There’s a small table, near the back door of Starbucks on State Street — normally reserved for handicapped people. The man decided to sit down, choosing the closest table; unaware of staring faces and seemingly nonchalant people that looked up warily. He took out his sandwich — Italian meatball, with extra mayo and chili peppers — and began to eat.
“I look exactly like my father,” Danny Jones began to say.
“From the time I was a little kid, all the way until now — I even got his bald spot. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have it because it’s the same receding hairline he had. Every time I look at the mirror, it reminds me of him. It’s like my father is looking at me in the mirror when I wake up in the morning.”
He laughed awkwardly, paused and laughed awkwardly again. He took off his tattered black beanie and pointed to a shiny spot at the top of his head.
His hands were white and calloused and there was white pus sitting on a wound on his lower lip, which he dabbed at occasionally with a napkin. After he was done, he crumbled up the tissue, and tossed it on the table. It rolled across the surface and stopped near the edge.
Danny usually spends his days panhandling by Borders Books and Music, crouched in the corner by the display window. He has been homeless in Ann Arbor for over a month. But to the city, he’s just another statistic.
“I dreamed about being a preacher when I was little,” he said proudly. “I believe in the Holy Ghost, and it’s saving everyone’s soul,” he said confidently.
“The Holy Spirit gets you up in the daytime, brings these tree limbs out on the branches each year, puts the blossoms and leaves out; even the way we breathe, the breath of life that goes in and out of our body. The way we walk, talk and sing, the way we do anything.”
Once upon a time, he never would have thought that he would be begging for money on the street — just trying to get by — to survive through each cold winter night.
This child who once had dreams for the world was now crouched on the floor by Borders, just a couple of decades older. People walk past him, as if he were part of the cement wall he was sitting in front of.
“I’m actually from Ann Arbor. I was born and raised here,” he said. “I had four brothers, two sisters, two half brothers, and one half sister. My father was what you called a ‘player.’ He got out there and did what he wanted to do in the world. He did some things that most fathers wouldn’t do. My family is so screwed up. It’s the most screwed up thing that you could ever think about.”
He continued to summarize his life chronologically — including a sequence of traumatic events with his father. He described them as mere historical events — a pause, seemingly devoid of attached emotions, sitting isolated in a point in time that had already passed.
When explaining why he began drinking at twenty-something and popping “be cool” pills, or anti-depressants, Danny responded: “My brother Victor enticed me to do that.”
Once again, as far removed as he could be, he continued to spit out parts of his past.
“It was a whole lot of different circumstances at the time, and I couldn’t get my life straightened out because their lives and my life were kinda screwed up.”
Every morning, Danny wakes up. If he’s survived the night, alcohol helps him face the next day.
“Well, I don’t wanna tell no lie. I’m gonna be honest, and I’m gonna tell the truth. When I wake up in the morning, I get me some alcohol,” he said. “And then I go sit down over there, in that cubbyhole, and I panhandle, while John sits up here in Starbucks and waits for me.”
John, his “brother,” a frazzled-looking man, with long, dirty hair, interjects.
“I watch out for him,” he croaked in a deeper voice.
Danny tacked on to John’s response: “…to make sure that the police don’t find me. They just love to mess with me.”
Danny continued to dab at the festering white wound on his lip.
“They say that I’m mental — but I’m not.” His eyes moved around awkwardly. “See, La Tanya Green ran this night shelter called CMT. They said they could hook me up with a place to stay for the night. But you have to say that you were mentally disturbed,” he explained.
“Once you’re a nut, residential services were supposed to get me housing.”
But according to Danny, the shelter didn’t have room for him to have a place to stay, forcing him on the street with $30 a week.
“That wasn’t enough to do nothin’ with, but get drunk in the street, and kill yourself,” he said.
Danny Jones, at one point in time, felt the burden of pain before he turned to alcohol and drugs. He used to be able to feel with his hands, before pieces of rough, calloused skin formed over the delicate senses that allowed him to touch. He once was able to sit at Starbucks and look like he belonged.
“Sometimes, when people see me on the street, they look at me and laugh,” he said.
He began to get up.
“Five years from now, I’ll be outta this,” he said firmly. “Once I get my (social security) check back, I should be okay. That’s why I’m gettin’ drunk now. I can’t do anything else — can’t think about anything else. I have nothing to do anything else with.” He put on his coat.
“I just need $5 more anyway for tonight,” he said.
As he headed for the door, he turned around.
“I was thinkin’ to myself the other day. This is something that my mother has always taught me. She always said, what you do to God’s people, or what you do to yourself, or what you do to anybody — no matter who it is — you’ll get it back, sooner or later,” he said.
“Cuz I’m sayin’, the least that you’ve done to my little ones, you have done it unto me. See, a lot of people don’t know this.”
Danny smiled again. “I’ve never stopped that thought of wanting to be a preacher,” he said charmingly as he walked out the door.