Sunday, February 5, 2017

I LIVE Right Here...

* I have another blog called "Just One More Shift" which chronicles my somewhat insane journey to play men's hockey this fall for Liberty's D3 team. I wrote this piece on that site a few days ago. It's really worth sharing here. Enjoy.

I spent six years living in my car.
Most of you know this, many of you do not. The more people this blog reaches, the more it might need to be explained. You can always find my story by googling me. I won't go into it here, in depth. The thumbnail is: I was in the mortgage business for ten years. 2008 happened. I lost my entire career and my home. I had to stay in Nashville because my daughter's world was falling apart at her mom's house. (We had been divorced for many years prior to 2008) I couldn't find work there so I slept in my car.
There is a whole lot more. A full book's worth in fact. But this isn't the place for that.
I'm only giving the story as a backdrop. When asked "Where do you live?" it was hard to answer. Sadly, looking back on it, the answer at that time was; "Nowhere." I don't mean I had no place to live. That was true on the surface. But this morning I was thinking about this journey I'm on to play college hockey again at 53. The thought came to me; "You live wherever you are at the time." I'll say it again: "You live wherever you are at the time." The emphasis changes everything. There are people who have beautiful, expensive, expansive houses and they aren't living at all. There are people who might sleep in the back of a Yukon SUV, as I did, and yet they are so alive and so full of life that one might think they have the life of a celebrity.
That's what's at the essence of this blog and this daunting task I have undertaken. I want to live.
I learned the hard way, during those six incredibly hard years, that living, and being alive are two different things. When people ask me where I live now, I answer, "Right here...right where I am." I want to live! I want people to look at my life and see something God did that seemed like it was horrible and painful and terrible and see something good coming out of it. It was all those things. It was horrible and painful and terrible. On the surface, so is childbirth, but the end result is something wonderful: Life.
I'm not attempting this hockey thing for some short range glory or to just gain some sort of fleeting fame. Being the oldest college hockey player in history will certainly lend that on it's own. However, that's not my motivation. I am doing this to live. To look around at the landscape of this place where God moved me three years ago and say; "Okay, what do I have in front of me right now? What am I going to do with that?" That, my friends, is being alive! I work for my alma mater. One of the benefits I get is free tuition for one degree at each level. I have my Bachelor's degree already, so the next step is a Master's degree. I decided a few months ago to pursue my Master's in Communications. It's a natural fit for me. One of the benefits of that is I will be considered a full-time student again. That means, since I only played two seasons, I have eligibility remaining. The opportunity is there. Living means I take advantage of it. I could spend my days getting that degree and not try out for the team. There'd be no shame in that. But in my heart, I want to play one more time. I long to be a part of a team again. I want to smell the rink and feel the excitement of an odd-man rush, and hear the sound of blades cutting through ice.
I don't just want to live here, I want to live. Here.
It's not just hockey. It's life. I have a beautiful guitar sitting in my closet. I enjoy playing. But I haven't taken it out of it's case in two years. I've been too busy. Too busy trying to earn a living.
Is that living, or just being alive? I haven't written nearly enough. I haven't told my story and motivated people. I haven't fly-fished the Tye River and I've been here three years.
I want to play next fall because it's an option. I want to play because it's possible. It's not likely, but it's possible. I used to think that people who said they climbed a mountain "Because it was there..." were out-of-touch hippies. Lot's of things are "there" but we don't necessarily engage them. I get it now, though.
Sir Edmund Hillary failed several times in his attempts to be the first man to climb Everest. One time in particular inspires me. He had lost several of his party in his latest attempt and was called to appear before Parliament to give an update on his progress. He stood before that august group, with a giant map of Everest behind him. He rose to the podium, turned and looked at the map, shook his fist at it and said these words: "You won...this time. But you're a mountain, and I am a man. You're as big as you're ever going to get. But I am still growing!"
That's why you climb a mountain. Or attempt your first marathon at age seventy. Or determine to run at least one mile, every single day for the rest of your life, as my friend Terry Lancaster has, and radically changed his life.
It's why a 53 year old man decides he has one more year of college hockey in him. Because every day when he goes to work, he sees the nicest hockey rink in the entire ACHA and he knows there is a team he might be able to make, and to not try is to not live.
That team is there already. It's not going anywhere. But I might be able to grow enough to reach that summit, and pull on an LU sweater one more time, and plant my flag on that patch of real estate where I am living at the moment.
When people ask me, this time next year, "So where do you live?" I want to be sure that I'm being honest when I say: "Right here. I live, right here."
Here we go!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Michelle Obama and where Hope REALLY comes from


A week ago, or thereabouts, Michelle Obama sat down in an interview with Oprah and said, among other things, that since the election of Donald Trump, “Now we know what it feels like to lose hope.” I responded a day or two later with an off-the-cuff, get-this-off-my-chest post. It was angry, as it should have been. I was angry, and I have every right to be.
But I have thought about her comments and my response and I felt that now, having thought about it some more, I should delve a little deeper.
There is no need to rehash the six years when I was homeless in this article, as I did in the first one. Regular readers know about that, and new readers can simply search this blog to find out all they need to know. I’ll merely mention it as fact. This post is about what Hope really is and Who is its source. And in that context, we understand why Michelle Obama said the things she said.
Michelle Obama said that the election of Donald Trump was a cause to feel hopeless. The implication, logically, is that A: Hillary Clinton would have brought us hope, and B: We’ve had such hope for the past eight years that only now do we feel hopeless. You see, Michelle Obama really believes that if America has felt hope at all, it’s because of her husband, herself, and their policies.
