For ten and half months of the year, Another Chance had to scrimp, scratch, and fight for donations to keep basic operations going at our homeless shelter. But after Thanksgiving? Oh, we were deluged by churches, schools, women’s groups, businesses, fraternal organizations, families and individuals all wanting to donate toys, food, toys, clothes, toys, blankets, toys, toys, and more toys to the poor unfortunates. Yes, homeless children were the biggest target for their largesse. Truckloads of toys poured into the shelter despite my speaking engagements where I would implore citizens to be balanced. Fewer toys and more cash into a fund for client resources such as work boots and uniforms when they are about to start a job. Give the gift of themselves and teach a child or adult to read, drive people to appointments, teach apartment upkeep, smart food shopping and cooking healthy meals on a budget, help pay for dental and doctor visits, eye exams and glasses, vehicle repair, bus passes, and more. So much good could be done with the money spent on toys.

After one talk at a local church, an elderly woman got to her feet with help, pointed at me, and said in a voice shaking with anger, “How can you stand there and deny a child a toy, sir?”

Oh, hell!

That season, Another Chance was filled with residents dealing with issues ranging from substance abuse, family dysfunction, trauma from incest and rape, custody issues, delinquent dads, ignorance, laziness, sexual orientation prejudice, a bullet wound, and gross obesity. The tension was palpable, punching me in the gut as I arrived each day for work in my new position as Emergency Shelter Coordinator. These simmering emotions could blow up at any time, and Felix Graves was miscreant enough to light the fuse.


Felix, or Mr. Graves, as he liked to be called, was in Room Nine with Tony Arlington. Both were in their early 20’s. That was all they had in common. Tony was fresh from rehab for addiction to alcohol and pain pills. Mr. Graves was an itinerant loner fresh from the emergency overflow shelter. In one room with two bunk beds separated by a nightstand, they were oil and water. They bitched at each another about any- and everything. Tony worked as a meat-cutter at a local market; Mr. Graves was unemployed with seemingly no inclination to change his situation. Tony looked down his nose at his roommate as if he was the scum of the earth, while Mr. Graves considered Tony a kiss-ass to our staff.

Mr. Graves was so lazy, his Case Manager, Lyn Ott, asked me to look at his file one afternoon. I did and was nonplussed. “Get him down here.”

Lyn let me use her office, escorting Mr. Graves inside and motioning to the chair in front of her desk. On her way out, she stifled a giggle and waved. I cleared my throat. “In looking over your file I see you’ve been here exactly a week and you have broken almost every rule we have to one degree of another.”

Graves was a barely blinking mouth-breather.

“So, what is your plan? What are your goals?”

Graves shrugged. “Eat, sleep, and crap. What else is thar?”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty and a half.”

“What grade did you finish in school?”


“You have family? Parents?”


“Are you from here, from Clinton?”


“Where were you born?”

“I dunno.”

“Your folks never told you where you were born?”

“Not my folks, my mom.”


“I ain’t got folks, I got a mom, and she never told me where I’s born.”


“Ain’t important, I guess.”

“You have your birth certificate?”


“An ID? A driver’s license?”

“No and no.”

“Can you drive?”

“A’course. Don’t need no card to know how to drive. Just need a car.”

“But you can’t drive without a license.”

“Just ‘cause they won’t let me don’t mean I don’t know how.”

I laced my fingers. “Where’d you come from?”

“Upstairs. I was sleepin’.”

“I mean, what town before you got here to Clinton?”

“Lots of ‘em.”

“How’d you live?”

Graves looked at me as if I was a dolt. “If yer alive you’re livin’.”

“How’d you afford food and a place to live?”

“I get by.”

“Well, what are your goals while you’re here? What do you want to accomplish?”

More mouth breathing.

“Do you understand my question?”

“You understand my answer?”

“In looking at your file, your goal seems to be to do nothing. Mister Graves, you might be the laziest human being to ever cross our threshold. In fact, if breathing wasn’t automatic, if you had to bring conscious effort to it, I believe you’d die because you’re too lazy to breathe.”

“I ain’t lazy.”

“When I got here you were wasting time up in your room.”

“I wasn’t wastin’ time, I was sleepin’.”

“Don’t you think that time could’ve been better spent looking for a job?”

“I done that this mornin’.”

“Where’s your job search sheet?”

“I dunno.”

“You have to fill out five job applications a day, write those contacts on the sheet, and turn it in by eight at night. You’re sitting on a Termination of Stay for this rule right now.”

“I was lookin’ for work. Just ‘cause it ain’t on your form don’t mean I didn’t do it.”

“So how am I to know you did it?”

“I just told you.”

I closed my eyes and rubbed my temples. “Mister Graves, we have rules for a reason. I wish we could believe everyone who comes in here, but we can’t. We need proof that you are progressing toward self-sufficiency. Do you understand?”


“Where do you want to work?

“Someplace that pays.”

“No, I mean, what kind of job do you want?”

“One that pays.”

Oh, Jesus!  “What I’m trying to ascertain is, what are your interests concerning work? What do you like? What can you do?”

“I don’t like work. Nobody does, but you gotta do it.”

