#SoldOut Raising Funds and Awareness

I recall many years ago standing on the terraces at Hampden Park, Glasgow with 145,000 other rabid fans, waiting for the teams to come out of the tunnel to begin the annual Scotland v England ‘Home International’ football,(soccer), game. There would always be 140,000 Scots and about 5,000 English fans in attendance. As a Scot, born and bred, I was brought up, just like the majority of others who were standing around me, to ‘hate’ the English with a vengeance. It was just part of our parochial culture at that time, and probably still is today, although I have not lived in Scotland for 40 years and with the demise of Scottish football and an awareness that political correctness is now the order of the day, perhaps the ferocity of that hatred has mellowed. The two teams, now standing in the center of the field, would face the main stand, where all the dignitaries were seated, and the British national anthem would begin, God Save the Queen. This was before the Scots were allowed to sing their own anthem, a change in protocol that occurred some years later. The band, yes, a real brass or bagpipe band, would strike up the first chord and immediately there would be a wall of noise emanating from the Scottish support just booing as loud as possible at the UK anthem. It completely drowned out the band and any semblance they had in mind of being heard as a unit. We hated that anthem, supposedly, and we all gave it little or indeed no respect. Within seconds, our vocal distaste of everything that the British Monarchy stood for was demonstrated by this blasphemous howling and booing which seemed to last an eternity, but which in fact lasted only about 120 seconds, the length of the British national anthem being quite short. Once over, the game began and the fact that 140,000 Scottish football fanatics had remonstrated vocally against our forced inclusion under the monarchy we all loved, or at least some of us loved, was soon forgotten as the football took over and blood and guts was then spilled on the field of play rather than on the streets of Glasgow. It should also be noted that while the anthem was sung by the players on the field from the England team, all the Scottish team just stood in silence, some smiling, some not, but to a tee, not one of the Scottish team would sing along. It was an unwritten rule, followed religiously. Silent protests against supposed oppression, acceptable and respected throughout the world. No harm done, no one to cry foul. Until now!

When Colin Kaepernick knelt down for the Star Spangled Banner whilst playing for the San Francisco 49rs some two years ago, the whole world, at least the world that surrounded American Football and Donald Trump, went berserk, and for what reason? Well as far as I can tell, the National Anthem was never played at any sporting event before the end of the second world war. And even after that, there were sports events in the USA where the anthem remained just a figment of everyone’s imagination, laying silent as battle commenced on the field of play. So why, all of a sudden, after Kaepernick and some of his fellow Pro’s decided to protest, quite justifiably in silence to make what has turned out to be a very relevant point on an issue that has haunted this country for generations, has the President of the United States and the owners of some of the football teams where protests have been continual and well publicized, lost the plot by telling players they will be fired if they continue to ‘abuse their privilege’? There is not one reason on earth why anyone should be forced to alter their beliefs, especially those who feel threatened or abused and more especially inside a country that not only preaches pure democracy and a right to free speech to the whole planet, but a country that encourages its populous to be vocal in the form of protest when under threat of unjustifiable racism. Racism is rife in America. You can smell it in the streets, it’s a pollution that has become silent in its poisoning of its population. Racism cannot be tolerated, hatred of anyone, any race, any creed and any color has to be kicked out, but, unfortunately, and in the opinion of this author, it’s just being swept under an already filthy carpet, where, when the dust is uncovered, it becomes a mountain of trash that is becoming ever worse and unstoppable, fueled by a President and government that just turns a blind eye and looks the other way whilst telling us all, quite disingenuously that there is absolutely nothing wrong! Well, not much!

My guitar teacher Tony, remember him from the first article I wrote last week, inspired me to make the lapel pins you see in the image above. The players protesting and following in the footsteps of Kaepernick, have a right to do so. It’s not disrespectful, it’s poignant, it’s their human right, it’s peaceful and most importantly, it’s something they believe in. However, it seems if these protests carry on players will be fired or, and I say this with the utmost respect, the President will have to intervene personally, something not one of us would like to see happen.

