I don’t know much about Mark Michael Allen, other than he’s vegetarian and I trust that’s his name. It didn’t take long to realize he doesn’t know much about himself other than that, either…
The first night I ever saw Mark, he was sitting on a bench in the heart of Grape Street Square. I just asked if he was hungry and wanted a burrito, when he looked up and replied, “Bean and cheese?” It wasn’t. “I’m vegetarian,” he said, and declined.
I took my camera on a walk a few days later and saw him next to the Balboa Park Municipal Golf Course. I was sort of meandering, looking for a place to have dinner myself, so approached him again, to see if he remembered me and if he could use a bean and cheese burrito…
He wasn’t necessarily hungry, but had a lot to say; most of which was extremely difficult to understand. I was taken aback by what I was hearing, utterances of being the heir of Starbucks in Denmark, and that he knew me, “Larry,” as the heir to another European monolith in which I could not understand. Every question, as simple as I tried to make them, led to a confusing, tangled answer. I didn’t know how to respond. He was in a great mood, and has been the few times I’ve seen him, so I didn’t feel threatened, but he couldn’t give me a clear answer from where he thought he knew me, if he was in the military (other than he was a 5 star general in a secret division of the Air Force), or even where he stayed at night, other than that bench or, “you know, Mary’s…” Overwhelmed, I told him I had to take some more pictures, and would bring him a burrito at his bench in a bit, and went on my way. We exchanged names, which is the first time I heard him say he was “Mark Michael Allen.”
After dinner, I stopped by 7-11 and found the bean and cheese burrito he was talking about and brought him one. I again tried to have somewhat of a conversation with him, but he could not complete a clear sentence that made any sense, other than firmly establishing he only wanted bean and cheese in his burrito, and when I asked his name again, he replied, “Mark Michael Allen,” confused I didn’t already know. He was trying to tell me about a division of the military he was in, but I could not make any sense of it. He thought he knew me but I could not find out from where. I was utterly confused, and had no idea how to move help the conversation progress.
How could I help Mark? I don’t even know if he understands what I am saying to him! He isn’t mumbling like he’s drunk, and he isn’t speaking like he’s on drugs.
Suddenly, it clicked… This is dementia.
I am obviously unfamiliar with the condition, but what else could this be? Could he be blocking his past because of trauma? Possibly; I have noticed him talking to himself when I walk by, but there is really no way for me to know, if he isn’t part of a shelter or program, and can’t really communicate himself what he’s going through. And it isn’t my place to ask questions that personal.
He did try to pay me back by saying he gets social security every month, and would have to owe me, unless I declared it a gift. I didn’t ask how he received his checks, and I certainly didn’t need to be reimbursed. He seems happy, or at least content. I haven’t seen him beg, drink or cause any commotion in the least. He’s always calm when I see him on that bench.
Most people I encountered in Chicago were able to have a conversation. They were trying to get out of the situation they were in, which seems to be different than what I’ve found so far in San Diego. The people in Chicago wanted desperately to find homes, where people here in America’s Finest City seem to just want to be left alone.
Thanks to your support, the Kickstarter was successfully funded. So I’ll be heading back to Chicago at the end of June to try to find them, and figure out what is keeping them from finding a suitable place to live.
In the meantime, we still have until Thursday afternoon on the Kickstarter fundraising campaign, and every backer we continue to gain shows the grants I apply to that we have a strong following. If you have a moment, head to Kickstarter and make a small pledge now! It means a lot to a cause much larger than ourselves. Your support is appreciated! Hyperlinks are live or click embedded video below…