[Hpn] Street smarts:Homeless, college-educated, and content: ... ;Boston Globe;6/25/01

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@hotmail.com
Mon, 25 Jun 2001 21:44:25 -0400


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-------Forwarded article-------

Monday, June 25, 2001
Boston Globe <http://www.boston.com>
[Massachusetts]
City & Region section
Street smarts
<http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/176/metro/Streets_smarts+.shtml>

Homeless, college-educated, and content: Leo Buck finds fulfillment in a 
hard life

By David Abel, Globe Staff, 6/25/2001


Leo Buck dropped out of Harvard and is now homeless. (Globe Staff Photo / 
Suzanne Kreiter)


The streets are home to many people like Leo Buck, reduced to roaming from 
soup kitchen to shelter in search of sustenance.

But don't feel bad for the old man with the long, gray beard smoking his 
pipe.

A valedictorian of his high school class, a graduate of the University of 
Pennsylvania, and a onetime PhD candidate at Harvard's Divinity School, Buck 
has spent much of the past 15 years living on his own terms, as he is now, 
sitting on a park bench and enjoying the shade of a maple tree in the 
Fenway.

To be sure, there is little glamour in his story, one of the homeless 
community's many victims of alcoholism and depression. But the sunburned 
60-year-old is like a priest without a parish, a man of the streets who has 
helped hundreds of college students refine their poetry, inmates of halfway 
houses learn to live on the outside, and anyone from yuppies to elderly 
immigrants deal with life's hardships.

''This isn't as much the life that I have chosen, but the life that has 
chosen me,'' he says between greetings to others in Russian, French, German, 
and Greek, all languages he claims to speak. ''But I refuse to make the 
compromises that would change my situation. Maybe I love to suffer. 
Masochism has its own rewards, you know.''

Lugging a satchel stuffed with books, an old Dunkin' Donuts cup in which he 
hides beer, and a recorder he uses to raise about $10 a day for alcohol and 
tobacco, Buck rises at 5 a.m. at either the Pine Street Inn or the Back Bay 
train station, and uses a cane to walk to the Haley House in the South End.

After breakfast, he moves on to read the papers at the station, eventually 
making his way to the Fenway, a neighborhood he has returned to ever since 
he visited its onion-domed Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral years ago. ''I've 
made many friends here,'' he says, enunciating his words with the care of an 
English professor, ''so I keep coming back.''

Sipping beer now from two oversized cans of Steel Reserve, a cheap brew with 
high alcohol content, he greets joggers with a friendly smile. He bids good 
morning to elderly Russian immigrants with a cheerful ''dobroye utro,'' and 
waves at Latino inmates from the halfway across the street, telling them 
''vaya con dios,'' or go with God.

Some of them stop and sit with Buck, whose scent betrays the length of time 
since his last shower and whose cuffed white trousers are brown from months 
of wear. They talk to him about religion, politics, literature, the news, or 
just their lives.

Buck listens with curiosity and launches into his lectures, veering from 
medieval history to the writings of Dostoyevsky, from Oscar Wilde to 
President Bush's environmental record.

Buck asks Jeff Conrad, a 39-year-old artist, ''How's mom?''

''She's doing better,'' he answers. ''Thanks.''

Conrad's mother is recovering from major surgery, Buck says.

The two chat for a bit and Conrad explains his five-year friendship with 
Buck. ''He helps me reflect on life,'' he says. ''We have a kind of mutual 
psychoanalysis. It's always interesting what he says. I never realized the 
homeless could be so intelligent.''

Actually, many of the homeless are quite educated. Of the nearly 6,000 in 
shelters or on the streets of Boston, more than 25 percent have a college 
education, according to city figures. ''Most people have the wrong idea 
about the homeless,'' says Kelley Cronin, director of the city's Emergency 
Shelter Commission. ''Many of them are intelligent, but they have mental 
illnesses that keep them from improving their lives.''

Born into a middle-class family in a suburb of Scranton, Pa., Buck grew up 
playing the clarinet and the piano. While earning a master's degree in 
theology at the University of Pennsylvania, he married and had a son.

In part to avoid the Vietnam War and to continue his religious studies, Buck 
moved to Boston in the late 1960s to study at Harvard. After two years, he 
dropped out. ''It was an oppressive environment,'' he says. ''People were so 
uptight. No one laughed.''

For several years, he worked as an administrator at a few hospitals in 
Boston, until he was fired from a job at McLean Hospital in Belmont. ''There 
was a personality conflict,'' he says.

In the early 1980s, his wife left him, he went on welfare, and his landlord 
eventually forced him out of his home in Quincy. He has been living on the 
streets ever since and he hasn't spoken to anyone in his family in years.

Puffing his old pipe, the bright-eyed Buck says he's content with his lot in 
life. ''The alternatives seem much worse,'' he says. ''I know many who are a 
lot less in tune with themselves.'' But some aren't so sure he's telling the 
truth.

''This isn't an idyllic existence,'' says Ann Potter, Buck's psychiatrist at 
the Tri-City Mental Health and Retardation Center. ''He is not carefree. He 
is always worrying where he is going to stay. Life on the street is 
dangerous. He has been mugged, beaten up, and things of his have been 
stolen.''

Sitting cross-legged on his shaded bench, the scruffy shaman of the Fenway 
pulls out his prize possession, his recorder, and plays a tune from the 
Beatles, ''All My Loving.''

An old acquaintance, a Cuban exile, stops by and the two chat about Fidel 
Castro and the man's granddaughter. The man shuffles off and Buck stretches 
out, swigs some more beer, and then reveals his dentures with a great, 
satisfied smile.

Before leaving his perch in the park for another old haunt, Buck slides a 
decorative twig in his winter cap and offers this about how things have 
turned out: ''There are some limitations,'' he says, ''But it's not a bad 
life.''


David Abel can be reached by e-mail at dabel@globe.com.


This story ran on page 1 of the Boston Globe on 6/25/2001.

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Morgan <morganbrown@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA


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