Buddy Cushman Art

engaging stories of hope and joy

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Me, the Bee Gees, and Books in the Basement


1977 Billboard Music Awards

Lonely days, lonely nights. Where would I be without my omen?

I think that’s how it goes. Down here in the basement, the sound of tiny paws scurrying within the heating duct, spiders in the west ground-level window, unsold books, unsold paintings, unsold greeting cards, all the company a young boy needs. And, of course, Barry, Robin, and Maurice. (And Andy)

My newest book – “Dictation from the Backyard” arrives today on UPS, they promise, 50 copies destined for collector status at some point far down the road, every page numbered incorrectly, off by one (not the loneliest number), allowable by a formatter glitch and yours truly missing the obvious on three separate “proofing” opportunities. You now what — I’m blaming it all on the nights on Broadway. Anyway, all these paperbacks spilling out onto the living room floor sometime the next few hours, potential magnets for dust, leave me rocketing with sadness and I’ll start a joke, and I’m thinking about stalking customers — “Well I had to follow you though you did not want me to.” As in, tag, you’re it.


I’d take a room full of strangers, yeah, they’ll be another “Book Signing” up at Papccino’s if they’ll still have me, it’s where I read these very poems up at the open mikeMany of my poems are about Massachusetts, lights out or on. Like a mining disaster, if you catch my cave-in. And what about caving to the obvious and buy a friend’s book and give it away, say, the 14th, poems, maybe show how deep your love is, it’s possible and all the while participating in someone else’s journey in a helping way, which Thoreau (another Bay State boy) told us all there ain’t nothing better. Buying all these Words.

I was meditating then,
That summer,
In a chair
In a spare bedroom,
But I took to meditating while standing
In the imperfect silence
Of my afternoon meadow visits.
Stand up on the edge,
Undercover through bushes and trees
The crowd unaware,
I’m still,
I’m empty,
I’m large,
Suntanned skin tickled, tricked by the breeze off the nearby sea
Aware of sliding sweat
Gravity’s friend
Down my back.
Aware hot tires rolling over tar,
Aware the soft slap
Of runners’ shoes, behind,


Run to me.




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Bread Crumbs

The guy behind the counter was playing jazz when I took my coffee to a chair in the Just Bob Coffee Shop on Alberta in Northe20160916_142455_hdrast Portland last Friday. It was just after two in the afternoon, and while there was the occasional customer lining up at the take-out counter, most of the seats in the shop were empty. Mostly I didn’t hear the jazz music playing, and when it would intrude into my consciousness every once in a while, I’d ignore it. Jazz is not my thing. It’s funny, my non-appreciation of that purely American music form, because it was a favorite of The Beat writers, including Jack Kerouac, one of the writers I most revere, and try to borrow from as a writer. He wrote like jazz, these long, often connectedly discombobulated riff of words, sometimes making up new words to suit the flavor of the riff. Like jazz.keruoac

Which isn’t really the point, other than saying I love Kerouac and don’t like jazz.

There was a woman sitting in one of the three stuffed chairs in the shop — I was in another, facing her — and she was reading a paperback book, a softcover to be exact, and squinting my eyes I could see the title of the book was “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafeteria?” She herself was a black woman, young, maybe mid 30s, and was taking notes in a bound notebook like the one I carried in. Mine was for recording any ideas I could brainstorm for the 11th and final story in my collection of Astoria, Oregon tales. (None happened to arrive while I was there.) So, I shifted tasks, and asked The Universe for ideas for future Blog posts — like this one — and the thought came to me to play detective — Buddy Cushman, Coffee Shop Sleuth — and follow the woman’s book wherever it would lead me.

When I got home, it took quite a while from NE way down to SE where I live, with Friday afternoon city traffic, but it was sunny and hot and I was playing, very loudly, one Tower of Power song after another, so the trip was not only tolerable but, in fact, a wicked blast, rolling, singing, howling, party on wheels (think The 52s “Love Shack” www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SOryJvTAGs ) Anyway, at the computer dr-tatumI googled the book from Just Bob’s and learned it is a highly valued thought piece on race and race identity and relations in the Country, collective experiences and perspectives written by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, the President of Spelman College in Georgia. Here is a ten and a half minute review, very thorough and interesting, of the book and its author. It’s worth a look and listen:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_l5bO9KZrY&list=PLlFqqfHxQmjOGUX3oN6On3kJW253lUGRx     I now have the book on order from The Multnomah County Library system.

