StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

“In Hard Times, Tent Cities Rise Up Across the Country” (The Associated Press)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on September 19, 2008

This is so sad. The Great Depression has already started. From The Associated Press, “In Hard Times, Tent Cities Rise Across the Country,” September 18, 2008.

By EVELYN NIEVES, Associated Press Writer

RENO, Nev. – A few tents cropped up hard by the railroad tracks, pitched by men left with nowhere to go once the emergency winter shelter closed for the summer.

Then others appeared — people who had lost their jobs to the ailing economy, or newcomers who had moved to Reno for work and discovered no one was hiring.

Within weeks, more than 150 people were living in tents big and small, barely a foot apart in a patch of dirt slated to be a parking lot for a campus of shelters Reno is building for its homeless population. Like many other cities, Reno has found itself with a “tent city” — an encampment of people who had nowhere else to go.

From Seattle to Athens, Ga., homeless advocacy groups and city agencies are reporting the most visible rise in homeless encampments in a generation.

Nearly 61 percent of local and state homeless coalitions say they’ve experienced a rise in homelessness since the foreclosure crisis began in 2007, according to a report by the National Coalition for the Homeless. The group says the problem has worsened since the report’s release in April, with foreclosures mounting, gas and food prices rising and the job market tightening.

“It’s clear that poverty and homelessness have increased,” said Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the coalition. “The economy is in chaos, we’re in an unofficial recession and Americans are worried, from the homeless to the middle class, about their future.”

The phenomenon of encampments has caught advocacy groups somewhat by surprise, largely because of how quickly they have sprung up.

“What you’re seeing is encampments that I haven’t seen since the 80s,” said Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, an umbrella group for homeless advocacy organizations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore. and Seattle.

The relatively tony city of Santa Barbara has given over a parking lot to people who sleep in cars and vans. The city of Fresno, Calif., is trying to manage several proliferating tent cities, including an encampment where people have made shelters out of scrap wood. In Portland, Ore., and Seattle, homeless advocacy groups have paired with nonprofits or faith-based groups to manage tent cities as outdoor shelters. Other cities where tent cities have either appeared or expanded include include Chattanooga, Tenn., San Diego, and Columbus, Ohio.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development recently reported a 12 percent drop in homelessness nationally in two years, from about 754,000 in January 2005 to 666,000 in January 2007. But the 2007 numbers omitted people who previously had been considered homeless — such as those staying with relatives or friends or living in campgrounds or motel rooms for more than a week.

In addition, the housing and economic crisis began soon after HUD’s most recent data was compiled.

“The data predates the housing crisis,” said Brian Sullivan, a spokesman for HUD. “From the headlines, it might appear that the report is about yesterday. How is the housing situation affecting homelessness? That’s a great question. We’re still trying to get to that.”

In Seattle, which is experiencing a building boom and an influx of affluent professionals in neighborhoods the working class once owned, homeless encampments have been springing up — in remote places to avoid police sweeps.

“What’s happening in Seattle is what’s happening everywhere else — on steroids,” said Tim Harris, executive director of Real Change, an advocacy organization that publishes a weekly newspaper sold by homeless people.

Homeless people and their advocates have organized three tent cities at City Hall in recent months to call attention to the homeless and protest the sweeps — acts of militancy, said Harris, “that we really haven’t seen around homeless activism since the early ’90s.”

In Reno, officials decided to let the tent city be because shelters were already filled.

Officials don’t know how many homeless people are in Reno. “But we do know that the soup kitchens are serving hundreds more meals a day and that we have more people who are homeless than we can remember,” said Jodi Royal-Goodwin, the city’s redevelopment agency director.

Those in the tents have to register and are monitored weekly to see what progress they are making in finding jobs or real housing. They are provided times to take showers in the shelter, and told where to go for food and meals.

Sylvia Flynn, 51, came from northern California but lost a job almost immediately and then her apartment.

Since the cheapest motels here charge upward of $200 a week, Flynn ended up at the Reno women’s shelter, which has only 20 beds and a two-week limit on stays.

