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Archive for February, 2010

Terrible news from Chile…another devastating earthquake shocks us this year.  Luckily the epicenter was not in as densely of a populated area like it was in Haiti.  Nonetheless, I have made myself available to travel to Chile if there is a relief organization that can use my services.  I speak Spanish and have been to Chile and would welcome the opportunity to help those in need.

Phillip sells a paper to a passerby (Photo: Reed S.)

On Day 75 I met Phillip, a colorful salesman for Street Sense.  I was driving north on Wisconsin Ave. in the Tenleytown neighborhood on my way to my father’s place in Pennsylvania when I saw a man on the right side of the road with a “Cat in the Hat” type hat.  Well, I had to pull over and meet this guy.

As it turns out Phillip is a Street Sense vendor and the hat is part of his “marketing.”  He is vendor number 202 and has been selling the paper for 2.5 years.  He told me that summer is the best time of year for selling the paper when he can often sell over his average of 30-40 papers a day.

Phillip is homeless and on two waiting lists for subsidized housing.  “You would not believe how many people are one or two paychecks away from being homeless,” says the former plumber whose problems started when he was hospitalized with stomach ulcers and bleeding.  He spent 17 days in the hospital and when he came out he found himself losing his home and his marriage in peril.  He got better, but unfortunately was not able to reconcile his marriage.  Financially he was in freefall and ended up on the streets.

Go see Phillip if you are in DC.  He radiates love and kindness.  He can be found in front of the CVS near the intersection of Wisconsin Ave. and Brandywine St.  Look for the hat!  Phillip needs clothes: Shirts (XL), Pants (38×34), Shoes/Boots (11), Gloves (Med/Large). 

Here is a great video clip of Phillip explaining how he stays indoors during the bitter cold months.  

There is another great video of Phillip on Facebook.  Click here to see it.

Update July 7, 2010: Here is some video of Phillip receiving some of your donations!

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Have you been checking out the Lend a Hand section?  I was really hoping that someone reading the blog would help out somebody on the Lend a Hand section, but so far that has not happened.  Some things that people need are things that I think would be pretty simple to give: clothes, used laptop, music stand, free counseling, etc.  I urge you to take a moment and review the page and if you can help, or know someone else who can help in any way, please do so.  It will mean so much to those that need your help.

Yesterday I gave my $10 to Monica and Bridget.  Two young professionals in DC.  Monica works at the Federal Reserve as a Research Assistant and Bridget works for National Geographic in the book publishing area. 

The two were sitting next to me at the Brickskeller.  They were very kind and cut me a little piece of their vegetarian burger and onion rings to try.  The vegetarian burger was excellent…usually I find them dry, but the Brickskeller’s burger is full of flavor.  

Our conversation was all over the map.  From the Olympics to how they met each other to Jayson Werth’s beard.  That’s right…they were big fans of Jayson Werth’s beard.  In fact they said that they “live with God in Jayson Werth’s beard.”  

Photo: David Swanson/MCT/Philadelphia Inquirer

They were not impressed that I couldn’t come up with who Werth was at first.  On the other side of me were Billy and Emmy.  Emmy thought it was pretty pathetic as well that I didn’t know who he was at first.  Once they mentioned the Phillies, my mind adjusted and I recalled the big right fielder for Philadelphia.  Oh well…blame it on me being a Mets fan.

Monica and Bridget said they would use the $10 to give to a waiter or waitress as part of a tip.  They both had worked at some point in the service industry and said they appreciated how hard they work for their tips.  

The two got up to have a cigarette outside…they said they would be back in a few minutes.  They never came back.  I finished watching the Canada vs Slovakia Olympic hockey game.  When I got my check, the bartender said, “Your friends not coming back?  Should I put their beer on your tab?”  In the spirit of giving…I said sure.  It was only a beer anyway.

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I decided to go over to the Shaw neighborhood today.  On my way I ran into Kenneth from Day 30.  He said he was having what he called “death nightmares” and was being admitted to Georgetown hospital today.  Kenneth, who suffers from various mental illnesses, was not sure how long he would be there.  My friend Mike had his own battles with mental illness and about eight years ago also went to Georgetown Hospital.  He said it completely changed his life and he now has his situation under control.  Kenneth usually sells Street Sense outside the north entrance to the Dupont Circle Metro…keep an eye out for his return and welcome him back with a smile and a hello…heck buy a paper!