With all of this in mind, I have this idea, not only to raise the awareness to a very great cause, but to raise money for charities associated with racism and the profound effect that racism still holds on our society. The #SOLDOUT will soon display the pins pictured above for sale, to make people aware that there is genuine suffering out there, whether it be in the murdering of Jews in Pittsburgh, or the simplicity of daily senseless traffic stops on innocent African Americans, it matters not. We have a right to protest, so by wearing this pin, our protests shall be seen, and by the money we raise, out protests shall be heard.

Keep reading this blog for more updates and check out our Instagram #soldout to get your pin.

If there are any athletes, well known or otherwise and or charities, who would like to be considered as spokes people for this idea, please get in touch. Colin Kaepernick, if you read this please know that I have tried in many different ways to contact you because I believe you should lead this movement, but to date, no response.

Thank you everyone.

Too Many To Count

IMG_0352Yesterday was warm, around 68 degrees here in San Jose, not a bad day to be out in shorts and a tee-shirt? Well the days might be warm, but the evenings are certainly winter cool, not cold, just cool. Ideal conditions of you have a home to go to, turning on the heat as you walk in through the front door after a long day at work, ready, willing and able to put the stove on, or perhaps just the microwave, so that you might enjoy your favorite meal in the comfort of your favorite arm-chair in the company of your favorite lover or with your favorite pet by your side.

For those who are homeless however, last night was yet another slog to get in line at the Home First Boccardo center in San Jose to guarantee a bed and a hot meal. And it’s to that very same center that I once again set off around 4 PM to help Chef Diane serve more than 300 starving souls, who, unlike you or I, have absolutely nothing in their lives except the misery and depression that being homeless brings.

The line for beds was out the front door and into the street, and as I parked my car I could see that this was going to be a night unlike any other that I had seen before when volunteering at Boccardo. I’ve been going there for years now, through thick and thin, cold and warm, but never have I seen a line like the one I saw last night. Was it because ‘the jungle’ off CA 87 had been closed? Always a resting place in the past for refugees of this continual homeless crisis we can never seem to fix, now closed due to pressure from council members who wanted them out. Was it because there was spaghetti cooking inside the kitchen run by Miss Diane and word had spread that tonight dinner would be delicious? Or perhaps it was just that we cannot control a situation that is out of control and the sad facts are it won’t get any better soon.

Having gone into the kitchen to assist, Diane informed me that she was short of volunteers and that during the winter months most of those who come to help serve and prepare seem to just vanish. With gloves and apron in place, desert carved and plated, peas and salad and warm bread all ready to be dished out, the spaghetti would not be short of company tonight.

Then the chaos began. One after another, an endless line of deprivation strolled expectantly into the dining hall. Some were pleasant, others ungrateful, the usual mix which I’ve seen many times before. Some wanted no meat, some no tomatoes and some only chocolate for desert. Whatever their poison, Miss Diane controlled the line with her usual dignified authoritarian energy, pushing those who dithered towards a table that bore empty seats, and those who were perhaps more decisive and bold when asking for extra food, towards the exit. She’s a real trooper and still, to this day, I have no idea how she and the rest of her staff cope with this never-ending, depressing situation day in and day out.

When you get home from work tonight, think about that line. It will be there for sure, just like it is every night, 300 souls with their hands out looking for assistance and receiving it courtesy of those who donate their lives to the betterment of others. Give up some of your time if you can and come and help Diane and the rest of this very dedicated team. They will make you welcome and you will make their day.

 

There’s More To Being Homeless Than Just Being Fed- Part 1

I sat alone, although surrounded by thousands of strangers, my mind spinning, my body shivering as the sun rose over Oakland and I looked out into the San Francisco Bay, pondering, dreaming, but really stalling for time. I had a choice to make. Deprived of any real sleep and having spent most of the night wandering streets which I knew but really didn’t know, it was that time, time to fill my empty stomach. I had a few coins, but nothing really of note. There were no tourists at 7.30 in the morning, other than those who chose to get up and jog round the streets before going about their task of exploring San Francisco and all its treasures. This made it difficult to obtain any kind of serious cash from my new-found talent as a make shift and mobile tourist service. Alone, all alone, with feelings of sickness and of desolation running clear through my veins into my stomach. A stomach which was now incredibly empty. All my normal ‘to-do’ list for this time of day had become irrelevant. A shave, a shit, brushing my teeth, my morning work-out, and even something as simple as putting on clean clothes for the day ahead. I don’t like being dirty at the best of times, in fact the smallest stain on anything I wear, and that garment is removed and replaced in the blink of an eye. This was different. This was bleak. This was homelessness. I couldn’t even get a drink of water without crossing the street to the nearest fast food restaurant and begging for an empty cup to fill at their soda fountain. I had plenty time to contemplate my movements for the up coming day, perhaps too much time, but at that very moment, all I wanted to do was leave town and go home. It took all my willpower and the sight of someone who looked worse off that I did, to keep me where I was and to coax me gently into believing I could really do this, spend one week being homeless in San Francisco. After all, it was only a week, and all I had to do to motivate myself was to keep that thought echoing through my head. One week, 7 days, 6 more nights.