Out of a dozen people interviewed in the tent city, six had come to Reno from California or elsewhere over the last year, hoping for casino jobs.

“I figured this would be a great place for a job,” said Max Perez, a 19-year-old from Iowa. He couldn’t find one and ended up taking showers at the men’s shelter and sleeping in a pup tent barely big enough to cover his body.

The casinos are actually starting to lay off employees.

“Sometimes I think we need to put out an ad: ‘No, we don’t have any more jobs than you do,'” Royal-Goodwin said.

The city will shut down the tent city as soon as early October because the tents sit on what will be a parking lot for a complex of shelters and services for homeless people. The complex will include a men’s shelter, a women’s shelter, a family shelter and a resource center.

Reno officials aren’t sure whether the construction will eliminate the need for the tent city. The demand, they say, keeps growing.

We can’t continue the Bush-McCain economy. Please vote for Obama in November.

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on September 15, 2008

This was perfect! Tina Fey as Sarah Palin and, once again, Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton on SNL.

Shell sent this around yesterday:

* If you grow up in Hawaii, raised by your grandparents, you’re “exotic, different.”

* Grow up in Alaska eating mooseburgers, a quintessential American story.

* If your name is Barack you’re a radical, unpatriotic Muslim.

* Name your kids Willow, Trig and Track, you’re a maverick.

* Graduate from Harvard law School and you are unstable.

* Attend 5 different small colleges before graduating, you’re well grounded.

* If you spend 3 years as a brilliant community organizer, become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new voters, spend 12 years as a Constitutional Law professor, spend 8 years as a State Senator representing a district with over 750,000 people, become chairman of the state Senate’s Health and Human Services committee, spend 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people while sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran’s Affairs committees, you don’t have any real leadership experience.

* If your total resume is: local weather girl, 4 years on the city council and 6 years as the mayor of a town with less than 7,000 people, 20 months as the governor of a state with only 650,000 people, then you’re qualified to become the country’s second highest ranking executive.

* If you have been married to the same woman for 19 years while raising 2 beautiful daughters, all within Protestant churches, you’re not a real Christian.

* If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your disfigured wife and married the heiress the next month, you’re a Christian.

* If you teach teach children about sexual predators, you are irresponsible and eroding the fiber of society.

* If, while governor, you staunchly advocate abstinence only, with no other option in sex education in your state’s school system while your unwed teen daughter ends up pregnant, you’re very responsible.

* If your wife is a Harvard graduate laywer who gave up a position in a prestigious law firm to work for the betterment of her inner city community, then gave that up to raise a family, your family’s values don’t represent America ‘s.

* If you’re husband is nicknamed “First Dude”, with at least one DWI conviction and no college education, who didn’t register to vote until age 25 and once was a member of a group that hates America and advocated the secession of Alaska from the USA, your family is extremely admirable.

Polaroid Roles: Patti Smith as Mary Magdalene, Robert Mapplethorpe as Faust

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on September 14, 2008

White Hot Magazine loved the Mapplethorpe piece! It’ll be published in their next volume (without the footnotes below…)

Polaroid Roles:

Robert Mapplethorpe as Faust, Patti Smith as Mary Magdalene

By Kyle Thomas Smith

Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe

Filmmaker Derek Jarman once described photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s life as “the story of Faust.”[1] As any student of Goethe knows, Faust was an alchemist who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for infinite knowledge and power. In Mapplethorpe: A Biography, Patricia Morrisroe describes how, shortly after dropping acid for the first time in the summer of 1966, Mapplethorpe stopped going to Mass and started attending Timothy Leary’s “Celebrations” at his League for Spiritual Discovery (LSD) in Greenwich Village. As the nuns at Our Lady of the Snows in his native Queens might have warned, these wayward excursions would soon lead Mapplethorpe to explore Satanism.[2] As Morrisroe says, Mapplethorpe was “convinced that exploring the dark side would incite his imagination.”[3] In 1967, twenty-year-old Mapplethorpe told his roommate Harry McCue that he had sold his soul to Lucifer so that he could become the rage of the art world and “destroy all the bullshit people”[4] who looked down on his work at Pratt Institute.

