Podcast Season 2: Hunger & Resilience

S2: Episode 8 - John

Episode Information

[Intro Music]

Narrator:  Welcome to Hunger and Resilience, narrative histories about the complexity and experiences of hunger. A traveling exhibition and weekly podcast edited and hosted by Michael Nye, supported by the San Antonio Food Bank, Eric Cooper, executive director. We are grateful for the honesty and eloquence of every voice. Episode eight, John.

John: My name is John. I was born May 10th, 1963. My home today is on the edge of the city in a wooded area. I live in the tent. I’ve been homeless since 2000. My space inside the tent is occupied by myself and my three dogs. On cold nights, we keep one another warm the space outside. My tent is occupied by all the birds, all the creatures, and all the plants are in my vicinity. I keep all my trails camouflage. I create no human trails. I create no garbage. So no one knows that I’m there. It’s like it’s invisible, and that’s the way I like it. When I lost my home, yes, I experienced depression because it’s hard, you know, to let something go. What’s the joy of working? And all of a sudden you get this roof over your head and you don’t have no food to eat, and then you don’t have any visitors to your house.

And I remember, um, that I had withdrawn $3,000 from the bank in tens and twenties, and I lined up carefully. All I remember asking is this all there is to life? I came to the conclusion that all that I had in the business world was nothing but emptiness and nothing but vanity. You might call me, um, every mother, every mother’s hopeful for a son, someone who’s well-mannered, someone who’s just, you know, quiet. Someone who doesn’t go out and cause trouble. I stayed in my own little world. I was, I was my mama’s darling. When I was small, I would say about maybe three or four years old, I had this predilection for the human body. I loved anatomy. I remember being endlessly fascinated about skeletons, about bones, about muscles. I remember, um, just before school would start, I would lay in my bed and I would just, um, say school, school, school. Hurry up and start. I love school. To me, my high was simply just spend time in the libraries. I, I remember forging school passes to go to the library.

The hunger that I had as a child when I was in grade school is still with me today. There are days that I eat, there are days that I don’t eat. You might say, I have something of a PhD in hunger. When I don’t have money, I just, I simply scrounge for food. Wild berries, mushrooms, tubers, and maybe even little cactus. Nopales I would eat those. Or if I need something more substantial, I will go dive in the dumpsters and I’ll go and look for food. Because sometimes hunger leads you that way. If you dig for your food in the garbage can, all you’re basically doing is, to me, is like you’re reclaiming something. ’cause otherwise that’s gonna be thrown away. ’cause that’s, to me, that’s the right gift of life. I have no problem about that. I don’t mind digging in the garbage can for my food, and I don’t mind working my food, but I will not pan the handle for my food and I will not beg for my food.

And I will not stand in no one’s soup line for no food. Because to me, that’s something about humility. Never let yourself down. No matter how beaten you are. Never let the world beat you down. Yes, I do have a photographic memory ’cause my grandfather had it. My mother definitely had it. It can be a good thing because it keeps you in tune with the world. But also it can be a bad thing because a, a memory and high intelligence is like bulimia. You vomit up all this intelligence, but at the same time, it leaves an emptiness in you that you must eat and you must consume. It’s a cycle. The funky little calisthenics my mind plays. It’s usually with highways. I would memorize all the US highways. There is a order and there’s a comprehensive order to them no matter where you are in the country.

Another thing I’ll do, sometimes I would, um, all the names of the Roman Caesars who had ruled from Augustus all the way to, uh, Augustus Romanis, who it was the last Roman Caesar who was deposed by the glades in AD 4 76. Also, I would, um, list in my head all the latitudes, all the longitudes, all the minutes and the seconds of each degree where it places our on earth. I would also memorize all the Bibles, not the 66 books, not the 39 books of the Old Testament. Not just the 27 books of the New Testament, but also 18 books of the Eastern Orthodox Apocrypha. Because though you won’t find those in the West, I would memorize also the structure of the Earth. If you look at the earth like safe in space, you would notice like there’s certain geographical features where mountains are where the planes are.

I would memorize all these innate geographical features, not just of the United States, but also of Europe and Africa as well. Taxonomy, the, uh, scientific names of all the animals. Um, also the floor and fauna of my area. I would memorize that too. All the information I store in my head, it’s like a computer, like a Rolodex. I just close my eyes and it’s there on recall at, at a particular time. There’s no hunt, there’s no waiting time. Boom. It’s just there. Intelligence, it’s a sort of demockerlies ’cause not only can it pierce through to the heart and the facts, but also alienates people from you because they consider you like, they consider you to be a freak. You’re considered to be an anomaly. Yes, it’s a great gift, but it’s also an onerous chain.

[Outro Music]

Host:  This is season two, a weekly podcast narrative histories about the experience of hunger and resilience and of understanding. We are thankful for John’s powerful perspective, his history, his voice, and his presence. May something in John’s story Stay with you. I’m Michael Nye. You may go to my website, michaelnye.org/podcast for photographs and transcripts. Every person, every place is a map to somewhere else.