Kevin was hanging out with his girlfriend on comfortable chairs on the porch of Karl Tiedemann’s house Sunday evening, cracking jokes with Karl and anyone else who walked by and looking so at home that I assumed he was part of the large extended family that lives there. In fact, he has only a slight connection with the house—he came by with his girlfriend, who had brought her daughter there to visit the girl’s half-brother and half-sister.
Kevin has the laid-back attitude of a man who can fit in anywhere. He’s a black guy from the South, but being surrounded by white northerners doesn’t seem to give him any pause. He said it’s his southern background that helps him connect with other people. He was brought up to wave to people he sees on the street, and he still does, even though it’s not something people in urban New Hampshire expect.
In general, Kevin isn’t crazy about the way people around here behave.
“Their way of life is like looking out for themselves,” he said.
Kevin said things just seem harder here in a lot of ways. In Virginia, he said, you could rent a nice house for $800 a month. Here, it’s way more just for a townhouse in a neighborhood like this one. He gestured toward the small, tight-packed buildings around us.
“What people can really come up with $2,000 to give to a landlord just to get into a place?” he said.
Kevin himself can’t complain about his situation. He works at a warehouse, testing cable boxes and modems. He got hired when his employer was starting a new operation, so he was able to pick up skills early. He makes enough to afford his own apartment up in Manchester.
“It’s okay,” he said. “I could be doing a lot worse.”
He knows a lot of people who are doing a lot worse, he said. He’s seen friends who seemed to have everything together but had some kind of setback and then found they couldn’t get on their feet again. Some of them ended up doing things he never would have expected, like getting high all the time.
“I guess that’s their way of escaping it all,” he said.
Kevin said he wishes more people who are struggling could get food stamps or some kind of aid, just to give them a little cushion when something goes wrong. In Virginia, he said, it’s much easier to get help, with things like free clinics that don’t require a lot of paperwork before you can see a dentist to get a tooth pulled.
“Here you’ve got to be really, really, really, really, really bad off in order to get help,” he said. “A lot of people fake it.”
Kevin’s girlfriend is one of those who hasn’t been able to get help. She works in accounting, and she makes too much to get benefits for herself and her two children, but so far she hasn’t been able to save up enough for the first and last month’s rent on her own place. For now, she and the kids are living with her parents outside of Nashua.
As for Kevin, he’s been in New Hampshire for more than five years, and the place hasn’t grown on him.
“Man, I’m sorry I came,” he said.
But he’s not planning on going back either. Aside from his job, he said, there are things keeping him there.
I ask him what’s keeping him. People?
He smiled and nodded at his girlfriend.
“Person,” he said.