What can be more important than how we live with, and value, each other?

The woman with the book left before me, and I sat there looking at the sun stream through the multiple front windows of the shop. At some point the barista behind the counter changed the music and I instantly recognized the opening descending bass and violins of The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee”. Hard to imagine anyone doesn’t know the song, and certainly anyone who grew up in the 60s. I mean, the empty sidewalks on my block are not the same.

I was struck, wleft-bankehen “Pretty Ballerina” came on a couple of songs later, about the so-often-highlighted black and whiteness of the world — of the day. The woman and her book, it’s black title, and now a thoroughly ‘white’ sounding pop group from 1965 New York City. After another song I walked up to the counter and asked the guy what exactly he was playing. Turns out it was a “best of” collection by The Left Banke called ‘There’s Gonna Be a Storm: the Complete Recordings 1966 – 1969’. A
couple of songs , white poppy little things, stood out to me — I’d never heard them, shame on me, especially working in a record store most of those years and holding The Banke’s debut album in my hands many times. So here they are, for your listening enjoyment, and maybe they are long-time favorites. “She May Call You Up Tonight”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZSlF2AkrS4   and “Let Go Of You Girl”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=POdiO1xOg-E

Way cool. And maybe all this matters not a wit to anyone but me, Buddy Cushman – Coffee Shop Sleuth. Oh well. And by the way, as Oakland’s Tower of Power — a strong example of what glory we can get when you combine black and white — since they helped me along my way home, I’ll end with one from them. Thanks for showing up.

“So Very Hard To Go”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9BRqGpppJw



Fear and Hoping From the Basement – Storytelling

This is my today story. My Sunday story. But, first a brief note on everyday.

I get up at 5:30 a.m., my wife turning off the alarm and, she tells me, touching the warm spot where I have been in the bed. I drag on some clothes, go to the bathroom and splash water on my face, then head downstairs. There is a straight-back, dining-room chair I have placed in the middle of the living room the night before, and for the next 13 to 25 minutes I sit in the chair, the goal being to meditate, and think about a whole bunch of whatever it is that shows up today. When I’m done I go turn on the coffee, while waiting I usually go outside and look at the sunrise or lingering darkness in the winter, then I take the first of my two cups of coffee to the pinkish, mauve-colored recliner I bought for $40 (delivery included) on Craigslist when I first moved to Portland seven and a half years ago. Reclining there, I read something I consider to fall beneath the broad umbrella of ‘spiritual’.blog pic

Now today. Sunday. I read from three books that I checked out at the library yesterday – actually I checked out five, but two cups of coffee only go so far. This morning I read the ‘Introductions‘ to these three: “The Right to Write” by Julia Cameron; “Bagombo Snuff Box” by Kurt Vonnegut; and “Thunder and Lightning” by Natalie Goldberg. Last night I’d brought upstairs “Maps and Legends” by Michael Chabon to the other recliner in tkurt-vonneguthe house, the blue one that belonged to my mother Irene and was gifted to me when she died 11 years ago, and which I have dragged across the length of these United States three times since then. I began reading the first story (there is no Introduction) of the Chabon book about 10:45, but between the smothering heat on the second floor and the length of a long day the words began dancing before my eyes, and I quickly gave it up and went in to sleep , no covers, beside my already sleeping wife.

I checked these particular books out yesterday – the fifth being “The Pocket Muse, Endless Inspiration” by Monica Wood – because my step-daughter Marie and I are heading off on our second annual “Writer’s Retreat” next Sunday foIMG_6634r four days, to a cottage partially owned by Marie’s Dad (meaning we get a big discount)  which sits not four hundred yards from the Pacific, to write stories (and in my case edit already written stories). The five books, which are all coming along, will serve as anchors and inspirers and rectangular muses and anything else they wish to be, and we will write in timed writing periods throughout the days and take long walks on the fabulous beach and deal with my cooking and watch DVDs we bring (with my fave “Super 8”   www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCRQQCKS7go   among them).

