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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rescuing Joseph and teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

My faithful treybooshkas,

I asked Joseph, above, for help with this, but as is usually the case, he was in deep meditation and unresponsive. But my son Isaac, a 15-year-old iPod and all-things-digital devotee, explained that I could actually embed "Fibromyalgia-ADD Blues" directly into a blog without asking readers to click on a link. My, we are getting lazy, aren't we?

The new song has yet to go viral and, by my standards, isn't even approaching bacterial. At this point, I'd settle for a mere head cold (listen to the song).

In case you're curious, I found Joseph a couple of years ago on a back road that Northland hillbillys employ to toss out beds, broken recliners, defunct large-screen TVs and, apparently, key members of traditional manger scenes. I'm not Christian myself, but how could I leave Joseph lying by the side of the road in a heap of castoff worldly possessions?

I loaded him in the back seat, buckled him up safely and took him home. He's been a valued member of our household ever since, and never a peep out of him! Joseph, you rock! He's not just our rock ... he's our standard of serenity.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fibromyalgia-ADD Blues

Hope you all had a good Thanksgiving. We did, ate dinner at my in-laws' church in Liberty and took a wonderful nature walk with Marieta and Isaac. One of the photos is posted below. 

Been a while since I've had a post -- layin' low and 'cuperatin' -- reading, writing songs, sleeping, watching Law and Order (Laws and Orders) and soccer and dealin' with "the willies and a cold cold heart". Been fighting a cold or a near-cold, possibly allergies, possibly fatigue and some combination of the above, maybe just some good-old country hypochondria. Don't know, but I'm not a person who does well when he's sick. Maybe that's why I'm hardly ever sick.

Anyway, wrote this song (click below) and Isaac recorded/filmed it on his 23rd Generation iPod, which takes photos and video, stores the entire recorded works of Humankind and performs other essential life tasks, including walking the dog and loading the dishwasher.

The song's called "Fibromyalgia-ADD Blues," and it's dedicated to the Medical-Insurance-Pharmaceutical Complex, which I try to avoid like the plague.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What's the next step for Richmond's (previously) homeless man?

I've been wondering what lies ahead for William Piacenza, the Richmond, Mo. man who lived in a tent with his cats the past seven months. William moved into an apartment on Shotwell Street that's owned by Richmond City Council member Dave Powell. Powell and fellow Councilman Rob Kinnard acted on their own, not as elected officials, to give the homeless man a place to live this winter while he looks for a job and tries to re-establish himself.
I drove by the apartment yesterday to see if the move came off as planned and William's tent and some other possessions were outside the door, along with an English racer-style bicycle. He used that bike for everyday transportation until it broke and he replaced it with a smaller boy's bike. At 56, he uses the small bike to go to the store for food and water for himself and his cats. He'll have running water now, so there may be additional money for food.
What the future will bring is the unknown. Powell and Kinnard have provided an opportunity and a helping hand -- the apartment is William's rent-free until he can pay his own expenses. Work is under way in the community to gather donations to help Powell with the utilities and William with some basic expenses. He has been receiving $200 a month in food assistance from the a state agency, and presumably can continue until he earns enough to support himself.
The question that lingers (at least for me) is whether William can succeed in a very tough job market and if he has the strength of character to endure as hurdles present themselves. When he worked for the Henkel corporation (a manufacturer of automotive components), he said he liked the work but had to leave because his car broke down and winter came. He tried walking for a while, but eventually he gave up the position.
He later lasted two years at McDonalds, but eventually quit for a couple of reasons. There was an employee who was extremely annoying, William says,and hours at the fast-food restaurant were unpredictable. He was often asked to stay late, work additional hours, come in when he hadn't planned to. To his credit, William is extremely protective of and responsible for his cats. Not having a predictable work schedule would've made it impossible for him to stick to a steady routine, something he seems to enjoy and perceives as necessary when it comes to taking care of his two cats.
Not many of us would enjoy unpredictable working hours -- I know I don't -- but the reality is that for survival's sake they have to be endured -- or other work has to be found.
Leaving McDonalds led to William becoming homeless, and Kinnard and Powell have gambled that their kindness will bring results. They've given him until around March 1 to find a job and become -- I'm not a big fan of this expression -- "a productive member of society". I'd call survival a "productive" activity, but that's not how our culture defines it. Time will tell if the gamble pays off, but the reality is that no individual or organization can replace an individual's self-reliance and drive to sustain and succeed, nor can they prop him up forever It won't be easy, but I'd guess there are many people who admire what Kinnard and Powell have done and are glad to see William given another opportunity and he and his cats living indoors.
William might've received help in a big city, but it would've been impersonal and institutional. In Kansas City, a homeless shelter or agency might've provided a place to live, but in Richmond it was one individual (actually several) helping another. And it was all done behind the scenes, quietly displaying the kind of compassion that we all admire. It makes us feel good about ourselves, our society and our potential as caring human beings. It often seems there's not enough of that to go around; but in this instance, an act of kindness in rural America brought light and warmth to the world. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