That same summer, at a love-in in Tompkins Square Park, Mapplethorpe met a homeless waif and future rock star named Patti Smith. For the next five years, Mapplethorpe and Smith lived together, first as lovers and then as friends. Both were obsessed with becoming famous artists and, in their early creative efforts, studied the macabre and paranormal together. Smith created poems and drawings to invoke the spirit of Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud, the archetypal enfant terrible who lived in poverty and addiction while vagabonding across three continents and producing one of French literature’s greatest corpuses of poetry. Mapplethorpe’s forays into the occult led him to concoct early collages and installations that fused the themes of pornography, religion, homosexuality and guilt.

According to Patti Smith, Mapplethorpe’s homosexuality “happened overnight”[5] in the summer of 1968: “The gay thing wasn’t there and then suddenly it was.”[6] This wasn’t the gospel truth, of course. Mapplethorpe had struggled with homosexual desires all his life and had been willing to do almost anything to conceal them from himself and others, going so far as to join the ROTC and pledge the Pershing Rifles fraternity in his freshman year at Pratt. Even years later, in the free-love days when Smith dumped Mapplethorpe to shack up with painter Howie Michels, Mapplethorpe screamed, “Please don’t go! If you go, I’ll become gay.”[7] The next day, Smith came back to the apartment to collect her personal effects and found Mapplethorpe sitting amid piles of pictures that he’d clipped out of gay porno mags.

When Smith’s relationship with Michels fell apart, she discovered that Mapplethore was sleeping with a young man named Terry. “If I had been going out with another woman, it would have been different,” Mapplethorpe later recounted, “But Patti couldn’t compete with a man…She went crazy.”[8] Smith did indeed become suicidal, so she decided to take a break from her life in New York. She scraped up a paycheck or two from her cashier job at Scribner’s and flew to Paris with her sister Linda. She spent four months there, hanging out with street musicians, picking pockets and stalking the boulevards mapped out in her treasured Rimbaud biographies.[9]

This past May, my partner Julius and I were in Paris for Land 250, a collection of 40 years of Patti Smith’s photos, sketches, films, and written works on exhibit in the basement of Fondation Cartier Pour L’Art Contemporain. The exhibition’s namesake is the Polaroid Land 250 camera, a throwback to Smith and Mapplethorpe’s salad days before the rocker started rock and the photographer boxed up his Polaroids in favor of a Hassebald 2 ¼-inch camera, his passport to art-world superstardom, which longtime lover Sam Wagstaff would give him in 1975.

Luridness was the name of the game at Land 250. There were Polaroid snapshots of crypts, headstones, Hendrix’s guitar, former lovers like Mapplethorpe, and literary mementos like Herman Hesse’s typewriter and Virginia Woolf’s bed in Bloomsbury. Found objects on display included a rock from the river Ousse where Woolf drown herself. There was also a reconstruction of Smith’s pre-fame “dungeon” bedroom, where one could find notebooks full of jagged sketches, apocalyptic poems, and vicious crayon caricatures of Mapplethorpe and Smith’s consorts at the Chelsea Hotel and Max’s Kansas City.

Several of Fondation Cartier’s walls were awash in black-and-white video footage of Smith in various states of disarray and disorientation. Mapplethorpe directed and filmed one such short in which a bony, raven-haired Smith stands in a white room, wearing a virgin white nightgown: she sways in zombie-like slow motion, holding a Crucifix; candles burn before her, a demon’s head glares behind her. At age 7, Smith came down with scarlet fever and began having horrific visions on the scale of those in Gabriel Garcia Marquez novels. Although her mother was a Jehovah’s Witness and her father a Christian fundamentalist, her parents did nothing to disqualify or “exorcise” these hallucinations, so, from an early age, Smith was free to channel them into poetry and the visual arts. Thus, it’s no coincidence that she was attracted to Rimbaud’s absinthe-soaked “disordering of the senses”[10] or to Mapplethorpe’s unshakably Catholic visions of reprobation and damnation. One of Land 250’s main attractions was Smith’s letters to Mapplethorpe during her 1968 stay in Paris, where she wrote him many apotheoses of Rimbaud and attempted to come to terms with Mapplethorpe’s “coming out.”

