Sunday, December 24, 2006

Meet Strangers and Places Full of Holiday Cheer

Sharon Old Louisville, Kentucky
Sharon is getting into the Christmas spirit by decorating the outside of her home. She enjoys going way out with decorations and usually picks a new theme each year . This year's theme is snowman and white lights. Christmas is Sharon's favorite holiday of the year, " I love the decorations and it's a pretty time, happy and joyful". Christmas also happens to be her mother's birthday, a time for family celebration. Sharon works at Dillards, a department store in the mall, and really loves her job because it is in full swing during the Holiday season. People often stop their cars, or holler out their windows to compliment Sharon on her decorations. As I was leaving a car pulled up and two men and a young boy asked if I would take their picture in front of Sharon's candy canes.

Bruce New Albany, IN
Bruce lives in New Albany, Indiana, a place where people are not afraid to be unique and elaborate with their Christmas decorations. Dark on a Friday evening, I found Bruce outside tending to his burnt-out Christmas lights as a gardner might tend to a cherished garden. Bruce has a giant snow globe in his yard, homemade globe lights in his trees, reindeer and Santa on his roof and he even has turned his front window into a Christmas display for passerby's to come view.

Random House New Albany, Indiana
Looks like Rudolf took a wrong turn?

The Doll House New Albany, IN
I love this house. These people brought out the a variety of Santa's, stuffed animals, and even their doll collection to decorate for the holidays!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Meet JaquauncupepƩ

JaquauncupepƩ works at a Wendy's in Key West, Florida. He goes by the name of Justin, because most people have difficulty pronouncing his real name.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Meet Wayne

On a rainy December evening at a strip mall, Wayne stands outside a Toys 'R' Us playing Christmas carols with a tenor saxophone. Wayne makes his living as a street performer and has been playing at this location during the holiday season for the past seven years. He enjoys playing his sax outside the toy store, although quite often he is harassed by the police and property owners who think he is sleazy. He says, "Like everything else, when you have something good going, something bad always steps in."  Wayne has found that the store management and customers who shop there don't mind because he helps bring about the season. "When I started playing on the street, I looked for areas with a lot of foot traffic, and as it got colder, I had to find somewhere people often went, so I thought it’s Christmas time, toys, you know and put the two together."  Wayne says that Louisville is a pretty bad place for street performers.  He planned on moving to San Francisco, where his profession is more welcomed, but says he is stuck here because he takes care of his mother, who is ill and has no legs.  "On the one hand, I am glad to be with her, but on the other hand I miss out on a lot of opportunities." Wayne has met street performers from all over including New Orleans, New York, Europe, and says that they make a lot more money and are better received than in Louisville. 

Wayne did not grow up thinking that he would ever become a street performer or musician. In fact, he did not start playing music until his late twenties. When he was in high school, his dreams were set on becoming a professional football player, but things just did not work out in his favor. Back in 1998, when Wayne was unemployed and down on his luck, he was arrested for a DUI. It was summertime and he needed to make some fast cash in order to pay for alcohol classes and lawyer fees. He picked up his trombone, and started playing outside a coffee shop, hoping to make at least twenty dollars that day. He ended up making fifty and was amazed. Winn Dixie, a local grocery store at the time, became his "hot spot" until a jewelry store in the same strip mall kick him off the property. Now, years later Wayne says that he is a little disenchanted by street performing and would rather play on the inside with a band. He loves Jazz, Big Band, Broadway music and Tony Bennett -- all music that is not native or commonly played in Louisville or Kentucky. Although he is not looking forward to the day his mother passes, he does look forward to moving on elsewhere.  

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Meet Haley and Bill

Seven-year-old Haley and her grandfather, Bill, are walking through Central Park in Old Louisville on an unusually warm, sunny winter day with a metal detector and small shovel. Bill and Haley are treasure hunting, hoping to find a little piece of history. "We are looking for old coins and bits of metal that might tell us a little bit about what people did a hundred years ago", he explains. Bill loves history and has owned a metal detector for the past twenty years. He likes walking with the detector because it motivates him to get outside, while at the same time participate in something interesting.

Bill says he and Haley have found old silver coins, Indian head pins, quarters, not very many nickels, and a lot of pennies. Their biggest find so far was a quarter from 1900 that was buried eight inches underground. Bill says he has yet to find a silver or half dollar, but will keep looking until he does. Haley once found a little diamond earring on the ground and Bill proudly adds, “She didn’t even have a machine!”

Bill likes to visit old homesteads, farms and houses that have been torn down or abandoned with his metal detector. Any place he adds where he might find a Civil War battle relic or something similar. Although Haley likes history, her biggest interest is in nature. She came along with Bill today hoping to see two big owls in an Oak Tree that were spotted the other day. "I’m in first grade, and my teacher told me that if you see the owls in two days and then not again they have to have babies", Haley explains. "In other words they are going to have babies if you haven’t seen them", further explains Bill. Bill says Haley is excellent in school and can read, write and count up too three hundred. When asked what she wants to be when she grows up Haley says, " I want to be a veterinarian and cheerleader, but I’m not sure which one". Bill chuckles. Bill, himself, has been a musician for the past forty years and started playing the drums, initially with sticks on boxes after hearing the Beatles for the first time. For several years he played drums in a group around town called Dr. Don and the Love Dogs.