What does this mean? Well it means that, to the Obama’s, hope is dependent not upon faith in God, faith in your hard work, your character, your ambition, or your determination. To them –and to liberals in general- hope is found only in the doors the government props open for you. You have no hope of ever becoming wealthy through hard work, relentless drive, healthy ambition, determined efforts and refusal to quit. No, those things mean nothing. In fact, over the last eight years, liberals tried to steal all those descriptives and make them into something they call “White Privilege. They tried to tell us that the only people who believe that those things will get you ahead are white supremacists and racists, who use those terms because we believe that no blacks possess those qualities. They ignore the existence of the Ben Carsons, and Allen Wests, and Jackie Robinsons, and Robert L. Johnson, and the Tuskegee Airmen, and Frederick Douglass, and Booker T. Washington and thousands upon thousands of successful black businessmen and women, professionals, leaders, politicians, etc.
Michelle Obama ignores the truth that most of us –whites included- came from immigrants and have family histories of having to work hard and dream big and depend only on ourselves to achieve those dreams. They tried turning those traits and requirements for success into something evil. Michelle Obama put the cherry on the sundae with her comments to Oprah.
Her statement also reflects her cursory relationship with the “faith” that she and her husband claim only when necessary and advantageous. Had she any actual depth to her self-proclaimed relationship with Jesus, she would know where the real Source of Hope is. The fact is that Michelle Obama and her husband are the ultimate Secular Humanists. There are those who claim he is a Muslim. I have my doubts. I do believe he is a Muslim sympathizer. But where real religious belief is concerned, I don’t think he actually has any. He can’t. To embrace a religion is to admit there is a “Higher Power” and that implies that man is not the ultimate authority in the universe. This defies Secular Humanism at its core and would serve to deny Barack Obama his self-aggrandizing view of himself as the greatest of all men.
Remember…this is the man who said, on the night of his election, that “Today the oceans begin to recede. Today the earth begins to heal…” He sees himself as a god and gods do not share their deity. This is why Michelle tells us we should begin to feel hopeless now. Because in their opinion, hope comes from men and the wrong man got elected. Hope is a government entitlement…not a characteristic of a spirit-filled believer.
Hope is packaged and distributed by Washington DC, not by hard work, dreaming big, never quitting, and having ambition. When I was homeless and losing hope, had I only gone to a government agency, I could have received whatever I needed to have hope again and I would have been just fine.
Michelle Obama…grab a cup of coffee and let me explain this to you.
My hope comes from my faith in God, His son Jesus, and in the gifts and abilities He bestowed. I have no need for the government where the use of my gifts and the pursuit of my dreams are concerned. The government’s only job where my hope is concerned is to protect the Faith from which that hope springs, and to guarantee the right to pursue my happiness. The government does not provide my happiness; it protects my right to pursue it. And should I choose to pursue something foolish and empty and never find that happiness, the government is not where I go to claim some sort of warranty violation. When I was homeless, I did not look to the government for hope. I did not want Barack Obama to provide me with hope in the form of a home and a food allotment, (Which, whether you like it or not, is precisely what the EBT / SNAP program is: a government food allotment.) What I needed the government to do was to build an environment wherein jobs are prevalent and I can go to work and handle the rest. You see, when I have a job, I can buy however much or little food I want, whatever kind I want, and eat it in whatever home I decide I like and can afford. I never thought to myself: “I wish the government eggplant department would deliver me some eggplant parm today.” I thought how I would cook my own eggplant parm if only I had a job that provided me a house with a kitchen and the money to buy the eggplant.
My hope was never in the government…not in my darkest hours. When I was sleeping in my car by night and doing every menial task I could find just to have gas money, I never once thought about how the government was going to rescue me. I spent my spare moments looking for a job with which to begin the rebuilding process. My hope was not in them, it was in me. And even more importantly, when my hope in my abilities and dreams and drive and ambition was waning because I had no chance to use them to rebuild my life, the Hope I needed to press on did not come from the president. It came from the King of Kings. My Hope is not in any man on this planet. It’s in God. It comes from God. He is my Hope. The reason I could wake up “just one more day,” every day for almost six years of homelessness was not because of my dogged determination, my stubbornness, my resolve, my ambition or drive or dreams. It wasn’t even because of my undying love for my precious daughter, for whom I endured all those indignities. No…all those characteristics were fueled by the underlying hope of God through Jesus Christ.
God created me. He made me who I am. My stubbornness and ambition and drive and relentlessness was possible only because behind it all was real hope. Hope in the knowledge that the Creator of the universe was watching and was aware of my life. That He’d known of me before I was even formed in my mother’s womb. That His great plan includes me and this present darkness and my suffering were parts of that plan as were every good and happy time I had experienced or would in the future. He was my hope. Not Barack Obama. Not Donald Trump.
There are those who say that conservatives and especially the “religious right” have now put their “hope in Trump.” I have been accused of “worshiping Trump.” Let me set you straight. I worship no man. If Trump has offered hope to me in any way, it comes in the form of his open, unabashed support of my right to pursue the very faith that gives me a Hope independent of the government. A right that Barack Obama withstood at every turn. Make no mistake, Barack Obama defied my faith. He demeaned the Christian Faith every chance he got. He fought long and hard to promote the image of Christians as intolerant, bigoted, hateful, and loveless. You know…all the things liberals Democrats became after they lost on November 8. Barack Obama mocked my faith as early as the campaign for his first term in office, when he referred to Christian Patriots as “bitter folks clinging to their guns and Bibles.” He declared that America was never a Christian nation, (and while we never were an officially Christian nation, we certainly recognized and protected our Christian foundation and built our entire judicial system upon that faith.) He sent his stooges at the IRS and the DOJ out, with the order to attack and undermine Christian faith-based organizations as much as possible.
