Doc Stevens on Homelessness, Street Survival and More - Part Two

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 12:22 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo - This is the second part of my talking with Doc about being homeless and living on the streets. He has been in a rented house for a few years now, but the times he was homeless are still very real to him. I asked him to give some information that could help someone who becomes homeless.

Doc: Shoes. Tennis shoes don't work when you're walkin' the streets. A lot ofguitar and workboots homeless people wear them, but they fall apart, the soles come off, and they wear out real quick. Get leather work boots, either the ones that come up over the ankle or the taller ones. I like the ones that comes up over the ankle. Steel toe is what I always go for. Did then and still do. Leather work boots don't make your feet rot and stink, they protect your toes and they last longer. I get mine at thrift stores for about five or six bucks. Ten bucks for really good ones.

You can get free clothes at the dumpster behind a thrift shop. All of them throw away good clothes what no one bought yet. Clothes, shoes, hats, jeans, t shirts. All for free.

Tondeleo: I never thought of that. Thanks. How about staying clean when you're homeless?

Doc: You gotta stay clean. Staying clean is important and not stinking like crap. You gotta stay clean. I always used rubbin' alcohol and cotton balls. You can do  monkey bath with alcohol and cotton balls. Hit the back of your neck and behind your ears. Most people miss those and have gray necks. Do your face, armpits, privates and feet. Get between your toes real good to keep foot rot off your feet. You can use alcohol to get the smell outta your socks, too. Get the toe area a little wet with alcohol and it will kill the germs and get rid of the stink. Alcohol and cotton balls are cheap. I always carry peroxide - hydrogen peroxide, too. You need it for any cuts or scrapes but you need to use it as a mouth wash and for brushing your teeth in. It kills germs and will foam all up when it is in your mouth, which means you had a lot of germs in your mouth. It is cheap, too. The best way to stay well is to kill the germs in your mouth, where most of them come in. Use peroxide in your mouth in the morning and also before you go to sleep at night. I still do that a lot.

You can also wash up in a gas station bath room or fast food places. They got hot water and also got toilet paper which you need. If you buy a order of fries you're a customer and got a right to the bathroom.

You can't be going around sick, smelly and dirty and expect people to treat you with  respect. They SHOULD, but they won't. Because if YOU don't seem to respect you, how is THEY gonna be able to respect you? They won't.

Tondeleo: Tell me about food. Where do you get food?

Doc: Dumpsters behind fast food places after they close at night. Most of 'em throw out what they ain't sold. You need to be clean, polite and not spooky looking or creepy. What I would do is go in about ten minutes afore closin' time and say I was hungry and ain't had no money, and could I get whatever food was left outta their dumpster when they close? You gotta smile and be friendly. Can't be stinky and dirty. Clean shaved face helps. Mostly you can find at least one person in a fast food joint what will feel sorry for you and help you out. Sometimes they will set it on the ground behind the dumpster for you.

A couple days later you can do the same thing. Don't make it an everyday thing. That is one way. You can check the dumpsters behind grocery stores but do that in the late morning. Mostly that is the best time, because they throw out fruit and veggies, dairy products and meat. But you need to get it before the sun gets hot and makes it rot. By three o'clock to me, it is too late. I don't want to risk getting food poisoning. In the Summer, you got to really be there in the late morning before the heat makes the food rot. In the Winter, it ain't that big a hurry. It's better to go hungry than to get sick.

Sometimes, if you're friendly, clean and show respect, the sDSCF5339ales people what come to stock the stores, like the bread man or donut man will give you a box of whatever they are taking out of the store. Offer to help them load their truck, and usually they will give you some donuts or bread or whatever.

Bein' helpful goes a long way. I have got jobs just by bein' helpful and offerin' to clean up the parkin' lot of a body shop or garage and then after doin' a good job, askin' if I can take out the trash and help with anything inside. Mostly, they would let me and then give me a few dollars. But you can't come in there smelling like alcohol, or smellin' dirty or actin' crazy and expect them to let you in. They will think you're just casing them to come back later and steal.

