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Sunday, May 31, 2020

The worst thing about being The Homeless Editor is not being an editor at this time in our history.

There's a scene in "Patton" where the general screams he, of all warriors, should not be sitting on the sidelines during the biggest war of all time.

That's how I feel.

I'm certainly not a Patton and this might not be World War II but I didn't go into this business to watch coverage.

There are some incredible stories being told out there and I'm proud of all of my colleagues across the country. Many are risking their lives to do so.

I guess I just feel the need to be part of that.

This week, I have some interviews set up with experts to talk a little bit more about the issues of homelessness locally and nationally.

Stay strong and true, my friends.

I love all of you.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

I realized Friday night I'm no longer on the time clock of The Man.

That's right -- The Man.

I can do what I want as The Homeless Editor

(I should note that when I once ranted about The Man, my daughter, the genuis, stopped me. "Father," she always calls me "father" when serious, "you're a middle-aged white man who is editor of the local newspaper -- you ARE The Man."

Fair point, kid. Fair point.

So I stayed up until 5 a.m. today pounding out 20 pages of a screenplay I've had in my head for three years now. (Note to self: "Pounding out" seems to be an inelegrant phrase describing writing.)

Then I slept until 4 p.m.

As I near the work week again -- the so-called work week -- when I return the the world of searching for jobs, I will re-jigger my sleep schedule to show The Man I can capitulate when need be.

Until then, my time as The Homeless Editor is my own.

Friday, May 29, 2020

I was kicked out of McDonald's today -- then told I could stay.

Almost everyday for two weeks, I've been going to the north side McDonald's for wi fi. I generally get a little nosh -- a cheeseburger, fries and a medium Coke costs about $3.50.

Then today, one of the managers saw me unpacking my laptop and said they weren't open inside and said I couldn't stay. I think she saw the pathetic look on my face when I muttered that I thought it was OK because no one had kicked me out in two weeks. She said, with a smile, OK, go ahead and stay. She was quite sweet.

I've been invited to attend a Zoom meeting Monday with a group of retired IU professors to talk about the perils of local newspapers. But I warned them I'm connection poor so they're going to try and help me find a place.

I'm working on getting my medication before the month ends in a couple of days.

Each day, I'm in need of IT solutions after having an IT department for nigh 30 years now.

I miss my friends from The Office and The Shoe and Upland and Uptown and the newspaper.

I swear to Christ, I will never take anything for granted again.

I love all or you.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

I look forward to having my feet underneath me again -- at least that feeling.

Again, I'm lucky. A place to stay, food, some savings. Last night colleague Laura Lane stopped to see me and brought me a hunk of meat to cook. She used the word "adorable" far too many times to describe my living circumstances at the cottage. But, in fact, it is quite adorable.

She chastised me for keeping my shelf-stable food in the middle of the kitchen in a laundry basket. And the inside of my fridge looked like that of her 21-year-old son.

Then she found Ring Ding packages -- empty. OK, I have made some poor life choices.

Laura also said I need to step up my game on the blog. I agree.

But I'm also just trying to breath right now, just trying to keep doggy paddling my fat head above water.

I imagine, then, for those who have it much worse. How they're drowning and can't catch a breath. They can see the sun, a blurry orange ball through the water, but they can't feel its warmth.

I suspect that feeling of feet underneath me will come.

In time.

Love all of you.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Suffering from severe gout -- the medication for which causes an embarrassing side effect -- I painfully made my way to the car to drive into town seeking out free WiFi when I saw -- A SNAKE! A FRICKIN' SNAKE! I HATE SNAKES!

Hobbled as I was I couldn't jump or run only scrape my feet along the pavement block where the snake lie. The sound or vibration clearly startled him -- I think it had been napping in the warm sun -- and it made its way into the weeds, saying in Parseltongue, "A homeless editor! I hate homeless editors!"

That's all I have today.

No job openings. Nothing particularly homeless-ey.

But at least I got a story out of my incident.

I love all of you.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Hello doubt, I didn't see you standing there.

Applying for a bunch of jobs today, from local to places on both coasts to some remote work, doubt crept in.

For those of you charting references on this blog, the lede sentence is a paraphrase of a Sheb Wooley parody, "Hello Walls No. 2," of the famous Faron Young/Willie Nelson hit "Hello Walls" of 1965. (And for non newspaper folks, "lede" is correct spelling for the first paragraph of a story.)

I wrote half a dozen cover letters, filled out a dozen forms -- all of which called for an address -- and for each one of them thought, "why would they hire me?"

Having seen thousands of resumes, I know what's problematic with mine. I've worked too many places. I have had some short tenures. And I can hear the hiring manager yell, "Next..." sending mine into the garbage.

But jobs seem to be opening up. On the websites I check, there were dozens of new openings rather than a handful. Some even said, "Urgently hiring." Cool.

Urgently searching

Monday, May 25, 2020

On this Memorial Day, my mind goes to those who served our country and to those who do not have shelter.

According to, about 40,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Veterans make up 11 percent of all homeless. Among the reasons are high divorce rates, social isolation, substance abuse issues and mental health problems.

That should serve as a great shame to this country.

Thankfully, the number of homeless veterans is down by about 40 percent since 2011 as the Veterans Administration has done a significantly better job at identifying problems and focusing programs.

Still, 40,000 a night is too many and helping them should remain a focus of the VA. The administration should use each Memorial Day to update the country on the progress it is making in improving the situation.

Thank you, veterans, for fighting on our behalf.

(Editor's note: I am in no way suggesting I am the same as a homeless veteran. I did not serve. I have a roof over my head. I have a little money and food. My problem is entirely of my making.)

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Not much to hustle on a Sunday during Memorial Day weekend.

I've been calling the job search and the blog, interviews and making connections, as my "hustle."

No new jobs available and every other intelligent person in the country taking a little time off. So I'm having a couple of beers in the middle of the day.

I leave you this sweet message from an international reader: "Hello there! You've been giving a lot, thanks for sharing. I'm a reader from Brazil. I'm sending you good vibes from the tropics, wishing you well. Stay safe! Gregorio."

