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The Sociological Tourist

Tonight I went to the spot where Daryl McMurray was found dead last week in the City's North Side. There are concrete remnants of a structure tucked up on a steep hill, fifty yards from the railroad tracks. My friend Crazy Dave escorted me up there, at my request. I wanted to see where Daryl died and to pay my respects.

It's a short hike to get there, but hard to climb up the muddy hill and then the wet concrete. When you get to the top the hill, you're immediately met with this old cinderblock structure covered with blankets, tarps, anything to keep the wind out of the caverns inside. The encampment appears like some type of mad fortress. An emaciated face peers out from behind a wet and weathered blanket. We say “what's up” and keep moving. The face slowly withdraws back into the darkness.

There are piles of trash and debris everywhere. Rats rustle around. I put my hand in my pocket and caressed my knife. This was not friendly territory. My guys from the underpass keep their encampment spotless, but you could practically taste the feces and urine coming from this camp. I've seen Hill District crack houses and shooting galleries that are like the Hilton compared to this place.

A narrow path encircles the periphery of the structure. On the other side you can overlook the tracks. I ask Dave where they found Daryl, and he casually says, “you're standing on it.”

Immediately I was transported back to the ovens at Auschwitz, where I stood in the chamber where a million Jews and Roma died, yet felt nothing but numbness. Tonight was the first time since Poland that I have experienced this emotional effect–a response of non-reaction. Like it's simply too much information to process, so the brain steps in and shuts the organism down for a while for self-preservation purposes. It negates, rationalizes, minimizes, even discorporates, whatever it takes to get the job done and buffer the enormity of the present reality. I thought many thoughts but didn't feel a damn thing.

I couldn't help but be mesmerized by the tracks leading from this camp as I was in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Trains symbolize so much, but again I couldn't wrap my thoughts around anything in particular. much less feel anything.

I don't understand a whole lot of anything tonight. Maybe tomorrow will yield some perspective, perhaps not. If I don't understand this particular level of life it's because I simply can't. Walking to a spot and spending five minutes ain't the same as living and dying it. I'm a sociological tourist, that's it. A voyeur. Part of me is disgusted with myself for extracting so much out of these encounters. It is very selfish on some level. The guys at the underpass truly treat me as one of their own, but hopefully I will never really know what they go through daily. I'm a witness, not a participant. They tell me I'm “one of them” now but is that really true? To act is if I am would be fraudulent and self-serving. We are friends, building trust and getting to know each other better every week, but I am still a visitor. I do feel at home there, however that does not mean I'm not just visiting.

I'm done for the night. I bow down and thank God for the bountiful life he's provided, despite my numerous attempts to discredit His work.

Larry Ciptak
December 18, 2012

Postscript (written Tuesday morning):

Last night, standing on the spot where this homeless guy Daryl lay dead a week ago, in this wretched encampment full of litter and disease, I realized at a gut level that I really don't know anything about anything. It's all a grand act we construct around ourselves to give our lives some type of definition in order to keep from going crazy. This encampment was void of any normal order or sense. It robbed me of any sense of emotional, mental or physical security that I had. Just one of those moments that calls into question everything you know or think you know.

We all need these moments, this being laid bare, in life before we can truly move forward in a new direction, even while understanding this “new awareness” is just going to be another mental construct to give some meaning to what to us appears as randomness.

I think the only real solution is developing a kinship, a strategic partnership, with God. The answers are not found with people and the world as we think we know it, given our extremely limited understanding and experience as a species of animal given only enough brains to be very dangerous, especially when in groups. But as God is beyond our infantile comprehension, how do you do that?

I think this can only happen when we let the world (ideas/thoughts/social constructs/philosophies/religions) fall apart around us and cling to nothing as it comes crashing to the floor, to never be put back together again. The freedom we crave can only come from not knowing, not by buffering ourselves with external comforts and mental or social constructs. We all need right-sized, but the average person simply can't go through life living like that. It takes dedication and perseverance, and I question my ability to hang in there and just let things be as they are, without judgement or fear. norske casino på nett

Another Dead Homeless Guy

Daryl McMurray, 52, was found dead yesterday in the North Side. His body was found near the train tracks above the underpass where I do my street rounds every Monday night. I was told he was found with a syringe and stamp bag clutched in his stiff, cold hand. He’d been dead a while before one of his buddies called the police.