Hunger can easily be ignored. Thirst cannot. When I was 11 years old I fasted for the very first time on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. I did it with some ease, and continued to do it for many years until religion and I had a little disagreement, and I said ‘fuck it’ this is silly. So I stopped. Hunger is really a state of mind. Yes, the emptiness brought on by three regular meals vanishing beneath this drought called poverty is extremely disconcerting to one’s brain. Yes, being unable to walk into any local store and buy anything I wanted without thinking twice about its cost was never an issue, but now, with nothing, not a penny to my name, not a shred of hope of seeing any money until much later on that day, made the pains of hunger coming from within intolerable, even though I knew I’d survive. Water however was my greatest concern. I needed to drink. Without water I was a time bomb waiting to explode. Without water I was a sitting duck for the thieves and ruffians who surrounded every move I tried to make. Without water, I was dead. Dramatic perhaps, but oh so true. I wasn’t prepared at that point to just drink from any fountain, any half empty bottle I found in the trash, no, not me. I wanted a cup, a plastic cup and I wanted fresh water, at least as fresh as possible, and I was going to have to learn how to negotiate that particular hurdle in a hurry. Negotiation that would eventually take place in a Wendy’s on Market St.

“Is there something I can do for you” said a voice that was coming from across and open and pretty empty restaurant. This voice had obviously traveled many open spaces before the one I was now crossing and I could tell from his eyes that he’s just about had enough of people like me, although he was about to get the biggest shock of his young life because I wasn’t going to be like the others before me.

“Listen to me” I whispered, as I approached the counter. I noticed a certain amount of fear written across his now frowning eyebrows, but all the same, he could probably tell I was harmless, even though his instinct to remain wary had now kicked in. I continued.

“My name is Alan. I am writing a book about homelessness, and I need water. I am not a homeless person, I am a writer working undercover and I can’t afford to let anyone else know that. Could you please give me access to the restaurant to fill up a plastic cup now and again if I promise to mention you in my book? I don’t want any food, and if I do I’ll pay for it. I just want to be able to come in and have a drink now and again since most of my undercover work will be done around this point of the city”

He looked, stunned, but smiling. I knew what was coming next. I could just tell.

“Sir, please leave the restaurant unless you are here to buy something”

“Come on, don’t be like that. I just need water.” I was pissed. I was hoping this was going to be easy, but it was now obviously going to become a struggle. “Look, how difficult would it be to allow me just to have a drink now and again? I’m from Scotland, but you already knew that didn’t you? Do I talk like your average San Franciscan homeless person? I know you think I am, of course, I’m dressed for the part, but I can assure you, I am undercover. I’ll give you my cell phone number in San Jose, call it, and you’ll hear my message.”

I could see he was warming up to me, so I thought I’d throw in some humor. After a short pause I asked Jim, (we were now on first name terms after someone cooking burgers or waffles or something else that smelled delicious to my empty stomach, had called for his assistance while I was trying to obtain my meager cup of water), “Jim, what do you get if you play McDonald’s Monopoly game for 30 straight days?” He gave me a blank stare as he tried to work it out. I was too quick for him though, “a heart attack!” And with that, Jim relaxed, laughed and offered me not only a plastic cup for water, but he gave me some burgers to take with me and an offer of ‘open house’ as long as I would come back and tell him more corny jokes. Just like that I was watered, fed and friends with the manager at Wendy’s, my new favorite hot spot in town. No longer would I need to roam the empty streets begging for cash, when Jim was prepared to feed me for free. Only issue being, what to do when Jim was off? But at that point I didn’t care. My thirst had been quenched, my belly was filled, sort of, and my spirits were elevated to a level that would ensure completion of my mission. Yes, I had cheated, but only a little, and to be honest, I had no qualms about doing it again. After all, what was stopping anyone doing what I just did? Honestly or dishonestly, chutzpah and guile can get you a very long way in life.

