American Nomad: Johnnie D’Angelo

“To those who say that escaping is not courageous, we answer: what is not escape and social investment at the same time? ”
― Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia

 

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D’Angelo at The Grand Canyon / 2017 / Courtesy Johnnie D’Angelo

Johnnie D’Angelo (b. 1991) is an enigma. Egesting a kind of nearly invisible goo, which then forms, by layers, into a delicate shell, he escapes examination, interpretation or analysis. Despite hours of interviews, Facebook chats and other exchanges, there is a sense that one cannot get to D’Angelo. One comes near him but never reaches him there. I get a sense that he does not even know he excretes this gooey field, that this shell is too translucent, too close to home, for he needs and dissociates from it. Like an embryonic bird, his shell nourishes and protects him. Given that chicks must punch through their shells to survive, the question remains: how long before it suffocates him? D’Angelo is known, even after direct communication, by inferences, through mediated exchanges, chemically- and technologically- lubricated connections, yet he exists. But where? And herein lies the challenge to the rest of ‘us,’ or rather those of us who are somehow ‘fixed:’ in what ways do we use what he re-presents to assuage our own desperate misery?

D’Angelo is the perfect receptacle of Western bourgeois, petit bourgeois and working-class animus. He is itinerant, nomadic, dynamic, ‘dirty,’ dreaded and dreadful by the mainly hypocritical standards of Middle American responsibility and respectability. He has left the road for the wilderness, and found himself on the streets. From the lush forests of the Olympic Peninsula to California’s Death Valley, from middle class Cleveland suburbia to a stalled freight train in the Nevada desert, he epitomizes the schizo-nomad. The schizo-nomad, without interaction and insertion into (the larger) Structure, becomes inert to themselves and Others; they quite literally drop out of the Symbolic register altogether. Yet, D’Angelo is not inert, he is still moving, and perhaps that is the only way to be somewhere. Admiration meets frustration, a frustration not with D’Angelo but with myself, my own emptiness, my own loneliness, my own sense of being nowhere. It is through examining the ideas that surround representations, stereotypes and narratives of him that I find myself wanting and wondering: what is authenticity, what is a life well lived, and who or what defines these parameters?

What is the schizo-nomad? Simply put, unlike nomads who exist in societies where nomadic life is an endogenous part of their social organisms, the schizo-nomad is one who breaks with their fixed, sedentary culture (ergo, schism), to take flight, to escape, to traverse around-outside the inner workings of the sedentary society they still live within. In this sense, the symbol ‘schizo-nomad,’ in America, consequentially has roots in a weird admixture of the repressive (e.g frontier settler colonialism) and the liberating (i.e. Beatnik, queer migrations, etc.). Tellingly, one of D’Angelo’s favorite books is Jack Kerouac’s 1962 Big Sur. In that semi-autobiographical book the (ostensibly) straight Kerouac battles with his inner psychic and somatic turmoil: bottles of wine, intoxication, escape, sandy beaches and that cabin, where he learns to always clean himself with soap after defecating; Kerouac also, through twists and twisting of his very soul, perhaps relearns the necessity of meditative solitude (he had written Dharma Bums in the late 1950s, which focused heavily on meditation). Seven years after Big Sur, Kerouac would tragically become inert to himself and others, dying – emblematically – of an internal hemorrhage. As a 21st Century schizo-nomad, Johnnie is adapting differently; perhaps he is here to usher in a new epoch of itinerant, messy, Beatific, literary solicitude?

“Travel was once a means of being elsewhere, or of being nowhere. Today it is the only way we have of feeling that we are somewhere. At home, surrounded by information, by screens, I am no longer anywhere, but rather everywhere in the world at once, in the midst of a universal banality – a banality that is the same in every country. To arrive in a new city, or in a new language, is suddenly to find oneself here and nowhere else. The body rediscovers how to look. Delivered from images, it rediscovers the imagination.”
― Jean Baudrillard, The Transparency of Evil: Essays in Extreme Phenomena

Dropping out of the workforceD’Angelo is economically a part of what Marx called the lumpen-proletariat. D’Angelo takes food from dumpsters, rarely has a dollar to his name, holds varied (often) comedic cardboard signs soliciting donations, and he travels with two fantastically cute dogs. Much, if not most, of America views his life as a waste. He doesn’t meet the demands of the job market, worry about interest rates or stock market fluctuations, and he is – by his own admission – most psychologically free when he’s without any money. The idea of the lumpen-proletariat as reactionary detritus, outside the realm of class consciousness or social communion, has been used to demonize traveling groups such as the Roma, or Gypsies,

“Robert Ritter, a physician and Nazi Germany’s leading expert on Gypsies, considered them a “highly inferior Lumpenproletariat” as they were “parasites who lacked ambition and many of them had become habitual criminals.”[69] Gypsies were seen in post-World War II communist-ruled eastern and central Europe as an example of the lumpen proletariat and were, therefore, subject to an aggressive policy of assimilation.[70]

Challenging this (very Christian) anti-nomadic Left-Right paranoid (e.g. antisemitic tropes of the ‘wandering’ and ‘rootless’ Jew) consensus against those who live as an underclass, or a class under or ‘around’ the ‘working class’ (proletariat), I have constantly sought to situate the vagabond, the nomad, the itinerant Bohemian, the traveler, the exile, etcetera as always potentially central to an emancipatory possibility. Here, in contrast to Marx, I concur with Mikhail Bakunin’s analysis,

“[That] the lumpen-proletariat and not in the bourgeois strata of workers, are there crystallized the entire intelligence and power of the coming Social Revolution […] the great rabble of the people (underdogs, ‘dregs of society’) ordinarily designated by Marx and Engels in the picturesque and contemptuous phrase lumpenproletariat. I have in mind the ‘riffraff’, that ‘rabble’ almost unpolluted by bourgeois civilization, which carries in its inner being and in its aspirations […] all the seeds of the socialism of the future.”

In this article, I have combined both my own commentary along with selected transcripts of our conversations. I would also like to thank his mother, Lynn D’Angelo, for speaking with me on the record and providing photographs.

. . .

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Typical Home in North Royalton, Cleveland, Ohio Suburb / Image Courtesy: Realtor.com

D’Angelo was adopted five days after his birth, on a chilly, snowy day in Cleveland, Ohio (the high was 29F). His new parents, Catholic and middle-class, would raise D’Angelo with all the comforts of Middle America in the picturesque Cleveland suburban hamlet of North Royalton. Within months of his adoption, D’Angelo’s mother, Lynn, would be holding him tightly as she bled from complications arising from an ultimately successful in vitro fertilization; in my interview with her, she would describe holding the infant D’Angelo and praying “please God, whatever happens always keep Johnnie with me.” Invoking an inverted image of the pietà, this early primal scene of a mother’s blood, tears and love sets up a kind of psycho-structural framework that can be helpfully applied retrospectively. The potentially dying hope – embodied by the fetus within the mother – finds refuge in the juxtaposed life she presently held in her arms: the first son.

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Michelangelo’s Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica / 1498–1499 / Courtesy: Wikipedia Commons

D’Angelo describes his early childhood as largely peaceful, happy and content. Precocious and musically talented, he attended a private Catholic School until the 4th grade. He recalls, “Then my parents basically asked us what we wanted to do, and I was super happy to go to the public school.” At the same time, “Starting from early on until about 15, I was an alter boy. We attended church every Mass. My family is super Roman Catholic. My mom’s side is 100% Polish, so, as you know, we’d always have these big gatherings at Christmas and Easter.” Academically, he says, “I had to get A’s in school, I had to get perfect scores otherwise […] I don’t know […] I felt like I wasn’t good enough or something. A lot of pressure came from my parents, but they never really would get mad or upset; my mom gets it, this desire for us to achieve, from her sister, my aunt Cindy; my mom saw how well my cousins did. All of them got into college. This was the expectation.”

