Reggie lived in the alcove of a rarely used building next to mine for quite a few years. He was always hustling for cash; whether it was by washing cars, pointing out available parking spaces to the visiting suburbanites, or just hanging out on the corner. He was usually very friendly. I think I saw him more than I did most other neighbors. We always said hello to each other. He was there for years, I think even before I moved there. Although I give money to homeless people on occasion, I never gave him anything partially out of my own financial situation and partially not to encourage him as we saw each other almost every day.
One day we started to go through the motions of our usual interaction when he just exploded at me for never giving him any change. He cursed me out and accused me of being selfish. It was a pretty unusual outburst. We just stared each other down. Me mostly out of surprise before I told him that I just didn’t have anything on me.
I left that encounter a little disturbed because I had been contemplating the concept of selfishness at that time, but not in the same sort of context. Still, it gave me some more things to think about. In appreciation I cooked a whole meal for Reggie the next day. I just gave it to him without a word. There were no apologies or thanks exchanged.
The next time I saw him he thanked me and told me a little bit about his life. His family was gone and he had no one to turn to. We shook hands for the first time in eight years.
He disappeared not long after that. He did that from time to time, but eventually weeks became months and I feared the worst.
I went to go vote on Election Day back in 2008, and after I came out of the voting station I ran into Reggie in front of a shelter. We shook hands again and he told me he was getting his life together. He asked me to tell the folks in my building that he was doing alright.
I just spoke with my ANC commissioner today. She was gathering up signatures to put her on the ballot again this fall, and she told me that she spoke to some of my neighbors who relayed the news that Reggie had come by our building recently. He was in a suit and told everyone about his job and how he was about to get a car. He wanted to thank everyone for letting him live in those bushes next door to us for all those years.