UR, 60, looks years older than his real age. As you read along you’ll know what his name is, but I think in his case, its really cool to know his real name. He’s a United States Navy Seal and he’s homeless in Atlanta. At the cross section of Peachtree street and 10th street in Midtown Atlanta this past Saturday night we talked. We paused many times when he’s interrupted by other homeless people, or by sirens of emergency vehicles, or when he just stops long to think about an answer. As he makes space for me to sit, he removes a plastic bag of food and puts it on top of his cart.
Heart: Do you want to save this (food)?
UR: Uh, I… Well, sometimes, I never get a dollar. Not one dollar. But, sometimes, when I fall asleep, and I wake up, there’s food everywhere. But, I never throw it away. I never waste food. Its a sin to waste food. I go around, all these homeless people sleeping around on these benches, “Hey, here!” And I hand them over the extra food I’ve got.
People bring me food from the finest restaurants in town. Not no Mc Donald’s. Real food. 40, 50$ plates. I wake up these other homeless guys, “Hey brother, eat.” I come up here at 3:30am one time, I up to right there, (motions to the intersection we’re sitting at), my hip was going out pushing my cart everywhere. Lady pulls up besides me in her car, “Uncle Roy, I’ve been driving up all over the city looking for you.” She hands me five giant fresh hot pizzas and a case of water. She says, “Uncle Roy now you know what to do with these.”
I went all over the city, all these homeless people sleeping on the benches, sleeping on the ground, “Hey wake up, have some hot nutrition. Hydration.”
Heart: What do you do when the weather gets cold? Or hot?
UR: Uh… Sometimes I pass out on the side of the road, my hip gives out. (Laughs) And about two weeks ago, it was super super hot, and there was a whole family living in the park. There was a grand mama, a mama, two teenage girls, and two grammar school age children. The grand mother had a powered wheelchair and it broke down on her, at night in the pouring down rain. So, they slept over there in those wooden chairs out in the open for a week. And it was super super super super hot one day. I unloaded my whole cart, unstrapped everything, broke it down, the grand mama sitting over there and the sun’s just beating her. Hurting her bad. I told her two teenage daughters, “You take my cart and you put your grandmother in it. And you bring her over here and park her in the shade before the sun kills her.” Yeah, then I go there and I wrestle that electric wheel chair, that thing’s 400 pounds, took me a half a day to wrestle that thing across that lawn.
Heart: Your hip’s out, why do you want to do that?
UR: I was put on this earth to help, guard and protect. I wasn’t put here to judge. There’s only one judge and he’s up there. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, what name you call him, we’re all brothers and sisters, because we’re all children of one God. He’s the only one that can judge anyone. He didn’t put me on this earth to judge people. He put me on this earth to help and protect and that’s what I do.
Heart: Aren’t you mad at him that this happened to you?
UR: No ma’m, coz, (long pause) I’m United States Navy Seal. I’ve been to all over the world. I’ve faced death in all these places many, many, many times. God brought me 360 degrees full cycle back to the dirt I played in when I was a baby. I’m from right here. (Taps the side walk with his cane.)
(Long pause) If nothing else good never, ever, ever happens to me again, that’s the best thing. I didn’t die in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Syria, Singapore, Thailand, Phillipines, Korea, Japan. God brought me back to my dirt. And I’m proud to come back to die. I’m happy. I’m proud. He did me a service. All the time I’ve been stabbed, beaten, cut in POW camp, I could’ve died there. But, there’s no bullet, no bomb, there’s no enemy that can take your life. God decides when you live and die. And all the times, I should’ve been killed, and I’ve been killed twice and brought back to life, God said, “I’m through with him yet. I’m still using him.”
When God decides its time for me to go, like I said, I’m tickled to my heart and sould to be back where I was born. If nothing else ever good happens in my life, this is the best thing in the world. I made it all the way around the world through the meanest, baddest, ugliest things, back to my dirt.
I love it. And I love people, all people everywhere. I fly this flag (points at his folded American flag), this flag is my heart. But, I fight, serve, and protect all people under all flags. The only people that I think were put in a position to pass judgement on were the oppressors. Those who take food out of the mouths of those who’re trying to live.
I’m an expert marksman, sharp shooter and I’m a sniper. I killed people. I don’t answer to any human for that. I gotta answer one man when I die. I gotta pay for all the things I did. I’ve done good, I’ve done bad. I’m human.
