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Posts Tagged ‘veteran’

Blog post by Rose M, a Kindness Investor from Forest Park, IL.

I just spent the better part of an hour being treated to a stream of consciousness as only a nonmedicated schizophrenic can dish it out.

Today is my last day in my first week as a Kindness Investor (yes, I’m hooked.  I’ll be back again in May).  I had originally intended to try my husband’s idea and go down to the McDonald’s in the nearby Wal-Mart to find a recipient.
But first I had to make a deposit in the bank two blocks from my house.  Actually, it’s across the street from the McDonalds where I met Michael B. (Day 68).  When I left the bank I saw this gentleman sitting on a park bench.  I needed to run home and get my ten.  I decided if he was still there when I got back, he would be my recipient.

Well, he was gone.  I played a hunch he hadn’t been waiting for the bus, so I decided to walk east on Madison towards a little public square where sometimes the homeless tend to congregate.  Sure enough, he was sitting there.

“Are you the man I just saw sitting up the block about a half hour ago? Across from the bank?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“Oh good.  Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Yes.”

I plopped down, careful to keep his bag of newspaper scraps and black canvas backpack tied together with several belts between us.  I asked him point-blank if it would be ok to give him a ten-dollar bill.

“Well sure,” he said.  “It’s always ok to give me ten dollars.  Do you want me to do something for it?”  

It was the perfect opening.  I started to explain about Reed and the Year of Giving blog.  However, after about three seconds he interrupted me.

“I do mostly art.  It’s my gift.  It gives me peace.”   He had taken out a scrap of paper.  It looked like the back of a checkbook, with the calendar year printed on one side.  He folded it in half and taking a pen from his backpack, started to draw on it.

“All the power is from God.  Life is an adventure.  Basically I get my peace from the artwork.  God gave me this gift to give me peace.  I’m a multimedia artist.  Do you know Julie Bell?  Frisette?  Bell does science fiction.  They’re good. They’re some of my favorites.”

I didn’t interrupt.  Probably what I had to say wasn’t going to make much sense to him anyway.  Instead, I paid attention to what he was drawing.  I saw a few sweeps of what looked like long hair, so I thought perhaps he was drawing me as a way to impress me.

Finally he held it up.  “Judas Iscariot,” he pronounced.  Well, I’ve been called worse.

“Is that who you were…”

“No, John the Baptist,” he corrected himself.  “See?”  He pointed out the fierce gaze in the eyes on the paper, which contrasted oddly with the artist’s own deep brown eyes.  His weathered face appeared to be about sixty as his hand went back to drawing, and his mouth back to talking.  “John the Baptist.  Always telling the truth.  That’s what he did.  So tell me your story?  What were you saying?”

I got another three seconds into the saga of YOG when he broke in again.  He’d added a helmet with a flag and horn, and a pointy beard.  “Kubla Khan.  Fu Man Chu.  Or maybe a Knight.  I draw like this.  It’s called layering.  You know about layering?”

This was basically the rhythm of our conversation.  He would free associate off of some word I’d just said, eventually coming back to asking me to finish my story.  Finally I started asking him questions.  I figured he was a vet.  He told me he was in special forces and was in Desert Storm.  Before he got out of the military he was doing peacekeeping work in Afghanistan.  I’m telling you the short version.  There was a lot of meandering around the inner terrain, if you get my drift, but I suspected those two bits of information had some validity.

He’s from Chicago, although he claims to have lived all over the country, gone to countless high-end schools, graduated from top art institutes.  He not only draws.  He writes, takes pictures and is a percussionist.  He has a very high IQ.  How high?  Nobody would tell him.  But he went to Montessori, he told me, as if that were proof in itself.  He stuttered and stumbled over his words, and sometimes sounded to me like a child at play, boasting in imagined exploits.

I started to feel a little motherly towards him.  Who knew where he was?  Who was reaching out to him?  He has children he claims he sees now and again.

“How do they find you?”

“Oh, they just do.”  A lot of his answers were like that.  Vague and mysterious.

“Do you ever go over to Hines?”  Hines VA Hospital is just a few miles from my house.

“I’ve been over there.  I’ll go back sometime,” he said nonchalantly.  But I doubt it.  I don’t think he’d take well to anyone offering solutions so unmanageable to a man in his condition as a roof over his head, medications he’d have to take daily, a pension that would make him a target for robbery.  He looked very fit to me, and handsome in a rugged sort of way.  He probably manages street life as well as can be expected.