When I came out of the Metro at Shaw, I was greeted by a fight between some teens.  The one boy got free and ran away.  It’s definitely a different vibe than my neighborhood.  I was about 15-20 blocks from my home and I thought that I would start to explore the neighborhood and gradually make my way back to my place on foot.  A few blocks later I met Dannie.

Photo: Reed S.

He was sitting at a bus stop, dressed in work clothes and a hard-hat.  He lit a cigarette as I sat down next to him and introduced myself.  Originally from North Carolina, Dannie now lives in the nation’s capital and says he loves it.  “It’s the land of opportunity” he says.  He is referring to the fact that he feels fortunate to have had plenty of work over the past 20 years.  Right now he is working on a window installation project at a local high school.

I asked him what he planned on doing with the $10…he smiled and said he would use it for transportation.

Dannie is a father and talked to me about the importance of his kids getting a good education.  Dannie didn’t continue his studies after high school and is now studying to become a carpenter…but he says that it is much harder going back to school at his age.  “It’s been over 20 years since I’ve done fractions!” 

Check out the video below of Dannie talking about education and how it has influenced his life.

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Today was a most interesting day!  Rarely do I get really nervous or scared approaching people for my project, however, today was an exception.

I was wandering around the city looking for somebody interesting.  There is a CVS on the corner of 17th and P.  Behind that CVS there is a park, I think it is called Stead Park, but anyway, there is a basketball court there.  As I walked by the court I saw a man wrapped in blankets standing in front of the far basket holding a basketball up toward the sky.  He stood perfectly still.  A few moments passed and he began to shoot one-handed lay-ups into the basket.

I walked over, unlatched the steel door to get into the court and approached the man.  I got about 6 feet away from him before he acknowledged me.  Bob was wrapped in old blankets, torn clothes and slippers that were falling apart.  On his head he wore large earphones, covered in aluminum foil and cloth, and a thin plastic bag (supermarket type) over his head.  If you put some nice clothes on him and pulled his hair back in a pony tail, and slung a guitar over his shoulder, I bet my $10 that he could pass as Willie Nelson.

Bob hides from a helicopter (Photo: Reed S.)

I explained what I was doing and Bob immediately accepted my $10.  I asked where he was from and he said originally Philadelphia.  When I asked him what brought him to DC, he got up in my face and in a slightly agitated tone said, “Well if you don’t know that, then you are pretty stupid.  This doesn’t speak much of your intelligence.”  I was a bit shocked and scared.  I considered just leaving…but I thought I would just be silent for a while and let him talk. 

The silence was awkward.

He started to shoot lay-ups.  He made about 10 in a row and then he looked at me and said, “If I must tell you…DC’s parks and common areas are much better kept than Philadelphia and other areas…it’s the nation’s capital and they want it to look nice and they got federal funds too.” 

He shoots some more baskets…never missing and then quickly approaches me and says, “Well, what else do you want me to answer?”  His quick, jerky movements were keeping me on my guard.  He kept one arm concealed under his blankets most of the time. I thought it was possible that he had something, a weapon, under the blankets.

I asked him how old he was.  At that moment you could hear a helicopter in the distance.

“I hate to interrupt, but I’ve gotta do this.”  He put the basketball up close to his head and hid behind the ball in silence.  He then motioned for me to give him my pen and notebook.  He said, “I really shouldn’t be talking since they are probably listening…I can write it down though.”  I gave him my notebook and pen and he wrote down the age of 66.

The helicopter flies away (for now) and we resume talking.  He tells me that he lives in a subsidized housing complex near Howard University for individuals who suffer from mental illness.  “I hate to be a snob” he says, “but it’s a better neighborhood since it’s surrounded by college kids.  Areas around universities can’t help but be influenced by the desire the students have to learn.”

The helicopter returns and circles above us….Bob goes back to his ritual of raising the ball above his head between him and the helicopter and remains silent.  This happened about 5 times.  I have to admit the helicopter did show an unusual interest in us…hovering almost directly above us several times.