I love you all.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Friday night, I bought a pizza and with it came a side of guilty dipping sauce.

See, it's not that I have no money. I have a little put aside but in order to stretch it -- I expect the job search to take months -- I asked friends for help with housing and a offers came from across the country.

But as a journalist, who's has answered the phones for 30 year listening to reader complaints, I've heard every complaint there is when a story shows the lives of those on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.

They shouldn't have TV.

They shouldn't have cable.

They shouldn't have a pet if they can't pay for their own food.

The shouldn't eat fast food.

They shouldn't have cell phones.

They shouldn't have children if they can't afford them.

It's always "they."

So I felt guilty about buying a pizza to go when friends asked me to visit The Office Lounge and Liquor Store late Friday.

I was living for free and buying a pizza.

I've never understood the judgment of those who have against those who haven't. And yet I hear their stupid voices in my head.

A 2016 article in Psychology Today talks about the brain as a dual processor, one with a reflexive reaction, the other with a  more, thoughtful logical reaction. And we need both. When driving, a red light needs a reflexive reaction. No need to analyze because you've already done it. And society teaches us some bad reflexive actions. The article addresses a test given to people with black and white faces. When black faces were shown, the part of the brain that deal with fear -- the amygdala -- was more reactive when a black fact is shown. That's due in large part to how we're acculturated by media: black people are to be feared.

That's where judgment comes in and logic ought to kick in. OK, my immediate judgment is X but let's think rationally about X.

For some people, that's goo much work.

On the upside, the guilty dipping sauce tastes pretty good.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Get better at asking for help.

I occasionally clear my mind enough during morning meditation so my mind is able to receive something I've buried deeply in my psyche.

Get better at asking for help, I heard at the turn of the year.

I've never been good at that, something my genius kid shares with me. Her first full sentence was, "I do it myself." She was maybe a year old when she said that.

So the first time I walked into Community Kitchen -- where you get a free hot meal, a cold meal, all without question -- I found it extra hard. But it's getting better each time. Just as someone reaches out with a dinner or a six pack or some money.

Sometimes receiving help is as difficult for me as asking for help, particularly money. I shudder writing that.

Another message that occurred to me on furlough -- give more. That's not mostly about stuff, of which I have little. It was about compliments, smiles, jokes, stories. So I've been working on that, even in the smallest of moments.

I do know I'm going to walk out of this with a bigger heart, open to the gratitude of my many communities and ready to give more.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

I've not accomplished anything near what I wanted to accomplish with this blog.

I wanted to delve into the issue of the brittle economy, the different forms of homelessness, the confusing nature of the support system. I intended to interview experts, local caregivers, the homeless themselves.

Truth is, I remain overwhelmed, shocked and depressed about what's happened in the last three weeks.

Like Lili von Schtupp, "Let's face it. I'm tired."

I'm also getting used to the new rhythms of the day. I was only recently getting used to that at the newspaper. Before I arrived last June, the managing editor, the city editor and the digital editor left for various reasons. That left the executive editor, glorious title and all, to fill those roles and I started to get that rhythm down by turn of the year. With the pandemic, another new rhythm.

Then I had the challenges of getting a new rhythm at Motel 6 and now at the cottage.

No whining -- just the truth.

Because it occurred to me driving into town today I had not been fully truthful. One classic deceit is not telling the full truth with all context. Aquinas wrote the truth informs and falsehood deforms.

Thus you are informed.

Love you all.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

It occurred to me in the wee hours of the morning, when I couldn't sleep, that I have more to say.

I have columns to write and I have stories I believe readers need.

I say this because today I applied for another newspaper job and many friends would ask, "Why?"

There's more work to be done.

The week I was notified about the pending layoff, I was working on a structure for a potential enterprise package on what the pandemic has done to hospitals. Despite the popular narrative of hospitals falsely increasing COVID numbers to make more money, all hospitals have been damaged financially and about 200 are expected to close within the next  year -- mostly rural.

That's according to my health care expert friend Mark Taylor. I had called him and asked the question: What are we missing? Mark noted that hospitals across the country had stopped elective procedures, which on average are about 48 percent of total revenue. Add to that the average COVID patient is going to be a Medicare patient, with controlled payments that can't be adjusted for the level of insurance, treating the pandemic fits with a hospital's mission but not its budget. All hospitals are on pace to lose money this year. The only question is how much?

I envisioned this package working well both small and big newspapers, accompanied by a database, graphics and personal stories of patients, great photography and podcasts.

Sadly that's stories not going to get told -- unless someone hires me to do it of course. (Or unless someone -- wisely -- steals the idea after reading this blog.)

And I cannot get out of the habit of forming at least one column idea a week in my head. I think I might have to add a column to the blog every Sunday because getting the ideas onto a screen helps make more room in my noggin for the next ideas.

There's so much more work to be done.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

To do list:

-- Apply for the few jobs out there.

-- Post on the blog

-- Scroll social media.

-- Try to get a P.O. box to receive mail.

-- Get doctor to update med before health insurance runs out.

-- Apply for unemployment.

-- Think -- briefly -- about shaving this hideous beard.

-- A couple of gin and tonics.

-- Dinner.

-- Rest

-- Repeat tomorrow.

Monday, May 18, 2020

In between Motel 6 and the cottage I felt in control -- and then I lost it.

I was listening to an NPR interview with Janelle Monae as she talked about identity.

Luckily, although I loved my job, I don't identify myself as anything less than me without it. I thought about how we tend to label ourselves in order to define ourselves -- a lifelong tendency. I've worked for years to shed identity, with the except of forever referring to myself as a son of the Wisconsin Northwoods. People use religion, region, statehood, education, sports team, gender identity, politics, sports fandom, the list goes on and on, in order to tell themselves and others who they are. My goal ultimately is to be nothing -- and that's how I'll become everything.

Then I learned my hometown newspaper was reprinting the story about my being a homeless editor


I hadn't told my mom yet.

I had lost control of my story, my narrative.

