S2: Episode 5 - Andrew

Episode Information

[Intro Music]

Narrator:  Welcome to Hunger and Resilience, narrative histories about the complexity and experiences of hunger. A traveling exhibition and weekly podcast edited and hosted by Michael Nye, supported by the San Antonio Food Bank, Eric Cooper, executive director. We are grateful for the honesty and eloquence of every voice. Episode five, Andy.

Andrew: My name’s Andrew. I turned 55 this summer. I’ve been homeless around the streets and poor over half my life. I’m, uh, sleeping under, uh, overpass as my roof. And, uh, I’m sleeping outside in a, in a bedroll. Although right now, uh, I got lucky. Somebody dumped a old mattress from box spring. I don’t know how long it’s gonna stay there, but it’s nice for right now. I think most people, when they see a person that’s obviously homeless or a street person, is, please stay away from me. Um, I’m nervous about you. I’m afraid of you. I don’t understand you and I don’t want to. It’s just like what fuels any kind of prejudice. It’s usually fear of the unknown.

The most painful time in my life was proudly during my 12th and 13th years. I was always getting in trouble at home or in school. My actions were unpredictable. I’d steal things I couldn’t take home from stores. And I was constantly being told I had to know why I was doing what I was doing when in fact I didn’t, I didn’t know if I was crazy as a kid. I wanted to be the good guy when I was a kid. When I read books and I saw movies, I wanted to be the guy that wore the white hat. I wanted to be the guy that got the girl at the end. And every obstacle was pushing me away from being able to attain that goal.

My parents, they decided they couldn’t take any more of my behavior. They were shoving me down these stairs, put me out the door. And the last thing I think I remember them saying was simply get out. The first time I ever experienced hunger and the fear of that hunger was getting off the subway in Manhattan. The bed I had known as my own didn’t exist anymore. And I had no idea what I was going to eat or where I was gonna sleep in the heart of New York City. And I was very much afraid. When you’re hungry and you’re broke for whatever reason, whether it’s because of addiction or you’re simply broke, you’re not working. Survival drives you. And it’s never a good feeling to feel the pains of hunger in your stomach. There’s a mentalness to it that saddens you and angers you. I learned, uh, the value of waiting for kitchen bags to be thrown away at fast food restaurants. At nighttime, they would throw away leftovers from the deli and we’d find whole roast chickens and egg rolls and burritos and things of that nature. I would make deals with, uh, the outside janitor who’s there policing the dumpster. And I’d tell ’em that I was a dumpster diver. I would like to dive in their dumpster when they put certain bags out. And if I found that somebody else had trashed the area, I would be the one that would clean up for them. It is real, but I think everybody understands that it’s real hunger.

I’ve been fairly happy since I started writing in 1992. I used to get panic attacks before I started writing poetry. I would be walking down the street and all of a sudden I’d feel this overwhelming fear just knowing if I moved or did a certain thing, I was gonna drop dead right there. Since I started writing poetry, I have not suffered one panic attack. See, I gotta, I gotta portray myself as this tough guy on the streets with no feelings. And people are always asking me, why don’t you have a smile? The nice thing about being in the setting I’m in right now, being involved with my church, is I’m able to take off the masks that I need to wear to survive in my particular world. I believe in an afterlife. I believe in a heaven and a hell. And if I do make it to heaven, I don’t need a mansion there. I don’t need a throne there. If God will just let me live as I’m living right now under a bridge, but in heaven, I couldn’t hope or ask for anything more.

[Outro Music]

Host:  This is season two, a weekly podcast, narrative histories about the experience of hunger and resilience and of understanding. I’m Michael Nye. Thank you so much for listening and following this podcast on my website, michaelnye.org/podcast you’ll find portraits and transcripts. May something in Andrew’s story stay with you. We are grateful for his eloquence and his honesty. Every person, every place is a map to somewhere else.