“Okay, if you had your choice of any job, what would it be?”

“Oh, I’d be a lawyer. Them cocksuckers can steal legal.”

“What kind of job do you want that you can actually do?”

“One that pays. I told you.”

I growled. “Listen, just follow our program. Get a job, build a budget, and move forward. Okay?”

He shrugged. “Can I go now?”


Graves jumped up and bounded out of the office, slamming the door behind him. Then a knock at the door.

“Come in.”

Lyn entered her office, smiling. “A unique individual, eh?”

The final straw between Mr. Graves and Tony was the next day over Graves not clipping his sloth-like toenails; Tony complained he could hear them scraping against the sheets as he tried to sleep. Tony even bought Graves a set of cheap clippers to get the job done. While Tony was at work, Graves clipped his toenails and left them in a pyre in the middle of Tony’s bunk bed. When Tony arrived home from work, the conflagration began, but I was dealing with the aftereffects of finding Waldo.


My office was the staff office in those early years. I’d just finished updating the waiting list, removing eight people for not calling in to check their status. Others on the list had moved in, and for one of the rarest times ever, no names were on the waiting list. None. I’d never seen it. A mirage?

The front door flew open with a bang and a petite black girl rushed in, eyes wide with panic. “Can you help me? Please!”

I stood up.

“Come with me.”

I followed her outside to a teal green Ford Explorer parked along the curb. “I was driving back from Terrapin and found this man under an overpass on Fourth Street.” She opened the passenger door where sat an old man of indeterminate age with long white hair and an even longer white beard. Holding a surplus Army blanket on his lap, he was dressed in green fatigue pants, worn Converse, and a tattered olive sweater over a white shirt.

We helped him inside to a seat in the dining room. I poured him a cup of coffee. From the curb to the table, the man kept saying, “God bless you” over and over in a voice reminiscent of William S. Burroughs.

“You hungry?” I asked.

“No, no, no, I’m all right.”

“Is he gonna be okay here?” asked the black girl.

“Yeah, we’ll handle it from here, Miss?”

“Crystal. Crystal Barnhart.”

“I’m Mac.”

Crystal hugged the old man. “Good luck to you.”

He patted her arm. “God bless you, ma’am.”

After she left, I heated some leftovers from last evening’s supper: turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, a glass of milk, and a piece of pumpkin pie. “Oh, God bless you, God bless you,” he said. He closed his eyes and said a silent prayer before digging in.

“Enjoy your food,” I said. “I’m going to the office for a minute, okay? What’s your name?”


“Like Where’s Waldo?”

He looked at me dumbfounded.

In the staff office, I looked at the white board and pondered where Waldo could go. Even though the waiting list was open, all resident rooms were occupied. Waldo would have to stay at the emergency overflow shelter until a space opened, meaning he’d have to be on the street from seven in the morning until six at night. I had no other options.

Returning to the dining room, I saw two residents sitting at Waldo’s table, Cathy Kidder and Tamara Belton, both in their early 40’s and both in recovery for substance abuse. They were roommates in Room Four which was not a good thing. Emotionally frazzled, they would spat over whose life was shittier. They also had spats over similar men, children in state custody, debts, fines, house rules, room upkeep, sleep habits, and on and on and on. Their force fields of tension repelled both staff and other residents. So, I was absolutely floored to see them having coffee with Waldo, relaxed and laughing, almost motherly, with no trace of animosity. I sat down. Waldo crossed his forearms into an X and bowed reverently. “Bless you,” he said.

When I explained to Waldo he would have to stay at the overflow shelter and on the street until a room opened, he grasped my hand warmly. “Oh, thank you. Thank you so much.” I asked Cathy and Tamara if they would go through boxes of donated clothes in the basement and outfit Waldo in something warmer, plus coat, gloves, and a hat. They eagerly agreed.

When I gave Waldo a hygiene packet, a towel, and wash cloth so he could take a shower, I noticed a thick rope of hair hanging down and tucked into the collar of his shirt. “What is that?”

He withdrew a long dreadlock from his shirt, displaying it like a hirsute serpent.

“Is there some meaning to it?”

“Yes,” Waldo said, sipping his coffee.


After his shower, Waldo put on his new clothes and joined me in the staff office to complete his waiting list form. A simple procedure, usually, but as I was to learn, nothing with Waldo was ever simple.

“Your full name?” I asked.

“Waldo Kevorkian.”

“Kevorkian? Really?”

Waldo nodded.

“Last address?”

“Out on the highway where that lady found me.”

“No, where’d you last live? Where are you from?”

“Where are any of us from, really? From the stars. This Earth is a school.”

I left the space blank. “You have any ID? Social Security card?”

Waldo reached into a sock and handed me a plastic card holder.

“I’ll photocopy these and give them back, okay?”

Waldo crossed his arms into that X and nodded.

Just then the sound of yelling, crashing, and thumping filtered into the office. I opened the door and there were Mr. Graves and Tony, bloody, disheveled, and fighting. “Stop it,” I said, separating them. “What the hell is going on now?”

“He started it,” said Mr. Graves.

“Like hell,” said Tony, “he clipped his toenails and left them in a pile on my bed!”

