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By Matthew Loflin Davis

[dropcap1]B[/dropcap1]efore scrap metal prices went through the roof in the mid 00s and every scrapper was considered scum, I had a truck and made my way cutting steel out of burned out and unsalvageable buildings.

Five years ago Thanksgiving, I was trying to come up with some copper to turn into the scrap yard the next day for my fix. The building behind mine was falling down and hadn’t had anyone in it as long as I could remember so I climbed to the roof and down through the hole that the weather over the years had provided me.

Once inside, the copper was everywhere. I started cutting it out when I realized that some of it was still live. I carefully unhooked the three connectors to the 440 coming into the building when POP, a loud fucking explosion of light and power filled the room. The wrench I was using had touched another metal plate. My rubber boots and gloves saved my ass. It no doubt would have killed me. Shaken badly, I had gotten the power off so I continued to pull the copper. Part of me knew this was wrong but when your heroin fix is the one true love in your life you can sometimes rationalize things.

Looking back, I knew I was wrong taking that copper but I’m not here to apologize. Putting the big pieces aside, I went to the basement and started cutting smaller wires when I heard a door open upstairs.

“POLICE!”

I hid behind some machinery thinking Detroit cops wouldn’t want to go through the entire building. I was probably right but it wasn’t the police, just the owners with Glocks and handcuffs. It was my first and only felony; it haunted me for years and I was jailed several times for breaking probation due to dirty urine.

About 364 days later, a day before Thanksgiving, I was again scrapping an abandoned building in the Eastern Market. I had my torches and was cutting heavy I-beams. Things were going great. The sun was out and it lit up the third floor very nicely for me and my buddy to work in. I went to check out the room next door and walked down the hall into a shaded area. My eyes couldn’t adjust fast enough before I realized I was falling. The next thing I remember thinking was “Damn, I’m falling a long way.” I hit the ground about two floors down. I gasped for breath as the wind went out of me. After the fear settled, I felt that I couldn’t move my leg and it hurt like hell. My face hurt and my wrist hurt, too. I spent the next three months in a wheelchair. I had broken my femur, wrist and jaw. A titanium rod was inserted into my femur, pins in my wrist and my jaw was wired. To top things off, I lived in a house with only a wood burner. I was chopping wood from my wheelchair all winter.

One December day that year, I was out of work and I had my habit and I was sick. I could feel the bile in my stomach churning and my legs wouldn’t hold still. My nose and eyes were running and I was sneezing eight times in a row.  I wheeled myself down the street on that frigid December day while carrying my aluminum extension ladder resting on the arm of my chair. I headed down to a spot I knew where the man would sometimes trade tools for dope. I sat outside and waited for him, but when he showed up he didn’t want the ladder. I was at wits’ end, sitting on wheels on McDougall Street in the blowing cold praying for my father to send me something from above. My eyes were running so bad I couldn’t see and my body arched with my sneezes as I looked in the street to see a bill tumbling with the wind right toward me. I franticly pushed myself toward vector with the tumbling green blur and caught it under my wheel. Reaching down, I pulled up a twenty dollar bill so I looked up and thanked my Pop. I blew it all on one fat blow and worried about my next need when it came. Somehow it always works out.

Flash forward one more year to the next Thanksgiving. (You can look up my medical and police records if you don’t believe me) I’m again scrapping the Grand Trunk Building on the seventh floor. It’s a refrigerated building with no lights, no windows. I’m trying to unbolt a brass valve. After taking the bolts out I tried to wiggle it out by hand, no luck. Grabbing my hammer, I gave it a good whack and an explosion of pure ammonia blasted me in the face. The room filled with the gas and I stumbled upstairs where fresh air was coming in through the roof. My eyes were burning. Luckily it was raining and I was able to flush them out. About 75% blind, I managed to make my way down through the pitch-black seven floors and out to the parking lot. From there I somehow made it home. Before I went to the hospital I stopped at the dope house and spent my last $10.

I was blind for about three months in both eyes until my right eye healed fairly well. My left eye didn’t do so well and I am still blind in that one today three years later.

                                       _____

 *WHEN HE WROTE THIS STORY, MATTHEW LOFLIN DAVIS WAS AN ARTIST AND RECOVERING HEROIN ADDICT IN DETROIT. IN 2015, HE DIED OF A HEROIN OVERDOSE. HIS BLOGPOSTS REMAIN AT WWW.JUNKYSAYS.BLOGSPOT.COM, FROM WHICH THIS STORY WAS CULLED.  

 

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By Fabiola Manriquez

She took her time walking across the room, scanning the computer lab as though preparing for battle. When she finally reached my desk, she handed me a referral from a government program she was forced to enroll in and said, in a low voice, “Hey Miss. I’m here to get help with my Math and English, so what do I do”?

I was recruited into the tutoring program by my trigonometry professor at East Los Angeles College since I often enjoyed assisting classmates. I remember Flaca sitting in front of the computer simply staring at the screen. I thought she was struggling with the operation of the computer. I learned later that she would come to class intoxicated and brought her happy juice. It was a thirty- two ounce soda mug with alcohol but because it had no aroma of alcohol I didn’t know. It was also a little strange that she preferred wearing her slick shades in class. I thought the computer screen was too bright for her. In reality, she was loaded and she hid behind them.

