Elbow Bumps among Friends

“Arizona? Why Arizona?”

Patrick Kluksdahl doesn’t hesitate. He laughs and explains. “It’s the only place my sister will help me find a place to live.”

The move will be a big change. Patrick is an Oak Harbor native. He was in OHHS class of 1984, but “I was smoking weed at fourteen, and I never finished school. I dropped out.”

No hugs in a pandemic: Patrick and Laurel at Ramaley Park.

But he married his high school sweetheart, so it all turned out great, right?

Not so much. “I screwed up. I kept drinking and I kept drugging, when I should have been a good husband. So we split. It was my fault.”

35 years later, Patrick chats at a table in an Oak Harbor park. He’s homeless, and he’s a regular guest at SPiN Cafe’s daily sack meal program. Like all of SPiN’s volunteers and guests, he’s masked, and he’s not too comfortable with the face covering. But the threat of Covid-19 is just another bump in the life he’s been living all these years.

Patrick stayed in Oak Harbor after his divorce. He worked construction jobs and painting gigs, moving from one employer to the next. Not too many years ago, after all those changes, “Mr. Franzen over at the Holland Inn gave me a chance. I figured it was my last chance. He was a good guy…”

He doesn’t feel like sharing the rest of that story, but it’s clear that didn’t work out either. And now he’s in his fifties, struggling with his health, losing his vision, still fighting his demons.

“Thank God for the Haven,” Patrick replies when asked about our local shelter. “I have no home, no car, and there’s no way I could live in the woods. The shelter is weird, being so close to people all night, and I’ve got anxiety, and so do a lot of the other people there, but still, it’s warm and it’s out of the weather.”

Patrick sees SPiN’s meals as a crucial lifeline. “I get food stamps, but it’s embarrassing when there’s a big line behind you in the store, and everyone’s staring. It’s nice to come here, just have a simple lunch, and nobody judges you. And the people here, we’re all friends. We all get along.”

It’s easy to see how true that is. When asked to pose with volunteer Laurel Fagan for a quick picture, they naturally step together, arms poised to go around shoulders. Then – oops – they laugh and stick with the socially distanced elbow bump.

After the photo, Patrick gestures across the street to the Little League® fields. “I used to play ball here, y’know…”

So Arizona beckons. “My parents are gone, I have no family left here in my own home town. My sister is all I have, and she wants me to move to Arizona. I’m hoping it’s a fresh start. I think that’s what she’s hoping for too.”

Patrick could move as early as next week. Meanwhile, he knows where to find a sandwich, a friend, and a smile. Plus an elbow bump.