“It doesn’t matter who started it. You both broke rule three about no violence, so you’re both out of here. Either of you want to fill out a grievance form and have a hearing with the boss out back to try to stay?”

“Hell, no,” said Mr. Graves. “I want the fuck outta here.”

“What about you, Tony?”

Tony wiped his bloody mouth on his hand. “Nah, I have enough money to pay for a motel until I get a place. I’m workin’. Unlike this lazy bastard.”

Mr. Graves lunged for Tony. I pushed him against the wall. “You sit the hell down in the living room, Graves. Tony, go and pack your stuff.”

The front door opened and the Facility Manager, Esperanza Lopez, entered. “What the hell is this?”

“Can you kindly write out Termination of Stays for both of them for violence? They’ve refused grievance hearings. And keep Mister Graves in the living room until Tony’s gone.”

Graves stomped off while Tony went up the stairs. As Esperanza entered the staff office, I touched her shoulder. “You okay?” Her lover, Rita, split up with her two days before and Esperanza’s world was a heartbroken vortex of sorrow.

She nodded. “Getting there. Thanks.” Seeing Waldo, she said, “Who’s that?”

“This is Waldo. Now that the Katzenjammer Kids are leaving, he’ll be moving into Room Nine. Waldo, this is Esperanza, our Facility Manager.”

Waldo stood, made the X with his arms, and bowed. “A pleasure, Madame.”

Esperanza smiled at me. “Madame?”


In the flurry of getting Mr. Graves and Tony moved out and Waldo moved in, I left Waldo’s sleeve of cards in the new resident file, not looking at them until the next morning. I found: an ID card issued in Boston, Massachusetts, an ancient Social Security card, Medicare card, Bank of America card, and an out of state phone number written on the back of a diner receipt.

Curious, I dialed the number. On the fourth ring, a woman with a thick accent answered, “Homeless Outreach Team. This is Fay.”

I introduced myself, where I was calling from, and that this was a homeless facility. “Where are you located?”

She gave a street address.

“No, what state are you in?”

“This is Boston, Mass. Why?”

“Have you ever heard of a Waldo Kevorkian?”

Fay gave a banshee cry. “Oh, my Gawd, you found Waldo!  I don’t believe it! Oh, my Gawd! You have to talk to Brian! He’s the director of our outreach team. He’s at a meeting. Be back in an hour. I’ll have him call you. Oh, my Gawd!”

So roughly an hour later the phone rang. “Another Chance. This is Mac.”

“You found Waldo, man?” It was Brian. “How is he? Does he still do that funny salute with his crossed arms?”


“Does he still have that dreadlock hanging down his back?”

“Yes, he does.” I gave a capsulized version of how Waldo became a resident before asking, “What’s his story?”

Brian said Waldo was from an old money New England family who ostracized him as his mental illness grew worse. “They just cut him off. No money, no help. He was an embarrassment.”

“How the hell did he end up here?”

“He wanders. He just takes off, but usually, sooner or later, he’ll end up back here. Like some salmon.”

“When’s the last time you saw him?”

“June of last year.”

“He’s been out on his own for eighteen months. He could’ve been killed.”

“Nah. Waldo’s a survivor. There’s more to him than you think.”

“What’d you mean?”

“I mean he’s greater than a diagnosis.” Noise in the background. “Hey, man, I gotta go. Call me if you need anything. Tell Waldo we all said hello and we miss him.”

I hung up. The raw emotion Brian felt for Waldo was palpable.  I’d discussed a lot of residents with a lot of professionals and providers, but never had such human warmth been conveyed. “What am I dealing with here?”


With Case Manager Lynn Ott out sick with a repertory infection, I did Waldo’s assessment in Lyn’s office at one o’clock. Waldo looked rested and well-fed as he sat down in front of the desk, cup of coffee in hand. “Looks like you slept well, Waldo.”

“Oh, yes, yes, like a newborn. God bless you.”

I returned his plastic sleeve of cards. “I called a number I found in there and spoke with Brian in Boston. He said to tell you hello.”

“Oh, Brian is a wonderful spirit.”

“Well, let’s get through this assessment and get what you need.”

“I require nothing.”

“I mean, let’s help you achieve your goals. What are they?”

“I want to heal people. Help them. People are in such pain these days.”

“But what do you want?”

Waldo took a sip of coffee. “Nothing. I’m a prophet. I go where I’m needed.”

“Uh, okay. Let me get some answers to these questions.” I took out my copy of the needs assessment created by our director, Ms. Page, and began. “Are you a veteran, Waldo?”

“Oh, no, I would never carry a weapon.”

“Are you on any medication for any physical disorders?”


“Mental disorders?”

“They say I have them.”

“What’s your diagnosis?”

“It’s their diagnosis, not mine.”

“How much you get a month?”

“Five hundred and thirteen dollars, but I haven’t had a check since I left Boston over a year ago.”

“How have you gotten by?”

Waldo crossed his arms in his X salute. “It’s all provided.”

“Are you supposed to be on any medication?”

“They think so. Their cures make me sleepy and numb my senses.”