D’Angelo’s father, also John, majored in history at university, and would later take work in the pharmaceutical sales industry. Saving his holiday time, John would take the family to national parks, Civil War re-enactments, and by the time D’Angelo turned 17, he’d already visited 42 US states. In addition to these frequent trips across America, John engaged in sports, and was the local baseball coach. In the heart of America, the family seemed to personify an ideal: white, suburban, religious, middle-class and socially mobile. In other words, the long ghostly dreams of America, specters of ability, meritocracy and respectability, imbued the central nexus of this familial structure.

The Library Of Congress reminds us of the 20th Century origins of this stupefied trance,

“James Truslow Adams, in his book The Epic of America, which was written in 1931, stated that the American dream is “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

And yet, these phantasms of America hide traumatized eidola, apparitions that refuse to go away because they have never been recognized as such. With centuries’ long slavery of Africans to the genocide of Native Americans, such baseball loving, national park traveling, ‘apple pie’ white escapism represents a continual inability on the part of white America to face the psychic, material and quotidian realities under-girding centuries of ignis fatuus.

Getting at D’Angelo’s rupture from his social class, requires a turn, a look, and a close inspection of American hypocrisy. Swelling from underneath, the hypocrisy has driven many white middle-class people, throughout the 20th and 21st Centuries, into alternative formations contra existing (familial, State, religious) Structures. Beatniks, Hippies, Yippies, Students for a Democratic Society, etcetera all personified a desire to break free from the psychic and material territorial constraints of a center that is bound to not hold. Privileged, provocative, protected and policed these groups all arose out of a nation that had not gone mad, but rather a nation built on madness. Even the harmless sounding American holiday “Thanksgiving” is so obscured, that its real origins are mostly unknown to white America,

“By 1637, Massachusetts Gov. John Winthrop was proclaiming a thanksgiving for the successful massacre of hundreds of Pequot Indian men, women and children, part of the long and bloody process of opening up additional land to the English invaders. The pattern would repeat itself across the continent until between 95 and 99 percent of American Indians had been exterminated and the rest were left to assimilate into white society or die off on reservations, out of the view of polite society.

Simply put: Thanksgiving is the day when the dominant white culture (and, sadly, most of the rest of the nonwhite but non-indigenous population) celebrates the beginning of a genocide that was, in fact, blessed by the men we hold up as our heroic founding fathers.”

D’Angelo’s mother, Lynn, noted several times in our conversations that he “had 2 or 3 percent […] maybe more Indian blood.” Perhaps she averred, that this is why he wants to travel? Such (racialized) debunked biological determinism is clearly a defense mechanism against the imaginary ideal she held-holds for her son clashing with the reality that is actually her son, however, I do not condemn her for this. We are all entangled in such an extreme admixture of defensiveness and projection that it is nearly impossible to know any one subjective consciousness in-itself. Ergo, lest we error on the side of condemnation without reconciliation, it is essential that the processes, programming and propaganda that produce these individual defensive biases be challenged. Attacking an individual will not solve a systemic problem; engagement is necessary, and I have found Lynn to be open enough to engage. Ataraxy in analyzing fundamental questions, especially when given such access to inner familial bonds, is essential. Anything less is disrespectful, intrusive and lazy. Yet, a state of intellectual equanimity cannot be used as cover for trivializing and tranquilizing what is found in the proverbial family basement.

Moving with careful deliberation, I have approached this article, given the graciousness of great access by the family, to discover D’Angelo – and by extension more of America. D’Angelo has become a kind of ubiquitous persona, a walking companion, and a part of my daily mental routine. Firstly, he is a concretion, an accumulation, of many processes currently plaguing (and potentially liberating) the US. As will be noted in the interview below, homelessness, substance use (including heroin), early parenthood, precarious work environments, all have plagued D’Angelo – and all have been central to the processes of an accelerated crisis of white masculinity. Representing the apotheosis of social anomie and internal psychical breakdown are mass shootings, which are mainly committed by white men.

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Johnnie D’Angelo with his two dogs, preparing to go back on the road / Image Courtesy Lynn D’Angelo

The election of the crypto-fascist, white nationalist xenophobic president, Donald Trump, along with an emboldened hard-right campaign to recruit young white men, presents the American Left with a challenge. D’Angelo’s picaresque and Peresphonic narrative perhaps represents a bridge out of this morass, and might just offer something new and distinct, a countervailing force against America’s ever-present background (white) noise of historically hazy, hypocritical turpitude. Engaging psychoanalytically with D’Angelo, albeit not as analyst and analysand, I have found that he has a deep and abiding compassion – even extreme empathy -, something which is probably endogenous even ineluctable, and openness to learning. Rejecting fascist and right-wing tropes, he’s multi-faceted, dynamic and beyond the one-dimensional reality most Americans live. He’s a vagabond, a bindlestiff, a picaro, a drifter and a rolling stone. As the homeless population grows in the US, so do the wanderers. And it is questionable, at least in D’Angelo’s case, whether his roving is free and voluntary or a consequence of super-structural processes. Indeed, this is a real philosophical test case of Sartrean existentialism versus Foucauldian biopower.

These two towering intellectual figures John-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and Michel Foucault (1926-1984) continue to shape, in numerous ways, the post-modernist conceptions available for analysis, creation and discussion of society, individuality and liberation. Sartre represents a bridge between late modernism and the post-modernist break with rationality, reason, individuality and authenticity. Foucault’s corpus of work embodies a new type of meta-sociology, one that interrogates seemingly ‘natural’ assumptions (sanity, punishment, family, sex, sexuality, etc). Both are skeptical of Freudian postulates about ‘the unconscious.’ Sartre’s notion of a being-for-itself, created because of a rupture in being-in-itself, is far too complex to discuss here. However, his idea of radical freedom, autonomy and responsibility is best summed up by his statement that “Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.”

Foucault takes a different tact, and speaks of “strategies without subjects,” whereby the subjective consciousness is an effect of multiple regimes of power/knowledge. Clearly, he states, “[I]t’s my hypothesis that the individual is not a pre-given entity which is seized on by the exercise of power. The individual, with his identity and characteristics, is the product of a relation of power exercised over bodies, multiplicities, movements, desires, forces.” Smashing these two differing philosophical trajectories together, I find that the Subject, the individual, can contain both a haeccity, and that this uniqueness is imbued with the ‘facticity‘ of the world around them. Ergo, D’Angelo’s own life trajectory is not something that can be accounted for in a sense of ultimate, radical freedom or complete induction into a system of statistically derived probabilities arising from a bio-political regime. Too often there is an assumption that the (ostensibly) straight white male has full freedom and autonomy because of certain privileges, however, this reasoning leads to a lack of deeper social inquiry into wide-spread phenomena – and a lazy recourse to ‘troubled individuals,’ ‘mental illness,’ and – at the extreme – ‘lone wolves.’

