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).