“Ever had any issues with substance abuse?”

“Cigarettes and coffee.”

“No, I meant drugs and alcohol.”

“Cigarettes and coffee are drugs.”

I laughed. “Ever been in jail or prison?”

“Jail. Many times.”

“For what offense?”


“What’s the highest level of education you attained?”

“I’m still learning. A learned person is a dead person. A learning person will never die.”

“How much school did you attend?”

“High school, college, and graduate school.”

“Grad school? Where?”

“Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

“MIT? You went to MIT?”

“I quit after one semester.”


“I was a cog is their machine.”

“What was your major?”

“Nothing that spoke to my heart.”

I smiled again. “Okay. You feel the need for any counseling?”

Waldo shook his head. “That’s why people seek me.”

I skipped the areas of pregnancy, children and childcare, work, and transportation, and moved in the area of clothing needs. He reiterated his want for a new sleeping bag. “My last two were stolen, and I’m tired of sleeping on the ground.”

“Why don’t you settle down here? We can get you a nice, safe apartment, and wrap services around to make sure you’re okay. Isn’t it dangerous on the road?”

“Risk is life. Security is an illusion. Don’t you ever feel like taking a chance? Risk everything for something greater than yourself?”

I averted my eyes. Oh, man, cut to the core! Lately my life had become a single note; one key out of eighty-eight. Dull and rote. Not that my work at Another Chance wasn’t challenging and interesting, but I had become something I never believed possible: mundane. At times, spiritually inert. I got the strange feeling Waldo knew this, could sense this within me. I was embarrassed. Appearing weak was worse than being weak.


In the following days, I noticed more and more changes within residents…

First, Vanessa our house cat (who’d lived in the alley for years until adopted by residents a few weeks before I arrived in 1999), a tiger-striped tabby, didn’t warm to many people, especially kids who quickly unnerved her. She treated the staff office as a haven. Her food and water were down the back stairs by the pantry and laundry room where she could always take refuge in the basement because its door was nothing but a hunk of plywood with hinges, a padlock, and a gaping space at the top. Vanessa would simply jump through the opening and curl up in the shelves of stored blankets.

So, I was shocked that afternoon to see Vanessa curled in Waldo’s lap as he sat smoking on the front porch, bundled up in his donated parka. Once ready to come back in the house, Waldo gently put Vanessa in the chair, but she immediately jumped back in his arms. In the living room she sat exclusively on Waldo’s lap and would cry outside his room if she wasn’t allowed in at bedtime. All staff members were dumbfounded.

Jason Frey, a resident in Room One, was referred to us by the local State Parole office’s head, Warren Covey. He’d been a badass gang kid in Wichita and was shot in a fight with a rival gang. He still had a bullet lodged against his lower spine. While in prison on multiple charges, symptoms of MS appeared. Now on parole, he walked twisted like a pretzel. His mouth was contorted, speech garbled. Warren cautioned me, “You can’t understand him, Mac”

An understatement. Jason spoke like a stroke victim. His intake took me over two hours, and it was weeks until I could halfway decipher his sentences. So, again, I was floored one afternoon hearing Jason and Waldo talking over coffee as easily as two thespians discussing Beckett at a café. Whatever garbled mess came out of Jason’s mouth, Waldo immediately understood and responded. I later asked Waldo how he understood Jason so easily.

“Oh, don’t look at his mouth. I don’t presume what he might say. Just listen.”

“I do listen to him, but it’s a jumbled mess.”

“You have too much on your mind to truly listen. You live three and four steps ahead in time. I watch you. There’s always something you have to do. That gets in the way of listening. You seem to have no time for people.”

It offended me. I gave all my time, my life, to these people. How dare this mental patient accuse me like that? “That’s not true, Waldo.”

But I knew it was.


Belinda Catelyn and her sons Jimmy, age thirteen, Bruce, age eleven, and daughter Janice, age nine, were in Room Six. Belinda had entered as a single resident a month and a half ago. Her addiction to cocaine led a neighbor to call in a Child Protective Service report. When the CPS worker and Clinton police arrived at their small rental house on East 1st Street, there was little food in the house and the electricity had been turned off. The State took custody of the children, and she was court-ordered to in-house drug treatment.

After treatment, Belinda moved into Another Chance and showed such progress, her foster care worker and the judge returned the children to her care. However, the family dynamic was out of whack. Belinda on drugs had created a massive void. Jimmy, the eldest, had taken the role of caregiver for his two siblings; he was the parent. That strain was showing. Outwardly, the boy was calm and respectful, but he was starting to crack.

One afternoon I saw all of them in the living room talking to Waldo. Both Belinda and Jimmy were crying. I retreated to the staff office, not wanting to intrude. Soon Belinda asked to speak to me in private. She took a chair, and I closed the door. “Are you okay?”

“Oh, yes. Especially after talking to Waldo. I don’t know how, but he knew exactly what we’ve been going through as a family. He said it’s time for me to be a mother. He told Jimmy to stop making adult decisions, stop raising Bruce and Janice, and be a kid. Poor Jimmy broke down in tears.” Belinda started to cry. “I had no idea the hell I’d put my family through.” She took a tissue, blew her nose, and wiped her eyes. “God bless Waldo.”


