After some bargain, Luke gives in. He agrees to talk with me in his hotel room in the Tenderloin. In the lobby he told me: “My room is not ready”. “My room is never ready either”, was my reply. Luke is a 76-year old immigrant from the Caribbean with a taste for clothes and fragrances. My oversize corduroy pants and deformed Puma trainers are shabby compared to his grey suit, ironed white shirt, and silk tie. A tiny elevator leads us to the third floor. We walk along a carpeted l-shaped corridor until Luke unlocks his door. >
Imagine fitting all your belongings in a single room. Even though Luke moved into a room bigger than the previous one, space is compressed. I use the only chair and he sits on the mattress of his unmade single bed. He sits so high that his polished black leather shoes hover in the air. My head is at the same height of his stomach. The rest of the room is filled by a fan blowing warm air in my back, a TV surmounted by a DVD player, books on the floor, DVDs and CDs amassed over the iron board, plastic bags with clothes, the tower of a small fridge topped by a microwave topped by an electric grill, a rice cooker sitting on the floor beside.
“I am trying to get a better place” Luke says right off the bat. “I’m ready. I don’t want to be stuck in this situation for the remainder of my life”. He recently applied for an apartment in a public housing development. The application assembled by his physician with the help of two social workers was recently rejected as “it was not strong enough”.
An apartment would allow Luke a life that he thinks he deserves:
At the end of the day, when I come home, and I open my door, I want to be able to come to my living room. And then go into my kitchen, and start to prepare dinner for myself. And after dinner is ready, I want to be able to bring it to a dining table and sit down and have a wonderful dinner. And also, I invite some of my friends from time to time to come, and be able to partake a nice dinner with them. You know? I want to be able to give myself a better quality of living.Luke’s eyes are not only set on him. Moving into an apartment would be a victory dense of meanings also for other San Franciscans. His life purpose is “to help people who are less fortunate in life. And also to show them that there is still hope and they can make it if they try. But they’ve got to try extremely hard because nothing is going to be easy”. That is the rationale behind his elegance. His look and his clothes manifest his inner dignity.
Every day when I leave I go through that door. I get up, brush my teeth, shave. And go out there looking clean and respectable. I am able to iron my clothes. See, I got my iron, right there. I got my necessary things to take care of myself. I got cologne, all of that. So I am representing myself. I am representing myself.