I – The Weary Traveler
Nicholas Parson was a short term tenant of mine and he stayed at Lebaum St for a few weeks here and there while he worked for a law firm doing labor and employment research. He found my house on Airbnb and although all I had available was a lumpy futon shoved in the corner of a musty basement, it did the trick for now.
Since he was hired by Legal E, an attorney staffing firm, his job could last one day to several months.
On a week that he wasn’t staying at my place, he was staying at the Capital Comfort Hostel, a barebones hostel that offered little except its proximity to downtown.
The rooms were barren and the double bunks offered little privacy. There was however a book library, a terrace and there was always hot coffee or tea in the lobby.
The patio was minuscule and dimly lit but it was perfect for grabbing a cigarette without facing the noisy street and the onslaught of panhandlers bumming a buck or a smoke.
This was exactly the place where Nick met Kevin.
“Howdy gov’nah, it’s rather nippy today, isn’t it”
“Yes indeed. I’m Nick, by the way. Are you new in town?”
“Hello Nick. Delighted to meet you. I’m Kevin, and I surmise from my Queen’s English, you can tell I’m not from here.. I just got off a bus from Ft Lauderdale – 20 hours of pure horror.”
“Haha, Decided a little change of pace? This town is getting too big for its britches. Ain’t nothing like sleepy Lauderdale.”
“Well, yes, after five years, I finally got tired of the touristy beach life. But the reason why I left Florida is because of their unfriendly treatment of immigrants.”
“Really, I thought Florida would be friendly. Heck with its proximity to the Caribbean it has a large population of Hispanics.”
“Yes, you’re right, but they’re starting to crack down on the undocumented and those who have overstayed their VISA.”
“I see, but why did you choose DC?”
“Because like Chicago and New York, it’s a sanctuary city. Not only does the police not cooperate with ICE, they are also super progressive and provide lots of programs to help the undocumented.”
“Right on Brother.” Nick lit his menthol and offered one to Kevin. They continued to make small talk and before long they had put a large dent in Nick’s daily ration of half a pack.
Hey Chito, I met this Englishman today at the Hostel. Older guy, but down to earth – must be in his late 50s. Just arrived from Florida and a little down on his luck. Looking for temporary housing in a pinch. Got anything?
I read and reread the text then chuckled loudly. People in the subway turned their heads to see what the matter was. This was right up my alley.
Well you know the futon in the basement is spoken for. So the only thing I have is the loveseat in the attic.
Nick so happened to be on his phone and quickly responded back
Well that would be perfect. He’s looking for a place for just a couple of weeks until he can find something more permanent. I’m sure he’s happy to do some work for you in return. He claims he’s pretty handy.
The next day, the phone rang – an out-of-town area code. What took him so long?
“Hello, is this Kevin?”
“My Lord it very well is. Hello Chee-to. Nick is totally smitten with you.”
We chatted for a few minutes to break the ice.
Then I dived right into it.
“I’m going to small claims court next week. My contractor who painted the house is suing me. I want you to go as my witness.”
“My gosh. Suing you? What the hell did you do to him? Not pay him for his work?”
“No, I did not pay him. We signed a contract that I would design and create a couple of websites for him in return for painting the house.”
“Well then who didn’t hold up his end of the bargain.”
“Yeah, he painted the house, but did a shitty job, There’s no uniformity in thickness. When you open the door and let light in, you’ll see the sheen differences – it’s as plain as day.”
“And did he like your websites?”
“I’m surprised he didn’t – I spent hours building him a content-rich site for his contracting business on WordPress. And he just sloughed it off like it was some malicious spam. He told me he never wanted to see me again, so that meant I wouldn’t be able to complete his rap portfolio website.”
“That’s real dodgy. So what exactly do you want me to do ole’ chap?”
“As a housemate and tenant you’ll be able to provide credible testimony to the utter conditions of the paint job throughout the house.”
“I really don’t want to go to court, though”
“I can understand how uncomfortable you are with this task. But I wanna win this case and you’re the only sane person I have in the house who’s able to serve as witness.”
“How about Nick?”
“Nick no longer stays here, and he’s too busy at work. Even though the testimony will only take a few minutes, you would have to spend several hours in court waiting until you’re called.”
I was surprised that Kevin agreed to serve as my witness. There was hesitation but there was also desperation. And in this case the fear of the gavel was trumped by the fear of the streets.
