“The present moment is all we have,
So we are not constantly seeking
A faster way to do things
Or a better place to be.
Our vehicles sit idle except when truly needed,
And our weapons remain locked away.
Our attention is always on
The experience of the moment
So we enjoy our food,
And every aspect
Of a simple way of living.
Though the world is filled
With sights we haven’t seen,
We die content because
We have truly lived.”
– Translation of verse 80 of the Tao Te Ching from “A Path and a Practice”
Date of occurrence: 01.11.19
Today I attended a homeless man’s burial.
The air stung as it wrapped around us, and the sun strained to warm us as we watched his golden casket be lowered into the cold, but not-yet-frozen earth. He wouldn’t have minded this cold. He would have built his small fire as he always did, right along the fence across from his stuffed storage units and huddled over it. He may have even attempted to heat up a can of baked beans on a day like today. Chances are, he would have been perfectly content. I remember him riding around on his motorbike, or his scooter, or his bicycle, or…whatever he chose to ride that day…in the cold, in the rain, in the heat. This homeless man seemed invincible.
His name was Dave.
Dave was never afraid to speak his mind, or ask for a favor, or two, or three. “Can I charge my phone here?” “Would you give me a ride to _________?” “Can I park my bike here?” He spent most of his days in seclusion, with his own systems and self-contained sanity. There was never a day that you’d run into him, where he wouldn’t be wearing mismatched, ill-fitting, dirty clothing and a baseball cap or bandana or on a rough day, boxers. These clothes clung to a thin, brittle frame. Wild, billowing white and gray hair always protruded from his headdress. He was loud, and dare I say proud of himself.
Dave was diagnosed as schizophrenic.
Dave’s sister never believed he was. She wasn’t quite sure what happened that led to his decision to live a life on the streets, in the woods, and…in a dark brown van in a side lot of a storage business that my boyfriend, also Dave, owns. In the grassy lot that is part of the storage business where cars, boats, and RV’s are stored, there once existed an old, battered, brown van. This van was stripped of its interior and eventually became packed with old newspapers, cans of food, some personal notes, and innumerable pizza boxes. Dave ate, slept, and dreamt in his metal castle.
Dave was intelligent.
He spent many days listening to an old radio next to his van, or in the parking lot of the storage business as he waited for someone to give him a ride to who knows where. Dave was mostly harmless; a curious creature always wondering how the world worked. He knew how to read and write. And he’d often leave us handwritten notes at the business, and when he left us a message, he spoke very professionally. Loudly, but professionally. He liked to read random magazines he’d probably picked up on the side of the road. He even had his very own personal, hand designed and written, detailed travel log. Carefully written out on the back of a pizza box lid, he kept track of dates during “2013 -N- 2014” where he’d travel from one side of town to the other. “Front Street to Lower Broadway” and “Across Town – Round Trip”. I’m not sure if these were solo trips on one of his sets of wheels, or a cab ride, but either way, he was determined to have a record of it.
Dave wasn’t always harmless.
Dave had a couple guns. I never saw him shoot one. I never saw him hold one. Sometimes I’d be a bit nervous when my Dave would have to confront him over something…mostly him leaving plastic bags, bottles, and the occasional beer can strewn about the property. Homeless Dave and my Dave had this deep, mutual soul agreement that allowed peace to always prevail between them. No matter what. For that I’m grateful! And, still homeless Dave had a temper. Him and my Dave’s aunt, also a manager at the storage business, did not get along. Cats, dogs…you get it. She’d always get frustrated with his littering habits, and ask him to clean up, and I guess he didn’t feel the need to. Those things weren’t trash to him. Dave threatened to shoot my Dave’s aunt once. That was when my Dave had to evict him. The van was towed out for good. He fled, retreated, fearing the cops. Dave disappeared for months.
Dave had a softer side.
Everyone wants to be loved. According to homeless Dave’s sister, he was picked on and made fun of when he was young. He never finished school. He got in trouble, committed crimes, and was locked up on and off for 15 years. Then he was homeless. He didn’t have anyone to love. Until he met Jewel. Jewel lived across the street from the storage business. She was a full-bodied woman in her late 30’s, had green dyed blond hair, tattoos on her face, and always wore tank tops that revealed more than I wanted to see. Dave fell in love with Jewel. Dave became obsessed with Jewel. He would confess his love for her to us many times. Once, he came in the office and asked, “can you go back on the security cameras?” “Yes, why?” “Go back to Sunday around 12:45 pm.” “Okay…?” “Look, there she is! I gave her a kiss you know! Watch!” And sure enough, through the fence you could see him in all his scraggly glory give a brief kiss to this woman. Then, during that winter, we went to plow snow, and he had the van at the time, right along the back of it, facing outwards was a small shrine in her honor. Five or six empty whiskey bottles were lined up with a few of those dollar store roses in them. (You know, those single fake roses that are made to look fancy with plastic white lace, and a little bear in them. I think they even had a scent.) In front of those bottles was a piece of white cardboard with her name written in black marker in large letters. There may have even been a stuffed animal next to it, but I’m not sure. And, one last thing, on the property next door that my Dave also owns, homeless Dave took a can of blue spray paint and drew a huge heart on the front of an abandoned concession stand and wrote “Dave loves Sweety” with some smaller hearts surrounding it.
Jewel had a boyfriend. Going back to the not-so-harmless Dave, he tried to run Jewel’s boyfriend over once on his motorbike down in the parking lot of the minimart at the end of the street. He bragged about how he made that dude’s bicycle fly into the air.
Oh, and Jewel was prettier than me. That was a fact in Dave’s ever-competing mind.
