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This is Jay (and he was a bit of a challenge)

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This is Jay. I met him on my way home this evening. But before I tell his story, or what I know of it, I have to tell you mine. At least mine from this evening.

Earlier this evening I was on a phone call with a professor for a class I am currently taking. During our conversation I told him how I feel we are all equal. All of us. No exceptions.

On a side note, if you’ve been to this blog before then you know that I sometimes profile people on the street.

Anyhow, I had stopped out for a couple beers and was on my way home when I heard him. He was across the street sitting on a stoop. I couldn’t see him because from my view he was hidden behind parked cars. But I could hear him, almost wailing. He was asking for help to get something to eat. So I walked over to him.

When I first approached he immediately asked me for money. For what I asked? I am really hungry, he replied. He was going to the store down the street for a sandwich, some chips, and–he added–a beer if he had enough money. [Note the beer sitting next to him.] I thought about taking him to the store to buy a sandwich for him, but I was tired (life, sometimes, can be so exhausting).

I asked him his story, he was somewhat guarded, but this is what he told me. He was released from prison very recently, July of 2016, after 23 years. That’s a year ago, I thought, but after 23 years that’s pretty recent. I didn’t ask him what he was in for because I really was afraid to know. But he told me that when he “was in” he was beaten so badly he now has memory problems and seizures. This, I suppose, also explains his halting way of speaking.

Anyhow–and this is a true story–when I reached into my pocket for change I pulled out not just change but also a small pocket rosary that I had purchased last summer at St. Paul’s Chapel next to Ground Zero in NYC. I sometimes carry it with me when I travel. I don’t remember putting it in my pocket today, but there it was. What, is this a test, I thought to myself? I had intended on just giving Jay a couple quarters but gave him what I had in my pocket, which was nearly two dollars.

Jay was challenging, there is no question. The way he spoke. His assertiveness. But he is still a human on planet earth, and one who has some problems (as we all do). Yes, he had a beer sitting next to him and was hoping to get enough money for another, but I had just come from a tavern where I had three. None of us would hope to end up on the street, but some of us do, and that doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person. So now, as I get ready to sign off on blogger and log onto Netflix to watch a half-hour of something mindless before crawling into bed, I hope and pray that Jay also has someplace to sleep on this unseasonably chilly spring evening.

This is Mark.

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This is Mark, Mark Buffington. Like Washington only with Buff like Buffalo in front of it, he told me. I had stopped out for a couple beers tonight and was on my way home. That’s when I met him. The tavern I had gone to had an open mic and I was enjoying the impromptu musical creativity. Then when I left and began to cross the street I heard another rhythm, a sort of tapping. So I went over and met Mark. He was “playing” all these random things. The only actual instrument was a harmonica. Resourceful, I thought. He’s been on the street “for a while,” he told me. Ever since his girlfriend kicked him out. “It doesn’t make me a bad person, I’ve not done anything bad,” he also added. And I concur, being on the street doesn’t make you a bad person…things happen. He told me he felt things will get better soon, that he’s okay. I asked him about his health (because I could see that his one hand was crooked), and he told me that he was doing okay, that the doctors at Roswell (cancer institute) are giving him a clean bill of health. We talked for a while, and he played me a couple numbers on his stuff. Never once did he ask me for money. When I offered him a couple dollars worth of change he took it. And when he did he shook my hand with his bent one and said “Thank you brother; God bless you.” Then we parted. As I walked away I could hear his tapping…on an old tire, a wooden crate, and also I heard his harmonica. A couple blocks later as I put the key in my front door I felt grateful. Not only for my ramshackle house I call home, but also that my path crossed with Mark Buffington this evening. My life is enriched because of it.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

~Mark 12:31


Urban Simplicity.

This is Micheal (and me, too).

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Okay, first let me say that it is rare that I post photos of myself. Like many people I really do not like it. But anyhow, that aside, let me tell you about this photo. I had gone out for a couple beers this evening at my favorite watering hole, and when I came out Micheal was standing there. He timidly asked me for money while he looked away. I gave him a dollar and asked him his deal…how he found himself out here on a cold New Years Day eve asking for money.

He has mental illness, he told me, has had it all his life (schizophrenia, but he’s on medication) . And because of it is unable to work. He has not received his disability check and was hungry. He was trying to get enough money to buy a sandwich. He sleeps at a friend’s house who charges him ten dollars a night, which he paid for the night, so now he had nothing left to eat with.

I asked him if he would like me to buy him a sandwich and he looked surprised but said yes. Now you may be saying to yourself, Okay here is Joe getting duped again. But I don’t think so. Micheal was sober, if not timid. And I ask you, can you imagine standing outside a bar asking for money for food? What would that take?

So it’s New Years Day evening and one of my resolutions for 2017 is to live authentically, intentionally, and with conviction. I am usually (always) worried about money. But I also always seem to have it. And yes, to the people reading this thinking, “Why doesn’t he just get a damn job,” I understand. I have worked hard–really hard–my entire life, since I’ve been 16. But I don’t think it’s that easy. I don’t have mental illness (at least I don’t think I do). I have never been reduced to asking for money on the street on a cold January night. And even though I worry about money all the time I had some in my pocket when Micheal approached me. So if I truly want to live to my convictions, to be the person that I say I am, how could I possibly not buy this guy a sandwich? He is a human and I am a human. I have more than I need and he doesn’t.