Obama demanded that he be our hope. When he smugly told small businessmen “You didn’t build that!” while describing the efforts of their lifetime of hard work, he did it because he doesn’t want anyone achieving or succeeding unless they owe it to the government. He speaks of dreams while simultaneously crushing dreamers. Why else would this man spend eight years declaring how we need more jobs, while enacting economic policies that rendered more people unemployed than at any other time in our history? Why? Because he wants us to be dependent on the government for our hope.
This is why his wife could so arrogantly say “Now we know what hopelessness feels like.”
She believes it. She wants us to believe it. She demands we believe it.
Now come the liberals who are screaming bloody murder at the loss of the election. One lame excuse after the other as to why. Everything from the Russians to the FBI to the stupidity of the masses to the Electoral College. Everything except the real reasons: We wanted hope.
Donald Trump’s message was not “Have hope in me!” as Obama’s has been. Trump’s message is “I believe in you. I’m going to do my best to get you an economy that rewards your hard work and makes it possible to take a real shot at your dreams, and then I’m going to get the government out of your way and turn you loose to see how far you can go!” Just writing that last line gave me chills. That’s all I wanted when I was homeless and hurting and trying so darned hard to make my way back.
We don’t have hope in Trump or even because of Trump. Trump is making room for us to have Hope in God and in ourselves. As our founding fathers wanted it. This sort of independent empowerment not only defies the will of the current administration and the liberal left…it scares the heck out of them.
Liberals have a theme song, it’s the chorus from the classic Cheap Trick song “I Want You To Want Me.”

                               “I want you to want me.
                                 I need you to need me.
                                 I’m begging you to beg me.
                                 I want you to want me.”

I can easily imagine Barack Obama speaking these words on national TV. Even making it sound comforting and necessary, then carefully reconstructing American History to make it seem like this was the mantra that built this nation. The facts are opposite. We don’t need them. We shouldn’t want them. I will never beg them. My hope is in Jesus Christ, and in the abilities He has gifted me with. My hope was never in Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, and if, in fact, it appeared I was hopeless at the thought of her winning, it was because she was of the same mindset that wanted to eliminate my real hope. My hope is not in Donald Trump either. But my hope is in the truth that Donald Trump accepts the source of my hope, and does not see himself or his role as opposing that hope. He does not see my Faith and my Hope in God as something detrimental to his view of the office. He sees it for what it is: the basis upon which this nation was born and the light that carried her through dark times and illuminated her way to the glorious bright days she has experienced, and will experience again.

Now that we have real hope.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Letter To Michelle Obama on the topic of "Hope."

I'm trying, man...I'm really trying.
I'm trying not to demean the current president or his wife, here in the final days of his miserable, yet highly successful presidency.
Wait...what?
Yeah, "Highly successful." Listen, I despise every policy he has put in place and I despise everything he espouses and stands for and I despise what he has done to this wonderful country of ours. But if any of you think he is some mindless dolt who flailed away for eight years and got us to this precipice because of stupidity...you have not been paying attention.
Barack Obama succeeded. His goal when he came to office was to destroy as much of this country as he could, as fast as he could, and to leave the rest so damaged that it would crumble as well. He darn near succeeded. Had it not been for Donald Trump deciding that this was the year he gave it a go, I fear we'd be talking about the late, great, United States of America. We'd be swearing in Madam Hillary and saying goodbye to what fragments remain of this nation of ours.
Obama succeeded. This mess we're in, this is precisely what he wanted. In fact, the only thing he failed in was wreaking more havoc, and doing more damage.
He ran on the slogan "Hope and Change." Only nobody has any hope, and the only changes were for the worse. Now comes his wife, madam first lady, whining to Oprah about how she has no hope now that Trump is going to be President. Well Michelle, sit back and grab a cup of coffee and let me school you about not having hope. Not that you'll bother to read this, because you don't actually gives a rat's bum about any of us. But someone else might. Someone else might read it and feel a connection, and realize that they aren't alone. For almost ten years now -since you and the naked emperor decided to run for president- we've been hearing your story. Now you need to hear mine.
I'll cut to the chase. I won't bore you with details. Unlike Barack, I don't have any stories of composite girlfriends or dog casseroles. I was born in Philadelphia to an unwed mother. (See...happens to white people too) I grew up lower middle class in Delaware. I didn't go to college right away because I couldn't afford it. Never once did I think anyone owed me a college education. Except maybe my parents. They owed me at least a little help and encouragement but I got neither. You know what? I did it on my own. Some other folks helped too. But I never took to Oprah's couch because of the emotional scars of not going off to college with my friends. I sucked it up, started a business, eventually went to college, got married, became a dad, suffered through a heartbreaking divorce and found success in the mortgage industry.
Let's start the tale there, shall we?
I was a branch manager for a mortgage lender. Not a mortgage bundler on Wall Street. Not a hedge fund manager. Not the guy who crashed the economy. I was basically a loan officer. I helped people buy a home or refinance the one they owned. I seldom did sub prime loans at all and never used the risky programs that eventually sank the industry. I did well for myself. I worked very hard in a 100% commission field. No base salary. No "safety net." Nobody holding my hand when things got tough.
Yeah...I built that.
I had a broken heart and a beautiful daughter. That was all I took from my marriage, but I soldiered on. I bought a house and made it a home as best I could given the circumstances. I saw my daughter once a week and every other weekend. I made a success of myself in my job and I served my customers very well.
Then came 2008, and the collapse. The collapse that George Bush warned against for seven years but the Democrats kept blocking his efforts to prevent. That collapse. I lost everything. Not a lot...everything.
