The face of homelessness

My friend Kevin told me this afternoon that he will be going to Bakersfield to stay. St. Vincent de Paul, he says, bought him a bus ticket for Sunday. I will be seriously sad to see him go.

Kevin lives somewhere, he’s never explained and I don’t press, in the rich-man/poor-man city of San Francisco. Wherever he spends his nights, he spends his days, mostly, on a bench in Mountain Lake Park near my home, watching the seagulls and ducks on the water, the pigeons on the grass, children on the swings. The par course which functions as my personal gym loops around the park, leading me past Kevin’s bench just after the hop-kicks and before the newly replaced (thanks, Park & Rec!) push-up bars. Kevin finds my exercises highly amusing.

Kevin has skin like polished coal, a bushy Afro usually tucked under a leather cap that would work well in Moscow, and a grin that displays a wide row of crooked, gap-filled bottom teeth. He has few. if any, top teeth. His wardrobe, which also includes an outsized leather jacket and very heavy boots, seldom changes, nor does his mood, which is sunny with occasional fog.

Many months ago I introduced myself, mid-workout. Kevin has never asked for a handout, but I took to offering him a dollar for a cup of coffee and it’s never been refused. Once recently, while he was dozing in the sunshine by the playground, I stuck a folded dollar bill into the same pocket occupied by his large, square hand, hoping it wouldn’t fall out and disappear. The next day he confirmed, with a huge guffaw, that it had been found. “And I knowed it was you come around!!” he said, pleasing me immensely.

Sometimes, when the weather has been cold and rainy or the fog too oppressive I do not see Kevin for a while. “I been going to the liberry,” he tells me later, a testament probably more to the warmth of the nearby building and its inhabitants than to our educational system — but with Kevin you never know.

When I am not constrained by time and the cares of the world I join Kevin on his bench. We talk about the water birds, the golfers far across the small lake, or the construction going on farther across and to the west, where the Presidio Trust is spending your tax money to convert the old Veteran’s Administration Hospital into apartments which will have drop dead gorgeous views. Kevin, on my recommendation, once walked up there to see what it is like. That was about the time when, on a beautiful, balmy San Francisco day I remarked to him that I thought I was the luckiest person in the world. He said, “I be lucky too.” That is a comment to take to the bank.

Because he is of indeterminate age and mental agility, I would worry about Kevin going off to the far country of Bakersfield. But he says he has family there, is looking forward to the bus ride and thinks it will be swell. I just hope they have a park with birds and children to entertain him, and perhaps an occasional jogger to join him on the bench.

Still, I will feel his absence. Never once has Kevin failed to say, as I pass on to the push-up bars, “Have a guht one!” Coming from behind an unfathomable grin, from a man presumably alone on the mean streets of urban America, who considers himself lucky, that is a blessing one doesn’t always get in the middle of a fitness course. And a blessing one can always use.

One response

  1. Pingback: Homeless & still grinning - Fran Johns - Boomers and Beyond - True/Slant

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