In summary, the figure of D’Angelo is the figure of many others and himself. He both represents nothing and many things, at the same time. An eddy of finitude, his passage is that of an imaginary particle pair, whereby one drops into the black hole’s event horizon and the other becomes Hawking radiation, existing because its duplicate disappeared. A depth of sadness is palpable in D’Angelo, especially during our first interview, and I could hear him, in parts, on the verge of tears. I suspect that he’s running away from something and nothing, towards something and nothing, in his own (non-standard) way. Perhaps it is through the road that he finds himself real, yet this reality is only the beginning of more realities. One thing is clear, his voice is gentle, his narration has a large ken, and his life reflects an incredibly unique, troubled and even comically louche experience.

“I want to leave, to go somewhere where I should be really in my place, where I would fit in . . . but my place is nowhere; I am unwanted.”
Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea

. . .

THE INTERVIEW

TRC: So you stated that you started to see how you could use violence when it was justified, and then you restated “I started justifying violent behavior.’ Do you think this is a period, around 16, that the world turned against you so you started to become more aggressive, and then you can rephrase what you said about your mother as well?

JD: Yes […] well, it’s complicated, right? Justify violent behaviour because violence, I don’t think is right, but there’s two sides of it for me so I don’t really know; being bullied and then fighting back, well, there is a case where violence worked, it ended it; so I don’t know really, I guess, I still don’t know where I stand when it comes to that.

TRC: And in terms of this thing with your mother, you pushed her and you broke her foot?

JD: Yeah, she was standing in the door way and I was trying to run away. I was just trying to run away and leave home, and I like pushed her out my way and she fell and had to wear a boot for a month or something.

TRC: Then you were in your senior year of High School, and at the same time you are going through all this, are your parents still thinking about college or has it been called off?

JD: I remember my senior year trying to get a scholarship to a well-known college, then I had basically decided on just going to community college or something like that; I was running away a lot, I remember my dad kept calling me like a piece of shit and this was new, he never really did that before, so I think I upset him. I’m not living up to these expectations, he was frustrated and there was actually one point where I held a knife to his throat in front of my family, and said I was going to kill him. My little brother AJ had to actually had call the cops; and I had to go to juvenile psyche-ward at Cleveland Clinic.

TRC: And how old were you?

JD: I think I was like 17.

TRC: So we’re reaching a place where you were almost completely ruptured from your family?

JD: Yes definitely, it was getting bad, I was running away as much as possible, they had me under house arrest in my senior year, and I kept violating that, smoking weed and not going to school; I never left my house, but I was violating by smoking weed and not going to school.

TRC: So going to school is a condition of house arrest?

JD: Yes, basically I had to go to school and not do drugs.

TRC: After you put the knife to your father’s throat, how long were you at the psychiatric ward?

JD: I think I was only there for three days because I threatened to kill myself, when the cops came, I locked myself in the bathroom and threatened to kill myself, which I wasn’t really going to do.

TRC: So you threatened suicide so they had to put you in a three day self-protection custodial hold?

JD: Yes.

TRC: Wow

JD: I just felt my world was falling apart.

TRC: I want to ask you what your relationship with you mother was like during this period?

JD: My mom really I think, my whole life until this day just did what authority figures said; she was trying to love me but also listening to the police, the 12-step people; I felt alienated.

TRC: So really had no one; your brothers were all younger than you; what was your relationship like with your brothers?

JD: I guess when we were younger we would all be very close, but the time I was 15 or 16 we were just living in the same house; I pretty much had no one.

TRC: And no close friends?

JD: It’s weird cause when I started [getting] in trouble and running away with the bad kids, and we would [get] some weed we would do stupid things like rob stores. I remember I broke a front store window and stole a bunch of liquor. And I had a double life, hoodlum friends and then I had the bando [band club], the nerd friends and we’d hang out and go snow-boarding. I had all these kinds of different friends, even with gigolos. A bunch of different people. I started hanging out less with my nerdy friends, and troubled kids we started hanging out more; they never had my back though and I knew that, they were just in it for what they could get out of it. Just out for what they could get out of me.

TRC: Do you think it is because you had more money than they did, and a family with more resources?

JD: Yes, I stared stealing from my family around 17. I would go home and take a $100 bill every day to get an ounce, and go smoke it with everyone and everyone would be my friend help until it ran out; I’d get stuck somewhere and no one would help me get home or anything.

TRC: Did you have a lot of feelings of inferiority at that time?

JD: Yes, I started getting into like the worst drugs I guess; I didn’t start heroin until I after I got out of juvy cause when I violated house arrest it was like a month before my 18th birthday and they sent me to ‘The Deuce’ Gladiator School on East 22nd in Cleveland. A real den of murders, rapists, bank robbers, gang members. The authorities sent me there for a month, and I then I got out on my 18th birthday, and I called my mom in the middle of winter in Cleveland. My parents said ‘you’ve got to figure it out.’

TRC: They disowned you at 18, basically they said you can’t come home?

JD: Yes, and that’s when I got into the heroin.

TRC: So you spent the last month in high school this place called ‘The Deuce’ – which is basically shit – on East 22nd in Cleveland?

JD: It is like the main county juvenile center. You really don’t go there unless you’ve done something terribly serious. The staff couldn’t believe that I was even there so they kind helped me out a little; put me up on clean up crews and I got extra food and watched out for me because I was in there with a bunch of really, really bad people.

TRC: So it wasn’t like a high school, basically it was just to get you processed and out?   

JD: Well they locked me up until […] my parents I guess told the probationary-house arrest people that they were done with me, and so those probationary people sent me there. I figured I’d be going home when I got out. I tried going back to school for a couple of weeks. And like I remember I had girlfriend Elise and the school cops told her mom that I was living in dumpsters. Yeah, the the paper recycling newspaper dumpsters, and they told her family that. So, I thought fuck this, I’m done and I started doing heroin and shit.

TRC: And were you living in dumpsters?

JD: Yes, several times when I was first homeless like at 18, and it was cold in the winter they had like these newspaper recycling dumpsters and I was staying in those.

TRC: Homeless in the winter when you’re 18; newspaper recycling dumpsters. Give me some more details about this time?

JD: I was court ordered to a juvenile rehab facility when I was 17, before the house arrest thing; and I ran away twice; I told my parents I’m doing heroin and they sent me to this one rehab center in Nevada which was basically a front for Scientology. I mean, all books were by L. Ron Hubbard. It was basically Scientology boot-camp disguised as a rehab, and I completed it like in four months and then went back home. Then I found out going through my parents’ mail that they spent $30,000 – like my college savings and my stocks and bonds – they spent on this rehab. A rehab that was Scientology boot-camp, so that pissed me off a lot. After that I was homeless again and I got introduced to – there’s this whole thing in Cleveland and there’s these half-way houses that basically take you in – they don’t take insurance or government funding, it’s like an AA twelve-steps like super hard-core thing.

TRC: Like AA NA? Narcotics Anonymous?

JD: Yes, like 12 steps, they were super hard core. So I was on that cycle for like two to three years. I would go, stay there for a couple of months and go and get a job at a car wash, and then just go back to the streets and start doing drugs again because these places will take you back pretty much no matter what. You just have to beg a little, and it was a fall back plan for me so that was like a couple of years of my life, just doing that whole thing and when I was doing that I started meeting the more hard-core addicts and stared smoking crack and all that shit and just really going hard; I started boosting from Walmart like boosting everyday $300 or $400 worth of stuff and returning it and getting gift cards and selling the gift cards and doing it over and over.

TRC: Interesting, and so then when did you decide to go on the road?