“So what are you going to do with the ten I gave you?”

“I’m going to buy art supplies.  Paper and crayons.”  He pulled some crayons from his backpack.  “See these here?  They’re cheap, but I’m going to use them to add texture to this picture.”  He started applying shades of gold and green.
“He has a very warm aura, doesn’t he,” I commented.  I was beginning to think he was drawing a self-portrait, because he seemed to me warm and likeable, despite his mental illness.

“Yes!  You can see it, can’t you?  What do you think that is there,” he said, pointing to the throat.

“It looks like water to me.”

“He’s rising from the water.  He was probably an Aquarius.  I like white water rafting.”

We shared an unexpected moment of silence.  Then…

“Life’s an adventure.  I like parasailing too.  Hang-gliding.  Gliding in planes.  The planes, gliders you know, have no engines.  They glide over the mountains and it’s quiet and I sang to my girlfriend up there.”

I took his picture holding the drawing, because he didn’t want people to see his broken teeth and uneven beard.  He handed me the drawing as a gift with a message written on the back.  It reads:

Rose,

My bibliogenetic is God’s Tool engraven image Artisian, Well of Faith and Brush of Great Gift to myself, to others.  Visual Applause.

Johnny Flash

I walked home thinking of him singing to his girlfriend in the wild quiet above the world.  I wondered what he sang to her.  I hope she remembers him.  I know I will.

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Blog post by Maria D., a Kindness Investor from Washington, DC.

A 6 foot 2, mid-forties man walks around the living room, adorned in tattered army fatigues and tennis shoes.  He looks tired and antsy as his eyes quickly jet around the room.  He just finished sweeping the floor and talks to the staff person on duty.  “Yeah, okay. I’ll take out the trash.”
It’s Sunday and chore time for all the residents (about a dozen) at this house – an adult home for the mentally ill in Pacthogue on Long Island, New York.  I wanted to help, but got the feeling chores are part of the structure and not to disturb it.  I later found out that “John” (he declined to provide his name or be photographed) is a Gulf War I veteran from NY who had a breakdown and never recovered.  His parents live nearby and visit him fairly often, which isn’t always the case in the adult home.  Some residents only have each other as friends and family.
I wasn’t going to be there long, so I decided to just go for it and ask John if he’d accept the $10 for the Year of Giving project.  “Well, I dunno,” was his initial response.  But upon assurance from the staff person Rita, John agreed to accept the money. When asked what he plans to do with the money, he was reluctant.  “Well, I’m not sure yet, why, what does it matter?  Well, I might save it, might give it to my mom.”  It seemed like a lot of money to him and he didn’t want to blow it all at once.
In terms of what he needs or what people could give him, John didn’t feel comfortable with that.  So I guess what I would offer is that you don’t dismiss people right away if they seem a little different – you never know their story.  A little tolerance can go a long way.  And if you are so inclined, there are many adult homes around the states who are underfunded and in need of volunteers, not to mention various veterans’ causes.

And thanks, it’s been an interesting experience being a Kindness Investor!

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Those who have followed my blog for a while know that I give to all kinds of people.  Well, today’s post is proof of that.  It was an evening full of interesting characters.

I saw tall lanky African American man wearing a hat, sweatshirt, jacket and suit trousers who was randomly walking up to people and saying things to them and then walking away.  His unpredictable behavior and use of a sweatshirt and jacket in near 90+ degree temperatures peaked my interest.  As I walked up to him I was greeted by him saying, “Did the good old boys send you from Texas or Tennessee?”  I tried to make sense of his question but couldn’t and responded, “My name is Reed and I was wondering if you would like to be part of my project…”  He put his hand on my shoulder, something he most have done twenty or thirty times throughout our conversation, and said, “I bet you don’t know where to find you some Japanese ninjas do you?”  Before I could tell him that he was right about that he continued, “I trust the Japanese more than I trust my own people, and that’s the end of that now.”

