Driving down the road in Ft Myers Beach, I saw a homeless man in soiled jeans and a wool cap lying on a bench baking in the Southwest Florida sun.
Having just left an all-you-can-eat Sunday breakfast buffet (my weekly splurge for being on this suicidal Adkins diet), I stopped to make sure he wasn’t dead from heat stroke. As I approached him, he quickly sat up, and in an unusual twist of irony, said, “Can I help you?”
“Unless you have a comfortable sofa and a cabinet full of Prozac, I doubt it,” I jokingly replied, as I sat down beside him.
“I don’t got that,” he said, reaching into his pocket.
Thinking he was fumbling for a liquor bottle, he pulled out a crumpled box of Sun-Maid raisins.
“But I do have these. You want some?” he asked, his breath nearly rendering me unconscious.
“Sure,” I replied. But what do you say we eat them in my air-conditioned car?
“Oh no,” he said, as beads of sweat cascaded down his weathered face, “You don’t want me sittin’ in your car.”
“It doesn’t bother me brother,” I told him, hoping to make him feel at ease. “Come on let’s get you out of this heat,” I said, as I popped the trunk to put his worldly possessions—all of two back pack sized canvas bags—inside it.
As we sat in my old air-conditoned Mark VIII eating stale raisins, I turned the radio on only to be surprised to hear Marvin Gay’s—I Heard It Through the Grapevine—playing. I started singing along and to my pleasant surprise, he chuckled a bit and said,
“Damn you got some soul in you brother.”
We both busted out laughing.
“Yeah, well don’t tell that to my Facebook friends or liberal foes,” I said.
“I got a hardcore conservative reputation to uphold.”
“Oh you wunna them politician people?”
“Are you kidding me?” I replied. “With the skeletons in my closet, I’d be roadkill before I ever got on a ballot. What do you say we get you a good breakfast somewhere?”
You would have thought I told him his mother just died as the jovial mood quickly dissipated.
“I ain’t got no money for that” he said with his head looking down at the floorboard, “‘sides, they ain’t lettin’ no people like me in there.”
Then he turned his head and looked me straight in the eye.
“I used to be a millionaire,” he said with complete clarity.
“I used to have furniture stores. I sold peoples furniture for them and I sold excess furniture that the big companies sold me for cheap. That was back thirty years ago.”
“Oh yeah,” I replied. “I used to be a millionaire too. Are you working anywhere now?”
“Oh no!” he quickly snapped, “can’t get my stamps if I do that.”
“Do you wanna be a millionaire again?” I asked him.
“Man, I’m 68 years old. I been on welfare since I went bust. Soon as I made some money, they took my stamps and I couldn’t see the doctor no more.”
“So you chose food stamps and welfare over reaching for your new dreams?” I replied.
“I gots used to em,” he said.
“Yeah, you got addicted, didn’t you? You became a customer of the system.”
“What you mean?”
Once you got hooked on those food stamps and medicaid, the fear of losing that security blanket from the government became greater than your desire to become an entrepreneur again, didn’t it?”
“Oh yeah, it’s bad on the soul; I ain’t got no pride no more; it screwed me all up on the inside. I wanted to start another furniture business and make a lot of money again, but my mother and my friends kept saying, ‘you ain’t gonna get your stamps and medicine no more you start making any money.’ They was right, and after a while I got too scared to lose it. So I just said, the hell with it. It ain’t nothin’ to be proud of, but now I’m too damn old. It’s like drugs, you just need it. It’s fucked up. The whole damn system is fucked up. It strips you of your dignity and screws with your head.”
“Forgive me for saying this,” I replied, “but that’s when you got castrated, figuratively speaking.”
“Yeah, I got used to it and lots a years went by so fast, I ain’t got no choice no more.”
“Wow! You have no idea how badly I wish President Obama could hear you say that. I mean no disrespect, but you are exactly who Barack Obama and the progressive socialists wanna turn Americans into—a socialist nanny state where people lose their desire, their edge, and their drive. They become completely dependent on the government.”
“So how did you go broke, brother?” he asked.
“A confluence of events,” I replied.
“Lost a few million in the stock market and casinos, blew some money on the wrong women, gave money to the wrong people, got behind a few million in income taxes, and the federal government was hell bent on putting my rags to riches butt out of business instead of accepting a settlement offer.”
