When we first bought our place in Corpus Christi and was getting moved in, I would see a fellow that easily could have been homeless walk along the side street, then cross Ocean Drive and disappear under the hill into Cole Park.
This guy appeared to be about my age, looked a bit scraggly and always unshaven, but didn’t really have a beard. One of those guys that you wonder how he appears to never shave, yet never has a real beard.
My house was full of windows, especially on the lower floor, looking out onto Corpus Christi Bay and Naples Street, along the side of the house.
I left the blinds up and saw pretty much everything they went on as I puttered around the house or as I set for hours staring out at the beauty of it all.
Most of the time the mystery man would stay for a couple of hours then he would reappear, walk along the side street sidewalk and would disappear. The next day the same scene would replay itself.
What made him seem homeless was the backpack. I could imagine that everything he owned was in that backpack. There were a lot of people that found their way to Corpus Christi. Living on the street wasn’t as bad there as other places due to the mild climate. I guess that isn’t a dead giveaway, but for me, given the homeless situation in Corpus Christ, that was as good of an explanation as I had.
One day while at HEB buying groceries, I saw this same fellow. He checked out a little ahead of me and walked away with a couple of canvas bags with his groceries in them. When I got to the parking lot I saw him exit on a bicycle.
With my curiosity in full swing, the next day I decided to see what he was up to and where he actually went when he passed by. I caught a glimpse of him coming down the sidewalk. I sprang into action. He crossed Ocean Drive and I crossed not long after. I lingered back, but at a vantage point that I could see which way he went. Low and behold he headed to a picnic table that was down in the park, but was always out of view from my living room due to the topography.
There were always plenty of people strolling along the street, many just standing, taking in the views so for me to be there for awhile checking out everything didn’t seem in the least like I was watching anyone or anything in particular.
The mystery guy brought a laptop out of his bag and set it up on the table. He opened it up and got busy at the keyboard. After a little while I decide to walk down close enough to his table to exchange pleasantries and see if I could engage with him.
With a slight wave and a “nice day” from me, he readily accepted my advance and started to talk. We introduced ourselves and he invited me to have a seat. He spoke English, but with a heavy Russian accent. Enough so, that I had to pay close attention to know what he was saying. I figured my heavy Texas accent probably caused him the same difficulty.
The park had free WIFI and he came there each day to work on a book he was writing, but more importantly, he could Skype back to Russia with his wife and daughter.
He closed the cover of his laptop and we just set and visited for awhile. I told him my story of moving down from Austin and how we’d bought the big rock house across the street. I was able to point it out to him. He told me he lived in a garage apartment behind a house that was just a half block behind me.
He told me about how he came to this country via Alaska several years ago. He had been an electrician back in Russia and setup an electrical contracting business that eventually went bust in Alaska. He, his wife and small child relocated to Corpus looking for warmth and sunshine as they started a new life.
He had gone to school to become a Radiologist and MRI Technician and worked for several years at the hospital not far from where we were sitting. His wife and child had sometime back returned to Russia to sell some property and settle an estate. The daughter had fallen in love back in the old country and neither of them ever returned to the US. He had become ill and disgruntled with his work and he was now retired.
The house where he lived belonged to a nurse at the hospital. She had rented him the tiny apartment, but he said he didn’t need much room.
In the time we had been sitting there visiting, we had exchanged enough information about each other that it seemed a new friendship had blossomed. I had just made friends with someone I had previously thought was homeless but in fact was a neighbor.
A day or so later I was out in the yard as Zoran was returning from the park, so I invited him over for a cold drink. I showed him my shop and told him I was soon bringing my woodworking equipment down, including my ShopBot CNC Router Machine. He offered to help me get it all setup and properly wired in, since that had been his lifelong trade.
He suggested we go out to eat. He knew of a great place to eat a burger. So we drove to Wallbanger’s and enjoyed a burger and continued to talk. He insisted on paying. I agreed as long as I could get it next time.
We returned home and talked about meeting up to drink coffee together soon.
Several days passed without seeing Zoran. In fact it had turned into weeks. Well I was busy so I figured I was just missing him.
One day I saw an elderly fellow out puttering around in the yard of the main house where Zoran’s garage apartment was. I went over and introduced myself. He was the father of the lady that owned the house. He would come there and stay sometimes just to make the place looked lived in. His daughter had moved away to Houston, I think to work, but it could have been for romance.
She had allowed Zoran to move in the apartment so someone would be around and he would keep up with the mowing. But the mowing wasn’t being done and there were plenty of repairs that needed to be done, per their agreement, but that too was falling short.
I told the elderly gentleman the story about my encounter with Zoran and he too hadn’t seen him in a long time either. I ask if perhaps we should go back and do a well check on him. He agreed and went inside and got a key. We went around back to witness a really overgrown staircase extending up to a small landing. The old man handed me the key, as it was obvious he wasn’t in any shape to navigate those steep rickety stairs.
Between the main house and the garage apartment was a swimming pool that was completely filled with a green stinking goo. The whole scene looked ghoulish and smelled horrible. I really wanted to flee but I was also curious.
What even made the whole thing seem even more surreal was the mid 1980’s Corvette, a weird turquoise color, was parked in the back near the garage apartment. It was covered in dirt and Chinaberry’s and limbs and bird droppings.
I swallowed hard and started up the stairs. I could feel the window air conditioner unit churning away and the vibrations through the wooden steps.
As much as I could smell a stench it was more from the swimming pool. The insect activity was more the swarming of mosquitoes than green flies. But my mind kept telling me that the air conditioner could be keeping the small room at a cold enough temperature that it was really like a refrigerator.
It seemed like each step took me a minute to accomplish. With some dread I reached the landing at the top. I knew I needed to knock, but something told me to stick the key into the lock, turn it and get it over with. As I reached out, still not sure whether to knock or unlock the door opened. Zoran stood there before me. He was very pale and sickly looking, but alive. I was able to palm the key as to not look as if I was just going to barge in. Yes, it was all very awkward.
We stood there a bit and talked. He explained that he hadn’t felt well in some time. I don’t think he ever noticed the old man down on the driveway.
He said he was still working on his book and he needed to get back inside because he now had acquired internet in the apartment and was expecting a Skype call from his wife and daughter. I ask if he needed anything. He assured me he had everything he needed. He went back inside and I scurried off the stairs and back to the ground a lot faster than I had gotten up them.
For the next couple of years I was there in Corpus, I never again saw Zoran out on the street. Only when I would go back to check on him, which was every couple of months. He never asked for or accepted my offer to take him anywhere. I’m not sure if or when he would go get see a doctor. I don’t know how he got his food. I never saw him or anyone else come and go from that place. With each visit he never looked any worse, but he never looked any better either.
The home owner returned a couple of times to do yard maintenance. Each time I’d go over and talk to her. Her father had stopped coming because they had to take away his driving privileges and eventually put him in a nursing home.
A lawn maintenance company came only when things were really getting in bad shape and the neighbors complained to the city.
I’ll have to say my encounter with Zoran was just about as weird as anything I’ve ever been involved in. I couldn’t help but wonder if Zoran was a Russian Spy or something and I was getting too close. Did he really get sick or was it something else? Did he sneak out in the middle of the night for food? What was the real story about his wife and daughter?
The Corvette disappeared from the driveway sometime along the way. I asked once and found out that it had belonged to the homeowner or perhaps a long lost boyfriend.
BTW: When I say Russia, it could have been Croatia, Crimia, Ukraine or one of the other countries in that area. I just can’t remember exactly. But to me, they are all one in the same.