I lost my job, then my career, then my home. My daughter's life was beginning to become a nightmare at her mom's house so I had to stay in Nashville, (where we lived) and I could not move to where there might have been work. I had no place to stay, so I slept in my car.
I was homeless. I was 45, had two years of college, ten years of documented success, and I was homeless.
And I was someone's daddy.
You want to talk to me about hopelessness? Really? You've never spent a single night in your car, much less six years. I have. Let me tell you what it's like. I wrote this a couple of weeks ago:

"When you’re homeless, you feel like you’re on the outside looking in. Like there is an invisible wall between yourself and “normal” folks. It feels like it’s a slow-moving nightmare and you can’t tell which part is the dream and which is reality. You want to wake up, but you’re already awake.
     It feels like you’re watching the normal folks with their normal life, a life that you used to have as well, and you start forgetting what all that felt like. What it was like to have a kitchen, and a stove, and a bed…and an address. You try to forget about your dogs and your cat and your garden. You overhear bits of conversations about mundane home ownership and you wish you could be doing those things that the normal people complain about. You wish you still had a lawn to cut. You wish you had a driveway to seal, or an electric bill to complain about. You’d give anything for a nosy neighbor.
     When you’re homeless, you don’t wake up on Monday mornings and have the Monday morning blues and make jokes with your coworkers about how “It’s Monday again…” Because when you’re homeless, every day feels like Monday. Every day greets you with the blues. Every day finds you one day further removed from humanity. One more day since your last meaningful conversation. One more day since you had clean sheets and a warm bed. One more day has passed since you had a cup of coffee in your kitchen, in your mug, from your coffee maker.
     When you’re homeless, you can’t run home for lunch, or grill out, or hang your laundry out to dry. You can’t take a warm shower at the end of a hard day’s work, because you don’t have a shower, and you can’t find any work. When you’re homeless, you can’t stay indoors on a cold, rainy November Saturday and get caught up on some reading and have a nice fire in the fireplace and make some soup and watch the cold rain as it falls. When you’re homeless, you try to stay dry and warm and out of sight if you can.
     When you’re homeless there are no pictures on your walls, because you have no walls. So you carry them in your wallet, and in your heart. They come alive at night, these pictures. They haunt you. Pictures of your little girl and the rope swing you had in the oak tree out back and how she laughed and wanted you to push her for hours. Pictures of how your beloved dog Bonnie would come over to you on the sofa and lay her chin on your leg and let out a soft little sigh and look at you plaintively until you scratched her head. Pictures of your daughter and the time you filled the Jacuzzi tub with Mr. Bubble and she was lost in the suds and laughing up a storm and having the most fun you’d ever seen. Pictures of when it was that you had a life.
     Other times, it’s like being on the inside looking out. You swear everyone knows. Everyone sees. You hide your bedroll in the trunk of your car but maybe they saw it when you were getting your school books. You circle the church where you hide your car at night to get a few hours of sleep. You circle it like a hawk, hunting for his prey, waiting until you don’t see any headlights coming in either direction and then you race in before someone sees you. Your heart races and pounds and you swear that this time, they saw your tail lights and they’ve called the cops. You hurry up and back into the overgrowth until you are hidden from view. They can’t see you but you swear they can. You wait, being as quiet as a mouse, barely breathing. Ten minutes go by. Then twenty. Sitting still like this means the fatigue starts to catch up to you but you fight it. After enough time passes, you let out your breath and realize that nobody saw you. You pulled it off one more time. You get changed into your sweatpants and sweatshirt and zipper into two sleeping bags and try not to let yourself admit how cold it really is. The cold has gotten into your bones by now and you never feel quite warm. Your body is warm enough with all the layers, but you’re still breathing frigid air and you wake up shivering.
     You feel like every pair of eyes in the world is dialed in on you when you’re homeless. Do they know? Surely they know. Everyone knows. You walk with your head down, and your eyes lowered. Because even if nobody else around you knows, you know. And that’s bad enough. You stop looking into store front windows because you can’t bear seeing your own reflection. You hide your shame when you see your daughter, because after all…you’re still her daddy. But you feel like a caged animal. Like the little people inside a snow-globe, never moving, never showing any reaction whenever some outside force shakes their world and stirs up the snow. Their smile painted on. Their faces plastic and emotionless. That’s you now. Feeling less and less because feeling anything at all only reminds you of who you used to be and who you are now.
     When you’re homeless, you don’t tuck your kids in at night. You lay there in your sleeping bags and cry because you miss them. On the coldest nights, the tears freeze to your cheeks and they cut you like diamonds when you wipe them away. You remember your little girl’s bedtime prayers and you swear you can still hear her voice as she says them… “God bless Bonnie and Cooper and our cat Jackie. God bless Daddy…”
God bless Daddy. God? God who? You question Him. Sometimes you curse at Him because it feels like He’s just left you here. Sometimes you cry out to Him for mercy and beg Him for hope. You pray to Him. You pray to him for your daughter. “Please, God,” you beg, “Please give me a place to live again. My daughter needs me and I need her.” Then you think about her life and the pain she feels. “Please God,” you continue, “Please protect her like I would if I was there right now.” And the tears resume, and the sobs, and the memories, and the questions, and the doubts.
     When you’re homeless, you don’t get your daughter once a week and every other weekend. You get McDonald’s for an hour every few days after school. You try hiding the truth from her, but she’s smart. She finds out and then you feel even worse because you know her, and now she is worrying herself sick about you every night. When you’re homeless, you are still someone’s father, but you sure don’t feel very fatherly.