A couple days after Julius and I returned home to New York, we went to The Whitney Museum of American Art to see Robert Mapplethorpe’s Polaroids exhibit, which featured selections from the more than 1,500 Polaroid snapshots that Mapplethorpe took between 1970 and 1975. Before filmmaker Sandy Daley lent him a Polaroid camera in 1970, Mapplethorpe had shown no interest in photography. He did not regard it as an art or as anything more than a favorite pastime of his prosaic engineer father, Harry Mapplethorpe, and the engine behind his own volumes of pornographic magazines. But tired of making mixed media installations that did not sell, Mapplethorpe developed a rabid fascination for the instant camera’s capacity to capture the instant. Art historian Sylvia Wolf writes that, for Mapplethorpe, “the Polaroid provided instant gratification, but more important it ignited a lifelong passion for using the camera to penetrate appearances and get at the complexity within.”[11] Mapplethorpe would cut his teeth on the Polaroid before achieving his dream of becoming one of the most celebrated and reviled artists of his era.

Patti Smith was a chief subject of this period in Mapplethorpe’s art. Mapplethorpe was known for treating his models as puppets whom he could easily manipulate into compromising erotic and autoerotic scenarios. Such was not the case for Smith, however, who was anything but a passive player before his lens. Even when nude, she appears no more vulnerable than he does in his utterly commanding nude self-portraits. Instead, she was a combination of muse and soul mate, whose intense gaze and androgyny were a welcome departure from the frilly female magazine models of the day. Patti Smith’s raffish aspect dominates nearly a dozen of the Polaroid shots (mostly untitled) that were on exhibit at the Whitney, all taken just before Mapplethorpe’s breakout photo of Smith on the cover of her debut album, Horses (1975).

“Once a Catholic, always a Catholic,” the old chestnut goes. Just like Andy Warhol and Madonna, Mapplethorpe wove Catholic imagery into some of his most controversial works. In the Polaroids exhibit, a shot of his long-haired model Michael’s face closely resembles that of many historic depictions of Christ at his last gasp on the Cross. Mapplethorpe also frequently exploited the highly erotic motif of St. Sebastian, the loin-clothed, tied-up, arrow-impaled youth, whose picture catalyzed writer Yukio Mishima’s first orgasm at age 12. At the Whitney, we witnessed several allusions to this image both in Mapplethorpe’s untitled self-portraits and instamatic shots of porn star Peter Berlin. In two portraits, there are also full-frontal and full-rear nude photos of his model Manfred, who is standing in a niche, duplicating the haughty contrapposto of Donatello’s David.

As a lapsed Catholic and Buddhist convert gazing at these Polaroids, I couldn’t help but wonder: Given all the Catholic iconography in his early and later work, was Patti Smith both a muse and an impenitent Magdalene for Mapplethorpe? Remember her opening line to Horses, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”?

Whether or not Mapplethorpe ever actually made a deal with the devil, he did indeed develop a creative acuity and achieve worldly success far beyond anything his early critics at Pratt ever could have imagined for him. His work not only pinned American Puritanism to the floor, but gave kinky sex a supreme seat in modern art. How could this erotic explosion come out of a former Knight of Columbus, who hadn’t even seen a dirty magazine until just before his freshman year of college?

