Personal Profile: Big Man in the Nut House - Big Al, an ex-Vietnam tank crewman, dishes out 400 lbs of wisdom on life in public housing.

Published August 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 7

text and photographs by Tom deMers

Tom deMers is a writer and former HUD property manager. He lives in Longmont, Colo. “Big Man in the Nut House” is a chapter taken from his unpublished book titled “Living in the HUD.” Names have been changed at the request of concerned parties.

Hobo Camp
Technically, Big Al was never homeless. He lived east of Boulder in a Tuff Shed. Times being what they are, Tuff Shed living may be a lifestyle more people want to look into. If so, Big Al is your guy. We spoke on the patio at Pineview, a public housing facility I managed. A cautionary note: talking to Big Al is like driving down an old country road, lots of twists and turns before it ultimately reaches its destination.   

“I stayed in the Tuff Shed while out at the hobo camp near the creek,” he tells me. Several years. “Digger lived there too. You know Digger?”  The name was familiar. “Yeah, he lived there. He came up on the list for Pineview, but they wouldn’t let him in. He had some real bad habits; they must have found out. Probably good. He used to shit on the floor and wipe his ass on newspaper and throw it in the corner. Hank loved everybody, but he finally asked Digger to leave.”

“Who was Hank?” I asked.

“He was a lawyer, but he was a hippy at heart. Great guy. He owned this land by the creek and loved to have us there with him. People came and went. Some guys had tents. Hank lived in a trailer,” said Al. “I had the Tuff Shed.”

The Tuff Shed sounded tough in the winter. Not for Big Al.

“Hey, it had a door. I ran the space heater, turned on the TV and sat in my old leather chair. It was great. Of course there was no running water. Unless you were Digger, you had to crap in the Porta-Potty. That was tough.”

“How come you left?” I asked.

“Had to. We all did. The county rousted us out and cleared the land. Some guy got tagged for shoplifting. The police came out looking for him and discovered us all. I mean, they went bush to bush chasing everybody out, except Hank. Lucky for me, just at that time, I was offered public housing at Pineview and two other places. I’d already turned down Section 8 because they were paying only $275 of my rent, which I’d have nothing left for food or doctors or anything. But now, two years later, my social security was turned on, and I had enough to make it work. Then, you showed me this place with its great view of the hills. I said, ‘This is it!’”

Big Al

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