NEW HAVEN, CT—Yale University junior Steve Hamlin received what he described as a "hard lesson" this week when he realized that he was the only one putting any effort into his friendship with homeless Vietnam War veteran Freddie Paige.
"In any relationship, there's give-and-take, but with this guy, it's all take, take, take," said Hamlin, 20. "I sometimes think he prefers a hot meal and a warm blanket to my company."
"When was the last time he did something thoughtful for me?" Hamlin added. "Never, that's when."
The pair met in late January, when Hamlin approached Paige at a bus shelter and asked if it was all right if he sat down. According to Hamlin, the two immediately hit it off.
"Freddie was really easy to talk to," said Hamlin, who recalled discussing such diverse topics as politics, personal philosophies, world injustice, the weather, homelessness in America, and the meaning of life. "I thought he was just as introspective as I was, but now I wonder if he was even listening to me at all. Sometimes he acts like I'm not even there. Like his mind is somewhere else."
Hamlin began to notice cracks in their bond as early as mid-February, when Paige stopped grunting a half-hearted thanks for the grilled-cheese sandwiches Hamlin would bring him from the campus dining hall. "I'm not saying he had to go crazy with gratefulness, but you know, the grunt was nice," Hamlin said.
The philosophy major also complained about always having to "come to him" to get any time together.
"Freddie is so unreliable—sometimes I'll go to meet him at his usual spot and he's not there," Hamlin said. "Then I'll see him an hour later asleep on the bench near the McDonald's, almost completely covered in newspaper, as if he's trying to hide. When I wake him up, he gets irritated and acts startled, like he doesn't even recognize me."
Hamlin pointed out other ways in which Paige was not "pulling his weight," including never asking Hamlin how his day was, never paying him back, and repeatedly trying to bum cigarettes off him despite the fact that Hamlin has told him "a million times" that he quit smoking a year ago.
"It's like all he cares about is himself and his own basic needs, and that takes precedence over everything," Hamlin added.
The friendship deteriorated further when Paige finally came out of his shell and began talking about his background. "I hoped he would really open up to me and impart some insightful, hard-earned wisdom," Hamlin said. "Instead, he just kept droning on and on about how he hasn't seen his family in 11 years and really misses them, that he's cold and hungry, that he'll never get his life back. It gets a little tiresome. Clearly, he's got issues, and they're getting in the way of our friendship."
Paige also has a tendency to disappear without notice, Hamlin said. "He was gone for three whole weeks once, and didn't even bother to leave me a note," Hamlin said. "When he finally came back, I could tell by the whiskey on his breath and the cut below his eye that he had been out having a good time and hadn't even thought to ask me along. Come to think of it, he never invites me anywhere."
"At least have the common decency to pretend you like me," Hamlin added. "I've introduced him to everyone I know, and I have yet to even meet a single one of his homeless friends. It's like he's embarrassed of me or something."
Although Hamlin is "willing to bet" that Paige wouldn't care, or even notice, if he never talked to him again, he is determined to sustain the friendship at least until he finishes his paper on Paige for his anthropology class.