     When you’re homeless, you think of the old days and the happy times and those memories are triggered by the strangest things. I was walking through the mall one hot summer afternoon, just trying to stay out of the heat. I walked past the “Build-a-Bear Workshop” store and I stopped outside and watched the little kids. There was a girl there who reminded me of my own daughter a few years before. She was finishing up her bear and doing the little routine where they tell the kids to jump up and down and turn around. I remembered all the trips we made together to this place. Back when I had a job and a home and she had a bedroom where she kept all these prized little stuffed friends. It felt like it was a million years ago. It felt like I was watching it all from some cloak of invisibility. The little girl clutched her new beloved friend as mine had done. I turned away in tears. I raced to the bathroom before the sobs embarrassed me in the mall. When you’re homeless, every little thing reminds you that you used to have a home, and your daughter used to spend weekends with you, and you used to be someone.

     When you’re homeless, you reach a point where you want to quit. In that moment, you’d better have a reason to keep fighting. You’d better have something or someone you love more than you love yourself because believe me, when you want to give up, when you want to crawl inside a bottle and die or jump from a bridge, or just fall asleep in the dead of winter and let your body freeze…there had better be a face you see when you close your eyes that keeps you going. Because when you’re homeless, just you…isn’t nearly enough."

How does that grab you, Michelle? Is this how you feel simply because Donald Trump won the election and is going to try to fix what your husband broke? Is this how you define hopeless? How about this one; I wrote this a day after I wrote the above section. It's a timeline of what a typical day was for me when I was homeless:


"What is it actually like to be homeless? What is the daily routine of a person whose entire existence is at the mercy of the weather, the availability of shelter, and the hours of operation of a county recreation center? What does it feel like, not from a larger statistical, “Face of the homeless problem” level…but as a man? While others are posting funny “It’s Monday again” memes on Facebook, and lamenting the loss of another weekend, what is Monday like for a homeless man?
     There is a routine to it. There is a pattern to the survival mode I lived in for six years. It wasn’t a vacation from reality, or a break from labor. Homelessness is work. There are things you have to do each day, just to survive. Because that is the first rule of being homeless: “Survive.” You have to find that perfect hiding spot, and when you do, you have to guard it with your life. That’s key. You need to be safely hidden at night when you try to steal a few hours of sleep. If you can’t be both safe and hidden, at least be hidden. If they can’t see you, they can’t roust you for vagrancy.
     Hopefully, if you’re unseen, you’re also safe, but not necessarily. Just because the cops don’t see you, or the pastor, behind who’s church you hide your car each night, or the church members who happen to come back to the church late one night because they forgot something, just because none of them saw you, doesn’t mean someone else didn’t. Even the slightest sound is a cause for alarm. You just never know who else is out there like you are, in survival mode, looking for a place.
     The second rule is “Get out of this somehow.” Because few people really want to be here. True, there are those who prefer this life. Folks with mental issues that force them to the shadows and the outskirts of society. I’ve met them. I used to work with the homeless ministry at the church I attended, (They felt it lent some authenticity to have an actual homeless man working with the homeless men they shipped in one night a week during the coldest months) and I met the guys who preferred homelessness. They eschewed the shelters and the Mission. They avoided the places where the other homeless would gather. They seldom panhandled. Most were veterans suffering from PTSD or other mental issues, coupled with chemical dependencies, losing a daily battle with the bottle. They had a meager monthly income from the V.A. and that was how they survived.
     These men weren’t comfortable around others for long stretches of time. They stayed to themselves, carrying on conversations in their heads to keep themselves company. They were the loneliest of the lot. The others knew them by now and avoided them for the most part. They respected the fact that these men wanted to be alone and the code on the street is “Respect my space and respect my stuff.” You didn’t touch another man’s backpack and if he didn’t want to talk, you didn’t try to force him.
     There were always troublemakers who would violate these rules. I saw this as well. Guys who poked fun at the quiet ones. Guys who would rob another man of his last cigarette, his last dollar, or his last clean pair of socks. They would steal because they wanted it, and they would steal because they needed to feel superior. Even homeless people need to feel like they have some sort of power and control remaining. Sometimes stealing another guys stuff was the only way they could show it. Alpha males exist even in a homeless shelter or under a bridge.
Sometimes these guys would show their strength by ridiculing those with deeper problems. They’d find the weak spot in a man’s armor and pick at it nonstop until the man broke. Often this was violent in nature.  A homeless man with obvious mental illness being pushed to the brink by another homeless man is an explosive mix. You didn’t want to be near that when it happened.
     For the others, though, the goal was to get out of this situation somehow. That was always my goal. I wanted this nightmare to end, and end as quickly as possible. So in addition to the routine of survival, there was the daily effort to find work, and end this.
Find work.
     I have to admit that as I wrote those two words just now it brought tears to my eyes. Until 2008 I have never had to find work. Work always found me. I was always working. I have been industrious, diligent, and hardworking since I was a little boy. I have the natural work ethic that the grandsons of immigrants seem to always have. At eleven I started a lawn mowing business in my neighborhood, to go along with my newspaper route. (At a time in America when an eleven-year-old boy could go out at five a.m. and deliver papers and be perfectly safe.) At fifteen I started working in a fast-food restaurant.  
     I graduated from high school and went immediately to work full-time.
I’d never been out of work in my life. Even in college I worked thirty to forty hours a week. I’d been self-employed since 1986. I started a carpentry business and did that until 1998 when I started in the mortgage business. The mortgage business is straight commission and there is no room for the lazy. I had to go find every loan I closed. So hard work and diligence were not foreign to my nature. And yet here I was…jobless.
