Three old friends were among the 180 people who received rites in Renton in the King County Indigent Remains Program.
I knew James first. James Parish had a law degree from Harvard. When I met him in the University District in the ’80s, he made money collecting aluminum cans.
Clinical depression led to his homelessness. He lost his law practice; then he lost his house. He might have been sleeping on sidewalks, but a woman let him rent her unused garage just north of UW for a token $10 per month. It was a bare garage. He slept on cardboard in it.
Besides collecting aluminum cans, he’d dumpster dive for books. Exclusively books. He loved books. He’d sell them to local bookstores only after he was done with them.
One day he showed me a book he couldn’t sell. It was in Hebrew. So I wanted it.
Last week I confessed to loving Romanian goatherd music although I don’t know Romanian. Well, I also love books in languages I can’t read. Seeing the Hebrew book I squealed with joy. He offered to give it to me, but I insisted on paying something.
We made a deal. He’d bring me books I couldn’t read, and I’d buy them for a dollar each.
James came out of his depression and became interested in computer design. So was I. So we tried getting started on an idea to design a computer with multiple processing units. We could not get past that much of the idea. James wanted it to have 16 processors, I wanted it to have 16,384 of them. So much for that.
One of my favorite memories of James was drinking beer with him at The Blue Moon. James had Scots heritage and was proud he could drink any man under the table. He said the trick was to keep the back straight and imagine bagpipes. Goodbye, James.
Levi eventually became a vendor for Real Change. Uge Levi Hopson sold papers from 1994 until getting SSI in 2012. But I knew him before he was a vendor. He was an artist at the Street Life Art Gallery, a place (now gone) where homeless and formerly homeless artists could make and sell art without paying fees. I met him there around 1992.
Levi was very serious and dedicated to his art, including abstract paintings that showed a great sense of color and design, and metal sculpture. The sculpture generally involved using a small torch to soften and bend discarded small metal objects he found, often silverware. The sculptures sold, but not the paintings. But he kept at them. Respect.
Another regular at the gallery was Istvan Adics, AKA Adics Istvan, AKA Steve, AKA The Crazy Hungarian.
I can’t recall what Steve did at the gallery. Did he do anything, or was he just there? Mainly there were long conversations in which he expressed amazement at Americans and their funny ways and the rest of us offered to try and explain however much was possible.
Steve was extremely strong. He’d been a commercial fisherman. That had ended because one of his thumbs got caught in a line and was permanently injured. I believe he ended up homeless in part because his English was poor and he didn’t know soon enough what services were available to him.
Steve had a wicked sense of humor, and I will never forget this one dirty trick he played on me and four other participants of the gallery, including Anitra “On Whose Kitchen Floor I Was Then Sleeping” Freeman. He told us he wanted to take us to a great bar he knew.
What bar, we asked. “Who knows? Who cares? Is bar. We go.” I said, it’s Maddies Corner, isn’t it? You talked about it before. He said, “I don’t know name.” What bus should we take? “No bus! Lazy Americans! We walk.”
He led us away from Second and Bell, up and down streets, changing directions constantly. He took us up the James Street hill at one point just shy of Ninth and said, “Oh. Wrong way. Sorry. Have to go back down.” He took us toward SODO past Dearborn. “Sorry. Wrong way. We go back.”
He walked us for over an hour up and down hills until we were exhausted.
We ended up at Maddies Corner.
For all that, may he rest in peace.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor and three times homeless. He has been involved with Real Change since he supplied the art for the first cover in November of 1994. This is his weekly column Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd.
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