Costa Mesa Homeless: My Time With Dave
January 21, 2013 20 Comments
I faced a choice: an older gentleman with a Santa-like beard, or a younger guy standing in the same place I met J a few weeks back (click here to read about that). I decided on the younger guy.
Aware that I might seem threatening, I took off my sunglasses, pulled my hands out of my pockets, and walked over.
He looked in my direction when I stepped off the curb. This is always the point where my insecurities start flying.
“He probably doesn’t want to talk to you” or “Just leave him alone, you don’t have anything to offer.”
I’ve found that pushing through insecurities is one of the best ways to experience new parts of life, so I hastened my pace and smiled.
I decided to hand him some money at the start of the conversation, instead of waiting like I did with J. As he accepted the bill, he said “Thanks, wow, thank-you so much,” and looked at me from beneath his baseball cap, weathered and with a well-worn twist in front.
“What’s your name?” I asked, extending my hand. “Dave,” he said, leaning in and grabbing mine.
“Oh, that’s funny — I’m Dave too! How random is that?“ He laughed and shifted a bit on his feet.
“How long you been out here?“
“About 20 minutes,” he replied, looking at me and then folding his sign. I actually meant how long had he been on the streets, but I realized most people probably don’t ask him this. I remember that J also folded up his sign as we were speaking, and both times I felt like I might be cramping their donations by interrupting their flow.
Most of his answers were short. The more I engaged him, the less he looked at me. I asked him where he lives (nearby, covered shelter), where he grew up (in the area), and where he went to school (Costa Mesa).
It took a few minutes for him to warm up. I couldn’t tell if he wanted to talk.
Shifting topics, I asked him about his family, and we shared stories about losing family members. I told him about my Uncle, John, who killed himself a few months ago. He expressed compassion, and said he was sorry.
“How does it get to that?” he asked, as I shook my head and looked at the ground. “I don’t know — I really don’t,” I answered. I mean, I think I actually do, but what do you say?
Dave is 41. A year and a half ago, Dave’s brother suddenly died when he was 29. He left behind a child and a girlfriend. Dave said it was from something like an aneurism. Dave was living with his mom and dad at the time. Then Dave’s mom and dad also died.
Suddenly, he found himself without anywhere to go. ”I miss them, especially my brother. He was a good guy, you know? He was my little brother. And I miss my mom, man…”
“That’s rough, I’m so sorry to hear that,” I said, shaking my head.
“Don’t worry, it’s not your fault, you didn’t do it,” he said, looking at me. “I know, it’s just that I feel so blessed, so lucky. I have a beautiful wife, adorable baby — and while life is so amazing, I still feel like what’s happened to you could easily happen to me. And I don’t think most people realize that,” I said, pulling my iPhone out of my pocket.
“For example, look at this: this is my daughter,” I said, covering the screen from the mid-day sun.
“Wow, she’s cute, look at all that hair — and those curls!” he exclaimed, leaning in to take a closer look. Everyone comments on her curls.
As he looked at my phone, I felt a hand grab my butt. What the?!
Before I describe the butt grabbing, let me tell you a bit about why I spend time with people like Dave.
My heart breaks for the homeless. As I told Dave, I feel that the margin between my comfort (and the perceived security it provides) — and life on the streets — is razor-thin.
Like really thin.
In the eyes of friends like Dave, I see despair, shame, and lack of hope. I see spirits that are weary and beat down.
If Dave and I were to trade spots, I really hope someone would speak to me. I really hope someone would give me eye contact, spend time with me, and let me share my heart.
Why? Because I also see the simple joy a heart-felt, judgment-free conversation can have. To be acknowledged as a person is a powerful thing.
Dave noticed the butt-grab too. Turning around, I saw my buddy Caleb drive past us; he had reached his hand out the window and given me a firm grab.
I was in Caleb’s wedding; he was in mine. He’s one of the guys who will carry my casket down the aisle.
Caleb parked and walked over. I introduced Caleb to Dave, and the three of us chatted for a while. We shared a laugh as we realized that the three of us were all wearing green shirts. Coincidence? Dave didn’t think so.