She's hard to reach at the Rutledge Home in Chippewa Falls and I had not yet formulated the language I would use to explain my odd story. But I knew she would pick up the newspaper and see I've become homeless, even though it's much more complicated than that.

In order to reach her, I have to call the main number, ask for the second floor. If someone's staffing the desk, I ask to speak to her and if the attendant has time, they'll bring her to the phone.

I practiced as a drove to the cottage -- no easy feat, mind you. This place is as hidden as can be on a lakeshore teaming with homes.

Mom, I've been laid off. Mom, you're going to see a story that says I'm homeless. Mom, it's not that bad. As I've written before, there are nuances to this whole homeless thing. Mom, it's going to be OK. Mom, I always land on my feet.

Phone conversations never go quite so smoothly as the planning, mostly because mom and I cuss a bit. When she swears, it is with great erudition. The last time I misquoted Aristotle to her, she corrected me -- in Latin.

It also had occurred to me that she'd be inundated by old biddies wallowing in my troubles. Everyone likes a slice of tragedy pie.

"Oh, this is so terrible for you," they'll say. They will try to rouse her to tears.

I said this to mom, "When someone tries to upset you about this temporary issues, please repeat the following phrase:

"Calm the F down."

It except neither of us used just the letter of the word.

She said it into the phone and we repeated three times, surely the attendant listening to this classy old lady sounding like a sailor

We laughed and she said, "I'm going to pray like hell for you."

Thanks, mom. I could use it.

And I love you all.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

"I love your beautifully twisted brain."

My daughter gave me this present of a compliment today as we talked about comedy and writing.

I had just told her a bit in an (anti) kids book I tried to write years ago, a parody of "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie," that I called "If You Give an Eel an Enema." At some point, we find the eel smoking a joint with Bob Dylan, who finishes by Bogarting the roach. The angry and high eel shocks Dylan in response. The next night, Dylan goes electric at the Newport Folk Festival.

That's when she said that most beautiful thing.

She did her most spot-on John Mulaney impression and I fed her my own stupid dad jokes for the impression. I think we're going to do a podcast. "Not John Mulaney Does Dad Jokes." At least we talked about it.

That helped take off the edge of me moving Monday. My run at Motel 6 has ended, thank you to the kindness of the family who owns the place and Don the manager and his wife.

I move into a cottage of a new friend on Lake Lemon, north of Bloomington. The cottage with no cable and no online access will feed my hermetic tastes. I'll find a way to blog, either setting up my phone as a hotspot or driving into town for access.

For nearly three weeks now, I've written about how lucky I am in these trying times. I technically qualify as homeless because of my transitional status. More on that later this week in this blog as I intend to do some interviews with experts on how tackling "homelessness" isn't as easy as giving everyone a hotel room or mini house.

The cottage has a little kitchenette and I look forward to cooking, as well as writing and thinking.

I'll show photos Monday, friends.

Love all of you.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

This is dinner tonight.

And probably Sunday night.

And Monday as you can't fully see the rack of ribs wrapped in foil on the left.

All of this courtesy of Mark Richardson, a friend I didn't have in April but who has not only brought this feast but also helped me move my goods out of storage at the newspaper. During a break in the move, we talked about barbecue -- 'cue for my Tar Heel friends -- and he formed the idea of getting his favorite place in Clay City: Joe's Garage BBQ.

I'll offer a food review later on.

On Monday, I move to a guest cottage-- on Lake Lemon of all places -- owned by someone who befriended me on Facebook and I have yet to meet. (Don't worry, friends, as I had Laura Lane check him out -- he's stand-up, she reported.)

I move there after two free weeks at the Motel 6, one week on behalf of the local family that owns the place and one by manager Don and his wife.

An IU education professor -- whom I've met exactly once -- sent me restaurant gift cards.

My Herald-Times colleague Carol Kugler slipped me a gift card on behalf the staff for a local sandwich shop.

I likely will vie for the title "Fattest Homeless Editor" if I don't get a job soon.

It's not about the food, though. This blog entry is about the incredible giving and selflessness of others. The only reason these folks get some recognition is because of this blog. Imagine the thousands of Random Acts of Kindness taking place in our communities daily. There's this great entry in Thomas Aquinas's "Summa Contra," where he describes all the reasons not to take a good action -- 90 percent of which is stolen almost directly from Aristotle's "Nichomachean Ethics." Basically, you don't make kind actions for the purposes of wealth or notoriety of friends or other facile reasons. The two disagreed on the final reason, for Aristotle it was logic. For Aquinas it was for God. I marry the two and suggest you make what Buddhists call "right action" only for this reason: It's the right thing to do.

Funny, because during my unpaid furlough the week before being informed of my layoff, I spent the week contemplating my own personal actions and what's next.

After nine days of thought, this is what I realized: Give more.

Love all of you.

Friday, May 15, 2020

I get letters at Motel 6.

I feel like Sister in Eudora Welty's famous short story "Why I Live at the P.O."

At some point, I will write a short story about getting letters at the Motel 6. And that damned Stella Rondo, the cause of all of Sister's problems in "Why I Live at the P.O." because eventually Sister moves to the Post Office because of Stella Rondo's lies.

In one column that never made the page, I made reference to Welty about "Why I Live at the H-T," but the column stank to high heaven and my staff suggested I spike it -- newsroom jargon for killing the piece.

But I no longer live at the H-T. For a short time, I have lived at Motel 6 and received tidings of great joy. No gold, frankincense and myrrh. The letter I received was from Louisiana, a former journalist, supporting the idea of the blog and telling a story. A reporter sent me cheeseburgers from 5 Guys. I get six packs of beer. A local author dropped off books. I feel badly for the front desk, already hard-working folks who have to serve as my delivery people. That's in addition to them being hotel employees, caseworkers, social workers, problem solvers.

The thing is there's a fine line between someone with a fancy title like senior executive editor and getting mail at the Motel 6. I take all responsibility for that and no one should feel sorry for me. I have some money saved, I just need to stretch it.

I'm doing that with the help of friends and strangers.

