not telling anyone where I get my food, and don’t you go telling anyone where you get yours!”
I felt as wonderful as any person on earth in those moments. I had a warm place to sleep and food when I needed it. I wouldn’t die this winter after all. Then I watched as the Bag Lady went over to one of the hospital’s doors, with lots of ashtrays, and to my continuing surprise, she took a half smoked cigarette and lit it, clearing enjoying it just as much as if it were brand new. She went to hand it to me, filter first, covered in the red lipstick of the original owner. I hesitated.
“Oh hell!” she exclaimed again, and with an impatient grunt, she tore the filter from the smoking cigarette, and discarding it, she re-offered it to me saying, “The germs are gone now, ok?”
I had just started to ask, in my clueless sixteen year old way, “Do you get your cigarettes here…” when,
“Hell no! I’m not going to tell you where I get my cigarettes, and don’t you go telling anyone where you get yours!”
I nodded, and she said, more tenderly than at any moment since I had met her, yet still with no hint of smile or friendship, “Time for bed.” and with her shopping cart she rattled into the night. I never saw her again, and I looked. I wanted to thank her, I have always wanted to thank her.
She saved my life. I hope to meet her in Heaven, so that I can thank her; it is a special request of mine.

THE BUTTER KNIFE

Honolulu 1985
It was impossible and it happened within seconds.
There must have been at least one hundred people waiting in line for food; the line stretched through the soup kitchen, and spilled to the sidewalk outside. My friend and I were closer to the back of the long building, so we knew we had a long wait in front of us, but it was worth the trouble for the plate of food we would eventually receive from this place, the only soup kitchen in Honolulu at the time, and more than likely our only meal of the day.
Everyone has waited in lines and the experience is pretty much the same all over, shuffling about, low talking, people moving to and fro with their food. So it was not noticeable when a local man came up to the line, right about to the middle, to speak with another local man who was waiting. But then the newly arrived man cut. He stepped right in front of his friend, and then turned around and grinned, daring anyone to defy him. He was a big man, known for drug abuse and violence, and no one had any intention of defying him. Until someone did.
It was so fast, yet, if I had painting skills I could paint every molecule of this instant as it came into being. A young white man, thin and dirty, and as quick as a lightning bolt, jumped out of the line and pulled a butter knife from his pants pocket. For a brief moment he held it at eye-level…any of us who happened to be looking in that direction, as I was, could easily see that it was a butter knife. Smooth and brightly reflecting the light, we could tell that there weren’t even any serrations on the blade. I know that many of us who saw this had just enough time to think how futile such a dull knife would be against this local Hawaiian man, twice the size of this skinny attacker, before the white man lunged forward. The simple utensil disappeared into the man’s chest, handle and all and the amount of dark red blood that suddenly exploded from the wounded man immediately told us that his heart had been hit. The red stream was so forceful as it covered the attacker and many nearby, that it seemed to be spent by the time the victim hit the hard floor. Many closer to the scene mentioned later how disturbed they were by the fact that the victim had not had time to close his eyes before he died.
I wish I could say that this was the most startling thing that had ever happened to me, and that I was frozen in place with shock, but I knew better. I knew that there was nothing I could do. I also knew that if I stayed I would be forced to go to the police department for questioning with a hundred other people, and that all the white people would be held even longer, for longer questioning, to make sure we didn’t know the murderer. So, like dozens of others, I ran. We ran in all directions, some screaming, all of us crying.
No one knew the young man – he had only just arrived from the Mainland. We never saw him again either, though the effects of his  insane actions were far-reaching. Because the killer was a Haole, a white person, and he had killed a local, there was a time of retribution, when homeless white people became especially unpopular. Locals, homeless and otherwise, would bully us, and worse. The police know about this sort of backlash, and we (white homeless people) were advised not to be seen at the soup kitchen for a while. Instead, we were fed from a van under a bridge on the outskirts of town, for about two months, a policeman always standing nearby for our protection from angry locals.
The van would come every day at 5 pm, and we were grateful, even if we did have to walk a few more miles to get it. And when we did meet under that bridge we would always talk about that day, that terrible moment. We all agreed, every single one of us, when memories of that horrible incident came into our mind we wouldn’t see the killer, or the victim, or even that insane amount of blood…we all saw that damn, impossible butter knife.

The KFC

2002
I simply cannot recall what road we were on, except that we were trying to get from California to Arizona – I think. There are some experiences that are so affecting, so harsh, that time and space fade away. This was one of those experiences, though you might be surprised at how slight it may seem at first. I hurts my soul to this day.
Two friends, a lovely couple, my dog and me. Hitchhiking is all the horrible things that you think it is, but it is also a ride when you are in need. So we were nothing but grateful when a man in a pickup truck offered a lift for a good hundred miles. Since I had my dog, GG with me I sat in the bed of the truck with her. It was cold, very cold, and if you have ever ridden in a pickup truck at 70 miles an hour in the winter, you know what I mean.
I was relieved when he pulled into a Kentucky Fried Chicken place because it meant a break from the freezing wind. I was surprised at this generosity when he asked us to join him in the restaurant. We were living outside, and I’m sure that our clothing and smell reflected that, yet here he was, doing this wonderful thing. I explained that I didn’t feel right leaving my dog, she was still pretty young and we had not been separated. So they went in, and sat down and I sat in the pickup with my dog, dreaming of the wonderful meal that I felt sure they would bring me. You can imagine…we had not had hot food in months, let alone something as tasty as this.
I’m sure my tummy grumbled in delight when they finally approached the truck and the man was holding a small box, walking toward me. Just before he got close enough to hand it to me he stopped, looking at me straight in the eye. Then he fed the food to my dog, and when he handed me the box the only thing left was the biscuit.
What would you have done? We needed this ride. I ate the biscuit and cried for the rest of my life about it. I’m crying now.

Why? What was he trying to say? What was his point? I can tell you my theories: homeless people shouldn’t have dogs or women shouldn’t travel alone or…What does it matter. I had heard it all before. I got his message: in his eyes I was something less than my dog. I didn’t deserve. I needed to be punished.