DJ remembers where she was at this time last year: sleeping on Broadway in the bus stops. Since she and her husband started selling The Contributor in October 2015 at Starbucks on Murfreesboro Pike, the couple has found permanent housing – and everything that comes with a home: showers, a kitchen to cook in and heat. She recently got to pass out candy on Halloween from her apartment, “which was really fun,” she said. She helps pay her bills from the money she receives for her hand drawn comics published regularly in our pages (see page 13). Get to know her better in this week’s Vendor Spotlight.
What has changed for you since you starting selling The Contributor last year?
The biggest change has been we have our own apartment. I turned on the heat this morning in our apartment, which feels so different than sitting out there in the cold. Sometimes we had blankets, but it was hard to carry them during the day. Now we actually have a place where we can go home and take off our boots. We couldn’t do that before. And we can take showers whenever we want to, not just on certain days. No more waiting in lines to eat, now I just get our food stamps and buy us food and cook.
What’s your favorite thing to cook in your new kitchen?
I like to cook just about anything, but my favorite is toasted cheese with spam and onions. Pops is a good cook, he’s better than I am. He makes a really good pork loin. He lets it cook all day. He cooks it until it falls apart.
How long have you and Pops known each other?
We’ve been married now for 17 years. But in this past year, he developed pneumonia and we went to the hospital and found out he had developed Peripheral Vascular Disease from all the time we had spent out in the cold. Now he has to be in a wheelchair at all times because his feet are going numb. So now my number one priority is taking care of him and then I look after myself. He’s the only family I have left.
Does Pop still sell The Contributor?
No, he had to stop selling because it was too hard in the wheelchair. I used to have to push him up the hill on Broadway all by myself. We tried selling outside of our apartment complex, but we got too many complaints. So I’m the one that has to support us now. I need odd jobs because I’m 64 years old and I’m not able to stand as long as someone would want me to stand in a regular job. One of our neighbors works at Opryland all day and so I take her dog out while she’s at work and she pays me for that. I submit art and my cartoons for The Contributor and get paid for that. I’m always looking for any outlet that gives me extra money. I pay for water, lights and renters’ insurance, and it all comes out to $242.
Have you gotten to know any of your other neighbors in the apartment complex?
Yes. Most of our neighbors have been so nice. All of our furniture and everything was given to us by people in the complex: a full size bed, leather love seat, lamps. Everything you’d need for an apartment, they gave us. We still get more stuff every day.
Wow. Are all of your customers that nice, too?
My regular customers are very nice, but sometimes it’s hard to stand out there when people are mean to you. One time a little girl walked by me and said (that) I stink. I had showered earlier that day; I didn’t stink. That’s how rude people can be. At first it bothered me, but now I just ignore them. I wave, but then I just keep my head up and look straight ahead.
How do you keep your smile on your face?
Well, some people are really nice. Yesterday, I was so happy; I was selling my papers and a stranger called me over and gave me a whole cup full of change. When I counted it, it was $46.
And I draw cartoons for The Contributor, which makes me happy. I love drawing. If I’m sitting and about to pick up a cigarette, I pick up a pencil and start drawing instead. And watching football makes me happy.
Last week my Lions, my Raiders, my Colts and my Broncos won, so I have been smiling ever since.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to the readers of The Contributor?
Give us a chance. Don’t group us all together and try to treat us as individual humans. And get excited to see my drawings in the wrapping paper editions!