     My routine was tiring. It wore me down. It was hard. The day started at about 4:45 a.m. You have to get up long before the sun because darkness is your ally. You can’t be seen coming and going or you’ll lose the spot you worked so hard to find. You essentially spend your whole day trespassing, so when it’s time to try to sleep, you need to not worry about being discovered. So moving in and out requires darkness. This is hard in the summer months when the sun is up early and lingers until late in the night. When you’ve had four hours of fitful tossing and turning in the passenger seat of a car, you wake up tired and move toward total exhaustion by day’s end. Sometimes it was that exhaustion that made sleep even possible at all. I would collapse at night and the first two hours would be unbroken. But there was always a sound or a nightmare or, eventually, the discomfort of that folded-down car seat that woke me up. The rest of my short night would be spent in a series of naps until my cell-phone alarm woke me and it was time to move on. I rose early to avoid losing my hiding spot at the church, but it was something more than that.  There was so much shame involved. I just didn’t want anyone seeing me living in my car.
     A year later, a friend found out about my plight and offered me a spot to park on her little mini-farm in Franklin, just a few miles from the Church. Of course I took her up on it, but my habit remained. Even after I had a spot to park, and was welcome there, and was not at risk of being thrown out by the cops…I still rose before dawn. I was still embarrassed at sleeping in my car. I still didn’t want anyone to see me.
     Thankfully I had the luxury of a gym membership. Williamson County Parks and Rec has wonderful facilities. They have four main locations and for $225 for a year, it was a steal. Thankfully I had a paid membership when my world collapsed. After that, renewal was cheaper and somehow I managed to scrape together the $150 it took each January to stay active. So I had a place to shower. I used the necessity of my going there to work out each day, doubtless the most consistent I’d been my life. I walked about five miles each morning and then lifted weights, showered, and went out to face the day. I accomplished all this by about 7:45 a.m.
     The internet is crucial when you’re homeless and job-seeking. So I had to find free Wi-Fi connectivity. These days that’s easy. What’s not easy is finding restaurants where you can sit for hours and not spend any money while you used the free broadband.
It’s not their job to provide internet to the world and not get anything in return, and so I always felt guilty. My favorite spots were the Panera restaurants in Franklin. There were always other folks there working on their laptops or having meetings and so I didn’t feel out of place. I’d scrape together the two dollars it took to buy a large iced tea and then I’d rinse the cup out when I was finished and bring it back the next day for free refills without having to buy another one. It’s not the way the policy is designed, I know, but two dollars was a lot of money to me.
     Sometimes, just eating was an exercise in creativity. There were days when I would literally be down to no more than the change in my pocket or what I could scrape together from the ashtray in my car. I would catch a sale on Ramen noodles at the Kroger. The trick was to buy one “Cup-of-Noodles” and then use the rest of the money for Ramen noodle packages. That way I had a cup to re-use to make the Ramen. I would feel so horribly guilty taking my cup of noodles the Panera. I’d hide it in my backpack and get a cup of hot water from the coffee bar. After making the noodles at my booth, I’d arrange my laptop, and later when I’d started college classes, my school books, on the table in such a way that (I hoped) nobody could see what I was eating. It was humiliating. I felt like a thief. Looking back, nobody likely even noticed or cared, but I felt like every set of eyes in the store was watching me and knew what I was up to…and what I was.
     There were days when there simply was no money at all after buying gas. Days when the refills of iced tea had to get me through until the next day. Or the day after that. I learned the value of my Sam’s club membership then. When I was down to nothing, I would go to Sam’s and walk around hitting all the free sample displays. I had to take my time and not go to the same ones too frequently or the sales person might recognize me. Now I don’t know if they would ever have said “Hey…you’ve had enough!” but you just never know. I’d eat samples and walk around the store, looking at things I could never buy, remembering a better time when I’d be in this store every week, buying supplies for my office.
Back when I was a success. Back when I was someone. When I felt human.
     There was one more source of food I’d rely on when things were at their worst. It was probably the most embarrassing of all, simply because of the people around me. The Kroger around the corner from the Panera in Cool Springs that I frequented, always set out cookies and coffee for their customers. They set them by the deli department. Some days, when I had no money and didn’t have the gas to drive over to Sam’s, I’d go to the Kroger. I felt too embarrassed to just walk in and head for the cookies, so I would pretend to shop for a few minutes, sometimes, to keep up the appearance, I’d even pick up a few canned goods. I’d walk around like a shopper, then head over and grab a couple of cookies. I’d walk around for a while longer and do it again. When I had four or five in my pocket, I’d return my canned goods to their shelves and head back to Panera. I always felt terrible taking cookies from the Kroger, mostly because this particular store was in a rather affluent area and the customers were always well dressed and well-heeled. I felt like an intruder into their neighborhood. No one ever said anything to me. I am sure nobody ever noticed me taking the free cookies. But I noticed. To me it wasn’t crafty or smart. It was just survival and I was tired of just surviving.
     I guess they’re funny, these stories. And maybe they would be if I was 19 and this was my college life we were talking about. But we’re not. We’re talking about a forty-five-year-old man. Someone’s dad. Having to come up with ways to find food. Even now, three years beyond this situation, it breaks my heart. It hurts to write these words about myself. It hurts to see the image in my mind of me skulking away from the Kroger with a pocket full of sugar cookies, and calling that my dinner.
     Beside finding food, part of each day was the job search. I always did this part first, because I’d hoped that my resume would find its way into some early-rising employer’s email before anyone else’s did. Each day I would search the job websites. Each day I widened my search just a bit. At first I’d hoped to find something similar to what I had been doing. I knew the mortgage industry was all but dead in those days. But I had managed sales people and I had run an office and I was a very good teacher and trainer.
