Lessons learned

“I tell these guys all the time as long as a man draws breath there’s hope for recovery. It’s never too late; there’s no bottom too low; there’s no hole you can’t climb out of. When I see a man in a hole I jump in with him. He says, ‘Dude, now we’re both stuck here.’ And I tell him, ‘It’s OK, brother. I know the way out.’”

—Rick, in the drains from 2010 to 2013


“Some of the years of my life are blank. God has not revealed them to me yet.

“I wish I could remember certain things better, but I didn’t walk away from that experience thinking I would remember it. I’ll never forget that Wendy’s, though, and its parking lot and how many hours I spent sitting in it wishing for better things. Watching people pull into the drive-through, thinking, Why am I here? What am I doing? Why am I not in that car living a normal life like that person?”

—One Shoe Sue, in the drains from 2005 to 2008

Strange solace

My 12th grade AP Lit class is currently covering metaphysical poetry. These cats (John Donne, Andrew Marvell et al.) were next level, and Donne’s intricate poem/puzzle “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” provided me some strange solace following a long, confusing week. (You’re in my thoughts, Las Vegas!) I hope it provides you some, too.

“As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No: …”


With sympathy from San Salvador

Thanks to everyone who reached out to me following the tragic events in Las Vegas. I’m fine physically; as many of you know, I’m teaching in Central America and have not been in Vegas since late July. However, I’m shaken mentally.

My thoughts are with everyone directly affected by this unspeakable tragedy and with my friends who live in an underground flood channel in the area. They often use the sidewalk between Mandalay Bay and the outdoor concert hall, pausing to enjoy a song or two from the far side of the fence. From second-hand sources, I heard they were cleared out of the drain as a precautionary measure. But I haven’t heard if they are all OK.

If you know any of these fine folks and you’ve heard from them, please let me know. I’ll do the same for you.

With love and sympathy from San Salvador …

Road to redemption

“Since moving back to New Hampshire, I met the love of my life, who’s also a musician. Her name is Gwen. She’s amazing.

“The drummer in my current band plays open-mic nights all the time. I’d just released a CD, so I went to this open mic with him and I was selling it there. She was sitting at the bar waiting for her turn to play. I was like, ‘Yo! Buy my CD!’ She was like, ‘I would like to, but I don’t have any money,’ so I gave her one for free. As the drummer and I were leaving to go to another open mic down the street, I turned to her and said, ‘Come to J’s or you’re a fucking nerd.’ She showed up and we’ve been inseparable ever since.”

—Szmauz, in the drains from June 2014 to August ’14

Discovering the drains

“I didn’t know he was homeless because he took me to this apartment. Well, it was a motel room, but when you’re homeless that’s an apartment to you. Then one day he didn’t pay and he said, ‘I stay at this other place, too, and you can meet my friends.’ I’m thinking, Right on. I got a guy that’s got his own place. I can meet his friends and maybe get back on my feet—and he takes me to this ditch. I’m like, Whoa. I started getting scared because of my history of being raped. I started crying. We’re near the Rio and we walk down this embankment, and I started freaking out and I said, ‘You’re going to kill me, aren’t you?’ He said, ‘No. I forgot my rope and shovel.’ He’s drunk and laughing. I said, ‘It’s not funny, dude.’ He goes, ‘Let me get my key out,’ and he pulls out a flashlight. He said, ‘I know this looks weird, but you’ll meet some good people and it’s safe and it’s better than being on the streets.’”

—Melinda, in the drains from 2009 to 2011

Special Collections

I found a home for my Beneath the Neon and My Week at the Blue Angel notes and memorabilia: Special Collections at UNLV’s Lied Library. They plan to sort through the boxes—handwritten notes, taped interviews, email correspondence with editors, edited drafts, etc.—and eventually make the contents available to the public. (If you ever want to hear me splashing through a storm drain, babbling to myself in a nervous stutter, you know where to go.)

The best part of the experience was I got to spend some time with two warm and talented longtime Las Vegans, Aaron Mayes and Su Kim Chung. Thanks, Aaron and Su Kim!

Shine a Light follow-up

I’m excited to announce that my Shine a Light community project, which was founded in 2009 to help the people who live in the underground flood channels of Vegas, will be folded into Freedom House’s programming. This will allow Shine a Light to more directly provide housing, counseling and other services to the people in the drains. I will remain involved in the program as much as possible from San Salvador, but Paul Vautrinot, who once lived in the tunnels, will be the point person. 
More details on the collaboration will be available in the days to come. In the meantime, please like Freedom House Sober Living’s Facebook page, visit its website (http://www.freedomhousesoberliving.com/) and consider donating to it. Thanks!