T.J. Thomas, Vietnam

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"I got stabbed in Vietnam. That’s a bayonet wound! They sewed me up on the battle field. He had his bayonet in me and I shot him dead."

T.J. Thomas, Tore Up

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BW: So, what are you doing out here?

TJ: My fiance left me and it broke my heart.

BW: God, I’m sorry. Another man?

TJ: Yeah, my best friend…

BW: That’s hard.

TJ: Man, I thought this one was it. I been married 4 times and I thought she was the one. Here’s a picture of her.
She was older like me. I thought… I don’t know… I’m just tore up.

T.J. Thomas and Elvis

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TJ: I lost everything when Elvis died.

BW: Elvis?

TJ: Yeah, Elvis Presley. I worked as his bodyguard.

BW: Really? That’s pretty cool.

TJ: Yeah, knew him for years. I was one of the pallbearers at his funeral. You can find pictures of it on the internet. I was the shortest one.

BW: No kidding? What’s your name?

TJ: TJ Thomas. I’m kin to BJ Thomas. He was a well known country singer.

BW: So you knew Jerry Lee Lewis too?

TJ: Yeah and Jimmy Swaggart.

BW: NO shit!?! You knew Jimmy Swaggart? He used to be my dad’s favorite preacher!

TJ: Mine too til he got caught with his pants down. Can’t be preachin’ the way he did from the pulpit and actin like that in backseats of cars.

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Ken in Newnan

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I saw Ken walking under the bridge on 85 and Bullsboro in Newnan. 

Ken: Me and my wife are about to get evicted.

BW: The job at K-mart not paying enough?

Ken: I had a problem with my hip and was out of work for a while. Can’t get caught back up.

BW: What happens after you get evicted?

Ken: I’m not sure… I guess we’ll find a way to make it.

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More at The Hidden South

Jaz

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Jaz: I got a thing for older men. I’m talkin to this guy now that’s 50!

BW: How old are you?

Jaz: 28. You know how us girls who didn’t have a daddy are.

BW: Yeah, I’ve known a few.

Jaz: But this guy… I can’t stop thinking about him. Gorgeous cock. Mmmmm. And he’s an addict like me. He likes meth. But he’s got his shit together. 

BW: How’s he got his shit together?

Jaz: You know, he’s got a house. His house isn’t trashed. No ring around the tub… he’s got his shit together.
I called him today, texted him, and nothin. I just need to get over him. It’s bullshit. I don’t need to be hung up on some old man!

BW: If he called right now, you’d be over there in 5.

Jaz: Yeah… *giddy smile

More at The Hidden South

Pamela

"I try to wake up hopeful, that this will be my last day on the street, but it’s hard after so many years."

Nekibra

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I met Nekibra by the Greyhound station in downtown Atlanta.

BW: Tell me a secret.

Nekibra: The secret? Well…

BW: No no, not “the secret”, a secret. Tell me something you’ve never told anyone else.

Nekibra: Hmmmm… I used to have dreams when I was a kid about skeletons laying down and rubbing on me. Like a couple of them at once.

BW: Like sexually?

Nekibra: Not really. I mean they didn’t do anything sexual but it would make me have a wet dream.

BW: No shit? That’s interesting. You think it has something to do with like, the skeletons in your closet bringing you pleasure?

Nekibra: Hmmm… maybe. Never thought about that.
I’ve never even told my mama that shit! Never told anyone! You better not make me look… you know…

BW: Make fun of you?

Nekibra: Yeah…

BW: Nah, that’s not what this is about. I hope to build you up. not tear you down. 

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Rambo

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I was walking down some tracks by our place early this morning and came to a bridge that I’ve been to quite a few times. I started taking some pictures of the graffiti and whatnot and I saw some movement in the shadows at the top of the bridge. I looked up and there was Rambo.

Me: Mornin’

Rambo: Hey, what you taking pictures for?

Me: My name’s Brent and I’m working on a book about people I meet in the South.

Rambo: I’ll be right down. Let me take a piss. Rambo’s got a story to tell you.

Me: Take your time.

Rambo: In 1996 a bullet came through the living room window and killed my mama dead. I found her. It made my mind different.
My aunt died 10 years ago and you’re looking at the last person in my family. I ain’t got nobody. 

Me: That’s tough. How long have you been outdoors?

Rambo: I been in the bat cave about 10 years. That’s 10 years of summers and winters out here. That’s why they call me Rambo, cause I can survive. People ask me. “Rambo, how you make it?” and I say, “with Jesus in your heart, you can survive anything.”