Stella Ronda was a liar and made Sister's family believe her lies.

In my life, I am surrounded by angels.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

"Today was a good day."
-- Ice Cube

When I felt good at the end of the day today, it came to me quickly: I felt useful.

I applied for some decent jobs I think I can do well.

I fixed my computer probably that temporarily removed my ability to be part of the world -- yes, that's a First World problem for a First World Homeless Editor. The lack of connection to the world briefly freaked me out.

And I took a writing assignment.

Let me lay out the day for you.

The first part is I applied for a job as national editor for a non-profit website that works to strengthen state reporting, perhaps the most damaged aspect of journalism since the Great Recession. It's been well documented that statehouse reporting has virtually disappeared in the last decade or more. The most worrisome part of that is state legislation affects you far more than the U.S. Congress. It's not just ideological nonsense but affects the way you live your life every single day. Given I've worked in 10 percent of the states, I'd like to think I can add to their efforts.

On the downside of that, I realized as I sent off my most recent resume, I might have erred. I typically update my resumes by the month and year when I re-create them. So in April, I named my resume "richjacksonresume 0420."


So I don't smoke pot but I'm not against legalization.

But I fear what will become known in the industry as the "pot resume" will hurt me. "There's a guy out there so brazen he's applying for jobs under the 4/20 symbol. We simply cannot have someone in charge of editing who is a dope fiend." (Note: Again, I don't smoke pot but it certainly wouldn't hurt the industry to let lose the idea of "Reefer Madness.")

I talked to Andrew Fraieli, editor of the "Homeless Voice" newspapers in Florida. He's asked me to write a column about my experiences. Gladly. Ask a writer to write and stand back.

A reporter with whom I interviewed for "The New York Times of Orthodox Judaism" was so kind to send me dinner via Ubereats. I chose 5 Guys because I hadn't a decent burger in a month so he sent two burgers, fries and two Cokes. He followed up with a couple of messages on WhatsApp. In the first, he wrote that was the first non-kosher food he ever ordered. In the second, he wrote he was going to report to his mother that they were bacon cheeseburgers -- just so she would freak out.

God love this world.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

I kind of took today off.

Sure, I looked for jobs even though no one is hiring. Yes, I write this blog more for sanity than anything else.

Otherwise, I took the day off. I'm tired. It's an odd thing to write but I've been working hard since losing my job. There's the hustle of applying and look and making contacts. I've responded to everyone who wants contact because of the blog plus a thousand more who seek me out via social media, text and email asking what they can do. My days are as busy as they were when I had the fancy title of senior executive editor. And make no mistake, those days were busier than you can image.

Friends helped me move Tuesday, many of them strangers. I'm not in the best shape and the activity nearly killed me. I wanted to give as much as they gave so I tried to touch as many boxes as they did. I tried to take a nap in the afternoon but my brain and few remaining muscles were too wound up to allow sleep.

I woke up early today for an interview with Eric Lindquist -- a mentor and friend from my internship at the Eau Claire Leader Telegram in 1989. Holy crap, that makes me sound old. He said it was strange to talk to me as a source. I didn't say it, but I thought it odd that this guy who taught me so much three decades ago was interviewing me. He gave me advice but also modeled a basic, truthful humanity that has infused my career.

After the interview, which ended at about noon, I went back to bed. Without guilt.

I do love working and have always suffered from a work ethic like that of the horse in "Animal Farm." I think of myself as Boxer, the horse. Loyal and so hard-working, he dies -- a metaphor for the Russian people. That's not a great goal to which to aspire, nonetheless, here I am.

I feel better, less tired and relaxed for the first time in a while.

Thank you for reading, my dear friends and supporters.

I love you.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

I went to Community Kitchen in Bloomington for a free meal this evening and it was among the hardest things I've ever done.

I have gone two-to-two with governors, senators, representatives -- you name it. Then-U.S. Representative Mike Pence once said in an editorial meeting, "The worst thing I could hear at my front door was, 'Hi, my name is Rich Jackson and I have some questions for you.'"

I drove into the parking lot on Rogers Street -- I had a car and was the only one -- to see about a dozen people waiting for dinners. It seemed at least to me I was lesser than them because I had a hotel room, I had some meager savings -- hell, I had a car.

But I'm attempting to stretch my savings because I don't know how long this thing -- unemployment, shifting from place to place -- is going to last. I had called someone from United Way early on and the caring person said, "Don't pay for food in Bloomington. You can get healthy, nutritious meals and save your money."

I had stockpiled some shelf-stable food at the beginning of the pandemic, including too much pudding. That began to run low this week. Plus, I had to move some packed boxes from an unused garage at the newspaper or be forced to lose them so I spent a good chunk of the day loading and moving my belongings to the garage of a local friend. God bless friends. A half dozen folks showed up, including some people I've never met in person.

But I was exhausted. As I like to say, I was old, fat, stupid and tired -- a refrain when someone asks how I'm doing. I needed some help, such as prepared food.

Following protocol, I called a phone number and the woman said I could choose between having someone bringing me the meal or coming inside as only volunteers were inside. I think I felt as small as I ever had. I went inside, never having been and the volunteer was as gracious as anyone I've ever met. I mumbled something about how this was the first time I'd ever been so she walked me through the offerings. A hot meal along with a packed cold meal I could eat later. No questions about who was I or what was my need.

They gave me a hot meatball sandwich, green beans with bacon and a fresh salad. I don't think I had a salad in a couple months. I ate a real meal, like an adult.

What killed me, made me teary were the toppings on my two boxes. A fistful of candies and a bag of chips.

This wasn't just some food distribution line where mass-produced slop is ladled out without concern. It was more like a couple of friends gave me some food after a celebration.

Good lord, the blessings kill me.

Monday, May 11, 2020

The biggest thing the regular population doesn't understand is the stress of homelessness.

And this comes from a lucky man only in transitional homelessness. I'll find a job. I'll find a place.

But the goddamn anxiety is exhausting.

What's next?