Heart: Like all of us.
UR: I’ve been with every size, shape, no disrespect to you, I was a young man, I was single, I did what a young single man does, I’ve been with every size, shape and color and nationality of woman on earth. And I love everyone of them. Me personally, from my heart, my beliefs, I don’t go with men. I like women. (We both laugh) But, I’ve been with every kind of woman on this planet. And I love every single one of them that I’ve touched.
Heart: Do you have family?
UR: They’re all dead. (Long pause) Just me. I’m sure I’ve got kids all over the world, I’ve probably got babies running around in jungles. (We both laugh) That’s what I do, I’m a man. I was a young, single man. I did what young, single men do. And I don’t apologize for it.
(Another homeless man walks by us and waves, and UR says, “What’s up brother?”)
If you go to the park center and you look at a portrait or a painting or a statue or a sculpture, you’re appreciating the work the artist did. When I look at a woman, I’m doing the same thing. I’m appreciating the making and I’m admiring the beauty of his work. And I mean no disrespect there. God made you. He made you beautiful.
Heart: Thank you.
UR: That’s for me to enjoy. And look at. Now let me explain to you, my interpretation of what this statue represents (points at a sculpture installed recently at the street corner called Autoeater, where a car is being swallowed by a huge piece of marble) that’s the United States Navy Seal showing China and North Korea how we snack! Now you want some, come get some. (We both laugh) If you think you got something, bring it on. Coz, I’ll shut you down.
(UR starts rubbing his eyes.)
Heart: Are you sleepy? Its already 11:30 (pm).
UR: No. I can sleep in pouring down rain and when it’s super, super hot. Right now, my allergies are kicking in real bad. I’ve got a mental health, uh… mental health…
UR: PT… PT… Yeah, whatever you just said. (Laughs) And major depression disorder. And all these fancy words simply mean, there’s a chemical imbalance in the brain. And I got hit by a truck. I had a major hematoma, major concussion and a lot of brain damage.
Heart: Where were you when the truck hit you?
UR: I was on Clairmont road in Decatur. December 23rd, 2 nights before Christmas.
Heart: How did you pay for it?
UR: (Shrugs) I’ve got a lawyer working on it. It may take a couple of years. I’ve been rich, I’ve been poor, I’ve been rich, I’ve been poor, I’ve been rich, I’ve been poor, many many many times in my life. Right now, I’m poor. I’ll be rich again. But that’s all material, monetary.. uh, I’m always been rich in my heart. I’ve never been poor. Coz, I’ve love. Money means nothing. I’m rich because people know me, they respect me and they love me. That makes me rich.
Sometimes I don’t get to eat. I’ve been homeless a long time. My clothes aren’t the best. But they’re never filthy. I never smell bad, I never ..uh…
UR: I never stink. Because business owners know me, respect me, and I wait until there’s no one, you know, everything’s closed down, the side walks are empty, there’s no one around, I go behind the bushes, I get butt naked and I scrub myself with soap and a rag. Shave my face. And a lot of people say, “You don’t look homeless.” But, well, that’s the whole point. I’m not supposed to. Number one, I was raised that way. I’m the epitome of what is referred to as a Southern Gentleman. When I was little, growing up, and when I started coming of age, and getting interested in the ladies, I had aunts, grand mamas, mama, cousins, “OK, we know you’re a guy, we know you’re going to be interested in the females, you’re gonna do what boys do, but you will be a Southern gentleman. You will be respectable. Or, we will beat the hell out of you.” (Laughs)
Heart: That’s funny. How old are you?
UR: I’m 60. Its like an automobile, I got 60 years of very very hard mileage. I’ve put this body through some bad things. (Laughs) But, I’m still here. I’ll die when God says, “Come on home.” And until I die, until the very last breath leaves my body, I’ll be here to serve and protect.
(UR takes out a soiled brown paper tissue from his pocket, as he sees me sniffling.)
Heart: Thank you, I’ll be fine.
UR: One of the most biggest things, in my soul is integrity. Integrity means, doing the right thing even when no one’s looking. Even when no one will ever know. Just doing what’s right. And that’s how I live my life. If a guy pulls a knife on me, if a guy pulls a gun on me, I say, “My goodness, I’m old, I’m crippled, I’m tired, please son, walk away.”
