A Four Letter Word

It has been a long two years since I have been back to South Beach, Miami. I spent three weeks of last Fall with my Family in Cyprus instead and had our hearts broken there with the insurmountable number of feral cats but that is another story for another day.

Whenever we come back to Miami we nervously anticipate whether we will find the homeless friends we made the year or years before. This year our anticipation peeked since we would be arriving just about 10 days post Irma.

As routine as it is, we went across to the Walgreens and put together sandwiches, fruit and water requested  the amount of extra plastic bags needed, paid for the food and moved over to the empty counter to divvy it all up. Happy I was to see that Mamma (her given street name) at the age that I would guess being in her mid 60’s, was still at her bus stop bench on Collins Ave between 21st and 22nd where I had last seen her two years ago. She was bent over her knees sleeping, as she usually is, when I woke her to say hello and ask how she was. She has always had very few words and always a gracious, lovely smile of appreciation on her face. That I was “happy” is most likely a poor choice of words. I was happy to see her but destroyed to see her still on the streets.

As my daughter and I made our way over to Lincoln Road, I had my eyes open for one man in particular. We had passed the small covered building entrance he used to occupy on 22nd and Collins but has now been compromised by a new restaurant. His space was gone, he was gone. But we found him. Just around 18th street there he was. A man of unmistakably large stature who coincidentally approached me for a cigarette. As I gave him some cigarettes and the surprise when I handed him his bag of food and extra water, I looked at him and wondered if he remembered me, as I had remembered him. The man that ate his corn bread before anything else. It was two years ago that I went out and bought him new xxxl t-shirts, a pair of the largest sandals I could find and a yoga mat to replace the pieces of newspaper he would lay out as his bed each night. However, the last night in Miami as I went across the street to him, he was not there. I was heartbroken not being able to give him to the gifts I had chosen and set out on my way and distributed them to others in need although not close in size to his large framed body.

There is my “sunshine” young lady who for years, resides on the bus bench in front of the Palm hotel. It shook me up not to see her there for the very first time. (the video of her is found in the prior post)

My daughter and I had the 50% of steak Monday night special at Mayas on Lincoln.  The portion as we knew, would be far too large and asked for a box and quickly cut the rest of the steaks into small bite size pieces before boxing it. My man of stature would be having a midnight snack tonight.

A quick walk down Washington was a choice I don’t regret. My “sunshine” lady was now on 15th street sitting in the clothes and jewelry I have seen her in for years and years. Another bag of food and water less and a sigh of relief to see her again.

As we walked home, first visiting my friend to give him his steak, on the other side of the street across from Mamma, which I may add is nestled between The Setai Hotel and The W , we handed off our final bags for the evening. The last, a man so frail, I wasn’t sure if he perhaps had Aids or Cancer…..my daughter and I let the tears flow as we left his sight. The shear pain of knowing this exists, is mortifying.

What this is about though is really something else today. As we went the next evening for food, we decided to buy Mamma a new pair of flip flops as well. As I woke her to ask how she was, and if she ate her food last night I offered her another dinner and gave her the flip flops. Next to me was a woman who starring with her mouth open. She said she has never in all her years seen this before. I am sure it happens very often, but that she was shocked and happy, maybe the gesture will infect her to help as well, maybe she already DOES help. She clearly had a sense of joy and love. I went over and gave her a hug.

And now to my point…

When my daughter, now 20, first started feeding the homeless about 9 years ago, she knew she was giving them something they needed.

I feel it is of the uptmost equal importance to remember or to realize that the people that are out living on the street deserve a lot more than just a passer by handing them food. There is something else they need, something that money can’t buy and that food won’t fill. It is dignity and respect.

When we approach someone we will always, ALWAYS say “Excuse me Ma’am/Sir, would you like…”. We address them as human beings. We ask them how they are, sit down on the street, the bench with them and see if they would like to talk, share their story. You’d be amazed just how many are begging for society to see them as humans in a terrible situation and not a useless dirt on the street. They should not have to beg for forgiveness for what has become of them.

And if they don’t want to talk? Well, somewhere deep down, they know that someone did care, does care, if only for the minutes of the day you are there.

Care. A tiny, simple four letter world that can and will change another persons world and give them dignity if you just activate it.

Beware of being supreme. Your path and journey are not guaranteed. You are only as good as your last good deed.


“Sunshine” and Jeffrey

With my book under my arm, and the clock heading towards midnight, I went to the back of Walgreens and quickly rounded up some food for just four food gifts. I had a bit of a skip in my walk, still smiling from the sweet Indian prayer and the enjoyment I had chatting with my “non- coffee” drinking new friends. It took me just a block until the bus stop after Lincoln on Collins when spontaneously and briskly, I passed a very familiar woman on the bench and dropped a bag in her lap and said cheerfully “Here, This is for you”. She was familiar because she stood out, and it was easy to recognize her from the last couple of years in South Beach. She was glittered up from her clothes to her costume jewelry, make up in place. She would not strike you as homeless per-se, but that she wore the same clothes each day, was a clue that she didn’t have. As I continued to walk she shouted out to me to wait. “Hey, how much did this cost???” were her first words. Her next was “I have jewelry. Let me give you something. Please, is there anything I can do” I walked and smiled as she spoke and said no as I crossed the street. With a second thought I turned and walked back. I asked her if I could take her picture or have a quick video. She said yes. I started my video in seconds and she still was insisting on knowing how much it cost so she could give me something of hers in return. It took no more than a few seconds and I told her it cost me nothing…”I stole it” I told her and she gasped and said “You did WHAT?”, within a millisecond with a wink and a smile I told her I was just kidding. She laughed and still begged to give me a piece of jewelry when I told her to never give anything away. It was a gift with nothing expected in return. When she realized I was done and walking off, even happier that before, she said “Hey, what about the video?” I told her I got it, and showed it to her. Classic. She was truly classic. A bubbly, light in the night. And here she is, my Ms. Sunshine

I headed out to find “my” big man on the corner by the Hotel but he was still not there. Disappointed, I moved on and  passed an older lady in a covered bus stop across from the W and gave her one of the bags. A timid Lady. I did not speak with her, I somehow felt accepting food already put her at her threshold. Still two bags left, and I saw nobody around.

