Last night at simple free we were nearly done with liturgy– just going through the prayer of thanksgiving– when the front doorbell rang…and then rang again. I figured it was one of ‘my guys’– one of the local semi-homeless guys who have worked for me for the last 2 1/2 years on different projects in the neighborhood. It is common for them to show up at my door hoping for a few bucks this time of night. I went ahead and finished with the group liturgy, then went to the door to see who it was. As I got to the front hall, Josh my nephew was coming in and said ‘its Deano. He got in a fight, and wanted to talk to you, but go ahead and finish church, I’m talking to him and hes settling down.’ Josh is especially good at this kind of thing, being a chaplain, so I figured Deano was in good hands (and he was). So we had prayer and talked a bit and as I was walking out to the porch with others Josh came in and said Deano was still here and wanted to talk. So I went right out.
Now Deano is a character. He is about 50, wears cutoff net shirts in the summer, and spends most days walking around collecting cans. Some of his family is from up in the central north area of nebraska, where the sandhills start. He’s lived in Omaha a long time, and doesn’t like to get out of his neighborhood. One time when we were en route to go out to 72nd street to visit with a social worker for him he suddenly had a panic attack of sorts and felt he was too far from home and we had to turn back and go home. Another time I’d brought him to Burger King and as we were in the drivethrough he suddenly jumped out of the truck and ran home– you never know for sure what is going on in his head. But generally he is like a little kid, and he laughs a lot, and repeats himself a lot. He often says to me ‘you are a busy busy man. A hard workin man Andy!’ (and then he giggles: he he he!) Every once in a while he’ll say “you get so many calls andy, your like the president of the united states!” and things like that. He is really fun loving, and just sort of simple, but sometimes he frets and keeps repeating things over and over.
Deano was on the porch and was obviously distraught. He’d gotten mad and done something he knew he shouldn’t have done and he felt awful. He’d lost his cool and been mean to Joey, wife of Richard the Omaha native who works for me almost daily. No one had gotten hurt, but Deano was obviously sad and repentent.
We talked a while about what had happened and what he should do. He kept saying “i just have to get out of here, its driving me crazy all this stress” Deano goes through these cycles where he decides he has to move, but yet he is afraid to move more than 3 blocks from here, so it makes it difficult for him to really look and he is on a fixed income of around 600/mo. I tried to comfort him and talk him through stuff. He didn’t know if he should go home (he lives next to Joey and Richard, and felt strange and didn’t know how to approach them) I encouraged him to apologize and he said “yeah, thats right. I should do that.” Eventually I said, “do you want me to walk you home Deano?” and he said “if you want” so I walked back home (2 blocks) with him. We got to the houses and he just looked up at Richards place. He said “what do you suppose I should do?” and I said, “well, how about if I go see if Richard wants to come down?” and Deano liked that idea. I went up the back stairs and knocked. Richard came to the doors. Richard is a big 56 year old Omaha indian. His face is weathered from his hard life, but he was a boxer in his youth, and he still prides himself on his strength. He loves tall ladders and is often the one guy I’ve got to do painting high up. He won’t allow cursing around his wife, and is perhaps the most respectful decent guy I’ve met on 33rd street. He is always polite and when he saw it was me he invited me right in. I told him Deano was awfully sorry, and asked him what happened, and he said Deano had come over with some things from the store and Joey had said something to set him off– Joey has kind of a mouth sometimes, especially if shes had a couple– which is most of the time– and Richard had had to grab Deano. Now Deano hangs out with Richard and Joey a lot, so this was tramatic for him to have hurt this relationship at all. I asked Richard if he’d mind coming down to talk to Deano, and Richard said “that’d be alright” and he came down with me. Richard has slowed up a lot since I first met him two and a half years ago. At that time he was still agile enough to stop knife fights between his 30-something nephews and he would actually fight guys once in a while if they bothered his wife (he is very protective). But I’ve seen him in and out of the hospital twice with liver problems. Now he is alcohol free and doing well, but he has slowed up– in no small part due to cancer which he has. But it was powerful somehow to be with this giant indian, the guy who always tells me to tell my parents that ‘the chief says hi’– the man who commands respect on the street and who always has a laugh ready when he hears something funny. We came down those steps and Deano was pacing, talking to himself. We got down and I stood there between them and said, “Well, Deano wanted to apologize for acting as he did Richard” and at that point Deano cried while he told Richard he was sorry, and he didn’t know what got into him, etc. Richard just looked silently with his kind eyes, and after Deano got done he said, “well no one got hurt and these things happen” and I was happy because I knew it would be OK now. Deano went on to again repeat that the stress was making him crazy and he really needed to get out of here and find another place over and over, but I was just happy that some normalcy had been restored once again on 33rd street.
I am thankful for all the relationships I have with my friends on 33rd. When I left Deano and Richard I went with Josh and David to Sullivans bar. When we walked in the bartender said “andy I haven’t seen you in a while” and he then said, “hows the mayor of 33rd street?” I told him about Deano that night, and said “I used to think my hobby was home renovation, but now I realize its social work.” Of course lots of people have lots of interactions like this. My nephew Josh does this for a living. Our friends Renae and Ryan do this for a living as well as social workers. But I am thankful for opportunities like this to keep me focused on what is really important. It is so easy for me to be, as Deano says, “a busy busy man” but times like last night remind me of how happy I am to know Deano, and Richard, and the rest of the characters on 33rd. They are a blessing of God to me and I don’t want to take them for granted.