JD: My first experience on the road, I was 19 and I went back to the Scientology place. They will take you back one time if you mess up so I went back there, and then my parents sent me after that to a half-way house in San Francisco, and I was smoking weed there and they were pretty much cool with it, but I still felt like I don’t belong there because I’m smoking weed and they’re doing the whole sober thing. So I left there and moved in with my friend called Billy from Ohio, who was now living in the East Bay area and his girlfriend Snow, and they introduced me to meth. And then I was strung out on meth with him and hanging out with this kid Vinnie, and me and Vinnie picked up these hitchhikers who were basically dirty kids, they had a bunch of booze and a bunch of weed, they were filling up the gas tank too.

So I thought, how can I do this too? I asked if I could leave with them and they told me yes. I left with them to get away from the meth. They ditched me the next day [laughs]! We got drunk that night, the next morning they said ‘it is too hard to hitch-hike in a group of three, so you’re on your own.’ I just had jeans and tee shirt and a thin ass blanket so I was like really scared.

TRC: So you were in the Bay Area at this time still, you hadn’t left?

JD: We were driving up north trying to find a weed farm to work on. Vinnie and I were trying to find a weed farm and so when he dropped me off we were in Redding, California, and that is where they ditched me, and the next day I met a home-bum, a dude who stands at the corner every day.

So this home-bum in particular his name was Boston, he’s still alive, he’s in Montana now.  So I meet Boston and he sticks a piece of cardboard in my hand, and says ‘you’ve got to hold that sign right there, I’ll show you what to do, right there, you’ve just got to make sure I stay drunk.’ I said, OK, whatever. I was a scared little kid, like I would do anything, so I am holding this sign to get this home-bum drunk, and then me and him take off and hitchhike to Washington for the National Rainbow Gathering, but no one would give us a ride going north cause this dude looked like Charles Mason [laughs], so we’re just like stuck and then we got offered a ride back down to Sacramento, we took it, and then someone got us Greyhound bus tickets to Reno. At this point I’m saying I am just going home, so I am taking anyway I can to get from Sacramento to Ohio. And now its my mission to get home.

TRC: Can you remember what year, month this would have been?

JD: It was the summer when I was 19. So whatever that may be. Because I’m 26 now.

TRC: Summer 10 years ago?

JD: When I was 19 – because I’m 26 now.

TRC: Oh your 26, So 7 years ago. So summer of 2011. So you’re trying to get back to Ohio, go ahead…

JD: He said he was going to go back to Boston – ‘I’m going to go back to Boston’ – he had all these crazy stories.  We picked up a bunch more people in Reno, we camped there for about a month. There’s where I met Chain Man, hobo, and this dude Smoke who was like a kind of drifter – these are all like home-bum types – and then this black dude Frankie from South Central LA who just ended up in Reno. And we all get on the freight train together leaving Reno to go to Salt Lake City and the train in front of us broke down, and we were like out there all day baking in the heat, we ran out of water, Boston had to go up to the front of the train and get cases of water from the conductor so we wouldn’t die, and that was the first train I was ever on. We ended up starting up again and made it to Salt Lake City.

TRC: You were taking the train with Chain Man, Smoke and Frankie and Boston from Reno to Salt Lake City through the desert and the train broke in the middle of the desert?

JD: Yes.

TRC: Wow! And I imagine that the conductor was none too happy to find that he had some Dharma Bums hanging out on his train?

JD: I don’t think he was too happy, I don’t know even if Boston was telling the truth because he’ a pathological liar. So he might have just stollen some water, I don’t know what really happened.

TC: And then you made it to Salt Lake City?

JD: Yes, and there, Chain Man made it clear he was going to do his own thing. He was filming a documentary about tent cities. Boston pissed me off because he was always lying about stupid shit, so I tried to fight him and eventually told him I didn’t want to know him. So from then on it was me and Smoke. We hitchhiked from Salt Lake City into Wyoming; we hitchhiked to Cheyenne and there we caught a train to North Platte, Nebraska and at North Platte we were only there for a couple of days, and then we hopped another train to Chicago. At that that point I was really close to Cleveland and my buddy Brandon, he stole his mom’s car and credit card and just came down to get me from there. Smoke was trying to get to Indiana, so we’re in Illinois, Chicago, and Brandon wouldn’t give him a fucking ride. So I had to like leave him there. Smoke was mad at me cause he was on his way, but my friend Brandon was all sketched out because he didn’t know this dude; that was my first experience of traveling and then I made it home.

TRC: And what happened when you made it home?

JD: My parents actually took me back in their house, and they were all like just really surprised that I did all that. So they welcome me back. I stole from them a couple of times. and they kicked me out again and then I’d go back to those half-way houses in Cleveland. At one time when I was kicked out of the half-way house in Cleveland, I went to a party and these kids had heard about my travel and so I convinced this kid with a car to leave with me, and we went down to  Florida for a spring break, and they had jobs like renting out scooters. I was selling weed on the beech for spring break, so that was my second experience really going out there to see what happens.

TRC: At this point you hadn’t made a conscious decision to be on road as a life but just something that was happening?

JD: Like something that was happening and my fall back plan and stuff but I liked it, I loved it actually; I just didn’t see myself doing it forever.

TRC: You didn’t see yourself doing it forever?

JD: No.

TRC: But then when did that change? You said something contrary to that recently.

JD: At a half-way house I meet a girl, Samantha, who is a mother of my daughter today, I met her when she was pregnant with her first kid, so we get together and we were doing whole family thing trying to get it work. I was there when he was born, and raised him. All of a sudden like she tells me she is pregnant with my kid. So I am thinking, well it’s really time to get my shit together. I was doing alright, got a job, moved back in with her and I’m going through her shit cause I felt she was lying about something, I’m going through her stuff she said the birth due date was in October. She said, oh we might have a Halloween baby, da!da!da! So, I’m going through the paper work and there’s a thing from the doctor saying the due date is December 24th, so I freak out. What the hell? And at that point I left her, and convinced these other kids to borrow Derek’s car and went to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Samantha found out I was on Myrtle Beach and she found out whose car it was.  Samantha found out that they guy who took us down there didn’t even own this car, it was his grandma’s car, and [Samantha] convinced his grandma to report it stolen. We all got popped for felony possession of a stolen vehicle and I was stuck in jail, had to get out of jail, and she is pregnant with my daughter while this is happening.

TRC: You are arrested on a felony possession of a vehicle that’s not yours? And you’re having a child together. And so did you serve any time in prison?

JD: I didn’t have to do any prison time because they knew they didn’t really have anything on us. I did two months in the county jail and the first plea they came at me with was if you sign this paper you’ll sign it for and you’ll be out tomorrow, but you’ll have a felony so I signed the thing I just to wanted get out. At this point [Samantha] does not know that I know that she’s the one who got me, who arranged this for us to get arrested because I got a motion of discovery and all the evidence in the case so I was pulling it off– making it seem like I didn’t even know. When I get out I go back to her, and my daughter’s born in Cleveland on New Year’s Eve. My daughter, she’s four now so that would have been 2014 and we then moved out to Colorado, as a family, me, her, Natalie my daughter, and Carter, her son, we all move out to Colorado Springs to try and do the family thing.

TRC: Colorado Springs! Jesus Christ that’s a very conservative!  Focus on the Family, the anti-gay, anti-women, anti-everything foundation. Pat Robinson, Christian nut-jobs. You moved to the center of conservative America really.