As with all civil cases, the judge insisted that I meet with the plaintiff first before we went to trial.
Charles was suing me for $5000, at that time the limit for small claims cases.
During mediation, I was willing to give Charles half. I knew he didn’t deserve it, but in the interest of time and temperament, I was willing to cut my losses and meet him halfway.
“No way!” exclaimed Charles. “I want the whole Five Grand.”
I looked at Charles incredulously. What a greedy, stubborn idiot. Guess we’re going to trial after all.
And on the day of the trial, Kevin provided credible testimony to the quality of the paint job.
I printed out large screenshots of the homepage and provided expert explanation to the amount of work I had put in.
The judge then agreed that we both did our respective parts but because the contractor had let me go and thus preventing me from completing the second site, I had to pay him a petty $900 judgment which paled in comparison to the $2500 he had asked for.
On the way home from the small claims court house in Judiciary Square, we stopped at my beloved stomping grounds, The Irish Channel, for a pint of sweet malt and roasted stout.
It appeared that I had made the right decision to welcome Kevin to my house. He would get free room and board in return he would be my assistant, taking care of household chores and pinch hit here and there.
Kevin stayed busy. Besides keeping the house clean, he fixed the unevenness in the paint job and even applied a coat of poly to the floor in the attic.
But it became abundantly clear almost from the very beginning that Kevin had two vices. He smoked like and an old English chimney and he drank like a rum-soaked Seaman.
So the room and board that we agreed to also meant subsidizing Kevin’s substance use and addictions.
Two vices that were wrecking havoc on a body that had already taken quite a beating and two vices that a penniless man couldn’t afford to partake in.
I posted a rental ad on Craigslist. Not even an hour after I posted it, a man by the name of Joseph Smith responded and brought his wife to see the attic. I was out of town for my truck driving training, so Kevin showed the attic to the nice couple.
“By George, I have some wonderful news for you,” Kevin exclaimed over the phone. “The couple loves the attic and will co-sign a lease immediately for their 19 year-old son!”
I was struck by how quickly the room got rented. Perhaps it sounded too good to be true.
“Great job Kevin,” I replied exuberantly. “You’ve definitely earned your pay this week.”
Joseph moved in during the weekend and almost immediately things began to deteriorate. Although the room was only for him – not even overnight guests were allowed – as specified in the lease, we started to see Joseph’s friends come over, stay up late and then sleep over. This happened Sat night, then Sun. Mon & Tuesday the same faces and more – it became a revolving door.
“Kevin you gotta put a stop to this. This is clearly a violation of the lease and unfair to the other tenants in the house,” I proclaimed.
“You got it Gov’nah. I’m gonna pull him this chap by the knickers and talk some sweet sense into him. It’s an attic, not a whole bloody apartment.”
It was Kevin’s goal all along to get a job and become financially independent. The handful of jobs he had held in Florida and before that California was in the hospitality business. His latest job, he was lead bartender and assistant manager of a Ft Lauderdale beach bar, so he had the customer service experience and definitely the personality to charm both long-term Floridians and sun-seeking passerbys. People just didn’t love his personality. They were enamored by his thick London accent and his way of making the most benign things sound exciting.
But everywhere I took Kevin to get a job, he would get turned down. Without a social security card, most eating establishments would not give him the time of day. Still, there was no harm in trying. One day, after completing his daily chores, I dropped Kevin off at the Navy Yard. His plan for the day was to walk around and visit local watering holes and see who might turn a blind eye for a charming Englishman with a thick accent and a strong grip. I gave Kevin instructions to catch a metro back home once he completed his cold calls.
Three hours later, I started getting worried. Four, Five, Six. Then suddenly my phone sprang to life.
“Hello Gov’nah,” it was his typical cheerful voice, though it sounded a bit subdued.
“KEVIN, I’ve been worried sick about you. Where are you?”
“At the George Washington Hospital. I passed out on the street in the Navy Yard. Didn’t even make it to the first pub on the list. A good Samaritan caught me as I was about to fall and dialed 911.”
“Oh my Lord. I can’t believe this. Are you going to be ok?”
“Don’t know yet. I had a mild aneurysm. The doctors want to do some more tests and monitor my condition for a couple of days. In the meanwhile, I’m under medication and just resting.”