Heart: Do they walk away?
UR: Nope. They’re young.
Heart: And stupid?
UR: That’s right. But, they want to be the man who beat Uncle Roy’s ass. If that’s what you want, “OK!” I wish they wouldn’t. I wish they went home. I tell them, “You’re drunk, go home.” And I’m very quiet and very polite. The first time. But, second time, I’m harsh. “I said, go away!” And I tell them, I’m United States Navy Seal, I don’t say it three times. I said it sweet and kind, I’ve said it harsh, but third time, I’m going to show you.
You’re going to sleep it off. Now you can go home and sleep it off, or you can sleep it off right here on the side walk. I’m offering you a place to lie down. And there’re several guys in the city, big boys, big men, they’ll tell you, “That old little bitty, crippled man, uhhhhh, damn! I don’t know what he did to me, but I sure slept good.”
UR: (Laughs) Woke up on the side walk the next morning. There’re 19 points on the human body that I can touch with 2 fingers to close your eyes and put you to sleep.
Heart: Wow. Don’t try that on me. (Laughs)
UR: No, no, no. (Laughs) When I was on seal team, I was the smallest man. All the big guys, “Look at that little guy.” And the other fellas that knew me, they already gave me a nick name. “Sand man.”
Heart: Sand man?
UR: There’s an old song, “Mr. Sand man, bring me a dream.” Google it, look it up.
Heart: Ok, I’ll do that.
UR: That’s why they gave me the nick name, Sand man, because I close their eyes and lay them down to sleep. The biggest, baddest, meanest, I’m like little David fighting Goliath.
UR: And all those big guys would pick on me, and all the guys who knew me would sit back and sing, “Mr. Sand Man, bring them a dream.” Coz, they knew that the biggest, meanest, baddest man on earth would close his eyes. And lie down on the side walk. (We both laugh)
(Two women pass us by avoiding eye contact) Oh my, my, my. I’ve got me some one more. One more before I die. (Looks back at me) I ask God, “Look, this is 2017. I haven’t had a woman since 2013.” And I don’t do the street woman, the prostitute kind of guy. But, I’m admiring God’s work and God’s creation.
(An old guy stops at our bench, and UR asks, “What’s up old man? You behaving?” And he replies, “F***, no.” And UR says, “Watch your mouth. Watch your mouth. There’re ladies here.” And the man asks, “Sorry. Are you behaving?” And UR replies, “Nope. Have I ever? But, I don’t cuss in front of ladies. Just walk away, bye now. Walk away.”)
Heart: Good night, bye.
UR: See how they know me, they know my reputation. If I say, walk away, I’ve said it nice and sweet. He wasn’t even going to make me harsh. He walked away.
Heart: (I give him some money) I want you to eat your breakfast and lunch on me tomorrow. This is all I got, I don’t have a job, so this is it for now.
UR: Oh lady. God bless you ma’m. Oh, I hope you get a job soon, well, what kind of work do you do?
Heart: I’m a writer. I just quit my other job to tell stories of people like you.
UR: You know what these people tell me, very very rich people, “Uncle Roy, you have so much history of this city, of this world in your mind and out of your mouth. Uncle Roy, hire a stenographer. Is that what they’re called now?”
Heart: Uh, typist, I don’t know. Whatever they do, they will write your story using a computer keyboard.
UR: You see, I’m homeless, broke, so how I’m going to hire a someone?
Heart: I’ll do it for you for free.
UR: When that truck hit me, it caused brain damage. I can barely speak. I’m barely intelligent.
Heart: I see that you’re having difficulty speaking.
UR: But, when I’ve so much history, every famous musician, from the 60’s to 70’s played for free right here, when they were unheard of. They played here for free, trying to get exposure. I grew up right here and I saw, Otis Redding, James Brown, Ike & Tina Turner, Blue Oyster Cult, Aerosmith, Allman brothers band, anybody you can think of that came from the 60’s and 70’s, who blew up into famous musicians, I saw them here. Right here, playing when they were broke and poor and unheard of.
But, um, the rich people tell me, your stories need to be in a book. It is very important. Not for money sake but for historical, for the knowledge to pass along to the children who’re coming. They need to read it, know about it.
Heart: Yeah, I agree. They need to know what came before them.
