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Roger Wade: My Story
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Roger Wade recently contributed “The Homeless Problem: My Personal Perspective” based on 15 years of experiencing “a homeless state of mind and body.” Now, he shares his life story, which spans a happy childhood, asuccessful career in marketing, a tour as a photojournalist in Vietnam, struggles with mental health issues, and a life-altering accident.

Part I

I was born in Rochester, New York – 1942, July 24th. My father was of English heritage and my mother was full blooded, first generation, Irish. And people wonder why I have been clinically diagnosed as being schizophrenic.

I have two bothers. Brian was two years younger, and Larry five years younger. My father moved us from a duplex in the city to a house in Greece, a northern suburb of Rochester bordering Lake Ontario. That was 1949.

St. Charles Borromeo was my grammar school alma mater, where I was taught by the Sisters of St. Mercy who, I might add, showed no mercy for little boys. As an adult now, I love them dearly.

I suppose my home life would be considered Spartan by today’s standards. I thought it was normal. I had a happy childhood with the appropriate number of dogs and cats. I was a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout, and I had two paper routes when I was 11 and 12. I never got along with my brother Brian, even though we played together, and Larry was just too young.

In elementary school, my marks were A’s and B’s. On the right side of our monthly report card where character development was noted I did well in “politeness,” “follows directions,” and “does his homework.” But in the category of “works to ability,” I would consistently get a “C.” For that, my father would give me the paddle.

High school was a complete disaster. I had to attend a public school in the city because the suburb I lived in was too small to have a one of its own. Between the girls and puberty and the Catholic no no’s, I was torn apart; caught between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. My school marks would soar and dive depending on what guilt complex I was suffering from at the time. The only thing that got me into community college was my high SAT score.

My friend, John Ives, described the Monroe Community College we both attended in 1962 and ’63 as a “high school with ash trays.” Community Colleges were in their initial developments in that era. I was doing all right with my marks, having calmed down from my high school days. Disaster struck in November 1963 when our Camelot hero, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. I, and half of my inmates, walked out of school that day and never went back.

Part II

Somehow the business world got a hold of me, giving me a sales job in the publishing industry in early 1964. They discovered I had a natural talent of convincing people to buy something they didn’t want. After a few years of earning easy money and drinking, and women, I was promoted to having the responsibility of demographic ad placements for magazines like McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Redbook.

I was sustained in a high lifestyle until my ‘ole Catholic Guilt sprang up again. There was a war going on in Southeast Asia. I couldn’t join up because my kid brother Larry was already there; so through my publisher’s executive connections, I was able to take a “sabbatical,” hooking up with the Associated Press as a photojournalist, working out of Hong Kong in 1968, covering the Tet offensive in South Vietnam.

I covered the battle sites of Khe Sahn and Saigon. And, with more luck than talent, I managed to have two of my pictures placed in Life magazine and The New York Times’ magazine section of the Sunday newspaper. The first picture showed a contingent of the 6,000 Marines in Khe Shan, outnumbered by 40,000 North Vietnamese Regulars, charging directly into the face of the North Vietnamese’s heavy artillery fire. There is nothing in military history that can match that. In Saigon, wave after wave of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops stormed the gates of the city, and each time a handful of American soldiers beat them back. The picture I took was of a tall, muscular GI in a torn tee shirt raising a very heavy B.A.R. over his head -- above the gates -- to fire at the enemy.

My kid brother Larry did two tours in “’Nam” much to my mother’s dismay. I was immensely proud of him. Later, he told me that when he came home from the war, he and his comrades in their uniforms were spat upon by “hippies” at O’Hare Airport in Chicago.

After he was formally discharged from the Army, he married a girl from Kansas and became a police officer in her hometown of Wichita. Brian, my second youngest brother, became a V.I.P. at Digital Equipment, in Massachusetts. He hasn’t spoken to me since I was 21. Ironically I was best man at his wedding. I last spoke to Larry, via the telephone in 1987, when I visited my mother in her retirement in Florida. I hadn’t spoken to her in 20 years. We never got along when I was growing up, but I still loved her. I respected my father as the great man he was.

I went back to school in 1983, completing my college education and obtaining a B.A. in Philosophy from Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, a suburb south and adjacent to Scottsdale where my office was.

Part III

At this juncture of the reader’s progress through these black and white photographs of my life, I should include the facts that, although I never married, I did live in a married state during my 20s and early 30s with three woman of exceptional courage, beauty (inside and outside), intelligence, and endurance. I was a practicing alcoholic, grateful to have shared my life with each one, for periods of time averaging two and half years each.

Part IV

In 1989, my brain collapsed. I spent the next two years in a private mental hospital in Mesa, Arizona, being diagnosed as having “acute” or “profound” depression. It was the year the cold war ended, my boss and mentor retired, and my mother displayed a side of her personality that I could have never imagined. A car accident required surgeons to dig out metal and gravel from my face. I had scars that had to be “sanded down” at a later date. And I lost a love. I hadn’t drank since 1983 and wasn’t about to start, so there was no escape from so many hits. I could no longer function.

When I finally “came out” of the depression in 1991, I still had enough money left to rent a little house in downtown Mesa. My psychiatrist advised me that It would be possible for me to regain a large percentage of my former intelligence if I “worked at it” with physical and mental exercises and a positive attitude. I was happy enough at the time, just being able to come out of the dark recesses of the caves of depression. But nonetheless, I followed my psychiatrist’s advice.

Although I actually did begin to notice I was getting better after a few months of effort, my money began to finally “run out.” My psychiatrist got me on SSI, but it wasn’t enough to successfully rent a decent apartment. So, it was only a brief step for my one and a half cylinder brain to buy a sleeping bag and begin to live outdoors.

In Arizona’s Valley of the Sun it hardly ever rains and the temperature never really gets cold, so if you’ve got to be homeless, that’s the state to do it in. I still remained hopefully happy with the mental hospital’s memories starkly there in the back of my mind.

Part V

I would have to half guess that despite being homeless, I was able to “kick in” another cylinder to my brain’s motor block every one or two years. It’s amazing that each time I reached another mental plateau; I always thought that I “had arrived!” Instead, I found myself pushing further – in an inherent manner – finding myself, after awhile, at another plateau.

I would ask now for the reader’s forbearance by forgiving me for not getting into all of the twists and turns of my homeless years leading up to my fortuitous arrival in Appleton, Wisconsin two years ago. It was here, for the first time in 15 years of being homeless, that I was helped in a concrete manner in “getting off the streets.” Between the female staff of the Emergency Shelter and my personal counselor, George Koenig, I was given hope that came through. Mr. Koenig’s persistence and intelligence succeeded in renewing my Social Security and SSI benefits, after a five-year deadlock that two lawyers could not break through.

And more, very recently, George submitted my article on the homeless problem to the Homelessness Resource Center. He was the catalyst and the encourager who asked me to read a couple of scholarly, statistical reports on the homeless a year and a half ago, with a wink and a nod suggestion that I could lend a written perspective on the subject.

Perhaps at another time, when the astrological charts say it’s time, I’ll write a paper on my life during my fifteen years of homelessness and an account of those adventures into the unknown might lend itself to the common good.

HRC Resource
SAMHSA
2011
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617-467-6014
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