>>Post-Gazette story on Daryl

On Monday night, we were having fun playing football under the trestle while Daryl lay dead near the tracks above us.

I received a call and was asked for help in locating Daryl’s family. His parents and sister were eventually found.

My sincerest condolences to Daryl’s family and friends.

On a similar note, Operation Safety Net is planning to memorialize David Meredith, another homeless man who recently died in the Allegheny River, at their annual candlelight vigil on Friday, December 21, 7 pm, at the wall of plaques at the end of Grant Street. Please see Operation Safety Net’s website for more information, or how you can get involved in being of service to the homeless in Pittsburgh.

Goodbye, Sweet Tyson

This evening we said goodbye to Tyson, the sweet, gentle, one-eyed toothless tabby who touched so many people's hearts.

Tyson's time had simply come. I spent the day laying with and soothing Ty, who could no longer get up to walk or eat. I had to be exceptionally gentle with this old man as there were far more bones than fat to stroke. But he still stuck his neck out to be rubbed underneath, his favorite spot.

As I lay there with Ty, he just stared at me through a little slit in his operational eye. It was a kind look, like he understood what was happening and was glad I was there with him to see it through. His soft gaze will forever stick with me.

While I waited at home for the dreaded six o'clock vet appointment, I softly talked to him, doing what I could to make him comfortable and feel loved. Lily came over at three and I explained the situation. Even at age five, she understood what was happening and was able to join me in loving Tyson as much as we could before taking him to his eternal rest, which is the commitment we jointly made before adopting him just a few months ago. A lot of tears were shed as we lay there together to make our old boy's remaining hours as meaningful as possible.

Never been have I been so affected by any of God's creatures in such a short period of time. When he was a bit healthier, Tyson would put his head down and push against my head as a sign of love. He would wait for me to go to bed then crawl up and lay right on top of my head. He did goofy things, like find his way into closets and drawers that would sometimes get closed with him in it. His very soft meow would eventually get heard. Then he would purr and look at me as if to say thank you for rescuing me. I loved that cat and will miss him tremendously.

To all the beautiful people at Animal Advocates, I want to say thank you for trusting me to care for your beloved kitty in his declining days. I know you gave up realistic hope in Tyson ever getting adopted and so treated him as your own. To entrust him to me was a big deal for you, and as I cared for Ty I thought about your love for him as well. You saw his gentle soul and loving manner. What became clear to me was already obvious to you. Your love was here with him to the end.

We have little control over life and death, but I'm left feeling that I just didn't get enough time with Tyson. Tomorrow I'll bury him underneath a flowering cherry tree and his spot in the family will forever be preserved. He'll be wrapped in his favorite blanket and sprinkled with catnip, as well as be “smudged” with California white sage in the Sioux tradition. Then I'll put away my shovel, change, slowly walk upstairs and lay on my bed, where I'll cry over my sweet little boy who is no longer here with us.

I am going to miss you, my little lion. Have a peaceful journey, my friend. beste online spill

The Football pictured football was retired from use tonight. It’s seen its last Monday night tossing at the Church of the Underpass. It’s hit 60 foot concrete embankments, the underside of the underpass and more than its share of concrete. It’s landed in puddles and hillsides, hit more than a few street signs and posts and has caused a few of us to get bloodied chasing a catch on the cold streets of the North Side. The ball which proudly served its purpose for months is now permanently on display at the Ciptak Museum of Unusual Cultural Artifacts.

So what does this football stand for?

Is it symbolic of the camaraderie, the teamwork, that exists despite this extraordinary harsh urban environment?

Is its tattered cover and underbelly rupture indicative of the condition of some of the people in the street? Does the ball serve as a reminder of better days, when things seemed whole, complete, only to be eventually become street-beaten and an unsympathetic symbol of something long gone?

Is it representative of the future, the passing of the torch to a new ball that lends itself to a higher level of game that appears to be more challenging and rewarding?

Or maybe it’s just a football that’s seen it’s time.