Saturday, March 21, 2015

Graffiti, Big Charity & The Sleeping Man

I rolled out of bed fifteen kinds of disheveled and half-dressed. Slid on a trucker hat and punched through a tank top. I got about 1000 words down on the page (I never count, so I mostly know it was more than ten), and hit the road. The streets where pretty settled as I snapped pics of graffiti and the New Orleans Scooter Rally.

Scooter Ride down Carrolton Ave.

Cutting through the various 

One Way

streets, I saw Big Charity Hospital's weathered body hauntingly punctuating downtown. This is a place I've wanted to see ... needed to see. After watching the documentary Big Charity (director Alexander John Glustrom) as part of the Patois Film Festival, I really wanted to bare witness to the space that was destroyed not by Hurricane Katrina. Rather it was the victim of Disaster Capitalism. Which is a no bueno, so the film had hit me in all those places that make you outraged. As a non-New Orleanian though, I could only begin to imagine what the loss of one of America's most charitable hospitals was for this city. Especially for those who did not have the means to get health care anywhere else. 

Big Charity's entry is gated and barb wired.

When I was leaving, I ended up on the backside of the hospital. This is what I saw. 

I pulled the car over because I didn't know if he was dead or alive. The only part of him that was moving was his windbreaker. It was beautiful and heartbreaking. Kind of like watching the plastic bag scene in the film American Beauty. Only there were no screenwriters or actors or cameras writing this poetic moment for The Sleeping Man.

Part of any city life is a homeless population, and New Orleans has a sizable one. But this man (I assumed the male gender) was splayed along the sidewalk in a way I didn't often see. 

I wanted to approach him and see if he was okay. As okay as anyone is sleeping on a sidewalk in the 80 degree heat in a dark jacket. But there I was on the backside of the now defunct hospital of hope. There weren't a lot of people around. What if I startled him? The likelihood of him brandishing a weapon wasn't implausible. 

But I couldn't just drive on. It just felt wrong.

So I sat there. I sat and waited. Waited for some part of him to move that wasn't just his windbreaker. After awhile, a guy walking on the opposite side of the street, took a few glances at The Sleeping Man. Curious but not enough to even pause.

Then a curvy woman ambled along, saddling a duffle bag, and she crossed the street to avoid The Sleeping Man.  

But I waited.

Because if he didn't move, I'd have to call the police. Not because he was an eyesore. Because he was a human being lying in the middle of the sidewalk behind Big Charity and maybe he was hurt or stupid drunk or just lost inside. As someone who had been homeless, I got the lost part. Even if I never had to sleep on sidewalks in the middle of the morning.

Then --

His right leg slowly dragged to the side. His arms struggled to bend and extend. He was a 100 year old tree creaking right then. His body shifted in the slightest and had anyone been driving by, they wouldn't have noticed. 

After a moment, I drove away. Thinking about The Sleeping Man and his story and Big Charity whose motto was:

Where Miracles Happen And The Unusual Occurred

As I drove beneath the underpass, I saw shopping carts and overflowing garbage bags. I saw a lot of people down on their luck who had constructed makeshift housing beneath the hum of Interstate 10. Did they know The Sleeping Man?

When I finally stepped into my four temporary walls with a roof, I kept thinking how relieved I was that The Sleeping Man moved. How he hadn't just died there with everyone walking by. And maybe I would never know his story, but I saw him. 

I didn't just drive on. 


  1. We should all stop and take notice of the world that is drifting right on by...pages torn out and never to be rewritten.

  2. The image of the sleeping man and the video of his jacket moving from the wind or the ventilation air is now indelible in the minds of everyone who sees it.

    Sometimes I wonder about the word "dignity," and it seems like it is a much easier task of restoring the dignity of the entire homeless population than it is for a society that ignores the entire homeless population.

    See, hear, feel, love.

  3. I know why you tagged me in this. We are sisters in seeing. xo

  4. You saw him, and you made us see him, and now...? I guess we will each answer the now differently, but we will answer it.