Haley is proud of her grandfather and has seen many of his metal treasures and even saw him perform live with his band once. Their mutual love of history, nature and treasure seeking make the duo a perfect match on this warm winter day.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Meet People at the Mall

The Mall of St. Matthews
Louisville, Kentucky

Nick, who works at a children's portrait studio in the mall, is standing in line at the Chinese Gourmet Express in the food court dressed up as a caveman. People are turning their heads, pointing and staring at him as he waits his turn. Nick is dressed-up today to entertain children and be a little different by getting out of his standard work outfit. As a full-time theology student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Nick wants to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to various parts of the world by becoming a missionary. He is especially interested in traveling to Asia and Africa, but is willing to go wherever God leads him. When asked what the good news was Nick answered, "The good word is the news that Jesus Christ came down to the earth, lived the perfect life and saved us from our sins."  Nick believes that many people have lost hope in today’s "fallen world". But he says that as long as you believe and trust in your heart that Jesus is Lord, one can truly proceed knowing that there is hope. However, Nick does believe that it is inevitable the world will end. He explains, "In Revelations it states that God is going to destroy the earth with fire and those who are not saved aren't going to get caught up with him. So for those who are saved, we are in the clearing. I am not for sure when the end will happen, but my own personal belief is that we are getting closer every day just by how the world is turning out." Despite believing the world will soon end, Nick still actively makes an effort to better the world while he is still here on earth. For example, he recycles and is concerned about the environment. After all he is from Sassafras, Kentucky -- a place where the water is so clean, you can drink it straight from the pond. Nick enjoys making people laugh, so he doesn’t mind that people are laughing at him as he walks through the mall back to his job. When asked if the caveman outfit made him feel stronger, he replied, "Well, I am caring three drinks and I never really do sure."

This is Chase, and today he is greeting people as they enter the Abercrombie and Fitch store dressed in a nice, warm winter jacket, which is open to display his bare, muscular, shiny chest.  Behind him hangs a gigantic framed photograph of an Abercrombie model who is dressed and posed in a similar way as Chase. About a year ago, Chase moved to Louisville to attend college and started working at the Abercrombie store. One day his coworkers saw him with his shirt off, took a picture, and sent it to the Abercrombie Headquarters who approved for him to do this particular promotion. Last year around Christmas time, Chase went bare-chested for the first time as people paid money for charity to have their pictures taken with him. Chase usually tries to train before a bare-chest-promotion, but was recently sick and has not made it to the gym much lately. Today he feels confident, but then again he says he feels confident all the time. "People stare at me, some people give me dirty looks, some people smile," he says. So far no one has approached him for a date, but last year on Valentines Day, a little girl asked if he would be her valentine. Sometimes old women like to come up to him and give him a pinch too. Chase has become somewhat of a local celebrity and people often recognize him outside of the mall. When he's not at work, Chase never wears his jacket without lots of layers, but he does not mind the look in the store. When asked how he felt standing next to the photograph of the Abercrombie Model, Chase shrugged, titled his head, smirked and exhaled, "Ahhhh, he's nothing".

Friday, October 20, 2006

Meet Tim

This is Tim, and he has been a Tow-Truck Operator in Louisville, Kentucky for the past ten years. Before driving a tow truck, Tim worked in a factory -- a job he despised due to its routine nature and indoor confinement. As a Tow-Truck driver, Tim rarely gets bored because the job is mobile and always unpredictable. "You never know what your next run is going to be. You might go down the street hooking a guy up or you might be a mile back in the woods." Tim’s company offers both roadside assistance and vehicle impoundment. His favorite parts of the job are meeting new people daily and helping them out when their vehicle has broken down.

Tim admits that the main drawback of his job is the irregular hours. He is on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and only receives every other weekend off. Each day he works 8am to 6pm from the office and then goes home to have dinner with his wife and kids. But, as soon as the phones rings, Tim gets right back in his truck and heads to work. "Most of the time whenever you got something planned, it never fails that the phone will ring." When asked about the most awkward time he has been interrupted by a work call, Tim laughs and says, “ You don’t want to know what I was doing..."

Typically, most wives would get upset with Tim’s unpredictable work schedule. However, Tim's wife understands because she too works for the Tow Truck Company as a Dispatcher. He likes working with his wife, but sometimes gets frustrated because if she doesn’t work, he usually has to. The few days that Tim does get off, he enjoys driving racecars and spending as much time as possible with his children. He also reads "Tow Times", a magazine that keeps him informed on the latest happenings in the industry.

Tim says that, often, Tow-Truck drivers get a bad reputation because they are under contract to tow illegally parked cars. People constantly yell and take their frustration out on him, when their vehicle has been towed. Tim's approach is to not argue back and always explain that he is simply doing his job. “I know that people get pissed off every time we take their car, but they just parked in the wrong spot.” Tim says that even right now, two of his buddy’s cars are sitting in his impoundment lot. “I have to uphold my contract”, says Tim, "there is nothing that I an do."

One of his funniest Tow-Truck experiences happened a couple years ago while impounding vehicles at Phoenix Hill, a local bar in Louisville. Tim was in the process of towing a van when he found the owner drunk and asleep in the back. Tim and his partner had to remove him from the van and leave him in the parking lot. While picking up his van, the man told Tim that he woke up the next day confused and laying in the parking lot.