In 1989, months before Mapplethorpe’s death, his mother Joan sent the parish priest, Father George Stack, to her son’s Bond Street apartment with the words: “Father, he has AIDS and I want him to die in a state of grace.”[12] In his youth, Mapplethorpe used to drop by Father Stack’s office with portrait drawings he had made of the Madonna and Child. Father Stack later admitted that he found the drawings to be freaky, but he never told Robert this and always encouraged “this gentle, creative person surrounded by all these gung-ho macho types”[13] to continue his artistic endeavors. Holding true to the seal of the confessional, we will most likely never know what the priest and artist discussed at their reunion nor do we know if Mapplethorpe, like Goethe’s Faust, formally broke the bond he claimed to have made with the Prince of Darkness almost a quarter century before. But in his homily at Mapplethorpe’s funeral at Our Lady of the Snows, Father Stack said: “The last time I spoke with Robert he said he tried to present what he saw as beautiful in the most truthful way possible.”[14] He shared this same ideal with Patti Smith who can be seen sprinkling a likeness of his ashes on to her palm in her new film Dream of Life.

Kyle Thomas Smith is a writer in Brooklyn, NY. He is the Editor of Sentient City: The Art of Urban Dharma and a frequent contributor to Edge Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, and The Vision and Art of Shinjo Ito. He is preparing for the release of his novel, 85A.


[1] Patricia Morrisroe, Mapplethorpe: A Biography (De Capo Press, New York, 1995, 1997), p. 104

[2] Ibid., p.44

[3] Ibid., p.44

[4] Ibid., p. 46

[5] Ibid., p. 59

[6] Ibid, p. 59

[7] Ibid., p.58

[8] Ibid., p. 61

[9] Ibid., p. 61

[10] From a letter from Arthur Rimbaud to Georges Izambard, May 1871

[11] Sylvia Wolf, Polaroids: Mapplethorpe (Prestel Verlag, 2007), p. 65

[12] Patricia Morrisroe, Mapplethorpe: A Biography (De Capo Press, New York, 1995, 1997), p.6

[13] Ibid, p. 23

[14] Ibid., p.6

Two-Pronged Strategy to Combat Republican Allegations of Sexism

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on September 7, 2008

Dear Readers:

Please forgive me for not keeping up with my blog. I’ve had lots of paying work to do. I have also been in an abject funk over how effectively McCain has plied petty politics, especially through the ludicrous addition of Sarah Palin. I normally deck my blog with pix but Sarah Palin is so vile in body and soul that I can’t even bear the sight of her.

At the RNC, Wolf Blitzer said, “She hit it out of the park with that speech.” What! I only saw a big nerd reading a lot of Hee Haw, hockey-mom hooey – off note cards, no less – that some speechwriter wrote for her and that spoke to anything but the real issues facing our nation. Then Anderson Cooper and company checked the applause meter and decided to nod in agreement with Blitzer. Palin knows how to be smug, shrill and catty, but let’s not confuse that with charisma or intelligence. She doesn’t come up to Hillary Clinton’s anklebones.

Our friend Frances Rodriquez gave the best description of Sarah Palin yet: “She’s Anne Coulter, but worse.” The woman is a vociferous liar, a bully and book-burner, not to mention eminently unqualified. The list of charges against her is growing sky-high (if any of those same charges were leveled against Obama, the GOP would demand that he be run out of the race and the senate).

Yet, in a strange change of face, the Republicans are screaming sexism whenever the media digs up any dirt on Palin, when in fact media researchers are treating her the exact same way that they have treated her male opponents all along – and the media itself has made her its darling. The McCain camp wants Barack and Biden to lay down before each one of Barracuda’s stiletto digs, lest they crush this poor shrinking violet with their big, insensitive man feet.

So, Barack and Biden, here’s how to handle this farce. If any Republican smears you as sexist for defending yourselves and attacking Sarah Palin’s record and positions:

1. Keep Talking. Don’t capitulate. If they scream, scream louder, affirm your stance.

2. If you must defend yourself against these calculated allegations, use one simple sentence: “If she’s gonna dish it out, she’d better be able to take it.”

What would be truly sexist would be to give Palin special treatment for being a woman.

She’s only been on the scene a couple weeks and she’s already dishing it out worse than anybody throughout this whole election race (though she has yet to face the press unscripted). Now she’d better be able to take it.

Senator Biden, please take her to the mat.

I will write more in the coming days. Stay tuned.

Kyle Thomas Smith