"Hey, Pete, how you doin'?"
A wary and sheepish look, but no answer.
Another wary and sheepish look. Pete rubs his chin, then bites his nails, then rubs his chin again.
A Fort Lauderdale police officer and a reporter are sitting in a patrol car after finding Pete (not his real name) in his usual spot. Most of the homeless stake out a spot of their own, and they're very territorial, Officer Scott Russell explains.
Pete, who is well-known to Russell, is standing alongside the car. His hands are now jammed in his pockets. He looks uncomfortable, embarrassed. When he speaks at all, he mumbles.
But Russell refuses to give up.
"Don't you think you might want to go get a nice place to stay, Pete? Get cleaned up?"
Pete shakes his head. "No, go talk to those people down where you saw me before. Those people are disgusting, the way they live, defecating in their pants and stuff. Go talk to them."
Russell turns to the reporter and explains that Pete's a bit of an elitist in his own way. He's an educated man who once had a family and a good job, and it seems there's a pecking order among the homeless. He may be down on his luck, but he's not like those others, he's not one of them.
At least some of Pete's bad fortune is of his own choosing, however. Russell makes a stunning disclosure: As a Vietnam-era veteran, Pete is eligible for $800 a month in veterans' benefits, but he refuses to simply sign a paper that will enable him to receive the money.
Russell, whose patience could be compared favorably with that of Job, can't fully conceal his frustration with Pete's stubbornness. In the time he has known him, Pete has lost out on about $20,000 in benefits by refusing to sign that paper.
Still, Russell presses on.
"Don't you want to sign that paper we talked about, Pete?" Get that money you got comin' to you?"
"No way. What do I have to do for it?"
"Nothin', man. It's your money. You're a veteran. You earned it."
"Nobody gets nothin' for nothin'," Pete replies, and it's pretty clear he isn't about to change his mind.
Pete hears voices warning him not to take the money, Russell explains. That's the way it is with the mentally ill. It's the kind of thing Russell runs into every day.
He's had more than 300 face-to-face contacts with Pete alone.