Every morning, without the aid of an alarm clock, Chris Mesfin wakes up at a time he describes as ‘somewhere between 4:00 and 4:01.’ It’s still very dark outside, and he folds his sofa-bed away, sits down on it in complete silence and thinks. While most of the rest of Malden is sleeping, Chris can be found here, upright, thinking about the day ahead of him. He’ll eat a small breakfast, go on a jog or do aerobics in front of the TV, clean up around the apartment, and run various errands for his friends. You can tell this is something he takes great pleasure in, (being able to help his friends out,) because he actually reserves time for it every morning before he leaves for work. Just this morning, he says, he went to the hardware store and bought a mop for a friend of his whose own mop had recently broken. Depending on the season, he rakes, shovels, and tends the yard for people who can’t. When there’s nothing pressing to attend to, he visits CASPAR, a shelter in Somerville he used to live in, and folds laundry. These are things he wasn’t always able to do in his youth, so they feel to him like luxuries.
Chris is not wealthy, but he earns a steady income and lives in a place of his own, which he found with the help of a caseworker from Tri-CAP. He does not want for much. In his living room is a TV and sofa-bed, along with some movies. There isn’t a bed in the bedroom; he wouldn’t mind having one, but he doesn’t mind not having one. For now there’s just an empty computer desk in there, and he would eventually like to save up enough money to buy a computer for it so he can start a small business selling CDs. He already has a business plan formed — he’ll design a website, print business cards, and sell CDs online and on the streets.
Selling comes naturally to Chris. On weekday afternoons and evenings, he sells copies of this newspaper on the streets downtown; he has done this for almost twenty years, and he says he could teach a class on it. When asked what the class would consist of, he says it would just be one lesson, over and over: No matter what the circumstances, treat everyone you meet with respect. Everything else is just a matter of preference, he says — finding the right place on the street, deciding when to break for meals, and where. What matters to him is how he treats other people. When asked how to respond to someone who says something mean to him, he shrugs and smiles. “I just tell them to have a good day,” he says. “because maybe they aren’t having a good day.” Sales increase dramatically for him during the holiday season, when, despite the cold, he remains in his spot downtown, sometimes wearing a Santa Claus hat. It’s an appropriate image, and one to look forward to in the coming months — a bright red triangle on a grinning tower of a man, surrounded by snow and slush and rush-hour foot traffic, telling us all to have a good day.
Chris Mesfin sells newspapers outside Park Street station on weekday afternoons and evenings, weather permitting. He has lived in a comfortable one-bedroom apartment in Malden for over a year.