Archive for the ‘you are here’ Category


March 27, 2009

Below is a scan of the most recent YOU ARE HERE column, as it appeared in print this week. I thought I’d post a sample of one of the columns in order to display how the texts and illustrations are displayed in hard copy, for those of you who have only seen samples of the column online.




March 9, 2009

(This week’s YOU ARE HERE column)


(New Life Evangelical Center, Downtown, January 14)
Extremely cold night. The streets, barren and gray, look harder than usual, like everything does when the weather’s this bitter. Outside the New Life Evangelical Center homeless shelter, a man in ragged clothes leans backward over the concrete banister, his face pointing skyward. The position looks uncomfortable and precarious, as does his apparent situation. His breathing is heavy and labored: When he inhales, he nearly tips over backward onto the street below; when he exhales, he slips slightly forward — a human teeter-totter without an anchor. He isn’t quite asleep, but he isn’t quite awake either. A plume of steam rises from his mouth when he exhales, then gets swept away by the wind.
A young guy leans against the wall near the entrance to the shelter, smoking a cigarette and watching attentively. What’s the story with the man on the banister? I ask. He’s too far gone, the guy says, too incoherent; he might be dead drunk or high on aerosol. He might be insane. Pathological. Who knows? The young doesn’t take his eyes off the man. You can tell he’s concerned, not sure what to do, but still compelled to keep watch as the man teeter-totters gently back and forth.
For a while we watch him together. Eventually I move closer to the man draped over the banister, poke his shoulder, ask if he’s OK. His eyes are closed and he’s smiling, apparently unaware of his predicament. He mutters something incomprehensible, then, finally, slides forward completely and remains hunched like a sack of old clothes in front of the shelter while we wonder, this other guy and I, what to do.


December 29, 2008



(B.B.’s JAZZ, BLUES & SOUPS, Downtown St Louis)

A young guy sat alone at a table near the stage, his worn bag propped up next to him. Meanwhile, a young couple sat at the bar discussing him. One of girl’s friends – a waitress – discovered that the drifter’s girlfriend had dumped him in New York a few weeks earlier; now he was walking to Phoenix.
“Apparently he only has seven dollars,” she told her boyfriend, “and he’s spending that on beer.”
Her boyfriend looked at her boldly. They were back together after a rough hiatus. Being reunited had brought with it a tipsy, exciting delirium, tainted slightly by the sour circumstances that had broken them apart.
Was the scruffy guy crazy? Of course: Who else would walk cross-country in the middle of winter?
“I want to talk to him.”
“Don’t.” she said, “Leave him alone,” but her boyfriend had already pushed away from the bar.
A moment later, standing before the drifter: “On your way west?”
He said something else that the boyfriend couldn’t understand over the din. He nodded in feigned acknowledgement, wandered back to the bar.
Yeah, he was a little crazy alright: “You could see it in his eyes.”
But the boyfriend’s compassion awakened. What would the drifter do? There was a homeless shelter nearby, but it had closed hours ago. It was cold out. Very cold. The couple debated over the drifter’s options, philosophized about the virtues and dangers of helping needy strangers.
“We should leave some money for him. So he can get a room somewhere,” he suggested.
“Won’t he drink it?”
“Maybe. But what if we leave it with the doorman? He won’t get it until he leaves.”
The couple shared a moment. Their feelings for each other had now spilled outward; the world was its beneficiary.


October 11, 2008


October 11, 2008

WHEN PEOPLE DANCE (Dance Lessons with Chip)

September 1, 2008

(This week’s YOU ARE HERE – First week of September)


June 21, 2008

(South Broadway Athletic Club, October 6)
Now the two wrestlers appear to be dancing, caught in an arm-lock, or something. The spinning makes it hard to tell.
But just when you think you’ve got it figured out, a new move is introduced: The arm-lock is disentangled and a limp body is thrown against the ropes, and as it springs back, the momentum is redirected into one of the posts – BOOM! The crippled body pops back, deflates, oozes to its knees like melting ice cream, and the crowd’s roar reaches a peak: Everyone felt that one. The expression on the wrestler’s face speaks of delirium, of shattered dreams. Of brain beaten to jelly.
Now the vanquished is wrapped between the bottom ropes with his oppressor kneeling on his back, preening triumphantly.
The crowd showers the loser with hoots and catcalls. Nothing is as resounding as a wrestler’s defeat; you can practically feel it in the rattle of your own ribcage.


June 21, 2008

They exquisitely capture the details: Paul McCartney’s left-handed Hofner bass, John Lennon’s unique stance with an acoustic guitar, the mop tops and string-bean ties, the pop-song perfection, the tidiness of the harmonies…. It’s an eerie window into an absurdly clean-cut America, a bygone time when teens unabashedly did the Twist.
I’m talking to a guy who works for KLOU. I ask him why, no matter where you go in America, the same songs are played on the local oldies radio station. It seems preposterous that with three decades of music to choose from, “Red Rubber Ball” and “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am” are repeated within the same week, much less the same day. But it’s too loud and I can’t make out his answer, which comes out like a toot from a trumpet with a sock stuck up its bell. His sympathetic expression registers, though: He agrees. And: There is, in fact, an answer. And: That answer is horribly sad. Or maybe he’s humoring me.
Meanwhile, just beyond these walls, in the bowels of this beached aquatic beast, a multitude of bleary gamblers are reeling amid the game-show-garish lights that surround them, drunk on cheap wine and tumbling toward financial collapse. You don’t need to see them to know they’re here — and this is why (as if you need another reason) it’s so much fun to live in America.


June 21, 2008

I feel bad for the guy she came in with. Half an hour after they arrived, he sits alone with his beer, trying not to watch his date — a mischievous coquette in a tight black sweater (to match her short-cropped black hair) — flirt with some other guy, on whose lap she now sits. Arms wrapped around him, she throws occasional sideways glances at the fellow she came in with. Is she taunting him? Gauging his reaction? Hard to tell. She’s trouble, though: This guy’s in for it, if not now, then later. He’s cooked, finished.
Eventually she’s back with him, making a big show of her affection. All gooey sex and murder. Can’t keep her tongue out of his mouth. Then back to her perch on the other guy’s lap.
It’s times like this when the humanitarian in me gets anxious. I feel like leaning over, saying, “Get out now, brother, while you still have a shred of dignity!” But I don’t. Poor dope, he’ll have to learn just like the rest of us: the bitter hard way.
The belly dancer onstage has wrapped herself into her black veil to the point where she’s seemingly lost inside it. Hard to tell if this is part of the act or a quiet little mistake. Who knows? For a moment all I can see is her belly and her legs.


June 21, 2008

The strip of Cherokee Street between Iowa and Oregon is alive — one big, broad smile. A kaleidoscope of embellished belt buckles and cowboy hats, embroidered shirts, jet-black hair; pointy-toed boots, taco stands.
The bandstand is set up next to the Nievería la Vallesana, where people are outside lounging on stools, eating tacos and drinking beer while little kids chase each other around the restaurant and the band, Tamborazo Mixteco, plays mariachi music.
It’s hard to be anything but happy when you’re in earshot of mariachi music. It’s a natural anti-depressant, like Zoloft or Hawaiian shirts. A large crowd encircles the people who are dancing; across the street, still more people sit watching from the curb.
Beneath a Mexico Vive Aquí sign painted on the wall of a bodega stands New York Dave in all his Beat magnificence, bottle of beer in hand — more or less the exact pose as the last time I’d seen him. He’s back from New Orleans. Hitchhiked there in 100-degree heat for seven days. Lucky bastard!