When asked whether Tim foresaw himself working as a Tow-Truck Operator for the rest of his life he said, "Well I am thirty six years old now, so I don't really think I'll be getting a new job anytime soon."

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Meet Laurel

Laurel Fleury is a twenty-seven-year-old Fire Poi performance artist in Louisville, Kentucky. Fire Poi is a traditional form of juggling involving Kevlar balls that are connected to a chain, dipped into lamp oil or gasoline and set on fire. Laurel performs mostly at art happenings, birthdays and special events. Each performance last between three to five minutes and is accompanied by a song of her choice. Although it is typical for fire artists to dance to hard-core music or soft Celtic music, Laurel prefers Arabic, African or Latino music. She admits to also having a weakness for Joan Jett. Laurel's boyfriend Pete, who recently had his second open-heart surgery, is also a Fire Poi artist. They often spend time together practicing their performances in the park. A fire extinguisher is always at hand.

Laurel was immediately attracted to the craft of Fire Poi after watching a performance at a gallery hop in North Carolina a few years ago. “It was like the moment that you light a match. That’s how I felt. That little match inside of me lit up.” Laurel wanted that feeling everyday, so she moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina and began to surround herself with fire artists. At first she became their safety person, which allowed her to watch and study different fire art techniques. As soon as she felt comfortable, Laurel lit up and began to practice Fire Poi on her own.

Fire has been a part of Laurel's life since she was a child. Raised by hippies, she spent the first three years of her life living in a tent in South Carolina, while her father, a carpenter, built the family home. She remembers sitting around the campfire, as her mother, also an artist, skinned and cooked the food her father had hunted in the woods. After her father finished one room of their house, they moved in and used a small camping stove in which to cook. When Laurel was four, she walked too close to the stove and her polyester nightgown lit on fire, badly burning her thigh. Although the incident caused a permanent scar, Laurel never became afraid of fire.

Pete says that Fire Poi fits Laurel's personality because she is extremely unique and different from everyone else. Laurel, like the fire, does not want to be controlled. “The flame and I have something in common. We like to just live, wiggle and breath and when we're done, we're done”, she explains. Laurel also practices telekinesis, the movement of fire with the mind. “I try to make the flames get bigger or to move a certain way, “ she explains. Because she performs Fire Poi in the dark, Laurel has to rely on her sense of balance while performing. She tries to relax, concentrate and let the music guide her movement.

Aside from performing and teaching Fire Poi, Laurel supplements her income by teaching art, designing websites, and selling her paintings, jewelry, clothing and photography. Laurel's parents, who are now divorced, have changed a considerable amount since the days of her youth. They worry and flat out disdain that Laurel is attempting to be a full-time artist. Her father, who used to fish with a bamboo stick and string in canoe, is now remarried and owns an expensive boat with fancy fishing rods. “He is just totally different, and keeps telling me that I should get a government job, because then I would be completely financially secure. And I am like, who are you dad?” says Laurel. Her mother, who used to run around in a swimming suit covered in dirt, is now what Laurel considers, "high maintenance". She gets her nails done every week, is a bit obsessive about anti-aging creams, and perhaps jokingly or not, says she wants to find a rich man that will support her in old age.

Once Laurel’s father watched her perform Fire Poi. Although he found it interesting, he does not believe that she can, nor should try, to make it her career. Laurel, on the other hand, is willing to be poor and go through rough times in order to pursue her true passion, -- art. As an artist of this nature she states, " You have to be able to work even harder than you would if you worked for someone else. You have to push and promote yourself, because no one else will".

To view more of Laurel's art visit her website at

(Sorry the Video is Sideways Folks! Still working on that one......)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Meet Carl

In 2003, Carl left South Dakota on a bicycle with all of his possessions packed in a small, attached wagon. Today he continues to travel on his bike throughout the United States, working mostly as a drywall finisher and painter, when he can find it. Carl has no telephone, mailing address, nor does he ever stay in one place for too long. The only way to find him is if you happen to run across him on the side of any given American road. Today, Carl is on his way to Bardstown, Kentucky to visit his only child, a 19-year-old son.

For years, Carl hitchhiked to get around, but as the late 1980's and 90's approached, hitchhiking became almost impossible to do. "I used to think people were scared, but now I think it's that they just don't care," says Carl. "They probably look at me on the side of the road, with my thumb sticking out, and think that I am a bum. They don't realize that I am just trying to get from one place to the next, just like everyone else."  In 2001, Carl hitchhiked for the last time, as it took him over six months to get from Arizona to South Dakota. Given that the same trip in the late 1970's would have taken only three or four weeks, Carl decided that he needed an alternative  means of transportation. With rising gas costs and global warming looming, he chose a bicycle. In a way, Carl says that riding a bike is his way of telling the government, "Hey, I don't need your oil".

