January 12, 2006

Mark Daniel Haines: a tribute

STORY AND PHOTO BY MARTY PEARL

I was shocked to read the news that Mark Daniel “Danimal” Haines was dead. Given that he had lived on the streets of Louisville and had battled — or embraced — his alcoholism for as long as I knew him, I guess it should come as no surprise that he was found curled up near Hogan’s Fountain in Cherokee Park. With a body temperature of 75 degrees, he was transported to University Hospital, where he died of hypothermia on Friday.

I met Danny in 1993 while I was employed at MRK Inc. in the Mid City Mall. He slept on the benches, bummed change and exchanged philosophies with me throughout the day. Most people wouldn’t look him in the eye. Even those who contributed to enabling his lifestyle with the occasional quarter or dime usually did so with no more than a glance. He didn’t care if they helped or not. He remained upbeat and always thanked them with a smile.

Unencumbered by the trappings of modern life, Danny tripped through it without a care in the world. He was always laughing or telling stories. His wrinkled face was a roadmap of experiences that suburbanites could never fathom. It seemed he was proud to be a bum. His home was the sidewalks of the Highlands, and he is even immortalized on the large mural of Café 360’s facade.

I never pried into Danny’s past. Now that he’s gone, I wish I had. I am left wondering where he came from and what happened to this seemingly intelligent and creative man. Is he just another extreme example of what happens when we surrender to our addictions? Was it tragedy or bad decision-making that led him to living in the bushes by ear X-tacy and bumming change for his all-liquid diet?

How close are any of us to becoming the next Danny? Washing away reality with a cheap bottle of whiskey or stolen mouthwash cocktails. Riding out life atop the demons that consume us in anticipation of our eventual demise. Staying a step ahead of a haunting past to the point that the present is squandered and the future is dismal.

The Highlands is a cornucopia of social diversity. Danny often slept on the properties of Cherokee Triangle’s elite, and would brag to me that he had “squatted on some of the best property in town.” An optimistic spin on one’s existence is the greatest asset afforded the human condition. That was his lesson to me.

I took my last pictures of Danny in November. We had discussed him being the center of my photo project about the territoriality of bums. Like cats, I theorized, there is a hierarchy amongst the homeless in certain areas.

“Hell, bro, I’m the fucking king of the Highlands bums. Just ask any of ’em,” he asserted as he posed for my camera. A car drove by and honked at him. He waved back at the driver with a king’s confidence. Synchronicity at its finest, I thought.

Danny’s humor and insight will be missed. He was 49.

Contact the writer at martypearl@hotmail.com