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May 29, 1976 - Image 7

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1976-05-29

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Styturday, May 29, 1976


Doge Seven

Street people: Spare -changin' it

FROM THE front of the UGLI he looked
like a tired, bloodshot, droopy basset
hound. Drawing nearer, the image of
Dustin Hoffman's urchin, Ratzo Rizzo
filled my eyes. Barefoot, with boots in
hand, he stood swaying in the finicky
May rain stupified-an Ann Arbor street
person, an unpaid professor of love,
drugs, freedom and panhandling.
Tightening my hold on my last dollar
bill, I passed him by, head bent and
ears closed to his rasp, "Got any spare
change?" I was headed for Cottage Inn,
where I planned to sit and drown all
remembrances of the past winter semes-
ter in generous amounts of rich black
coffee, daydreaming about the coming
of summer. The money in my pocket
was for me, me, me. It was mine, mine,
mine, not to be given away to anything
that wouldn't benefit me, me, me.
With a flash my new job sunk like a
dead bolt in my mind. Making $55 a
week as a Daily grub reporter did not
rest easy. I envisioned myself standing
alongside Ratzo, spare-changing the pub-
lic on the corner. In one pirouette step
I faced about and asked what my money
would be used for. Ratzo mumbled
something about heat and getting out of
the cold, wet weather, then his mind
rusted, set, on a final word-coffee.
Exactly in synch and on time with mine.
AS HE HOBBLED, staggered and reel-
ed down the street I pestered him
with a reporter's questions. Working his
mouth feverishly, he responded in one
repetitive stoned sentence.
"I should have never left Gainesville,
man, it was warm down there, I
should've stayed in Florida . . ." Not
until he stopped in front of Cottage Inn
to stoop and slowly pull his boots over
his bare toes, did he mention his name,
His words spilled out, over the brim
of our first cup of coffee and I barely
managed to understand, due to his dif-

coffee in walks three of the city's more
notable street adventurers. Blue, a work-
ing class product of red-neck Muskegon;
T-Bone, a parentless at age seven "rais-
ing hell on the streets of Detroit," head-
ed for delinquency; and Siobhan, a mid-
dle class daughter of "Xerox" parents;
a contrast in cultures they meet as
equals on the street with a shared philos-
ophy, "What goes a r o u n d, comes
The sight of Blue antagonizes most
midwesterners enough to make them
stand gasping with mouth and anus
gaped open wide enough to receive the
pair of size ten saddle shoes he wears.
Sporting a brightly dulled Hawaiian
flower shirt worn under a bleached
denim vest with a marijuana sticker
pasted on the back, Blue's appearance
is not extremely radical until you look
above his shoulders.
Blue's hat is blatantly that of a social
anarchist. His wide brimmed, well-
formed fedora contains a number of
alluring antique amulets, feathers and
buttons made available to him through
his travels. Pulled way down over his
forehead, the brim meets a large pair
of two-tone red shades which add to the
image and blend well with his ragged
behrd and jagged jaw.
4 FTER ASKING around for loose joints
Blue, T-Bone and Siobhan seat them-
selves and order coffee. The waitress
immediately asks if they will have
enough to pay for the three cups. But
her inquiry is blunted by Siobhan's
pointed response. "If we don't have it
we'll get it outside," by panhadling, a
steady way of collecting small change
when needed,
Blue is visibly upset with the waitress's
question, but he keeps quiet, knowing
that Cottage Inn is one of the few res-
taurants in town willing to fill your cup
up all day long for 26 cents. We talk
on about the local biases against street
people. "The landlords, students and
police are the biggest problem here

Doily Photo by S TEVE KAGAN
T-Bone and Siobhan


fuse use of the English language, that
he has been steadily on the road since
the not so tender age of 14. With the
coming of the second cup, Jonah ex-
plained that he had been extradicted
from Florida, while en route to Montreal,
when he got sidetracked in Adrian,
Michigan-busted and booked for the
possession of marijuana.
He decided to wait out the 16 days in
Ann Arbor until his court arraignment.
Once inside the city limits, Jonah bought
a bottle of mad dog and looked to the
start of a new day. Hours later he was
arrested, the charge, drunk and dis-
orderly conduct.
"T IFE ON THE road is hard, I'm worn
out," rambled Jonah. "But with
prices going up and jobs going down,
there ain't no funky jobs to be found.
Taxes keep going up so I stay on the
streets. There the police are bad. Most
people don't see them do anything but
believe me, they're always present, they
can't stand free people that have no ties,
no debts and no money."
Halfway through our third cup of

