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Homeless Thanksgiving…KL

Homeless Thanksgiving


People define homelessness as not having a place to go home to. Although that is definitely true, that is not the only type of homelessness. You could be homeless and still have a home, but that home is not yours. It is someone else’s, and they are kind enough to let you sleep on their couch. I would know because you could say I fall under the homeless category. I have a home, but that home is not mine. I sleep under someone’s roof. I don’t mean that I live in my parents’ home, because neither of my parents have their own home. »Read More

Homeless Thanksgiving…MM

Homeless But Not Hungry


Let me tell you something friend.

I may be homeless but I never go hungry.

You may sit down at your table to your banquet

Filled with your potatoes, turkey, ham, and anything else you manage to get to your face

While I sit down and I may have a bowl of sleep for dinner. »Read More

Homeless Thanksgiving…JT

Homeless Thanksgiving

It was a Thursday afternoon and I was coming home from school. My bus was late so I caught the 27 Port Covington bus. I got off at Lexington Market and walked down to the subway station to catch the train. As I walked down the escalator, I saw a homeless man lying on the steps. I stood on the platform and waited for the train. The train was late as usual. All of a sudden, the homeless man started to cough uncontrollably.

I stepped towards the man and asked him,

“Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine. Thank you for asking” he replied.

There was an awkward silence before he said,

“I’m surprised you asked.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said I’m surprised you asked. Not a lot of people are worried or take interest in my wellbeing. They always think I’m trying to get their money or something.”

“ Oh no problem,” I said.

“By the way, my name is Charles” he said and extended his hand for a handshake.

“ Nice to meet you Charles. My name is Janiah” I said and shook his hand.

“What are you coming from school or something?”

“Yes, I go to The Community School.”

“ I never heard of that school” he said.

It was obvious that he was homeless, so I asked him, “ Mr. Charles, what did you do before you were homeless?” »Read More

“Carrying On”

Kimberley's Stone“Right weight, wrong number.”

“Excuse me?” I said to the man in scrubs.

“Remember last night,” the doctor continued, “when I told you that I thought we had a five-pound baby on the way, despite your wife delivering 10 weeks early?”

“Uh-huh,” I grunted, confused.

“Well, turned out to be 2 two-and-a-half pounders. Your wife just had twins, two tiny baby girls. Congratulations!”

My jaw dropped, my mouth undoubtedly forming a wordless WTF, but Dr. Scrubs kept talking.

“Your wife’s fine. So are the babies, but the next twenty-four hours are key. The good news is, your pediatrician has had smaller ones than this survive.”

Five minutes earlier, I had been sleepily reading a magazine in the waiting room. It was 1969, the tail end of the good old days when expectant fathers got the boy/girl news after the fact. The waiting process was a mix of anxiety and excitement, boredom and butterflies, and idyllic thoughts of the future. Suddenly, all of that was interrupted by the harsh reality of survival. »Read More


It hangs in my mind like a Norman Rockwell illustration for the cover of an old issue of The Saturday Evening Post.

A boy of seven lies in bed, the narrow room softly lit by the amber glow spilling from a frayed lampshade, the bed sheet pulled tight to the boy’s chin, his eyes heavy.  Alongside the boy, in an over-stuffed armchair, sits a bear of a man. The crown of his head is bald, bordered by fluffy tufts of snowy white. His eyebrows, great bushy things careening wildly in many directions, frame eyes that say weariness but comfort, and stand out from a face that is pleasantly bountiful.  The body is broad, centered on a belly rounded by age and hops, strong arms bulging from a sleeveless T-shirt. Two meaty paws rest on the man’s lap. The fingers of one work the beads of a rosary; the other wraps a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

My Uncle Carroll was a gentle man, filled with kindness and patience. He loved his faith and he lived it. But his final days were filled with great pain; the pain of a son lost to suicide and a body crippled by stroke. It breaks my heart to remember him that way. Rather, I choose to recall the week I spent with him and my Aunt Delores one summer many years ago.

It was a summer of firsts—my first “girlfriend;” my first time getting dumped by a girlfriend; the first time I saw two adult ladies have an actual physical fight; my first tuna fish sandwich made with Miracle Whip; and, my first realization that there were grapes in the grape jelly. »Read More


A typical Sunday morning, roughly 8:15, a long time ago. My father stands in the doorway to my room, extends his thumb to his lips, curls his fingers as if holding a bugle, and sounds out the military wake-up call of Reveille. God, that was annoying!

I was eight, and it was time to get up and get ready for church. All the kids who attended St. Bernardine’s parochial school were “encouraged” to attend the nine o’clock Mass on Sunday. While not a strict requirement, my fellow third-graders and I were well aware that any absence would be duly noted by the eagle-eyed Sister Mary Eustacius and met with a syrupy snippet on Monday morning on the order of: I don’t believe we had the pleasure of Mr. Riesett’s company yesterday at the 9. It never bode well for an eight-year old to be called out as a “mister,” especially in the regimented obedience of the 1950s.

Fortunately, thanks to my dad’s faux bugle call, I was a regular at “the 9,” virtually always officiated by Monsignor Louie Vaeth, a great character of a man with a crusty exterior and a unique talent for memory. Standing in the pulpit from which he would deliver his sermon, he would first read that day’s Gospel selection…except he never actually read it. Rather, he would open the Bible to the appropriate page, hold it out in front of him in his left hand, and recite it word-for-word without ever glancing at the page.

