Home on the street

Neal C. Kirk

Photo By D. Brian Burghart

Neal Kirk lives near the RN&R offices, feeding the local cats, and keeping litter off the parking lot. He’s a jovial old guy without a tooth in his head. He’s not one to let an interview get out of his control, though.

What’s your name?

Professor Neal C.—maybe C. for crazy, really Clay—Kirk.

How long have you been on the street?

Too long. About one-third of my life, altogether. … I gamble. That’s a bad life. You gamble, too.

A little bit.

Everybody does. Everybody smokes. Everybody is a little crazy, like me.

Too true. Otherwise I wouldn’t be talking to you.

You better watch out. Don’t get drunk or sleep in the wrong place or somebody might cut your ears off and take those golden rings. Won’t be me, though. … I warn people, don’t leave things valuable out. You know who steals, don’t you?


Ninety-nine and 99 hundredths, a hundred percent: Hop heads. Dope addicts.

How did you come to Reno?

I came with the express bus, the Greyhound. One time we went back, years ago, drove a mile past Boomtown, too much snow, so we had to come back. So I went back to the casino. I’m not ready to go back. I’ve been here two and a half years. Supposed to live in San Fransicko.

Isn’t it warmer in San Francisco?

But I’m a tough Okie. I slept in the snow three times, slept in light rain with a sheet over me. You can’t get tougher than an Okie. I had a crazy nut hit me upside the head three times with a hammer—it didn’t take. I have a hard head.

Where did that happen?

San Fransicko. There are several ways the Biggest Little City is crazier now than San Fransicko. Wild Bill named it that: San Fransicko, Sicko City.

Which Wild Bill?

A friend of mine. I’m Poquito Loco.

“A little crazy.”

I know Spanish. What’s your first name?


Transpose the letters, and you’ve got “brain.”

Yeah, I know, I know.

That’s why you’re rich, and I’m poor. I’m prejudiced to gambling and stupid to gamble. … Where’s my little cat? Have you seen her?

I haven’t seen her today. I saw her yesterday.

She’s running around. I warned her many times if she gets out in the street, I’m going to spank her little fanny.

How do you stay out of jail?

You don’t all the time. I’m trying to. It’s been several months since they got me. They get you for little nothings here. It’s crazy.

They’ll get you for sleeping outside these days.

I have permission here, and the cops never come check this out. … You know what happened? Somebody left a new pair of shoes here. I can polish them. Also a black pair of socks that I’ve already washed. Sometimes my brain functions and I use it. If I have a brain. I’ve never had a brain scan. Maybe I don’t have a brain.

How old did you say you are?

In two weeks exactly, 79. I was two weeks short of 10 years old when they bombed Pearl Harbor 69 years ago.