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I got a story for you.

Sharon: You a cop?

Me: No, are you?

Sharon: No… Can you give me a ride to the store?

Me: Sure, Hop in.

Sharon: So, what you lookin for baby.

Me: I’m a photographer and I take pictures of people I meet and tell their stories.

Sharon: Really? I got a story for you. Where you gonna put it?

Me: On my website and I’m working on a book.

Sharon: OK…
My dad raped me from the time I was 9 til I was 13, almost every day. 

Me: I’m sorry.

Sharon: I never had a first boyfriend or a first kiss or anything like that. It was always dad. Everything I learned about sex, I learned from him. But I never sucked him. Only sex… I never told anybody that…

Me: Do you think you’ll ever forgive him?

Sharon: Hell no, he did it to my sisters too. One of my sisters has a baby by him. I mean, I’ll forgive him the way Jesus does. He’s sicker than me but I’ll never forgive him for what he did. Made me have mental problems too.

Me: Schizophrenia? 

Sharon: Yeah, how you know that?

Me: I’ve known people with similar stories. Do you ever talk to a shrink?

Sharon: I’ve talked to plenty. They all the same. Same questions, same answers. I feel like, look mother fucker, read my chart, it’s all right there. You’re a lot easier to talk to than them and you’re cute too *smiles and giggles.

Me: Ha. I’m glad you can talk to me. You know somewhere that’s a little shady that we can take a few pictures?

Sharon: Shady? Like… shady?

Me: *smile not shady like that. The sun is harsh right now. I need shade to get a good picture of you.

Sharon: Oh yeah, I got a spot. Turn left.

I’ve seen Carl for years but didn’t meet him until I took these pictures last Friday. He spends his days under the bridge on Metropolitan Parkway. His hair has never been cut  and comes down to his feet. He sleeps under an overhang at an abandoned strip club.

Like many homeless people that I’ve met, he had a general distrust of other humans. I tried to talk to him about his life but didn’t learn much. Maybe next time.

"I won the the veteran of the year award twice now, so I’m scratching my name off the list this year."

Stewart Ave was the street to hit if you needed to satisfy any number of vices, back in the 80s and 90s. Street pharmacists were plentiful and the motels were inhabited, almost exclusively, by hookers, hanging out the doors, hoping to entice anyone with a few bucks to spend. 

In 1997 Stewart Avenue was renamed to Metropolitan Pkwy, in a half-hearted attempt to re-brand the street with one of the worst reps in the Southeast. The Atlanta City Council cited that it would give the street, known for prostitutes, strip clubs and drug dealers a clean slate.

That plan clearly didn’t work out. The only difference, 17 years later, is that the red lights don’t shine quite so bright but working girls and dope slingers still rule the night. 

I’ll be spending some more time down here in the next few months, working on collecting some stories from this colorful street. 

"Jesus don’t want you to hate nobody but that son of a bitch down at code enforcement caused me to have a five bypass surgery."

- been 4 months since I came here from Louisiana.
+ New Orleans?
- Nah, Lake Charles
+ why Atlanta?
- They said the jobs here.
+ Any luck?
- Nah man, not easy when you don’t have an address.
+ Where do you stay?
- Right there (points to car)

- been 4 months since I came here from Louisiana.

+ New Orleans?

- Nah, Lake Charles

+ why Atlanta?

- They said the jobs here.

+ Any luck?

- Nah man, not easy when you don’t have an address.

+ Where do you stay?

- Right there (points to car)

Only one of the shops was open on the seedy side of Columbus, GA last Sunday morning. Honestly, I couldn’t believe any were open, during church hours, in the heart of the bible belt. But, there it was, like a dirty little oasis, flaunting it’s torrid TOYS sign, for all of the glory seekers to see. 

I went in and an older black lady was watching the register. I introduced myself, like a southern gentlemen should, and asked her what she thought I should take pictures of in Columbus. She looked at me, as if to say, “Do you see a sign on the door that says “Visitor Center”, Mother Fucker?”

I then asked if I could take pictures of her. She laughed hard and said that she had a big African husband who wouldn’t like that. I did my best to assure her that he’d like the pictures just fine, maybe even love them! Sadly, she was unaffected by my passionate plea.   

When I told her that my girlfriend was in the car, she was kind enough to offer us a private room for the bargain price of $12. I told her we’d consider the offer and we parted ways.