For several years there was a man who stood on the busiest street in my neighborhood during the morning and evening commute. He would stand at the side of the road for a couple of hours, twice a day, and salute all the cars that drove by. After his self-imposed shift he would sit on a cement planter in front of an architecture office for most of the day.
My husband and I would always wave at him when we drove by while he was saluting.
When I started a job in the neighborhood, I walked by him several times a day. I would always say hi. One day I bought him a Starbucks card, and asked him his name. He said it was, Buddy.
I started to talk to him every week day. I asked him if there was anything he needed. He requested peanut butter (but not Trader Joe’s peanut butter because it needs to be refrigerated). I bought him peanut butter.
There were days when I would sit and talk to him for a while. On one occasion he told me, “I don’t know about you sitting here. The cops don’t mind one person, but when there are two, they come and throw you down on the street. They don’t like groups.” I told him I was sorry, and I walked home.
Most week days, I would ask him if there was anything he needed, and he would tell me when he was out of peanut butter. Once he asked for a pair of long johns. Once a week I would buy him a Starbucks card. I found out he would transfer the money from the card I gave him to another card and the woman at Starbucks told me he had over three hundred dollars on his main card. I guessed that other people also gave him Starbucks cards.
He told me that he went to Starbucks every morning for his coffee. The employees there knew him and several of them said he liked them, and one woman said, “I don’t know what it is. He won’t let me serve him. I can’t figure out what I did to him, but he doesn’t like me at all. He won’t even look at me.”
Buddy and I talked and I learned that his parents were dead, and that he didn’t like going to the soup kitchens or shelters, because the thought the people there were really rude. He also told me that there were two opinions on the street about eating cheese. One group thought it made you have to go to the bathroom, and the other group thought it helped keep you from having to go to the bathroom. Buddy refused to eat cheese.
One morning, when my husband and I both had the day off, we saw Buddy at Starbucks. Before we could say hi to him there was a commotion at the counter, and Buddy said a few words in a loud voice and slammed out. My husband and I followed him, and we both said, “Hey Buddy, are you okay?” He gave us a mean and hurt look, picked up all his bags off the street and tried to get away from us as quickly as possible.
I can’t remember what else my husband and I said to Buddy that day, but I know he acted hostile towards us and wanted nothing to do with us.
We tried stopping by the planter in front of the architecture office to talk to him but he became hostile and waved us away.
From that day on, I walked on the opposite side of the street. At first I would call out, “Hi Buddy!” and wave to him, but he would ignore me.
Something switched in his mind that day at Starbucks and my husband and I became a part of the problem in his life, a problem that kept him from treatment and sentenced him to life on the streets.
Buddy now spends his days sitting a few blocks away from the architecture office. He no longer salutes traffic and he doesn’t go to Starbucks. I haven’t bought him peanut butter in over two years.