The helicopter temporarily goes away again and we resume talking.  He moves quickly back and forth between me and his cart- which has another basketball and some other random items.

Bob made at least 109 shots in a row (Photo: Reed S.)

Asking him questions was not going well.  I let him talk about what he wanted to talk about.  He told me a half-dozen basketball stats, all which turned out to be correct.  He said, “You know, no NBA basketball player has ever made 100 consecutive foul shots.” He went on to tell me that Calvin Murphy made 78 consecutive points from the foul line.  Then in 1993 he said Mark Price came one shy getting 77.  It was later that year though he explained that Michael Williams reached 97 which still stands today.  He went on to tell me stats about Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Ray Allen, etc.  I later double checked each statistic he gave me and he was dead on. 

He was also very knowledgeable about the snowfall records.  He mentioned that DC broke the 54.4 inch record that previously stood.  Also he mentioned that Baltimore’s record of 62.5 inches was broken when they got 79.9 inches and Philadelphia broke their previous record of 65.5 inches set in 1996 with a new total of 71.6 inches.  Again I checked all the numbers, and he was right.  Keep in mind he is giving me all these numbers as he shoots  one-handed lay-ups…never missing.

As we were talking, Ron from Day 24 walked by the basketball court with a can of beer. I  waived. 

Bob seemed like he was tired of talking to me so I said my good-bye.  I walked over to where Ron was sitting and chatted with him.  I watched Bob shoot 109 one-handed shots in a row without missing.  Bob actually told me that his own record for consecutive shots with out a miss was 2,900 with his right hand and 2,700 with his left hand.  Ron said he believed it since he was there every day for eight hours or so shooting baskets, never missing.

Would you believe I forgot to ask Bob what he was going to do with the $10?  I will go check on him one day next week and let you know.  Bob was very interesting…but also a little unnerving.  One of my more dynamic recipients.

Later that day I walked by Nikki from Day 66…she was sitting on the ground begging for money south of Dupont Circle.  She said she was doing ok.

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Gregory has been homeless in DC for almost eight years.  He stands bundled up holding this sign and a ripped up cup at the corner of 18th and Connecticut Ave. in downtown Washington, DC. 

Photo: Reed S.

I spent about 45 minutes talking with Gregory.  He is very soft-spoken and gentle.  He says that he lost his job and his wife left him for another man about 8 years ago…the cocktail of events started a chain reaction that left him homeless and drinking.  Gregory said he used to never drink…he said he didn’t even like the taste, but he felt that he was able to escape from the pain and depression that he suffered from by drinking.  He paused and said that he has been sober for seven months now. 

His voice got even softer and he fought off tears as he shared some of the painful memories.  He told me that he had seen some doctors at one point and they wanted to give him pills for depression and mental illness.  He never took them.

Like almost every homeless I have met, he does not stay in shelters due to the violence, theft, and poor conditions.

While we talk, a man who was eating at Fuddruckers came out and gave him a small box of food, said nothing, and left.  Gregory continued to talk to me for a few minutes and then asked if I minded if he ate while we talked.  He opened the container to find an order of French fries.  He seemed hungry as he ate the entire box. 

I asked him what he planned to do with the $10 and he replied, “I know exactly what I am going to do with it.  I can get 3 meals at McDonald’s and have a dollar left over for something else…maybe something on the $1 menu.”  His favorite food is fried fish.  I asked him what the most he had ever received and he pointed to me and said $10.  

We talked about different services that are available to him.  I suggested he sell the Street Sense paper as well…several of the vendors do quite well once they build up a loyal customer base.  I asked him if there was anything that the readers of the Year of Giving could do for him and he said that he could use some jeans and other pants.  He wears a size 38 x 32.  If you are in DC and would like to meet Gregory, he is normally in front of the McDonald’s on M Street in between 19th and 20th Streets.  If someone else is there, he usually goes to Connecticut and 18th Street.  I can also reach him if you would like to get something to him.

