A Town in Florida Has Made It Illegal for Homeless People to Cover Themselves with Blankets
There’s a new Tumblr blog making the rounds called Selfies with Homeless People. Apart from the rare picture in which the homeless person is complicit in the act, the majority of the photos are posed next to a sleeping or comatose human. Cue snap after snap of the worst sort of millennial douchery, as fresh-faced youngsters exploit the impoverished, dispossessed members of society for Instagram likes and hashtag LOLs.
Although their young souls may be dog shit, they aren’t actually physically harming homeless people. But don’t worry, because Florida, the internet’s favorite affront to human decency and legal reason, is picking up the slack. Thanks to a “camping” ordinancepassed by the Pensacola City Council last summer, homeless people in the city will becriminalized for, among other things, sleeping outdoors while “adjacent to or inside a tent or sleeping bag, or atop and/or covered by materials such as a bedroll, cardboard, newspapers, or inside some form of temporary shelter.”
That’s right. For the grievous offense of trying to shelter yourself from freezing conditions while homeless, you are considered to be breaking the law. For a state so obsessed with the right to defend oneself, it’s shocking that Floridians wouldn’t extend this right to those confronted by the elements. But why is it illegal to use a blanket during those tricky periods when you don’t live in a house? Are blankets harbingers of infection and death? Possibly. The city council argues that “camping” has a detrimental effect on Pensacola’s “aesthetics, sanitation, public health, and safety of its citizens.”
The Brazilian Slum Children Who Are Literally Swimming in Garbage
The Brazilian city of Recife is known for its majestic bridges, but in November a newspaper photo highlighted one of the metropolis’s uglier aspects. Published in the Jornal do Commercio, the picture showed a nine-year-old kid named Paulo Henrique submerged in a garbage-filled canal beneath one of those famous bridges, picking cans out of the filthy water so he could sell them.
According to government estimates, some 6,500 children live in the slums in the Arruda and Campina Barreto neighborhoods on Recife’s north side. Many of them wade through garbage to eke out a living just as Paulo does, but it was only after his image appeared in the press that the local government and international authorities took notice of their plight. In response to the photo and the accompanying article, the government promised to place Paulo, his mother, and his five siblings on welfare.
Riding the Dirty Dog: A Love Song to the Greyhound Underworld
In the 1957 Jayne Mansfield–heavy film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s mostly forgotten novel The Wayward Bus, an assistant mechanic named Kit Carson stands chatting with a lunch-counter girl with Hollywood ambitions in a little dusty Central Valley bus depot named Rebel Corners. “I wonder if there’s going to be any important people on the bus today,” the girl asks. “Important people,” Kit tells her, “don’t ride buses.”
Nelson Algren taxonomized the nonpeople he would run into while traveling in his bookNonconformity, written in the 1950s: “The pool shark hitchhiking to Miami or Seattle, the fruit pickers following the crops in the 1939 Chevy with one headlight gone and the other cracked… The ‘unemployed bartender,’ ‘unemployed short-order cook,’ ‘unemployed salesman,’ ‘unemployed model,’ ‘unemployed hostess,’ ‘self-styled actor,’ ‘self-styled artist,’ ‘self-styled musician’… Their names are the names of certain dreams from which the light has gone out.”
Turgenev and Herzen might have called these people “superfluous” Americans. The dregs of the American dream. Though seemingly dated, vanquished Beat-lit stereotypes, these hustlers, dealers, prostitutes, and “freelancing phonies” never really went away—they’re still here today, tucked on the back of a Greyhound bus.
Sometime in 2002, having dropped out of college and moved back home to North Carolina, unmoored and without job prospects or definite plans, I caught a chance ride to Fort Benning, Georgia, for a protest against the School of the Americas—the academy responsible for training all the Latin American paramilitaries and death squads. There, as frocked Catholic priests thrust themselves over the base’s ten-foot-high fence in nonviolent civil disobedience, I became friends with some young transients on their way down to Florida. After the protest ended, we caught a ride with a guy in a Buick, taking turns driving through the night. On a misty two-lane road in southern Georgia, a rural sheriff pulled us over and ran our IDs. One of the transients had an outstanding warrant and was taken to jail—his girlfriend was only 17, and apparently her parents didn’t approve. We drove around to three different ATMs to get bail money and made it to Gainesville the next morning, stumbling into Denny’s bleary-eyed with exhaustion.
