oral history

Life and Death at The Wall: Homelessness, Poverty, Grief, & Love with Howie and Carmel (Part Two)

(In the second part of their oral history with Hard Times Review, Howie and Carmel continue the story of the past few years of their life together. We discuss loss, grief, suffering, and love in hard times, living perpetually down and out in America. Carmel is 49 years old and Howie is 38. We are also with a friend of ours, identified in previous HTR stories as “Glenn.” He chimes in throughout. We continue our conversation about “The Wall,” where we left off in Part One. The Wall was a local hangout for people in need of company and a place to go. Howie and Carmel lived there for a time. It has since been closed down. Howie, Carmel, and Glenn reflect on life and death there.)

Howie: We’ve had people say, “Oh, if we could sleep on The Wall at night, we would,” and they’d put their sleeping bags out next to us and everything.

Carmel: And none of em could do it. 

Howie: Couple hours later… 

Carmel: They’d be gone a couple hours later. 

Howie: Because of the skunks and racoons. “We don’t know how you guys do it.”

Glenn: Hey, that’s true, because when we had Danny’s memorial, I stayed there —

Howie: Oh, we had a memorial for Danny —

Glenn: And I stayed there all night —

Howie: Who died of an overdose back there, and there was —

Glenn: And I stayed there a couple nights after, all night too, just to watch the candles burning. 

Carmel: Howie and I saved 17 people that summer over there, 2017.

Glenn: But Danny was my hardest… (trails off)

Saved them with Narcan, you mean? 

Howie and Carmel: (at the same time) Between Narcan, CPR — 

Howie: I brought her back twice. Everyone else, it was like turnin on a light in an abandoned apartment building and watching the cockroaches run. They all ran.

Carmel: I try to tell them, “You don’t get in trouble for that shit.”

Howie: I won’t say names, but there was only one other person, the second time that she fell out, who said, “If you love her, you’ll call.” Of course, I didn’t want the cops and everyone to cut our makeshift campsite open. We’ve had —

Glenn: (mutters) I’m sorry, I know it’s not my story, but tell Matty about when you fell out.

Carmel: Yeah.

Howie: Which time?

Carmel: Over there, that you died.

Glenn: Valentine’s Day, the first time that —

Howie: We were hangin out all day, Glenn and I. Department of Corrections told me I could not go back to Wilmington, to our residence. They had GPS on me. We had all been drinkin one day, half gallons. Someone offered us a cookout. The party ended up movin in between the two bridges. I remember gettin a bag and then comin to and I was in the ER, all tubed up, then again on Valentine’s Day this year. It happened again.

What was that like?

Howie: When they say the “light at the end” —

Carmel: Scary, because I Narcanned him twice and I couldn’t get him back, so I started doing CPR. I called 9-1-1, because I was trying to save him and I couldn’t. I did end up saving him. I mean, obviously, he’s here, but it was very scary and I just felt like I needed somebody to coach me through it, because I lost my son to an overdose two years ago. I found my son dead two years ago, and that was about 23 days after my dad had died, so I lost my dad, my son, and my brother, all in 18 months, and my brother and my son were both from overdoses.

Glenn: Howie was the one that fell out that day. I fell out down here, the next day.

Howie: I came to. I ripped the catheter out of myself in the ER, was yellin, “I’m a man n I wanna piss like one,” but, when they say you “see the light at the end of the tunnel,” it was her father, her son, her brother, my mother, bunch of other people, and her dad was the one that put his foot up and said, “It’s not your time yet. Get back down there.” Now all of us carry Narcan on us at all times.

Glenn: I got one in my pocket right now.

Howie: I’m tired a people sayin, “Oh, just let em die.” No one dies on my time.

Carmel: Not on my time.

Howie: Not on my time.

Glenn: I’ve lost too many people to this fuckin addiction, really.

Howie: Someone in this town needs to start carrying Narcan like we do. First responders say it’s too expensive.

Glenn: We get it for fuckin free.

Howie: We go right to Turning Point. Go to the Drop-In. 

Glenn: They have cases of it. 

Do you guys want to talk a little more about your friend who died at The Wall right before it closed, the memorial and everything? 

Glenn: My God, this is gonna be good. 

Howie: Matty, that’s why my hair’s as long as it is, because —

Carmel: He hasn’t cut it since Danny died.

Howie: No, February 4th of last year, the day I went into jail.