The house project that month was painting the Child’s Playroom. A local paint store donated paint, brushes, trowels, trays, etc., but the work was done by residents directed by Esperanza. Waldo was painting with her one afternoon. Still reeling from her breakup with her girlfriend, Rita, Esperanza was also dealing with the anniversary of the death of her brother, Fantino, the year before. The young man had been involved with human trafficking and was shot to death at a motel east of town. Though she had distanced herself from him, and her entire dysfunctional family, she was racked by guilt and grief. She asked me, “Why didn’t I work harder to get him out of that life? Why didn’t I do more?”

I told her people build their own nests. No matter what lives we envision for others, the onus of responsibility is on them. A piss poor choice is a piss poor choice, and you can’t get someone out of a cesspool unless they want out on their own. His death and the dissolution of her relationship had her as low as I had ever seen. Normally, no matter what, she was tough, centered, and sexy. Now? She was thin-skinned and drained of confidence and joy.

I was updating the waiting list when she charged in and slammed the door. “What did you tell Waldo about me?”

“Nothing. Why?”

“We were the only ones in the playroom. I was painting the south wall; Waldo was painting the north. He put down his brush, walked over, touched my shoulder, and said, ‘Please don’t worry. Your life will be fine. Your breakup is filled with lessons for you. So sorry about the death of your brother, but he chose his own path. You’re a beautiful soul. Be at peace.’ Then he hugged me.” She started crying. “I’ve been hugged before, but this was like I was being hugged by . . . life itself, Mac. He enveloped me with such warmth, I was on fire. I felt his love to my core, Mac. I felt wanted and needed and whole and . . . complete. What is he?”


In order to get Waldo’s Social Security benefits going again (he had fallen off their radar for months and had not received checks), I had to drive him to the Social Security office for a meeting. The worker was a man named Alvin, carrying files, a calculator, and an abundance of attitude. Short with black hair slicked back, dressed in black slacks, socks, and wingtips. A pressed short-sleeve white shirt and black tie, black fountain pen in his left shirt pocket. He sported a long handlebar moustache that curled at the ends. Everything about him gave off the vibe of a bureaucrat whose ass is so tight he has to hire a minion to break wind for him.

Alvin was taken back when Waldo greeted him with his crossed arms salute and a bow. He looked at me with a What? expression before leading us to a cubical with a small table. He spoke in a crisp professorial tone. “Now, Mr. Kevorkian, it seems you haven’t cashed any of your benefit checks for eighteen months. Can you explain why?”

“I have been traveling and healing.”

“So, you’re not living in Boston?”

“No, I’m here.”

“I meant your previous address in Boston is no longer valid?”

“It’s valid. There are lots of people there, but I’m here.”

Alvin exhaled. “Okay, so you are now living here in Clinton, correct?”


“So, we will put down what for an address?”

I jumped in and provided the address of Another Chance.

Alvin scribbled it down. “This is now your permanent address, so–”

“Not permanent,” said Waldo. “Nothing in life is permanent.”

I said, “We’re a transitional housing organization. Waldo is technically homeless. As soon as his income is stable, we can look to his long-term housing solutions.”

“Which are?”

“Well, I’ll have him apply at the Housing Authority for a voucher. With him on a fixed income, this will assure he can pay the rent at a HUD approved apartment. And we’ll wrap services around him to make sure he can maintain himself.”

“I’m not staying,” said Waldo.

I closed my eyes. Waldo, please shut up and secure your money. Stop being you.

“So, you won’t be settling here?” asked Alvin.


“Where are you going?”

“Back to Boston.”

“But you just said that address in Boston isn’t valid.”

“Not now. I’m here.”

“So why are you going back to Boston?”

“Oh, so many people there need my help?”

Alvin leaned forward. “What help?”

“Life help. So much pain and suffering in the world.”

“What do you intend to do about it?”

“Help them. I’m a prophet.”

Alvin’s mind was a vapor-locked car.

“If I may jump in,” I said. “For now, let’s get his payments going to the address I just gave you, plus any back pay. How much will that be?”

Alvin whipped out his large Texas Instruments calculator and started punching numbers. “There was an increase in your benefits this year. Taking that into account, you are owed a total of six thousand two-hundred sixty-four dollars. Starting in January, you monthly payment will go up to five hundred forty-five dollars a month. And you want the back paycheck mailed to this Another Chance, correct?”

“Yes,” I said. “When it arrives, we’ll open an account for him at a local bank.”

Waldo grasped my arm. “Can you deposit it in Bank of America? They have branches everywhere.”

“And the first monthly check in January will go to the same address?”

“Exactly,” I said.

“Mister Kevorkian, I would strongly suggest you find a residence and stay there. From your history, you seem to move around a great deal. This puts a strain not only on individual Social Security workers, but a strain on the entire system as well.”

I nudged Waldo in hopes he would remain silent, but of course not. “I go where I’m needed. The world is in flux. People are in pain, and they need my help. What should I do, ignore the Call?”

Alvin looked to me for an answer.


