Category Archives: Spring 2020

Encounter with Tommie

Fresh air mingled with cigarette smoke with the inhale. The exhale was warmed by sidewalk heat mingled with cool mist of an open fire hydrant. Tommie enjoys for the moment kids at play in the flooded street, laughing, splashing water fights. Cars stop just before the pool eyeballing the biggest kid directing the fire hydrant cannon. He stands down his large can with two open ends. Neutrals are free to pass. Drivers nudge cars forward keeping an eye on the cannon in case of a trick.

“Don’t ya’ dare try it…” some shout out. “I got my eye on y’all.”

Tommie turned west for the six blocks to Dominic’s. He had check cashing privileges here. The Railroad Retirement Board issued monthly checks by a new system of electronic deposit. Tommie was not accustomed to banks, he was accustomed to currency exchanges, paper checks and cash. Now he gets cash, groceries, and booze from Dominic’s until he worked his account down to the minimum balance. Today was such a day, the end of the month.

On such days he stretched his check out for necessities waiting for the first week of the month bringing the retirement check. Dominic’s was perfect for this task. He wandered the aisles up, then down the next. Picking out small items, cereal, milk, orange juice, placing them in the cart. With his bag in the upper hopper of the cart he placed just a few expensive items, a fifth of Johnny Walker Red, a nice cut of steak or roast. Things that would not make the bag bulge or rattle. At the checkout he asked for a carton of cigarettes reaching into the bag for his checks and wrote a check with cash back. The amount would be covered by the anticipated windfall, if this was late, he would with humility pay the fees. All this was successfully done with variation, but the key was the appearance of a harmless old man.

Reaching the pharmacy corner, he had another three blocks to walk. He was sweaty from the first three blocks, sticky perspiration added discomfort. Musk and sweat would not do for appearances. Entering the pharmacy, he searched the aisles, deodorant stick went into the bag. He approached the cashier with a most needed toothbrush in hand. Paying cash, he turned walking out the door. A startling ring filled the store and outside sidewalk. What is that noise? The manager and security guard rushed to the source of the ringing, and gently pulled Tommie’s arm back into the store. All businesses in this area saw everyone walking through the door as assumed guilty until they were proven innocent at the cash register. Tommie did not protest, he knew. By chance two Chicago police coming off El patrol exited the Austin station. Hearing the commotion, they walked across the street; the only time boundaries were respected by Chicago and Oak Park police was on the El.

“Collier… Collier!” I heard my name shouted with familiarity.

“Collier… come help me out, my man,” same shout only now more urgent.

I was walking home from the video store less than a half block away from Austin and Lake. There was Tommie with the same old brown dog look, loosely assembled bones held up sagging muscle and skin. Two white police officers stood on either side of him.

“You know this guy,” one officer asked expectantly.

“Yes, I know him.”

“He was shoplifting. The manager is not interested in following this up and we don’t want to be bothered with it either.”

“O.K.”

“If you agree to take him home, we’ll let him loose.”

I was startled by this generosity. Police in this neighborhood scoop up black men like fish in a net. They sorted them out at the station, with those that they had no right to hold tossed back with a disorderly conduct charge. If you showed up at court the judge routinely tossed you back again, charges dropped.

“O.K,” I said. Tommie became my charge.

I intended to keep my word, walking Tommie home as long as this was fine with him and we were out of sight of the police. Crossing the street to the Austin side, I asked, “Where do you live at, Tommie?”

“Just down the street a couple blocks at Menard.”

“Really, I live on Race at Menard. I have never seen you over here.”

I could not remember the last time I saw Tommie at work. I worked the extra board as a dining car waiter. It was important for the extra board guy to have a thick skin. If you got on the wrong side of anyone in the regular crew, you was on the wrong side of all of them. A long miserable run, the butt of every joke, the object of every complaint. Working with older men they talked to you like a father scolding a son. “Don’t worry we’re goin’ straighten you before the end of this run.”

Tommie was always neutral; he didn’t comfort you or harm you. He always called me Young Blood.

“Young Blood, we’re outa soup… We need orange juice, Young Blood.”

Across the street. Tommie began his story, “You know, I’m retired now, don’t you?”

“No… I didn’t know. I’m still working the board and I never been hooked up to the grapevine… I miss stuff like this.”

“I had enough… I took my pension.”

Railroad crews were notoriously unruly and surly. Drinking and drugging on the job was a tradition. Then Ronald Reagan was elected president of the United States and the world of old timers, like Tommie, changed forever. Reagan showed his disdain for black people launching his candidacy from Philadelphia, Mississippi where three civil rights workers met death by the hands of Klansmen. He showed his hatred of trade unions busting the PATCO strike with scabs. Railroad workers witnessed thousands of jobs disappear with Reaganomics. Then his prune of a wife said, “Just say no” to drugs. The bosses set the course to clean house, the union leadership made it clear they would not stand up for unruly and surly drunks. Many of the old timers no longer finding enjoyment in work went into retirement.

“Say Collier, could ya’ let me hold something.”