By the way, I went down to try one of John’s burritos at Pedro and Vinny’s burrito stand.  It was excellent…I highly recommend it!  You definitely need to check out his stand at 15th and K. The food is tasty, the banter upbeat and interesting, and the line is full of regulars who he quickly recognizes.  An interesting thing is that John has somewhat of an honor system going on for payment.  He has a box that you are supposed to put in the amount that you owe.  I liked that.

On my way home I saw Roger from Day 57 but we didn’t get to talk.  About 4 blocks away I ran into Nikki from Day 66.  She didn’t recognize me and seemed pretty out of it.  She said she was talking to “the Man upstairs” and continued walking on to meet with a group of men standing in the center of Dupont Circle.  I also saw Kenneth from Day 30…but he was across the street and I was late for a meeting so I was unable to say hello.  Needless to say, I am starting to really get to know my neighborhood!

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In an era of emails and blogs it is very possible that the art of writing letters by hand is close to extinction.

I was wondering if Karin was going to mail her friend my $10. (Photo: Reed)

I had lunch today at a favorite place near my house, Teaism.  The upstairs seating is often crowded and you usually end up sitting very close to your neighbors.  The room was an interesting mix of people…my favorite was the rather strange man that I caught eavesdropping and trying to strike up conversation with two women who quickly switched to German or Dutch to make their conversation more private.

I noticed an interesting ring that Karin was wearing and she explained that she was a metalsmith and had made it herself.  She and two friends launched a boutique together in their hometown. 

How do you get into metalsmithing and making jewelry you ask?  Well, Karin has an interesting story.  She served in AmeriCorps where she traveled around educating kids about literacy and the arts.  When she finished, she used her stipend that she had received to study metalsmithing at Maine College of Art.

Karin said she was going to add the $10 to a donation she was planning to make this week toward a fundraiser that her godson is doing through his school to help fight heart disease.  I was touched by her decision given my family’s history with heart disease and my past work experience with the American Heart Association.

Jewelry by Karin

Interested in seeing or purchasing some of Karin’s jewelry but don’t want to drive to Oneonta?  You can see check out her work at www.windfall.etsy.com. Independent metalsmithing, like letter writing, has all but vanished.  By purchasing her work you will help support talented artisans continue their craft.

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A start of a new week.  Is anyone following the Olympic hockey?  I saw several matches this weekend.  Although I was shocked and thrilled to see the USA beat Canada, it was sad that Finland could not redeem themselves from the 2006 Olympics and beat Sweden.

As I am not working now and I have finished with my theatre commitments, I have some free time.  I have some consulting work that I am doing, but so far it is fairly flexible.  So, what do you think would be interesting to do with my time?  I keep myself busy volunteering, working out, consulting, job hunting, etc…but I have been thinking that I am probably missing amazing opportunities to travel or volunteer in unique ways, etc.   What do you think?  Let me know and be creative!

So on day 69 my $10 ended up in the hands of Lauren.  She is 26, lives in Virginia, and has a degree in horticulture from Virginia Tech.  Perhaps she would have came across my uncle Larry while at school…he was a professor at Virginia Tech in the Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science – but she said that his name was not familiar to her.

Brian and Lauren at Brasserie Beck in DC

Anyway, Lauren was with her friend Brian having some oysters and Belgian beers at Brasserie Beck.  I had never been there and happily give it a thumbs up.  One complaint would be the noise factor.  It was so loud that the video I took of Lauren and Brian didn’t come out very good so you will have to use your imagination and trust me that they were a lot of fun.

Lauren tells me that she will give my $10 to a homeless person and promises to follow up with me to let me know about her experience.  

Oh, and as for the oysters, Lauren said they were amazing…her favorite ones there were called “blue diamond” she thought.  

They were Foodies of a sort…they told me about some of their other favorite stomping grounds such as: Zaytinya, the Capitol Lounge, and the Red Derby.  The Red Derby sounded pretty interesting.  Lauren and Brian tell stories of an almost secret location on 14th Street in Northwest, DC where there is no sign, just a red painted derby hat on the door (reminds me of the Quarry House in Silver Spring, MD).  They rave about the weekend brunch, the can only beer selection, and a variety of board games on hand to keep your group entertained.  On top of all of this, every Wednesday is Big Lebowski night where they play the cult film and offer White Russian drink specials.

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