Throughout his life, Carl has lived as a vagabond. He was born in Walla, Walla Washington and moved to Texas when he was fourteen with his mother, stepfather, two younger brothers and sister.  Not long after the move, his mother abandoned the family, leaving the children behind with their stepfather. Carl can only speculate why she left,  "Maybe it was because of the crap I was getting into, skipping school, not caring, and the way that my step dad was treating her".  A year later his mother died and his stepfather, wanting nothing to do with the children, placed the entire family into foster care. Being that Carl was fifteen, he felt old enough to take control of his own destiny. So he did the proverbial, run away and joined the carnival.  "I was the smart one and was like, 'I am not going to live somewhere where somebody cares nothing more for me than the food stamps and extra checks,'" he explains. At first, Carl was the gopher for carnival workers; running errands, grabbing tools, etc. Eventually as he got older, he began operating his own booth. The carnival lifestyle was conducive to Carl's disposition, and he enjoyed constantly traveling while meeting new and interesting people. It allowed him to finally start living life the way he thought it should be lived.

As Carl entered his twenties, he truly believed that he was taking a stand with his unique lifestyle. "I thought, hey, I am a free person, I can do what I want, when I want, as long as I am not hurting anyone else, as America was supposed to be," he exclaimed. But the day he turned thirty, Carl's attitude suddenly changed. He started believing that no matter what he did with his life, somebody else was always going to have a different opinion of him, and then someone else would have different opinion from that one as well. And because of this pattern, he started to feel that all people could only do what they wanted to do, within the boundaries of what society and the government wants us to do. He felt persecuted for his freedom.

Today, in general, most people look at Carl, who is now forty-four, as if he were a homeless bum. But to Carl, his bike is home. He decorates it the same way that a person would decorate their house. His most important possessions, which are his CD's, clothes, blankets, a sleeping bag, tent, radio, and fishing pole are carefully stowed away in the wagon. While his bicycle baskets act as a garage, - holding tools, ropes and various other hardware devices. On the back of his wagon hangs a large hand-painted sign that reads,  "Trust Jesus", in addition to the three American flags he rescued from the ground that now fly from a tall pole. His elongated handlebars are covered with sentimental jewelry, key chains, and knickknacks that people have given him along the way. He even has a blue bicycle horn. The bike keeps Carl in good shape; his legs are strong, as well as his hands.

Carl says that he is like most people and is just looking for a way to get from one day to the next. "I'm not out to get rich because when you die, you can't take it with you. There is no sense in it."  Carl thinks that some folks would consider him an extremely strong person for the way he lives, but others would call him lazy because he doesn't hold down a job very long, own a car, or live in a big house. The truth is that Carl is a 'live-for-the-moment' type person. When he sees something he wants to do, he simply does it. "I have been to the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, to the Smokey Mountains and all three oceans, and have seen a lot of things in this country that a lot of Americans have never seen. "  With limited funds, Carl has come to realize that in order to get from one place to the next, nobody is going to help him, unless he does it himself.

 Carl admits that he often gets sad. "I am a people person and sometimes when I get around people, they shun me, turn their nose up at me because of the way I look or live my life, and it hurts my feelings." He doesn't understand why people cannot just get along and accept the differences in each other. "Just because I have a funny beard, no hair, tattoos, and painted finger nails doesn't' mean that I am any different from you. We all come from the same place, Mother Earth," he adds.  He knows people all over the United States too.  And though he wouldn't exactly call them his best friends due to the infrequency of his seeing them, when he does come into town, most are more than willing to help him out, knowing he won't be staying long. Carl sees himself as a very kind and generous person who enjoys giving.  "I have been without and therefore have a lot of compassion for people," he affirms. After Hurricane Katrina last year, he even traveled down to Louisiana on his bike to aid in the rebuilding.

Oftentimes, Carl encounters young people who are impressed and want to mimic his lifestyle. But he is quick to tell them,  "No, you don't want to live like me. Stay in school. Get a strong education. That way when you want to say, 'the hell with society, I'm living my life the way I want too', you'll have something to fall on when you get into a situation where you just can't do no more."  Carl, who has little formal education, says that education is an essential resource in today's society. He believes that kids need to get smart before they get adventurous. "Living out here, like I do, it's hard, people don't care about you." He often can't even afford to eat and has learned to eat like the Indians did, hunting and gathering his own food, amidst a modern day landscape.

Carl doesn't believe himself wise, because, as he would postulate, a man who calls himself wise is actually a fool.  But like most people, he admits he has his own opinions about the way we should live life, and how our government has gone wrong. On the average though, he typically just keeps his thoughts to himself, as he feels that no one really cares to listen.
One of Carl's favorite key chains is engraved with his favorite acronym, WWJD, or "What Would Jesus Do." Carl often thinks about that; what would Jesus think or say if he saw him riding down the road on his bicycle next to all these Americans driving SUV's, starring at him like he is insane? He thinks that Jesus would polish his outlook and give him a different way of reacting to the situation, and turn the other cheek when those people scold or look down on him. After all, he realizes most people just don't know any better, and that people are conditioned based on the way they are raised.

After talking, Carl began to realize that just maybe he was still that free-spirited twenty-year-old, taking a stand, living freely and giving the average American something to think about.  He'd like to think so, anyway.