That's another thing, Tondy. If someone trusts you to do a job, like clean up they's parkin' lot, or mow they's grass, don't NEVER STEAL from them! That is lower than a snake, to steal when someone is trusting you and tryin' to help you out. I look at it this way: if it ain't mine, I don't want it. Lessin' it's for sale and then, if I want it, I will try to work for it and get the money and buy it.

There's some churches what can help. Not all of them have food pantries but some do. I found that if you look as clean as possible, and talk as nice as possible, they mostly will help you. Most of them won't give out money, cause they ain't got it, most of them don't have money sittin' around, but they can help with food. Don't never swear around the church people. Be happy, hopeful, and it is good to ask them to remember you in prayer. I have had them pray for me and then I got a job, more than once.

If you got tools or a ring, or a guitar or something, you can pawn it. But they don't give you hardly nothin' for it, and then you got to hustle some money or you'll lose it forever. I have pawned a guitar for just enough money for something else I might need to make some money - like cleanin' supplies to detail cars with for whatever I can charge, usually $25 or $30. But then you gotta get back there in a couple days before you blow your money on a motel room or somethin' else what takes your money but don't give you no return on it.

You can panhandle. But you got to look friendly, an' smile, and be nice. That is a lot of work when you are homeless and hurtin' an' hungry. Smilin' an' bein' nice or a little funny IS a job an' people should pay you for it! You cain't go up to somebody when you're dirty an' needin' a shave, and your eyes are all bloodshot and say, "Give me some money." They'll think you're robbin' 'em and call the cops. Learn to act nice and harmless.

You can sweep parking lots or take out trash. Mow grass. Rake leaves. Clean windows. Clean out people's gutters. Use their ladder.

DSCF5336  Here's one I did: I got $30 for doin' some work. I went to the Pep Boys and bought glass cleaner, paper towels, that car wash in a spray can stuff, some tire spray to make 'em shiny and got some of their sale papers when you walk in the door.

Then I went to office buildings and told people I could detail their car for $20. I would do it right there in the parking lot, so they didn't have to give me the key to the car. I would use the spray wash n' wax, clean they's windows and wheels with the glass cleaner and make the tires shiny black. Takes a half hour. For $20! You can always get two or three of those a day, which'll get you a motel room, some food and more supplies. Once you do one car, they look at it and pay you and then tell the other people workin' there. One time I did five cars in one day at one place! I did that down to Atlanta a few times so I could get money to get 'stablished. Ain't that hard.

If you can play harp [harmonica] you can set a can, or cup or box or hat on the ground and sing and play harp for money...

Tondeleo: How can you sing and play harmonica at the same time...

Doc: You sing a line, and then play a line. Then sing a line an' answer it with the harp. That works good with country or blues songs, which is what I do. And you put on a little show with it. Maybe dance a bit here and there, or something. Not scary or crazy but funny an' happy. Crazy runs people off. Funny brings 'em in. All you need is two or three harps in different keys an' you can sing most any song out there.

That's some ways to get food and keep clean and get some pennies together.

Doc Stevens on Homelessness, Street Survival and More - Part One

Tuesday, September 28, 2010 10:29 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: Unlike in the UK where we have a good system of resources for the homeless, including dosshouses ("homeless shelters" in the US) in the cities, that can provide shelter for hundreds of people, in the US, there are just not that many good solid resources. Part of this seems to come from the American mentality of "if we reward non achievement, we'll get more of it." In other words, if they make it easier to live without having a job, more people wlll quit their jobs and go into government provided shelters.

Of course, this does not take into account the fact that many are jobless and homeless against their wills, and have absolutely no desire to be taken care of by Big Brother. There are some cities in America where "tent villages" are tolerated, but this is a relatively new phenomenon.

Doc and I were talking about this, and I wanted his take on it, since he has been poor all of his life, and has been homeless from time to time. He has talked about this in other posts, but there is such an increase in the jobless and the homeless, it seems as though one could talk about it and share experiences almost endlessly.

Doc: Yeah, I been homeless. Not since takin' Marilyn in, but afore that, yeah. I ain't usually stay homeless for long, just a few weeks at a time til I could get some money together an' get a motel room or 'ficiency apartment. But yeah I been homeless.

