In the mornings, Rick sits on the Lake Eola Park bench closest to the small bridge with the extremely cumbersome arch. In the afternoons, you can find him nestled under the 408 at the beginnings of Magnolia. Sometimes he has head phones on. Always he is reading.
At least two times a week for the past year, I’ve drove past the sixty-year-old and wondered about his story and what he possible could be reading. In my mind, Rick was not just another homeless man. He was a dignified professor performing some integrated long social experiment. So it took me awhile to build up the courage to finally approach him. My fear: Rick snapping at me in public and shouting things like, “You ruined it!” and “You’ve blown my cover as an undercover homeless person.”
Turns out, Rick is soft-spoken. I doubt he’s ever yelled. And while sometimes I think its important to poke and prod someone for their story–you know, get down to the nitty gritty–I equally think there’s strength in keeping it simple. And Rick is very simple, as you will soon see. This interview took place at Lake Eola Park and lasted only five minutes. In exchange for his time I gave him a copy of Fragmentation + Other Stories, to which he graciously accepted.
How did you end up on the benches of Eola Park?
I came here from Key West… looking for work. Didn’t find much. I was a cook, a line chef, for my catering line. Then in the divorce, my wife got that… as well as everything else.
She got the catering company?
Yeah… she got the catering company and everything else. So I started traveling around. I was in Key West for about ten years. And then things got screwed up pretty bad. So I thought I’d try somewhere else to work. I thought, Orlando! Big tourist town. Lots of restaurants. But… [he gives a major thumbs down] that went right down the tubes.
Are you looking for a job now?
I’m always looking for a job.
Do you have any family?
Three kids… somewhere. My wife had them adopted after the divorce. When I found out, it was too late to do anything about it.
Where do you spend most of your time?
Walking around. Sitting here reading.
I always see you with a book in your hand and usually under the 408. Why there?
Why not? It’s a nice place to read. And I don’t get too wet when it rains.
What are you reading today?
[He turns the front of the book towards me so I can see it.] Praying For Sleep
What’s your favorite genre?
I don’t just have one. I’ll read anything but Romanticism and Westerns.
How many books do you think you’ve read in your lifetime?
Oh… at least 20,000.
What’s been your favorite read?
My favorite read is The Bible. I read it at least twice, three times a year.
Really? Do you learn something new each time you read it?
Yeah. I learn about me.
What have you learned about yourself?
I’m not the bad guy that I think I am sometimes. It’s always good to make yourself self-aware.
Where do you get your books?
People give them to me. Or I find ‘em.
What do you love/hate about Orlando?
I don’t hate anything about Orlando. There’s no use. It’s a waste of energy.
Then what do you love?
Everything… because God gave it to us. And I get to enjoy it.
Do you find that people are nice to you?
What do you want to tell people that walk by and maybe stare at you?
It only takes one mistake and you could be the same as me.
If you could be anywhere else in the world, where would you be?
I’m happy where ever I am.
Fair enough. Now I’d like to do some word associations. Say the first thing that comes to mind when I say the following words:
Once in a while
Try to do good.
It never comes.
If you could go back in time and do one thing over in life, what would it be?
You’d do it all the same?
I made the choices I made. I thought they were right. So why would I change them?
But are you happy with those choices?
Yeah… I am happy. [Smiles]
Interview Date: October 25, 2011