A couple of years ago you’d see the billboards and ads on the side of rushing buses, the hot motor exhaust steaming through the bleak chill of city limits. For it was “Chuck Norman’s New Year’s Eve Party for the Homeless”– if our battered, old, run-down town had a heart.
Bus service still ran as the sky was the lightest shade of pale– everything too bright for empty mornings such as this.
Too early. Unless you were an old duffer who showed up at Hardee’s for his free extra-small cup of coffee, maybe read the paper. . . . .
The streets were crusted over with salt residue from the dump-trucks, like the slowly-pumping arteries of urban blight on Hampton Ave. Everything was hard like feldspar or flimsy like those golden tin ashtrays that bent so easily, like human vulnerability– snotty, runny noses and stocking caps and killing grizzled time.
For it was budget-sized existence that neither took nor gave anything, like the cheery colors of the Forest Park express. There, sure enough– and just a casual fact of the geography if anyone cared to notice.
Across the highway overpass– those red rocks where the antelope played at the St. Louis zoo and no one sold peanuts. Life was like a storage shed and feed-bag bulk beneath the cold, weak sun– the barest of cloud wisps.
Otherwise it was everyday business.
So many gas stations and telephone wires as signs snarled over the sky-line. Maybe you’d see the antennas sticking-out of the roofs of junk cars.
From the ash-pail of local neighborhoods, they listened. Out of squats where handymen clanked at a heater with a wrench, or frozen pipes or getting keys duplicated at the locksmith like slow days– this was the price of free.
Perhaps the lowest stratum of advertising and message. . . . . as radios picked-up the flaky reception of the local A.M. talk radio station. The sound was abrasively clotted– and there was no doubt what station it was: 920 KGNU.
Where callers aired their opinions in the run-down marketplace of ideas.
Like “McGruff the Crime-Dog” public service messages, or “GO, CARDINALS”, or religious tracts, or official anti-drug pseudo-graffiti. . . . . as civic boosterism was cheap.
You thought of the riverfront down by the gurgling waters, the warehouses by the St. Louis arch. Like drunks singing in the midnight choir and the lore of the blues and soul-food in the maze of cracks that made up authentic destinations.
And there the homeless would be curled-up under stoops and in shelters, pushing shopping-carts in puffy, over-sized coats through winter and summer.
Have a heart, will you?
So it was. . . . . the party, the benefit, the gala hosted by local radio impresario Chuck Norman like throaty, frowzy community bravery. A table of plowed-through cold-cuts and discount party favors in what felt more like a high school gym than glamorous.
You think you would see Beetlejuice in attendance?
As certain as a can of snakes he crashes the party and gobbles up the cheese on toothpicks, helping himself to “the bubbly” like a homeless lost soul. Putrid with glee, and full of the whimsicality of the damned– if not generally making a nuisance out of himself as the stench is overpowering..
He hawks phlegm and knocks back a cup of punch while patrons slink away. Hell hath no counterpart than a loud party. . . . . Beetlejuice is tricked into going outside and is beaten-up by the bouncer, left in the freezing alley with his legs sticking-out of a trash-can.
Than he wanders-off to find a liquor store open. Don’t be that ghoul.