I treated my homeless friend Steve to a meal of chicken fajitas at Magnolia Cafe the other day. Talking to him for a while is often overwhelming. So much information. So much of it shocking.
He was wearing huge neon green sneakers, and I commented on this recent acquisition. He said a man gave them to him because he had bought them and then decided he didn’t like them. “But I sure like them a lot. They’re way too big, but that’s just what I need, because I have a broken toe.” Turns out he broke his toe six months ago when someone drove over his foot. He called the doctor, who blew him off, saying it just has to heal by itself. Which it’s not doing. “I try to walk more on my heels, but that’s hard to keep up.”
He kept thanking me for the meal and I kept telling him to stop thanking me. He said he’s been eating mostly peanut butter crackers lately. Apparently people give him peanut butter crackers, but when they’ve been in a hot car for a while, the peanut butter goes bad. “Once the peanut butter has melted and then gets hard again, even the birds won’t it eat.” Just so you know, folks: real peanuts keep longer.
I asked him if he still had his tarp and he does. Instead of using it as a giant sleeping bag like I imagined he would, he used the duct tape to hang it from the bottom of the bridge, forming a tiny sheltered room. Who knew that duct tape would even stick to concrete! I’ve always known that duct tape is great, but it’s even better than I thought. You’re welcome, makers of Duct Tape–feel free to donate my commission for this little plug to a homeless shelter.
Steve hopes to get a job one of these days. “There’s this guy who drives by regularly, and he always tells me he’s thinking of hiring me. I tell him to think a bit harder. He says he just has to find a spot for me. I told him I’ll wash his car, empty the garbage cans–anything.”
He’s got it all figured out: if the guy would pay his first month’s rent and electricity, he would have a place to clean up and be presentable for work, and from them on life would get better. “Because I simply wouldn’t give him any reason to fire me. Heck, I can work twice as hard as any of these 20-year-olds.” The other day he told a 20-year-old working in a convenient store that he could work twice as hard. The kid told him to get the hell out of there.
About two years ago it was a guy who made movies who was thinking of giving him a role in his next film. I suspect this is just another one of those people who’s full of shit and just making small talk–someone who doesn’t realize that remarks like that get guys like Steve to start planning their upcoming new life, only to be disappointed. But of course I say that it would be great if he got a job like that.
I ask him if there’s anything he could really use. He answers that he’s got pretty much all he needs. His sleeping bag, the tarp, a warm coat someone just gave him, and his new shoes. “If I have too much stuff, people just take it away, anyway. The United Way is going though homeless camps to clean up, taking people’s stuff and throwing it away. The city commission has given them permission. Legal stealing is what I call it.”
I hadn’t heard anything about that. I surfed the web for an hour, but I can’t find anything about United Way cleaning up homeless camps in Austin. Has anyone heard anything about this? I’m no fan of United Way, but all I can tell from websites is that they help the homeless, not that they steal their stuff.
Not that it matters much, I suppose. Not to Steve anyway. The police or United Way; either way his main worry these days–apart from getting enough to eat and staying warm– is that some person in an official capacity will take his sleeping bag.
I see bumper stickers that say “Simplify”. That’s a lofty goal, if you can afford it. Just realize that being able to simplify is itself a luxury.
Perhaps he means things like this:
I think so, too, but I haven’t come across anything like that happening in Austin lately.
Thank you for writing this, Barbara. I think stories like this are really important to share, because it humanizes and makes visible people who are practically invisible, and even less cared for in our society.
I agree with Michael, thank you for posting this story.