Because writers we are, and writing is what we do. I’m an artist – as is Marie – and I have a brand new Artist Web Page ( www.buddycushmanfineart.com ), and I go on long walks and have a long career in human services and administration and even an original music CD to my name. Yet, after all the meanderings and dead ends and geographical cures and flights of fancy that make up the 67 plus years of my life through this morning, I’m a teller of stories first and foremost. A story teller. Hence the writers retreat. Hence the blog. Hence the telegraph avelibrary.

And then there’s this.  A musical story by The Stories for the song of the week:    www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJxZL9L6YWc        And here is author Michael Chabon talking about my favorite book of his, “Telegraph Ave” and the 1970s:     www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvgjhwuxKeE       And, lastly, here the wondrous Kurt Vonnegut takes a minute and a half to explain his “Eight Rules” for writing a story.  www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmVcIhnvSx8

I ‘d like to mention these books as well – Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” and Julia Cameron’s “The Artist Way” – as having profound influence on my storytelling life.

My Monday blog appearing Sunday this week, just because.

Do you have a story to tell?




“Cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater”

Okay, I fePatriots Deflated Footballs Footballel better. I needed to get that out of my system.

Last week my blog post had me advising the nations of the world how to deal with religious fanatic terrorists who are terrorizing the world and making the planet an even harder and more difficult and less fun and definitely sadder place to live on than it already is — and ought to be. I mean, come on! Take names, kick asses, get rid of these no-one-but-us killers once and for all, so we can all take a deep breath and go on living and focus on what should be the real problems in our day-to-day living.

Like The New England Patriots hissing air out of footballs so they can beat the other team. You know, in secret, so no one can see. Get a bunch of the fellas to stand around in a circle, whistling or something, while a ball boy or some hired flunky pushes a pin into the football and gets that orgiastic feeling hearing the sound we all know from our childhoods. Well, at least all us boys.  Hssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss.

Yowser, them Colts are done for now.  Cause that’s how we roll in Foxboro kids.    WE CHEAT!!

I take you back now to the great yesteryears of cheating episodes. Where do we begin. I know, it’s snowing. It’s snowing really hard. Players are slipping and sliding  and dogging around but the Oakland Raiders are doing a better job of less slipping and sliding than our guys. But wait, look over there. Where no one’s looking. I think it’s Coach Belichick. He’s got something in his hand. Wait, I can see it through the snow now. It’s a five dollar bill. And he’s slipping it to the head official. Real quiet like. You know, how it gets real quiet in the snow. Hold on, what’s happening. Oh, it’s the TUCK RULE. Oh, oh yeah, the good old tuck rule. We’ve all heard of that. Bill paid off the ref and the ref made up a new rule. Real sneaky like. Only in front of a national television audience. And now I see Bill chuckling over there on the sideline. He’s lifting up his hoodie and there’s a picture on his sweatshirt. I see it. It’s Ferris Bueller. And there’s a quote — “See what a finsky can do for a guy’s attitude.”  MAYBE CHEATING.

Flash forward. It’s 2007, it’s just outside New York City. I can see into an office. Coach Boone is handing Coach Yoast a metal canister. It’s got  film of a game the team the Titan’s are playing next week playing another team. Coach Yoast is saying something like, “Wow, this is really going to help us out.”      Can you imagine?  Using films of another team to prepare.

Oh, wait, I’m sorry, I got confused there for a minute. That was really coach Belichick walking around the New York Jets practice field, you know, just walking, “la-dee-da”, out for a stroll, hands in his pockets, and then, when no one’s looking, sonofabitch, he’s taking film of the other team.  SPYGATE.  WE CHEAT AGAIN.

And now this. The Colts play with regulation footballs because that’s how they roll in Indy. All Andrew Luck and such. But us, and you know I really mean Coach Bill and Tommy B., we do anything to make us better. Our balls have been hissed away — remember that kid inside the circle — and they’re easier to throw and catch in the rain — which The Patriots no doubt caused to fall, somehow, the truth will come out one of these days. Advantage Patriots.   CHEATERS.

