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Not Thinking Straight by Madelyn Arnold
So, the system works, right?
by Madelyn Arnold - SGN Contributing Writer

I have an old friend named Ron, the kind of friend you really want to keep. That is, his interests and tastes are marvelous - which is another way of saying they are similar to mine in music and films, and books. Or were in books, before his eyesight began to fail. We have shared many hundreds of pounds of laughter in the last few years - but his MS has suddenly sped up, so there's been less and less we can directly share. Except the laughs, of course.

He now needs help taking care of himself, so a mutual friend named Dino sees to schedules, meals, cleaning, pills, and appointments much of the time, for which he receives a room, and that's all he receives.

That point can't be overstressed, because Ron lives in Seattle Housing Authority (for distinctly unrich people). Anyone living there has to be known to the managers. Dino receives Social Security/Disability. He receives no money.

Twenty-five years ago a strong, gangly guy walked into a Greenwich Village shop where Dino was working, and their eyes caught. Suddenly life was many times better, and stayed that way a quarter-century. This was "Mouse," a club bouncer, former biker.

A dozen years or so ago they moved here to Seattle, confident that - like everybody said - it was easier to find work here, and almost anywhere had housing cheaper than New York. Mouse was a highly skilled metalworker with a decent dossier, and there was no reason to think he wouldn't find excellent work. They got decent housing and some fairly reasonable work. But neither was a drunk, neither was a druggie, and ultimately their "straight-arrow" lives snagged on their landlord - who was anything if not corrupt.

There was a dispute, and that man didn't like them very much anyway; didn't like people like them. He saw to it that his "referral" about them as renters would stick like chewing gum - after which no one would rent to them.

No one felt much like employing them for very long, either. After thinking they'd be doing construction, both found themselves in telemarketing. Mouse found jobs doing hard labor, but it was hard to scrape together enough cash to override that one landlord's discommendation. In fact, they never did.

So for years they were homeless, in a tent for months at a time. Camping out is only fun if it's voluntary, like when you have somewhere else to go - somewhere warm in the winter and cool in the summer and, above all, dry in the rain and snow.

Sometime during the last year, Mouse cut his foot. A little late, came a series of clinic visits - dressings, antibiotics, foot care without follow-up at "home," where there was no hot water. It got progressively worse. Drugs aren't free, could he ever pick some up?

Seattle cares about its homeless, providing indoor shelter for as many as a tenth of them in places some people prefer to jail. Dino and Mouse generally preferred tents, where it was okay for two guys to lay together. Seattle provides some health care, exercise, and the moral instruction not to become too attached to material possessions.

Seattle wants so much to see its citizens clothed, sheltered and happy, that it wants unhappy and unsheltered folk invisible; frequently its minions sweep in and destroy makeshift shelters. Tent-dwellers who work may return to find their home has been flattened.

After waiting months for an appointment to schedule an amputation, Mouse found himself scheduled with the wrong surgeon. He'd have to start the waiting all over again. He was angry, but calm. He was going to make a formal complaint. The receptionist called the police, and he was jailed. The infection got worse.

A week or so later he was visiting Ron's apartment, sleeping indoors with Dino. He was feverish, out of his head. He turned on his side, and a gush of blood poured over the bedding. By the time 911 reached him, he was dead.

Kerry Barber was a serious artist, trained as a machinist: tall, strong, and so quiet Dino called him "Mouse." His brass work had always been elegant and precise, as in the fixtures he made for the home of tennis player John McEnroe, and for the Dakota, the beautiful apartment building near Central Park where Yoko Ono (widow of the late John Lennon) lives.

Born in St Louis March 4, 1951, Kerry Lee Barber passed away without a home, the evening of December 19, 2007. Amazingly, at least he didn't die alone.

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