Archive for July 16, 2014

“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,” lyrics by Yip Harburg, music by Jay Gorney (1931)


Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Say, don’t you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Say, don’t you remember, I’m your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?


“In the song a beggar talks back to the system that stole his job. Gorney said in an interview in 1974 “I didn’t want a song to depress people. I wanted to write a song to make people think. It isn’t a hand-me-out song of ‘give me a dime, I’m starving, I’m bitter’, it wasn’t that kind of sentimentality”.  The song asks why the men who built the nation – built the railroads, built the skyscrapers – who fought in the war (World War I), who tilled the earth, who did what their nation asked of them should, now that the work is done and their labor no longer necessary, find themselves abandoned and in bread lines.” (Wikipedia)

“Buddy, can you spare a dime?” The song title and lyrics, penned eighty-four years ago by Yip Harburg, express conditions that existed in the  Great Depression, the worst economic downturn that the world had ever seen. This tragic state was echoed “in  2007 and 2008  when the world reached new levels of wealth gap inequality that rivaled the years of 1928 and 1929.” (Wikipedia). This is a reminder to us that,  after nearly a century, the world is not immune to economic devastation. If the world is not immune how can we, as individuals, expect any guarantee  of economic security?

Every day, in every major city of the world, we hear a similar refrain, “Buddy, can you spare some change?” Or, we see someone standing with their hand out, holding a cap or an empty paper cup, pleading with a cardboard sign. Have we progressed at all? Who are these people? Is it possible that they’re just like us? Is it possible that they were once soldiers, leaders of industry, pillars of society? Surprisingly, many of them were.







16 July 2014

As I approached the group in the park I could hear Loon babbling, seemingly to himself, since nobody else was paying any attention to him. Wolf said, “Hi, Dennis, don’t pay any attention to Loon. He’s higher than a kite. I haven’t seen him this wasted since the last time I was at Shark’s place. Joy gave me some good advice, she said, tell me if I got this right Joy, ‘It’s not worth the aggravation to get upset. Just ignore him, like I do.’ That’s good advice and that’s what I’m doing.

“I’m feeling better now, but when I woke up yesterday my throat was so sore I could barely swallow. It was a little better this morning. It’s even better since I’ve been here. I’m wondering if I should drink some wine. No, I think that would just give me a hangover.

“Did I tell you that I got two tickets yesterday. I was sitting here minding my own business. I opened a beer and right in front of me were two bicycle cops. They wrote me a ticket. I packed up and moved to the park by the river. I opened a beer and there they were again. They wrote me another ticket. I was pissed off. Usually, I’m polite to them, but  I said, ‘Jesus Christ, you motherfuckers, I”m heading to the next park up the street. I’ll be there in about an hour. If you want to meet me there you can write me another ticket.’  They said, ‘Wolf, why are you getting upset? We know you don’t pay these things.’ I apologized and said, ‘I know you’re just doing your job. I’m just feeling a bit under the weather to day.’

“Loon hasn’t shut up since he’s been here. Do you know what my brother said to him last time he was visiting?  He said, ‘In Virginia, we have laws that allow us to carry guns to shoot people like you.’  I’ve told you before about the laws down there, haven’t I? Yeah, I think I have.”

I said, “It’s amazing, he doesn’t need anybody to talk to. He has a continual conversation with himself.”

Loon yelled, “Joicey, can I have a light?”

“Loon, my name is Joy, not Joyce or Joycey. If you call me that again I’ll come over there and kick you in the head. Maybe I’ll break your nose like I did last time.”

I asked Little Jake, “How are you feeling? Are you eating now? The last time we talked, you hadn’t eaten for a week. You’d only been able to keep down a bowl of Mr. Noodles.”

“Yeah, I’m feeling better. I’m eating.”

I asked, “How about you, Mariah? It sounds like you’re the only one here that hasn’t been sick.”

“Well, ‘ she said, “I’m in my time of the month now, so I’ve just been staying around home. How’ve you been?”

I said, “I put my back out again, but apart from that, everything is fine.”

Wolf said, “It’s time I was leaving, I’ve run out of beer.’

Mariah’s phone rang, she handed it to Joy. “Hello… are you coming down? So, I won’t see you then… Okay, goodbye. I’ll see you tomorrow then. I love you.”

“He’s going over to that druggie Gilbert’s place. I’ll be able to wave goodbye to him as he goes past on the bus. I’ve told him not to bring that junkie over to my place.  Jake said that he’d shoot up before he came and would wait until after he left to shoot up again, but I don’t trusty him. We’ve got a bathroom. Who knows what he’d do in there, behind a locked door.