JD: Yes man, I didn’t really know, I thought Colorado was more open. Weed had just been legalized that year. I was selling weed on Craigslist taking ‘donations.’ There was like a loop hole every $30 gets you a free eight of weed. So I’m selling weed and working at this telemarketing job trying to do this family thing. And I don’t know if it was post-natal depression, but Samantha was calling the cops all the time. For instance, if I did something she didn’t like, she’d call the cops. And the one time I admitted to standing in the doorway because I was talking to the cops, which was my fault because I shouldn’t have been talking to them, and I admitted to standing in the doorway and I went to jail for misdemeanor false imprisonment, a domestic violence charge, and I did two months and I signed a paper that I was on probation for two years. After that happened I went off the deep end, and tried to kill myself shooting crazy amounts of meth and I knew I was committing to the road and whatever. I had nothing else left in life, so that’s when I made the decision, because of Samantha’s behavior my daughter has been forced in a way out of my life. So once I knew it was never going to work with me and her mom, then I made the decision just be like a roach and go rogue forever.

TRC: Go rogue or go home, I like that. You had to in a sense because every time you tried to ‘settle,’ you’re faced with an impossible situation. You go rogue. And tell me what that kind of commitment? So you committed yourself to the road, what does that mean? Was it a conscious decision? One that says basically, I’m going to do this for the rest of my life?

JD: At that point not really. I was kind of self-destructing and stuff and at that point I knew that I was never going back to society or whatever this thing was that turned its back on me and tried to like destroy me. I just made a commitment that I’m never going to go back to it. Look what almost happened – serious prison time, for what?

TRC: Yes. Continue?

JD: I was just self-destructing, and then I just started to stick my thumb out. Finding the only comfort and joy was when I was going somewhere; I don’t know really where I’m going, but I’m going somewhere. So it’s like my mission is just to put miles on, and it slowly changed into seeking truth. Then once my head was clear, and I wasn’t self-destructing anymore and I was just like trying to spread whatever my message is to kind of like spread my example as far as I could.

TRC: Now let’s try and slow down a bit. Because you are reminding me a bit of Jack Kerouac’s  transition from alcoholic self-destruction to truth seeking almost Buddhist traveler. Dirst of all you said you read On The Road by Kerouac, but you haven’t read Dharma Bums, yet which is the second part of kind his transition?

JD: I briefly read On the Road, I don’t remember it well. But I loved Big Sur, I do remember Big Sur very clearly.

TRC: And that’s one of his more spiritual books, so when did this transition from putting your thumb out trying to get comfort simply from going somewhere, put miles on, to seeking truth start? And what does seeking truth mean to you?

JD: I think it really started once I was unsuccessful in killing myself via IV drug use. I really stopped trying to hurt myself. I really saw the beauty in it just meeting people coming across someone and saying something really small or really little and it can mean so much. You know, just little things, coming across different teachers, unexpected teachers, and there were a couple of books I had read, one being Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach and that’s what really changed the way I looked at life. I’m really into the metaphysical stuff. In that book he’s talking about manifesting thought forms, like people that come into your life, are they even really there or just the creation of your mind? Have they come to teach you a lesson or to help you out?

TRC: I have an interesting take on manifestation. I don’t believe in the kind of New Age idea of manifestation that we are sold in so many books like The Secret. This idea that you can make a lot of money where if you simply think yourself into being rich, etcetera. But I do think we manifest things in way: that if we are focused on something or on a path then things from that something or that path will often at times arise towards us. It’s not just me making everything happen, but also other things coming towards me. It’s not that I am dragging all this stuff towards me, but rather that these things are connecting with me on their own terms. And one of the reasons you and I met is probably wrapped up to this idea — an almost Jungian synchronicity — kind of idea: that the connection happens because it had to happen and now it’s happening, if that makes any sense.

JD: It’s this really weird flow of energy, movement, dynamics that I don’t understand quite yet; I don’t really need to understand it right now. It’s just there.

TRC: Now can I ask you since, so let’s say this happened around 2015, that would you agree this is kind of a transition for you? So since that happened what has life been like for you, on the road, now that you’ve really been on the road, where have you traveled to, give me some examples for the last three years; traveling both physically and mentally?

JD: I went to a couple of the Rainbow Gatherings in Florida, and they had their little cliques and everything. So I really stopped going and don’t like to hang out there. Last summer like I went to Yellow Stone and the Grand Tetons and I walked into the Grand Tetons National Park carrying Sasquatch, my dog, in my arms […] honestly that was beautiful.

TRC: So you walk into the Grand Tetons with your dog, and you’re just in the middle of nowhere and just going though the woods basically, free as it were?

JD: Yes, We were just walking in there. I was in a Dollar Store flip-flops, and they broke! I was like sad and pissed-off, god damn this hurt my feet walking on volcanic rock, but then I learned to slow down, just slow down, and take my time, and pay attention to what’s around me. I felt my feet on the rocks and really took it all in, step by step; that was a beautiful experience; honestly, recently on Facebook there’s been these girls who think I’m cool now; a girl will hit on me, and I’ll go like visit or say ‘hi’ or whatever and then that’s not what I’m really looking for […] I’ll just hit the road in a random direction. That’s been the theme of the past year. It really seems like people are trying to distract me from what I really want to do, which is to be out here and not have commitments – going wherever the signs point to. It’s really weird and I don’t know how to describe my travels. I just go, sometimes I meet yuppies too [laughs], I’ve come across several people with cars and money – they basically want me to be a tour guide and take them to cool places – I did that a couple of times – (?) – I met this girl Shana, by Mount Shasta and she had like a bunch of money, she just sold a spa and she bought a little bus, but the bus broke down. Fortunately, she had a van still, so we got like to see the Grand Canyon and then just go out there into the hills up in Utah.

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D’Angelo at Death Valley National Park / Courtesy Johnnie D’Angelo

TRC: And you went to the Death Valley as well?

JD: Oh, yes, Death Valley I was coming off a weed farm, and I was hitch-hiking to the 395 South and met a guy, who said he never took acid before. I had a bunch of it, so we went to Death Valley, and it was beautiful and I showed him some sacred geometry that I was carrying this patch-work that my friend does of sacred geometry. I am sure we made a cloud over Death Valley in the shape of the flower of life. Well, I don’t know if it really happened but we both had tears; we were crying looking at the sky saying like holy shit we just made sacred geometry in the sky.

TRC: My favorite philosopher, Michel Foucault, did LSD in Death Valley for the first time. He was visiting from France he and teaching in California. It was in the 70s, some colleagues took him there, and they played classical music on the record player and did LSD.

JD: It’s a magic place. What I really wanna do, I want to start sharing on the road, incenses, oil, medicines with people, and help people in their journey, and show them what I’m doing, maybe give them a little bit of inspiration because I’ve taken those personality tests cause I am like the ENFP [Meyers-Briggs] which is described as ‘the inspirer.’ I’m really bad at following through with things, but I can get that fire started within someone.

TRC: It is interesting because I want to know, you’re 26 now and people are on road for any number of years; it does take a toll, I mean being a suburban house-husband working in a call center takes its toll mentally, so you probably have greater sense of purpose than most Americans who live that middle life style, but what I want to know is how do you see yourself now? You said you want to start like helping taking care of people through medicinal marijuana, and the way in which you can transition into your thirties, it sounds like you are thinking more long-term – is that correct?

JD: [inaudible] Yes, I’m still soul searching […] I don’t know, I want to — stop shopping at Walmart [ laughs]. I’ve learned all these things and know what is right and what is not right. I don’t want to be a hypocrite; that’s basically it.

TRC: That’s completely understandable. So tell me what your plans are for the next couple of weeks and months? Or right now?