Riding his bike around the country has given Carl the opportunity to observe our land closely. He believes that as intelligent inhabitants of this earth, we should be able to do something more about protecting it. "We were created from Earth and when we die, we go back to it. And when I die I don't want to be buried in a big pile of garbage somewhere. I want to be made into dust, not cockroach food, mixed with the garbage of humanity."  Carl sees more and more constructions of highways, clustered cookie-cutter homes, landfills and deforestation.  "The way humanity is treating this world is like cancer. It chips away at the a spot, until there's nothing in it, and then spreads to another place." He's not amused by the idea that only a handful of people own the majority of the land in this country. When he finds a nice place to set up a tent, or a pear tree to pick from, the owner of that land usually comes out and yells at him, or calls the police. "God gave us this earth to live on, and to coexist with, not to own it," explains Carl. 

Carl has looked deeply at the state of our country and sees that Americans desperately need help. He gets frustrated when he reads about people like Angelina Jolie helping children in other countries, because he sees the same atrocities happening here. Carl has met tons of people who are homeless, and who grew up that way, never really knowing what it was to have a home. "They go to school and when they come home they go to a shelter. And they live their life in that shelter, because the economy is so bad that each parent has to work two or three jobs just to make enough money for the gas and electricity."  Plainly, Carl does not think that America is as great as it once was.

Carl believes that this country could use a new barter system. For example, if you cut my trees, then I will do your electrical work. Americans have become so reliant on the green dollar that money has almost replaced God. He would like to see people learn how to quit hating; for countries to demolish all guns and weapons of mass-destruction; and for people to start caring. When they see someone who is down on their luck, instead of yelling at them to get a job, help them GET a job. "Even though I have a lot of animosity towards our government, the way they run things and the way people treat this land, it is a great land," he says. But in order for it to remain great, he concedes we must take a stand and start caring.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Alonzo's Story, Part I

In 1958, Alonzo was born on Roosevelt Island, a narrow two-mile long island situated between Manhattan and Queens. Shortly, thereafter, he moved with his family to Harlem where they found residence in New York City subsidized housing. At the time Harlem was predominately African American and Puerto Rican. The only white people Alonzo encountered were his teachers at school, who failed to teach him about the civil rights movement, racism, slavery or anything related to the dark history between whites and blacks in America. People just didn't talk about race. “There was a running joke in Harlem that said, don’t talk about the white man in Harlem because you let him in the house through TV everyday”, he explains.

When Alonzo was fifteen, his father found a higher paying job and the family was required to move to a different housing unit in the Bronx called Marble Hill, which had a large population of white residents from various European backgrounds. At first, Alonzo naturally gravitated to the black teenagers in his new neighborhood, but soon met his first white friend, Irwin, a Jew. “I had no idea that Irwin was Jewish, but then I noticed that he was hanging out with all these white teenagers, so I shifted away from my black group of friends towards his friends who I found very interesting and different.” The white teenagers loved Alonzo, especially his wild personality and most treated him like he was famous. He was the only black person in their group, and Alonzo found the extra attention they gave him flattering.

After one year of living in the Bronx, Alonzo faced the harsh reality of becoming an adult. At the age of sixteen he had never known the real meaning behind the "N" word. His parents had always tried to protect him from racism and socially the word was not mentioned. "As a child it was not like it is today. People where not saying “Yo nigga' this and that”, explains Alonzo. Television shows at that time were highly censored too, and it never occurred to him that there were so few African Americans on the air. “Occasionally on Ed Sullivan, Smokey Robinson or someone black would be on and I can remember thinking it was really special, but I did not understand why at the time”, says Alonzo.

Then one summer day while Alonzo was hanging out with a group of white teenage girls in Marble Hill, listening to funk on the radio, and teaching them dance moves, a pale, blond-haired, blue-eyed boy nicknamed Pee-wee walked up to him and said, “No, we’re not going to put that 'nigger' music on”. “Pee-wee was a real asshole”, says Alonzo, “and it never dawned on me that I was the Negro kid showing these white teenagers, who were demanding my attention, Negro moves. But I guess if you were on the outside looking in, that’s what was going on there.” When Pee Wee uttered the expletive that day, the meaning and power of the word suddenly hit Alonzo like a ton of bricks.   “Oh I get this...this is what they have been hiding me from, and this is what that word means. It means a black person and nobody told me; my mother never told me; my father never told me.” The realization made Alonzo so distraught that he began to cry and his white girlfriends came rushing to his side, grabbing and embracing him. The girls scorned Pee Wee by shouting that he was disgusting while demanding that he leave. But it was too late, the experience had left a lasting impression, and while walking home that day Alonzo remembers looking at people differently. “ I would walk past people and began to classify them saying I am black, he’s white, and he’s Puerto Rican, because I was struck with this new awful awareness and for about two days I couldn’t shake it”, says Alonzo. In hindsight, it was one of those earth-shattering realizations Alonzo needed to deal with, but he was so surprised that no one had taught him this crucial lesson at home or in school. “I finally understood what Martin Luther King was about,” explains Alonzo. He was different. Black.

After a week of contemplating the situation, Alonzo decided to return to the park in Marble Hill where all his white friends gathered, night after night, doing drugs and consuming large amounts of alcohol. His friends, unaware of the questions going through his mind, asked him to roll a joint because they could not do it as well as he. “All of the sudden I saw these white teenagers as Martians, and said to myself 'You’re the only black one'. They didn’t know that I was head tripping”, says Alonzo. He remembers also taking the subway down to midtown Manhattan, stepping outside, and feeling awestruck by the dissimilarity of environments--as if he were on the moon--and would then promptly return to the Bronx and compare the differences. For example, the white ladies on the subway in midtown would sit cross-legged reading the New York Times, as opposed to minorities in Harlem and the Bronx reading The Daily News, consisting of mostly pictures and the winning numbers for horses and lotto.

