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This is Mark.

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We’re all just walking each other home.”

~ Ram Dass

This is Mark. I saw him drawing in the street this evening as I was walking out to my favorite tavern. And when I say in the street I mean it quite literally as he was in the middle of the street. As I love free art I stopped to chat with him. He was drawing a mermaid, he told me. When I asked if I could take his photo he laid next to his drawing. He also told me he loved all sorts of artistic expression and that he wanted to help make Allentown (in Buffalo, NY) artistic again. As we were talking I couldn’t help but notice the hospital band he was wearing on his wrist, as if he were just released. I asked him about it and he told me but I won’t air his personal issues here. Then it occurred to me that I had met him before and had actually posted about him on this blog (read his story here). We had a nice chat. He told me he was homeless but never asked me for money, though when I offered some he readily accepted. I have to say it was really nice to chat with Mark this evening. We parted and I went and had a couple beers. When I came out his mermaid was complete but Mark was down the street being interrogated by police officers (his drawing below is actually illuminated by the headlights of a police car). I don’t know what the police were questioning him about, nor do I know his real story, but what I do know is that chatting with him tonight brightened my evening. I home he finds his way. Read the previous post about him here.

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The Freedom Wall….is one of inspiration

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On my way home from work this afternoon I took the long way home to ride past this free-art project and see the progress. It is titled the Freedom Wall and is sponsored by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. This, to me, in these uncertain times and with all the “wall building talk,” it is so inspiring to see a wall such as this with a positive purpose. Here:s an excerpt from their website:

“This space provides the ideal surface for a mural that will respond to the significance of the location as the entrance into the Historic Corridor and that celebrates our nation’s civil rights legacy. The Freedom Wall project (working title) will utilize the design of the wall, divided into sections, to depict portraits of 28 notable civil rights leaders in American history, past and present. The scale of the wall creates a unique opportunity to present a historical narrative that recognizes well-known national activists alongside equally important but less-widely-known local leaders.”

I was glad to see there were a few people working on the wall when I rode up to it, and they were all too eager to talk to me about it and tell me about some of what was going on. Directly below is one of the artists, Edreys Wajed, he’s working on a portrait of William Wells Brown who spent some time in Buffalo at one point. The photo below is a nice young women who is not one of the artists but described herself as a helper, she helps the artists fill things in, she told me. She also gave me a great deal of information about the project. And in the photo directly below that is a rap artist who was being filmed performing in front of Dr. King. In all, there are 28 portraits being painted by four artists and the wall stretches around the corner for two city blocks.

The project is slated to be completed in the next couple weeks and there will be an opening with a street party. This, to me, is really inspiring and worth pedaling a few blocks out of my way to pass it on my way to work.

To learn more about the project, the artists, and the list of people being portrayed, visit their web site here. For directions to the Freedom Wall, click here.

Urban Simplicity.

 

A Hero Named Chuck.

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 “Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause.
~Abraham Lincoln


So a couple things. One is that while it may look like I am laughing I am only doing so at the situation, not at the story or what happened as this photo took place. I was surprised, I suppose. And also, that’s Chuck in the background running to get his daughter for the photo. In my opinion he is a hero. But I’m jumping ahead as I’m apt to do. Let me begin again.


It was raining today so I took the subway and then the bus to work rather than bike. I was waiting for the subway when a man approached me, it was 6:15am. Keep in mind that the Buffalo subway system can be pretty desolate at that hour (see below photo). I was sitting down and he was sort of imposing, probably 6 feet tall, and he stood a bit too close as he spoke. It made me nervous at first, but then my nerves eased as I stood to face him and spoke some more. His name was Chuck, he told me, and at first I didn’t think he was going to ask me for money. I could tell there was something a bit “off” as he spoke, so I thought maybe he was just making chitchat…asking me if I was from Buffalo, what I did for work, talked of the rain outside, that type of thing. Then I asked him his story, shortly after is when he asked me for money for coffee, a newspaper, and maybe a soda for his daughter, Karen, who he said was waiting upstairs.


Chuck told me he’s a war veteran, having served two tours in Afghanistan and one tour in Iraq. He also told me what he did. I never asked, he just told me. I can’t remember the military jargon he used for his title but basically he traveled with the medical crew and was usually the first on the seen when a soldier or soldiers were down. He would administer shots to the fallen soldiers to ease their pain. “I can’t even begin to tell you the pain I saw,” Chuck told me. Sometimes, he also added, that that was all they could do was “give ’em a needle to ease their pain.”


I have mentioned in previous posts that I personally am a pacifist and that I feel that nothing good ever comes from war, but at the same time I have the utmost respect for the men and women that serve our country. And while Chuck was telling me his story all I could think is that to some he was likely the last face they saw on this earth, just before he gave them a needle; he was their angel.


Chuck talked a lot. He lives at home with his mom and is being treated for PTSD because he is “having difficulty back in civilian life.” At one point, when there was a brief break in his story, I thanked him for his service to the country. This stopped him in his tracks. He had rarely looked me in the eye but now he was, and he stopped talking. “Thank you, sir. That means so much to me,” is how he broke the silence. 


So by this point I knew my train was coming so I gave him $5 and asked if I could take our photo together. Really, he asked. It was the first time I saw him smile. Then he told me about his daughter, Karen, who was still waiting upstairs. “Come on,” he said, “I really want Karen to be in the photo,” and he began to run taking two stairs at a time. I caught up to him at the second level (there are three levels) and told him the train was coming and if I missed it I would be late for work. So he stands next to me as I ready the phone, and just before I snap the photo he says, “But she’s right up there,” pointing to the next level and calling her name, and then he darts to get her.. Now I hear the train coming on the level below which only gave me seconds to get to it. “Sorry Chuck, I have to go,” I yelled to him, and made the train just as it’s doors were closing. I looked through the window as we pulled away but did not see him or his daughter.

So this is how I met a hero named Chuck on my way to work this morning.

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.

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