Entries in Honest (2)

Thursday
Jun022011

Thomas Chavez

Text and Photography by Gretchen Crowe

How do you describe someone when clichés don’t even apply, when someone is so unique their narrative lives outside standard interview questions? Well, with Thomas Chavez, we must untie ourselves from the confines of that proverbial box and take our path where he goes. Just like every individual, there is no one quite like Thomas; but in his case, it seems especially so. Since December 1, 2008, Thomas has been a regular fixture at the VOICE, and this is where our storyline begins.

Ask any of the other vendors about Thomas Chavez, and we get a straight answer. “He’s honest.” And as another vendor recalled, “You know, he’s a funny and honest guy, just because he makes us laugh at the obvious, but in such a new way.” Thomas is the type of guy that when it’s really cold, he’ll just keep adding coats. He sees nothing wrong with six coats for warmth, or pumping his two pound weights as he vends, asking his iconic, “Care to make a donation?!” Thomas is straight-forward, aware and very purely himself. He is unique and uncomplicated—such a breath of fresh air in a world of manipulation and spun stories.

Thomas is a Denver native, born on November 22, 1956 at Presbyterian Hospital—“Number One,” as he says. He had one sibling, a sister two years older, Tina Marie Tapoya, who died of pneumonia when Thomas was one-year-old. Tina had red hair and green eyes, which he quixotically said he didn’t know where they came from, but leaving no assumption or emotional hue on the statement. He talks as if he misses her everyday, although the memories must be completely hazy. His parents had no other children, and ultimately divorced when he was nine. His mom, Helen Carmelita DeFouyer-Chavez, worked at local hospitals in housekeeping.

Thomas spoke Spanish as a child, and had to learn English in school, although he says he doesn’t know how to speak Spanish at all now. He very endearingly said he was a mean little kid because he was scared due to being so little in stature. He claimed he changed as he grew up, and said it helped when people were nice to him first. “I love people, but I don’t like it when they’re all jacked-up; it kind of bums me out,” Thomas said of people when they’re mean.

Thomas went through 11th grade at North High School, stating the curriculum wouldn’t absorb between his ears. He immediately went to work for day labor companies and found his one and only love around the same time. At 17, he began to date his love, Maria, and moved in with their family. At 19, he walked into to a bloody room where she had died from 17 bullet wounds—he has never dated again. It sounded like the crime was never solved. “I saw her in red and I didn’t like it,” he said.

He moved back in with his mom and didn’t move out until she died when he was 48. When asked to tell his life story for the vendor profile, Thomas simply said, “I’ve worked day labor and lived with my mom my whole life. I became homeless when she died, and two years ago I started with the VOICE.” To many of my questions, he responded with a simple, “I don’t know.” And so to paint a full picture of this worthy vendor, some interpretations of his unpretentious world were needed.

When asked about his dreams, Thomas answered, “I’m going to be a big time someday, and I’ll be able to walk with pride.” After pulling at how it specifically drilled down, Thomas said he wants to have an apartment and the freedom to go to Blackhawk for occasional visits—a very honorable goal.

He likes vending the VOICE because, “you get to meet people and make a few bucks, and that’s about it. Oh, and it keeps you out of trouble.” But the untold story is Thomas uses vending money to survive. Fridays are his favorite time to vend—because it’s the last day of the week (simple, but honest). 

Sunday
May292011

Brian Dibley

Brian Dibley is simple. His Vendor badge number is simple. It’s #15—that means he’s been around for a long time. His smile is simple; and that’s because it’s honest. This is a true compliment. Like a few people we all know, Brian’s presence slows the world to a manageable place. His conversations keep the subjects grounded and his wit and intelligence shine in an otherwise chaotic world. He’s one of those people who reminds us to appreciate, when we often think we’re lacking.
 
Brian signed up in the vendor program in October 2007, but is only now debuting regularly as a vendor on the 16th Street Mall and Court St. He was born to an Irish Catholic family in Lockport, NY, thirty miles from the Canadian border. He was the eighth of nine children. Brian was born with a heart defect, and was kept indoors to stay “healthy” until the age of ten. “I had a lot of catching up to do! I rode a bike to get healthy!” His father, a career fifth grade school teacher, supported the family until the children got older, when his mom began to work at the local hospital, Lockport Memorial, in house keeping. At age thirteen, Brian became an avid track and field runner specializing in the, “Hop, Skip, Jump.”

In high school, Brian found a little trouble, like so many kids of that age, and left high school early. He began working installing carpeting and flooring, and at eighteen, he left New York for St. Petersburg, Florida, craving warmer weather. Of course there was a girl involved, but again, with kids that age, it’s nearly always fleeting. Brian stayed a year, working the whole time, and at 19, he returned to New York. He got a job in the same hospital with his mom. His brother Dave also worked in that department and Brian took his position when Dave became the manager.

At age 20, Brian joined the Air Force. He was a specialist in air crew life support systems, building and maintaining all the pilot safety mechanisms on a plane: parachutes, helmets, oxygen masks, etc. When asked if his work ever helped save a pilot, he smiled and said, “thank goodness, none of them ever had to try them! Those were some really good people I worked with!” He was stationed in Upstate New York, and then signed on for an extended service to be served in Okinawa, Japan. He was able to see all of the Orient, claiming Korea was his favorite because of local food.

When he returned, he moved to Denver to be close to his sister, Karen. For the first few years, he worked in construction, delivering materials. He then worked as a painter for three years, and followed that with a job at an upholstery company. They trained him from the bottom up in every aspect. Becoming a master, he worked there for fourteen years until 2006 when he had a seizure and possible heart attack. He could no longer deliver or work some of the machinery safely, and he was forced to change work.

He went back to day labor, just trying to keep above water. It was scary. “Some days, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it or not,” he said. Working with two temp agencies, Brian plowed through until 2007 when he went into full heart failure. He was hospitalized for over a month and he began the process of applying for disability. In 2008 he received aid and a pace maker, but most importantly, he got back together after a short break with his love, Manuela Shaw.

You might know Manuela from 16th Street and Tremont; she’s Vendor #12. They began dating in 2000—a storyline we can’t leave out! Introduced by Bruce Wright, Vendor #1 and VOICE Board Member, Brian has found his love. Through working at the VOICE together and saving their money, they’re working on getting married. Brian’s goals include getting into the 300 Club and furthering his life with Manuela. “The VOICE gives some people who can’t go out and do other jobs a way to make money. It gives them, and me, a sense of purpose,” he said. And Brian’s purpose is Manuela. •