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Posts Tagged ‘night’

A picture of Bob from my original encounter with him a year ago. (Photo: Reed)

Tomorrow will mark exactly one year since I met Bob on the basketball court near the intersection of 17th and P Streets in DC.  Draped in layers of clothing and blankets Bob made me very nervous.  I remember his hands disappearing under the garments several times as he erratically moved closer to my face calling me stupid.  “Was there a weapon concealed beneath the sea of fabrics he wore?” I thought to myself as I held my ground.

It turns out that Bob suffers from mental illness and probably doesn’t pose a threat to anyone.  I have seen him a few times since our original encounter; however, I hadn’t been able to really talk to him until last night.  It was just before midnight as I headed home from a dinner at Birch and Barley on 16th Street with an old colleague in town for the week.

“Oh, yeah…you were the one who writes the stories,” he told me after I reminded him that I had given him $10.  “Well, ok,” he began to say nervously, “So, how have things been with you?”  I gave him a quick update on me and then tried to find out what he has been up to.

He was dressed in the exact same sweatshirt and torn slippers that he wore a year ago.  The aluminum foil, rags and plastic bags that covered his head were gone; however, he now had a small swatch of aluminum foil covering his nose.  It was held in place by a rubber band that wrapped around his head, forcing the skin of his upper cheeks toward his eyes.

I watched as he shot from the foul line.  Like my earlier encounter he sank basket after basket always shooting with just the right hand.  In his left hand he held a newspaper, bottle of water and the corner of the grey standard issue homeless outreach blanket.  His twelfth attempt wasn’t successful.  “That wasn’t a good shot,” he said as he released the slightly deflated ball, “I’m not concentrating.”  I apologized and offered that he probably missed the shot because I was talking to him.  He says that he believes that he has made 20+ one-handed shots from the foul line this century.  That doesn’t compare to his record of lay-ups in a row which he claims to be approximately 2,900.

The evening was definitely worthy of a warm jacket but the still air and bright light from the moon’s last quarter phase helped mitigate the temperature.  He seemed to be shooting a little hastily, albeit every time placing his toe exposed slippers in the exact same location.

“I think there is about four or five specific movements that I do and I try to do them exactly the same way every time in order to make a basket.”  He went on to explain that the key is to add a little bit of top-spin to the release.

Another photo from my original encounter with Bob in 2010.

I stood in silence and watched him shoot.  He’s truly gifted at being able to reproduce the same shot.  One of his attempts misses and I take the opportunity to ask him about the $10 I had given him.  I actually never asked him what he was going to use it for so I thought I would try to take the moment to find out.  He didn’t recall very well, after all it has been a year, but he said it probably went toward some food or bus fare.

My question about money must have triggered something in his head.  “Do you have a few dollars that you could give me,” he asked not taking his eyes from his target.  The shot missed and he walked over to retrieve the ball next to his cart holding his belongings.  I reached into my pockets and found some coins.  “I hate to ask you but I need to add a few dollars on my Metro card.”  I pulled a five dollar bill from my wallet and placed it in his hand.

Shortly after I thought I should leave.  It was now close to 12:30 in the morning and I needed to get up early.  I shook his weathered hand and told him to take care of himself.  He returned the pleasantry and continued shooting baskets.  I watched him shoot as I excited the court.  He made three in a row before he slipped out of sight.

You can find my original post on Bob by clicking here.

 

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Day 364…just one more day after today’s blog post to come full circle with my year-long commitment.  But this movement will continue on.  This weekend an important new chapter will begin for the Year of Giving. Our first Kindness Investor will start blogging about her giving experience.  I can’t wait for you to meet Melinda and the amazing people she meets each day when she gives away $10.

I found today’s recipient as I left the Starbucks at Dupont Circle.  Roman was getting ready to get on his bicycle when I approached him and asked him to accept my $10.

Roman, originally from Kiev, Ukraine, is a night club promoter here in DC.  He’s also a student at Strayer University where he studies business administration.