I left Micheal at the restaurant to eat his sandwich and he thanked me and said Merry Christmas. That’s all I have to say.

James and the Homeless Jesus…

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So the above image is of the Homeless Jesus statue that is outside St Paul’s Cathedral here in Buffalo. If you want to know more about the statue read this blog post from last year (it’s a pretty interesting history).

Anyhow, this is a brief story of what happened tonight. And I’m not sure why I post this stuff but it just needs to come out. I need to share.

I had just gotten off a bus I had ridden to the suburbs where I am taking classes at a campus about 10 miles outside the city. I park my bike downtown and take the bus, which drops me off almost at the front door. It was my last meeting with the professor for the semester and I did well. I was also hungry. So while on the bus home I dialed the local hipster taco joint and ordered a couple tacos to pick up on my way home. Despite the snowy weather, the bus arrived downtown sooner than I thought and I knew the meal would not be ready so I thought I’d ride by the Homeless Jesus statue to take a photo of it in the snow.

When I arrived I saw that someone had draped a quilt over the statue. It really is a striking statue and with the quilt in the snow it looks even more real…like a person sleeping on a park bench in the snow (click here to see better photos of the statue without snow).

There was only one other person on the corner when I arrived. I could tell he was cold as he was visibly shivering and stamping his feet. As I squatted down to take a photo I could see he was watching me so I glanced over at him. He asked me if I was taking a picture of the Christmas tree, which is behind the statue. No, I told him, I was taking a photo of the statue. Statue? What statue? He asked. He hadn’t seen it under the snow, I guess. He came over and I told him about the statue and its history. He then asked me if I knew what time the bus was coming. Which one, I asked, this is a busy corner. The homeless bus, he told me.

Apparently there is a bus that comes by and gives out food and other necessities. I had never seen it but that’s what he was waiting for. I have heard of it though, it’s from a church on the East Side, it’s set up like a food truck. I looked at him and he was shivering. Do you have a place to stay, I asked. Yes, and he told me where. It was on a street in one of our city’s most destitute areas. It was a boarding house, he told me. I asked him if it was warm. He told me it was “warm enough,” but he had nothing to eat, that’s why he was waiting for the homeless bus. And then he walked away to where he was standing before. But he never once asked me for money.

I felt like I was in some sort of movie. There I was standing in front of a statue of Jesus as a homeless person, which is in front of one of our city’s more beautiful cathedrals, and it is just a couple days before Christmas. Yes, I know it’s only a statue, but I actually turned to it and spoke. Are you kidding me, I said. What…is this some sort of a test? Then I stood there for a few minutes, feeling the snow land on my face. And I looked over at James (who declined to have his photo taken). He was still shivering and waiting for his bus. So I walked over and gave him a few bucks. He readily accepted, said thank you, bless you, and Merry Christmas. As I rode away I couldn’t help but think of the circumstances in which I found myself this evening. I was worried (about money and time as usual) which takes me out of the moment. And this brief interaction broke open my heart. I was able to see what was real again. And it was just me and James on a street corner in the snow. That’s what was real.

And this is what happened on this frigid and snowy evening just a couple nights before Christmas and in front of the Homeless Jesus. Now if you’ll excuse me I believe I’ll go eat my hipster tacos.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

~ Matthew 25:35-36 

A few photos, a couple (nonsensical) thoughts, and an inspiring conversation

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I have a long story (regarding the bottom photo) which I’ll make shorter, and I originally posted this–or at least a portion of it–on Facebook so if you’ve read this already I apologize for the redundancy. This is a fire alarm call box on the corner of Allen and Elmwood in Buffalo (it’s also visble in the top photo on the right-hand corner). Relics from a bygone time, I suppose…here’s images of others and they are even available on ebay as collectables). At one time there were many of these around the city, I remember them from my youth. Now there are only a half-dozen (I know this because I saw a city-worker inspecting it one day and he told me so…and yes, this still works). Anyhow, I was talking with a couple youngish co-workers the other day regarding an incident that happened on this corner and they used this as a point of reference but were unsure of what to call it…they didn’t know what it was (“It’s not really a fire hydrant but it has something to do the the fire department,” one said). I mentioned to them that it was a fire alarm…that in the event of an emergency one would break the glass and pull the lever and help would arrive. And then after a somewhat long and uncomfortable silence and perplexed looks I also mentioned that there were not always cell phones available. 

Anyhow, that story aside, I was out taking photos in my neighborhood a couple evenings ago as it was such a nice summer night. And after taking the above photo I began to walk down the street when I was stopped by the couple in the above photo; they asked me for spare change. After giving them what was in my pocket I asked if I could take their photo. “You’re not with the mafia or police, are you,” the woman questioned? I’m still not sure what she meant by this, but after assuring her I was not with either organization they both readily agreed. The woman rummaged in her bag for some lipstick and then quickly fixed her hair before throwing her arm around her friend. They wanted to know why I was taking pictures. I told them I just enjoy it and that I enjoy meeting people. After introducing myself and shaking hands all around, I learned the woman’s name was Rosemarie but goes by Rhianna. Her friend simply told me, “They call me D.O.D.” At any rate, we chatted for a few minutes and they actually thanked me for taking their photo. This sort of surprised me but I thanked them in return for allowing it. By stopping to talk to people, I find, that the invisible barrier is broken…instead of two street people and a guy with money in his pocket, it became just three people. Simple as that. But why am I sharing this? Honestly, I am not sure, but I felt I should.

Urban Simplicity.