Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Now


Now.

           Cleveland Avenue splits the ghetto in half, starting in downtown Columbus, traveling at a slight angle northeastward to the cotton white suburb of Westerville, it holds a squeamish history of poverty, classism and crushing desolation. Jenny has moved in and out of abject neighborhoods since getting plucked out of the homeless camp that was carved into the small wooded ravine that cuts North Campus from the liberal Ohio State infused neighborhood of Clintonville, nearly seven years ago. Her story of shuffling in and out of housing is a tale of how dysfunction is an everyday occurrence for people who fall on the wrong side of the money.

            After surviving living as one of only two women in a homeless camp, living for nearly two months in the Ohio State School of Music and finally, at another west side camp, she and her (now deceased boyfriend) were given Section Eight Housing through a program designed to provide Housing First options for people on the street. While at the same time, they were both linked to mental health services.

            For a number of years, Jenny complained of pain in her legs, her once sliver of a body–reed-thin underneath her flower patterned sun dresses had difficulty moving from the couch to the refrigerator and the months living outside in the elements didn’t help. She can be a living manifestation of the worst type of alcoholic, one who wakes up throughout the night, to take a pull off a plastic bottle of Smirnoff or Aristocrat Vodka just to make it to the morning without seizing up, at various times she would hide her booze throughout the house, at first to hide her shame and addiction from the men around her until finally it was more to ease the annoyance of carrying a bottle or having to travel to another room to fix a drink. Her life had turned into the troubled aspects of Bukowski without the poetry, a life lead by breathing from one drink to the next while trying to scrap the last vestiges of memories of happier times from a brain that had stuffed itself more with life than any brain should be allowed. Weeks were played out with multiple runs to the convenience store, which she had for a short time referred to as the package store, a term she picked up living in Miami, flying road side signs asking for money off the closest freeway ramp from their first Section Eight House, located on the far southeastern side of Columbus. The ramp they held their sign was roughly three miles from the depleted apartment. She had tried to get a job at the convenience store just on the other side of the parking lot that split the apartment complex from the store that plied its customers with lottery tickets, cheap liquor and dusty tins of canned meat but shortly after she applied she was taken via stretcher out of her apartment and the owner told her that he thought she would be a health risk. Jenny and Dale would arise early, walk the three miles to the ramp and “fly the sign” they worked as a team, with an older friend who also had lived in the homeless camp with them, one of the twins. She would pack a lunch of cheese sandwiches, chips and a tumbler of vodka and Hawaiian Punch and two of them would sit in the woods, passing the time telling stories, listening to music on a boombox they had found dumpster diving and trying not to drink too much. “The drivers don’t wanna give you any money if they smell alcohol, plus it’s so hot out there most days, you just get dehydrated that you kind of just have to hold out.” She said they would average about $11 a day and more when she could hold the sign, “they like me to hold the sign because I’m the white girl, people don’t expect to see that in the hood, but I’m always appreciative of what they give,” but her legs were increasingly failing her. Many had assumed that it had to do with her alcoholism, and during a period of a year and a half in around 2009 she was hospitalized countless times. She would be discharged, get herself together and cut down on her drinking. At one point she started playing music, the prospect of playing again terrified her but also provided much needed hope, and she was asked to play Comfest, an annual event held smack dab in the middle of Columbus where thousands attend.

            Comfest of 2010 was a disaster for Jenny, although she put on a brave effort is was difficult for her to get back into performing shape, she was recently off the streets and her apartment was smack dab in the middle of a rouges gallery of gang warfare and crack cocaine dealing, plus she was nearly two miles from the bus line. Her biggest supporter, Sean Woosley, who had made a small career of his own making prickly-pop in the vein of Bob Pollard and Elvis Costello. Sean, whom Jenny had bestowed the nickname “Robin” many years ago, had played with Jenny nearly from the outset dating all the way back to the late 80’s. Sean worked hard to get the band together, and the practices were difficult, as Jenny had not played piano since living in the music building and her drinking was nearly 24-7. The revolving door of hospitalizations had not yet started, partly due to the fact that for the poor and homeless, access to services has been historically limited. Prior to the Affordable Health Care Act, with the access to Medicaid, the homeless were at a loss to access services, most was done in emergency rooms where treatment consists of M.A.S.H. like services, where putting out fires and getting the person out of crises is the number one prerogative.