The BOOM was felt throughout the house. I rushed down the hallway to Room Ten, reserved for disabled people, and knocked on the door. “It’s Mac. What happened in there?”

“The bed broke,” came a voice from inside.

“I’m coming in.”

“It’s unlocked.”

I opened the door and was repelled by the stench. The room’s resident, Robert McGoo, had been referred by Child Protective Services. Robert, a thirty-eight-year-old man with two children, Orson, age eight, and Rachel, age six, had an issue: he weighed over five hundred pounds. His wife left six months before, just took off. And she was the family breadwinner. Robert had SSI from a diagnosis of bi-polar and personality disorder, but that’s not enough for a household of three. They were evicted from their modest home on Tenth Street. A battery of counselors, social service workers, and even church members were involved trying to help this family. The major problem was Robert was too obese to be a father, a worker, or a human being. He spent all his time in bed watching TV and farming out duties to others. He was so corpulent, he couldn’t reach around to wipe his own ass after taking a crap. He’d position himself on the edge of the bathtub and use a shower sprayer to clean himself.

It didn’t work. The odor in that room was a test of one’s gag reflex. I walked in after the boom, covering my nose with a sleeve. The fact it was winter, and the windows were closed, made it awful; a combination of body odor plus stale feces. I could not believe what I saw: the bed had collapsed under Robert’s girth; the bed posts, frame, box springs, and mattress were on the floor. Robert was rolling, attempting to get up. A beached whale.

“Just lay still, Robert,” I said. The room was covered by empty food packages, soft drink cans, dirty clothes, toys, and junk. The girls had to sleep on two twin mattresses against the far wall because Robert could not walk up the stairs to a large family room. Their bedding was a mess. I cringed thinking of those girls living in that squalor. This room went against every bedrock principal Another Chance stood for, but like Ms. Page, the Director, told him: “Mister MacIntyre, without us, that man and those girls would be on the street. Our normal hygiene and cleanliness rules have to be waived until other agencies help to find a permanent solution.”

However, other agencies involved only gave lip service. Nothing had been done to secure a Hud voucher for affordable housing, no coordination with the Clinton Health Department for diet and health, no coordination with this agency for this and another for that. Robert and his family were in institutionalized limbo, and Another Chance’s mission was compromised.  Other residents complained when they were written up for untidy rooms while Robert lived in a dump. It was a humane double-standard.

I asked Esperanza to help me lift Robert to the edge of the mattress. He was out of breath after that bit of exertion. “I’m sorry I broke the bed,” he wheezed.

“Let me see if there’s another bed frame downstairs,” I said. “C’mon, Espe, you can help me.”

They left and went downstairs. “You know there’s not another frame down here, Mac,” Esperanza said.

“I know, I know. I was just buying time. What the hell are we gonna do?

“Mac, the man can’t take care of himself. He has two little girls to care for. This is a no win any way you look at it.”

“He can’t stay here. We’re not what he needs, but he refuses a long-term care facility. We might have to legally get out of here.”

“He’ll scream prejudice against an overweight man,” she said. “He told me he’d get a lawyer and sue Another Chance if that happened.”

“Let him try,” I said. “I’m done with the stench coming out of that room, and in all honesty, we’re culpable in abuse of those children by not doing something positive.”

As we walked through the kitchen, I saw Waldo exiting Room Ten. When we got inside, Robert was sitting on the edge of the mattress, tears running down his face. Seeing me with Esperanza, he looked at the floor and calmly said, “Call our SRS worker. Tell her I want the girls in a foster home while I go into assisted living. I can’t live like this.”

“I’ll go call,” said Esperanza, walking out of the room.

“What changed your mind?” I asked.

“That guy with the white beard came in here and talked to me. I see things clear now. I see what I have to do.”

Despite Robert’s stench, I leaned in. “What did he say exactly?”

Robert thought and then smiled. “It’s not what he said, it’s how he made me feel.”

“Which was?”

“Like I’ve been washed clean on my insides.”

“I don’t get it.”

Robert didn’t either.


Over and over stories emerged from residents of Waldo changing their lives by just being present. From the two recovering addicts and single mothers, Cathy and Tamara, struggling with their children taken into in foster care, to Esteban Vamos, a drug-addicted, homosexual Chicano abandoned by his bi-sexual boyfriend; to Braden Monroe, a nineteen year-old kid who fled his so-called home because his mother’s drug habit led to a never-ending series of boyfriends who beat him after getting high and having sex with his mother, Waldo somehow gave them the wisdom, strength, and insight to put down their pasts and feel their innate strengths.

Raised a Methodist, I had walked out of Sunday school in the 7th grade when my teachers’ answers to my growing questions were greeted by platitudes and dogma. Despite my ire toward organized religion, I’d felt something deep in me since Waldo’s arrival and that infusion of joy had infected the damaged and lost. How? How did he do this?

As always when I needed guidance, I walked through the backyard to the west stucco duplex where Ms. Page had her office. She gave me a cup of one of her strong imported blends and we sat around the long table reserved for meetings. I told her everything that happened since Waldo’s arrival. “I don’t get it,” I said. “All he has to do is sit at the same table with someone and they’re better. What the hell is this?”