There, as if by magic, an expired Greyhound Ameripass made its way into our hands. (I don’t remember how exactly, but I think these crusties got it from a friend of a friend.) For the uninitiated, the Ameripass was a reasonably affordable pass that got the buyer 30, 60, or 90 days of unlimited bus travel throughout the United States and Canada. Originally marketed toward European backpackers and students on a budget who wanted to wander cities and towns by day and sleep on the bus by night, the Ameripass offered a nice glimpse of the “real” America before being rebranded as the Discovery Pass and then permanently discontinued in 2012.
Canada’s New Medical Weed Program Puts the Poorest Patients Last
At the moment, 40,000 Canadians are currently authorized to possess medical marijuana. Until April 2014, these patients can purchase their supply from a licensed personal producer, or they can get permission to grow it themselves, but soon every Canadian medical marijuana user will be forced to comply with a new medical program that will push them to buy legal medical weed from commercial government-regulated facilities.
Canada’s new “Marihuana for Medical Purposes” (yes, they spell it with an ‘H’ for some reason) program is creating an emerging for-profit market that will regulate crop control, dump money into the economy, and attempt to position Canada as one of the world’s top exporters of medical marijuana. But it’s the patients who are caught in the middle of an evolving system that threatens to make medical weed so expensive many will no longer be able to afford it, forcing them to continue growing their own personal stashes—which will be illegal as of April 2014—or buying it from regular ol’ pot dealers.
According to Health Canada, no one’s trying to turn sick Canadians into criminals with these new laws. It was more in response to problems with the current Marihuana Medical Access Program(MMAP), which a Health Canada spokesperson says is “open to abuse.”
The Mike Tyson Interview
Last week, I sat in a dark room in the New York Public Library to hear an author read from his new book. Although a screen on the side of the stage advertised an upcoming event with Pulitzer Prize winners Toni Morrison and Junot Diaz, I wasn’t there to see a literary novelist read about the postmodern condition. I had come to the library to see a a heavyweight champion best known for his facial tattoo and the night he bit off another boxer’s ear. Yes, I was at the library to hear Mike Tyson read from Undisputed Truth, his new celebrity memoir co-written with Larry Sloman.
While it was a bit odd that Mike was standing on the same stage Toni Morrison would speak from a few weeks later, he was full of profound (and also stupid) statements. He schooled the moderator on ancient history and said, “A room without a book is like a body without a soul.”
Yes, several minutes later he said to that same moderator, “What are italics?” when asked why he wrote a passage in italics, but it was clear that both at the library and on the page, Mike’s story is more moving than any novel written by some jagoff from the literati. He openly discussed the effect of having a prostitute for a mother, how the legendary boxing coach Cus D’Amato discovered him and gave him a real home, then died a few years after his career took off, and how he burned through millions of dollars thanks to cocaine.
The critics agree. “Parts [of the memoir] read like a Tom Wolfe-ian tour of wildly divergent worlds: from the slums of Brooklyn to the high life in Las Vegas to the isolation of prison,” Michiko Kakutani wrote in a rave review in the New York Times.
Regardless of what you think of Mike Tyson as a person, it’s impossible to deny that he has led a tremendously interesting life. I called him this week to talk about his obsession with ancient history, how his pet pigeons turned him into a fighter, and whether his is a story of redemption or the story of a troubled man struggling to turn his life around.
VICE: Why did you decide to write a memoir?
Mike Tyson: My wife, Kiki, told me people were going to write a book about me anyway. If they’re gonna write a book, why not have people hear if from your own mouth instead of somebody else’s mouth?
At your recent book reading, you talked about your obsession with the history of ancient wars. Why are you interested in ancient history?