I’m depressed. I watched that game last Sunday. At home in Portland, Oregon. I yelled and howled and laughed and jumped off the couch and spun in the air and marched through the house with my Red Sox jersey and Red Sox hat and said, “Look out Seattle, because the Patriots are headin’ to the desert. And they’re super bad.”  And, it turns out, they are super bad. Just not the good super bad, but the same old song and dance Patriots bad super bad.

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A Plague On All Our Houses

For the most part, I believe, I have refrained from offering up my opinion about current events in this blog space. Yes, I have here and there, hoping that nurses will someday be allowed to run the planet; Emma Watson’s he/she campaign; everything being broken with the political world. But generally I have confined my wanderings to the issues of childhood and all its adventures and self awareness and personal growth and running after and leaping for the goals you choose, those kinds of things. Not so much current as eternal.

So I am d2014-11-25T23-58-31-466Z--1280x720.nbcnews-fp-520-320is-inclined to write something as combustible and potentially inflaming and on its best day as heated as the issue of racial relations and racial status and the ins and outs and day to day comings and goings of the different races in this country of ours. But I find myself here, at my keyboard, tilting in that direction. This on the day after the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri.

I saw this posted on Twitter late last night: “The no indictment is cause for white people to be enraged and black people to be terrified.” I thought about it when I read it and I was reminded – if I even need a reminder – that it is impossible for me to know the experience of being a black person in The United States. I mention this tweet and my reminder not so much to make any kind of statement about the decision reached but about old man river, who just keeps rolling along. I have an opinion about right and wrong and the ways things are and really good friends of mine and family members have, for the most part, the exact opposite opinion. I love them regardless of their opinion, and I believe, vice versa. And yet saying “it is what it is” just isn’t enough.

I grew up listening to my parents album copy of “West Side Story”. The Jets, The Sharks; Tony and Maria. It remains one of my favorite albums. A song that always reached out to me was “There’s A Place For Us”. Because it’s a song of hope. And it doesn’t even matter if it is misguided hope, one of it’s singers killed by the story’s end. Because it is talking, in lovely music, about hope. That’s what counts. Someday…..some way…..things can change. People can change. Maybe even the haters. Maybe.

So I watch the news and mourn with the best of them when the protests largely by the people who have one more reason to be terrified turn to looting and destruction and burning. I think of Jimi Hendrix singing, “Baby, why you burn your brother’s house down?”. Not Louie Armstrong singing “What A Wonderful World”, because right then and there I don’t say that to myself. Even if I want to.

I think about the three members of The Portland, Oregon police department who covered their badges yesterday afternoon with papers that said “I’m Darren Wilson” and I wonder when does loyalty go too far? Just like people defending Michael Brown’s step-father after he began shouting “burn this bitch” when the verdict was announced. Maybe it is just the same as it ever was: “When you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way from your first cigarette to your last dying day.” That’s cool. Band of brothers right? Of course the Jets go on to sing in that song that “Every Puerto Rican’s a lousy chicken.” Less of a “there’s a place for us” in that.

Everyone says hooray for their side – Jets/Sharks; Republicans/Democrats; Cowboys/Indians; Montagues and Capulets. And the Prince rides in and yells “A plague on both your houses.” And maybe that’s the deal, maybe that is how it goes, maybe black kids get shot and people burn businesses and reporters get gassed and guys kidnap women and jail them in their basements and white kids shoot up their classmates and tell you why they don’t like Mondays, and maybe there is a plague on all the houses and in fact everything is broken, and at the end of the day, those two kids who looked different but loved each other were just being silly when they sang that there is a place for us.

But I hope not.

I saw something else on Twitter late last night. Something like, “You want to help, donate here.” It was a post for the website of the “Ferguson Municipal Public Library”. The public library in Ferguson, Missouri that was staying open when the schools were closing so that kids in their town would have somewhere to go. Never mind the fact that it is a library. I don’t know about you but I cannot imagine my life without a library. Free books. Free entertainment. Free fantastic journeys. Rows and aisles and stacks of wonder and magic and opinion and, yes, escape. From the TV images. For a while.

So I remembered that when I woke up this morning and found that post on Twitter again and clicked the PayPal button and donated $5 to the library system in Ferguson. And when I received the receipt for my donation back in my email I moved it to my folder marked “Important Business”. Not much, a little more than 1/20th of my remaining income for the month. But something.

