The difference between survival and possibility
When Buddy McArdle left town last month, he was looking bad. He’d fallen asleep in the sun, and the burn left sores on his face. He’d gone all skinny and hard and needed sleep he couldn’t get. His natural Boston good humor had worn brittle and thin. There wasn’t a lot left for him to work with.
Four years of homelessness, much of it spent with the rats and rain and petty camp politics of Nickelsville, had taken Buddy right down to the bone.
He talked to his brother, who heard something in his voice — something like the sound of a man breaking. Come to Texas, he said. Stay as long as you need. He mailed a bus ticket. It wasn’t a solution, but it was a place to go. Buddy went.
During those last days at Nickelsville, Buddy had signed up for housing at the Union Gospel Mission tent. He didn’t expect much. When a man’s had the rug pulled from under him once, twice, a dozen times, he avoids rugs.
A few weeks later, the call came. We have a place for you in Kent. Come get your key. The first four months are free. The next are $100 each. Then $400 a month to the end of the year, and you’re on your own.
For a Real Change vendor, this is doable. More than doable. He was on the next bus.
The first time Buddy saw his one-bedroom apartment, he almost cried. They furnished the place with a table and two kitchen chairs, a small couch, an end table and two upholstered chairs for the living room. There was a wicker chest and a small sturdy bed. There were dishes in the cabinets and some spatulas and stuff in a kitchen drawer. They gave him a card with 300 bucks on it for groceries.
This little apartment, where Buddy can sit in his bathrobe in front of the fireplace, is more than a home. It’s the difference between survival and possibility.
So, the second night he was there, we celebrated with dinner at the new place.
He made me a T-bone steak, baked potato and blanched asparagus while he ate a DiGiorno’s frozen pizza. He insisted. He had steak last night, he said.
Buddy, I need to tell you, can’t cook for shit, but that meal tasted like bliss. The potato was ready first. “Got any butter, Buddy?” Nope. “Salt? Pepper?” I have mustard. “I’ll have that.”
Mustard on a baked potato, if you haven’t tried it, is frickin’ awesome. Sometimes, the best meal in the world is the happy accident you didn’t expect. He played classical music from an old Blackberry while we ate.
As we were leaving, he turned the key to lock the door. He still wasn’t over it. “Look at that,” he said. “No zipper.”
Buddy tried to explain what it all meant. “It’s like there’s a war out there, and Nickelsville was a POW camp. We needed that place. It served a purpose, but no one, really, should ever have to live like that.”
Buddy’s Real Change sales over in Leschi are on fire. His people missed him, and they’re thrilled to see him looking so good. Sometimes, a bag of Idaho potatoes, a bottle of mustard and a door that locks are all the miracle a man needs.
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