I've been applying for jobs across the country as well as locally. The national jobs largely include editor jobs. That's what I do. My two job skills are reading and writing. I have the skill set of a kid graduating third grade.

The local jobs, given there's really only one newspaper from which I was laid off, include things like technical writer and human resources generals. In regard to the first, I can write about almost anything. The only exception would be "How the Chicago Bears are awesome."

But I have also managed newsrooms since at least 1994 and I have four years of assistant managing a McDonald's restaurant. I know how to deal with people that allows for dignity and respect in all circumstances.

Frankly, if need be, I'll go back to managing a fast-food restaurant. I like work. I get to accomplish things and face challenges I can fix.

But does that mean a diminishment of my skills?

I have challenged governors and senators and local politicians. I like to brag that  three governors have yelled at me. Never because I was a jerk but because I asked tough questions. When working at small newspapers, I always had this chip on my shoulder that big-time politicians expected softball questions. So I always prepared and shot them hard balls like Nolan Ryan. When now Vice President was our local U.S. congressman in Richmond, Indiana, he once told me his fear was I'd knock on his door and say, "Hi, my name is Rich Jackson and I have some questions."

These experiences don't mean I'm a jerk.

I intend to do well at my job.

Please hire me.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Between the pandemic shutdown in early March, to my departure May 1, I took calls complaining about the homeless in Seminary Park here in Bloomington.

"They're not practicing social distancing," was the most common.

"Why doesn't the city give them masks?"

"They're almost of top of each other."

And this on the first beautiful spring day: "It's almost like they're celebrating."

How what kind of person begrudges the smallest thing to someone chronically homeless?

Most of those in Seminary Park have so little in life they can fit in the ever-present backpacks. They shuttle from shelter to park to Shalom Center or Community Kitchen.

What those folks seek with each other is simple bonding over shared situation. Something every human wants and needs.

The most public of the homeless are the people in the park and fall into the most difficult of the four categories -- chronically homeless, usually of a year or more. I've taken calls and emails who say that's an easy life, free meals, passing of the bottle and the ability to sleep all day. Here's a secret, though, Laura Lane's stories have shown through years of coverage. The chronically homeless sleep during the day because after dark is when the boogie man comes around. Where what few belongings they have might be stolen. Laura Lane talked to one guy who decamped from the park to a tent behind the Herald-Times because all of his important personal items -- Social Security car, birth certificate -- had been stolen and he could longer prove his identity.

The next category is episodic, a person who is homeless more than once, whether because of occasional job loss, substance abuse or being kicked out of the home.

I'm in the third category -- transitional. Because of my failure to look for permanent housing for 10 months and then getting laid off, I'm transitioning from place to another. It's probably the easiest of the circumstances, at least for me as I have the blessings of a little savings and many wonderful friends.

The final category is the hidden homeless. That is for folks who couch surf between family members and friends. They don't have a permanent place to lay their heads at night. It's among the hardest of help of groups because they are truly hidden.

We recently followed the case of one of the first COVID-19 patients in the region. He went by the nickname Uncle Dirt and was couch surfing with a number of friends and family in Owen County. When he became sick, he was taken to IU health here in Bloomington. Thankfully, Uncle Dirt survived but when it came time for him to check out, he refused. He and doctors disagreed on whether he was well. Plus, I suspect that was good living for Uncle Dirt. Pretty nurses cleaning him up and having good food delivered. So hospital security hoisted him up and set him down on the sidewalk out front. His friends didn't want a COVID patient back in their homes so he had to find shelter in Bloomington.

His is a brittle life.

Remember, for each homeless person -- and Bloomington has averaged about 335 homeless people over the last several years -- there is a singular story as to what led them to where they are.

While they are homeless, they are first and foremost people.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

I've had a hard time keeping off weight since my daughter was born.

That's a decent joke. It's not the only similarity I have with the character Ginni Sacrimoni from "The Sopranos" but I'll leave it at that for now.

Why a fat joke about myself?

As I've added weight over the years my weight has become a target point for trolls. That's always been relatively fine with me because -- hey -- I'm fat. It's the truth. I used to be a skinny kid and young adult but that's changed.

What hasn't changed is how I use humor to deal with the stresses of life. On a recent day when the Pulitzers were announced and the same day The New York Times published a profile of me and this blog, I complained, "Laid off and skunked at the Pulitzers." 

Longtime friends laughed but noted it was inspiring to see me joking at such a difficult time.

Truth is for those who know me, I've always joked -- and virtually all the time as a coping mechanism.

Humor cools my brain with dopamine. Mmmmmm, dopamine.

Jokes also help to make a point -- if well done without too sharp a point.

A decent laugh is a common experience, even if they're as stupid as my jokes -- referred to as "dad jokes."

I believe it's the reason my brilliant kid is majoring in comedic arts at Emerson College. She's watched for 19 years as I've used humor to deal with life and its inherent problems. One strange aside, usually she's judged for that choice of study. "What is she going to do with that?" people ask, as though college were merely training for a job. The one time she was not judged by anyone in a group was at an Eid-al-fitr celebration at the Burlington mosque run by my brother Shaher Sayed. The men and women were at different tables so I asked for another table so she and I could sit together. The table was set up on the stage in the basement meeting room and we were soon joined by men who saw this as a table of honor. When Clare said she studied comedic arts, she was greeted only by beaming faces.

Clare asked me a long time ago why I joked with complete strangers, servers, attendants, passersby. I said I had just given them the best gift I can possibly give: a story. And it's a free gift. Stories are currency in every community. There's a woman working at a Sheet's in Virginia who is probably still telling the story about the dad who said he picked up his daughter from juvie on Christmas Day. "And the girl says, 'Yeah, I'm a fire starter.'" Of course she knew we were joking. "Oh you two are so full of poop," she said to us. 

So, yes, I continue to joke. Friends on Facebook got to read this one a couple of days ago: I'm think of doing my own hair dye like everyone else during the pandemic but I can't reach my back.

I saw my high school friend Katie celebrate a recent birthday so I wrote, "You look pretty hot for being such an old broad." She responded, "You're not so bad for a homeless guy."

