Tommy Rogers, a Washington "street person" for the past nine years, spent Christmas morning hustling on 14th Street to earn enough to buy a bottle of rubbing alcohol so that he and a sick friend could drink it.
"Hell, I'll drink anything I can get my hands on," said the 51-year-old Rogers despite warnings that drinking rubbing alcohol can cause severe illness. "I ain't having much of a Christmas at all."
Times are harder than normal on the streets of Northwest Washington for Rogers, a Culpeper native who once was a journeyman construction worker in Northern Virginia.
"This (other) guy and I, we're brothers. . . live on the same (hot air) grate in front of the Corcoran art gallery. I stayed with him last night. He's 67 and real sick," Rogers said. "He said he wants to die laying on that damn grate."
So Rogers spent the morning trying to hustle "quarters, nickels, pennies. . . anything" for his friend on the deserted streets of Washington. At one point he sidled up to another street person who has built a makeshift home in the doorway of a 14th Street drugstore closed for the day.
"Get away now," the man said. "This sandwich is mine and I'll fight for it."
Rogers shrugged his shoulders proudly buttoned a light-green, plaid overcoat, filled with holes ad walked away.
"Things been kind of tight lately," he said, rubbing his head through a faded, red-knit cap. "I've been on these streets since 1970. Most of my buddies, they done died or something."
Yesterday Rogers' grate was surrounded by a few curious pigeons. There was an empty wine bottle nearby and tattered sheet of green plastic used for a bed.
"Got a good alarm clock," Rogers laughed before he launched into a coughing fit. "Police come by the morning and kick our feet. I tell 'em I ain't ready to be carried away yet."
"These are mean streets, man," he continued. "Sometimes there are five or six of us huddled on that one grate. But it's Christmas . . . people let you bother them a little bit more now. Tomorrow, they'll go back to ignoring us."
A young Frederick, Md. woman who stopped at the grate while Rogers was out begging placed two paper bags filled with sandwiches next to another anonymous gift -- a metal box with a holiday fruit cake that had been left there earlier.
"It's a bad situation . . . you see a bundle of rags laying there and it starts to move.You realize that there's a person in there somewhere," she said.
"Just tell them it was somebody that loves the Lord," she added, declining to identify herself. "That's much more important than my name."