It was one of the coldest days of the year.  I kept our conversation brief as I could feel the blood flowing through my veins turning to ice.  Ok not really, but you get the idea.  Anyway, the 24-year-old said he was going to use the money to buy some coffee during the week.

Before saying goodbye, I invited him to the Year of Giving Anniversary Celebration the following evening.  He rode off on his bike and I hurried home.

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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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It’s Christmas eve and I am in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.  I spent most of the day in the kitchen cooking and baking.  From a chocolate chess pie to cranberry chutney to marinated mushroom crescents…it was a food-centric day.  I might have also started a new tradition of mojitos on Christmas Eve.  They were crowd pleaser.

By the way, I have found a few Kindness Investors for this year already, but I am still looking for unemployed people to give away $10 for a week.  If you or someone you know wants to give it a try, send me a message.  Keep a look out by the end of next week for blogs coming from Melinda from Ohio, the first Kindness Investor for 2011.

I found my recipient on Day 356 around 11:00pm after I dropped off an electric blanket that  Michelle from North Carolina sent for Bill M. of Day 330.  He was very appreciative and even worried about using the electricity from the bank where he sleeps without checking with them first.  I left and trudged out in the cold windy night looking for a new recipient of my ten dollars.

I first found Sean who was running east on Pennsylvania Avenue to his car which was parked on Pennsylvania.  He was probably running because it was below 30 degrees and he wasn’t wearing a coat.  “I’m a giving person and I just couldn’t take your money,” the tall twenty-something guy told me.  So, I scanned the dark silent streets for someone else until I spotted Alberto crossing 20th Street toward me.

Alberto holding his ten dollars.

Originally from South Africa, he’s been here for two months and works for a large NGO.  “I like DC,” he says as my bare hand stiffens up from the December air as I scribble in my Moleskine notebook.  “I’ve enjoyed it here.  I have even been to a Redskins game; they lost though.”  Well that is no surprise.

We didn’t talk much.  The frigid temperature made it tempting to us both to wrap things up quickly.  I did manage to ask him a couple quick questions; one of which led to a surprising response from the South African.  I asked him if there was anything unique about him.  “Well,” the 31-year-old said pausing slightly, “I like to wear a heart monitor when I’m having sex.”  I didn’t quite no what to say.  “It makes sex kind of kinky,” he shared.  I got to tell you that I had a million questions racing through my mind when I heard this.  Forget the obvious of questions of why someone would do this, but what about how you would explain this to your partner.  “I usually introduce this when I come home from the gym,” Alberto says.  “Then it seems like it is just kind of a spontaneous thing that happens.”  I wonder if he leaves the beeping noise on?  And if you were wondering, yes, sometimes he convinces his partner to wear one too…then there would be lots of beeping going on.

Well, this was certainly an interesting meeting.  If you asked me to name 10,000 things that tonight’s recipient might tell me I can guarantee you that “wearing a heart monitor during sex” would not have been one of them.  This guy should be a sponsor for Polar or Timex.

His $10 didn’t go toward a new heart monitor.  Instead he said he would use the ten spot to buy someone else some coffee this coming week.  I’m sure that will be greatly appreciated now that the temperature is venturing less and less above the freezing point.  We said goodbye and I hurried across the avenue and practically dove into my refrigerated car.

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View from Tabaq of the Washington Monument keeping watch over DC.

On day 352 I headed over to Tabaq Bistro, the venue for my year-end celebration, to meet up with my friend Patricia who managed the entire event.  She’s a rock star and knows how to run events.  We went over a bunch of logistical issues about things you’d never dream of (i.e. will they have waiters or a buffet table, what kind of connection cables does their sound system use (1/4 inch if you were wondering), does the price quoted include serving plates and napkins, and the list goes on.  After an exhausting review of items, my head was sufficiently cloudy and we decided to get some food upstairs and figure out what we had forgotten.