You gotta be real careful when you're homeless. Lotsa reasons. There is the weather, in the winter, even down south. And cops what think you're a drug addict or wino which I was not and a lot of homeless people are not. People think you're mental or crazy an' want you off the streets or they think you're gonna rob them or steal from them or hurt their kids. And some people does do them things, and it ain't always homeless people what does them.

One thing what is hard when you're homeless is to stay off the sauce...

Tondeleo: What sauce?

Doc: Alcohol. You get down on yourself an' on your life and think things won't get any better an' it's more than you can stand. It's easy to take a couple of bucks and buy a bottle of liquor and try to forget about your problems so you can sleep. But you gotta stay away from that, or it'll take over your life. Well, for me it would.

You ain't got much money, an' food is hard to come by, but liquor ain't. So you spend what money you got for liquor instead of food, an' now you're not eatin' but drinkin' and you ain't thinkin' right. That is a hard one to stay away from when you're homeless. But if you don't stay away from it, it'll keep you homeless. Drugs, too. When you you're down in the mullygrubs 'cause you're broke and out of work and not eatin' right, and if you got pains and ain't sleepin' right, it's easy to start doin' pills or smokin' weed to make yourself feel better. That can lead you down a path you have to stay strong to keep off of. Ain't nobody never planned on bein' a drunk or drug addict, but millions is. You gotta say away from it.

Tondeleo: How did you stay away from it?

Doc: I mostly stick to myself, even now, Tondy. On the streets, I kept to myself. When you're first homeless, you think you need to be with the other guys what's homeless, to keep you encouraged, and maybe for protection. It ain't worth it, cause they ain't gonna protect you. They'll steal from you and take anything you got when you're sleepin'. And some of them is crazy. They might get it in their head that you are the caused of they's problems and might wanna kill you.

Some of them is vets and they got that BBSB [PTSD] and they scream out at night, of freak out for no reason. Others is on drugs an' will rip you off in a heartbeat. There is some really violent people out there, and I got tired of the gossip and thinkin' everybody is out to get you that they had. I didn't want to get that way myself, which be easy to happen. Plus I ain't like fightin' so I stuck to myself.

Tondeleo: How did you stay warm in the winter? Did you build a campfire and sleep beside it?

Doc: A CAMPFIRE? No! Not where ever I was homeless! You can't build a fire in town. Cops'll get you and throw you in the can. No, that ain't how you keep warm. We mostly would go behind a store and get cardboard. You need cardboard under you to keep you off the ground. Otherwise it'll give you arthritis or room a tism sleeping on the ground.So get cardboard to sleep on. Then you need some over you. A fridgerator box is a good thing, cause you can sleep in it and it keeps the wind off you. You can make a lean to, and use the back of the store for one wall. That's the way we done it mostly.

I was up north one winter and on the streets for a couple weeks. What I learned up there was to get a pair of coveralls from the thrift store, and I would wad up newspapers and stuff them down in it so I looked like a snow man. Newspapers'll keep the body heat in. In the morning, you take 'em out and put them under the cardboard so they'll be there when you come back at night.

You got to keep your area clean, not messy. You don't want them throwin' away your cardboard and papers and you ain't got nothin' when you come back at night. Here's another way. Get a hot water bottle at Dollar General or Wal Mart. Go into the bathroom at a gas station or Wal Mart or wherever and fill it with as hot of water as you can. Put that inside your clothes and it will keep you warm at night. You got to stay warm or it will mess up your thinking and you might go psycho. Least that's what they say, and I ain't gonna find out.

People is scared of homeless people. Think you're psycho. You gotta do all you can to not seem like a psycho. And you got to keep lookin' for work.

Doc Stevens and Marilyn on Skinning Rabbits and Tanning their Hides

Tuesday, September 21, 2010 9:06 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: After hearing from Doc and Marilyn about how to catch rabbits in homemade box traps, and how to make rabbit stew and rabbit burgers, I got curious as to what to they do with the skins. I have some gloves that are lined with rabbit fur, and I was wondering if the fur in my gloves was the by-product of a rural family's home made feast. In my mind I began to recall the various clothing items that I had seen with rabbit fur collars, and other accessories that were made from rabbit fur. I asked Doc and Marilyn about what a person needed to know about skinning rabbits and tanning their hides.

