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.
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.
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.