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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.

This is Sly…

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“Hey Allentown!” That’s what I hear frequently while on my bike in the Elmwood Village. That’s what Sly (pictured above) knows me as. He used to panhandle in Allentown but as he put it, “I’m not allowed in Allentown anymore.” But that’s an entire neighborhood, I’d think to myself. He does have a rather gruff appearance (and that’s putting it mildly). Some are afraid of him, some–with closed minds and hearts–get angry with him. Once I saw a couple collage boys threaten him physically when he asked them for money. This, I’ve heard is also the reason he’s “not allowed” in Allentown any longer. I was told he was beat up by someone there a couple years ago and told it will happen again if he returns. But nonetheless, he is a fellow human on this rock we call earth, and at times–when he is lucid–a very friendly and coherent one at that. Such was the other night when I ran into him while exiting a bar on Elmwood. I was walking to my bike when I hear his familiar beckon, “Hey Allentown,”  and I turn to see him with his distinctive hobble coming over to me. I gave him a couple bucks and asked how he was doing. “Oh you know you know.” Where you staying I asked. “Right here, man, right here on the street.” How about winter, like last winter, I questioned. “Oh you know, hospitals, churches, and other places.” He has a mental disability, and I’ve heard he spends winter nights at the psychiatric hospital, but I don’t know if that is true. I’ve also heard that he is a Vietnam vet and had an emotional break during the war. I don’t know if that is true either. But what I do know is that he is a nice guy and interesting to talk to at times. And it’s interesting, I am finding out that when I ask people if I can take their photo most people say yes right away. This was the case with Sly the other night. He commented on my bike, “Hey man, that’s a nice bike, you didn’t tell me you got a new bike.” Would you stand in front of it while I take your picture, I asked him. He immediately stood in front the bike, flashed a grin from ear-to-ear and held out the peace sign with his right hand (and, FYI, for those who may make the sweeping rash judgment of street people, that’s a soda in his left hand, not a beer). Personally, I feel the world needs more Slys and less “Donalds” (sorry, there’s my judgment). When we shook hands I noticed, as I have in the past, how calloused his hand was; likely from the hard life of living on the street. And as I pedaled away on a really lovely summer night I saw him make a b-line towards a group young college girls and could hear his familiar mumble, “Hey can you help me out with a little something, I’m trying to get something to eat.” When they turned him down, or more specifically ignored him and kept a large distance from him as they passed, he moved onto the next group of people coming down the street. Thankfully I do not know this personally, and contrary to what a lot of people think about the homeless (another judgment, sorry), is that one can not be lazy or stupid to survive on the street. As the summer ends and the cold months loom closer each day, I pray that Sly makes it through, because he makes this world just a little bit more interesting. And that’s what I was thinking about as I pedaled and coasted home on a warm summer’s night with a few beers in my belly.

Urban Simplicity

Denis and his human-powered mobile floral shop…

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So this is Denis and his mobile flower shop. I’ve seen him pedaling around town recently and today was behind him when I asked if I could take his photo and hear his story. He’s a recent Buffalo transplant by way of NYC and does floral arranging full-time; this is a summer gig. That’s a Worksman trike he’s riding which he ordered through Rick Cycle Shop. He says business has been good. I only talked to him for a couple minutes as we were both in the street and on our way, but if you’d like to read his full story he was recently profiled at Buffalo Rising. And here’s a link to his Facebook page. Peace, Denis. Thanks for letting me take your photo, and welcome to the City of Good Neighbors!

Urban Simplicity.

A quiet man on a really cool home-built trike…

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So I wish I could tell you this nice man’s name on his home-built trike, but even though he obliged in allowing me to photograph him he didn’t tell me his name. But I’m jumping ahead. It was two evenings ago and I had just gotten out of work. I was unlocking my bike when I saw him quietly pedal past me. I was on my way to a second job and he was heading ahead of me down the same side-street as I. He had stopped; he was collecting bottles and cans. I stopped and was admiring his bike while he went between two houses in search of his bounty. The trike, I could see, was obviously home-built. But what was really impressive was that it wasn’t originally a trike, it was an old mountain bike fitted with a wide axle and a shopping cart basket welded onto it; it also pulled a homemade trailer. When he emerged from between the houses he looked startled to see me there on my bike. I introduced myself and told him I was just admiring his bike. He then motioned to his ears and mouth in such a way that told me he could neither hear or speak. I gave him my card and made a motion like a camera and pointed at him, asking if I could take his photo. He immediately hopped up on the bike and struck the pose you see above. After a few more hand gestures on both our parts, he conveyed to me that he indeed build the bike himself. Really really cool, such ingenuity. After a few more gestures we shook hands and parted. If you my silent friend are reading this I just want to say thank you. Thank you for meeting me, and also for allowing me to take your photograph.

Urban Simplicity.

Tony and his really groovy bike…

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So this is Tony. And that’s his really groovy bike. I was riding home today on a particularly hot and humid evening after a bustling day at work when I noticed him in front of me. He was riding somewhat slow and with headphones on, so I pulled up next to him and had to yell to get his attention. I asked if I could take his photo and he said yes. I started to pull over but he pointed to a sunny spot at the next corner. Tony is proud of his bike, as he should be. He built it from the ground up. I asked him if he minded if I took a few photos and he obliged, but with the caveat “don’t forget the hog” (which is in the bottom photo). That is one cool bike, I told him. Thank you was all he said. And then we rode our separate ways.

Urban Simplicity.