She gave me the best laugh of the day.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Lou Gehrig kiss my ass -- because I'm the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.

I know some folks don't like me using the term "homeless" because I have saved a little money and I have a roof over my head, but don't think for a second I take that for granted. I also have a laundry basket killed with shelf-stable food purchased when the pandemic was new. I'm working hard to stretch my savings because who knows how long it will take me to find a job? (As an aside, it's surprising how much pudding is shelf stable.) However, the general term for someone who doesn't have a permanent residence is "homeless."

That stark word doesn't belie my spirit, though.

Each day for the last week, friends old and new have reached out to offer words of kindness. Much of it so nice, I fear having to live up to "best writer," "best editor," "better human." Let's be truthful, friends, I have my moments and limitations. For instance, I cannot play short stop. I cannot do the splits. And most of what I know about ethics and morality comes from a mixture of Andy Griffith and Homer J. Simpson.

First, I have a place to stay. The owners of Motel 6 gave me a free week. The general manager Don and his wife bought me another week. A complete stranger has offered me his guest cottage for the summer for free. Laura Lane is cooking for me. Pot roast braised in wine. She won't tell me if she uses real pot because, as she texted, "every cook must keep secrets." Strangers leave beer at the front desk with sweet notes.

I have old friends helping me out on GoFundMe. Better yet, they're calling and offering me words of encouragement and just basic goddamn human decency. My friend from Uptown, Margaret Thomas called me Wednesday on her birthday and we had a couple of birthday drinks together. I've always though Margo, as she is called, should have a statue built in her honor -- but no such sculpting would do her justice.

Sarah Bahr wrote a nice story about me on Indianapolis Monthly. My friend of three decades wrote a nice story on Utterly surreal for me as a journalist but beautiful as a human.

I talk to my kid every day, someone who is smarter, funnier and kinder than any other human being I know. And I'm a journalist. I know objective reporting. She amazes me beyond words, which is sad because I like to think myself a writer.

Nationally, complete and absolute strangers have sought me out via social media and some have tracked down my personal email and cell. They offer anything they can give, the best of which is support.

I am technically homeless. But lucky. Beyond words.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

"The homeless" are not one thing. As someone who's worked hard for decades on precision in language -- something at which I often fail -- I will forever hate that an entire group of people are just one thing. We've all heard racial stereotypes that depend on that trope: Blacks are …; Mexicans are …; Jews are …; Muslims are …: Even people in those groups use that kind of group language on each other. Take me for instance. I am only technically homeless in the sense that I don't have a permanent address. I saved up a little money while living in the apartment at the newspaper -- where I believe "Mad Men" was filmed. I'm going to be paid a small severance from my company and then paid for unused vacation and time off. Then I can apply for unemployment. Dozens of folks -- many strangers -- have reached out with offers of free rooms so I can make my savings last. There are significant support systems in Bloomington, which I will begin using, again so I can extend the savings I have. But there is no one cure to homelessness because each story is an individual. Those of us who have that moniker applied to us are individuals and the reason we each have no one pillow on which we can lay our heads each evening have different stories and reasons and therefore solutions. By the way, I have a huge head and the need for a huge pillow -- we'll get back to that later in this piece. Every year, I re-read "Leaves of Grass" (the so-called death bed version as there were six publications) so I view groups of people in two ways as a lesson from Walt Whitman. You can call a lawn a lawn but as beautiful as it might be as one, but it's made up of millions of individual leaves of grass. So with terms like "the homeless" or "the media" or "Muslims." Nothing any individual has done defines the entire group. Imagine the couple leaves of grass that don't hold up to the beautiful lawn. They don't define the lawn. As for the big head -- how's that for a poor segue -- I talked with my most-awesome daughter a couple times today. She was nice enough to set up a GoFundMe account to help me: She at first was horrified I referred to myself as "homeless" but I explained to her that doesn't mean I'm squatting in the woods somewhere. We laughed today about some of the trolls who sent ugly messages to my blog. I noted that I've been an editor for a quarter century and a journalist going back to my high school days, where I received my first hate mail. The letter referred to my big head -- not egotistical but a nine hat size. Back then I was skinny and my head made me look like a cocktail meatball on a toothpick. I was a third-string receiver and had to get a special football helmet made for me. Now, I just look like the missing link -- the sausage link. (I deserve a nickel for that joke. ) When one lives the public life of a journalist, one becomes used to hate. (This is where I tie it together.) Regardless of whether I'm homeless or big-headed, no one gets to define me. I do that through my actions of loving others, treating everyone with dignity and respect and having a sense of humor about it all. The hate, however, has been drowned out by tremendous support and love. For that, I thank all of you.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

I used to drive past disheveled or distressed people just walking on down the sidewalk and think, "That cat has no place to go." If I might stay in the idiom of the Rat Pack, now I can dig it. Besides being judgmental, rude, small-minded and outright dickish, I understand now that I have all hours of the day with which to deal. It finally occurred to me that walking is doing. At a time in your life, when days are long and there's nothing happening and you're tired of TV, being on your phone or reading, walking gives you something to do. I had been pacing the hotel room because more unpleasant things were happening -- please refer to my Facebook page -- and needed to let loose some energy. So I went for a walk. Am I being dramatic? In the past I saw walking under two categories. The first was simple pragmatism. Usually walking is getting from Point A to Point B. Another use of walking is health. Get out and get your heart pumping and you can see these folks, usually clad in quasi-athletic gear, a baseball cap and ear buds. (Note from newspaper editor: Don't wear ear buds if you're crossing streets because you can't hear traffic or car horns -- I've seen too many stories of walkers or runners getting creamed and killed because they're more interested in listening to crappy music than life around them. I'm not dying for Rihanna, man.) But sometimes, you have to walk because it's something to do to fill the time. I walked two rotations around Miller-Showers Park today, right in front of my home at Motel 6. I learned about the ecology of the park, the history of Miller and Showers and breathed air more fresh than my hotel room. I also bore the stare of a Canada goose that was tending her goslings at the edge of one of the ponds. Had I averred from my straight line down the sidewalk, the goose was going to come at me like a member of the Sopranos family. The land is a gift from the Miller family and the Showers family, the latter of which once produced a majority of furniture in the country. But the land and the creek through it largely went unused until about the year 2000 when the retention ponds were used to filter runoff from development in the area tied to Indiana University's nearby sports facilities. Public art was added and it has become one of they many gems of the city. One of the downsides of being so busy as a daily news editor is I didn't get a chance to use joys of the city. Of one of the upsides of the extra times of being laid off: I can better understand the joys of the city. Many blessings, folks. Many blessings.