I had a feeling that she wanted to improve her life since she was attending this class. As she behaved, I continued to assist her and in time we became friends. We talked. I asked what her favorite drink was? With a naughty smile she looked straight into my eyes and confessed that she enjoyed her alcoholic beverage while she worked on her lessons. This situation was new to me, so I said nothing. Over the weeks, we talked a little about college studies and concerns about the weather as I tried to figure out what to do.

When I felt more comfortable with her, I finally addressed the issue of coming to class loaded and bringing her happy juice. I could have lost my job if my boss found out that she was drinking in class, but my heart told me to stay quiet. I told her that I needed her help. We would work as a team in order for her to stay in the class since it was mandated by her program. I asked her to pretend as though she was doing her work by hitting the computer keys every few minutes. I also asked her to stay awake because her snoring might disturb other students and attract attention. I suggested she refrain from bringing her favorite drink to class, which was better enjoyed outside class.

With time she stopped bringing her mug and, eventually, began to complete her lessons. But she kept her shades on.

Flaca was raised by both her parents as an only child for a decade, followed by a brother ten years younger and by a sister four years after that. Before the arrival of her siblings, she and her parents had money and time enough to take camping trips, go bowling and to the movies. Her father worked in the roofing industry and she was his assistant for a while. However, he always wanted a son and he taught her to work and play sports as if she were so.

But she reached her teenage years as her parents were occupied changing diapers, and working harder than ever. “I felt as though my brother and sister stole my father from me,” she told me.

At fifteen, she was searching for attention and began to hang out with the neighborhood gang. After school, she and her comrades would put their lunch money together and would pay a local wino to buy them a six pack, which led to a twelve pack, and eventually to cases of beer. They began breaking into newspaper vending machines. From there, she began using drugs. She even smoked Angel Dust on the lawn outside the East Los Angeles Sheriff station.

Her parents talked with her about her mischief, beat her, threw her out of the house, but gave her chances to return home. Her troubles kept growing. She would behave for a while but it didn’t last long, and her defiance would intensify.

She was expelled from Schurr High School, attended Vail Continuation High School and was expelled for fighting. She was in and out of juvenile detention and jail. Eventually, she was sent to the Mira Loma detention facility in Lancaster which gave her much needed structure. There she completed her G.E.D.

Once on the outside, she worked at the Sears Warehouse, then as a mail clerk at Wells Fargo Bank, followed by a printing shop. Then

in her mid-twenties, she began using heroin. She met Sheila at a party and grew as addicted to her as she was to the drug. They became lovers and sold heroin together. Addicts, called Sheila with their orders; Flaca made the deliveries. “It was just like delivering pizza- like a franchise, in a way,” she said. Sheila was her immediate boss, but there were other distributors above her.

Flaca and Sheila shared the upkeep of the house and expenses for about a year. Then one night, Flaca stayed out all night. Sheila and she argued. The next time Flaca stayed out all night, Sheila kicked her out. That proved lucky, as a few days later cops raided the house and arrested Sheila.

Flaca moved back with her parents. At this point, longing for children, she decided to take a break from women. Her next door neighbor, Smokey, was a longtime friend and they kind of messed around when she was younger. He was eleven years her senior, had a good heart, was handsome, masculine and was right on the other side of the fence. He had also served in the Vietnam War. The proposition was simple, she told him: I need your help to have my children. He would not have any responsibility or claim to them, but he could see them from next door. With time, he fathered her two sons. He also was in and out of jail and survived working odd jobs, then died from a bleeding ulcer soon after the birth of her second child. He was found on the lawn of what is now the East Los Angeles Library.

Meanwhile, Flaca continued making poor choices. She was stabbed twice, took part in drive-by shootings, kept drinking and using drugs, and was in and out of jail. She was respected in the gangster community since she did bad things in a big way.

Years of abuse wore her down so that she lost her eye sight for a year. Consequently she was unable to work and went on government aid known as SSI in 1991 at the age of 31. Her parents didn’t condone her behavior, but they loved her and cared for her two sons.

After a year of therapy she regained her eyesight. One morning while visiting a friend, she realized that she had not drunk or used drugs the night before. For the first time in decades she was able to think with a clear mind. Because she qualified for a free bus pass, she got on the bus after visiting with this friend to be alone and think. For a week, she left her parents’ home early and rode the bus all day. Those bus rides were a turning point.

She began to attend Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and tried to stay clean and sober. She relapsed several times, but eventually held to it.

As years passed, she learned a more structured lifestyle. She began by taking her sons to school regularly and picking them up afterwards. As time went on, she befriended the principal of the same school as he later invited her to enroll in parenting classes. Flaca learned how to kneel down and look her children in the eyes when she spoke to them. She became skilled in establishing parameters when giving her boys a choice when selecting things. She was taught the value of punctuality, whether it was to arrive at school on time regularly or returning library materials by the due date.