The warmth of human kindness: Two Richmond councilmen help homeless man and his cats move indoors for the winter

(From the Richmond News, Nov. 17, 2011)

     Homeless since April, William Piacenza, 53, says he enjoyed going camping when he was young.
     But his definition of camping – a formal campsite with a reserved space – is a far cry from the tent and wood-fired grill he and his cats have called home for seven months.
     “I like camping. I don’t like that,” he said, sitting on the ground and gesturing to a tent at the edge of the woods near the county fairgrounds.
     Piacenza’s outdoor living arrangements could end as soon as tomorrow, thanks to two community members who will provide a small apartment for him to use this winter.
     “This has the potential to be a good thing for a person in need,” said Rob Kinnard, a Richmond City Councilman active in church missionary and youth programs. It was Kinnard and fellow Councilman Dave Powell who worked out the details that will enable Piacenza and his cats to use the apartment in a building Powell owns on Shotwell Street.

     The men say the plan is that Piacenza will have a place to live through March 1 while he looks for a job. Kinnard said he hopes to raise money in the community to help pay for utilities and cover some day-to-day expenses.
     “We’re hoping that this three-to-four-month period where we work with him to find a job and a permanent place to live will help him get reestablished,” Powell said.
Piacenza says he became homeless after quitting a near-minimum wage job at McDonalds. He said his goals now are to “live comfortably” and “have a job that isn’t nerve-wracking” like the one he said he had at the fast-food restaurant.
     “Being 53, it can’t be too physical,” said Piacenza, who has driven forklifts at several jobs and done assembly work at Henkel in Richmond. “If I can do it, I’d do it.”
    As a result of leaving McDonalds, Piacenza couldn’t pay rent on his apartment and found himself out on the street. He and the other members of his family, “Cat” a shy, 15-year-old male, and “Tiffi,” a year-old female cat he adopted as a kitten, proceeded to squat where they could.
     The weather was good when he set up camp next to the Crooked River near Hardin, but then the water began rising. He and the cats then moved to safer ground at the Buffalo Bridge dike, he said.
     “One morning, about 9, they said, ‘The river’s up,’ ” Piacenza recalled. “You could almost see the water rise. You’d look at it one time and then go back an hour later and it would seem like it was an inch higher.”
     As releases from the reservoirs north of Missouri increased, conditions. Piacenza wasn’t safe where he was, and a Ray County Sheriff’s Deputy loaded him, his cats and possessions in a pick-up and transported them to the country fairgrounds.
     “It’s coming up on seven months now that I’ve been living like that,” said Piacenza, who grew up in Excelsior Springs but has lived in Richmond for around 15 years.
     The fairgrounds was where Piacenza made camp until July, when Col. Gary Bush of the sheriff’s department called Powell, who owns property adjacent to the fairgrounds. With the county fair coming, Bush wondered if he could temporarily move the homeless man and his cats to the vacant land.
     Powell agreed, but the arrangement didn’t go over well with at least one resident in the area, who thought Piacenza might be involved in vandalism. But Powell and others who checked found that the man had no police record and hadn’t caused trouble in his other locations.
     Powell said that both Richmond Police Sgt. Todd Herdman and Bush convinced him that Piacenza was harmless.
     “He said they’ve not had a problem with him in all the years they’ve had to deal with him,” he said of a conversation with Herdman.
     In fact, both public safety agencies had helped Piacenza whenever they could.
     For years, Piacenza had had little contact with his parents, who live in Andover, Kan., and with a sister and brother-in-law in Wichita. He was on his own.
     “I didn’t go through a very good upbringing,” he said. “I guess I wasn’t that good a kid.”
     Bush said he made contact with Piacenza’s relatives, but they weren’t interested in resuming a relationship. When Kinnard recently asked what he could do to help restore his family ties, Piacenza’s response was lukewarm at best.
     “I don’t know,” he said. “It would have to be their interest, not mine.”
     Piacenza has shown devotion to his cats, however. He adopted Tiffi, his year-old female, at about three months.  He found her in the street after she’d been hit by a car and carried her to his house.
     “She was there when I got back (from working at McDonalds), so I opened a can of food and gave it to her,” he said.
     His older cat, now 15, has been with him for much of its life.
     It seems that a big blow was when Piacenza’s marriage broke up. “That must’ve been 15 years ago,” he said.
     The dissolution was actually sanctioned by the court almost 18 years ago to the day. There were no children involved.
     Piacenza said the break-up came at about the same time that he was trying to buy a house on Ralph Street in Richmond.
     He continued to hold jobs, however, earning close to $15 an hour as a forklift operator for Variform, the Kearney vinyl-siding manufacturer, and then working for American Wilcon Plastics in Orrick.
     “There was never any thought of living like that then,” Piacenza said of subsisting in a tent.
     But things began to go south. Around 2007, Kinnard and others became involved. Randy and April Mohn and their son, members of the Assembly of God church in Richmond, offered help, as did the youth group from First Baptist Church. One Christmas, the youth brought him a tree, presents, food, even a coffee machine.
      Piacenza also had help finding work, first at Henkel, then at McDonalds. He liked his assembly job at Henkel, he said, but quit after just a few months when his old car broke down.
     “That car messed up on me and I did some walking, but then there was snow on the ground,” he said.
Kinnard helped him sell it.
     During his months on the street, Piacenza has used a bicycle to get to the store to buy food, drinking water and other necessities. He receives $200 a month from the state Department of Family Services to buy food for himself, but he can’t spend it on the cats, for rolling tobacco or batteries for his transistor radio.
     The radio is his only entertainment, source of information and company.
     Piacenza said he cuts wood for fuel and makes coffee in the morning over an open fire.
     “I fix lunch for me and feed them,” he said of his daily routine. “I listen to the radio a lot. If anyone has some batteries they’d like to give us these are getting pretty low.”
     An apartment couldn’t come at a better time, said Piacenza, who has no other heat source than his clothing and whatever warmth he and his cats generate.
     “I’ve got three shirts on now, but sometimes I have five of them on,” he said.
     Kinnard took Piacenza to First Baptist over the weekend for a shower and fitted him with a new set of clothes.
     “You could just see his self-esteem improve,” Kinnard said.
     Piacenza doesn’t mince words about what he’s been through the past seven months. Nor is he shy about expressing his feelings about being on the receiving end of charity.
     “I’m homeless. This is homeless,” he said of his situation. “Everything I have basically is given to me. It makes me feel worthless. I certainly don’t get a thrill out of it.”
     Powell said Piacenza’s situation could lay a foundation for helping other homeless people in the county.
     “Long-term, we’d like to get a group of people together to help people like this from falling through the cracks,” Powell said.
     Individuals or groups interested in assisting Piacenza can contact Kinnard by e-mail at or by calling the First Baptist Church office at 776-2296. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Richmond's homeless man will pack up tent, move himself and cats into apartment for the winter