“Sure. Let me see what I got.” Reaching into my pocket I pulled out what bills I had, not much, but I split them with Tommie.

“I’m good for it.”

“I know you are, my man… just pay me when you see me. No rush.”

“You know, man, I’ve been fucking up bad of late… Can’t make it through the month… don’t have any good reason for it.”

I thought back to the time I was with Tommie’s crew laying over in Oakland at the Thunderbird. I came off the elevator, turned down the hall and there was Tommie standing in his underwear. He looked confused, at a loss as to what had happened and what to do.

“Tommie, what happen?’

“I went to the toilet… now I’m out here… I still gotta piss.”

“Come use my toilet… Wait for me in my room… I’ll get a spare key for you. It looks like you zagged when you should have zigged.”

I went down to the front desk to discreetly inform the clerk of Tommie’s need. With a smile that suppressed a chuckle she handed me a spare key. The next morning back in the yard setting up for the return trip everyone had a story about their preceding night. Tommie and I had no stories to tell.

“Collier, these young gals are getting all my money,” he confessed. I don’t know if he recalled that time in Oakland. But he certainly knew I would not spread this around at work.

“You know, Tommie, I like to run these streets chasing skirts, too.”

“Yea, I know you do.”

“I learned the hard way… do your grocery shopping, house cleaning and laundry first. Because being honest with myself, I know when I hit the streets that’s it. Take only what money you want to spend, stick a $20 bill in your sock for your getting home money.”

“I hear ya’, brother.”

We said our goodbyes standing in front of his apartment, a three-story tomb. Tommie was alone, sadness barely concealed. Other men cut from same mold, drunks or not, radiated contentment. These men had wives that took care of them, children and grandchildren that adorned them. At the courtyard entrance the shadow of death waited the return of the man. But now there was two that soon parted, one walking towards it, the other away. It patiently waited for the one walking towards it, knowing with the same patience there was time to catch up with the other.

Written By: D. R. Collier

I am a 67-year-old retired railroad worker. I began my work as a dining car waiter in 1979 at age 26. I retired as a locomotive engineer at age 62. I dedicate my writing to the older black workers who schooled me to survive in the entrenched anti-black racism of this industry.

Visual Art “Delta Cats”

By: Isabella Antenucci

Isabella Antenucci is an artist, writer and blue collar worker that lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Pump

I don’t remember the actual diagnosis. I remember later, in the hospital, my mom sitting by the bed and crying with a hand over her eyes. I recall a nurse, wearing the bright scrubs of the pediatrics ward—green, pink, blue, with dancing bears or smiling frogs—as she handed me a fat orange, showing me how to stab the needle through the wrinkled skin and push down on the plunger to inject the saline solution. “An orange peel is about as thick as human skin,” she explained.

But I remember better a summer day two years later, when I was fourteen and received my first insulin pump. It was a blue Medtronic MiniMed Paradigm with opaque plastic through which I could make out some of the inner workings. The pump expert—who also wore an insulin pump and dressed like a hip grandma in orange sandals, high-waisted jeans, and clunky jewelry—came to our house and sat with me at our kitchen table to teach me to use my new pump. She showed me how to fill the reservoir and take off the needle head, to screw on the tubing and twist the reservoir into the pump. And she helped me slide the needle into my belly for the first time, which was different than taking an insulin shot. Rather than pushing straight in, the needle went in at a disorienting angle. She taught me to disengage the needle from the Silhouette, leaving behind the tiny tube—the cannula—and to peel off the plastic and stick down the medical tape.

Later, I remember sitting in the backseat of our white Honda and pulling the seatbelt away from my body because I worried it might press against the Silhouette now attached by a tube to the brand-new pump. I remember the tenderness around the tiny cannula, the worry I felt for days that the long, curling tube going from me to the little machine might catch on something and rip the little one out, how carefully I moved in case it hurt. But I felt proud of my fancy little machine, excited by the realization that except for glucose tests, I wouldn’t have to stick a needle into my body for three days. I was relieved to have exchanged three to four insulin shots a day for this convenient, handheld, beeping thing.

I carried this pump with me everywhere, an organ outside of my body. Five years ago I exchanged my Medtronic MiniMed for the sleeker, newer, smaller Tandem t:slim. I tend to this pump the way one tends to a pet, except that when this pet dies, I die too. It goes with me everywhere, always attached, frequently beeping for attention. What others get without a thought from their own bodies, I must give my body manually; what others get for free, I have to pay for. And not just in money, but in time and energy. Every three months, I have to make multiple calls in order to renew my supplies, three months’ worth of boxes of AutoSoft 90 Infusion Sets and 3mL Cartridges, BD PrecisionGlide Needles and their other half, the BD 3mL Syringes with Luer-Lok Tips. Every three days, I have to find time to sit down and change the infusion set, replace the empty cartridge with a filled one. Every time I eat, I have to pull out my pump and put in carbs and blood glucose.

I’m always careful to keep my pump sated and satisfied.