Doc: OK, Tondy. Once you kill the rabbit, you cut off his head and hang him up by his back legs so the blood can all drain out. Then you cut the skin off. You take a sharp knife and cut the skin around the back feet and then cut a line from the inside of the back legs to it's butthole. After that, just pull the skin down like you was pullin' off a sweatshirt from him. Like pullin' it down over his head if he still had one. Pull it off careful and you might need to use the knife to cut the skin loose here and there.

When you pull the skin off, it's inside out, just like your sweatshirt is when you pull it off. Leave it like that and throw it in a bucket of water while you're getting the rest of the meat ready to eat. Or play some music for about a hour. Then go back to the bucket and get the skin out and rinse it off with a hose or in your sink. Make sure you get all the blood off the skin or it'll leave brown stains on the leather that won't come out. Don't use no soap. If you do want to use soap...

Marilyn: I use my shampoo on it to get the blood off, and later I put conditioner on it to make the fur nice and soft. But you gotta rinse all the shampoo off if you use it.

Doc: When you're done getting the blood off, kind of squeeze the skin dry. It is still inside out...

Marilyn: And if you're too busy to finish right then, you can put it in the freezer till later. Get all the water out of them. and put them in a plastic container like what we buy ice cream in at the Wal Mart, that holds three or four skins... If you just throw 'em in the freezer, they get freezer burns and ain't no good.

Doc: When you're done cleanin' them, or if you got 'em outta the freezer and let them thaw out, then you commence to tan them. And you need a couple of drywall buckets...

Marilyn: I use a Soy Sauce bucket from behind the Chinese Restaurant up to BucketBryans Road where me an' Uncle Doc took you for your birthday. Remember, Tondy? You ate so much you almost puked...

Doc: OK, well could be a drywall bucket or a paint bucket or soy sauce bucket. We use whatever kind of 5 gallon buckets we got. Fill 'em about halfway with water. Then put in your tanning mix. We use a cup of picklin' salt or just rock salt from the hardware store. One cup of that. It's like 6 bucks for a big bag of it, maybe 20 pounds of it. Then add a cup of alum powder. You get that at the farm supply store. Stir it up.

Put your rabbit skins down in the bucket and' use a stick to poke them around and stir them up a little so they get good and wet. Let 'em stay in there for two days, and stir them up a couple times a day.

On the third day, pull 'em outta the water and' squeeze 'em dry an' rinse 'em out good with the hose. Then you scrape off the backsides of the skin to get off any fat or underskin what you can also peel off with your fingers. Start at its rear end and work your way forward. After that, rinse it off again.

Guess what you do now, Tondy? You put 'em in the second bucket you got, which you have mixed up the same solution as in the first one, and soak 'em there for a whole week. And you stir 'em two or three times a day as you remember to do it.

After a week they should be done. Here's how you test. Take a scrap off of one of your skins and boil it in a pot of water for a few minutes. If it's done, it'll stay soft. If it curls all up and gets rubbery, it ain't done. Put it back in the bucket for a couple of days and then it WILL be done. No doubt. It shouldn't change when it gets boiled.

When you're all done, pull 'em out of the bucket squeeze out all the water into the bucket. You can use the rest of the water as weed killer. I do, anyway.

Marilyn: I get out my hair dryer and my shampoo and conditioner. I wash them in shampoo and then put in some conditioner and rinse it out. I use the hair dryer just enough to dry the hair a little bit and brush it real soft with my hairbrush. But you can't get them too hot! Just dry the hair a little bit. Then you take them outside and hang them on a clothesline that's in the shade so they can dry out real slow. It might take a whole day for them to dry, Tondy.

Doc: When they's almost dry, I take 'em down and stretch them in every direction as hard as I can, a little bit at a time, until it gets soft and almost white. You gotta do this while it is still a little bit wet. I rub grease into them. It makes them soft.

