By Steve Anson, VOICE vendor
Well, the actual quotation was “You have a family at home, but the people you love are here.” My former bartender Geri said that. Later that night, I’m sure she said to me, “Thank you, but you gotta go. Gimme your keys.” I am truly thankful to Geri for that. I am also thankful that several years later, I finally quit drinking. I thank my therapist Kathleen for giving me the tools to think the way I now think since I quit. I do things backward. Backward doesn’t work so well in print media.
I became homeless three months after I quit drinking. I had intended to die in the house that my mother left me at her death. I was literally, consciously trying to drink myself to death. I drank and used enough substances after my mom’s death that I went through a quarter-million dollars in about four years; why pay property tax if I’m gonna die? The DUI I got represented around $30,000. The rest went into substances for me and my “friends.” And food.
Those first few nights on the streets of downtown Denver were rough. I met a now good ally and friend with whom I am beginning to build a business based partly on a model that is molding itself as I take each breath. I’m letting “the music play the band*” in my own way. Within less than a week on the streets I discovered the Denver VOICE, and how to vend it.
Quite a while ago, vendors of the VOICE were asked, to paraphrase, “How has the VOICE affected you?” Now I think I can answer that question. First, it helped by introducing me to readers and donors, who, through their generosity, helped me to survive some very lean times. Second, it increased my visibility in the community. I know that, if not for this paper, I would not have been contacted by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless when they had a spot open for one of their apartment buildings, to be opened in August of 2014. Even after I got that housing, one faithful reader actually paid me for her monthly copy in advance so that I could pay off Xcel. That reader has asked not to be identified. Thank you, precious reader. In many ways it’s amusing the effect the paper has had. When I went to pay my CenturyLink bill, for example, the clerks there did not even recognize me as one of the homeless who at one time was sleeping and vending on the mall, though I recognized them.
Before I was able to move into that apartment, though, I stopped sleeping downtown. I moved on to sleep outside a supermarket on South Colorado Blvd. There, I met the man who gave me the MacBook Pro on which I am writing this article. He gave it to me on the condition that I was not living on the street. It took me until November 2014 to ask Jesse for the computer, and sure enough, he came through. Thank you Jesse! The guy who helped me get the computer back to my apartment, Philip, is known around the 16th Street Mall as a piano player. In an odd series of events, Philip quit drinking because I called him a drunk. He didn’t punch me in the mouth, and for three weeks that December, he lived in my living room. Thank you, Philip, for staying sober.
Dealing with homeless folks is tough on homeless folks, it’s tough on pedestrians, drivers, and others. I’ve had seven backpacks stolen while I was sleeping, lost a couple of phones, gotten punched in the eye, been begged from, been lied to, been insulted, and if I haven’t made it clear yet, I got a Monty Python-esque blow to the head, and all by homeless folks. Oh. One of those actions, my ex wife did, too. Actually, my ex wife deserves a sincere apology from me. Sorry, Amy. I was a drunken ass.
During my time here living downtown, in an apartment, I met a man about whom I commented to someone, “He’s an okay panhandler. Not aggressive, but I’m tired of noticing that, more than anything, he’s just seeking another buzz. Weed, booze, doesn’t matter, and I’m not giving him anything more unless that stops.” He died of a seizure four days after I said that, in the apartment of his friend, Matthew.
Todd, Rest in Peace.
It’s also tough on the volunteers and employees of St. Francis Center, the Denver Rescue Mission, and Samaritan House. My relationship with those organizations, though short-lived, was pleasant. In particular, St. Francis Center helped me with one or two or sleeping bags. Christ in the City did the same thing, probably saving me from frostbite in early 2014.
Life itself is tough on everyone. It’s tough for that guy sorting his laundry in his apartment saying to one of his walls “Where the hell is my other sock?” Oh, wait. That was me. This morning. It’s tough for the person who looks around at the difficulties we all face and pays his taxes while wondering, “Where are the services for this money I pay in?” It’s tough when a pedestrian has to avoid a bicyclist on a sidewalk and raises his or her hands in utter futility. It’s tough when we have the choice for leader of our country between 1: a man who has made his living leveraging debt, owning a casino, and enabling more addictions than the really-below average parent; and 2: a megalomaniac of a woman who insists that despite all evidence to the contrary, democracy and capitalism can combine to form good government. C’mon, do the damned math. It’s tough when you realize that you are responsible for what and if you think.
I thought I would succeed in killing myself with alcohol, thus I did not pay my property tax. I thought I would suffer no ill effects from growing and then creating my own absinthe. I now will suffer the results of walking into a moving car for the rest of my life. I thought that federal tax money was poorly used and I would never see any benefit from it. I now draw Social Security Disability benefits and I live in a federally funded building at reasonable rent—one-third of my income.
I write this piece on 10 August 2016. I’ve no idea who the president-elect will be in November. No clue at all. Either way, we all have a lot of work to do. Myself, I’m just thankful that I’m able to think in a way that allows me to write about November in August.
Uh, that Thanksgiving night that Geri had me give her my keys, I stayed in the bar until she closed, and she gave me a ride home. I’m finally “home.” Thank you, Denver VOICE. ■
* Thank you, John Barlow for the lyric to the Grateful Dead song, “The Music Never Stopped.” I didn’t get permission to use the lyric, but the amount of money I spent on Grateful Dead tickets from 1978 to 1983 should cover it.