Dave was able to open up.
My Dave is one of the most selfless men I know. He would always go out of his way to be kind to homeless Dave. He never treated homeless Dave with malice. And if he got a little too upset with him, he would apologize. Like the time he threw a rock at the empty van’s window and cracked it. On a different occasion, my Dave went to homeless Dave to have a talk about his living arrangements. On that particular day, my Dave got homeless Dave to open up a bit. He shared with him how he was made fun of and how that hurt him. Homeless Dave carried those feelings with him. When he shared with my Dave he actually sobbed, and Dave hugged him. I thought it was a beautiful thing that the two of them, so very different, in very different worlds could bond on a soul level. After all, we’re all on this ride together.
Dave wasn’t invincible.
My last memory of homeless Dave was when he was laying on the ground next to his storage unit waiting to be picked up by the ambulance. He had fallen off his small minibike that he had just purchased from a local store. Just an hour or so before, my Dave gave him a ride to the store so he could get it. Prior to that, he came in the office to ask if he could charge his phone. Of course I said yes, and as I was on my way to check a unit, I asked Dave how he was doing. He said not good. His leg was bothering him and he was recovering from a bit of bronchitis. He barely could walk, never mind ride a motorized vehicle. Yet, he did. Thankfully, we were late that day at the office wrapping up finances and paperwork. We saw people walking over, and heard yelling. When the police pulled in we figured we’d better go out and see what was up. We stayed with him until they loaded him up and took him. He was terrified of the paramedics picking him up, and I remember him yelling, “I’ll scream! I’ll scream! Don’t pick me up that way!” They hoisted him very well, and as he was being loaded into the ambulance, he made sure he had his scruffy little canvas bag with him.
Dave was wealthy.
I guess when you evade responsibilities your whole life and get a disability check every month, you can save up. He had over $2,000 that day in that black bag. His sister eventually used that to help pay for the funeral arrangements. Years ago, my Dave said that he once saw homeless Dave carrying around $8,000. Problem was, he blabbed. A couple times his storage units were broken into. There was a legend going around that he had over 20 grand buried in a lot behind a grocery store on the other side of town in plastic grocery store bags. Legend also has it that someone dug it up after his death. I’m not sure if that’s fact or fiction. What I do know, is that he had even more money stashed away in his storage units. He could have had anything he wanted. Lived anywhere he wanted. Yet, he consciously chose to reside outside. A month or so before his passing, his sister secured an apartment for him. Dave said he’d only use it when the temps dropped into the single digits. One time he attempted to live with a friend in his apartment; that didn’t go over too well when the messiness set in.
Dave passed away in peace.
I regret not going to see homeless Dave when he was in the hospital. My Dave went to see him a few times. Twice locally, and once an hour or so away when he was transferred. It was during that time, Dave snuck a picture of him for me. He was a different man. Untamed hair cut short, and a wild beard neatly trimmed, he looked like an elderly retired man who perhaps worked in pharmaceuticals his whole life. My aversion to hospitals and sickly people I know kept me from going. Actually, I had planned on going after finding out he was going to be transferred back here. At that point, Dave seemed to be fine. There were no signs that anything was going wrong. He even asked about me and encouraged that I come next time. I was flattered. One phone call came from his sister that he was transferred. The next phone call a day later, he had passed. My Dave and I stared at each other in disbelief. No. How could this be? He was doing well. We never know when our time is up. Dave knew he was going to die, and vocalized it to my Dave. I think he was concerned and at the same time at peace about it. My thoughts were that if the chain of events leading up to his death didn’t happen, he would have died, perhaps completely unknown to anyone, in the woods and later found after silently decaying in the wild. I’d take a hospital bed over that.
Dave’s burial was beautiful.
Admittedly, this was the very first time I had this experience. In a cemetery, with large machines with cranes and big track wheels, lifting his casket into a concrete box, then driven up to a neatly dug hole in the earth. My Dave helped get his casket there. Once gently placed within, there were six of us surrounding – myself, my Dave, homeless Dave’s sister, and three funeral directors. One of them asked my Dave if he’d like to say a few words. It was as if they knew he was a presence of authority. He is a minister, after all, so it was appropriate. Before he spoke, he tossed in a couple tiny Herkimer diamonds that we had mined up in NY earlier in the year- a token of connectedness. When Dave began to speak, I immediately teared up. His words resonated a depth of connection that only souls can know. He flawlessly recited the Lord’s prayer in Aramaic. He acknowledged that while they were very two different beings, they were human just the same. And lastly, he thanked Dave for teaching him things that he didn’t know…for showing him a part of himself. Once the eulogy ended, Dave threw in small handfuls of dirt onto the concrete box- one last parting gesture. And we walked away. I gripped Dave’s hand tight, tears continuing to stream, telling him that was one of the most beautiful and selfless things I had ever witnessed him do.
We are all connected.
It’d be selfish to think we hold any one true answer to anything. And to think that we are better than another. Everyone on this planet is a reflection of ourselves. When we meet another and make a profound connection, we are receiving a piece of ourselves needed to unlock something bigger. When we are open, we learn from others, always. I am grateful I met Dave Krotzer. I learned from him that this human experience can be lived out in many ways no matter what the circumstances. It’d be judgmental to say that Dave was homeless because he was escaping the pain of the world or just avoiding it. Maybe it was true though. I believe he chose his lifestyle because it’s exactly where he needed to be. The lessons he needed to learn in this lifetime were contained in his outdoor world, in his seclusion. There was nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with him. I learned that we can choose our course, no matter what, and as long we live it out boldly, we won’t be unhappy.