She leaned back in her chair and laced her fingers. “Have you read any William Blake, Mr. MacIntyre?”


“He wrote, If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. It appears your Mister Waldo has cleared away our residents’ perceptions.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Sounds a man with no illusions. A pure spirit.”

“But he’s a mental case.”

“How lucky to have such an illness.”

“Look, what am I dealing with here? I don’t understand.”

“I can see that.”

“What do I do?”

“Why do you feel you need to do anything?”

“I mean, I’m in this job to help people, but this guy’s done more than I have by doing nothing. By just being here. How’s that make me feel?”

“Ah, so this is about you then?”

“No! Well, maybe. Look . . . what is this guy? How is he doing this?”

“I have no idea.”

“Well, would you at least talk to him and give me some insight? I mean, the guy’s not Jesus.”



Over the next few days, I noticed Ms. Page conversing with Waldo on the front porch, in the back yard, and in her office. I was dying to get her impressions but didn’t rush it. While I waited, my days were filled with handling enormous donations of food, toys, and other . . . stuff. Lots of stuff. The residents came together to make Christmas decorations to sell as a fund-raising activity. The Christmas tree ornaments were like mini wreaths with red centers where the residents drew pictures and inscribed personal greetings. Waldo’s decorations said the same thing on each one: Peace to all.

That sentiment was reflective of the vibe throughout the house. I had never experienced such peace within those walls, but I refused to attribute it to Waldo’s appearance. That wouldn’t be logical. As if on cue, Ms. Page called up front and asked me to her office.

Armed with coffee around the long table, she said, “I believe Waldo is what he says he is. A prophet.”

“He’s also a mental patient. The records I requested got here this morning. Want to see them?”

“No. I’m satisfied with my conversation and seeing the actual proof in people rather than from another goddamn professional.”

“Spoken in the pejorative.”

“Because I’m done with the cult of professionalism. Everyone today is labeled with their own diagnosis and that diagnosis has a code, a code that can be billed for with insurance. The definitions of clinicians weren’t designed for people like Waldo. His truth doesn’t fit into one of their boxes.”

“The reports say paranoia and delusions.”

“You need to get beyond that.”

“And accept what? That he’s Jesus?”

“Or Buddha, Mohammed, Krishna, Patanjali. I believe Waldo is of the higher consciousness of everything. We all are, but most of us are sadly blind to it, living our lives on a road as narrow as a toothbrush. Like it or not, Waldo has a direct connection to life—real life. We’re the stuff of God, Mister MacIntyre. Waldo knows this. Every breath he takes is the breath of the infinite.”

“I can’t stand religion.”

“Waldo has nothing to do with religion.”

“If you expect me to–”

“I don’t expect anything from you, Mister MacIntyre. I’m just telling you to accept Waldo as he is. Don’t label. Has he broken any of our rules and policies?”

“Not a one. I’m just trying to understand what’s going on.”

“Then let the man be.”


Waldo’s vibe filtered down to the residents progressing with their goal plans, getting jobs, building budgets, handling their individual issues, and focusing on self-sufficiency. Everyone, staff, and residents, came together as a team to keep Another Chance, the house and the mission, flourishing.

Residents sold their ornaments at a craft fair and made over $1,100. People paid extra when they learned who made them. The Clinton News sent a reporter named Karen by to interview residents about what it’s like to be homeless during the holidays. She was amazed at the joy emanating from the folks she spoke with and communicated that in her article which spread throughout the entire county meaning more donations and more good vibes.

I decided to shut off the boo birds in my head and let things be, just as Ms. Page suggested. It didn’t matter what Waldo was, I was just glad he was here.

Two days before Christmas Waldo asked me if we could speak in private.

The door to the staff office locked, Waldo sat next to the desk and said, “It’s time for me to go back to Boston.”

I was taken back. “Why? We can get you a place here. You can be safe. Not like out on the road.”

“Nowhere is safe. Not really. Security is another illusion, remember? It’s time to go back to Boston. People there need me.”

“Then why did you leave in the first place?”

“People needed me in those places. I go where I’m needed. The feeling tells me when and where.”

“So, you hear voices?”

“No. No words. I told you, feelings.”

“I don’t understand.”


“Make me understand. I want to know.”

“Can a bird teach you to fly?”


I raised the money for Waldo’s bus ticket from Wichita to Boston from several churches. He was leaving early Christmas Eve morning, so the Christmas Eve eve celebration was also his goodbye dinner. During the gift exchange, Waldo received a new down parka and new Coleman sleeping bag (also from raised funds), and he greeted each gift with crossed arms, a bow, and a smile.

All residents and staff were so joyous and relaxed an outside observer would have no hint of the trauma they had endured. Ms. Page caught up to me in the kitchen getting a glass of punch. “You seem in good spirits tonight, Mister MacIntyre, for a man who loathes Christmas.”

“This one feels different.”

“I wonder why.” She smiled.