            Jenny played Comfest in the late afternoon, I wasn’t there but had heard that she fell down, no doubt because of heavy drinking and her once deeply emotional voice, rang hollow like a raggedy flag beaten into submission. This was her first time in front of a Columbus audience in nearly ten years, and afterwards a mean-spirited emcee poked more holes into her effort by cruelly and clumsily deriding her as she was carried off the back of the stage. The legs that once bounded across the fields of corn and soybeans in western Ohio, as she flourished on the high school cross country team, with the orange sun sucking beads of sweat out of her taunt legs, were crumbling around her feet. These legs that had walked through rain and baked parking lots on the Ohio State campus as she practiced hour after hour to get the routines of the Best Damn Band In The Land, and soon after across football fields around the United States had finally given up. Talking to her afterwards, she was crestfallen, not only for not being able to play well but for the embarrassment of falling, “Bela, I couldn’t feel my fucking legs—they just quit working, I was scared,” I heard take a pull from a bottle, wiping her mouth, “I fell in front of everybody, I’ve never been so embarrassed.” “Even more embarrassing than going out with me,” I joked. “No, you were the worst embarrassment, you nerd” she laughed. Growing serious,”Were you drunk?” I asked, as if alcohol was the root of every problem she had. “I had a little, but that had nothing to do without feeling my legs, god-damnit! Jesus Bela, is that all you care about, in all your drinking did you ever NOT FEEL YOUR LEGS!!! And then Paul, who used to be so nice to me made fun of me, that was really shitty. I’m not going to play again, I can’t go through the disappointment.”

            The call came from Dale, it was late, three a.m., in the background I heard the rain pelting down against him, small bombshells of water thumping-thumping-thumping against his large green withered Army coat. “Bela, it’s Dale, they just took Jenny away in the ambulance–they wouldn’t let me go with them because I’m drunk and I’m not her husband.” Yawning and clawing for my glasses, “where are they taking her?” “I’m guessing OSU East or Grant, she wasn’t doing good, she had a seizure and blacked out. She wasn’t making any sense, talking about these little silver men who were in the couch. Bela, I looked there were no little silver men in the couch.” “no, fucking shit” I thought. She was emaciated, except for her face and stomach which was starting to bulge out a little, the years of drink had started to hang deep in her face, while her arms grew thinner, her legs were dead weight at the end of the bed, tired eyes lined with red blinked at me, “Bela-baby, I can’t feel my legs anymore—I don’t know what’s wrong and then I had that seizure, Dale said I was hallucinating again. I don’t remember any of it, but I’m scared I’m gonna be in a wheelchair and I won’t be able to get down the stairs to my apartment. Then what?” She was in the ICU for nearly three weeks, and it was discovered that she had a heart condition, similar to her mother that went undetected through the years through neglect by Jenny and to a lesser degree by physicians who were too concerned with her drinking and seizures, they simply missed it as she would get stabilized and then discharged. Since she didn’t have insurance or Medicaid at the time the hospitals would to the minimum necessary and discharged, in hindsight, if they caught her heart condition earlier it may have saved hundreds if not millions in more lengthy hospital stays. It took nearly a month in ICU for the hospital to trace the loss of her legs on poor circulation due to a weak heart. She would eventually play two more shows over the next four years, both which were much more successful—but she arrived at both in a wheelchair.

            Driving north on High Street as I leave the late 19th Century house my family and I live in, the streets are lined with flowering trees, even the white clouds lay as if plucked from a white pillow and pined into the sky for a prop of idyllic life. Azalea, Rhododendron, Vinurum bushes form a pathway of whites, reds and purples from my doorstep to the unending cups of coffee, poured into shell-white porcelain cups at the wooden designed coffee shop where I spend my Saturday mornings. Just two miles away on Cleveland Avenue, which runs parallel with High Street, the flowering bushes are disguised as bus benches, with black and red advertisements for check cashing and bankruptcy help, the green foliage that provides a canopy of shade for sparkly metallic fuel-efficient sport cars that makes High Street a destination spot sits in sharp contrast on Cleveland Avenue as the thick gray of concrete and gravel spill off the streets into the multitude of parking lots, semi-vacant strip malls and the uniform architecture of fast-food buildings. They are two of the longest roads in Columbus, just two miles apart in distance but seemingly countries apart in lifestyles and income. Cleveland Avenue is desolate, and the desperation in brought to life by the number of abandoned storefronts and empty building, even the McDonalds on the middle section of Cleveland Avenue is abandoned. It is just past a dilapidated strip club, whose rotting rood wavers with every boner in the club where Jenny now lives. After extensive looking, calling and asking for favors it was the only handicapped accessible Section Eight unit we could find her off the bus-line. Recently, Jenny was again in the ICU for a number of weeks. Hug those you love.

live in 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQCwSNzhDb4

she used to play these on the piano quite a bit:

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One Response to “Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Now”

  1. eplunkett Says:

    This is so tough to read. So sorry this has happened to her.

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