Levi, the new kitty we got after Patches died, is wonderful. Really. He’s one of the best cats I’ve ever had. He is affectionate without being clingy, self-confident yet not aloof, and playful without being destructive (unless you’re trying to read the newspaper). He is soft and beautiful and gets along with everyone.

Levi with our dog Janice

Levi has a few annoying habits, which is to be expected. He pulls tissues out of the box and shreds them. He chews on the newspaper while you are reading it. He goes into the toilet to drink, then flicks his paws and splashes the water around. It’s all very minor. Except for one thing.

Today Louise caught him hanging from the birdcage. Pio, our 12-year old parrotlet, was chattering like mad as the cage swung back and forth on its stand.

The scene of the crime

Pio is an adorable little bird who loves to socialize and has endured the relative indifference of all of our pets over the years. The most excitement he’s ever had was when a tiny mouse somehow found its way into the bottom of his cage. Coming face to face with a feline many times his size is more than he should have to bear. Not to mention the unmentionable potential consequences of such a meeting.

Louise quickly set out to make the area under the birdcage a zone of unpleasantness. She got out the clear packing tape and fastened it all over the floor, sticky side up. We’ve used this trick before to discourage the cats from scratching on the furniture; it’s quite effective. Levi watched it all with feigned disinterest; whenever he glanced in Pio’s direction I nailed him with a blast from a squirt bottle.

That takes a lot of tape, and the roll was soon empty. We had been planning to go for a walk anyway and figured we’d pick some more up along the way. I also was hoping to find the right recipient for my weekly $100 gift.

It was a beautiful day: warm and sunny. You could even call it “spring-like”. We made it down to Peet’s, where I went in to get Louise a coffee. She decided to sit outside on a bench with the dog while I walked a few blocks down to Safeway in search of packing tape. Along the way I passed Goodwill and a new pair of panhandlers. “What happened to Carrie?” I wondered to myself. At the entrance to Safeway was another young woman, sitting on the sidewalk behind a cardboard sign.

I went in and found the modest display of office supplies. A man was standing there, looking at the nearby greeting cards. Otherwise, the aisle was empty. “Hello,” I said politely. “Well, hello yourself!” he boomed. He was tall and handsome, with a sonorous voice and a disarming smile. I asked how he was today and he sighed, as if the answer was complicated. Then he stood up straight and smiled, saying he was blessed. Truly blessed.

A man walked by and said hello to my new friend. “I see you everywhere!” he observed as he walked by. “Well, I only have this one chance!” my guy shot back, chuckling. He turned back to me and we kept talking. He had so much to say and so much wisdom to share, I found myself wondering: “Who is this guy? Do I know him?” I thought maybe he was a professor, or a church pastor. He had a stately bearing and spoke with eloquence and passion about his views on life and his desire to make some small mark on the world. He said he talks to kids about staying in school and tries to cheer people up wherever he goes. “That’s my way of giving back. My way of showing that I walked here, on this earth.”

He told me his name was George. We shook hands and I noticed that his were huge. I wasn’t surprised when he admitted he’d been a basketball star in his youth at Benson High. More recently, he’d worked in construction until some health problems laid him low.


I had decided to give George the hundred shortly after we started talking. When I found the right moment, I told him I was paying forward a gift and dug the bill out of my pocket. I put it into his hand. “Oh, wow,” he said. “You’re beautiful!” He wrapped his long arms around me in a big hug and told me that he was working on becoming more generous himself. “I’ll give a dollar here and there, you know, but nothing like that. That is big-hearted!”

George kept talking. He told me how, after he got sick, he lost his home and ended up on the street. He’s got a roof over his head for now. He has a birthday coming up next month, same as me. I said we were just about the same age. “You’re looking good, still!” he exclaimed. “You have, like, a glow about you!”

Then he told me how he’s become kind of a poster child for Street Roots. His photo and a poem he wrote is on the front page of their website.

We said goodbye. He watched as I walked away, then pointed at me and yelled, “I love you!”

“I love you, too, brother!” I shouted back.

I Am Not Who You Think I Am

I am not a thief

I am not a drunk

I am not a drug dealer

I am not panhandling

I am not a beggar

I am not an abuser

I am not a liar

I am not sleeping in doorways

I am homeless

I am working

I am a carpenter

I am an artist

I am a poet

I am paying my way

I am a son

I am a brother

I am a friend

I am being the best I can be

I am George Myron Mayes

I am Street Roots








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6 Responses to Being George

  1. DJan says:

    Beautiful story! I think it’s wonderful that someone with so little can be so generous and open hearted. And I look forward to hearing how the cat and the parrot do together. If Levi is a natural birder, this is going to be interesting! 🙂

  2. Carrie says:

    Love this story (actually, I love them all)!

    Any updates on the cat/bird situation?

  3. George! Oh aren’t “we” blessed we have people like you to try to emulate. Thank you for sharing his story and thanks to George..Uplifting and so inspiring.

  4. Amy says:

    Great story. We have cats and a bird. The bird is an African Gray Parrot so bigger than yours. Most cats we’ve had have snubbed the bird mostly as an unusual show off. When we got our newest cat 4 years ago my husband basically made the kitten scared of the bird. They would get nose too beak… actually as a kitten the bird could have really hurt her. My husband would pick up the parrot and then swoosh his arm down with the bird toward the cat, the bird would flap wildly and the cat would be started. A couple times she’s gotten in the bird cage…which is usually open but nothing serious has ever occurred. The bird can make startling hoots and growls and the cat while not exactly afraid is appropriately intimidated.

  5. andrea gehrke says:

    You have found some truly wonderful people on your jaunts out and about. George has a kind heart and great spirit about him. His poem should remind us all that people deserve to be honored for who they are and not for whom we perceive them to bcatbe. (Good luck with your little “birdcat”)

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