“Oh thank Heavens. So glad to get your phone call. Please keep me posted and let me know if there’s anything you need.”
“Sure thing Mate.” With that Kevin signed off and I breathed a sigh of relief.
When Kevin returned from the hospital two days later, we ensured he got plenty of rest. We took care of his daily chores and we stocked the pantry with his favorite Special K cereal and whole milk in the fridge. We ensured there was no beer or liquor and he would not be getting any allowance for his favorite Marlboros.
The doctor didn’t recommend surgery because that would be too risky. After all the aneurysm was rather small. The best advice was to not overwork and to stay healthy.
The doctor did say it was ok to work on the computer. So, I gladly trained Kevin on basic front end skills to create simple WordPress sites. There were a couple of restaurant sites such as the Irish Channel that needed to be updated, and Kevin’s beginner skills was more than sufficient.
I also got a request to shoot some pictures at a Bethesda sports bar called Brickside. We brought along Erica, who would be modeling the shoots. Since Kevin was bored, he asked to come along. Sure why not, it would be good for him to get some fresh air and sample some of the food.
The proprietor, Brian, laid out a bunch of dishes and cocktails on the bar for us to photograph. Some of the more attractive dishes, we had Erica pose pretending to eat healthy food. She had a pretty smile and her reddish brown curls complemented the decor.
Jordan was taking the photos and I was assisting with the lighting. Meanwhile Kevin was free to walk around and mingle. Since we didn’t get paid a killing for this gig, the owner gave us a small tab for dinner and drinks. As soon as I turned around to look for Kevin, he was already making friends with the bartender and a frosty pint in his hand. Beer wasn’t the only thing Kevin consumed that day. He also helped himself to the tasty cocktails that were arranged neatly on brightly-lit bar.
Yup, Kevin was at it again. Before long, he had bummed a smoke from an unsuspecting patron. Probably persuaded him with his thick Anglo-Saxon accent.
Kevin’s only job that evening was to watch my car to ensure I didn’t get a ticket. Not only did he fail miserably, but he drank a mixture of beer and cocktail fervently like there was no tomorrow.
We would be dragging his drunk ass home tonight.
Hours later, when the shoot was a wrap and we were hanging out at the bar with Erica. Kevin went out to the patio for his obligatory smoke.
“So what’s with that douche bag of yours?” asked Erica?
“Yeah, why is snaggletooth flirting with me all night, whispering Shakespearean stanzas into my ear like I would be impressed. Staring at my boobs like I’m some piece of meat?”
I rolled my eyes in utter disgust – this would be the last time I bring Kevin anywhere.
It had been a few weeks since the incident and Kevin was progressively recovering to the point that he could do house chores such as sweeping, washing dishes and taking out the trash. Unfortunately, Kevin had resumed smoking in earnest. He rationalized his smoking thinking that he’s making strides, yet he’s slowly going back to his old way. When we try to help him, he shrugs us off and continues to lie about how much he’s smoking
Online, I was still training Kevin on updating websites. He showed interest, but almost every time he completed a task, he would brag about it until I got literally got tired of listening.
Sadly he was spending more time on dating websites than actually do productive work. What would any woman see in a penniless, old man? In reality, he was suffering from delusions of grandeur. He was of the mindset that some attractive American woman would come sweep him of his feet and marry him.
One morning, I arrived at Lebaum to check on Kevin. He was not there. Did he go for a walk?
“Hey Joseph, have you seen Kevin,” I yelled upstairs, doubtful that they would provide any useful information.
“Yeah, he passed out last night. The hospital had to come get his ass.”
“Passed out? That MoFo OD’d big time,” came a snide remark from an anonymous member of Joseph’s peanut gallery.
Not an hour later, I got a call from Kevin.
“What happened? You seemed perfectly fine when I dropped you off last night?”
“Yeah, I believe I had bloody too much to drink. They’re gonna discharge me in a little. Can you please swing by and get me. I’m at United Medical Center in Southeast, just down the road from you.”
Something didn’t seem right. I didn’t see Kevin drink a drop last night and I didn’t think he had any spare change to buy alcohol. And if he did, it wasn’t like Kevin to pass out on a few drinks.