We Have Guns, But……

downloadBest article of the week so far came on NBC news last night, and I quote.

“The Russians say they have not invaded but their soldiers are carrying guns around in the streets of Crimea, only they haven’t fired them just yet.”

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. We come in peace, shoot to kill, as that old song suggested. Ukraine of course is in turmoil. Our politicians too are in turmoil, but most of all the poor people who claim citizenship of the Ukraine are in more trouble now then any of us could possibly imagine. And all through this unbelievable episode, Putin sits like a king on his throne telling everyone that Russia is a peaceful and well-meaning nation. How about No you’re not!

50 billion on the winter olympics and now 150 billion on another invasion of a yet another defenseless country. Yes, of course, Ukraine was at one time aligned with the old Soviet Union, but no longer do they give a rats ass about Putin and his cronies. Well some of them do, perhaps even half of them, but that’s not the point. The point is that yet again, we, as in the USA, are set to police a region that we should quite frankly stay away from. It’s none of our business and it’s not financially viable for us to get involved with yet another conflict.

Where does it all end? If we keep Ukraine stable, do we then go to Scotland in September of this year to ensure that their vote for independence, should it be unfavorable, is seen to be fair and just? Do we keep the good folks of Edinburgh and Glasgow happy by showing up on their doorsteps telling them, ‘it went well in Ukraine, so don’t worry, all will be well here?”

I just don’t get it. I have no idea what the foreign policy of this country is anymore, nor do I really care. We have millions of poor people struggling to survive right here in California and in all the other 49 states, so why get involved in someone else’s mess? Take the funds required to mend Ukraine and spend them here. At least we can all see the benefits! Right? I’ve seen too much of this ‘we need to be responsible for their problems’ attitude in my lifetime, and while I agree it’s better to help than to just watch, why have we done nothing about Syria in the 3 years since civil war broke out there and yet we are so involved in Ukraine after three short weeks? I’ll tell you why. It’s the old ‘cold war’ syndrome raising its ugly head yet again. The Russians, always fear the Russians. It’s ingrained into the American physique.

So, to all those poor Russian lads, marching endlessly up and down the high streets of every city in the Crimea with your guns loaded and your egos in a tizzy, I say to you simply and nicely,GO HOME. You don’t need to be there and we don’t need to tell you not to be there. These are all your people, all cousins, all brothers and or sisters. Leave them alone. March in Moscow and march with the hope you can change your own society the way Dr Martin Luther King, and others, changed our society. Only look carefully before you try because we fucked it up big time and now we are trying to impose our fuck ups on you!.

 

 

 

Mr Blue Skies

downloadThe line was huge tonight. More people than I’ve ever seen at the shelter. Dinner consisted of Sloppy Joe’s, bread rolls, mixed veg, french fries and salad, all nicely prepared by Chef Diane and her team. I was cutting cake, donated mostly by Safeway, whose support we greatly appreciate. We thought it was a feat for a king. Everyone lined up believed the same. So much food and looking so tasty too.

5 PM and the doors opened. One by one they entered, some excited and some not. Some were grateful as they took their plates and headed to a table, and some were not. I sincerely believe that those who were not are just too ashamed to express their gratitude with words and find it hard to look us servers in the face as they take a plate that’s filled and brimming with hot food and completely free, all thanks of course to the hard work of EHC Lifebuilders.

Tonight’s line seemed to be never-ending. I looked at the deprivation, the consternation and the angst that some of these homeless men and women carry on their weather-beaten faces and I think, there but for the grace of God go I. I am also ashamed that I have and they have nothing. Hard feelings to express because you know they have no sympathy for my guilt and I have no real interest in explaining it to them. They just want food, and they want it as quickly as possible and then they want to leave and go to wherever they feel most comfortable. It was so busy tonight that two fights were close to breaking out over something very trivial indeed, the lack of an extra plastic fork! With the clock ticking, food began to run out and there was no end in sight to the line outside the door of those still to be served.

