I began my professional life as a journalist. I’ll never be one again. It’s not that I won’t write, but I could never “report.” If I ever did.
(This won’t be a column. Or communique. Or barely a blog post. Call it notes from the southland.)
Just finished meeting with a newspaper reporter for about an hour, and managed to give her quotes that will make me look like a lunatic. This was not my intention, and may not be inaccurate. Still. Here are some examples:
“No, I don’t think money is the answer to helping homeless veterans. I don’t think programs are the answer. In fact, programs either make no difference, or make matters significantly worse. As a man who’s had to look into eyes dripping with judgement, I know what the recipient of ‘programs’ feels—like a failure, like a number, like a man with dog crap on his shoe. “
“Until folks who are getting paid to help homeless people have had to stand on line for dinner, have had to fill out the same form five times, have had to have bureaucrats look through them, they can never help anyone.”
“College boys and college girls feel superior for having done little more than sit in classes and learn the secret language version of ‘I’m better than you.’ Yes, I’ve got a master’s degree, but that doesn’t matter when you’re sitting in the unpadded chair on the hole-less side of a desk.”
“I think Jesus would hate the feel of most places that provide services to homeless folks. The point is to do for the least of these, not remind them they’re on the bottom.”
And on and on. I suspect few if any of the quotes will make it into the final story. Still, here they are, ticking away, waiting to explode.
Fantasy Feature on Keith Howard
Keith Howard has been many things: soldier, journalist, researcher, teacher, minister, principal, teacher, sales clerk, homeless alcoholic, aide to adults with developmental disabilities, supervisor of adult foster care providers, and executive director of Liberty House, a Manchester, NH, transitional-living facility for formerly homeless veterans. You may notice his career arc follows that of Cinderella. It begins low and steadily improves until the midnight clock that turns the carriage into a pumpkin, or in Howard’s case, turns a respected school principal into a homeless drunk. From this nadir, the Prince appears with a slipper, or Howard gets sober, and it’s Happily Ever After Time.
This story is about after Happily Ever After.
Last February, Howard wrote an op-ed entitled “Leaving a Job I Love,” where he announced he was stepping away from Liberty House after five years as its director, five years that had seen tremendous financial growth and overall improvement of the organization. In it, Howard said he had led Liberty House through the desert and was leaving it in more conventional hands—he had new hilltops to look over, figuratively and literally. He said he would leave September 1 to begin a year of living in a converted motorcycle trailer on the grounds of Warriors@45 North, a veterans retreat in Pittsburg, on the Canadian border.
Howard has kept his word. He lives in what he calls his Tiny White Box, a six-foot by 10-foot space, designed and built by his friend, Gavin Beland, that honestly feels more like a small ship cabin than a motorcycle trailer. He shares this space with his boxer-lab mix, Sam (is a dog), and the two of them walk about five miles a day, Howard maintains a blog at tinywhitebox.com, works on a second novel (his first, On Account of Because was published in July), and is completing a memoir.
“I may not be much,” Howard said, “but I’m all I think about, so writing a memoir comes easily. Fitzgerald said, ‘There are no second acts in American life,’ and I’ve been proving him wrong all my adult life, so recording that is just a chance to dance on Fitzgerald’s grave.”