Friendly Faces

The other day I was studying at the cafe (the one where my photos are on display) and a man walked in. He intrigued me in a way, so I nodded to him. He nodded back.

After he found a chair I continued to eye him covertly, deliberating about whether to talk with him and request his permission for a portrait. He sat and fiddled with his flip phone for a moment. Then he got up, walked over to one of my photographs on the wall, and stared with his head cocked.

I must admit, I really enjoyed watching this—a man peer upon one of my photographs the way a person peers upon art at a museum. As he turned around, I got up, walked toward him, and said hello.

He said it was nice to walk into a place and see friendly faces—and by friendly faces he meant his friends in the photographs.

The man, it turns out, receives care from a mental health facility in town. He knows personally Kevin and Mama Peaches, two of my photographic subjects, which explains why he was staring.

We began talking and then sat down together.

I wish I could recall everything the man said. He went on about breaking a church window ten years ago or so—an action he still feels guilty about—and how that landed him at the mental health clinic.[1] But he’s not upset. Oh, there are some things he could complain about, he said, but he tries to avoid complaining.

The man currently receives $655/mo from the state through the clinic. That’s just enough to pay rent, and only recently has he acquired a place. Everything else he hustles for. Just that morning, the man had scanned a resume to his Gmail account so he could send it to local temp agencies.

Sometimes the man feels exploited, he explained,[2] but he also thinks that people are generally good to him. He likes the Mormon community, said that life is harder in other states because people don’t seem as concerned with trying to be good. And he’s grateful to the clinic. They paid for his new coveralls so he could go to work.

After we talked for a bit, I gave the man a ride to where he was headed. While in the car, his phone rang. Dutifully, and very professionally, the man told someone on the other end that he could do the job, that he could get there on time, and that he would. He hung up.

“A temp agency?” I asked.

Yep. The man landed a gig for the following morning in the city. Said he had to be there by 6am. When I asked how he was gonna get there, seeing as the buses don’t run that early, he explained that he’d catch the train up that night, bum around the city or find a corner for sleeping, and report to work in the morning. Said he’d grab a blanket from his Grandma’s before he left.[3]

“How much will you make on the job?” I probed.

“About $70.”

  1. It seems unlikely that the man was hospitalized over this one incident, but it obviously was a defining moment for him.
  2. Although he wasn't explicit, I think the man meant he gets underpaid and overworked because of his disability.
  3. Nightime temps at the time were in the high 20s to low 30s.