When her sons were toddlers, she entered them in baby contests and won several times. Later, she enrolled her boys in baseball, soccer, karate, and taught them to bowl. The year that her sons played peewee baseball was the first time in the league’s history that both the coach and the assistant coach were women. Flaca was the head coach as the team made it to the playoffs.

She learned to use the libraries, and showed her boys how to do the same. In the annual school fundraiser she sold candy for her sons and was the top seller for three consecutive years. The first year as the top seller they won tickets to Knott’s Berry Farm and the second year, tickets to Disneyland. Flaca already had experience selling things. Candy sales came easy to her and it was legal. “No one was shot. No one got killed,” she said. “It made me feel like I was a real mother.”

I remember the year she first came in for tutoring telling me about selling enough candy to win bicycles for her sons.

Two weeks before her father died, he told her to go back to school and become a rehabilitation drug counselor. She’s doing that now, working on her degree at East Los Angeles College.

It’s been 21 years since she first showed up in my class. I have watched her all that time.

I see her on campus now, an adult finally, and no longer in her sunglasses and khaki shorts that meet her tube socks at the knees. She is usually with one of her sons, who is also a student. I see them after class, walking together slowly toward the parking lot.

___

Fabiola Manriquez grew up in East L.A., where she still resides. She loves to teach Math and English, and hopes to complete a Master’s this year. Through the TYTT workshop, she discovered a deeper joy and beauty in the formation of storytelling.
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By Matthew Loflin Davis

After getting back from Thailand without my score, I wound up on the streets of Ann Arbor — the homeless shelter on Huron to be exact. I had built up a sizable habit in Asia and now was sweating it out cold turkey in bunk beds with a bunch of other junkies, drunks and thieves who swept through the room at night going through the pockets of the destitute, stealing what they could, and pretending to be friends in the day.

I got to know quite a few of the fuckers there as we slept together in the two big rooms provided for us, ate breakfast at the church together, and saw each other on the easy streets of U of M every day.

I still had my interest in photography and was able to hold on to my Minolta X-700 but had to steal the 35mm film from Krogers when I needed to create some art so I had something to keep me feeling like I wasn’t a complete low-life. My old instructor at Eastern Michigan University would let me use the darkroom so I was able to keep shooting film on the streets.

Carrying that camera around actually got me laid once in a while with the U of M college hotties while I looked like a photographer with a job. Getting small jobs was easier too as I played the starving artist, which is exactly what I was. Carrying a camera around my neck and the knowledge to use it gave me gave me an air of decency.

I was in the church eating my free breakfast of Honey Nut Cherrios with all my buddies and I decided to start taking some pics of my favorites: the scared and the scarred, the ancient drunks and crippled. The shelter was a host of subjects to record. The women’s shelter was different from the men’s but we all ate together in the morning so I had the gamut of the streets all in one place to photograph, as I’ve always been a street photographer.

I snapped a few pics of the locals eating their cereal while kids worked off their community service for getting caught with a bag of weed by serving the Kool-Aid and day-old doughnuts to the homeless and the nuns poured powdered milk on your bowl of cereal. After a minute or so I had a black man, slightly younger than me, in my face asking me what the hell I was doing taking pics. He knew me; most everyone in the church knew me by then. Black was in my face questioning my motives. I explained my usual rant that I’m a street photographer, as well as being on the streets. He got in my face some more but seemed surprised when no one had his back. They seemed tired of his BS partly, and they seemed to know I was one of them. I stood my ground and stayed calm, not giving him a chance to go off. I’m sure my size over him had something to do with it.

Black and I had another run in or two, usually when he was drunk but he seemed to know exactly when to stop. He was a kid not much younger than me. Black wasn’t a bad kid; he just wanted to be bad.

A month or so later, I was hanging out in the shelters office with Malik, one of the workers I had made friends with. I had done some photo/graphics work for one of his poetry-reading fliers, so we had a decent rapport. As I was leaving the office, Black was limping around the corner, his legs bowed and face pummeled black and blue. It looked as if someone took a two by four to his face in a fit of rage. His arm was in a sling and his other hand held his ribs. I don’t think he could even see me through his two swollen eyes and he walked right by me. Instead of his usual stone stare and bad ass demeanor, he just turned the corner and limped into the office.

Later, I asked Makik, Black had been raped; I never heard the details but the understanding was he had snitched on someone and that person had finally gotten out of prison and came back for revenge. I believe Black had been hiding out in the shelter which is often times common practice. His past had caught up with him.

Sometime later, I heard that before I was in the shelter Black had noticed an Ann Arbor News photographer taking pics in the church during breakfast. Black had rallied the people while they ate their doughnuts and he started asking some aggressive questions. Who was this employed man who thinks he can come down here and exploit the poor? Black, I heard, had a following that day, the folks at the church didn’t wanted to be treated like objects for fodder and they chased that photographer out the church.

He had that power to point out a wrong and rally the people.

____

*When he wrote this story, Matthew Loflin Davis was an artist and recovering addict living in Detroit. “Black” was his second story for TYTT. Sadly he died of an overdose in 2015. I never knew him personally but wish I had. His blog remains: www.junkysays.blogspot.com,

 

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