At one point Alonzo attempted to return to hanging out with his black friends, but quickly gravitated back to his white ones who had cars, and would take him to exciting places on the weekends, such as the Hamptons. “My parents were very concerned that I was hanging out with so many white people, but there was no stopping me”, says Alonzo. Every time he ran out of the house his mother would say to him, “Alonzo!, don’t let those white boys go push you up a tree.” Alonzo says he was fortunate and had very few racially charged experiences after old Pee Wee. He was well liked among the African Americas, Caucasians and Puerto Ricans in the neighborhood, who all nicknamed him 'Knox'. “I would take it upon myself to infiltrated each group because I new exactly what I was doing. For this aspect, I really liked myself because, I was really a dynamite liaison, and was able to keep the harmony of this whole block; and I was just so popular.” At that time, Alonzo was beginning to acknowledge and take pride in being a black man, because he inevitably knew that society would always view him as a such, regardless of the peers whose company he chose.

Everything was going great for Alonzo and when he turned eighteen the beautiful, fair-skinned, blond-haired bombshell named Colleen Bray walked into his life, asked him out, and they instantly became boyfriend and girlfriend. "Colleen was Irish and the funkiest female in the neighborhood especially for her age.... and she was my baby!", says Alonzo. This was Alonzo's first experience dating a white woman and he fell in love quickly. "The racial difference was really a trip, and when we walked down the street we would get all sorts of car horns" he says. One afternoon, while walking down the street together, Colleen's mother pulled up to them unexpectedly, rolled down the window, and demanded that she get into the car. Alonzo, struck with terror, thought for sure that this would be the last time he saw his beloved Colleen. But to his surprise, Colleen stood up to her mother and said "No!", refusing to get in the car, and angrily her mother drove away. Alonzo had never quite seen a person be so powerful and resolute as Colleen.  But then again, that's why he liked her...

To be continued.....

"I was born an Aquarius, therefore I am a natural brotherhood promoter and the more different you are from me the more I am probably going to like you, that’s why I am so into interracial dating” Quote by Alonzo "Knox" who has been dating white women for over thirty years.

Alonzo at the Futon Warehouse in Manhattan, where he lives and works.

Me and Alonzo.

Alonzo's Office

Alonzo as we talk.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Alonzo's Story Continued.....

After meeting Colleen's mother for the first time, Alonzo planned on backing off the relationship. Colleen, however, kept calling him, and being that she was his baby, they continued to date. Every night they would hang out, drink and smoke Kool Cigarettes as they watched the sun rise. They lost their virginity to each other. "I just didn't know what I was doing; I was young, dumb and full of cum", says Alonzo.

Alonzo started spending a lot of time with Colleen's friends, who were all into getting high. They introduced him to speed; he tried it, and liked it right away. "Good thing crack wasn't around! I have never tried crack--I never will--but this speed I really liked." For three years, Alonzo continued to shoot amphetamines, which led to numerous acts of immature behavior. He did, however, manage to get a job at the United States Post Office, where he worked for nine months. "Boy, it drove me crazy! It was such a boring job, and wasn't for me. But it was a civil service job, and in the neighborhood it was like,  'Oh, you work the post office? You must be a rock star!" he explains.

Soon thereafter, he became a taxi driver and the money was good, but then both his drivers' and taxis' licenses were taken away for unpaid speeding tickets. As a result, he started stealing cars. Alonzo would go to taxi garages, especially on Saturday nights, and steal a cab from the lot. "I was a nice car crook, because if I stole a car, I would always return it." He drove it all night long, sometimes with Colleen, down to Manhattan or over to Harlem. "It was just so much fun," says Alonzo. Around 5 am, he would park the cab, maybe a half-mile from where he lived, and then call the cab company and say "Yo, a cab was taken and this is where you'll find it!"  Click.

Alonzo did this for a year until finally he and Colleen got caught. Colleen's father was a New York City Detective in Manhattan. Quite naturally, with Colleen being brought up on grand theft auto charges, her father finagled a pardon, which indirectly absolved Alonzo, as if it had never happened. Alonzo had met him a month before the arrest and things were good between them. After the arrest, however, Colleens' father made it very clear for Alonzo to stay away from his daughter. He had really screwed up, but they were in love, so they snuck around him.

In October of 1981, Alonzo's older brother, whom he had not seen in thirteen years, and lived in Vancouver, sent him a one-way ticket to Seattle. He decided to go, promising Colleen that he would be back by his birthday in February. As he got off the plane in Seattle, he was greeted by a fine, white blond, who approached him and said,  "Lonnie" (that's what his brother called him), "I am Susan". "I was like, 'Oh my God!,' I didn't know this about my brother, he likes Caucasian women too!"  Susan directed Alonzo to his brothers' car, a black Chevrolet Monte Carlo with a diamond on the back. His brother, lighting a joint, proceeded to take him to a tavern in Seattle's Capital Hill. Alonzo was shocked when he walked in and saw there were all of these black men hanging out with all these gorgeous white women.  "I was like 'Holy Toledo!' Here I was coming out of the Bronx, thinking I was the only black guy with this Caucasian love. I mean, I thought I was the one who invented this damn interracial dating!," explained Alonzo. But in Seattle, this seemed to be the norm, or so it appeared. It turns out these Caucasian women were really all prostitutes. "This wasn't the drug, alley, crack-smoking, I'll-do-anything-so-I-can-get-me-another-hit-of-drugs kind; these were beautiful women! Women that could very well be in Vogue Magazine; and I am not kidding."