“Well I should go too, but I need to pee. Is that park guy still around?”

Mariah said, “No, he’s down at the other end. You’re okay behind the bushes.”

When Joy returned we walked toward her bus stop and my work. She said, “The last time I saw Loon that wasted, he started talking really nasty to me. It was just over here near the bus shelter. I punched him in the face, he fell back and split his head open.

“Anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

I said, “Bye, Joy.”





16 July 2014

I was walking along the sidewalk towards Chuck’s spot when I heard somebody call  from across the street, “Hey, Dennis, what are you doing over there?” I turned my head and saw it was Joy. I crossed the street.

“Hi, Joy, I haven’t seen you for ages.”

“No, I’ve had chickenpox. I’m not contagious now, but I’m still scratching. It bugs the hell out of me and freaks people out,  ’cause they think I have fleas.

“Whoa, did you see the look that woman gave me?”

I asked, “Are you sure she was looking at you and not me?”

“She was looking at both of us.”

“Perhaps, it was someone I work with.”

“She was  pissed off with somebody. I feel like going after her, to see what her problem is.”

A garbage truck stopped at the curb in front of us. The driver waved, got out of the truck and came over.

“Hi Lemar, I said.”

Joy said, “Is that your name? I never remember.” He opened his safety vest to show his name tag.

“I’ve known people with that name, but they were black.”

Lemar said, “My dad was black.”

I said, “My daughter-in-law is black. My granddaughter is…

“Creamy coffee-colored.” said Joy.

“That’s right,” I said, “she’s a beautiful little princess.”

Joy said to Lemar, “Are you going to let your partner empty all the bins?”

“Yeah, ” he said, “he empties, I drive. I guess I better get back to it. Nice to see you, Joy, Dennis.”

“Nice to see you, Lemar.”

I asked Joy, “Did you attend Shakes’ funeral?”

“I was there, but I didn’t go into the church. I don’t do funerals. Little Jake went in. He said there were only about twenty people there. Danny was telling everybody that he was having a smudging ceremony and that everyone should be sober. That’s a pack of bullshit. All Shakes’ friends are alcoholic. When did you ever see Shakes when he was sober? I remember one time, when he was on antibiotics, but that was only for a couple of days. Danny was also selling pictures of Shakes. I didn’t like that at all.”

I said, “I bought one. He said he was selling them for the price it cost him to have them printed.”

“How much was that?”

“Ten bucks.”

Joy said, “I’ve got my own pictures of Shakes. I don’t need any more.

I said, “I attended the smudging ceremony that Danny arranged. He was there from 6 pm Monday to 6 pm Tuesday. I was there Tuesday at noon.

“How’s Big Jake?”

“A pain in the ass. He doesn’t get up until about one o’clock, then he comes over to my place. I feed him.  At nine I kick him out. I have to be up at 5:30. If he had his way he’s stay until one in the morning.

“I can’t believe how much he smokes. We bought two cartons of smokes from Shark a week ago and already there gone. I told him that two cartons would last me a month. I’m always butting them out, then relighting them. NOw, my place smells like an ashtray. I’m always washing the walls to get rid of the cigarette stains.”

I said, “I’ve been talking to Wolf, Jacques, Little Frank, Mariah and Debbie. Wolf said that Outcast got a nasty bite when he tried to break up a fight between Shaggy and another dog. His hand was dripping blood.  Wolf told him, ‘That was a stupid thing to do!’ Outcast said, “You should have better control of your dog.”

Joy said, “Outcast is always whining. This weekend he’s helping his ex move into the subsidized housing. He said, ‘Because of their rules, I won’t be able to live there.’ I said, ‘Outcast, how old are you — fifty? Don’t you think it’s about time you got a place of your own instead of always living off somebody else.’ He’s been at Shark’s place three months now. He was only supposed to be there a week. He’s another person that smokes too much. He has emphysema.”

I said, “He also has lung cancer from working with asbestos.”

I checked my watch. Joy said, “I see you replaced your watch strap. It’s about time.”

“This was a present from my sons. I couldn’t visit them with a broken watch strap.”

Joy asked, “I have to decide whether or not I want to see Jake today. He’ll probably be phoning around one. Will you be at the park at noon?”

“Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve seen everybody.”

“I’ll probably see you there then.”

“Bye, Joy”