Photograph by Macaulay Lerman
Audio by Vermont Folklife
1. "I fractured my back in four places. So then I was just done. I was on the streets..." (3:21)
I've been climbing since I was a little kid. Ever since I was very little, people couldn't catch me in a tree and we had a--when we moved into our house, we used to live in a trailer and my mom and dad, they bought a house and we had two acres in the backyard. It was something we never seen before. And a big monster mulberry tree. So we would play tree tag, and nobody could catch me. You know what I mean? As long as you got on the base. The people before us had a board on the bottom of it because all the arms went out and that was home base. And if you were there, you couldn't get tagged, but nobody could catch me. I would go up so high. I was always real small, and I'd go up and stand on little bitty itty bitty branches and everybody was too afraid. Or I would stand there and wait for them and have me a spot already picked out that I was dive into. And my mom would sit there and watch me dive around all in this tree all day long.
And then I got into a school, a high school, a vocational center. I took landscaping. And the teacher, Dell Cook, took me and put a ladder in a tree and he said, "I need somebody that'll climb up there and saw them limbs off right there" and handed me a handsaw. And I went up there and, had come down and he was like, "Kid, do you know how much money you can make?" And I was like, “Yeah, pssst.” Till I started having kids. Once I started having kids, I went to a, it was called Woodchuck Tree service, lied to them, told them I was a climber. Never had a set of spikes on, didn't know how to tie any knots. I didn't know anything. He sent me out that day, but he sent me out by myself with the crew. And all it was some ladder work. So I did this whole yard with a ladder. But then the next day he said, "Okay, we're going and I'm coming with you." And we got there and it was these people's backyard. He said, "See that tree over there? I want you to climb it all the way up. When you get to the top, I want you to take the top of it out." Well, yeah. Before we went first, before we left, he's like, "Have you ever had a set of spikes on?" "No." So he had me put spikes on. He said, "So I'm guessing you don't know how to tie a monkey's fist, you don't know nothing about a climber's knot?" I said "No." So he put a saddle on me and had me climb up about ten feet in this tree, told me to get down, and I went out. I was up in that tree for about 2 hours. My last cut, my last cut, my chainsaw came back, laid my arm wide open, cut me wide open. And I didn't work for him no more. But I just started learning, you know? It was something that I realized--and I'm a good climber. I'm really good now--I mean, I've been climbing for, shit, 30 years.
I'm hurt now, I mean, but that wasn't my choice. Somebody in Brooklyn, I was doing a 15 story tree that was split in half, laying down on people's house, and that was drop--and it was inside of a fence. And I was, what we call “hinging.” Instead of roping it, you go out and I cut a piece and I hinge down, another piece hinge down, and then once I get back far enough to where I could drop it straight down, then I'll drop it straight down. But when a limb gets too heavy, you can't do that. So I told my crew, I got a ten man crew down below me. I'm like, "Hey, guys, get them limbs out of there. You know, I'm gonna go set a rope, tie myself in." So I was going up on my buck strap. I was about three and a half stories up, no limbs or nothing below me. And I disconnected my lanyard, went to go around the limb and I felt it pull me. He let my rope wrap around the limb, and he went out--and when he went to throw it in the chipper, he jerked me right off. Took me up upside down or backwards, ass first. And I got my legs underneath me, but I landed on my heels. And then when I kept coming down, my saw was attached to my side, it went underneath me. I crushed my climbing saw with the center of my back. I fractured my back in four places. So then I was just done. I was on the streets bouncing around, trying to find help, you know, on my walker. Barely could walk. I walked as far as I could when I could.
2. "I've been raised to be the tough guy." (1:30)
I've been raised to be the tough guy, you know? I mean, I fought with everybody when I was a kid out on the streets. Nobody messed with me. People said life, street life, is dangerous. It wasn't for me because I didn't put up with nothing from nobody. You know, I've been fighting since I was a little kid. Now you know, I'm not on that page anymore, you know? But I--with my dad's beatings that he put on me, put a lot of anger in me, and I took it out on a lot of people. I've hurt a lot of people in my life. I wish that I could go--there's a lot of people that I hurt really bad, and it just hurts me to even think about it. Everybody just knew me as the angry guy. And if you said anything to me, I will hit you. And that's just what I did. And everybody was afraid of me. You know? And that's the way I lived my life. I mean, I put on a persona as this big, tough guy. And if you come at me, I'm going to hurt you. So that's what I did. I lived out on the streets. And when people say, "You see that area over there, you don't want to go over there." That's where I lived. You know, I went there purposely because it was that place, because it was the bad area, with the bad people, because I went in there and let it be known, "Don't do nothin to me. I'll show you." And, and I lived a very hard life beating people up, fighting. I don't drink alcohol anymore either. I drink, I don't know how to control. And I really hurt people. And I, I can't be that person anymore. I'd rather love somebody and help people than hurt people. I mean, I'm not no angel. Don't get me wrong. And I can't never make up for the things that I did, but I sure try.
3. "I wish I could go back and take a lot of things back..." (2:11)
I'm not nobody's responsibility but my own. So, I just went out on the road and just did what I had to do to survive. A lot of things weren't good, done a lot of time in prison. I wish, I wish I could go back, take a lot of things back, you know? But it's also made me the person I am, too. Because now I'd rather help people than hurt people. I do my best to help, people here they know, they're all into drugs, and I won't really help them except food. If they're hungry, you come to me and I will feed you. Even if it's the last thing I got in my refrigerator, you know. I'm not going to give you no money. And then I'll sit them down and talk to them, you know, let them know what my experience for with my drug addiction, what it's caused me in my life, and try to help them. I try to talk to a lot of people here. Some you can, some you can't. I mean, this is kind of a good thing for me because I'm kind of a social worker kind of, you know? I mean, there are certain people that know to stay away from me. But there's also certain people that know when they've got issues, they've got something to talk about, that I'm more than willing to sit out here and talk to them. You know, I've got stories from my life that you would never believe. You know, all my travels. I've been everywhere. Shoot, I go, I wind up in a state that I've never--don't know anybody, I get in a phone book, I spend 10 minutes in a phone book, I make $200 a day, you know? And so it didn't matter to me. I could just pack up and leave no matter what. But when it all fell apart and I broke my back, I'm so used to bouncing and not having one place to stay. Now I'm trying to stop. I'm just trying to stop and get a home. Hopefully here. CVOEO hopefully can help me, because I just want to stop. You know, I'm tired of the life being out there. I'm 55 years old. I'm sure I don't have that much longer to live the way I live my life, you know? But I would like, I'd like to get into some type of social work or something helping people. Maybe, I don't go to NA, or any AA or anything like that. It probably would be good for me because I could probably help other people, but it's just not my thing, you know? I don't know why all of a sudden I just decided--because I never thought I'd ever stop doing drugs. I've been doing drugs since I was 15 years old. It feels good.