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Archive for December 25th, 2010

There was a lot of talk earlier this week of a white Christmas here in Pennsylvania, but so far no snow.  I had a wonderful holiday with my father, brother and sister-in-law.  I got some great presents and had fun making cookies and playing bridge.  I am stuffed though.  No more food for me until Spring.

It's hard to see here but this is a photograph that I took of James sleeping. He leans slightly against the wall and his upper body slowly bends toward the earth.

Today’s recipient is going to touch your heart.  He’s 58-year-old James who has been homeless in DC for “six or seven years.”  I found him at the Chinatown Metro stop late at night while he slept standing up.  I observed him for about five minutes and then he began to fall over and woke up again.  I walked over to see if he was ok.

“Oh I’m fine, thank you,” James said forcing the words through the frozen air.  “I sleep standing up ‘cause I get cramps lying down.”  He later added, “The last time I slept in a bed was 1995.”  I can’t imagine that.  I was still in college at that time.

Through speaking with James it appears that he has some chronic health problems, but he refuses to go to the hospital.  “I don’t trust them,” he says softly.  

Everything that James owns sat in front of him in a cold metallic shopping cart which he keeps chained to him to ensure that nobody steals it while he sleeps.  “I have my clothes, soap, cleaning stuff, shoes, underwear, socks, a step-ladder,” he says continuing on to name some other items.  I notice that tucked on top of the cart was a Webster’s Dictionary that was probably 25 years old.  “Oh, that’s my dictionary,” he said rallying a bit of energy, “I like to read the dictionary.” 

James says that he doesn’t have any living relatives that he knows of.  His mother died in 1968 and his grandmother looked after him until she later passed away.  

James eyes rarely opened wider than this.

He seemed interested in US presidents.  He enthusiastically spoke about President Obama.  He seemed fond of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter too.  “Clinton was alright, he came out to a trailer park one time to meet the folks,” he started to say, “and Jimmy Carter was a good man too, he had nigger lips, did ya ever notice that?”  His comment paralyzed me slightly and I couldn’t even really come up with a response.  I’ve never liked that word and don’t use it myself.  It so often comes loaded with so much hate when it is uttered, but James said it with endearing admiration for the 86-year-old former president.

James tries to stay warm next to his belongings.

“I’m probably gonna get me a burger and a $0.65 senior coffee at McDonald’s,” he said motioning toward the ten dollars that was folded between his fingers.  Sometimes he hangs out there to stay warm, watch some television and treat himself to the occasional ice cream.

The air was so cold my face was hurting.  I said goodbye and shook his bare hand.  It was cold and stiff and I asked if he had gloves.  If he didn’t, I was going to leave mine with him.  “I’ve got some, they’re in my pocket, I’m just not wearing them right now.”  The temperature was plummeting and I urged him to go to a shelter, but he insisted that he would be fine.  I hope that he was right.  Street Sense’s Ellen Gilmer reported last week that 37 homeless individuals died this last year in the DC area.  Sadly many of them probably died alone.

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Merry Christmas!

Today is a day that we easily associate with giving; a day that we give gifts to our family members and friends as a symbol of our love and friendship.  As we approach a new year, let’s all make a commitment to think more about ways in which we can give to our family, friends and community.

Richard (left) and Paul (day 335) brave the cold to smoke a cigarette.

On Day 357 I was walking north on Connecticut Avenue when I passed a guy who looked just like Paul from Day 335.  Paul was the bike messenger who I met and then couldn’t find any of my notes from meeting him; not even his email or phone number.  Well, would you believe it, it was him!  Yes!  I found him.

He was standing outside a custom framing shop with his buddy Richard who works there.  The three of us chatted for a while and then I decided to give my $10 for the day to Richard.  He proved to be an interesting character!

“I like to make films,” he tells me taking a drag off of a cigarette in the subzero December afternoon.  “I’m doing a commercial for a record label now, but I’ve done some shorts and music videos too,” he adds.  He’s even recently bought an 8mm camera which he was eager to tell me about.

Now I’ve got to tell you that after yesterday’s recipient told me about his fetish to use heart monitors during sex I thought I had to ask Richard if there was anything interesting or unique about him.  I mean, after you hear about the heart monitor thing you can’t pass up the opportunity to top it.

Well, Richard’s answer doesn’t disappoint!  “I’ve been arrested twice within a five-day period in two different cities,” he says.  It turns out that he was traveling through Oklahoma City when he found himself in a supermarket and was arrested for shoplifting.  “I had some tea in my pocket which was actually mine, but they thought that I had stolen it,” Richard says.  He goes on to tell me that he had some cheese in his pocket as well.  “I’m not sure about the cheese though,” he confesses.  “That might not have been mine.”  As a result he was charged with larceny, got to spend 24 hours in an Oklahoma City jail and wear a bright-colored jump suit!  “All in all I probably spent $500 on that tea and cheese!”  Incidentally he said it was probably about a dollar’s worth of cheese.

Three days later Richard was leaving the South by Southwest Conference and Festival and driving through Brenham, TX when an officer of the law pulled the van over that he and his friends were traveling in.  “He pulled us over for a broken tail light,” he says, “but we ended up being detained for two hours while they searched the car and found a joint on one of the other guys.  So they brought us all down to the station.”  Well, the officer didn’t finish the paperwork and they had to spend the night in the jail.  “We somehow ended up in there for 36 hours.”    He smiled and said, “It’s bad man when you’re getting booked by some 18-year-old cop who is bitching and moaning about his prom.”  That being said, the Texas facility was apparently a lot better than the jail in Oklahoma City.  Their bail bondsman even brought them pizza when they got out of jail.

“So a few months later,” Richard goes on to tell me, “I traveled back down to Brenham to appear in court but at the last minute it was decided that we didn’t even have to appear!”

Richard said he was going to hold on to the $10 for now.  I thought he might be saving it for future bail money, but he advised me that it would be put toward some studio recording fees.  “I play the guitar and bass and am planning to get into the studio in January.”

I said goodbye to Richard and Paul and told them about the Year of Giving Anniversary Celebration.  They said they would try to make it but I didn’t see them there unfortunately.

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