Midnight with Stoker and the Flower Man
November 20, 2001
Its a cold, blustery Monday night in Dallas. The hipsters
stay away from Deep Ellum in droves. Its always slow
on Monday, says Chad the Bass Player. Chad is on the door
at the Green Room. He plays bass around town with various bands.
Hes a friendly face and a friendly voice in the middle of
Deep Ellum is the cool part of town. Not the yuppie cool of Uptown
or Greenville. The true cool. Its days are probably numbered.
The surrounding area is growing thick with artists lofts that house
anyone but the artistic. Big, expensive, high-ceilinged affairs
that sell for more than any artistic type can shell out. Its
Melrose twenty years ago, right on the edge of becoming too cool
for the cool to afford.
The three avenues of Deep Ellum are still intact. The stores are
cacophonous and chaotic, and of the kind you wont find in
the respectable part of town. The restaurants are still glaringly
independent. The clubs still draw the low rent crowd that lives
for the music and the scene. You know its still the cool part
of town because the homeless havent been driven out.
Chad and I hang out in front of the Green Room talking about music
and Dallas and people in general. I ask him whats changed
since September 11th. He says its hard to tell for him. Hes
more in the business of helping people forget, give them some good
grooves and let them lose themselves in it. Right after the attacks
he noticed that business dropped off a bit and that the folks that
did come out were a combination of the too cool to care and those
that were obviously freaked and trying too hard to forget. Eventually
everyone chilled out and it returned to normal. Deep Ellum hasnt
been hit as hard as other entertainment and retail areas of town.
Its a place tourists drive through or walk along but it isnt
really their cup of tea. Conventioneers dont congregate in
Deep Ellum unless a bunch of them get so hammered they make a drunken
late-night run to get tattoos.
Chad points out the American Flag hanging over Dada across the
street. Thats definitely different. Its a little
weird looking but its kind of cool
the freaks fly the
flag. I see a lot of stuff like that. Flags where you dont
expect to see them.
We are joined now and again by someone on their way into or out
of the Green Room, one of the few places on Elm showing signs of
life. Jon joins us. Its an open conversation, a way to kill
time and share a little contact. We talk with him a bit. Hes
glad that things have calmed down a bit since the attacks. Hes
glad to get his television back from the 24/7 coverage of the explosions.
I asked him if anything has changed for him. He said not much but,
I feel patriotic for the first time. First time Ive
had a reason. I ask him what that feeling of patriotism means
to him. Pride, I guess. Like its something I want to
belong to instead of just a place to live.
Down the street I run into the Flower Man. I saw him earlier on
the street when he had given me a big hello, like he knew me. It
turns out he thought he did. He was convinced I had been down there
three weeks ago with my camera. That is how he knew it was me he
had seen three weeks ago. He claims that he approached me in a parking
lot to sell me some of his flowers and I gave him a buck and told
him to keep the flowers. I try to tell him it wasnt me. He
wasnt having any of it.
He has a dark, angular face. Its a hard face. His eyes are
always narrowed into slits, like hes peering out at you from
behind a secret. Hes wrapped tight in layers of clothing and
has managed to secure a heavy, lined coat.
The Flower Man harvests his flowers every day and carefully
wraps them in newspaper. He then walks around Deep Ellum. He used
to go Uptown or to Lower Greenville but the cops kept running him
off. In Deep Ellum they dont bother him. He wont tell
me where he harvests his flowers. I suspect that somewhere in Dallas
there are pockets of jacked up homeowners and a spate of unsolved
I ask him what he does with the money.
I know. White boy thinks Im just another nigger spending
any money he get on crack and ripple. I try to get enough so I can
get a room. Get out of this cold. Maybe buy a pack a smokes.
Then he breaks into a lazy grin and makes a motion like taking
a nip from a bottle and adds,
and maybe a little somethin,
He continually scratches at the thin knit cap he wears. He scratches
at it nervously. He scratches at it angrily. He scratches at it
Seeing an opportunity to get a cigarette from me, Stoker joins
us. He compliments me on my camera. And asks for a cigarette. Later
he compliments me on my camera and asks for a light. Later, still,
he will compliment me on my camera and ask for money. It works every
time. Pavlovian conditioning at its finest.
Stoker has an incongruously happy, round face, with wide eyes and
an easy smile, set on top of a body ripped with muscle and the movements
of a caged lion...like he could pounce on you and kill you with
his hands, smiling all the while. He looks dressed for the beach
compared the Flower Man and shivers in the cold. They ask why Im
taking pictures. I tell them what Im working on. I ask Flower
Man if he thinks about what it means to be an American.
Not much, he says. I guess not ever.
I ask him if he wants to think about it now. He pauses for awhile,
scratching at the cap.
No. I dont believe I do.
America is a place where the white man makes the rules and
robs a black man of his pride, Stoker volunteers.
This makes the Flower Man angry. Aint no man can rob
me of my pride cept for me. Damn sure cant no white
White man holds a brother down, Stoker responds, a
little less sure.
The Flower Man pushes him. He scratches at his cap in a mild rage.
When I had that nice place and the money and all those ladies
wasnt a white man gave it to me. When I lost it wasnt
a white man took it. I got it. I lost it. If I get it back gonna
be cause I got it back not cause nobody, least of all
a white man, get it back for me.
Stoker turns to me and, plaintively
imploringly, says, Dont
mean no offense but the white man see a black man with something
and he gonna try to put that black man down. That the way it is.
Flower Man shakes his head and huffs. Scratching, first angry then
Ill tell you what America is. Its a place where
you can see all the changes.
I wait to see if theres more. He says it slow and with great
seriousness. It sounds profound as hell but I have no idea what
He is amused by my confusion. If it is possible to scratch ones
head in amusement he does so. He pats me on the shoulder and talks
to me as if I was a child struggling with a lesson. You keep
your eyes open and youll know. Other places they hide whats
going on. Here you can see all the changes they make right out in
the open. Or not. That part more or less up to you.
The Flower Man is done with me. He has some more flowers to sell
before hes through for the night and the Green Room is closing.
He needs to get over to the door to catch the stragglers. He bounds
down the street, scaring the hell out of his prospects. Stoker tags
along after him complimenting the couple that just came out of the
club on their fine taste in clothes. I dont hear what he asks
I walked back to my car wondering if Id just heard words
of profound wisdom or the incoherent philosophy of the homeless
a little of both. I cant resolve it. But I will be keeping
my eyes open for the changes.