Tag Archives: homelessness

The Annual Holding Breath World AIDS Day Free Book Promotion

I’ve decided to make a tradition that I actually care about, now that Thanksgiving is over (as far as holidays are concerned, Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine’s Day are the only ones I really love; don’t even get me started on how I feel about Columbus Day).  Last year, shortly after I published Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, I realized that it would be appropriate to give free Kindle versions of the book away for World AIDS Day (December 1st).

This year, the book will be free starting tomorrow (11/29/13), and the offer will be good through Sunday, which will be World AIDS Day.  After that, I won’t be giving it away again until next year.

So far, the book has a 4.6 out of 5 star rating from 21 reviews on Amazon.com (and another 5-star review on Amazon U.K.).  As usual, if you download the book (or buy the print version) and read it and feel like leaving a review, I’d really appreciate it.  Every one helps, and they’re fun to read (except for that one 2-star one…).

Here ya go (and then I’m done with the book giveaways!):

http://www.amazon.com/Holding-Breath-Memoir-Wildfire-ebook/dp/B009TV4CE6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1377225007&sr=1-1&keywords=holding+breath+bevilaqua

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An Excerpt From Holding Breath

Some recent comments about life on the street, and about homeless shelters, on what I consider perhaps the best and most important blog on WordPress, Dennis Cardiff’s “Gotta Find a Home” (http://gottafindahome.wordpress.com/ ), reminded me of a part of my own book, Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days.  Since I haven’t posted any excerpts here in a long time, I thought I’d like to post that section here.

The section recounts a description–probably partially fictionalized where my memory of what David actually told me failed me, but, I think, accurate nevertheless–of a night David (the book’s hero) spent after leaving the hospital “against medical advice.” Here it is:

Swaying, he looked up toward First Avenue and then back down toward Tompkins Square Park.  He had to get inside somewhere and get some sleep so that he’d have the strength to get himself set up in the morning.  There was a shelter on 3rd Street, but even if he had a chance in hell of talking someone into letting him in this late he’d be up all night with cockroaches crawling on his face and crackheads and thieves roaming among the cots, looking for something they could sell or keep.  The hospital, he told me, had spoiled him for all of the things he could have put up with as a junkie.

There was a bandshell in the park, but by then Sam knew that he had to be inside somewhere, safe and unmolested so that he could really sleep.  It occurred to him that the subway station on Fourteenth and First was his best bet.  It would be warm and if anyone bothered him it would probably be a cop, giving him a wake-up call by beating a nightstick on the wall next to his head.  He could stretch out on one of the benches at the back of the station.  And if there was a problem he could just jump on the L train and ride all night.

First Avenue looked warmer and brighter, somehow, than Avenue A, so he went that way, stopping often, his arms crossed around him so that the chills wouldn’t split his chest open.  Passing NYU kids dressed up as bikers or junkies or punks, or young bankers downtown to drink and see the sights, all traveling in confused packs in and out of the little Polish-run bars and restaurants, he noticed that most ignored him or gave him a quick up-and-down look.

“Like I just crawled out of a manhole looking for money or drugs,” he put it.  It made him feel safer to know that they were more afraid of him than he was of them—that they couldn’t see his weakness.

By the time he made it to the subway entrance he thought that he might die before he got downstairs.  He was exhausted and sick to his stomach from shivering and not eating, and his chest felt like there was a fire inside.  His legs were numb, and as he hung on to the banister and put one foot after the other down the stairs it was as if he was walking on crooked stilts.

The air inside the station was so thick and hot that it seemed he could grab a handful of it.  There was no one down there except for a token-booth clerk, counting money.

This was the last obstacle.  Sam went to the window of the booth, trying to look as earnest and respectable as he could, and waited until the clerk had finished counting the wad of ones in her hand.  Eventually she looked up at him, expressionless.

“Hi,” he said.  She lifted her chin a little.  He smiled in his gentlest way (the eyes in the photograph, only a little more desperate, more calculating).  “I was wondering if you could help me.  I’m sick and I lost my wallet and I have to get across town or my wife is really going to worry.  Can you just let me through the gate and I promise…”

“You got to pay your fare,” said the clerk, clearly, with a rhythm she obviously used to say the same thing a hundred times a day.

“I just told you, I don’t have my…”

“I just told YOU, you got to pay your fare.”

“Look, please just give me a break.  I’m really sick.  I can’t walk any more.”

“Pay your fare.”  She went back to counting her money.

Sam felt that he might cry.  He’d been arrested once for jumping a turnstile, and he’d spent the night in a bullpen so crowded that he couldn’t sit down, and stinking so much of piss that he didn’t want to.  At the time, having been locked up once or twice before, he’d taken it pretty much in stride; that night he thought it might kill him. He started to walk back over to the stairs, just to sit, but someone was coming down.  It was a teenage girl.  He considered asking her for a token but he was afraid that the only thing that would come out would be a whine or a sob.  The girl went to the token booth.

“Fuck it,” Sam whispered to himself, and he turned and quickly ducked under one of the turnstiles to the other side.

Behind him he heard, “Pay your fare, sir,” but he ignored it and walked to a bench at the end of the platform.  The station smelled almost as bad as the bullpen but he didn’t care because he was going to sleep.  He cleared some pages of the Post off of the bench, took his shirt off and made a pillow out of it, and lay down.  He slept, as he put it, like a dead man.