It's not always easy finding an electrician or plumber in Richmond (thanks to some restrictive codes) but those who are working to bring William Piacenza indoors for the winter have their fingers crossed. Piacenza, homeless the past seven months, has been living in a tent with his two cats, "Cat," 15, and Tiffi (pictured), about a year old. Temperatures have been around zero the past few nights, and the thin nylon of a tent isn't much of a shield against the elements. Two Richmond City Councilmen, Rob Kinnard and Dave Powell, are working as private citizens to bring Piacenza in out of the cold until at least March 1, 2012. If a plumber can make repairs in time, it's thought that a partially furnished one-bedroom apartment Powell owns will be ready for occupancy as soon as tomorrow. Kinnard, very active at his church in mission and youth projects, has taken on the job of raising money to help pay for Piacenza's utilities and other necessities. Powell is donating the space through March 1, with the hope that warmth (both physical and in human kindness) will provide a strong base while Piacenza looks for a job. To read about how he became homeless -- and to learn more about how members of the community quietly assisted him along the way -- read the story in today's Richmond News. For those of you who live out of town, I'll post it here tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

When it comes to classic cars, just do what comes to mind

That's not to say that Louis Battagler, organizer of the annual Country Cruisers Car Show in Orrick, Mo., can't afford a high-dollar classic. But Louis checked in with this show-stopper at this year's show. I suppose you could say it's for the driver who hates pit stops. It's equipped with all the basic necessities, minus reading material. Note the flames, which indicate that it's a custom job, kind of a 1949 Mercury on a low budget. Louis's wheels put fresh meaning in the term "go cart".

