When I found out that Kenny died last month from AIDS-related complications, my first reaction was shock. Then guilt.
Kenny has been such a fixture in my Capitol Hill neighborhood for so long that it seemed inconceivable that he would no longer be knocking on my door – sometimes after I’d gone to bed – looking for odd jobs. Even as he grew progressively frailer, he never stopped hustling for work.
Over the years I’d given him dozens of odd jobs from washing my car to pulling weeds to helping me haul away old, broken tile from a bathroom I was renovating. I paid him a fair wage for his work, and I let him store his lawn tools in my yard and use the water from my outdoor spigot to wash neighbors’ cars.
I won’t pretend that we had a special bond. I never knew Ken’s last name, and more often than not, he called my “Chris” – for reasons I’ll never know – when my name is Al.
There were also times when I became angry with Ken for knocking on my door long after dark when he knew full well I had no work for him at that hour. He was, of course, looking for a handout.
Still, what I should have told him and never did was that I admired him. I never got the whole story of how he ended up homeless, but unlike many other men and women in his situation, he didn’t spend his days panhandling. Indeed, I used to joke with him that he made more money than I did.
As far as I know, there was no funeral for Kenny, and certainly no obituary in the Washington Post. But to many residents of Capitol Hill, he won’t be forgotten. Rest in peace, Kenny.