UR: I’ve been told that so many times in my life. Over, and over and over again. My great, great, grandmother, 102-year-old, Cherokee woman would say, “Rawley, you need to put your stories on paper.” It wasn’t about putting it on paper and sell it. Great, great grandmama Henderson, full blooded Cherokee Indian, “You need to put your stories down so people will know history. It’s not about the money.”
I was sitting in Piedmont park, I’m listening to this guy, he’s got a class in Georgia Tech that he brought over to where the pond is, where the geese are you know. And he’s kind of a philosopher, and I was caught up in what he was teaching these young people. I just sat there, I was kinda mesmerized. I loved what he was saying.
And I just stopped there, with my little booty cart, and I just got caught up in what he was teaching them youngins. And I couldn’t go away, I just couldn’t help myself. And as I’m sitting there, I didn’t speak, I was quiet, but I was listening to every word. And I was loving it, what he was teaching these young people. And he turns around and looks at me, “What do you have to say to these people?” And I say, “You talking to me?” and he says, “Yes, you.” And I say, “Listen, I’m gonna tell you this. Please, please, please, take it in your heart, in your mind, in your soul, use it, the words that’re about to come out of my mouth. You’re young, you’re gonna have fun. Do that. Have fun. Enjoy life. Get your education. Run this country better than its been run. Get along globally better than its been done before. And when you make a family, when you start popping out babies, teach them the same thing. You’re young, you’re growing up, you’ll wanna have fun. Have fun. Do that. You’re supposed to. Enjoy life. But, get your education. Run this country better. Get along globally better. Period. And if you ever, ever, ever see somebody who’s fought for your freedom, who’s homeless and living on the streets QUESTION your government. Tell your government, “Uh ah, we don’t allow that. These people fought for our right to be free, and to not be oppressed. Why are they on the streets homeless?”
Heart: I have the same question looking at you?
UR: I don’t depend on the government for nothing. I went through the process, for the VA (The US Department of Veterans Affairs), the first thing they would say, “We don’t want in the high crime area.” Then they put me in one of the apartments on Covington highway in Decatur. The young guys right in front of my front door would be shooting each other every night. I have bullet holes in my dresser. I told the VA, excuse my language, “You can kiss my ass, I’m going back to the streets where I’m safe.” Coz, if I’m on my side walk on my street, on my bench, I’m gonna be safe. It’s going to be a struggle, its not going to be nice, but I’m not gonna sit in an apartment where children are shooting each other, shooting at me, bullet holes all through my walls. “No sir, you go to hell. And you take your government with you.” But, as I was saying earlier, when we join the military, we sign paperwork. What we sign is a blank check payable to the public for any amount, upto and including our life, our body parts, our psyche, our mentality and then we gotta do this little oath. “To the government and the President.” No one ever, ever, ever joins the military to serve the government or the President. We join the military, to fight and protect our people. Our people. And if the government goes along with that, everything’s fine. But if the government backs out of it, we still, uh, we still stand our ground.
(A guy walks upto us to ask for a dollar. “I need a drink.” UR replies, “Hey, I ain’t got it. I ain’t got it.” The guy asks pointing at a plastic cup in UR’s cart where there’s a single dollar bill. “Gimme a buck for luck man. A buck for luck.” And UR says, “I don’t have them. I got that one George in there. Listen to me, close your mouth, open your ears. I got one George, I don’t even spend him. He’s sitting there to do his job. I’m broke down and out.” The guy walks away not before asking for a cigarette and using some profanity after getting nothing.
(UR looks at me) This boy, he’s no joke. He’s the meanest in this neighborhood. He’s not big, but he’s mean as a snake. But, he would never, ever disrespect me, because he knows better. (Laughs)
Respect is never, ever just given, respect has to be earned. And I’ve earned it. And they know it. They can be the biggest, meanest, baddest, underground, no good, drug dealing, but if I come up and take this cart and roll it up to them and park it, and walk off for three hours, nobody will put their fingers on it. I can park it in front of the biggest, richest, hotels, office buildings, and I walk off for 3 or 4 hours, and anybody comes up to it and put their hands on it, people would come out of office buildings, “Why you touching Uncle Roy’s cart? You better go away, or else I’ll call the police on you.”