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How a small rural community makes the effort to help a homeless man

I met William Piacenza for the first time last week. He's been a Richmond resident for about 15 years, the last 4 or 5 without a home. He's lived outside in a few places, including the Crooked River dike off Buffalo Road, the county fairgrounds and currently, in a tent on a piece of land owned by Richmond City Councilman Dave Powell. Powell and fellow Councilman Rob Kinnard are planning to have Piacenza and his two cats move into an apartment Powell owns for the winter. A number of people in the community, including a Richmond policeman, a sheriff's deputy and churches, have assisted Piacenza through the years. I plan to go back and talk to him again this week and write a story for the Richmond News. I'll post it here when it's printed in the paper.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

When opportunity knocks, you either answer the door or roll on down the line

I've been anxious the last few weeks about not having any inspiration for new songs. Part of that, I think, is that there's only so much creativity available in the well, what with what's required of me at work and even on a personal level, to take photos and post things here. Fortunately, I've had a few welcomed lightning bolts the last few days, not exactly those "the whole song came to me at once" things you hear so much about, but a combination of things I see, feel and hear that have produced a few lines with a rhythm that to me feel like a song. This morning, I saw these tanker cars passing through Orrick and there was a single spot where the morning sun was casting light on the cars. I pulled over and took this one shot and then it (the train, not the light) was gone. From that little moment the words "I guess that says it all about opportunity" popped in my head. I scribbled a few things down, including a visual image or two, and that was it. Maybe a song, maybe not. I'll need a melody and a chord progression, so it may take another inspiring moment, another jolt of one kind or another.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

For Fwanks and Chunkins, a playful homecoming in Richmond

As we like to say in putting a romantic spin on the ballad of Frankie and Charlie - "they come up the hard way". Both are Richmond dogs, and thanks to some kind-hearted folks at the Ray County Humane Society, Frankie (a.k.a. Fwanks or Fwankie) was rescued and now lives the cush life in Music City U.S.A. in Tennessee. His big brother (frankly, everyone's big brother) is Charlie, a member of a litter unceremoniously dumped on the road outside the Richmond Animal Shelter. This time it was Donna Griffin, the animal control officer, and her rescue contact, Katie Lappin, who kept and cared for Charlie (a.k.a. Chahwee or Chunkins) and his siblings long enough that they could find homes. Both dogs were adopted by my daughter, Sarah, who lived in St. Louis until a few months ago when she, Matt Amelung and the dogs moved to Nashville. They all came through Richmond last week and spent some time at Wiggley Park, Richmond's beautiful, underused dog park. The dogs had been in the car for a few hours and were more than happy to relieve themselves (repeatedly), run like banshees and play fight with some serious chops (see the photo below). They get along great, despite the fangs and demented eyes in the faux fight photo (say that quickly three times, but back up a step or two so you don't spit in someone's eye). They're happy, healthy and well-cared for, and I think of my Grand-dogs as Richmond born and bred. They come up the hard way, but now it's party time.
Frankie, an Australian shepherd mix with one brown eye and one blue eye. A super-quick herding dog.

Charlie is thought to be part Great Pyrrenees and part chow, but he's all large and a real sweetie with a deep bark..
Frankie's probably half of Charlie's weight, but he's usually the aggressor when they play fight. Charlie's no pushover, but he likes to spar on his back or run and toss his weight into Frankie (when he can catch him).

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A motivational poster labeled "Serenity" and from practical Missouri, the entry-level horse

I was joking yesterday that this photo of a leaf would be a perfect example of a homework assignment in "Adventures in Photography 101". The assignment: Find a creative shot in nature. I actually like the photo, but let's face it, it does say "packaged creativity". Maybe I could turn it into an inspirational poster under the heading "Serenity" and bolster our ever-sagging family finances. Let's imagine for a moment that the poster becomes a huge commercial success. Ever thankful, family members reward me with some discretionary money, saying maybe I could "Buy something I'd like." I don't know if I could afford two mules, but I'd like the one on the left pictured below. I can see the looks I'd get here in Beige Estates, our housing addition. The mule became Missouri's official state animal in 1995 and it's such a good perfect fit for the frugal, never-fancy Show Me State. Horses are beautiful, elegant creatures, tall-legged and muscular, but the mule is so ... lovable and down to earth. I see them as kind of an entry-level horse. And, for the person who's afraid of heights, you can sit tall in the saddle without ever being too far off the ground.