“Someday, we’ll find a new way of living.” That’s what white Tony sings to Puerto Rican Maria. It didn’t work out for them. It’s not working out so well in Ferguson. Or most anywhere else. But it could. It can. Just maybe not today.


I’m Not There

Writing at a small table in my local coffee shop the other day I looked over the shoulder of one of the regulars. He was sitting in one of the big, soft, comfortable chairs set up in a square in the middle of the room. He was reading the local newspaper – the Portland ‘Oregonian’ – and when I looked closely I saw he was reading the obituary page. One with full color photos.

This moment sent me back in time. In the early to mid 1980s I worked for a youth counseling place called The Drug and Alcohol Resource Program. This was in Stoneham, MA, about eight miles north of Boston. I was just getting sober then, in fact worked for that program a couple of months before I came to the conclusion that I was, indeed, one of the people the program was designed to serve, and made the decision to put away alcohol and drugs. Anyway, I was hired before the program officially opened, and with the other few staff worked to transform a small old machine shop building into a warm, inviting, counseling and resource center, with newly walled small offices and new paint and donated furniture. We also attempted to recruit volunteers to assist in the program’s efforts, and managed to find one. His name was Frank. He lived about a half mile up the main road heading over to Melrose and had an easy walk down to our office every day. Frank was a recovering alcoholic himself, and had been out of work for quite some time when we made his acquaitance.

Frank was an all around good guy. He quickly became a devoted father-like figure to our boss Maggie, and a good friend and sometime advisor to me. Frank was willing to do anything Maggie needed done and asked him to do, but as we neared our official opening thKingsburyMemorialobit1ere became fewer and fewer of those needs. So, and this went on for the next three years, mostly what Frank would do was come to the office every day, make and drink coffee, hang around and shoot the breeze with whomever was available, and read the paper. Now if you live in the greater Boston area, well actually Massachusetts, come to think of it New England, anyway, you are a Red Sox fan. It’s genetic. So you would often find Frank doing what Red Sox fans do, reading stories about the Red Sox and offering opinions how to fix everything. The other place you would find Frank when it came to the newspaper – both The Boston Globe and the local weekly Stoneham paper – was at the obituary pages. That’s where he went. Every day. All the time. And when asked why he was forever looking at those pages, Frank had this reply.

“To see if I’m in there.”

Frank has been in those pages a very long time now, but I have never forgotten him or his reply. So I thought of Frank when I looked over that guy’s shoulders and saw him reading the obits. And I wondered if he was looking to see if he was in there. And then I had this thought. “I hope I never get caught looking at the obituaries in the paper.” Not not getting caught because I am so sneaky, but because I never want to find myself there. Doing that. I would much prefer to be found reading something like the menu for the lunches at the junior high school next week. That’d be more my speed, more my place in the world, more with my peeps. (FYI – For all you youngsters, local newspapers always printed the school lunches for the following week. It was a community service. I hope some still do.)

I’ll have plenty of time to think about the Obits once I’m a member of that club. But not now. Now I want to be running with the junior high kids. Heading down to Jay’s drugstore after school, or the lunch counter at Sonny’s Pharmacy, to order a ring ding and a coke, and check out the girls. I want to head over to Royal Davis’s house and play touch or even tackle football on the front lawn, right next to Route 6 – the Route 6 that runs all the way from Provincetown, MA to Long Beach, CA . And if I’m too old and achy and slow to play football there, I want to be like the old guy I used to see walking around my hometown smoking a big cigar. Every day. Mr. Baker I think was his name. Out of the house, our from the TV, walking, walking, walking, seeing everything there is to see in my neighborhood, on my streets, in the downtown of my city. I want to be pushing paint around on a canvas,even if when it’s done I laugh and think it wouldn’t make the cut in a sixth grade art show. I want to run to my keyboard and write a story about the people who own the Astoria trout farm really being fish, fish that use humans for bait, and how an 18 year old college freshman girl becames a detective of the strange. I want to go to Pepino’s with my wife and spend $3.75 on the “El Cheapo” burrito for dinner, not just because I’m broke, but because I love that burrito and I love that place and I can look out their windows and see all the homeless folks and feel my heart bursting with gratefulness that I’m not one of them, and feel my heart breaking that they are there at all, and wonder what the hell am I going to do about it. I want to think those thoughts and have those feelings and paint my goofy paintings and write my bursting-with-life-and-aliens stories, and walk my streets and kiss my wife and call my sons and wonder how I can ever afford Christmas presents and then have all the joy of going out to buy whatever presents I can because the joy is in the buying – just like it was when I was 12 years old and went down to the 5 & 10 on the Main Street of my hometown and would pick out 25 cent glasses and cups for my mother for Christmas. Maybe out of my paper route money.

