By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
"It's a little bit frustrating," he says. "Sometimes I have to look inside and say, 'Is this my fault, is it my fault that I'm fucked up, that I can't keep a job? Or are bosses really just assholes?' It's a tough question, it's hard to answer. It seems like a little bit of both."
Robert has decisions to make. He needs to start over, of course -- "I am as poor as you can get in this country and I have to start over. Again." -- although, he points out, he's not getting any prettier, and employers prefer younger, cuter specimens than him. He says discrimination against ugly people is the new form of racism, that everyone in every office dresses so perfectly and acts just so, and that if you're not like that you never get promoted, you get hidden away, shunted -- shunted! -- into the mail room, and never get ahead.
"Everybody recognizes what a game it is," he says. "Everybody knows it's a game, but you have to play it, because that's the way it is, there's no way around it ... I'm getting angry now."
Robert the Rabbit growls a little. Then he chuckles. There's no way around it at all.
After four freezing days of wind and rain on the Albany Landfill, there is probably no color more glorious than that of an unbroken blue sky. By Wednesday, when the storm is past, sleeping bags lie drying in the sun. Jean Paul, barefoot, comes out of his tent for the first time in a while. He offers a beer, still cold from the previous night.
Sarah stops by. She and Jean Paul eat boysenberry cobbler cookies, tilting their faces toward the sun. She doesn't know what she'll do when it's time to leave. She's thought about living in a storage space, which would have access problems. She can't see herself in shelter. Obviously, she'll have to do something. "I draw such a blank about where I go from here that I can't even spend very much time worrying about it," she says.
Jean Paul, on the other hand, knows exactly where he'll go -- nowhere. "I've had people tell me to leave where I am all my life," he grumbles. "I ain't gonna move ... I can't just not be, until I'm dead, thank you. We have to be someplace. Why not leave it alone and give us the goddamned land to use?"
As for Tricycle Johnny, he does not come out of his tent for two more days. A thin man in a brown coat with tangled, gray-black hair, he moves gingerly, as if his body has been stuck full of needles. Sarah ties his shoes for him -- though he will not let her help him up -- as a number of friends mill about, trying to find him a ride to the bank.
As the sun sets, Robert the Rabbit walks along the shoreline. He marvels at the light on the dark, glassy water, nods hello to a passing hiker, stands atop an old rusted vault. Some friends got pretty fucked up at his place the night before and trashed his tent a little, although he doesn't really remember what happened and figures he just passed out. He says he'll be gone before the sweep comes, he'll take his pup tent, a couple of sleeping bags, his stove, and his mountain bike and sort out the details from there.
At the Bulb's western edge, Robert visits his friend Walter, 35, who lives in a shack overlooking the bay and has been sleeping off a bender of his own. They smoke cigarettes and talk about homeless shelters: the rules, the curfews, the crowding, the misery. They have it made, they figure, at least for now. As the sun slants through the doorway, Walter looks in a hand mirror, then pats the top of his head. "My hair's messed up," he says.
"Ah, you look beautiful," says Robert. "You wanna dance?"
Not much will change at the Albany Landfill for months, if not years. Though plans call for a park, how -- and at what cost -- this jagged mass of liabilities will be transformed into a fully accessible recreation area remains to be seen. In the meantime, the dog walkers and hikers will keep coming, the land as free and untracked as ever.
But after June 15, crews will remove whatever structures are still standing, and police will patrol more frequently. The murals, their authors departed, will fade day by day. The angel will remain on her perch, wings outstretched, head tilted skyward, her only constants gravity, the elements, and time.