UR: That kind of respect is not given, it has to be earned. Those little junkies, those prostitutes, they shooting up dope using those syringes, and I fuss at them all the time. I fuss at them all the time like a big brother. Out of love. “What the hell are you doing? Get that outta your arm. You don’t know what garbage you find on the street. Poking and putting all that into you. Do you want a buzz? Here, have a drink of liquor. Uncle Roy can give you a beer. I’ll give you something to drink. Just don’t shoot that in your arm.” And they’re fussing with me, everyone from Atlanta to Decatur, anywhere in Metro Atlanta, that’s my reputation. “Uncle Roy, I’m so tired of you now. I’m so tired of you fussing at me.” But, when they try to get in the car, like you know when they’re approaching a man like on the corner of the street, you know to sell themselves or whatever, to make their little deals to do the dirty deeds, the first thing out of their mouth, “See that old crippled man over on that bench, “He likes to get drunk and sing old songs all night. That’s Uncle Roy. If you try to do something, he’s gonna find you and hurt you real, real bad.”
Last February, I’m 70% deaf in both my ears, and this past February I’m all wrapped up in a coat, standing on a bus stop at Clairmont Road right by Peachtree Creek on the bridge. And all November, December, January and February, I go into that creek to take a bath. Its freezing, so you take a fast bath. (Laughs) But, I’m clean. So, I’m standing there on the bus stop, there’s this first girl I’ve ever met. And she was like, “Uncle Roy, jollie, shut your mouth.” Evidently, there had been a bad dealing and this man walks up, excuse me. (Gets up to get in position) The guy walks up to the girl and hits her in the side. I’m 70% deaf in both ears, but I heard her ribs crack. I went snap, I went back into military mode. I beat that big man up and threw him off the bridge. I knew that the creek was down there coz I’ve bathed in it. I looked over the bridge and said, “Oh, there’s a creek? I thought it was railroad tracks, I was trying to kill you. You hit another woman in front of me again.” (Both of us laugh)
When I first got here, a lot of people were like, “Oh you think you’re a badass.” I would tell everyone, “No sir. No sir. No sir. I’m not a badass. But, let me tell you what I am. I’m a man who has no tolerance for people who think they’re badasses. I’ll shut them down, quick, fast and in a hurry.”
I learned how to cut three ways. Long, deep and continuous. (Laughs) Down at that park, there’s a guy who popped one little bitty razor on me, and I had my gloves and my hat on, and he pulls this pocket razor on me and I started laughing. Took me about a fraction of a second to reach into my cart and come out with both my daggers and “Come on baby. Bring it.” He took off running, screaming through the park, “That man pulled butcher knives on me.” And I yelled back because I wanted to make sure security and police heard me, “And make sure you tell that you pulled your sissy razor on me first. You messed up, pulling a razor on a Navy Seal.”
The training I’ve had and the things I’ve been through, I can cut your head off and I don’t need no knife. I don’t need a gun or a knife to take your life. But, I don’t want to. I hope, I pray that I don’t have to. Please don’t make me do it, please. But if you do, I won’t back out. (Laughs)
I can put a bullet in a man’s brain from miles and miles away. That’s hard to learn how to do. I can sit right here on this bench and put a bullet in somebody’s eye from across the street.
Heart: But, you don’t want to.
UR: No, I never, ever want to do that. But, if you make me, I will.
(Takes out a cigar from his bag from inside the cart.) I’m going to be very respectful to you and just chew on this.
Heart: It’s OK, you’re fine.
UR: It’s hard to find a good cigar. These little stores sell you cheap, sissy cigars, calling them Cuban. I used to get these good cigars, spending 1000$ from Miami, once and month and they would send me a case of Cubans.
(A guy comes and asks for a lighter. UR says, “Yeah, if I can get up. My hip’s a little out.” And gets up and lights the guy’s cigarette. After he leaves, he sits back down.)
If I get a good cigar, I’ll chew on it for a week and a half. I might light it once or twice. Just to get the flavor going. Most times, I’ll chew on them. And I’m not that impressed with Cubans, my favorite is Honduran. Everyone’s so impressed and so worried about their Cubans, its a prestige, “I want a Cuban. I want a Cuban.” I’ve had tons and tons of Cubans, but I like Honduran.
Heart: I’ve to leave now. Thank you.
UR: God bless you, young lady. Its been such a pleasure talking to you. Thank you. Thank you for blessing my night.
Note: Before you rate this episode, please consider if you would’ve been so open and authentic about your own life. Earlier episodes available at The Anonymous Manifesto.