“Motha Fuckas” he grumbled in disgust. “You was a multi-millionaire! And now you ain’t got nothing either?”
“I wouldn’t say that. I got this car, these clothes, a hell of a woman, a hell of a son, two incredible dogs, and a God that loves me! But you know what I really have, brother?”
“What’s that?” he inquired.
“My edge, my hunger and my drive, and I refuse to let the federal government and welfare take that away from me. I’m prone to addictive tendencies myself, and that’s one addiction I refuse to acquire. It’s all about freedom. If I gave into their sugar-coated entitlements, I’d be handing them my balls in a box. It would be psychological suicide and that’s exactly what they’re banking on.”
“You gotta a unique way of explaining shit,” he said.
“Yeah, I get that a lot.”
“So, are you a radio man?”
“Damn! Are you a psychic,?” I replied.
“No man, your back window says Titan of Talk Radio.”
“Yeah, well I’m working on it,” I told him . . .
“I always aim for the stars in just about everything I do. That way if I hit the moon, I didn’t do half bad. But yeah, I have an internet radio show.”
“Well, how you broke, then? Don’t them radio people make a lot of money?”
“Just the ones that are on mainstream radio. Internet radio is a labor of love more than loot. I’m just doing my part to help keep the majority of Americans from falling into the same trap you fell into thirty years ago. Only now, it’s even worse. It seems like everyone’s giving into the system. I do offer advertising on my show, but there is one thing people love more than family or God.”
“What’s that?” he inquired.
“Their money!” I chuckled.
“I ain’t made no money in years,” he reminded me with a sullen face.
“So you broke but not on no stamps?” he inquired.
“That’s right.” I replied.
“With the little bit of money I earn at the moment, I fall below the poverty level. I’m qualified to receive medicaid and every social welfare program federal and state governments have to offer.”
“Why ain’t you takin’ it?”
“For the same reason you shouldn’t have taken it thirty years ago. It’s like I said, I’m not handing them my balls in a box, at least not freely. I use the VA in case I get sick or need medical care, but that’s only because I’m a Marine Corps veteran. If I was to take stamps or other assistance, it would be like hitting a crack pipe for the very first time. Chances are good I’d be addicted for life.”
“You ain’t lying,” he said.
“In the long run that free shit just fucks you up. It’s like a damn drug. And I ain’t never gettin’ off it now.”
“Exactly! Would you want me or anyone else that’s been laid off, gotten fired or filed bankruptcy to make the same decision you did thirty years ago?”
He hesitated for a moment before before he bowed his head and murmured . . .
“I appreciate your honesty,” I told him.
“And you know what?”
“Today’s a new day and you got a new friend named Kevin.”
“I don’t have no friends and I don’t want no friends,” he said.
I knew that was a self-preserving response, probably from years of being rejected and ridiculed, and I respected that.
“Fair enough,” I replied.
“But can I at least buy you breakfast?”
“You can drop me off at 7-Eleven down the highway and let me buy one of them cold sandwiches.”
“How about a real breakfast at a sit-in air conditioned restaurant?” I suggested.
“I’d get sick. I have a sandwich once in while and eat my raisins. But if I eat a whole meal, I get too sick. Can’t chew nothin’ hard no how.”
“When was the last time you ate a whole plate of food?” I inquired.
“Bout nine years,” he replied.
“Air condition make me sick too. Being around a lot a other people makes me nervous. Can’t get sick. No sir, can’t get sick,” he emphatically stated.
I drove him to the 7-Eleven. When we got there, I gave him a five dollar bill that he quickly stuffed into the side pocket of his old WWII issued Army field jacket. When I told him I had another five dollars worth of quarters in my console, he pulled out his coin sack—three worn out layered plastic sandwich baggies made into a portable piggy bank. Upon dropping the quarters in it, he held it up and marveled at the sunlight illuminating his new gotten silver coins.
“I usually don’t take peoples money, but you and me’s in the same boat. Difference is, you still got time. I appreciate your kindness, man.”
He then exited the car and walked around to the back to retrieve his life’s possessions from the trunk. When he closed it, he hesitated for a second and walked to the driver’s side window.
“That’s me,” I replied.
“Glad, I caught Kevin today,” he said with a glean in his eye.
As he headed into the 7-Eleven I uttered,
“Godspeed, brother . . . Godspeed.”
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