In those days, the Monsignor of a Catholic parish was essentially a benevolent dictator, and Louie Vaeth played his part to the hilt. Once an amateur boxing champion, now a gruff old shepherd of one of the city’s fastest growing congregations, he loved to play poker and smoke cigars with the faithful on Friday nights, attend the local fights on Saturday, and shepherd his flock to higher heights of holiness on Sunday. The story was told about the night that Monsignor Louie, at that point well into his 60s, attended a local fight card and was invited into the ring to offer a blessing. Suddenly, a voice called out from the well-lubricated crowd, Go back to your church, you penguin-suited bum. A hush fell hard over the arena. Glaring out from the ring, Louie Vaeth immediately removed the white clerical collar at the throat of his otherwise black priestly garb and called out to the faceless voice: “Forget this Roman collar. Come down here and say that to me as a man.” That no one moved (or probably breathed for the next minute) undoubtedly deprived the crowd of a Main Event they would have never forgotten. »Read More


He was a steel man. Each morning, lunch bag in hand, he’d walk the six blocks to the big U.S. Steel warehouse at the corner of Bush & Wicomico Streets, where he’d spend the day handling massive sheets of iron—cutting, forming, loading, and unloading—until the whistle sounded and his clothes and face were cobalt blue. Then it was home to hose off the carbon, have dinner with Lily and their five boys and, a little later, walk another handful of blocks to the 1019 Pleasure Club.

My grandfather was a founding member of the 1019, a mid-block converted row house—the exterior of which featured a large glass-bricked window fronting James Street, with the interior little more than one big open room, in the middle of which stood a pool table, and behind which, and two steps above, perched the smaller, but all-important tap room. A poor man’s Cheers, where the tedium of the day was erased with good friends and cold beer!

He was my paternal grandfather. Born in 1901, the youngest of nine children, Pop was part of a family evolution that had begun in 1846 when his grandfather and family of seven arrived at Baltimore’s Locust Point from the small, rural farming community of Wasserlos, near Frankfurt in Germany. The immigrant family soon made its way to Pigtown, a South Baltimore neighborhood named for its slaughterhouse functionality, where the Riesetts would essentially remain for the next hundred and fifty years. By the time I was born, a hundred years into the process, Pigtown was very much our tribal village. Within a quarter-mile radius, family or extended family seemed to occupy every other house. And whoever wasn’t family was German. »Read More


I was a small boy the first time my parents took me to the movies. The theatre was on Washington Boulevard, once a vibrant commercial venue of Baltimore’s Pigtown neighborhood. Back in the early ‘50s, going “up the boulevard” was special, the Crown Theatre having been one of its prime attractions for more than thirty years. Originally built to accommodate vaudeville and minstrel shows, the old structure had played host to the best. It was said that even the great Al Jolson sang for his mammy there—in blackface, of course. Now, black faces appeared in the audience, albeit within certain parameters.

The theatre’s downstairs was especially crowded that night, so my parents headed for the balcony in search of three seats together. I excitedly climbed the plush, carpeted staircase ahead of them. I was sorry that I had. Reaching the top, instinct thrust me back like a stiff wind. I was terrified, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away. Smoke hung like a shroud over a sea of tawny eyes looking out from muted blackness. Breathless, I stared at the “Colored Section,” and it stared back at me.

I imagine it now like entering Louisiana’s Cajun bayous at night, the big gators languishing in the sluggish, slimy creeks awaiting the arrival of prey to make opening their lantern-like eyes worth the effort. You should not be here, their eyes say. You will pay dearly for the mistake. »Read More


A little over a year ago, I wrote an essay entitled “The Mentor.” It told the story of a young boy’s challenging early life and his subsequent “salvation” through adoption.  I thought the piece uplifting, even inspirational, and I took pride in my role as Jake’s mentor in the years leading up to his formal adoption. Toward the end of the piece, I wrote the following in reference to Jake’s high school graduation.


As I sat in the high school auditorium that night and watched Jake walk across the stage to receive his acknowledgement, I thought about all that this still very young boy had been through—the painful loss of loved ones, the horrid abuse of supposed guardians, the loneliness of institutional life, the rediscovery of parental love and support, and now his place of importance as big brother to others whose needs were great. It made me proud to realize that, through it all, Jake had never given up on himself. And it made me happy to have played my own very small part in his story.

I have no illusions that Jake’s troubles are over. He’ll carry the burden of his experiences with him for the rest of his life. But he’ll also carry with him the realization of what it is to grow up. What it is to not give up. And, most importantly, what it is to be loved and supported.


To which I must now add: And what it is to be ripped off and cast out…yet again! This is the rest of Jake’s story. »Read More


In ancient Chinese rituals, straw dogs were used as offerings to the gods. During the ritual, they were treated with the utmost reverence. When it was over and they were no longer needed, they were trampled on and tossed aside.

It was in that spirit that my partners in the ad agency asked me to relocate to London in the spring of 1992.

Ours was one of America’s largest independent advertising agencies, despite being co-headquartered in Detroit and Baltimore—two cities not exactly synonymous with the lore of “Mad Men.” We did, however, boast a London office through which we serviced the agency’s largest single client and one of the world’s truly global clients—British Petroleum. That we even had an account like BP was a tribute to the agency’s creativity and tenacity, as well as a perfect reflection of its unorthodoxy.
»Read More