Monday, July 21, 2008

Homeless - Sometimes it's a choice

Meet Gary Michael Etheridge. I came across Gary, while he was sitting in a small neighborhood park eating a sandwich, a small back pack leaning against the bench and close at hand. In the park were several young children playing on the swings and slide, mothers hovering nearby. The mothers would often look over at what appeared to be a homeless man sitting on the bench. The mothers were obviously concerned and clearly disturbed by his presence. I'm certain they prefer he not be there. In today's society, with all the wacko's about, their concern was certainly justified. Gary, obviously was aware of the looks he was receiving. The stares didn't seem to phase him, as he continued with his lunch.

I watched Gary for a while and like most would, thought "what a shame". I pondered the situation for a while, wondering. What has happened to bring this poor soul to his situation? Was it hard luck, drugs, alcohol, laziness, or some other sad story. I waited for him to finish his sandwich and then walked up and introduced myself. He quickly came to his feet, stretched out his hand and gave me a warm greeting "Hello, My name is Gary nice to meet you"

We spent a few minutes in small talk about the wonderful weather that day and then nodding at my camera, he asked "Are you a professional or a hobbyist". "A hobbyist" I replied. "That's good, everyone should have a hobby" he replied. "How about you", I asked, "any hobbies?". "Nothing serious but several interests art, literature, and travel" he replied.

The conversation that ensued was quite illuminating. Gary does not have his own home but is not exactly homeless either. He travels back and forth between here, Norfolk, Virginia and Atlanta Georgia. It turns out that he has a sister that lives in Atlanta and is ill with cancer. He travels to Georgia to help take care of her. When in Norfolk, he stays with a friend. He usually travels between the two cities by bus. While in Norfolk, he works odd jobs to earn money for food, saving some for bus fare for his next trip to Atlanta. He talked about his sister for a bit and how difficult she can be and how much he looks forward to coming back to Norfolk, but then when back feels anxious to return to his sister, as he worries about her. He certainly appeared capable of holding a full time job and in good health. However, he says "full time employment restricts my ability to travel".

The way Gary currently sustains himself, allows him the freedom to travel at will and as needed. When he is not working a small job doing handyman type work or perhaps work for a contractor, there is a small local coffee shop where he likes to hang out and meet new folks. "Everyone has a story" he says "and I enjoy hearing everyone of them, even though they are usually full of half truths. Still a good story is a good story". I had to laugh and asked "how about you, your story a half truth also?" I asked. Laughing he replied, "of course, we all embellish on our situations some and that's a full truth". "I make my situation seem a little nicer than it is but the facts are true." he said. "I don't need any more pity than the looks I already get" he said once again laughing.

I asked if I could take a few photos and he was quick to agree. We talked the whole time, had some good laughs and explored the politics of the day. He was quite up to speed at a national and local level. Before departing, I pulled out my note pad and asked for his full name. He held out his hand for the pad, which I gave him, he signed it and drew some art work for me. He said the drawing was suppose to be Tom and Jerry. You can see the note above and the fact that an artist he ain't. We joked about his drawing skills and I thanked him for the drawing as we parted.

Is there a moral in all this? Sure there are several, but I leave you to draw your own conclusions and opinions. I walked away from this with a new friend and full of excited anticipation for my next encounter and embellished story. I too want to be as entertained as Gary is, with the people he meets.

Thanks for the gift Gary.




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