I spoke to my daughter on the phone, and my parents right now are vacationing in [a state in the Southern US], I think I might go and try and be around them. So when they’re done in a couple of weeks, I’ll then catch a ride up to Cleveland with them and they’ve been coming back into my life realizing I’m not the crazy kid that I used to be, and I’m not going do drugs in their house or steal from them. So I will go back to Cleveland with them, have them get my daughter over for a visit, and then hang out with my daughter maybe like for a week or two.

TRC: How long has it been since you have seen your daughter?

JD: I got to see her around Christmas time. I  still feel kind of guilty when I’m around because I’m not there all the time, but she tells people like ‘my daddy lives in the woods’ .

TRC: Well, and I think you have a very rich life, in terms of this interview, what are the types of people you’ve met on the road?

JD: Well, you know, you have your Rainbow Kids which are you know they want peace and love and go to the rainbow gatherings and do the communal living at the rainbow gatherings, you have like the hobos, which I would describe as someone who travels to work, and then works a bit and travel somewhere else, and then your straight up dirty kids which take pride in the filth and like really crust punk.

TRC: Goats […] JD: yes, goats […] I think, I’ve heard of goats before, this group..

JD: Goats, yes some people call themselves that it’s a crust thing. I think that the media is trying really to push that, and it’s really kind of sad because there’s a lot of good kids out there and they think it’s cool to be shooting dope or whatever in an alley way, and overdosing is like cool now you know, like, my friends on Instagram like Over Dose Jones or something, you know.

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night […]” – Allen Ginsberg, Howl

TRC: You think it is becoming fashionable by the media as well? This, what we would consider this very low part of culture, do you think it’s in some way being supported by the elite?

JD: Yes definitely, there is a media reflection and then an acting out of that by the people who do this and travel on the road. I want to see people being themselves more instead of trying to fit these little molds, like the rainbow mold or the dirty kid mold. Mostly, we’re free thinkers, I just want to see people being OK with themselves instead of trying to fit this game. This need for acceptance by being part of a clique or something, and that’s what I’ve seen a lot of.

TRC: Do you think it could be more politically dangerous if you all started to get together as nomads? because I think of you all as nomads in a sense, I mean you’re nomadic in that you don’t have a fixed abode and do you think that building a kind of nomadic consciousness among these American under-class would be a threat to the System?

JD: Definitely, definitely, I think it would because we’re growing in numbers. It’s gaining momentum and stuff, so I hate to see people go and waste it by shooting dope in the alley ways or whatever when we could really be doing something big – I was talking to someone recently about how maybe we could have a couple of home bases like a Jedi training school, some stupid stuff, where you can come and work on yourself. We can be there when we’re needed in whatever way that may be. If we’re there it’s just like a positive environment for a kid who just got out of juvy [juvenile detention] on his 18th birthday, and has no where to go yo know.

TRC: The American Nomadic Institute founded by Johnny D’Angelo?

JD: I mean I don’t want any recognition, I just want to see us coming together looking out for each more other instead of this American selfishness and like the self-seeking behaviour. I want to see us come together for each other.

TRC: That’s one of the things I want you to address in terms of American culture and American life, you really see it from a different perspective. What do you see in terms of contemporary politics – not just on the streets but throughout all of America that troubles you most and what gives you the most hope?

JD: What troubles me the most? It’s the constant fear mongering that the media has put into peoples lives. In general, at a basic level, most people want to help. I come across so many people who really want to help, but they’re scared to death to put someone in their car because of all these movies or these news stories – the fear and paranoia is really like the main thing I see that’s troubling. I think like people are selfless and they want to help at the core, they really do. I don’t think people need to change, I think the system needs to change to show it’s OK to go out and take a risk and everything will be fine.

TRC: So it’s a culture of paranoia really in America?
JD: Yes. I am a victim to it too, and I’m still learning. Fear is one end of the spectrum and unconditional love would be the other end of the spectrum.

TRC: It’s hard to talk about love in the age of Trump. In America it’s difficult to talk about love. In terms of race relations, on the street and on the road, what are you noticing as a white man. Obviously you’ve got white privilege, you’re traveling as a white man, and as a straight white guy, so what are you noticing in terms of the way in which people are treated or profiled?

JD: I don’t really know how to answer that; I notice the longer my dreadlocks get, the scruffier my dress gets, that I’m starting to feel a tiny bit how minorities might feel. I want to feel that. I want to be able like to know how it is, so I can have empathy, help change it. So I put myself in a situation, people don’t like me by my looks and they have to learn better how to deal with it.

Also, I’ve noticed like I get a lot of help from the Mexican people a lot; it’s really kind of inspiring, and they don’t really see the skin color; if you need it and they have it they’ll help, this is not the case with white rich people, obviously.

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D’Angelo & Kill The Poor stretch Hummer limousine / Courtesy: Johnnie D’Angelo

TRC: It’s a very complicated subject. Interesting that you find a lot of help from the Mexican and Latino people. Obviously it is kind of a truism now, but middle class white Americans tend to not help at all if you look different.

JD: Yeah, definitely and I think with the whole Trump thing it’s really helping that minorities are banding together. I know I am white but I’m still outcast. I feel like the outcasts are coming together because they’ve been feeling it even more, so we have to band together through this to get through it.

TRC: Yes. And you’re a nomad and you’re poor, you have no physical abode and so in a lot of sense you have the same class interests. People who are oppressed because of red-lining or whatever other issues, it’s just coming from a different place.

JD: Yeah. There’s definitely a class war going on right now and I see it a lot out West. Like in Ashland, Oregon, or Eugene, Oregon, places that used to be like a bastions for travelers; or Santa Cruz and now there’s this class war going on. If you’re a dirty kid with a dog they’re making it illegal to be poor basically, you can’t be in these neighborhoods. If you have money and you’re walking your dog downtown you’re fine, but I know in Eugene now if you’re a dirty kid with a dog like they’re arresting you and taking your dog. It’s really scary what’s going on right now.

“The neighborhood is nothing but a protective zone- remodeling, disinfection, a snobbish and hygienic design- but above all in a figurative sense: it is a machine for making emptiness.”
Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation

TRC: And Eugene used to be like a hot bed of anarchist action. It used to be where all the outcasts went, and not anymore you’re saying? There’s a definite crack down in places like Ashland, Eugene, Santa Cruz. What about Portland?

JD: Portland – (?) – I love it.

TRC: I lived in Portland for several years. It’s definitely becoming gentrified though I’ve heard.

JD: Yeah, And they’re making it cool to be a dirty kid with a trust-fund, you can buy from a hipster bar, a 40 ounce can of beer in a paper bag now, for $7.

TRC: Fashionable crust-punk?

JD: Yeah, Gentrifying homelessness.

. . .

II

 

TRC: I want to talk more about what your daily like looks like? In the last couple of weeks what does your day look like? Walk me through your day.

JD: I wake up usually when the sun comes up and basically go find somewhere where people get food in the morning and sit outside there. Actually first I have to move everything I usually serve, my dogs, Dazey and Sasquatch, and we all stretch together. ‘It’s going to be good day,’ I tell them, and I get them all excited and good energy and stuff.

TRC: So quite early you’re active with the dogs getting them all ready and then you to a place where you find food. Continue to walk me through all that up until the evening time and then we will talk about sleep at the end.

JD: Alright, so, I find an area that’s full of people, a good spot, and – if I am in a city, I’ll hold my sign; I usually have a funny sign, something  original […] nothing too serious

TRC: What do some of your signs say?

JD: So right now because I am in New Orleans, I profile an area like New Orleans, I hold a sign that says ‘will suck beer for weed’.