There the memory ends, not with the image of Sam sitting across the table from me, reciting his story with the attention to detail of a man to whom nothing has happened in a long time, but with that last one, the picture that my mind supplied as illustration:  Sam, viewed from a point far up the subway platform, curled, oblivious and half-naked, mouth slightly open and hair clinging to his damp, smooth forehead, on the bench nearest to where the track goes dark and curves away. 

http://www.amazon.com/Holding-Breath-Memoir-AIDS-Wildfire/dp/1480164518/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1377225007&sr=1-1

The Best Story I’ve Heard in a LONG Time

I just came across this on CNN.com–it’s just wonderful.  I just wrote to Omni Hotels’ corporate offices to commend the manager of their Atlanta Hotel, Scott Stuckey, for doing such an amazingly wonderful thing to reward Joel Hartman–a homeless man who, while dumpster-diving, found a tourist’s wallet and went from hotel to hotel to find her so that he could return it (Mr. Hartman also freely admits that he has problems with drugs, which makes his act even more commendable, for obvious reasons).  If I ever go on vacation again, and I can afford it, I’m staying at an Omni (I actually did stay at the one in NYC when I was actively doing travel writing, and it was awesome–especially for a New York hotel!).

http://www.hlntv.com/article/2013/11/23/homeless-stolen-wallet-hero-hotel-thanksgiving?hpt=hp_t3

Maybe This Will Help (Me)

Having read another infuriating post today on the pigeon website I mentioned in a few posts a few days ago (this time about someone who found yet another lost racing pigeon, and was advised to “withhold food for a day”, take him ten miles away, and then release him to try–on a very empty stomach, and apparently with hundreds of miles to travel–to find his way home again), I have been struggling with myself to just leave it alone this time.  Clearly I’m not going to change anyone’s views on the subject, and I’m just too thin-skinned to take the abuse I got the last time again (clearly the “best defense is a good offense” rule is useful when one is trying to defend the indefensible).

So, instead, I’m going to post an article I wrote years ago about animal abuse here.  It was originally published in the now-defunct ASPCA Animal Watch, and subsequently in Big Apple Parent.  It’s not about pigeon-racing or “dove release”, but perhaps it touches on the same kind of thinking to some extent.  Posting it here will be the internet equivalent of sitting on my hands or biting my tongue to keep myself out of trouble.  (And yes, this blog IS about my book, Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, and I do seem to be posting quite a few off-topic posts these days.  On the other hand, there is a thread running through the posts, I think, that binds them together.  As I’ve always been sickened by arrogance and ignorance about, and cruelty toward, the homeless, people with AIDS, people with substance abuse problems, etc., I am also sickened by the arrogant sense that as human beings we have “dominion” over other creatures, and therefore have the right to subject them to suffering and death for profit, entertainment, or just because we can.  Either way, to put it bluntly, it’s bullshit.)

Thank you for your continued patience with my self-righteous rants.  I will get back to my regularly scheduled posts about the book anon.

Here’s the article, which is entitled “Teach Your Children”:

http://zeroandback.blogspot.com/2008/01/teach-your-children.html

“Enabling”

I haven’t posted any excerpts from Holding Breath here for a while, but a conversation having to do with drug tests for Welfare recipients I stumbled into this morning on Facebook (probably ill-advisedly, as I was in an unusually grouchy and impatient mood, for some reason, and might have known to stay out of it if that hadn’t been the case) got me thinking about something I’d thought about many times in the past, and wrote about in the book.  (The first time I thought of it was probably when I was a kid, walking down what must have been East 19th Street in Manhattan with some family members.  We saw a man panhandling, and I wanted to give him some money, but my family told me not to–that he would just “use it to buy liquor.”  They’re kind people, but I now know that they were just going along with a conventional idea that, even at the time, didn’t feel right to me.)

I’ve come to believe that when a person in need asks you to give, you give—no questions asked, no test to see if they’re “deserving” enough, no pre-judging what they might use it for.  If they need comfort (and, preferably, a few warm, respectful words to go with it), and are in a situation that has brought them to the demeaning point at which they need to stand in the street and ask strangers for help, and I have the means to give them what they need just then, I’m happy to do it.  I don’t give a damn how they got to be that way, or what they’re going to do with what I give. I used to feel that there might be something wrong with my thinking that way, as so many others seemed to feel differently, but I’ve gotten over it. 

In any case, here’s the excerpt:

Maybe I really was, as I was told over and over, just being naïve, and being an “enabler”.

But I’ve grown up enough to see that my beliefs are as valid as anyone else’s (and perhaps based more on experience than those of many others who make judgments about the character of addicts and people who live on the street), and aren’t negated by someone else’s disagreeing with them. Almost all of us are, to a greater or lesser degree, addicted to something. We all lie, often without even thinking of it as lying. We all manipulate others in order to get what we want, and we’ve all stolen or cheated in one way or another—even those of us who have everything we need already. We’ve all caused others emotional or physical pain. And if being an “enabler”, with David or with anyone else in a similar position, meant that I was giving them the comfort of feeling that they were, after all, as worthy of love as anyone else, I had nothing to be ashamed of.

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