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Posts Tagged ‘mental illness’

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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John pushing one of this two carts (Photo: Reed)

Taxes are due today.  Ugh… I have waited to the last minute.  Shame on me.  Maybe the IRS will give me $10!

On Day 115 I was walking home and walked by a man pushing two shopping carts full of stuff south down Connecticut Avenue.  He had a system where he would push one of the carts about a block, leave it there, then go back and push the second cart up to where he had left the first one.  He repeats this for hours sometimes.  I stopped and offered to help push his carts for a while so he didn’t have to keep making double trips.  He wouldn’t accept my help.  

His name was John.  Two Johns in a row! 

Even from a few feet away I clearly smelled a very foul vinegar-like odor coming from John.  He definitely needs some new clothes and a good shower.  I wanted to help him and offered him my $10.  He accepted it.

Photo: Reed

His shopping carts are full of grocery store boxes and empty bottles and all kinds of other things.  I asked where he leaves the items during the day, because I imagine he can’t stay with the items all day long.  He said he usually just leaves them down near the McDonald’s on 20th and M Street.   The 64-year-old is obviously uncomfortable talking to me…but I push on.    

John has been homeless for five years he says as he looks around a bit erratically.  The tattered hat he wears cast a slight shadow on the upper part of his face making it difficult to see his eyes as I speak with him.  He says that he ended up homeless here in DC after moving down from Albany.  “I couldn’t find housing when I got here,” he said.  He has been pushing the carts for years. 

My guess is that he suffers from some form of mental illness. He says that he will use my $10 for food.  I asked him if there was anything that the YoG followers could help him with, but he said “no.”  I really wanted to get his clothes washed for him or get him some new ones but he said he had no contact information, although I might be able to find him near that McDonald’s he mentioned.  Incidentally that is the same McDonald’s where Gregory from Day 71 used to hang out.  I haven’t seen him for a couple of weeks now.

I managed to get a short video of John, but then he got a little antsy and went on his way.

  

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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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Yesterday my brother invited me to see another Capitals game.  Man, it was a good one!  The Caps were down 4-1, then came back to tie it and eventually win it in overtime.  Although Ovechkin looked a little sluggish sometimes, he was on fire shooting 3 of the 5 goals.

After the game, Ryan and I thought we would hang out a while before we tried our luck getting on the Metro.  They were only running one train every 30 minutes and the majority of those who came to watch the hockey match came by Metro…so you can imagine what a mess it would be right after the game.

We headed into a Starbucks to take refuge from the cold and chat for a while.  I ran into Thomas, a friend who used to live in the same condo as me before he and his wife moved to New York.  Well, they moved back and he spotted me in the coffee shop and said hello.  It’s a small world.

I approached a woman, Lori, reading the paper at the counter and asked her to accept my $10.  She refused, urging me to find someone else more deserving.  I get this answer a lot.  I try to explain to people that they can do whatever they wish with the money.  If you think that you are not deserving of it, why not take a minute out of your day to give it to somebody who you think is deserving of it.  I sometimes think people are too lazy to do that…or they just don’t want to be bothered.

I ended up finding Esteban.  The 67-year-old Mexican-American was standing, with the help of a cane, next to the Verizon Center.  The first thing you notice about Esteban is the fact that he is not wearing any socks or shoes!?!?  He has a pair of sandals on.  He says that he doesn’t wear socks of shoes because he was poisoned with mercury by some people walking by while he slept and now it is too painful to put anything on his feet.

After a few minutes, I find myself a little confused in the conversation.  I switched to Spanish hoping that that would help clear up what he was trying to tell me.  Unfortunately, I realize early into my 25 minute chat with Esteban that he most likely suffers from schizophrenia and/or other mental illness.  Ok, the lack of shoes and socks should have been a red flag.

I am not sure what to believe about what he tells me.  Some details seem normal and very believable.  Like the fact that he came to the US in 1984, has been homeless for most of the time, has relatives in Texas, and is originally from Tamaulipas, Mexico.  But then there were the bizarre stories.  Like the lynching of a bully in a DC shelter or the friendship with a DC police lieutenant or stranger yet, the intimate knowledge he has of a scandal involving the FBI, CIA, and a former DC mayor that caused him to flee the city and end up at the Pentagon. 

It was sad.  Esteban needs help far beyond what I am able to provide.  It takes a while to wrap up the conversation as he retells some of the stories.  He said he would use the money to get some food this week.  I told him to protect his feet.  He explained again about the mercury and how anything he put on his feet hurt.  I suspect his feet are frost bit.  I urged him to go to a shelter, but he refused.

I wished him luck, shook his hand and nodded to my brother to get on our way.  He smiled and hobbled a bit further under the overhang, close to where his bags sat wet from the gray slushy mess that covered the sidewalk.

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