now," comments Blue. He blames these
groups for the hassles the "most dis-
criminated against of people in Ann Ar-
bor (street people) receive."
T-Bone shrugs over the matter and
says to me, "I'll tell you who's pre-
judiced, Wilson and White. They won't
rent to me 'cause I'm on welfare and
because I'm a black guy living with a
white woman."
T-Bone has been on and off the streets
for almost 20 years. As a kid he was sent
through Michigan juvenile delinquent
homes until the age of 18 when he joined
the Navy. He tells me, "That's where I
learned to take care of myself and my
body and to respect other people." Re-
ceiving a dishonorable discharge, "they
found ten pounds of reefer in my foot
locker," he came to Ann Arbor with $600
four years ago.
WITH HELP FROM the coordinators
of the Creative Arts Workshop, a
program designed to help street people
survive during rough times, T-Bone just
began receiving general assistance from
the government, after having spent a

winter sleeping on stair landings and in
the back of buildings.
"I used to not give a hoot about get-
ting in with the clique (those people get-
ting welfare of some sort)," he re-
marks, talking about those lean winter
months. "I would hope for a joint and
a few beers and not worry too much
about where my next meal was coming
from. But I was low on energy and my
stomach took a real beating from this.
And the police are always up on you
if you're not with the clique, they're
always waiting for you to fall into the
arms of the law."
The question of food posed, we strolled
up the block to the dirty red brick build-
ing situated almost above Mr. Tony's on
State and East William, walked through
the door and headed upstairs to the
Creative Arts Workshop. Workshop, as
it is commonly known, is the only semi-
official place where street people are
welcome, cared about and fed once a
day. The program which started four
years ago to facilitate an exchange of
knowledge between people of the arts
and the so-called "common" folk. It is
now more practically oriented to help
fulfill the basic needs of street people:
food, clothes, medical care and jobs.
It was somewhat hard for me to be-
lieve that these people had some bit of
bureaucracy linking them with the out-
side world. A number of street people
have organized work schedules. In ex-
change for day-old bread and other sub-
sistence food, they rotate between the
food co-op, the Sun Bakery, and one of
the two garden plots attained through
Project Grow (a country-wide sponsored
grow your own food program). Located
on Washtenaw, a handful of street peo-
ple spend time there several days a
week to weed, water and watch what
should yield an ample supply of vege-
tables for future months.
WRITTEN IN PENCIL on the walls of
the Workshop are these words, "To
rip-off a brother or sister is to steal .a
flower and hide it."
Among the twenty men and women

congregated for a dinner of fish and
salad that night, a good half have will-
ingly thrust themselves out on the street,
away from their former patterns accept-
ed social behavior. With nothing else to
attract their interests, the life of a
modern day vagabond lures them off.
But the remaining half have been forced
into their positions. Released from men-
tal institutions, juvenile homes, jails and
the like, there often is nowhere else
to go. Yet though their differences seem
sometimes greater than their similari-
ties, the way of life, their status on the
street makes them compatriots, cohorts.
Some are established, pay rent, do as
many drugs as possible, consider them-
selves revolutionaries and have money
available to them through social security
and veterans benefits. Others sleep out-
doors or in hallways, only get into the
bottle, don't have a cent and are con-
stantly on the move. Their bonds with
each other are usually loose but friendly.
Blue explains, "You know your friends
on the street are going to always be
your friends."
flAPPY WITH THE way the after-
noon's turn of events had brought
me a change from the pace of the
previous semester, I stuck with Blue
after dinner to await the evening's hap-
penings. As it turned out there was a
party at "Free's house."
Over roasted chicken, beer, wine
whisky, reefer, Motown, song and dance
I was introduced first to Free-a self
proclaimed revolutionary poet whose
work is often printed and sold for spare
change-and then to a number of people
sporting such names as: Sundown, Cap-
tain, Cowboy, T.C., Jai, Boston, Roach,
Ox, Og and Noose.
Sundown struck me as quite a char-
acter. With a flair for speech and a
cackle for background effects he looked
like the missplaced man from the
Southern Hills. He had come to the
party with his wife Crystal and his baby
See SPARE, Page 10
Michael Yeflin it a Daily nigh/-edit.

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