Alonzo's brother, along with some friends from the Air Force, were pimping white Canadian prostitutes in British Columbia. Alonzo was dumfounded that these women wanted to be with these pimps. "I mean they knew that these men had more than one woman!," he says. Looking back he assumes they where attracted to the "pimp character". "I have met some monster pimps, who were making money and doing it right. These women would come up to the pimp and say, "Hey I want to be with you". These more successful pimps had luxurious apartments and lifestyles in Vancouver, with maybe a second house somewhere else.  Their girls only worked at night.  "It was just like the movies," Alonzo says. "The women would sit around the pimps' house, painting their finger and toenails, getting ready to go out at night to pick up tricks".

Alonzo witnessed this all firsthand but had no aspirations for becoming a pimp himself.  Instead, his role was official "baby-sitter".  Susan, his brother's girlfriend, had two small children. "I loved those little kids and they called me Uncle Lonnie.... I miss them even today," he says.  On Monday nights Alonzo's brother would have his buddies over to play Penuckle, as they snorted cocaine, smoked weed and drank Johnny Walker Black. "Once they got a little intoxicated, they would start talking a lot of shit about their women. I felt really dumb, listening to these guys -- I mean, I didn't even know how to spell 'fuck'!"  Alonzo and his brother, who wanted him to stay home and baby-sit on the weekends, began to argue and disagree on issues related to his role as sitter.  "I was like, 'Yo! I have been here all week baby-sitting, and I am getting out of here, because I got to go dance; get women!" Sometimes, his brother would bring him along to go "catching", which means 'to pick up'. On Friday and Saturday nights, Alonzo would get all dressed up—his brother never let him leave the house unless he looked sharp--and he would learn how to pick up women. "I was clean, from New York City, and you couldn't tell me anything! Because I could dance and dance well -- always have.  I was raised on James Brown...!"

Alonzo began dating various white women in the scene, if you will, but he still loved Colleen, even though they had only spoken on the phone from time to time. He had suggested she come out west, but it never did materialize. It was not until 1989, though, when Alonzo came back to visit New York, that he saw Colleen again. She was with a white guy at the time, who was a 'joke,' apparently. "This guy would go all the way to Harlem to get his dope and then come back the Bronx. I was like, Oh my God, Alonzo, what did you expect, you have been away for years, and she wasn't going to wait for you, but anybody but this guy!," he lamented.

One of the last times Alonzo saw Colleen, she had been supposedly going 'down hill'. Her boyfriend had been beating her, and Alonzo tried calming her by saying,  "Colleen, sweetheart, baby, I got to go back to Seattle, and then I will come back for you. You're my baby."  Unfortunately, at that moment her boyfriend, who had been buying cigarettes, came out of the corner store. Alonzo felt completely powerless to do anything. A year or so later Colleen died. Alonzo heard a couple stories; that she had caught the "monster'--what they called 'AIDS' back then--or that her liver went out due to excessive drinking. "I don't know if I kind of messed her up or not? I don't know if the interracial dating got to be too much for her, especially since I left? I kind of will never know until I die. She came to me and I went to her and I thank God right now for the experience."

Eventually, Alonzo left British Columbia. Susan, suddenly finding herself unhappy with the idea of being involved in the sex business, packed up the kids and left. Alonzo and his brother made haste back to the border for Seattle just before the whole prostitution ring was uncovered. Alonzo himself, feeling lost, decided to stay in Seattle. While there, he earned his high school diploma and started working in the telemarketing department at Sears and Roebuck, while simultaneously getting involved with one woman to another. Not going anywhere, he eventually moved back home to New York.

Today, Alonzo, who has never been married, lives in Manhattan above the Futon Warehouse, where he also works and manages. Alonzo says that white women have been his biggest motivation in life and the reason he desires success. He recently started a Judgment Recovery business that he hopes will finally bring him the money and the connections he needs. "I went around the back way instead of going the front way, but I am qualified and it's on", he says.  He is very proud of the fact that he has been dating interracially for years, long before it was socially accepted.  "I learned this interracial dating thing on my own and no one is more qualified to talk about it, well maybe Richard Pryor, than me," he believes. When he was five years old his mother would sit him in front of the TV, while she cooked dinner for his father, and everyday around five-thirty, the cartoon 'Popeye, The Sailor Man' would come on. He loved Popeye, his muscles and how he was always protecting his girlfriend, Olive Oyl, from Pluto. It has only been the last eight years that he finally put it all together. He thought to himself, "How come you are so fascinated with these long-legged Caucasian women? Where is this coming from?" And then it dawned on him.  "'You fool, you got programmed at five years old!' I swear to God, I really know that to be the truth," he reasons.