Each day I would send out my resume to eight or ten or twelve possible employers. Each day I would not hear anything back. I never stopped trying. I don’t remember many days going by without my sending out resumes. But no one replied. The economy was terrible then. Unemployment was high, and the outlook was pessimistic. The president, for all his talk of hope, offered nothing in the way of solutions. He ignored people like me.
     Days became months. Months, unbelievably, became years. Hope became a numb spot in my heart. A faded memory of a time when I had a career and when I walked upright like a man. Not the stoop-shouldered, vagabond I had become. Hiding in plain sight. Trying my best not to look homeless.
     After my morning routine of sending out resumes, I would write. Writing became my solace. My voice. My safe place. I had always loved to write, and in happier times, long before, I was an entertaining, humorous writer, making my high school teachers laugh with my wit. But I also enjoyed the crafting of a great sentence or the impact of a weighty story. Blogging had just begun to get noticed. I started a blog. I wrote about life. About being a dad. About my faith. I wrote about the world out here where I was living. But I didn’t write about being homeless. Not for a long time. I think it was because I was trying to not be homeless. I was trying not to be the voice of a demographic. I was trying to be more than a guy in an unfortunate situation who was journaling his plight. I didn’t want to just be a “homeless writer.”
     It wasn’t long before I felt like maybe I could have a career as a writer. If not full-time, then at least in conjunction with whatever else I was doing. I worried that if I only wrote about my homelessness, I would be pigeon-holed into only ever writing about homelessness…or other social issues, for the rest of my life. I didn’t want that.
     I would write in the mornings, perhaps as a means of relieving the pressure of sending out resumes and not getting a response. I’m sure it was -in part at least- a means of just saying the things I would say if I had someone, anyone, to talk to. I wrote a lot about my divorce and my fatherhood. I wrote sometimes revelatory things about myself. My search for my own father, and the subsequent disappointments. My search for work. The way I missed my home in the country. The way I was missing my daughter growing up. I wrote to give vent to the pain that built in my heart every day.
     After writing, if I had gas in my car, sometimes I would go to the little park nearby. I would walk. Walking became therapy for me much as writing had become. In fact, much of what I wrote about in those days was formulated on those early morning walks at the rec center, and often it was digested on the mid-morning walks at Pinkerton Park. I walked to think. I walked to escape from the thoughts I was thinking. I walked for hours sometimes, just hashing out my situation and trying to find the escape hatch. I walked sometimes, just to keep moving, because sitting still made it feel like this whole nightmare would catch me and consume me. I walked sometimes, just to stay away from the lot that was befalling me.
      It was lonely. More lonely than I have ever been in my life. I had conversations with no one else but myself. I can understand how that can drive a person to madness if it goes on long enough. No one counters your desperate thoughts. Nobody holds your sadness in check. You voice those things to only yourself and nobody says “Come on man…I’m here. You aren’t entirely alone.” I had friends I could call, but they all lived somewhere else. Or the ones close by had jobs and families and they didn’t have time for a homeless guy sitting on a bench in a city park in the middle of the morning. They cared, but they had no idea how really desperate I was and so there was no urgency. And I felt guilty even asking them so I never did. So I walked. Alone.
     Some days, there was rain and I would sit under the pavilions on the picnic tables. The rain would pour down hard enough that I was invisible under there. Had anyone come to the park, like the Franklin PD who rolled through every few hours, they would have never seen me for the sheets of rain that formed a curtain around the gazebo. Those were the days I could cry. I cried a lot but much of it stayed inside. But when it rained and I felt invisible, I could let it out. And I did.
     I would walk sometimes all day, alternating between sitting on a bench and walking the trail. When afternoon came and people who had been there earlier were going home to their families and their dinner table, I would cry again. Sometimes I couldn’t hide it under a pavilion roof. Sometimes I had to turn my head as a stranger walked past me on the trail. “He’s going home,” I would think to myself. “He’s done his walking and he’s going home to his wife and his family and his home.” I would think of this stranger sitting at a dinner table, having a conversation, laughing, smiling. I would think of him relaxing in his favorite chair, taking his dog out for a walk, climbing into bed. Then I would think of the car, and the pain in my back and the stiffness in my neck and the shame.
     Some days I would walk around downtown Franklin just to be near other people. Downtown Franklin is a beautiful little area dating back to the late 1700’s. Main Street bustles with shops and shoppers and cafĂ©’s and artsy people walking around with seven-dollar latte’s and trendy clothes, talking mainly about the music industry. I walked among them with no latte, and no trendy clothes. I remember catching my reflection in a storefront window once. I was noticeably thinner. I was clean, my clothes were clean. I had shaved. Nothing about my appearance, save maybe the weight loss, betrayed my homelessness. But I saw it. I saw it in my eyes, me…looking back at me.
Hollow. Hopeless.
I know myself well enough to recognize all those tears I was holding back and the memories that were, even in that instant, flooding my mind. I saw what no one else could have seen that day. I saw who I used to be, overlaid with who I was now and it broke my heart. After that, I no longer looked into windows. I no longer could bear seeing my reflection. It just hurt too much.
     Some days I had some work. I found an odd job from a friend and I was busy trying to earn a few dollars. I built a chicken coop once for the woman who would eventually allow me to park on her property. I had never built a coop before and she showed me a picture and I set to work. When I was done, her mother said it was the nicest chicken coop she’d ever owned and she’d had them all her life. I was proud of that. In a world that was spiraling daily and tearing out my hull on the rocks of an economy that would not relent…I could build the nicest chicken coop this woman had ever seen. You take your happiness were you find it sometimes.