I drove Waldo to the Greyhound Bus station in Wichita at one o’clock the next morning, locking Vanessa the house cat in his room so she wouldn’t follow (Larry, the Overnight Monitor, let her out later). We arrived just before two. Waldo’s bus didn’t leave until 3:30, so I sat with him. This felt overprotective considering all the places Waldo had been on his own and what a survivor he was, but I wanted to prolong the goodbye. We barely spoke the entire time, but it didn’t matter. I was completely contented. My mind wasn’t racing endlessly. I wasn’t in a hurry to get something else done. My usual dissatisfaction with my own life, my own self, was absent. I simply sat there with Waldo, and it was enough.

A very light snow fell throughout the hour and a half wait. During that time, other bus patrons went out of their way to approach Waldo and say hello. Some even moved to chairs around him just to be near, drawn like millers to a porch light.

At one point I left to take a leak. When I came back a young man was sitting next to Waldo: Felix Graves. “Graves,” I said, “what’re you going here?”

“They run me outta Clinton.”

“You were living in the trees and stealing food off a disabled woman’s plate.”

“I was hungry.”

Waldo dug out a wad of cash. “Will you go buy Felix a ticket to come with me?”

“Waldo, he’s a leech.”

“Fuck you,” said Mister Graves.

Waldo shoved the cash at me again. “Please.”

After the bus arrived Mister Graves got on the bus while I stored Waldo’s gear in the underneath compartment. Waldo gave me his crossed-armed salute and bowed. “It’s been an honor knowing you.”

Surprisingly to me, my voice trembled. “Me, too.” He took both of my hands in his, and I felt his love for everyone and everything in this world flow into me, as did his pure compassion (even toward the miscreant Mister Graves). His capacity for forgiveness was seemingly endless.

I watched the bus drive away in the snow and did not budge until it was out of sight. Driving back to Clinton, I played Philip Glass on the tape deck, blowing snow like a meteor shower in my windshield; the kind that made me dart my eyes back-and-forth to avoid being transfixed and sleepy. With Glass’s help, I was able to avoid going in a ditch. I felt small.

I walked into Another Chance and our residents, the broken sweepings of this community, were up early cooking in the kitchen, setting out presents for the children, talking and laughing, their troubles put aside for a day.

On January 2, I received a plain post card saying:

We made it. Fuck you.



The next April I received a phone call from a Ms. Mauck at the Langdon, North Dakota Social Security office. “Do you know a Waldo Kevorkian?”

After laughing uproariously, I filled her in on Waldo’s background and then asked to speak to him. It was so good to hear his voice. “What drew you to North Dakota?”

“Well, I picked up on the fact some folks here really need direction and healing, so here I am.”

“If you ever want to come back and settle down here, we’ll all help you, Waldo.”

“Oh, it’s a big country. Lots of lost souls need me.”

It was the last time I ever spoke with him. Every few months hence I’d call the local Social Security office where I had a female mole who’d surreptitiously slide me specific information. I’d give her Waldo’s Social Security number to see if he was still collecting his payments. If so, I knew he was alive. She also told me what state the payee was in at the time.

I put a cheap US map on my wall and started putting different colored pins in the states where Waldo had been. It felt like I was tracking a personal whirling dervish.

In 2004 my phone rang. “Another Chance, this is Mac.”

“Mac, this is Brian in Boston.”

“Hey, man, you heard from Waldo?”

“Yeah, well.” Brian cleared his throat. “Waldo’s dead.”

I couldn’t respond.

“You still there?”

“Yeah. Did he die in Boston with you guys?”

“Actually, he died in Kansas.”

“What? Where?”

“Ever heard of Washington?”

“Yeah, up by the Nebraska border. Why the hell wouldn’t he come back here?”

“You’re asking me to explain why he does what he does?

“Well, goddamn!”

“His body is in transit to Boston. His remaining family is paying for it, and they are not happy, the rich pricks.”

“They have no idea about him, do they?”

“Even if they did, they wouldn’t give a shit.”

“Only the poor knew the meaning of life; the rich and the safe had to guess.”

“Who said that?”

“Chuck Bukowski.”

“Is that your boss?”


When someone is evicted or moves from a room and leaves possessions behind, staff bags and labels them for storage for 30 days. A year ago, an old boy had a sealed quart bottle of Ten High bourbon hidden in his closet. I’m not normally a whiskey man, but I snuck it home and left it under the kitchen sink.

That night, I cracked the seal, tossed ice in a small Bell jar, and made a sippin’ drink before plopping down on the couch. I drank in silence while looking at the Waldo map. All those places he’d been, people he’d touched. I decided not to tell anyone he was dead; let them keep believing he was still out in the world. They’d sleep better that way.

Frank Sinatra was right: Basically, I’m for anything that gets you through the night–be it prayer, tranquilizers, or a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Add Ten High to the list, too.




About the Author

James Kanady has worked for a homeless/community development organization out on the (not-so)Great Plains--New Beginnings--for 25 years. He is the author of two novels (CAPITAL OFFENSES & A DIFFERENT WINTER) and various stories, essays, and non-fiction. This tale is one of twelve interconnected stories based on his time in the old boarding house turned homeless shelter. Three of them have been published. A screenplay--SPAGHETTI WESTERN--was a winner in the Screenplay Festival Contest a few moons ago.


Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash