Lisa Keys stands on the corner of 35th and Clarke waiting for a ride on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Keys’ cropped haircut, long, dangling earring and furry black vest adorn her short frame. “I had a daughter, she got killed in Chicago. And, I was goin’ through the things I was goin’ through. And, my kids’ dad brought them here,” she says.
“Teaspoon” — or “Spoon,” as he refers to himself — sits on a set of concrete steps on the corner of 35th and Wright streets in Metcalfe Park. Spoon’s thin, medium-length dreadlocks, his rust-colored eye whites, rough, workman’s jacket and well-worn clothes distinguish him, yet he seems in place. “Life is not what it is; life is what it’s about,” he says. “You grow up and … you’ve gotta be whatever. Your momma help you, your daddy help you, but, at the same time, you gotta do the best you can do. You gotta survive. Life is all about survival.”
Joanne walks to the sidewalk from beside the open passenger window of a Jeep, where she had been a moment before. She opens her chapped lips to speak; the Pick ‘n Save at 2355 N. 35th St. looms in the background. “We are so hungry … we ain’t eaten in two days. Please help me,” she says.
Alexander James walks briskly down North Avenue on an early Saturday afternoon. James has somewhere to be, today, but it’s easy to get the feeling there wouldn’t be much slowing him down, no matter what. James, who grew up in the foster system, says he “bounced around, moved around a lot” as a kid. “Those are the cards I was dealt — my mother, she wasn’t able to take care of us,” he says.
Ronald Franks dances, unafraid of prying eyes, on the corner of 35th and Clarke, twirling what he refers to as his “adrenaline stick,” a flexible, four-foot-long cane with a tassel on top. Franks, who sports a double-breasted leather coat and leather fedora, is no amateur when it comes to strutting his stuff. “I’m a dancin’ fool,” says Franks. “Dancin’ is what does it for me.”
James Nash sits on a set of stone steps near 34th and Wright in Metcalfe Park. Nash grew up near 24th and Nash, 26th and Auer and a couple other homes in and around the Capitol Drive area. “I had a very mild-mannered upbringing but it was always in the inner city,” says Nash.
Patricia Huff stands next to her grocery bags as she waits for the bus on the corner of 35th and Meinecke. She’s unassuming besides the largely toothless, lipsticked mouth and smoking cigarette in her hand. Huff grew up in Logansport, Ind., but came to Milwaukee at a young age. “My dad molested me when I was five years old. And my mom sat there and watched him do it,” she says. “And, I went to school and said, ‘My pee pee hurts inside.’ I said, ‘I’m not goin’ back there.’ I didn’t go back.”