I remember asking Kevin to talk to Joseph and his raucous friends last night, and I saw him approach them casually. It looked more like they were cutting a deal than he was giving the upper hand. I wondered in the back of my mind whether they had given him something to keep quiet.
As far as I knew, Kevin didn’t use drugs. But if that was the only thing he could get ahold of, rather than a pack of cigarettes or a six-pack, it wouldn’t surprise me if he did the former.
When I picked up Kevin up, I decided not to mention my suspicion.
Instead of I asked him about the surgery needed to fix his aneurysm.
“Yeah, it’s pretty risky. Plus the surgery is very expensive and as you know I don’t have insurance. Wish healthcare here was like the UK where it’s completely free.”
“That’s what I hear. How are your girls doing by the way?”
“I messaged them on Facebook the other day. They’ve become beautiful young woman now and they miss me dearly. Haven’t seen them in eight years, ever since I came to the States.”
“Listen you gotta stop smoking. Didn’t your doctor instruct you to keep your blood pressure down to prevent rupturing your aneurysm?”
“Yes she did. Said nicotine is a bad thing. Wish I could stop, but I just can’t. I’m afraid I’m an addict and I just don’t see me quit cold turkey.”
Over the next couple of weeks, the quality of work began to decline. It wasn’t that he couldn’t do it. He no longer wanted to and he showed no interest in even doing the basic chores like taking out the trash. Meanwhile the decorum on Lebaum Street continued to go downhill and Kevin wasn’t doing a damn thing about it.
It was during this time, that Kevin also started working for Jordan doing odds and ends and getting paid with cigarettes and red bull. This was fine but first and foremost he had to complete his obligations with me since I was paying for his room and board.
“Hey Jordan, what’s Kevin been up to?” I inquired over the phone.
“He’s hanging in there – we worked late, so he spent the night in my place.”
“Ok, that’s good to know. Hope he’s doing fine emotionally – know he misses his girls back home.”
“Yeah in fact, he tells me that he got an email from the Scotland Yard. They actually want Kevin to return to London for a few months to testify against a Catholic priest whose accused of molesting a bunch of kids in the early 70s.”
“Is that right? Well how is he going to fly back when he doesn’t even have a passport?”
When Kevin returned home that afternoon, we got in my car and entered the military base down the street heading straight for the Slip Inn Marina. It’s a little dive bar with a nice kitchen known for its breaded chicken wings called George wings, presumably from a previous short order cook. On summer nights, there would be live bands and dancing, but since spring was still trying to make a pronounced statement, there was hardly a soul.
“So tell me about this priest?” I asked looking over the riverbank.
“Philip Temple is his name. He’s accused of molesting a dozen victims in different care homes around London.”
“That’s despicable. What a shame. I’m very sorry to hear this Kevin.”
“Yeah can’t wait to stare him in the eye and testify against this monster.”
“I hope you get your day in court so they can lock this bastard up so he can’t do any more harm to children.”
“The UK government wants to fly me back to London this summer to serve as a key witness. This would be ideal. I’ll get to see my daughters, take advantage of the free healthcare, and when it’s all done, they’ll even fly me back to the States.”
“That would be superb. But there were 12, you said. Why you?”
“Well this is not the first time, We’ve testified before in 1999, but it fell on deaf’s ears and he was exonerated.
“I’ll be darned.”
Kevin looked out at a passing scow which set sail from Alexandria across the Potomac.
“I know this may not seem like the right time to say this, but I think you’re well aware that your work has really gone downhill. You don’t even bother doing the dishes, taking the trash cans out to the street each Friday morning so that trash bins can be emptied. I support the fact that you’re also working for Jordan, but don’t forget who’s paying for your room and board.”
“Yes indeed. I’m deeply sorry about this. My mind has just been on a million things recently and this case is not helping.”
“Yeah what a sicko. But how are you’re gonna go through customs without a passport.”
“The Embassy. The agent instructed me to visit the British Embassy in DC and apply for one,” he replied excitedly.
Again, I rolled my eyes. As much as I wanted to believe all this, it seemed rather incredulous.
“You said, you got an email. Do you mind showing it to me?” I inquired.
“I’m afraid I can’t Mate. I was instructed not to share this email with anyone. The fact that I’m telling you about all this is already ay huge security violation.”
“Ok, whatever. Say I’m going to grab a quick workout at the gym. You’re coming with me or do you wanna hang out here and wait for me?”