A homeless man rests his head on a briefcase on the streets of DC (photo: Reed)

This was the beginning of a 30 minute bizarre conversation that was impossible to follow.  It was like taking a Quentin Tarantino flick, translating into another language and then watching it backwards.  I don’t have any pictures or video of Frederick because he was completely paranoid about his image being captured.  I did however manage to rather stealthily turn on my audio recorder that was in my backpack at one point and captured some of the tirades.  If anyone knows a simple way to upload an audio file on WordPress, let me know, I tried and it only seems to accept video.  I know there are some conversion products, but I have not had good luck with some of them.

Few pieces of Frederick’s discourse were coherent.  He rarely answered my questions, preferring to jump to a completely different subject.  Here are a sample of items that I did manage to comprehend.  He claims to:

- be a direct descendent of our 14th president, Franklin Pierce

- have served in the 18th Military Police Criminal Investigation Division for six years

- have worked for the US Postal Service

- be protected by ninjas

- know about secret German laboratories located through a system of tunnels under NYC

- be homeless and live near the Russian embassy (for security reasons)

Surprisingly I did manage to get a clear answer about what he would do with the $10.  “I’m going to buy lottery tickets.  It’s a tax write-off,” he explains.  Hmmm, not sure I agree with him on the tax write-off, but by this time I was not surprised at all by anything he said.

The rest of my time with Frederick was spent tangentially jumping from subject to subject.  It was difficult to make any sense of it, but I did start writing down topics that he spoke about.  Here is a sample of the items (in order as he mentioned them) that he talked about: Manuel Noriega, Marion Barry, Vietnam war, drugs, race, Philippines, Spanish, Obama, Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Christmas cards, South Carolina, Castro, KGB, Charlie Rangel, plagiarism, Mozambique, Florida, Turkestan, Jews and Alexander Pushkin.  On top of all this he fist bumped me at least two dozen times throughout his ramblings.  If you can make a coherent statement weaving all of these items together in that order, please send it to me!

He stopped at one point and I decided this was my time to make an exit.  I thanked him for his time and got my things together.  “So, when are you going to deploy?” he asked.  I assured him that I wasn’t deploying anywhere, shook his hand and went on my way…but my interesting evening wasn’t over yet.  As I said goodbye I heard someone imitating the sound of a cat.  They were meowing really loud.  I spotted a twenty or thirty-something white guy with really unkempt hair slowly making his way along the sidewalk.  He was about 15 feet away from me screaming his lungs out.  People began changing their path just to avoid getting close to him.  If this wasn’t weird enough, another white guy, about sixty years old, ran past both me and the crazy cat man shooting at us with a water gun.  I looked up at the moon, but it wasn’t full.

Nonetheless, it was really late and walking home was probably not a good idea so I found a cab, jumped in the back and breathed a sigh of relief.

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photo: Reed

At about 9:00 pm on Day 209 I saw Garrett playing his maraca and tambourine on the Southeast corner of Connecticut Avenue and Q Street in Northwest.  I have some items that you guys have sent for him and I crossed the street to talk with him and see if he would be there a while so that I could go home and get the items and come back to deliver them to him.  Just about the time I reached Garrett a man in a wheel chair rolled up and stuffed some folded dollar bills into Garrett’s can and went back to where he had been sitting before.  As I chatted with Garrett I couldn’t help but notice that the other gentleman was missing both legs and was holding a box with the words, “Donate, help needed, disabled” written on it. I was completely distracted.

I walked over to him and introduced myself.  He didn’t tell me his name right away, but I later discovered that it was Clyde.  “I hate to admit it but often times I tell people that my name is Mike, but it’s really Clyde.” 

Garrett said he had to go and I continued to talk to Clyde for more than two hours.  During that time at least a half-dozen people stopped and gave Clyde some money.  One person even gave him an apple.  Another, a clergy member from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, stopped and chatted with us for a while.  He had spoken with Clyde before.  As he left he dropped a five-dollar bill inside Clyde’s box.

Clyde is wearing a faded blue and white hat with Sandals Jamaica written on it and large black sunglasses.  His left leg looks to be amputated above the knee and is fitted with a prosthetic leg accompanied by a shoe.  His right leg appears to be amputated near his pelvic bone.  He has on a checkered pair of pajama-like pants that cover most of his prosthetic and then rest limp on his right side.  At some point during the evening I gathered the courage to ask Clyde what happened to his legs.  “I lost them in accident.  I got a metal plate in my arm as well,” he says pointing to his right arm. 