A long time ago, I was at the table, sitting down, and either one of the boxers or Cus said something about Alexander the Great. He said Alexander was 6’ 6”. He must have been a giant back then. This struck an interest in me, but then I found out Alexander the Great wasn’t a giant—he was really a runt. In real life he wasn’t tall, and since then I’ve read about men of war. I relate to the psychology of war. Tom Cruise said when he’s performing he’s like a soldier of war. Men of war are really deep guys, really hardcore people, as far as humans are concerned.
Scrap or Die: Metal Thieves Are Tearing Cleveland Apart Piece by Piece
One sweltering afternoon in July, I found myself breaking and entering into a derelict warehouse on the east side of Cleveland. I was in the middle of a crash course in metal theft from a man named Jay Jackson. Dressed like a plumber with a crumpled blue baseball cap on his head, Jay’s muscular physique belied the fact that he was once a crackhead. These days his life still revolves around illegally acquired goods, but not ones smoked, snorted, or injected: Jay makes his living stripping copper and steel from abandoned buildings like the one we were sneaking into, selling his yield by the pound to scrapyards for quick cash.
“Scrapping is just like being an entrepreneur,” he said, leading me toward a gaping hole in one of the warehouse’s walls, which we then scurried through. “It’s just a job, and you can make as much money as you put into it.”
Earlier that day, I’d used Google Street View to map out our jaunt through the epicenter of the city’s thriving scrap trade, the neighborhood known as Central (counterintuitively located on the east side of town). But the building Jay and I broke into looked completely different from what I had seen on my computer screen. The photos on Google, taken in 2009, showed a tidy vacant office building with nearly all of its windows intact and sturdy wooden boards blocking off its many entrances. But now it looked like the aftermath of a drone bombing in Afghanistan: every window was blown out, every orifice torn open. The stinking carcass of a rodent was splayed on the floor. The drop ceiling had been ripped down, revealing empty tracks where ventilation, piping, and wires once snaked through the building. I couldn’t believe that we were only a ten-minute drive from the stadiums, skyscrapers, and fine dining of downtown Cleveland.
The place may have looked like a dump to me, but to Jay it was a treasure trove of unknown proportions. “I could bring my torches in here and cut that steel box right over there,” he said, tiptoeing as he critiqued the work of the scrappers who’d already hit the spot, rattling off a litany of different ways to dissemble the building “properly.”
How to Work Hard and Not Pay Taxes
An undocumented Mexican immigrant who came to America when he was two, Wuilber has been in and out of both trouble and jail, but never convicted. After splitting a disc in his back working out five years ago, he could no longer continue working at the warehouse where he was on payroll with phony papers. Then, after slipping into a meth addiction, he lost his job as an oil lube technician. Now he’s out pushing an ice cream cart up to nine hours straight. He makes $50 on a good day.
"I just need money, and this is the way I earn it. Money goes, money comes," he says. "Transportation, food, sunblock… I wear a lot of sunblock. Shoes… This job, the bad thing about it is people get warts under their feet, so I spend every two weeks at least $20 worth of wart killers. Dr. Scholl’s for the cushions under the feet, they wear out. Hopefully I’ll just stick to this and not do drugs and alcohol. I’ll be sober. I’ll live sober. Because I do really want a house, a wife, and kids and stuff."
Steven, 23, costumed Batman, $10-$30/day
A couple months ago, Steven moved to Los Angeles from the Bay Area looking to break into film. He lives in Lake View Terrace with his aunt, who works at Warner Brothers. He’s got hopes to start acting, writing, directing, and producing. He says he can “do it all.”
Having spent just a couple of weeks on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame, Steven says “Between me and the other Batmans out here, it’s like mine is a Halloween store costume versus their Comic Con-quality costumes. There’s no competition… It’s really all in the way you approach people.”
Ana, 50, Tita, 44, bottle collectors, $20/day
A couple of days a week Ana and Tita collect bottles from the recycling bins that are brought out to the curbs around their neighborhood for city pickup. Respectively Mexican and El Salvadorian immigrants, they say it only takes about an hour and brings in a little extra income.