Here’s the deal. If you stand outside at 4 30PM, you get fresh warm food just out the oven. You’re supposed to be there between the hour of 5 and 5 30PM to ensure you get something inside your empty belly. Anyone coming after this will be turned away with a ‘doggie’ bag and a snarl from those who have volunteered to clean up. These people all know one another and you never want to piss off your friends. At 5 20 tonight the food began to dwindle. There was no salad left, no veggies, and very few french fries. Sloppy Joe’s were in plentiful supply but the bread was running out too. By 5 25, the food was gone, something I’ve never witnessed before in this shelter, and people were still waiting outside in an orderly line to eat. At 5.30 the doors were closed and some of those in line went out with nothing. How do you relate to that? How can I as a human being just let that happen. I wanted to go and get pizza or burgers for those who never ate, but alas, that isn’t allowed and I couldn’t bring them the food they deserve.

For those reading this who think, ‘oh well, it’s free and they are homeless so who cares if they missed out, they should have come earlier’ THIS IS NOT THE POINT!! These people are human and just because there is no food left and just because it’s free, and just because they showed up at 5.25 instead of 5 PM, why should they suffer the consequences that hunger will now bring. Have a think about this while you eat your own dinner tonight. By stark contrast, at 5 Guys burgers ten minutes after I left, there were 12 baskets of French fries all ready and sitting waiting to be cooked, with ELO Mr. Blue Sky playing loud and clear over the audio system in the restaurant, and no customers to buy the food they were waiting to cook.

What a world we live in! Support the homeless charities near you. They need all the help they can get and they need it now.

Ron

IMG_0103They looked delicious. All fresh, hot out the oven. Prepared with care and attention by Ron. Diane had supervised the process from start to finish, indeed she and James were really the chefs to be credited with the recipe and preparation, but Ron was now plating, and his mind was entirely focussed on a tricky process. His aim? Not to spill a single drop. Bell peppers filled with Bolognese sauce and rice, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and then put back into the large oven to brown. The looked delicious, in fact, the burger that I was going to eat after this dinner service had completely, paled into insignificance against the beauty of Diane’s creation. Yummy!

Another night in the EHC homeless shelter close to the Plant, in east San Jose. Another night for the 150 or so who yet again had made their way through another day out on our ‘not so cold’ streets, although each and every one of them looked desperate and desolate. As they traipsed into our kitchen, Ron and I began to chat. The bell peppers we so hot that I was burning my fingers every time I picked one up to plate it, and that with gloves on too! To use tongs made little sense, only because the delicacy of each piece would have made it a real chore to lift. Ron laughed, probably the first time I’d seen him laugh in months, and as I cracked another joke, one which is too rude to repeat on this blog, he laughed again, and finally, yes finally after speaking with him in little spurts for months, Ron talked to me about his life and why he’d ended up in this shelter.

Ron was born in Stockton, and grew up there too. He worked for a very large nut company for many years. That’s nuts as in the one’s you would eat. This company is well-known but they’re not getting any free advertising on this blog. Ron was in charge of moving tons of raw product from one side of the factory into the production side, where the nuts would be cooked, cured, smoked or whatever else they do with almonds and walnuts. He had his job, the same job, for twenty years, and then, unfortunately, his wife took sick with cancer of her uterus. She died, at the tender age of 37, quite suddenly he said, after a 7 year battle with the disease and Ron fell apart. He’d only known one girl, they’d met as kids and dated, married and had 4 kids of their own, and so, understandably, Ron was devastated. His employer lost patience and Ron lost his job. His kids finished school, moved away and Ron decided he needed a change. He met another lady, one who he believed would change his luck. And that, she certainly did.