Alonzo often refers to himself as Alonzoman, which comes from a combination of Superman, Zorro, the Green Hornet, the Lone Ranger and especially Popeye.  His motto is, "I'm Alonzoman and I am always doing the best I can, sometimes I do better, because I have always wanted to make the impossible, possible."  With Alonzo, anything is possible. 

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Meet Jack

Seventy-seven year old Jack Owen sells boiled peanuts, cold drinks, live fishing bait, raccoon tail hats, rustic furniture, hand-made gourd birdhouses, walking sticks and old-fashioned toys among other things at the Toxaway Falls Stand, a small roadside shack in the mountains of Lake Toxaway, North Carolina. Lake Toxaway was the first artificial lake to be built in the Appalachian Mountains in 1902. Jack's father Victor, who was partially blind and could not work a conventional job, built the stand next to the falls in 1947 as a way of supporting himself. "Back then in this area there wasn't much going on and my daddy placed a stand on the other side of the bridge over the falls selling birdhouse, drinks and not much of nothing to tell you the truth," explains Jack. In the 1960's a real estate development team arrived in Toxaway, set up a sales office and moved his fathers stand using a logging truck down the street to its current location along U.S 64. Over the years the stand has become a reoccurring stop for visitors who when asked can remember exactly what they bought the first time when they came as a kid.

Jack took over the family business when his father passed away twelve years ago. "I enjoy doing it- I am too old to do anything, but I still enjoy it, it gives me a chance to shoot a lot of bull," Jack says. People often stop by just to talk and he is always willing to tell anybody what they want to hear. Today his daughter and granddaughter are helping him work. His wife, who is into real estate, also stops by most mornings to help set up. They live four miles away from the stand. The Owen family was among the first pioneers to reach North Carolina, or what was then the Hogback Valley, in the 1800’s. Attempting to pull my leg, his daughter nodding her head, Jack tells me, "See this mountain behind me, I remember when that thing wasn't bigger than a potato." 

Nowadays Jack tells me that it is hard to say what his favorite thing is about North Carolina because it's become too expensive to live there. Taxes and real estate prices have exceedingly increased as outsiders have come in and built huge summer homes. "If you want to buy something you can't find it or afford it," Jack explains. He considers himself lucky because the stand has no overhead and he can afford to sell his merchandise cheaper than anybody in town. Most of the items he sells come from local artisans and farmers. He also purchases his furniture from Amish families in Pennsylvania and sells a lot of Cyprus from Georgia. I asked Jack if he made anything in the store and he answered, "Sugar, it keeps me busy just being here." Jack says people really love his boiled peanuts and just last weekend a lady came by and bought six bags that she shipped back to California.  Financially the stand does pretty well. Jack thought this year would be slow with the heat,  "But you know I've done better this year than I have ever done!" The Toxaway Falls Stand is open during the spring, summer, and fall.  Little has change about it's appearance. Once Jack thought about putting a little paint on it to make it look fancier, but people kept telling him not to, so he left it alone.

"I guess you would consider me an old timer, but I didn't used to be," says Jack who will turn 78 in November.

Jack with his daughter and granddaughter

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Meet Kamila and Sylvia

Kamila and Sylvia, 25 year-old identical twin foreign exchange students from Poland, are enjoying pint size beers together as they wait for friends at The Smokey Mountain Brewery in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The twins, who are computer science majors, have come to Tennessee for the second summer in a row to improve their English skills. This summer they have rented a cabin in the mountains and are working as hostesses at two different restaurants, as well as serving ice cream at a soda shop. Although they work most of the time, Kamila and Sylvia love the Smokey Mountains and have many Polish and American friends. So far they have not met any cute guys, but it has only been two weeks, and perhaps jokingly, Kamila tells me they are looking for male American twins. Both agree that they find American men more friendly and handsome than Polish men, however unlike Polish men they have found that American men often cheat. They are modest when asked if they get hit on a lot, saying “Oh, no not really” as they look at each other and giggle.
As twins, people always ask Kamila and Sylvia how they differ from each other. They both have a hard time answering that question and think their friends always have better answers. Kamila does mention that she is five minutes older than Sylvia, while Sylvia adds that she is a little bit taller than Kamila. They do not always hang out together and often have different friends and hobbies. However, both really enjoy the outdoors and sports, having both played soccer in Poland for six years.
Kamila and Sylvia say that the biggest difference between Poland and Tennessee are the people and food. They have found that Tennesseans are friendlier, always smiling and saying, “Hello, how are you?” In Poland Kamila says, "The people are always poor, so they are always upset”. The twins find food in America gross, especially the bread, and they don’t understand why people eat so much fast food. “I know that it is because it is really cheap, but it’s not good for your health”, says Kamila. She says that most people in Poland would not consider eating at a fast food restaurant. She has noticed that fresh healthy foods in America are very expensive. Both consider the music in America very different then that in Poland. Techno music is huge in Poland while country music is the most popular in Tennessee. In Poland country music is non-existent, but Kamila and Sylvia have grown to like many of the country music songs they listen too in Tennessee. Although Kamila and Sylvia like spending time in America, they admit that they would much rather prefer to keep their permanent home in Poland. 

Kamila on the left and Sylvia on the right

Scott and Blake would both like to meet Kamila and Sylvia

The bar area


The brewery

Famous American Twins