As is turns out, Dave knows J (I wrote about him here). They stay under the same bridge, and hang out together. “Some crazy people out there,” Dave said, shaking his head. “It’s better to stick together, you know? Like, some guy comes up and says, you want some speed? And you know, no way I do that stuff man. But if it’s the three of us, it’s a lot harder to push it than if it’s just me, you know?”
I nodded. Makes sense.
“But yah, I know J. Me and him are friends,” he said. “I think he told me about you … are you … are you The Jacket Guy?” he asked, looking up from under his cap.
“What? Do you mean, did I give him a jacket? Wow, he told you?” I asked, surprised that J had mentioned this. “Oh yah, he told me all about it.”
Apparently, news travels fast under their bridge.
“Most people don’t look at me,” he said, as the three of us walked together towards Target. Caleb needed diapers (he has a 2 month old baby boy), and Dave said he wanted to get some food. Dave lit a cigarette, and then seemed to catch himself. “I promise I won’t buy cigarettes with the money you gave me,” he said looking at both of us.
“Oh, Dave, do whatever you want. It’s up to you. No problem,” I responded. Really, it doesn’t matter to me. Who am I to judge.
As we stood out front, Dave finished his cigarette, and looked around uncomfortably. We could see he wanted to say something. We waited.
“Umm, this is going to sound weird, but, you know, do you believe in God?” he asked, looking at Caleb.
“Yes, I do,” Caleb responded.
“OK, that’s great then, because, you know, Tony mentioned that Jacket Guy prayed for him, and I was wondering, if — you know — we could also do that. I would really like to. And I can pray for you guys too, since you have little babies, you need prayer too,” he said, sitting down on the bench.
Caleb and I laughed; he’s right, we sure do need the prayer!
Dave prayed a simple prayer, asking God for strength and guidance for us as fathers. We prayed for him, asking for direction, intervention, and hope. It was a wonderful moment.
I walked with Dave down the Target aisles. I asked him what he wanted, but he wasn’t sure.
“Lots of the stuff here needs to be cooked,” he said, as we walked down the frozen food aisle. “We don’t have a way to do that yet … but we’re working on it,” he explained. He said he wanted to walk up and down each aisle, which is exactly what he did. I sensed that he wasn’t finding something that suited him, so I asked if he wanted to grab a burger. He heartily agreed.
As we were about to leave, I called Caleb. Turns out his diaper hunt was taking longer than anticipated, as he was still awaiting his wife’s directions. Caleb offered to buy Dave a new pair of shoes, since Dave had mentioned his had holes in them. We walked over to the shoe aisle, and Dave noticed a pink pair sitting on the shelf.
“How about those?” he asked, his eyes twinkling. We all laughed.
After ordering a burger, fries, and a drink, we sat down and hung out, just three guys enjoying a Sunday afternoon.
Dave opened up, got more comfortable, and gave us direct eye contact.
We joked, laughed, and Dave ate that burger just about as fast as anyone I know — even faster than me. He hadn’t eaten breakfast, so he was pretty hungry.
Dave grew up in Orange, but moved to Costa Mesa as a teenager. He went to a high school that was at the Senior Center in Costa Mesa (across the street from the DMV).
A few days a week, Dave sells flowers for a local florist. You know the guys you see holding flowers on the freeway exit? Might be Dave or one of his friends. Dave offers a 5 and 10 dollar set. He gets to keep $2 on the $5, and $4 on the $10. Not bad.
“Thanks for hanging out with us,” I said, as we did the man-hug (shake, pull-in, hug), and as we parted, I put my hand on his shoulder and smiled.
“No man, thank you. Now instead of calling you Jacket Guy, I can call you Dave. Most people call me Stitches, because I’m accident prone, but …”
I laughed. “… That’s another story,” he said, chuckling.
I told him I’d be back in a few days, and he said he’d love to talk again, and that J would love to hang out as well.
The three of us said our good-byes, and we went our separate ways: Caleb to his wife and baby, me to mine, and Dave to his home under the bridge.