It’s not easy or glamorous though. Says Ana, “There’s bacteria and broken bottles that will cut you.”
I was in college and I got a photo job at the beach. It was six or seven of us who took these little plastic pictures of people, and it was a great way to get a tan and meet women. However, I got screwed up by guilt because I got halfway through the summer and I was kind of leading this hedonistic lifestyle—I felt like I was using my camera for the wrong thing. So, I got in my car and I drove to Norfolk, Virginia, which is 16 miles away but it’s on the other side of the world culturally. I went into the ghetto and I thought, I gotta help these people.
I wanted to show what it’s like here, because the white people who live in my neighborhood in Virginia Beach—they don’t have any clue what this is like. And, right away, I met a family and stayed with them. I slept on their sofa and went to school with their kid. No white kids did that. I didn’t know how to do anything with my pictures, but I was able to publish this little book and we sold it for two bucks, took the money and gave it to the local church to buy food and clothes for the neighborhood. There’s only four left in existence, since we dumped most of them when I went off to grad school. I had no sense that someday that would become something.
—David Alan Harvey
Please Don’t #FitchTheHomeless
I’m sure by now you’ve seen that video that Los Angeles-based writer Greg Karber made where he hands out a buch of Abercrombie gear to homeless people. It’s embedded above if you haven’t.
Karber made the video in response to that stuff that Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries said about their “no women’s clothing above a size 10” policy. Essentially, Jefferies only wants “thin and beautiful people” shopping at his stores, because he doesn’t want the “cool kids” to have to endure the horror of seeing a fat person wearing the same outfit as them. I think we can all agree that the most shocking part of Mike’s statements is that they reveal there’s a person out there who thinks that the cool kids are wearing Abercrombie.
Karber handed out A&F clothing to, as far as I can tell from the video, a fairly bewildered homeless population on Los Angeles’s Skid Row. His goal was to “rebrand” Abercrombie & Fitch by putting their clothing not on the cool kids that Mike Jeffries so loves, but on the homeless, who, I guess, are the opposite of cool.
Now, if you only think about it for a few seconds, it would appear that this is a great campaign. Karber wanted to make a point about Abercrombie & Fitch and to “clothe the homeless,” in his words, while doing it. Unfortunately, “Fitch the Homeless,” as Karber dubbed his campaign, is fucking stupid. For one thing, Karber doesn’t appear to ask these people if they want Abercrombie & Fitch clothing, or if he did ask them, he cut those parts from the video for some reason. He just sort of dumps polo shirts and A&F brand tees onto the residents of Skid Row, as if they were pack mules and he were a sherpa venturing into the mountains to deliver striped rugby shirts to a monastery.
America’s Worst Housing Project Is Being Gentrified
Have you ever simultaneously regretted that the poor had been pushed out of a neighborhood, but wished you could have gotten in when rents were still cheap? Have you ever admired the pluck and ingenuity of the first few nonpoor bastards to move into a poor area? I have.
The Los Angeles City Council just unanimously voted to tear down Jordan Downs, nearly the oldest housing project in America and probably the title holder for ugliest. Jordan Downs is comprised of 103 spookily identical buildings in the low-income, violence-ridden neighborhood of Watts. While notorious for its gangs, its racially tinged police brutality, and its intractable poverty, Watts is also noteworthy for its cultural vibrancy and the palpable neighborhood pride of its residents. I wrote that last sentence by the way, not the Watts Chamber of Commerce, but they can have it for free.
They’re not just tearing down Jordan Downs, they’re turning this Orwellian nightmare-scape into an “urban village,” including four story townhomes, condos, retail restaurants, and a farmer’s market. Residents have been hearing about this pie-in-the-sky renovation for years, or even decades, but about ten months ago, a developer was chosen, and the City Council’s decision on Wednesday, April 17 marked a big step forward. But optimism on the part of lifelong residents might not be the most practical emotion.