We maneuvered our way up the two flights of dimly lit stairs to the upper level of Tabaq which has one of the best views in DC if you haven’t been there.  Its wall to wall glass gives sweeping views toward the downtown, the monuments and beyond.  We grabbed some space at the rather empty bar area and ordered a drink and began perusing the dinner menu.  Muhammara, that sounds interesting.  It’s a roasted red pepper and walnut puree.  We got one of those and chicken breast stuffed with spinach, cheese and peppers that glistened with thin layer of port wine sauce.  My mind swirled like the cocktails the bartender was serving up.  There were a myriad of things that had to still get done that day.  One of which was to deliver my $10 to some unsuspecting individual.

Rachel chatting with Patricia.

Our bartender was a young woman named Rachel.  Why not give it to her?  She was very friendly and frankly had the time since at the time we were her only customers.  The Connecticut native had been working there for about a month.  She recently graduated from American University with a degree in graphic design and photography.  My friend Patricia also went to American University here in DC and actually knew exactly where Rachel lived in Connecticut.  Small world…almost freaky.

Rachel mixes up the perfect martini.

The world is in fact small for Rachel.  She loves to travel.  Maybe it’s because her father is originally from New Zealand and she has always had the international bug.  Her father grew up in Auckland.  “I’d like to move to New Zealand some day,” Rachel says.  “Maybe try sailing or just hang out for a while,” she added.

At some point the conversation turned very technical focusing on the specific fonts she used to develop her website – which you can find here!  “I used universe font,” she started to say, “I tried to avoid gil sans and helvetica.”  Fonts…hmm, I can barely choose between wearing brown or black shoes in the morning much less what kind of font I am going to use on my website and documents.  Patricia and Rachel debated the finer points of fonts – the conversation gliding far above my comprehension.  I drifted in and out of the conversation while shifting my attention to the hearty portion of Muhammara that was still in front of us.

A cherry blossom photograph that Rachel made. For more of her work, click on the photo to visit her website.

Rachel stood close enough to get us something should we need it but not too close to make us feel uncomfortable as we ate.  “So what do you think you will use the ten dollars for,” I asked the camera shy bartender.  She paused for a moment and told me that she would probably use it to pay for the Metro or maybe put it toward a dinner she planned to make that week for a really good friend of hers.  “I’m thinking about making chicken picatta,” she said.

 

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Jim has been homeless for more than three years.

So many of the 365 people that I have met have touched my soul.  They have made me think about things that I would have never had the perspective to ponder prior to taking this walk.  Jim, a 52-year-old homeless resident of Washington, DC, invited me into his world for a while.  Will you join me?

It was an abnormally warm November 30th.  Puddles filled the streets and sidewalks as water droplets still fell from rain covered tree branches from the late afternoon showers.  Tucked under a small awning in front of what used to be the Riggs Bank in DC – now PNC – was Jim.  His head didn’t move much at first when I called out to him, rather his eyes abandoned the crossword on his lap and found their way to mine.  He sat up a little bit, plucked the earphones away from his ears and offered me a dry piece of real estate next to him.

Mostly homeless since 2007 he credits not being able to find work as the cause of his current lack of regular indoor housing.  The biggest challenge he faces being homeless is not the cold or the danger, but finding a place to store his personal items.  “I lost all of my belongings…twice!”  He once tried to hide his things in Rock Creek Park only to find them gone when he came back.  “There needs to be some type of lockers downtown where to store things in,” he says, “I’d be happy to pay a reasonable fee for such a service.”

It’s a different paradigm living on the streets.  You become more in tune with some things.  “The saddest people out here are the schizophrenics,” Jim says.  “They don’t access all the resources that are available for them and they can’t keep schedules.”  We touched on a variety of levels of mental illness and I jotted down one of the things he said that caught my attention: “There is a certain charm that mildly psychotic people have.”

He told me about an “ex street boyfriend” he had.  “He once stole some ugly sunglasses and some eye cream; only a gay homeless guy steals eye cream!” he said appreciating the humor.

