Night In The City

In the hear of Phoenix lies a suberranean sone where day fades into night nearly without notice, where the city doesn't shut down with the sunset, and where, for some, the day begins with the night. Welcome to the night watch.

Hodge wearily takes a seat on the curb to finish his story, like the weight of it is forcing him to, like he can no longer uphold the weight of his existence. "I'm not a fighter by any means, and I made a mistake by saying, 'You know what, you're a prejudiced son of a bitch.' And he just fuckin' attacked. He came from behind my back and whacked my head. I started running, and he chased me down. I tripped, and he started beating on me. He did a number on me. I mean, he left customers in the store when he went chasing me.

"I was a mess. I had a beard then, and it was soaked in blood and everything. I could barely walk, my ribs were fractured, and I had no money. I approached a guy and asked him if he could help me get to the hospital, for bus fare, 'cause I didn't have any money. He just jumped in his car and drove off, didn't even acknowledge my presence.

"The night manager of the Whataburger on McDowell saw me ask this man, and she told me to quit bothering the customers. I ended up asking about four people, and they just snubbed their noses at me. I never made it to the hospital.

"Though I'll tell you what, I found the Mexicans to be the best people around here, over whites, blacks. They are the ones most willing to help."

Years ago, after moving to Phoenix from Indiana as a child, Hodge turned into someone else after one too many sucker punches from booze and coke. First went his ability to keep a regular job as a diner cook. Then the man's family wanted no part of him--including his wife, their three kids and a grandchild, basically everything he had. The final boot into homelessness came three months ago.

"I've been here [in Phoenix] for 29 years," he says sadly, his yellowy face cracked with fleshy chasms more appropriate for a man twice his age. "I went clean and stayed clean for quite a while. I kinda slipped and relapsed, and my family disowned me. Basically, I lost my job and family and ended up in the streets. I was staying at my sister's at the time [until three months ago] in Avondale when I relapsed and used. She could tell, and she kicked my butt out. And living in the streets it is almost impossible to stay away from drugs, ya know?"

Hodge has attempted rehab five times, including an eight-month stint in the Set Free Christian Discipleship, a shelter with the resources to help a homeless person negotiate his drug addiction. He has attempted numerous times to successfully stay with the Alcoholics Anonymous program, lasting two months in a 12-step-based halfway house. And now without a valid ID card, he finds it impossible to be taken in by a homeless shelter.

"A lot of people ask me--when they get smart with me when I do try and get money--they say St. Vincent de Paul feeds the homeless. I realize that, but that place is infested with drugs. You cannot go down there without people just swarming around you going, 'How much, how much?' I've struggled with it long enough without having to go down there. I know if I go down there, I know I am going to use. I'll go hungry before I go down there."

Hodge says the last time he used was a few days before this interview when a man dropped a crack pipe into his hand. "A guy came through the drive-through, and I do his windows, right. And he sticks his hand out and drops a crack pipe into my hand that had a pretty good push on it. He had a 16th of rock laying right on the dash and thought nothin' of it."

As far as placing blame for his self-perpetuating tragedy, Hodge has gotten over that long ago. "I can't blame no one but myself. I tried to for a long time, but reality hit me, and it's no one's fault but mine. So, I'm the only one that can change it."

Does he ever have fun?
"No, I haven't had fun in a long time," he says, his eyes fixed on his shoes.

Does he like himself?
Hodge brings his head up, looks straight forward and answers hoarsely as tears well, "No."

The Mayor of Sunnyslope
The self-employed cement worker strides through Sunnyslope on any given night like a general who can both woo and scare his troops. Uncle Billy says he's not a hero, but some around here treat him as such, the ones who live in this desperate Sunnyslope neighborhood amidst the nocturnal drug dealing, random shootings and petty robberies.

"I love Sunnyslope, it's real," he says. "It's hard-core. To survive in Sunnyslope you have to be a stand-up motherfucker.

"Don't get me wrong with the Confederate flag; I'm not into genocide, I'm not a skinhead, or a Klansman, either one," Uncle Billy says, his deep voice distorted by a healthy sense of drama, like Orson Welles after a hard night. "I have been a Klansman, but I'm not now; and I believe in separatism, separating the races and everything. Keeping the blood pure. It's what we are about as far as I'm concerned. And I don't know about you, brother, but I don't want no nigger datin' my daughter."

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