That's about it. When you store them, put them in a cardboard or wooden box, not a plastic bag or plastic tub. They need to breath. Put a bar of woman soap, what smells pretty in it. It will keep bugs out and makes the fur smell better.

rabbit coatMarilyn: You can make anything you want outta rabbit fur. There's pillows, hats, vests, mittens, purses, coats, money bags, or whatever you like. I sew some rabbit skins together like a quilt and then just make whatever I want out of them. YOu make 'em into a bigga piece as you can, and then see what you can make outta them.

All you do is use what Mama used to call a whipstitch to hold them together. I got a rabbit coat up to the thrift shop for Christmas last year from my boyfriend, Gavin. He's sweet. Even uncle Doc likes him.

Doc: Yeah. He's ok. Kind of tall, but he's ok. I like him all right. Treats Marilyn good.

Doc Stevens and Marilyn: Cooking Rabbit - Rabbit Recipes for Rabbit Stew and Rabbit Burgers

Monday, September 20, 2010 8:47 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: After seeing the rabbit boxes on Doc's property, I became curious as to how to prepare rabbits for eating. When I asked Doc and Marilyn how to cook rabbits, they both stared at me with credulity. They could not imagine that a person would not know how to cook a rabbit!

I explained to them that we DO eat rabbits in England, and that we probably eat more rabbit than the average American. In fact, even in our butcher shops in the cities have dressed out rabbits hanging in their shop windows. It just happens that I personally don't know how to cook rabbit. My mum does, but I am curious as to how Doc and Marilyn prepare rabbits. So, with my dignity intact I was ready to record Doc and Marilyn's suggestions for cooking rabbit.

Doc: Here's one way to cook rabbits, Tondy. You skin the rabbits, and cut off his head and feet. Get rid of his guts - his 'testines, stomach and all that. Take out his lungs, heart, liver and kidneys and set them aside for making gravy with. On the liver there's a greenish part you have to cut off real careful. It has bile in it and you don't want to eat that. You also cut his body in half and pull out his rib cage to use in making the gravy.

Then you cut off his legs. Take his hips and shoulders and cut them in half. Now you got like eight pieces. Get some carrots and onions and cut them up. Put some water in a pot, maybe two cups and boil it and then turn the heat back. Put in the parts that you cut off first, the heart and liver and all that, and let it simmer for a while. Cut up four potatoes and put them in and let them cook, too. Put the carrots in and boil them too.

Go watch some TV for a half hour or play some guitar and sing some songs. That's what me an' Marilyn do. After a half hour, take out a fryin' pan and put in some bacon grease or lard for cookin'. Put in some woostersheer (Worcestershire) sauce and a lot of black pepper. Put in the onions, a little bit of garlic and some milk. Maybe about an inch of milk, if you had it in a coffee mug. That much.

When the onions are cooked, then you put in the rabbit parts and cook them in the same pan, not all the way through, just 'til they are brown. Then, put everything from the pan into the pot where you been cookin' the potatoes and carrots. Keep the heat kinda low. It'll need about an hour.

We get out another pot and boil up some greens in it. Put in greens, it might be mustard greems, turnip greens, spinach or kale, and put in some red pepper and some pork. Mostly we use ham hocks or pigs feet for flavor. Let it boil down for about an hour.

Go play some more music and sing for about a hour. Then get out your bowls and plates and sweet tea. You prob'ly don't know how to make it and' Marilyn can tell you how to do that right.

Marilyn: Me an' Uncle Doc likes rabbit burgers, too. Rabbit ain't got any fat on it like beef does, so it's good for you, Tondy. All we do is grind up the rabbit meat, and sometimes we cut up some bacon and mix in with it because you need some fat to hold it together. Without fat, it calls apart in the pan and all you can do with it is mix in some barbecue sauce and make it like barbecue. We cut up some onions real fine and put in black pepper. We ain't use no salt cause we gotta keep Uncle Doc's blood pressure low. We mix in a raw egg to help hold it together, too.

Then I make it into a ball about the size of a baseball and flat it down to less than a inch thick. Then I fry them up in a pan with some bacon grease and onions. It's better than a hamburger, Tondy. Ask Uncle Doc.