Monday, May 4, 2020

No journalist wants to be part of the story. We're trained to be objective, truthful and as accurate as possible, something that's hard to do if one injects oneself into the story. At times, a first-person piece is the best way to tell the story but it's a relative rarity. I once made the mistake of telling my class at Miami University "I don't give a shit about you or what you think. What I care about is the subject." With 15 years of hindsight, that was unduly harsh. Then last week I ceased to be a working journalist. And The New York Times came a-callin. The result was this: Let's discuss. I started this blog last week as a means to tell a story that's quite common in our economy. I also thought my writing chops needed constant practice and a blog could do that. Finally, I needed something to fill my time. Something to look forward to at the beginning of the day. When I was on furlough from the Gary Post-Tribune during the 2009 economic crisis, I kept a furlough blog, which I called The Furlog. Cute, huh? Except it was my first dramatic lesson in Search Engine Optimization. Ain't no knows what a furlog is and ain't no one searching for it, I realized in my Northern Wisconsin nomenclature. I looked it up recently and saw that I had exactly seven hits a day -- six of which were probably mine. So within minutes of being notified of my final day, I thought "Homeless Editor" would be good and I could combine narrative story telling along with information about homelessness, resources. Then people paid attention and sent it out via Twitter, one of which made it to Marc Tracy, a reporter for the Times. When he called my immediate reaction was tentative. Would it hinder me finding a job? Did I want to share something so goddamn embarrassing? Would it breach the disparagement clause in my separation papers, where I agreed not to trash the company and it agreed the same? In the same nanoseconds as I asked myself those questions I reminded myself I've always disliked how newspaper editors and reporters refused comment. That's happened to everyone of us so why do it to a colleague? I also talked to Marc about the disparagement clause. I said that's not my style even though I signed an agreement. Negative words about others say much more about the speaker. What if the article could do some good in this economy -- even when it's booming for the markets it's pretty fragile for individuals. Finally, my last thought was, What the hell? Not a deep thinker here, folks. Having conducted and heard thousands upon thousands of newspaper interviews, Marc was great. Easygoing. Good at pulling out information. He even laughed at one of my kid's jokes. None of mine -- but one of my kid's lines. ("It kind of pisses me off that you went viral before I did, dad.") The Times sent a photographer, and as an Unpleasant-Looking American, that always makes me writhe in discomfort but again, I've watched countless photo shoots. I did what he asked me to. Now usually, photoshoots in hotel room usually end with someone being asked to take their top off. Thankfully, that didn't happen. I'm sure the shooter, a nice young guy from Louisville, would have preferred I cover myself better. I once pined to work at The New York Times and have sent them dozens of letters and columns, only to be rebuffed. Actually, not so much rebuffed but ignored. I've come to terms with that (no I haven't). So the only way I get into what I think is the greatest newspaper published in America and perhaps the world, is to lose my job and move into a hotel. I'm not sure it was worth it. We shall see what happens but as a longtime, small-town newspaper, I move inexorably forward. When subscribers see a paper full of news on their porch each day, I envision the next day's newspaper -- completely empty -- and the panic begins. Hopefully, I get to do it again some day. Even if I don't, I have been blessed -- and throw your favorite cuss word in front of "blessed" because I do in person. Earlier tonight, I texted Marc who not only wrote this story but also wrote the story about the winners of the Pulitzer this year. The text: "Dude, I'm laid off, homeless AND skunked in the Pulitzers?" "Brutal" he responded. Indeed.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

I had no idea days can be so long. When you work in a newsroom, one of the most-common phrases is when someone looks up at the clock and yells, "How in the hell did it get to be 4'o clock?" When you're the editor of a small-town daily, that is everyday. It's as though 20-30 people need your attention RIGHT NOW at each minute of the day. So your brain teaches itself to constantly reset priorities throughout. Although this is speculation, I'm pretty sure having my shoelaces on fire would fall off the Top 10 list of things I have to fix in the next minute. Let that fire move its way up my pant leg -- right now I have attorney threatening to sue me because of "Garfield." "Sir, are you aware that feeding a cat lasagna would lead to its untimely demise?" Yes sir, but you see that's a syndicated cartoon and meant to be a joke. In the meantime, I have someone on hold who thinks the crossword has clues that are too liberal. Or conservative. Or reading their mind. But God, I love it so. Being a newspaper editor to me is like playing in an improvisational jazz band of the highest nature. On a high wire. While people are shooting arrows at you. And at the end of the day, no matter what -- blizzard, power outage, not enough staff -- we had to have a newspaper put to bed. I've done that about 10,000 times by my count. So as busy as I was today, it stretched. I looked at the time on the computer at one point, tired and ready for bed and thought: Jesus, it's only 2 p.m. Busy it was. I've had so many friends from across the country reaching out to offer help: a place to stay, a little money, some beer. Upland drinking buddy Greg Hanek brought me two Upland beers. I think he had the other two in the four-pack. I talked with old college buddy Dan Parks who is now the editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy. He was my editor at our college newspaper and I once referred to him in a column as a "strapping Mennonite buck." For the record, he was only two of the three. I caught up on emails and messages, looked for local housing, checked and -- little if anything on a Sunday. Christ, it was only 4 p.m. I thought about standing on a street corner with a sign: "Will edit for beer." After texting with some friends and journalists, I made my way to Taco Bell -- don't judge me damnit. I had beer and a need for 73-percent meat tacos. It was now 6:30 p.m. when I could enjoy a cocktail and sit down to ruminate and then write. I have struggles but I have blessings. More so than ever, I'm reminded of Miranda in Shakespeare's "The Tempest": "O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world That has such people in't!" Thank you for reading, dear friends, far and near.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

