Willie Whitehorn walks down Chicago Street in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward on a cloudy afternoon toting three oversized plastic bags, filled to the brim with cans. Whitehorn, a man of modest height and weight, despite the appearance of his baggy coat, stops on the corner and stares through his sunglasses at a young woman crossing the street.
Nodding in approval, Whitehorn turns and answers an un-posed inquiry matter-of-factly. “I’m a girl-watcher,” he says.
Whitehorn says he grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, but that he doesn’t remember much from that time. “I was young, I was young, I was 9 years old when I came here,” he offers, in a barely-recognizable drawl.
“You said where? Man, I gotta think, now – it’s been a long time, a long time… Talkin’ about the first place?” Whitehorn struggles to recall where he lived but, suddenly, it comes to him. “I’m gonna go to the beginning. I mean, okay: Cherry Street, 15th and Wright and, uh, and, uh, now, my mother’s still on, ah…my mother, she’s on, ah, she on Center Street…Center and Wright.”
Life hasn’t been kind to Whitehorn. “My sister, she dead…”
But Whitehorn, who still has four brothers, hasn’t been very kind to himself, either. “In and out of jail, doin’ crack and, uh, now I regret it because I got no job.”
And, Whitehorn, himself, sees both sides of the coin. Whether another instance of faulty memory or an assertion worthy of inspection on a deeper level, Whitehorn says, “I was born on Center, I was born on Center…people ‘round me. I just chose the wrong path in life.”
“Now, since I got older, right, my goal has been to be a minister, to help young guys to realize that what they’re doin’…ain’t the answer, bro. They need a role model, man – someone who’s been there, like me.”
But his aspirations will have to wait, at least for now – today, Whitehorn has a more urgent calling. “I gotta go, big man, gotta go, big man – junk yard…they gonna close, I gotta get my money.”
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