TRC: [laughs] That’s good.

JD: I also painted my face like a cat and had a sign that said ‘Help Me-owt’

TC: [Laughs] I love it.

JD: I’ll start the day by asking for a down payment on a cup of coffee, and then have breakfast or whatever. Honestly, I drink a beer usually; before noon I’ll have a beer. But usually if I’m hitchhiking I’ll try and do that before noon, so in-between after I eat breakfast and then try and put some miles on before it gets too hot try and find beer around noon and get some food and it’s different depending. Sometimes I’ll be doing the routine thing like that, but some days I’ll just have food stocked up in my bag and just like march. I will start walking where I need to go if I’m stuck somewhere.

TRC: So sometimes you just go without a plan, or do you almost always think about where you are going?

JD: I frequently go somewhere without a plan. I’ll go on my Google maps, and look what’s in the area. Sometime I will see a satellite view to note if there are any dumpsters that are good for dumpstering or see if there’s a place I can fill up on water.

TRC: So for people who are a bit less informed about life on the road, could you tell them what is the difference between dumpster diving and other forms of trash-canning?

JD:  So there’s dumpster diving and the there’s trash-canning and trash-canning is just looking, not really jumping in, you know the difference. But dumpster diving is just when you get in there. But I don’t usually go into the dumpster. I’ll usually just find the kitchen bags, you’ve got to find the kitchen bags ,and then the store front trashcan bags in the dumpster.

TRC: So there’ a lot of fresh food that’s thrown out, I’d imagine like grocery stores, is this like a place you might go?

JD: Yes, in America there’s so much food that’s thrown out.  Like at the time at the Rainbow Gathering … well from there I hitchhiked to Daytona Beach and checked a Walmart dumpster, and it had like pounds of fresh produce in it, and I just filled up a shopping cart and went and hitchhiked with the shopping cart full of produce back to the gathering.

TRC: Wow – wow. OK, so now you’re at noon, you’ve had a couple of beers so is marijuana part of your day?

JD: We smoke weed pretty much if we have it, from when I get up until I go to sleep, and it helps me drink less beer because if I have marijuana I’m not drinking as many beers through the day.

TRC: Yes, I’ve heard it helps reduction of other types of , well,- reduces anxiety has all kinds of other benefits. So you are a ‘wake and bake’ man?

JD: I’m a wake and bake guy. The dogs also enjoy, Dazey will put her head on my lap while I’m smoking. Sasquatch likes the smoke to.

So noon; I get stoned again or eat something out of my backpack that I stored from earlier and […] well, after that it’s really boring […] what makes the day go by – it’s just my friends I’m hanging out with or my dogs. I like to go play fetch, run ‘em, like an hour a day or two, and maybe when were in cities, I’ll take them to the river.

TRC: Do you find yourself more alone or more among others when on the road?

JD: I honestly I travel more alone – tryin’ to change – I don’t know, not permanently change; but I would like some solid road dogs, someone who really has my back.

TRC: Is it a matter of finding somebody that you can trust who will be with you? And I also have a question about gender. Would you be able to have a road dog who was a woman but you didn’t have sex with? Does that happen?

JD: Yes that happens quite frequently actually. Traveling with other genders. I can do that, that is possible. And it is possible to keep it purely friendship, even in tight spaces that you are often forced into traveling together.

TRC: That’s what I’m asking, yes. So there’s kind of this mutual respect and you’re both ostensibly straight but you don’t have sex; you are friends and it’s platonic?

JD: So yes sometimes that is way better. Things usually end up happening after a while but like it doesn’t have to happen. That’s not why I would travel with a girl over a dude it’s just really who ever wants to travel with me; I guess I make girls feel safe sometimes. I wouldn’t let anything happen.

TRC: So you can provide this like support for each other. I was interested in asking that question because I was interested in the gender concepts of people that are on the road and nomads that you encounter, is the gender mostly men or is it women; obviously, you and I know our friend Chris Micheal Castillo, among the many queer people of color travelers?

JD: True, very true. However, there’s definitely more dudes than chicks – males and females out on the road – but I don’t what else to say about it. We just have more free thinkers – people who are aware – if they are like – you know identifies with a different gender than they were born with, different genders, genderqueer, all of that.

TRC: Yes, yes, so there’s lots of queer people of color on the road like Xen, I think was traveling with Chris. They were traveling as group as queers of color basically together. I know it went downhill in New Orleans, in Louisiana but that’s another story. So groups like that sometimes travel together in order to stay safe, and have you encountered that, these groups?

JD: So there’s a group right now that’s going through troubles here in New Orleans, a queer-trans group. Some people were fighting them or threatening to stab them and stuff and like a store owner won’t let them in the store anymore because they got attacked in front of the store, and it wasn’t their fault so there’s that going on in New Orleans right now.

TRC: Wow – that’s intense.

JD: Yes, everyone is standing together like even the regular dirty kid travelers were standing with this group, there’s on a couple of people there that are anti-LGBT, but most of us like band together when we like see that kind of stuff going on.

TRC: So there’s a lot of solidarity on the road?

JD: Yes, from strangers too like I have been in situations where I’m about to get into a fight or something and some traveler I don’t know will come up and just make sure I’ve got my bag. And all that I’ve done the same if a kid is arrested by the cops, I’ll go over and make sure they’re not messing with him a way they shouldn’t be, monitoring police behavior, that sort of thing.

TC: I want to ask about race as well because a lot of people are going to think, you know, here’s a white guy wearing dreadlocks and is it cultural appropriation – you know what I’m saying?

JD: There’s a lot of like dirty kids, who are minority travelers, and their numbers are definitely growing. The cultural appropriation thing I kind of see going on more at Rainbow Gatherings and stuff but like as far as like street kids or dirty kids, or whatever I don’t see as much of that. They’ve just got dreads because that what their hair did, like me. I just let my hair do its natural thing. No one put in my dreadlocks; actually, it’s been a really long process since I shaved my head and let it grow.

TRC: I’m definitely not accusing you of being a Trustafarian, living in Boulder and going to Naropa University. I don’t think that’s the case. I want to ask the question because I think people will want clarification about that definitely?

JD: I don’t know my family is middle class. But I have rarely any money to my name, (?)… I am having to dig through garbage cans, ask for money from strangers, that sort of thing. Could I get help from my family? Yes, of course, and that’s definitely a kind of privilege.

TRC: I wanted to ask about your financial situation like in terms of day to day so you basically live on a shoe-string budget, day to day, is this the case?

JD: Yes I am poor, but I am lucky because New Orleans is cool. There’s a lot of food lying around everywhere so we’ve been eating a lot and have coffees. Plus asking for money, not having any money,  I like it like that. It makes me go out and do things and meet me people, and not just sit around to myself, so it gets me going.

TRC: So you said there’s something you like about not having money at all? Does it have a sense of freedom that you just don’t have it and kind of feel you don’t need it at that moment?

JD: Yeah, I mean really I don’t need money. The only reason I use it is for food which I could get completely out of dumpsters,  I could be completely free. Just garbage cans or dumpsters, but I don’t know I like that money for alcohol honestly, I’m not a drunk. I’m never getting black-out drunk, and I don’t even fucking even drink liqueur […] well rarely. Alcohol, it’s like my medication – like my little social lubricant – so the money thing is for alcohol and weed usually.

TRC: Do you smoke cigarettes?

JD: Yes, smoke cigarettes. I’ve been buying  packs recently which I am kind of against because I usually like to roll it. I like to roll American Spirit tobacco – or just find them on the ground – they’re called snipes.

