Random DCene: Yes We Can

Reggie lived in the alcove of a rarely used building next to mine for quite a few years.  He was always hustling for cash; whether it was by washing  cars, pointing out available parking spaces to the visiting suburbanites, or just hanging out on the corner.

He was usually very friendly.  I think I saw him more than I did most other neighbors.  We always said hello to each other. He was there for years, I think even before I moved there.  Although I give money to homeless people on occasion, I never gave him anything partially out of my own financial situation and partially not to encourage him as we saw each other almost every day.

One day we started to go through the motions of our usual interaction when he just exploded at me for never giving him any change.  He cursed me out and accused me of being selfish.  It was a pretty unusual outburst.  We just stared each other down.  Me mostly out of surprise before I told him that I just didn’t have anything on me.

I left that encounter a little disturbed because I had been contemplating the concept of selfishness at that time, but not in the same sort of context.  Still, it gave me some more things to think about.  In appreciation I cooked a whole meal for Reggie the next day.  I just gave it to him without a word.  There were no apologies or thanks exchanged.

The next time I saw him he thanked me and told me a little bit about his life.  His family was gone and he had no one to turn to.   We shook hands for the first time in eight years.

He disappeared not long after that.  He did that from time to time, but eventually weeks became months and I feared the worst.

I went to go vote on Election Day back in 2008, and after I came out of the voting station I ran into Reggie in front of a shelter.  We shook hands again and he told me he was getting his life together.  He asked me to tell the folks in my building that he was doing alright.

I just spoke with my ANC commissioner today.  She was gathering up signatures to put her on the ballot again this fall, and she told me that she spoke to some of my neighbors who relayed the news that Reggie had come by our building recently.  He was in a suit and told everyone about his job and how he was about to get a car.  He wanted to thank everyone for letting him live in those bushes next door to us for all those years.

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3 Comments

  1. Jen Trouble said,

    August 10, 2010 at 9:40 am

    What a great story. You made a difference just by acknowledging that he was there and human.

    My rant: To all the pompous right-wing extremist out there – not everyone on the streets is working the system or a lazy bum. I’m not saying that they aren’t out there. But if you’ve never experienced the struggle yourself, don’t be an asshole and make general assumptions.

    Thanks for the vent space.

  2. August 11, 2010 at 12:57 am

    I have provided meals for homeless people when I lived in an urban area in college. I don’t know what happened to these people, but it was certainly very rewarding at the time, doing something as simple as making a sandwich and bringing it down to them in the parking lot.

    I was always really disappointed with the people who asked for money for food and, when offered food, turned it down and walked away in disgust. However, I was able to bargain in one case when he turned to walk away and I said “I have some Girl Scout Cookies upstairs.” He graciously accepted the cookies – who can turn down Girl Scout Cookies?

  3. Sandy said,

    August 11, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Amazing story. There are so many bleak stories about folks who are homeless, it was great to read about one man who was able to swim upstream.


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