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Friday, May 02, 2008
Helping hands
As I went bloghopping, I found this inspiring story from this blog.

My favorite day, like most favorite things in my life, was bittersweet. And not just your Lifetime Movie bittersweet, I’m talking intensely bitter and immensely sweet.

I was walking along Hudson Street. It was a beautiful spring morning in 1994. The sun was shining and there was a snowstorm of petals from pear trees blowing in the breeze off the river.

I glanced down to pick up a paper, the usual tabloid buffet of the Post, Daily News and Newsday. Both Newsday and the Daily News had the same headline: "City Without Pity" with a picture of a frightened seven-year-old boy with AIDS "Giuliani Attempts to Evict Child with AIDS".

I was immediately incensed, even before reading the story. It was those big brown eyes filled with the worry of an adult that caught me. My God, no child should ever have to feel like that. The story described how this little boy, born with AIDS had been bounced from one hospital to the next because in those days no one would take in babies with AIDS. This little boy was even rejected from Hale House when he was an infant.

Anyway, a city hospital worker came across this little boy while he passed through Coney Island General. He, and the toddler next to him touched her heart. So, this tough as nails Brooklyn mom, who already had raised her own children, decided to take them both home into foster care. Quietly, without fan fare, she made a home for these two little boys; who had not a soul in the world to love them. To hear her tell it, God called the younger boy home. Now it was just she and Stevie.

Stevie’s health deteriorated rapidly. There was no real treatment in the early ‘90s for pediatric AIDS. But Stevie and his new Mom fought on. As Stevie got ill, he needed a hospital bed, and a small air conditioner. They lived in a city owned high-rise in Coney Island. She couldn’t leave Stevie to go do the wash, and she couldn’t afford to send it out, so she hooked up a used portable washing machine. The kind you hook up to the kitchen sink.

When a city inspector saw the air conditioner, the electric bed and the small washing machine, he wrote her a ticket. She proceeded to fight the ticket. But instead of going to a local court to fight a ticket, the City sent Sheriffs to her door with an eviction notice. Giuliani’s "Quality of Life" campaign was in full force, so anyone who violated any code was fair game even for a dying child in a hospital bed.

So there you have it, this sick kid, stuck in a hospital bed in a city owned high-rise in Brooklyn believing that because of his illness the cops are coming to get the only mother he has ever known.

Right there on the front page I could see the weight of that child’s worry in his eyes. Damn that Giuliani. This is wrong. I’m not gonna let him do this.... Those and a thousand other thoughts flew through my brain.

I’m a plumber, and I have friends that are electricians and other plumbers, and we know appliance distributors... and my plot began to take shape.

Me, a plumber with AIDS, and another gay plumber and an electrician quickly volunteered to help. The owner of a local gay restaurant and most of the waiters quickly chipped in with cash. Before the afternoon we had a new washing machine, a new A/C unit, a huge floral bouquet for the Mom, a permit to upgrade the plumbing and electric, and a lawyer representing Stevie and his Mom pro-bono.

I called the reporter who wrote the story, and he called Stevie’s Mom. When we spoke, I told her of our plans and that we could be out there that same day. The lawyer would meet with her in the evening. Within one day, we had new appliances, work permits and the biggest, smelliest law firm in NYC going after the Housing Authority and Giuliani.

I drove out there with a washer and dryer, and air conditioner on the back of my bumpy old Ford pick up, which danced over the Belt Parkway like water on a hot skillet. But it was like Christmas to me. I couldn’t wait to get there.

And when I got there, there were a bunch of Housing Cops at the front door. I thought I was in trouble, but they swarmed over the back of the truck ready to help me unload. They read the Daily News too.

I will never forget walking into that apartment. Stevie was in his hospital bed. An exhausted, frightened little kid lying there in a field of Lion King sheets. A Hickman Catheter exited up and over the collar of his Lion King pajamas. A polite, but strained smile was his best effort at an introduction. But his eyes recognized that I was there to help. His Mom burst into tears when we barged in with appliances and tools and set to work. She cried, "I prayed and prayed for an angel. You are my angel!" And without thinking I just said, "No, I think he’s my angel."

You see, when I glanced down at that newspaper, I was just a gay plumber with 30-T Cells and my own Hickman. I was just as scared as Stevie over what the future held. I felt helpless and weak. And in an instant that little boy’s picture changed everything. It was my George Bailey moment. I called in every chip I had, and all my friends and business associates stepped up to the plate. And we went in there and got ready to slay the dragon. And we did. We won in court, Giuliani backed down. And policy changed for other kids with AIDS in foster care. And we found a little bit of joy in the midst of the chaos. And I learned I was more than the sum of my T-Cells. I could sit on my ass and wait to die, or I could stand up and fight. Somehow it was easier to fight for a little kid than it was for myself. He was my angel.

That is a day worth repeating.

Crixi Van Cheek, NYC.

It makes you fuzzy inside, isn't it?

Update: The owner of this writing did commented on my blog. Crixi Van Cheek, your story is such an inspiration to me. I wish you all the best in the world. Spread the love!


posted at 4:00 PM  

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Every Man For Himself

“Count your smiles instead of your tears; Count your courage instead of your fears.”

~ Unknown

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

~ Maya Angelou

“The secret of Happiness is Freedom, and the secret of Freedom, Courage.”

~ Thucydides

“Everything becomes a little bit different as soon as it is spoken out loud”

~ Hermann Hesse

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