One at a time, describe the day he died, what that was like for you, as best you remember it, from beginning to end.

Howie: Out of all his true friends, we were the ones that went up to the Drop In. Carmel made murals and everything. We got as many pictures as we could. Everyone was whippin out pictures off the fax machine and we —

Carmel: And we hung them all down on the fence and —

Howie: And we got a candle. It’s called an “Infinity Candle” —

Glenn: “Eternity Candle.”

Carmel: I went to the florist and they donated flowers to us for him.

Howie: We had a friend come down, Hippie Don. He came down with a pill bottle full of joints, already rolled.

Carmel: Big joints, and we just all kept passin all the joints around.

Howie: But this town does have its share of grimy people, because Danny always smoked Largo tobacco and used the Raw wraps from the Indomart, so at the end of the day, when we all left, we left change, whatever, all the blunt roaches —

Glenn: And I slept there that night, watched it.

Howie: Well, after you left or whatever —

Glenn: Must’ve been asleep.

Howie: All the change, all the —

Carmel: Somebody went down and took it all. 

Glenn: That was the worst day of my life.

Somebody went down and took it?

Howie: Took all the change we left —

Carmel: Took everything we left for him.

Howie: Like, where his candles were —

Glenn: We had trays for, like, if anybody wanted to leave anything, little bit of weed or —

Howie: We had incense sticks going.

Glenn: Right, right. 

Howie: At the exact time he passed, because he used to go (throws hands up), “Woo” —

Glenn: Right, because, Matty, the ceremony part that we had planned started at five, but I wanted to watch… (trails off) Because Danny was my roommate after I left the Overflow Shelter.

Howie: He was a good guy, all around.

Glenn: And he was my roommate in Halifax at Bill Bump’s house, and we became roommates, and the day Danny died, that was the worst day of my fuckin life, bro. It was.

Describe the day.

Glenn: Well, the day started at The Wall like usual, everybody’s coming down there to have fun. Me, Danny, and a good friend of mine — I can say his name because he won’t care — my friend Flip, all throwin the frisbees, havin a good time, drinkin a couple beers.

Howie: That’s what The Wall was about, football, frisbee —

Glenn: And just havin a good time, but then, all the sudden, I saw Danny leave and I saw him talkin to this person, then he went down back, out back over at the machine shop —

Carmel: Down on the riverbank —

Howie: By the river —

Glenn: Then, all the sudden, somebody comes up and says, “This guy is not breathin and everything,” and when I went around the corner, it was Danny.

Howie: He saved Carmel from gettin raped at The Wall on two different occasions. I went to do a beer run for everybody at the indo. I come back and all I hear is, “Danny, miss you, brother.” I say, “What the fuck?”

You guys were all there?

Glenn: Oh, man, that was the worst day of my life, then we had some people —

Howie: Ruinin it.

Glenn: Ruinin it, because they were taking pictures and putting them on Facebook, of his dead body.

Carmel: The cops didn’t even cover his body up.

Glenn: They did not. 

Howie: He was face down in the mud still.

Carmel: Laying there, face down. It was disgusting.

Glenn: And you know what? He could’ve been saved, but the fuckers were up on the hill for 10 minutes, waiting. The FUCKERS were.

Do you remember if there was any explanation given as to why they were waiting at the top of the hill like that?

Howie: Because they’re grimy like that.

Glenn: Because of some kind of issue around this shit.

Howie: Because they’re afraid. Everyone’s afraid. And everyone around is afraid that if someone overdosed, you’re going to be the one accused of —

Glenn: No, you’re not.

Howie: Carmel and I, one day, were over at the transit center —

Glenn: You’ve got to be there —

Howie: And there was a kid sittin on the stairs, about ready to start eatin the pavement, kept noddin in and out. There were two cops in front of us. Meanwhile, I had the thing of Narcan already out of its package, ready to go. The cop turns around and goes, “Can we help you?” Carmel and I are like, “No, but we’re about to help him.”

Glenn: And you wanna hear something fucked up? The person that put that shit on Facebook when Danny died, that’s the way his kid found out that he died.

Howie: That’s how his kid found out, yep —

Glenn: Found out that he died. Those fuckers.

Howie: Social media.

What was the rest of the night like after he died?

Howie: I just kept smokin and drinkin.

Glenn: It was bad.

Carmel: So depressing, and we just drank and smoked and —

Howie: Listened to songs that he had —

Carmel: We listened to music and cried and —

Howie: And thought about the good times that we had with him. 