The air occasionally brought a chill with it and Jim slipped a blue knit hat over his head.  With the Express newspaper still in his lap he says, “If a crossword is too hard it gets to be like work and if it’s work, I expect to get paid!”  We laughed together.  Speaking of work, Jim did recently get a job at a Cosi for about a week.  “It was just not for me,” he said shaking his head slowly and watching some young people walk by probably on their way to a nearby coffee shop or bar.  “I felt like I had hundreds of managers telling me what to do.”

We must have sat there for about 90 minutes.  I shot some video that I have included here of Jim talking about where he is from, about being homeless, suffering from depression and finally he took me on a short field trip over to the Marvelous Market to do some dumpster diving.  His compassion and charisma impacted me a great deal. Check it out.

Jim plans to use my $10 to get some coffee and maybe a snack in the morning at Books-A-Million.  “I’ve been wanting to read God of Small Things,” he says about Arundhati Roy’s Booker Prize winning novel.  “It appears to be a rich fictional piece that I might just end up getting lost in.”

I asked someone walking by to take our photo.

Through my conversation with Jim I learned that he knows Bill C. and Tommy N. who I gave $10 to earlier in the year.  As a final note, I have stopped by and left some food for Jim when I have seen him sleeping at his spot.  He also joined me at the Year-End Celebration which meant a lot to me!  Do check out the Lend a Hand initiative to see a couple of very simple things that you could get to help Jim out.

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My gym.

I am constantly trying to find new places to give my $10 away.  I was walking over to my gym the other day, a walk that I have made far too infrequently these days,  when I realized that I had never given my money away there.  It’s a little weird to go up to someone bench pressing a bunch of iron and say, “Hey, could I give you $10?”  but I was determined to find someone.

The easiest option would be to go give it to someone who was stuck working at the desolate reception – they’re practically begging for someone to come and talk to them there.  Instead, I combed the gym looking for someone working out.  I walked by and saw a lone person in the spinning room; a glass enclosed cage full of stationary bikes sentenced to life in gym.  Inside, Natalie was working up a sweat on one of the two dozen bikes.

"I'm a liberal working for a bunch of republicans," she said referring to her job.

This was awkward.  I didn’t want to affect her workout, but I did.  She slowed down to a leisurely pace as we talked.  Originally from Little Rock, AK, I quickly learned that we both had a connection to former President Clinton’s foundation.  She had worked for the organization in Little Rock and I had worked for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a nonprofit that he helped start jointly with the American Heart Association.  Now she works in government relations.  “I’m a lobbyist,” she says as I probe a little deeper on what someone in government relations actually does.  She’s been putting in long days working on energy related issues and only gets to the gym when apartment lights are being dimmed and people are pulling down their covers to go to bed for the evening.  I asked her what her motivation was to go to the gym and she said, “Just basic maintenance, stress, and guilt.”

When this twenty-something is not immersed in wonky energy related policy or relieving stress on the stationary bike, Natalie enjoys reading and traveling.  Her dream is to become a high school teacher some day and then retire in a sleepy town in the Ozarks of northern Arkansas.

As for the money, “I’ll have to give it away,” she says.  “I’ll probably give it to someone who is homeless.”  We talked about how society today has changed and people don’t stop to talk to strangers that much.  “I don’t talk to people on the street,” she admits, “I’m a headphone person.”  I encouraged her to take a second and talk to the person she gives the money to – ask them their name.

I totally screwed up Natalie's work out.

Before I left, I asked if she needed anything that I could add to the Lend a Hand initiative.  “Maybe some advice,” she started to say, “about how to make my parents golden years meaningful.”  Her dad, a bar owner, and mother, a special education teacher, live together in Little Rock.  I liked that she thought of them and their happiness.  Our parents do so much for us.  I could also use some similar advice for my father.  I have some ideas, but getting him to want to do those things is a whole another story.

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