     Afternoons often approached with a sense of impending doom. No matter what kind of day I’d had, good or bad, in the back of my mind was that car and those weeds. It was there like a specter. It was there like the feeling in your gut when your dad pulls up in the driveway and you got an “F” on your report card and he was about to find out. It was there like going to the doctor and expecting a bad report. The car. The weeds. The hiding. The tossing and turning and exhaustion. The nervousness of racing into the hiding place and hoping that no one saw you one more night.
The shame.
     Afternoons were the great blank spot in my day. The great void. Summer made it worse because it was light until nine p.m. and I was tired by seven. Regardless of what time the sun set, I still had to be up before five to avoid being seen, so summer months just meant I slept less. A lot of time, if I had gas in my car, I would drive to my daughter’s school and pick her up. We’d go to McDonald’s for a Coke and to spend time together. Not too many months after this all began she discovered I was homeless. I had left my sleeping bag rolled up behind my seat and she saw it. I couldn’t lie to her any longer. It broke my heart.
     Finally, night was here and time to hide the car. This, for me, was as close to pulling up in a driveway as I could get. I waited, I circled the church, and when I had a break when no cars were coming, I made the mad dash for the back side of the building. There, lights off so no one would see me, I’d back my car into those high weeds until they sprung back up around me like a curtain. Then came the waiting. Then the sigh of relief when enough time passed that I realized no one saw me. Then came the routine of sleeping bags and warm clothes and trying to find some spot in the positioning of the seat that didn’t hurt too bad. Then…when I was settled in and still, there came the memories, and the tears. There was my sleeping companion…hopelessness
And another day in my journey was over."

Is this anything like your day, madam FLOTUS? I'm pretty sure the answer is "no."
You have two lovely daughters. Have you ever cried yourself to sleep at night because they were stuck in a house with a drunk, drug addicted abuser who was married to her mom? No? Then you don't really know hopelessness. Not really.
Did you put out almost 400 resumes and get no offers? Have you ever looked at a $20 bill and wondered how you were going to buy gas, get something to eat, and maybe spend some time with your child on it? No? Then you don't really know hopelessness. Not really.
Have you ever woken up to frost inside the car you're sleeping in because it was so cold at night that your breath froze to the windshield? I have. 
I also lost THREE job offers because of your husbands devastating "Affordable Care Act." Have you ever made a promise to your daughter and then had to break it because the job you were offered was rescinded before you ever even got started? I have. If you haven't then you don't know what hopelessness is. not really.
Have you ever had to walk through a grocery store and "casually" try to eat all the free food samples you could, because it's the only food you can find? Have you ever been entirely at the mercy of public restrooms, or has the county recreation center been the only place you could take a shower? No? I have. I lived like that for six years. Six years of the eight that your husband was president. Imagine a six year chunk of your daughter's lives being torn from you. Imagine going from your mid-forties to your fifties without a home of your own. 
In all that time, I worked. I took odd jobs, I did carpentry, I even washed a friend's windows for $100 because I needed the money. I remained in my daughter's life because she needed me and I made this sacrifice for her sake. You want to know hopelessness...I can teach you a thing or two about it. 
We've had eight long, arduous, grinding years of it. Because of the horrible policies of your husband and your party. And -in fairness- because of the tone-deaf RINO's who ignored the pleading of their own constituents, and never told your husband "No." We have suffered, madam FLOTUS. We had no hope at all. Those of us who believe in work, and earning what we get, and ambition, and who despise the idea of living off the government...we were hopeless and hurting. 
Into this abyss came a lifeline in the form of Donald Trump. He is rough around the edges. He is bold and brash and not at all a velvet glove. He is a sledgehammer, not a scalpel. He LOVES this great country and believes in us...it's citizens. In other words, he is the antithesis of your husband. 
He came along and became our voice. He became my voice. He gave a damn about men like me. He said what we were all thinking and feeling. ALL of us. Including those 300 or so counties that voted for your husband last time, but voted for Trump this time. Including the states that Hillary so smugly thought she had sewed up. He heard all the voices that your husband turned a deaf ear to. 
He brought us hope. Hope in ourselves...not in the government. 
Now you come to the end of your time here and you whine to Oprah about going to bed hopeless because of Trump. Really? You want to compare notes? You want to look at my life and see me sleeping in a Volvo, or in the Yukon I bought when the Volvo died, (With money that was earmarked for an apartment, but I needed transportation more desperately.)
You want to see how I slept in single digit cold or sweltering nights? How I ate cup-o-noodles dry sometimes because I had no hot water?
You want to see the tears in my eyes as I talked to my daughter and reassured her I was okay and this was going to end soon? I'll show you hopeless, Michelle. I'll show it to you in buckets full.
You lost. Your legacy didn't carry water with the American people and so your replacement will be the exact opposite, not a continuation of your failed, miserable policies.
You have attacked us, divided us, shamed us, angered us, lied to us repeatedly, indebted us, and very nearly broke us. But you didn't quite finish the job. That may be the only thing your husband failed at in his plan. The only goal he missed. He didn't break us. We're still here. We're still AMERICANS. We still believe in work, and dreams, and ambition, and only taking what we earn. You failed to break us. 
You promised hope. You sucked it from us like a vacuum. Now you talk about your hopelessness as if you've ever felt that emotion. You need to never utter that word again. You need to never speak about hopelessness ever again. Because you have no idea how it feels and you embarrass yourself when you try to co-opt that word for yourself. If you want to know hopelessness, madam FLOTUS, look at the rubble I had left to rebuild from. Give me back the six years you took from me. 
Better yet, respectfully...just go away.