Memo didn’t always live on the streets, but he wasn’t always happy either. “It’s funny,” he said, “I reached a point in my life where I had this amazing job. I was making too much money. I would get a day off and blow it all at Tanger Outlet[s]. I had an apartment that was costing me $1,200 a month and I just took a look around and said, you know what? I’m not happy.” Memo decided it was time to move on or, as he put it, run away. “I waited until I was almost 60 years old to run away from home. And I never turned back.” This new lifestyle brings challenges, but Memo loves the opportunity to meet people and the freedom it gives him.
Furthermore, Memo doesn’t look at his being homeless as disheartening. The streets of downtown Charleston are home to many people with nowhere else to go, and they have given rise to a close-knit society that few people ever glimpse inside. “It’s a small community downtown,” Memo said. “Especially with the campus, I mean, everybody knows everybody. It’s wonderful.” Human company aside, he also loves the pigeons who live in Marion Square. “I’m here so much I can tell them apart,” he laughed. “There’s one here and he only has one foot. So his name is Stump. Stump will come here everyday, because I feed him. He’s like my pet pigeon. Sometimes he’ll even hop up on my lap.” Memo feels like his unconventional choice has given him more time to help others. “I have a lot of time now at my age where I can donate a lot of my energy to things that matter to me,” he said. He spends a lot of his time volunteering at local nonprofits. “There are so so many organizations in town that desperately need help, even an hour a week would help them.” One of his favorites is We Are Family, a support and resource center for teen members of the LGBTQ+ community and their straight allies. To Memo, helping others is one of the paramount things in life. “I like to think that’s why we’re on the planet,” he said.
When Memo sees people helping others, it motivates him to go further. “I feed off that. It makes me want to do more.” He believes that charity should not be resting on the shoulders of a few brave souls — it should be a community of people using whatever talents they have for the greater good. “If everybody did a little bit, then the people who do a lot wouldn’t have to,” said Memo.
When Memo is not volunteering his time, he’s selling his art. Every time a piece sells, he feels a sense of satisfaction and appreciation. “It’s not so much about the money, even though I like the money, that’s how I eat. But just the fact that somebody would like something enough to want it.” However, the purpose of his art isn’t to please others – it’s to fulfill himself. “I don’t want it to be a job. I want to enjoy it, but I want people to enjoy it…If they don’t, somebody else will.” Some advice Memo has for people who want to pursue art is to always love what you’re creating. “Find enjoyment in it. If it’s not fun, don’t do it.” Another tip he offers to up-and-coming artists is to continually look at work by artists you admire and expose yourself to new works. “If you want to learn how to write, read. If you want to learn how to draw, look at art.” Looking forward, Memo has no concrete plans but that’s the way he likes it. “I don’t know. I’m going to totally steal this, I didn’t make this up, but I overheard someone ask a person, ‘where did you grow up?’ and they answered, ‘oh, I don’t know yet.’ I love that.”
*This article first appeared in the October 2017 issue of The Yard.