I walked a few streets up when I saw a man on the ground. He was sitting up against his backpack. I asked him if he was hungry. He said he had eaten a bit earlier but not much and it would be a couple of days until he got his next ration of food stamps.

His name was Jeffrey.

He told me that he has withered to nothing since being on the street, that he must have lost 50 lbs. It is hard to guess, but I would think he was somewhere close to 40. I asked if I could film his story but stopped within seconds of him talking.  His home was foreclosed on back in 2007. He came to Florida just 14 months ago. His Family had given up on him and he no longer could take the cold. He is trying to get into a “safe” shelter. It all seems to be a common story. I had originally thought about making a small documentary about the people I met but then, felt as if helping them, it would turn out to be more of an exploitation as they shared their private downfall with me.

Jeffrey saw my book and asked if I read. “Yea, I read”, “I read too!” he told me. He took out his wallet from his jeans pocket and showed me an old College ID. He spoke of how people look down on him like he is stupid. How people don’t treat him as nothing but dumb. He was very proud to show me and did it as a way of confirmation, that I would believe he was once something.. He said that he had a book too. As he reached to his backpack to take it out he said jokingly “Don’t worry. I don’t have a gun or anything, it really is just my book” At that second I think I froze. You see, I never in my wildest dreams thought about sitting (at this point I was sitting on the ground with him) with a stranger and being in danger. My breath most certainly stopped for a second and out came the book. Jeffrey reads mysteries…I prefer the love stories. That lent to a nice smile. The time had passed and I said my good-byes.  He told me as he opened the bag that the sandwich is okay but he appreciates fruit because “Fruit is REAL food”.  I I left him with the half pack of cigarettes I had on me which was beyond real for him. “European cigarettes! Nobody has them here on the street!”   I already had a plan in mind for our Jeff.

With one bag left and getting late, I walked the long way around to the Hotel hoping to find someone out to give the food to. No luck. I was tired and decided to call it a night.

Back to the Hotel and the Girls where behind me within minutes. They came in the room tired and asked if all was ok. They told me they were hungry. I asked why they didn’t eat. Out shopping on Lincoln and with a multitude of places to eat. They said they shopped but at the end passed by a couple of old homeless men and went and bought  a “bunch of stuff “for them and gave them the last of their dollars.

“Lucky for you. I still have a sandwich and fruit left from tonight.”

Appropriate way to close out our evening eating the food that we give to others. Although they were fortunate to“dine” on beds, not the street.

Miami to Cuba Pt. 2

I accompanied my girls to the Hotel door and wished them a fun evening and ventured over to the lobby bar of the 1 Hotel with my book “A Thousand Splendid Suns” as my wine and cheese dinner companion. I am sure less than an hour went by when I decided rather than sit and drink SOBE overpriced wine, I’d head over to Lummus Park via the Boardwalk. My book still in hand and off I went. I passed the life filled outdoor club of the W Hotel and all its glamour of cars with price tags of a minimum of $150,000, took a right on the boardwalk for the ocean side glimpse of the splendor of people dining on the patio of The Ritz. The Four Seasons was still filled with more drinking than eating as the 3 piece band entertained.
Within steps, I was there, the foot of the park outside Starbucks. I was wished a nice evening by two men sitting on the retaining wall. I asked them how they were doing and if they would like something to eat. They said they had had something already so I suggested perhaps a coffee (I learned that the homeless appreciate coffee and will tell you why in a later post) One of the men replied so fast with perfect honesty and told me “Ma’am, Thank you but we don’t want coffee, we’re alcoholics!” With that he and I had a good laugh. The three of us got to talking and  one, an American Apache Indian of decent, told me he had had a house up in Massachusetts. I asked where because I lived there as well before I moved to Switzerland. It turned out we were almost in neighboring villages near Peabody. I have come to learn that this a familiar story, people losing their homes and in time, the desperation moves them to the warmth of dream filled Miami where their dreams don’t seem to come true but their bodies at least, are not cold. I thoroughly enjoyed these two, their humor, their laughter and mostly their honesty with me.
At the end of our time together, the American Indian asked me if I had bus money for him to get to the Hospital in the morning. His wrist still wore his information bracelet from when he was released from the Hospital the day before. He had fallen, admittedly after drinking, and hurt himself. I do not give money, but I made the exception and gave him the exact $3.00 he asked for the fare. With that, as we said good-bye, he left me with an Apache prayer to which at the end, we danced to shake up that prayer to get it “activated”

Note Bene: A large percentage of homeless I have met have told me that they started to abuse alcohol since being on the street. It is not something that I condone, but in all fairness, it is something I can understand.

I am now off to hit the Walgreens on the corner of Collins and Lincoln. And the girls you ask? They’re still out, the night is young. There are a few more travels until I meet them back at the Hotel so it won’t be just yet that I can tell you about their night as I had planned ;).
Till then, travel a sweet dream,

my upload skills are not up to par…obviously 😉