An hour later while I was on the stair stepper, I get a text from Kevin.
“Chito, you’re still working out? You need to come here, now”
“What’s the matter?”
“I’m sitting here alone in the Tiki bar and two military officers just approached me and asked me what I was doing.”
“I told them I was working on the computer and waiting for you to finish your workout.”
“Did they ask to see an ID?”
“Thank God, no. I was scared shitless. I don’t have papers and the my biggest fear is getting detained in a military base and handed off to ICE.”
“So glad nothing happened. Wrapping up now – be there shortly.”
I was glad to have this talk with Kevin, but I didn’t come away with the feeling that anything was going to change.
By the end of the week, I had asked Kevin to move out. He had stayed rent-free for over four months now, and I felt that it was no longer my responsibility to care for him.
DC was not his home. It wasn’t like the UK was a third world country where he was in danger of persecution. What he really needed was to return to UK where both the government and his family would care for him. He wasn’t going to get any more love here.
“Well, I appreciate you taking me in chap. But I’m not really homeless, you know. I’ve made friends here now. I have a plan to get my passport, a VISA, and hope to make America my home away home.”
Kevin acknowledged my request and said he would move as soon as he earned enough money to get his own place.
But when? Nobody would hire his sorry ass. Despite been a super sanctuary city, DC retailers with their close proximity to the seat of U.S. government is extra careful to abide by the Nation’s labor laws.
It was obvious Kevin loved his country. Not a day passed without him boasting about the mighty Great Britain. She was once a mighty Empire, but today she was weathered and frail.
I asked Nick what I should do.
“I definitely feel your situation. After all, I take responsibility for making the referral.”
“If he knew what was good for him, he’d choose to return home. He’s overstayed his VISA for eons, and insists on staying and mooching off his friends with his English charm.”
“Well, Chito, I wouldn’t do it. But if you did, I wouldn’t blame you.”
I pondered this thought for a whole week before making a call.
I was reluctant to doing it, but realizing that this really was the right thing to do, I called the ICE tip line. I was put on hold for over an hour, and finally when I heard a human voice, I reluctantly reported an undocumented immigrant living under my roof.
The help desk wrote down every piece of detail meticulously like a dispatcher, thanked me for doing the right thing, then abruptly ended the call with a mention that they would contact me if they had any more questions.
I hung up not sure where this would go and not hopeful any resolution would be made. I’m sure they get thousands of a call every day. He wasn’t a fugitive and he wasn’t on the Top Ten.
The next couple of weeks was status quo. Things didn’t seem to improve much, but thankfully no major incidents.
Kevin continued talking more and more about the case and spending more time with Jordan.
I was also in the process of evicting Joseph for failure to pay rent and for harboring unauthorized occupants.
When I visited Lebaum one quiet Sunday, I noticed that everything was taken from Kevin’s room. Had he moved out? I doubt it unless he moved to Jordan’s place.
“Hey Jordan, have you seen Kevin?”
“Not since I gave him directions to the British Embassy. He informed me that he would make a visit during office hours and would inform me once he got ahold of a passport. But that was day’s ago.”
“Really, so Kevin decided to go to the Embassy after all. What a dumb ass.”
“Well I helped him by taking and printing out the photos and the application. I even gave him some money to pay the fees.”
“OMG. you were accessory to a crime.”
“Do you think this was a sting?”
“It very well could be. All his luggage is gone – he took everything, even his favorite flat cap. Well everything except for his trash.”
Sadly we did not hear from Kevin again. Perhaps, we’d get a ring reporting that he found a place and taken heed to my request that he move out.
Like an alien from a strange planet, he mysteriously disappeared. Or perhaps he got plucked away to some some place far away.
Well in fact he did. It wasn’t until the following year that I got an unexpected phone call. Signal was weak with lots of static.
“Hello gov’nah, it’s Kevin. Calling from the Big Smoke. How are things Mate?”
“What, you’re in London? What the hell happened?”
“Yup got deported. When I showed up at the Embassy, they were already waiting for me.
“I’ll be darned.”
“The authorities detained me, put me in a police cruiser, headed straight to Lebaum Street to get my stuff, then I was on the next plane headed to Heathrow. Didn’t even get a chance to catch my breath or to say goodbye.”
“This is just crazy!” I gasped out loud.