So, I do not plan on reading the obituary page ever, thank you very much. Maybe when I get there. For now I want to live and laugh and try new stuff and write stories that make people laugh and cry and want to get up and fix things, and I gotta keep running ahead of any reaper who would rather have me just sit down and wait.

Excuse me – I gotta head down the street to Royal’s, because there might be a game going on. And I don’t want to miss it. Aches and all.


Rambling Rose

I take this quote from the book “The Law Of Attraction” by Esther and Jerry Hicks:

Amy9The greatest gift that you could ever give another is the gift of your

expectation of their success.”

Dig it.

After I had quit Salem State College for the second time – on my way to earning my four-year Bachelor’s degree in a tidy seven years – I rolled back up to Salem from a period of alcohol and drug devotion on Cape Cod and ran into my friend Bob Hanson. He told me that the college had just initiated a new major in Social Welfare, that he had changed his study to that major, and that I – repeated quitter – should too. For me that meant moving first from General Studies. Then to English. Then to Education. And now to Social Welfare. I thought about it for five or six seconds and said, “Sure. Sounds like a great idea.” Such was the careful and extended degree of thought I gave to my career and life vocation choice.

When I finally got through that seven year period, in the late spring of 1974, I embarked – fumbling and hiccuping and bouncing all the way – on a 35-year career in human services. Serving humans.

I fell into my first human services position right out of college, a summer day camp gig for the House Of Seven Gables Settlement House in Salem, supplemented by evening work at their teen drop-in center. When the fall came I was offered a position working with teenagers in East Boston. Some of those kids had really bad attitudes and I didn’t last there long. Quit one night and didn’t come back. A few months later I was offered a position as an awake overnight counselor at a runaway house on the grounds of Danvers State Hospital. This is where I met Bob Zimmerman, who offered me the job, and I began a life-long friendship and main vein connection with him that only ended when he left us three years ago. Through him I met Dr. Doug Martin, and I have gushed about them both often here on this blog, in tales named “67Blondies” and “Hunter” and “Please Give the Keys To Florence” and “A Flagstaff Meeting” and “Old Pine Trail” and more. Doug’s gone too. They were two men who truly gave the gift of expecting success for and to others. Always. Their contributions to the planet grow, and glow, to this day.

Anyway, the runaway house closed when the funding ran out and I worked for the Tri-Town Council on Youth and Family Services north of Boston as a school outreach worker. Then after a pizza selling gig in Venice Beach, California – where I had followed Bob – back to Massachusetts and on the adolescent team at a psych hospital north of Boston. After six months there I took, in fact, a three-year leave of absence from the non-profit world to cover girls’ high school sports for a daily newspaper in Newburyport, MA – wrote under the name ‘Winston Cushman Jr’ – and became – gosh – wildly successful elevating the perception of personal success based as much on effort and devotion as natural talent to a large group of young women and their families. I did some of that same kind of writing for a paper in San Clemente, CA too. Then an alcohol and drug counselor back north of Boston. Then a counselor at The New England Home For Little Wanderers. Then down south to serving humans as a juvenile delinquency officer in Deland, Florida, and a street worker in Daytona Beach, then back north as an Assistant Director at a residence for slightly crazy kids in Quincy, MA, then a Director for my longest-running job ever – a little under four years – at a residence for barely crazy young adults just outside Boston. Then off to run a residential program for court-referred kids in San Francisco, then running a permanent housing program for HIV positive, AIDS infected men and women in Provincetown, MA, then a respite foster care program in Portland, Oregon, followed by an administrator position for persistently and chronically mentally ill women in East Portland. And from there, doo wop, art, writing, and Social Security.

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