I asked if I could photograph him but he preferred not to.  I even asked if I could just photograph his box, but he wasn’t comfortable with that either.  I respect that.  You will just have to do with some photos of the area where we passed the hours talking that evening.

Clyde, who tells me that his friends call him “Camel” because of a Ray Steven’s song about a camel named Clyde, is in his late 50s.  He doesn’t live in DC but travels here by bus every month for about a week.  While he is here he sometimes goes down to Capitol Hill to voice his opinion on topics as well as spends a good amount time in the Dupont Circle area.  He sits and greets people kindly as they walk by, “Don’t forget the homeless.”  When the sun sets and the bar-goers start to thin out he wheels himself a short distance away on Q Street and sleeps upright in his chair.  “I’m used to it, it doesn’t bother me,” Clyde assures me.  “It’s safer than trying to stay in a shelter.”

I found Clyde sitting in his wheel chair at this spot (photo: Reed)

It would be impossible to give our two-hour conversation justice in a few paragraphs here.  But I will try to leave you with an accurate summary about what I know about this private man.  He is kind and gentle.  He doesn’t drink or smoke.  He is well-read and knowledgeable about many topics and patiently shares his knowledge with others (or at least me!)  He believes in God.  He helps others when he can, which is evidenced by him donating some of his own money to Garrett.  He served in the US Coast Guard and has traveled all over the world.  He is very critical of our government.  He rivals my father as a conspiracy theorist.  He only watches Fox News and wishes we had more honest journalists “like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.” 

Clyde has a home, but his social security doesn’t make ends meet.  Each month he falls about $250 short so he takes a bus to DC and spends about a week here in order to collect enough money to pay the bills.  “I got so many bills I’ve been thinking about changing my name to Bill!” he says…it falls a little flat but I managed a smile.  He later told me that he would put the $10 I gave him toward paying some of those bills.

In the winter he forgoes his monthly trip to Dupont Circle’s tree-lined diagonal streets, large19th century homes and row houses and endless embassies and takes a bus south every month to the warmer shores of South Beach, Miami where the colorful art deco buildings, palm trees and sandy beaches seem to wash away the winter blues.

Most of our conversation was somehow tied to politics and religion, two of the most delicate pieces of conversation I can think of.  He shared a lot of his views and educated me on many topics. 

It got to be close to 11:30 at night and I needed to head home.  Afterall, I was starting my new job the next day!  He said he would be back here next month.  Same time (about the 8th of the month he arrives in DC and stays to about the 15th), same place (the corner of Connecticut and Q Street.)  I look forward to stopping by and chatting with my new friend on his next visit.

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Last Wednesday I met a friend for lunch out near the Ballston Metro stop in Virginia.  After lunch I saw Ivory sitting on a bench in front of a large office complex.  His story is one that really touched me. 

The 26-year-old Dallas, TX native now lives in Virginia and is an Iraq veteran.  Ivory’s story is all too common unfortunately.  A man or woman goes into the military and comes out a different person.  Ivory joined the Army in April of 2004.  After returning from serving in Iraq from 2005-2006 his life took a dark turn.  He was discharged from the military in 2008, however he was no longer the role model sergeant with letters of recommendation that he once was.     

Ivory sat down with me and opened up and shared how he has coped with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  It’s hard to watch this video and not feel compassionate for Ivory and the thousands of other soldiers in similar situations.

Ivory currently is working temp jobs and helping a friend launch Capital Custom, a custom apparel shop.

He seems like a really good guy who has got his act together again.  Ivory openly admits that he is still taking it one day at a time and trying to get his life back on track.  If there is anyone out there that has went through a similar situation and has some advice for him, I can put you in touch with Ivory or you can leave a comment here.  

Stay strong Ivory.  Please know that I, and millions of other Americans, have the greatest amount of respect for you and the other men and women serving in our armed forces.  Thank you for your service.

UPDATE (April 7, 2010)

I received the following email from Ivory today.

To give you an update on the $10. I decided to give $5 to a church I went to on Easter and am waiting to give the other $5 to someone I’m led to that might really need it.

Also, an update on the job situation. They decided to bring me back for this week. I also got a call from another job opportunity, in which I have an interview next Monday.

How are your ventures going? I’m pretty sure you’ve met some more interested people. Hope to hear from you soon.

Ivory

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