But over the years, our relationship has grown complicated. I can’t live without my pump, of course, and for its convenience and life-giving help I appreciate it. But more and more that feeling of awe and pride has slipped into something more like resentment. I resent that I need its help. I resent its hold on my life.

I am never without my pump, never free from it, never fully independent of it. A pump doesn’t even have an Off button. But knowing I can’t live without it does not make me love it.

Sometimes I like to imagine what it’s like to be the kind of person who backpacks across Europe or bikes across America. What is it like to have that kind of ownership of your body? What is it like never to have to think about anything but whether you’re hungry, thirsty, or tired? To not have to be tied to this thing that requires so much attention, this thing that grabs hold and never lets go, this thing that keeps me alive. I daydream about one day waking up, unhooking the pump and its tubing from my body, taking out the infusion set, and setting it all aside. I imagine picking up my bag and only grabbing something to eat if I’m hungry. And then walking out the door, leaving my pump to beep itself to death in a drawer.

I imagine it would feel like flying. Like shedding the chains and setting myself free.

Written By: Shalynn Ehrenpfort

My name is Shalynn Ehrenpfort and I’m 27 years old. I’ve lived in San Francisco for  nine years and I’ve attended CCSF off and on for about three years.

Art title: “Silhouettes”

Artist: Suzanne Notario

My photographic journey started seven years ago when I took my first photography class at CCSF. This course ignited my passion for making pictures. It has become a way of expressing myself while capturing moments in time with my camera. 

 

The Rules Are Simple

 “Tag,” Susie yelled. “You’re it.” And she ran off as fast as she could. Joel was surprised. One moment he had been drinking a small carton of chocolate milk at the lunch-benches with his friend Jason, the next he was “it.” To make it stick, all the kids sitting with him jumped up and ran away, laughing. Even Jason.

“Wait,” Joel yelled after her. “I wasn’t even playing. I’m not it.” 

But they were all running away and did not care, too busy screaming their lungs out – “Jo-el’s it! Jo-el’s it!”

When recess was over, no one sat near him in class. If he stood up everyone would stand and move away as he moved near. The teacher demanded that everyone stop acting foolish, but the kids just giggled and still no one came near him.

“I wasn’t even playing,” Joel kept repeating.

By the end of the day the whole school had joined the game. His friends, Chris and Pat, were not waiting for him at Mar Vista gate as they usually did, so Joel walked home alone. An older couple, seeing Joel walking, seemed to run to their car. They pulled out of the driveway so fast the screeching sound of rubber tires slipping on pavement caught the attention of a stray dog, who, noticing Joel, also ran away. 

At home, his little sister Kara was keeping the dining table between them at all times. She kept this up until Joel grabbed his baseball glove and left the house. 

Greg Po lived four houses down. His parents had come from Korea and placed their only son in a private Korean language school. Joel and Greg would often play together after school. But this day Greg refused to come out. His mother seemed confused by this too but did not invite Joel in and kept the screen door shut against him.

“Wait here,” she told Joel, as she went inside to check on her son.

From the front porch, Joel could hear Greg telling his mother not to let Joel in the house.

“I wasn’t even playing,” Joel told his friend Jason on the phone that evening. 

“The rules are simple,” Jason told him. “You’re ‘it.”

That night Joel could not sleep. He had never been very popular at school – not like Jason, who seemed to slip easily into every social group. 

Joel was a good guy, he thought, staring at the ceiling. He never fought in the yard. He didn’t pick on the little kids. He was always polite to the teachers. But now it seemed the only way to relieve his condition was to inflict it on someone else. He was going to have to hurt someone. This scared him.

Breakfast was again a game of “stay away from Joel” as Kara quietly taunted him. Mom and Dad hardly noticed as they went about preparing food and getting ready for work. 

“Will you stop,” Joel whispered, but Kara just giggled.

Joel pushed himself back from the table and in a flash was around so fast that Kara could not escape. He grabbed her. 

“Now you’re it,” He stated.

“That’s not fair,” Kara said. “Anyway, no one saw. It’s not even legal.”

She was right. Something was going on. Something big.

“Kara,” He pleaded with her. “You’re my sister. Tell me what it is.”

Whether it was love or pity he’d never really know, but she finally cracked. It had all been set up by his friend, Jason. It was he who had spread the game to everyone on the playground. He told everyone that this would be the biggest prank ever, and Joel was the perfect mark. As for Susie, the girl who had tagged him… she never really liked Joel much anyhow.  

Joel became very quiet. He left for school without another word.  

At 7:32, Joel walked through the Mar Vista gate. Somewhere on the playground his old friend Jason was about to get tagged.

Written by: Sean Karlin

Born in California, raised in Israel, served in the military, educated in film and television, documented environmental and social justice work, produced and directed commercials, Sean Karlin is a filmmaker and creative director who lives in San Francisco with his wife Orli. 

Photo title: The Young Pilot

Photo by: Josh Carter

Joshua Carter is a veteran, writer and activist. He lives in the Richmond district with his obese cat and tries really hard to be punk.