I stayed in bed until 2:30 p.m. today. Exhausted at the end of an emotional day, I slept fitfully for as long as I could. I also didn't want to face the day so I used my old trick of never opening my eyes until I needed to get up. I'm not used to time off and there's no place to go in the COVID shutdown. Plus, I didn't need any more anxiety I noticed creeping into me Friday night. I realized I was driving even more carefully than I usually do not just because I can't afford a ticket but, I found myself thinking, police know I'm homeless. They will stop and question me. In a few of my waking moments, I chastised myself for thinking that way. Oh, was I wrong. I talked to my amazing kid on the phone. She's studying comedic arts at Emerson College in Boston and can always make her dad laugh. Just after I shared an awful joke with her, after which she said, "I'm begging you not to share that online," someone knocked on my door. That's always frightened me in the past at hotels and in my state now, I worried more than in the past. I asked Clare to stay on the phone in case something was about to happen so she was able to hear it: Paul from the front desk said the owners had read the blog and offered up a free week to help me out. All my daughter and I could do for the next five minutes was say "wow" to each other. I probably also added some choice words which I use in praise of good tidings. Hours later, all I can add is "just wow." Later manager Don came to reiterate and ask if there was anything else I needed. Without prompting, he said he'd hunt down a fridge and microwave for me and soon enough he and Paul returned with their promises. Within minutes of this, the wife of one of the owners called me to offer up anything else she could do in the spirit of the local Kiwanis Club. I had attempted to sit down and work on the blog a dozen times today but was interrupted by many kind offerings. I just texted an old Wisconsin friend that I brim with gratitude. When I sat down once again, I took a call from an unknown number. It was the media reporter for The New York Times. He wanted to talk about the blog which had just two posts. (This is my third. I'm fricking prodigious -- which is also a great band name.) We talked for nearly an hour and he might write something out of it. You have to understand my relationship with The Times. When my amazing kid was younger, she used to refer to The Sunday New York Times as "dad's girlfriend." We couldn't start a Sunday until I had a copy and in the more rural cities in which I lived, that took some doing. She told her mom once that she met dad's girlfriend and she responded kindly that must have meant it was something serious. The kid said it was The Sunday New York Times. Yeah, it's serious. At the end of the day, though, despite being technically homeless, I remain the luckiest under that broad heading. I have connections. I know whom to contact. Or if I don't, I know how to ask questions about getting resources. I have a smart phone and wi-fi access. Hell, I have a fridge and a microwave now. Those who are distressed don't have these blessings. The New York Times guy -- by the way, I asked him if they were hiring -- asked me what I hope to come from the blog. I'm not sure I my answer was as smart as it should have been. I hadn't entirely formulated my goal. I need to keep my writing chops, I told him. I need to tell stories. I must be part of a community conversation. Why did it resonate? he asked. I said something stupid. "Dude, I don't know." Perhaps he will refer to me as the homeless surfer editor. But here's what I think: Homeless and editor are not two words you see together. It's a juxtaposition that goes back to Aristotle's ideas of art. Two clashing ideas. I am a homeless editor and this shall end at some point. But Lou Gehrig can kiss my ass because I'm the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.

Friday, May 1, 2020

The woman in front of me checking into Motel 6 carried plastic bags from the nearby Marathon gas station for baggage. The manager, Don, told her politely that she couldn't have anyone else in her room. No one. Not for a visit, or quick meeting, or certainly not a party. If he found anyone in her room, she'd be kicked out immediately and lose any money on the room. She said the only people who would come by were there to pick her up. "Then you make them pick you up out front on the road," Don the manager said. She told him that she couldn't stay in her home because someone was threatening suicide all the time. Don didn't respond. Her son had already paid for the room so she picked up her plastic bags and said Don would have no trouble out of her. "Have a blessed day," she said. Don said, "You, too." As he checked me in for three nights, Don said over his shoulder, "Did you hear the speech I gave her?" OK, he said, turning to me and starting it over. I understand how I look right now. I have scraggy beard -- I call it my COVID beard because I stopped shaving when we closed the office -- and when not working I wear simple T-shirts where the only pattern is a series of food stains. Were I to boil it, the T-shirt could make a decent broth. I told Don I wouldn't be problem. How many times had he heard this? I told him I had just been laid off and had to move out of the office apartment, showing my card. "Rich Jackson, executive editor, Herald-Times." He didn't respond. I had left work at almost exactly 3 p.m. and it was now 3:30 p.m. I went from someone to no one in 30 minutes. I expect Guinness Book of World Records to call any minute. He finished the speech and I checked into the room. It smelled clean, and looked it. No mini fridge, no microwave. Hell, no Kleenex -- or even the sandpaper version you find in most hotels. That's fine. For forty-six bucks a night, I just need clean. Time to stop and flop and catch my breath. If there's blame to pass around, I'll take all of it. I had been working pretty much everyday since arriving at the Herald-Times 11 months ago with the exception of a week off at Thanksgiving to go see my kid. When COVID-19 covered the land like a deadly blizzard, I worked almost every minute of the day. I took little time to take care of myself and no time to look for an apartment, where I could unpack my goods in storage -- mostly books and cooking equipment. Plus, I love being a newspaper editor. A friend asked me recently what would be next. I said the three loves of my life are my kid, my mom and being a newspaper editor. There were a few times where it seemed like work but for most of the days it was like breathing. I have a little money saved up and the company is paying some severance and all my unused vacation and personal time for the year. The latter is real money for me as I've always kind of scraped by. So I've asked my social media friends for help, maybe a room, a bed. I'm a decent cook and better raconteur. On the downside, my snore sounds like someone trying to suck an obese cat through a Dyson V10 vacuum cleaner. So while not in distress, I am dispossessed. I am homeless.