TRC: Snipes, yes. I’m very particular, I only smoke American Spirits and they’re not available here, so I have to wait for them to come in from friends who send them so I’ll go weeks without having a cigarette because I’m so particular. But I know what you’re saying, the American Spirit tobacco is the best. Hopefully they’ll sponsor the article now. [Both: Laughs] Moving on from our sponsor’s advertisements, so I wanted to ask you: Sleep, because I saw one picture of you and you had just woken up and you’re on one of these planks inside a garage with your dogs. Sleep is obviously going to be a different situation everyday, but kind of give me your scouting techniques, and what you do to figure out where you’re going to sleep in an average day.

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D’Angelo & dog / 2016 / Courtesy Johnnie D’Angelo

JD: So on an average day if I’m in a new town trying to figure out a sleep spot throughout the day I‘ll be asking the homeless or the home guards.  They used to call them home guards but we call them home bums now, and so buy a beer and get all the information during in the day where it’s cool to sleep. If I don’t have any information from anyone honestly usually I’ll find a dumpster cubby or something. Or if it’s raining I have to be more creative, I mean I’ve slept on people’s front porches before if it’s storming really bad and I have no where else to go […] yeah, I will totally sleep on someone’s porch. I mean if they call the cops, the cops are going to make me leave in the morning. I’ve on got several camping tickets in my life.

TRC: Do you carry a tent?

JD: I don’t. Sometimes OK, if I’m in back woods area and the insects are really bad or the weather if I’m like up in Montana where the weather’s changing all the time, then yeah, the I’ll have like a three-man tent for me and the dogs. Right now I have a tarp; it’s like about ten feet – or maybe twelve feet.

TRC: So you can pull that tarp against some building; or over some dumpster cubbyhole, or you can put it on the ground I can imagine?

JD: Yes, I usually use it if the grounds hard, but if it’s raining or something then I could make a bed out with wood pallets and put cardboard on top of that, then just put the tarp with rope and tie it in between two things and make tent over the pallet bed.

TRC: So you’ve made your little spot, and you’ve had your drink and you’ve had your marijuana, do you ever read at night or draw? do you have any sort of creative habits that you do?

JD: I used to like I have quite a few of notebooks; I usually end up like losing my stuff out of my backpack and I don’t realize it’s gone. And honestly sometimes I am too lazy to go and look for it, but I used to write a lot; definitely journal writing and creative writing; writing whatever, even poetry.

TRC: That’s great. So you were journal writing at night mainly?

JD: Yeah, yeah, I journal at night and I have a head lamp which helps for reading.  I need to pick up some books it’s been a while. I will find a used book store, there are good ones here in New Orleans.

 

TRC: Let me ask about the seasons. So you’ve been on the road consistently for three year now, about four? Since you left Colorado Springs and then you went on the tour around the country, you gave up everything after Colorado Springs and went completely on road is that correct?

JD: Yes. As for the seasons, in the winter I’ll generally try and stay long below the I-10 or I-40. Yeah,  usually the highest north I’ll go is the 40 and stay on that.

TRC: What do those States go through for our European readers?

JD: So, I’ll take the 40 like through Memphis, Tennessee and then Little Rock, Arkansas, Oklahoma City.

TRC: So not very far north during the winter?

JD: Yes, cause like you never know, once you go above the 40, you never know when you’re gonna wake up in two feet of snow; I mean I could do that if I wanted to; I don’t really like to.

TRC: Also you’ve got to wear proper types of clothing when it gets really, really cold or you risk hypothermia.

JD: Definitely, I went up to see my daughter this year at Christmas, and then after that I hitched a ride from Ohio down to Kentucky and I had to get insulated bibs and pants under that and thermals under that and it was snowing.

TRC: You were outside the whole time?

JD: Yes, outside all day all night and I didn’t even have a tent then; I had two sleeping bags and a blanket.

TRC: Do you ever go to the local shelters or do you avoid them?

JD: Avoid, avid, avoid…

TC: Tell me why?

JD: For several reasons why, I learned very early in Cleveland when I was homeless that you don’t really to shelters because other people staying there will be shooting drugs and smoking crack right there, and like they’re liable to steal shoes right off you, and these places are a breeding ground for bacteria and like lice and scabies, bed bugs.

And then they try to sell you their Jesus, and and like honestly this maybe my paranoia but the food there […] The people eat it and then look so zoned out after. I question what is in it. Maybe it’s just paranoia?

TRC: It could be paranoia. Perhaps it could be the fact that people who are in there, in the shelters,so long with no ability to flow out of it are just getting worse and worse because they’re in that terrible environment? But of course, it wouldn’t be totally wrong as the Rajneeshpuram people did put Haldol in the food of the homeless they invited to their commune.

JD: Very true, very true.

TRC: Tell me where you have traveled in the last three months so people get an idea of how much you move around.

JD: In the last three months; can I just start from Christmas?

TRC: Start from Christmas.

JD: So I spent Christmas in Nashville, then from Nashville caught a ride all the way to  LA and then chilled down there. I have like a home-base with my friend April. From there for a week the went near the Salton Sea on the other side of the mountains I went to Ventura. Kept heading and further north, Santa Barbara and then the Bay Area with my friends and my dogs. From there I met a girl and she brought us us up to the Olympic Peninsula, and then brought us down to New Mexico and from New Mexico I came here to New Orleans.

Now, I am heading back to Cleveland, I would really like want to pick my trumpet up, that’s why I went a year without talking to my family because they still won’t give me my trumpet till this day, and I can play it well and read sheet music.

TRC: You can read sheet music?

JD: Yes, yes, like our marching band was the best marching band in the state Ohio and our band director was like a fucking Nazi and he taught us like really well and my parents won’t let me have my trumpet because they say I’m going to lose it and break it or something.

TRC: So you want to get this trumpet back and obviously you can’t have it right now?

Yes, because I’m not very good with stringed instruments and that’s like mainly what everyone plays on the road.  I play the euphonium and the trumpet.

TRC: And you could carry the trumpet around without too much trouble.

JD: Yes. Totally, I can carry the trumpet on my pack like it’s not there.

TRC: Would you be open to me talking to your parents as part of the interview?

JD: Yeah, honestly.

TRC: Anything else to add?

JD: Well, I want to say I started doing this because it was out of necessity to get away from the hard drugs, to make it back to a familiar place and it turned out to be the greatest life journey, it has taught me so much; and really kind of like molded me into the person I feel like I’m supposed to be and it’s taught me some valuable lessons. Being nomadic, as you say, is teaching me to love myself for who I am, and not really for what I have, but who I am and teaching me to love others for who they are initially and make sure what they have what they need even if it’s like putting others’ needs before my own. It has really been a great learning process. I make many mistakes, but I know who I am more than ever and what I stand for. I stand for equality, fairness, truth, mainly truth.  I’m still learning and exploring what truth is, but I think that I have a pretty good understanding these days.

And if I have a message for people struggling, well if you don’t know what to do find peace in motion. If lost, keep moving and you’ll find your way and just follow the signs and don’t ignore the signs that are presented.

Oh, well now the cops are coming, we’re going to have to wrap this up, better move on.

Talk later.

. . .

“The real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the workings of institutions that appear to be both neutral and independent, to criticize and attack them in such a manner that the political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.”
Michel Foucault, The Chomsky – Foucault Debate: On Human Nature

 

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D’Angelo / 2017 / Courtesy: Johnnie D’Angelo

 

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