The Mysterious Disappearance of a Very Mysterious Gentleman!

Mysteriously he came; he entered our building with his Bill Cosby sweater on, unusually nervous and jittery! Laughing! He was seeking shelter....

Bob was a victim of our unstable economy. He had once lived a favored life, but his unemployment benefits had run out. He couldn't afford his place and then quickly became homeless. He lived under a bridge in his rich suburb, until "they" kicked him out of his zone of nowhere! He took his unusually terrified anxious self into the big bad city, along with his run-down middle aged body into our homeless shelter! He was desperate and had to submit to a new level of life he did not want to live!

Bob was riddled with multiple health issues and the mile walk to Epworth shelter contributed to those woes. Almost daily, he would approach me, begging to move from there to our less stressful bed-spaces. These "upstairs" beds were set aside to enable our older and disabled men to get the rest they desperately needed. There is less walking, less chaos but more sleeping and stability!

Now Bob was a very unique guy with a mysterious tick; whenever he spoke, he laughed. It was a laugh that would embrace the whole room. His whole body would shake, his shoulders would go up and down and his head would rock back and forth! He had a laugh that would infuriate some, while pacifying others. He was intelligent, kind-hearted, passionate and God-fearing who would have fits of laughter in every conversation!

Bob would spontaneously erupt in vigorous laughter whenever we spoke of the serious issue of transferring him upstairs, his mysterious life threatening ailments, his anger over the bureaucratic regimes who controlled his destiny and his mysterious missing mail that could have answers to that destiny. Laughter simply graced his presence no matter how frustrated, how overjoyed or how depressed he was at the time!

He would often lug his big bag of medications to me and empty it all on my desk! With an intense seriousness and much laughing he would speak about how his sickness could result in a pre-mature death! I was often left dazed, confused and somewhat bemused by this unique combination of distressing information, raw truth and the loud happy outbursts that joined in vigorously.

Eventually I was able to move Bob into an upstairs room. I was graced by another mysterious side; within hours he saturated his small bed area into an electronic empire. He had no income, but now possessed a flat screen TV, DVD player, MacBook, iPhone and a wardrobe full of Bill Cosby sweaters! He had salvaged all his stuff from storage and neatly set himself up a homely livable atmosphere!

For months, we worked at getting him out of homelessness and back into his life of self-sufficiency again. He was without money, so he ate with us and we gave him bus cards, laundry cards, hygiene items and his basic needs. We worked together trying to get him SSDI and find appropriate housing. We were going through his struggle and frustrations together, but I always found myself being uniquely blessed by his mysterious laughter!

Early one morning I wander into his room (which had 10 guys) and his bed area was absolutely spotless. It was mopped and sparkling clean! Everything was gone! I had seen him just the night before and then he simply vanished; with everything. Scott and I ask some of his roommates and all they say is, "I don't know; I went to sleep and when I woke up he was gone!"

The question that befuddled me for over 24 hours was; where and why did he go? No one seemed to know. This mysteriously awkward gentleman quietly vanished from a room that was full of men. Rumors flew around, but there were no answers!

How he did that; I'll never know!

Eventually I spoke to the right person who revealed yet another mystery! A taxi came in the middle of the night, picked him up, took him to the airport and they flew him on an "all expenses" paid trip to Iraq! Some catering company had contracted him as a head cook for the US military! And there he mysteriously remains.....

Update: And just over 2 years after I'd originally written this.....
Yesterday (1/11/13) I took Muriwai to her ballet class in Old Town, and while she was dancing I went for a walk around that neighborhood. As I crossed one of the streets, an elderly African-American gentleman and I did one of those awkward "double-take" glances at each other, before stopping, making eye contact and saying "I know you, don't I?" I couldn't believe it, this mysterious man had returned to Chicago.

For the next 40 minutes, Bob and I ended up standing on the street corner chatting, and it was in this conversation that all this "mysteriousness" suddenly became a little less mysterious. He told me of his journey to Iraq and how he'd been in communication with the agency via email, but at the time he didn't want to tell too many people about it, "just in case it fell through" and he'd look like "an idiot, a show-off or all-talk". Their original projection was actually for 3 weeks, but all of sudden they needed him immediately, so they sent the cab, a plane ticket and he disappeared in the middle of that night.

To cap off this mystery, I discovered that overseas he'd been in charge of over 260 people who did many tasks, he had to make vitally important decisions, made a pretty good income and was taught how to fire AK-47s by the military personnel, just in case his camp was ambushed by insurgents.

Bob had mysteriously gone from being an "invisible" person living in a homeless shelter, who had hardly any responsibilities, to a very visible person in charge of a massive group of people, and he also had a huge weight of responsibilities laying on his very capable shoulders.

After his stint in Iraq, he returned home, only to end up homeless again for a while and stayed in another shelter. He unfortunately had a fairly serious health crisis, but this fast-tracked what we'd started at CCO, so he finally started receiving SSDI (disability benefits) for all his serious medical woes.

He asked me about Cornerstone, and I unfortunately had to tell him about the closing of the program he once benefited from. It was on our 4th Floor that Bob was able to rest his weary bones, relax, organize his thoughts, and use his electronic equipment effectively, so he could end up going on this very important "mysterious" trip. He was saddened that something he profited off had to be closed, not due to any wrongs we did, but to the inconsistencies and shape-shifting of a bureaucratic machine that lacks compassion for some this neighborhood's most fragile and weak citizens.

But Bob's story is a reason to celebrate, and I am glad to have been part of his journey. As we parted he told me to say hi to our buddy Scott Knies, emphasizing the reality that Cornerstone was embedded in his soul and he felt our love and concern. Yet, we felt his too, as his mysterious laugh and gracious love is embedded in our souls also. Though Bob had his seasons of agony, where he was without home or income, but he now comfortably lives in his own subsidized apartment, happily living his life in Chicago.


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