How an Author’s Mind Works

My publisher: “We can’t print the second edition of Beneath the Neon until we reduce the stock of the first edition. We need to sell a few more hundred copies.”

My mind: I’ll buy a few hundred copies myself.

What I’ve learned writing about the homeless in Vegas

“Call the homeless what you will, but don’t call them lazy. (You’re the one using UberEATS and sitting on the couch watching TV.) They’re the toughest, most industrious people I’ve met. Their survival depends on it.”

This is an excerpt from my commentary about what I’ve learned in 20 years of writing about and working with the homeless in Las Vegas. Many of my social-networking friends know a lot about homelessness—more than I ever will—and I’m curious how your experience aligns with mine or doesn’t. Please share your thoughts.

Discovering the drains

I’ve interviewed about 30 former tunnel residents and asked them all, “How’d you discover the drains?” This answer, courtesy of 24-year-old Szmauz, might be the most interesting so far:

“I was giving this other homeless guy hot dogs I’d found in a dumpster and out of the corner of my eye I see this big guy come over and deck me. The hot dogs go flying. I was stunned. It took me a second to realize I just got hit in the face. He starts wailing on me and I fight back. I’m not a small guy, so he took off. I had this meat cleaver on me and I’m chasing him down the street. The dealers that lived in the shitty apartments nearby knew me; I was a good customer of theirs. They were like, ‘Dude, what’s up?’ I said, ‘Get that guy!’ We’re all chasing him and he dipped through a hole in the fence and went down into a wash and into a tunnel. I stopped. I’m like, I’m not going in there. And that’s how I found the tunnel.”

Neon photo essay just posted the photo essay of people who are helping, in some way, preserve neon in Las Vegas. A lot of folks provided guidance on this essay, not all of whom I was able to acknowledge in the piece. They include Brian Paco Alvarez, Richard Hooker, Lynn Zook, Danielle Marie Kelly, Maggie Mary and Steve Evans. A special shout-out to Rachel Bellinksy, whose photos are simply amazing!

What’s in a name?

If nothing else, my book about the survivors of the Las Vegas storm drains will feature some colorful names. I’ve mentioned “One Shoe Sue” and “Four-Finger Mike.” My latest interview (the 28th total) was with “Merchandise Mike,” a wedding photographer turned “booster” who shoplifted to support his crack habit.

Polish magazine piece

I received a couple of friend requests from people living in Poland and did a little research. Turns out a Polish magazine published a piece related to the tunnels. As far as I can tell, the reporter came to Vegas to try to find the “canals” and talk to people living in them. He finally found one and the folks told him, in their own, unique words, no comment.
The reporter never reached out to me, but surfed my website and/or Facebook page and referenced various posts, including my recent interview in Vegas Seven magazine with Paul/Shaggy. The Polish piece also included a few photos from my Facebook page (without permission).
I’m not saying American journalism is all that—it has its flaws—but sometimes foreign media coverage confounds me.

El Salvador update

I recently found out more about my job in Central America. It looks like I will be teaching 11th grade English (American lit) and 12th grade AP English (British lit), with the possibility of eventually picking up creative writing. Required works on the American lit syllabus include The Things They Carried, The Awakening and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Works on the Brit lit syllabus include The Importance of Being Earnest, Frankensteinand Pride and Prejudice. I should also be able to choose various other readings to supplement the required ones.

By all indications, this school takes its reading and writing seriously. I do, too. Let’s hope this is a good match.