Her Coat

She owned a long black coat, one of those things that uniquely identifies a person, like wild hair or lots of rings or the carefully considered way the person walks. Her coat was like one of those things that give you attitude, makes you feel like you are more than you’d be without it. On my way to meet her one morning I spotted Sylvia wearing Sherri’s coat. Sylvia was still far off but there was no mistaking her wobbleRead more


Karaoke was very exciting. Many of the singers were actually quite good, especially a young misshapen woman who sang The Judd’s song Love Can Build a Bridge; it brought tears to my eyes. Many sang big Motown hits. A man who had legally changed his name to James Brown gave a much talked about, much anticipated performance of a James Brown song to the wild excitement of everyone. There were duets and group performances. Sherri hugged me and kissed myRead more

February 14, 2007: Kareoke

I left one tape recorder and my camera at the hotel room so that I would not lose them should I get mugged tonight. I arrived at 7:15 PM. Sherri saw me walking toward her and a smile spread across her face. The others stopped to look. I heard her say: “I told you he’d come. I told you he’d come.” When I got to her she kissed my cheeks and my hands as she so frequently did. Jamacus wasRead more

Valentine’s Day, 2007, Skid Row, Los Angeles

Today was beautiful. There was so much happiness. I brought Sherri a small arrangement of asters and carnations and blue wild flowers with sprinkles of white. Carroll was sad she did not get valentine flowers so I ran out to the flower district and got a bouquet of a dozen red roses and oriental lilies; she cried. It was the first time in 21 years anyone had given Sherri flowers, and the first time Carroll has received flowers in herRead more


James — 26 years old. He said he came from Jamaica when he was 15. He asked to go to America because he wanted to get a car like Americans and drive around. He came to Skid Row. He said he went to Milwaukee a few days ago to visit friends. And now he’s back home. He said he works in East LA – selling all types of things. He said he wants to go back to Jamaica to visitRead more

The Devil and the Addict

Stephanie is contorting. She is frightening at the same time that she is pitiful. She looks in so much pain. Her forehead is covered in wrinkles and veins, and pale blotches on a face already drained of color. She is angry. Her eyes are filled with tears and her nose runs. She screams she is tired of living but does not want to die – for her children. Their names are tattooed on her chest. Karina. Lamar. Jordan. Catherine. SheRead more


I don’t think he understood I was leaving Paris in the morning and probably will never see him again. I am sure he did not realize this as he told me he would be at this same spot tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that.Read more

November 15, 2007, Skid Row, Los Angeles

Feces, a half-eaten plate of golden rice and green peas next to a puddle of what appears like urine and a badly soiled menstrual pad. Smeared shit and tons of discarded everything. Sitting on one of the several circular concrete seats with names of benefactors carved into them. I ask a young Latino woman to my left about Sherri, she barely acknowledges my presence with a bored and silent look, all the time hand under her chin. She looks away.Read more

February 9, 2007, courtyard of the Midnight Mission, Skid Row, LA

He looked and walked like a tough young hoodlum, his head wrapped in a mean black scarf on top of which sat a black broad-brimmed baseball cap with the brim turned to point backwards. He wore a black oversized sweatshirt inside a black oversized hooded jacket. From my vantage point I could see that his pants were black, as were his shoes. He looked mean as only a street gangster can. But he looked so very tender that instant that IRead more