After dating for a while and after moving into low-income housing in San Jose (Ron had lost his home in Stockton when he was forced to pay all the medical bills for his wife’s illness), his new girl friend got arrested for doing something illegal and something Ron refused to discuss with me last night. She was sent to prison, but that was a violation of their rental agreement at their home. Ron lost his house and became another statistic, roaming our streets every day looking for hand outs and or assistance. And the he found the EHC Lifebuilders Boccardo shelter and moved in. Ron became interested in cooking and was given the opportunity to work alongside Diane, Anita and head chef Paul. Since April of last year, when Ron found a certain amount of peace in his new home, he has settled into a lifestyle that has made him more confident, given him a new beginning and the opportunity to learn a new trade. Now all he needs is a paid job in the real world, something that won’t come easy to him or to any of the other men and women who work in the shelter every day.

Like me, you can volunteer. Like me you can go and talk to these people. They don’t bite! Like me, you will be amazed at the stories you’ll be told and you’ll be surprised just how close any of us out there are to ending up in similar circumstances to people like James, Ron and their friends at the center.

I’ve said it many times before. Giving money, giving food, giving clothes, will not end homelessness in America. Giving these people dignity, the stability of a steady job, giving them the ability to live with themselves and believe that they are indeed not all pariahs, is the sort of progress required to put an end to this shocking situation that millions of people find themselves in today. Homelessness in America, is something out government needs to address, and it probably won’t. You can help though. If you want to know more, go to http://www.ehclifebuilders.org/

Karaoke But No Santa

Picture 6It doesn’t take much to make a difference, especially in a life that is mostly empty. Just one or two simple additions, such as love and understanding, a hot meal and to be treated like a proper and normal human being, normally do the trick. Today at the homeless shelter, food was in abundance, turkey and ham, along with fresh cooked veg and macaroni and cheese, plus cookies. Tonight though, there was also karaoke. Someone had donated three Target gift cards, on for $50 on for $20 and one for $10. The competition was simple. Come up and sing and be judged.

It took an hour and some brave souls, but in the end, after around 20 renditions, none of which would have made X Factor or Idol outtakes, we had our winner. She was dressed all in black, including her black beanie hat, but she had the ‘moves like Jagger’ and a voice that outshone second and third place, by a country mile. I never got her name, which is a shame, since I was the judge and jury, but she vanished into the shelter before we could present her with her prize. James, who appeared in an earlier blog I wrote, chased after her, knowing that the $50 would mean everything to her, and eventually brought her back into the main dining area in order that we could anoint her Queen of Soul for the San Jose homeless population.

The difference tonight, even though not completely natural, was the look of enjoyment on the faces of those who had come to eat their Christmas dinner in a warm and safe environment. On regular weekdays during the year, most of the residents we see come in and out, gobbling up their meals in 5 minutes without acknowledging one another. Tonight they gathered together, as you have done in your own homes with your own families, and they formed a small gathering with a real sense of community. Yes, all of these people would rather be someplace else, but right now, this is their home, if only for tonight. They are fortunate enough to know and to be grateful for everything they have been given on this special day. They have had meals cooked and served and a bed supplied.

Not all of the residents at the Boccardo center feel this need for gratitude, indeed some are quite bitter and disgusted with the way society has dealt them a rotten hand in life, but in general, those who behave this way are few and far between. The atmosphere tonight was certainly jovial, but when proceedings began to wind down and the realization set in amongst all who were with us this evening that they would be back on the cold empty streets tomorrow morning, attitudes certainly changed, if not immediately, then certainly within moments of their retreat back into their sleeping accommodations. And who can blame them?

Homelessness cannot be resolved by one meal or even two. It cannot be resolved by donating clothes or money. It cannot end with just hope. Homelessness can only be resolved through hard work, government intervention and community awareness. Today is Christmas day, a day to bring joy to all mankind. I hope the people that I met today had just a smidgeon of joy brought into what is a pretty miserable life for all of them. When you open your gifts at home today, when you eat your turkey and your ham, and when you drink a few beers or bottle of wine, bare a thought for those of us less fortunate who have absolutely nothing in life other that what kind people like you decide to donate. It doesn’t take much to bring happiness to a fellow human being, and today was a perfect example of that. I didn’t see one Ipad, Ipod or Iphone, I just saw some hungry ,lonely homeless people trying hard to believe that next year things can only get better.

Merry Christmas to all of you. I wish you much happiness and much love and trust that none of you will ever find yourselves in need of the assistance, these folks all over the country did today and every other day of their lives.