Glenn: I didn’t know, that day, that there were still people who didn’t know he had passed, so me and a couple friends of mine were driving to Halifax to tell Bill Bump because Bill Bump loved Danny. 

Howie: Everybody loved Danny. 

Glenn: Bill Bump loved Danny. He really did, so we went to their house. But, first, the people I was with, we had to buy some vodka… for Danny. And then we all went to that place in Halifax and we had a little memorial then, but we planned this memorial, the one at The Wall —

Howie: The day we heard about it.

Glenn: Right, right. We started, “Boom,” get right on it.

Howie: We were kickin people off the computers up at the Drop in Center, so Carmel could get all the pictures of Danny, as many as we could. We went to the thrift store and asked them for a bunch of picture frames, memorial poster board. We had flowers, like we said before, and incense. When we all heard about someone taking all the blunt roaches and all the cigarette ends and the change, it wasn’t even a lot of change.

Glenn: No, like a dollar something.

Howie: Dollar 50, dollar 60 total, and someone… (trails off) It’s like, “Wow, how do you have a soul when you do something like that?”

Carmel: It was just depressing. It was really—

Howie: We were a tight knit community.

Carmel: Right, considering we were all homeless and we were homeless together, we were together day and night, so we were all inseparable, really, so it was not only like losing a friend, but like losing part of our family.

One at a time, what is your fondest memory of Danny in the time you knew him?

Glenn: Man, he lit up the room when he came in. He was a delight. I remember when I first met Danny. He had this long fuckin fur coat. (laughter) That’s the first time I met Danny, with his fur coat.

Howie: The rock star.

Glenn: He was a fuckin lovin man.

Carmel: And he looked a lot like Axel Rose, with his long hair and he’d wear that big fur jacket, and he just looked like a pimp. That’s all I could think of.

Glenn: I loved that. See? I’m tearin up, because I miss him. Yeah, and he died June 3rd about four years ago. Yeah, it’s been four years, right?

Howie: Yut.

Carmel: My fondest memory with Danny, I would have to say, is partying out at Cannoli Campground.

What was that like?

Carmel: We all partied and had cookouts. His lil girl was there. It was just nice. I mean, I’ve known Danny a long time. I knew him a really long time.

How did you meet Danny?

Carmel: I met Danny through another carni, because Danny was a carni as well. I met him through a female carni who lived in town as well. She was a really good friend. She introduced me to Danny and we just hit off and we’d been friends since.

Glenn: You could not hate Danny.

Carmel: No, he was just a loving guy.

Glenn: He was such a fuckin joy.

Carmel: He was. He lit up any room. No matter how depressing it was —

Howie: He could have a bad day. I could have a bad day. We made each other’s day better. That’s why right now my hair is this long. Once it gets long enough, I’m donating it to Locks of Love in the name of Danny, and in memory of my mom, because she had cancer in her last couple years. I’ve always said I wanted to do it. I’ve been sticking to my guns for almost two years now, haven’t trimmed it, nothin.

Did you want to recall a specific memory of Danny?

Howie: (throws arms up) “WOO,” enough said.

Carmel: That was his favorite —

Howie: He’d come down the alleyway, “WOO,” shoutin it and throwin his arms up like this. 

Glenn: Yeah, because when he’d come through The Wall, he’d walk to the end, and he’d always go, “WOO,” when he got to the end. So, like I was sayin, at five o’clock, when we had that ceremony for him at The Wall after he died, I made the request that we all walk to the end of The Wall and go, “WOO,” at about five, and we did, all together.

Howie: The cops even came, and they knew what we were doing.

Glenn: I know. COPS WERE COMIN, just to pay condolences to Danny.

Howie: It was private property, so they couldn’t say nothin about the open containers.

Glenn: And even some of the transit workers were there.

Howie: What really killed it was all the overdoses at The Wall, or else we could still, to this day, be sittin over there. Carmel and I lived over there.

Carmel: We just got sick of it and —

Howie: We were homeless and  —

Carmel: It was dirty, needles everywhere, and —

Howie: We were rakin up anywhere from —

Carmel: It was ridiculous — 

Howie: A thousand to five thousand cigarette butts every day. I didn’t mind the cans, because I was going to Price Chopper with em, 30 dollars worth a cans a day. We lived there. We lived there.

Categories: oral history, Poverty