Just like those long-faced Wall Street analysts and inflation-plagued economic advisers to the president, Daniel Thomas Frye sees hard times coming.
Frye, however, is more sanguine about the future because he had grown accustomed to hard times. He sleeps outdoors year-round on a plywood board. His home, a muddy encampment about 50 feet from the Georgetown Washington Parkway just south of Alexandria, has no roof and two walls -- the hood of a car and an uprooted tree.For lunch yesterday, Frye opened a can of Spam, sliced it up with his own knife and ate it with enriched white bread and Tabasco sauce.
For Frye, times can't get much harder. The suburban hobo claims to have the jump on all those corporate and government games players who have so much to lose.
"I'm unattached," Frye explained yesterday as he lay wrapped in blankets and an old Army sleeping bag. "And that's the way to stay happy, "specially in these days and times."
While a late winter wind knifed through his encampment yesterday, Frye, 59, a survivor of 30 years out in the weather, assessed the national situation:
"You got the stocks going down and prices going up (Spam is up to $1.79 a can) and some of these big men are standing up in their office buildings and lookin' out the window funny like they's goin' to jump."
Meantime, Frye has what he terms security, his means by no means. He has a soggy copy of "How to Be You Own Best Friend," which he found in Old Town Alexandria and keeps by his bed. He has a leaky bottle of hair shampoo that he found at the nearby Safeway. And he has his health. Frye claims -- and his friends confirm -- that the hobo hasn't been sick for 10 years.
"I think those germs can't stand this cold weather," Frye speculated yesterday.
The cold that apparently can't make him sick has, however, taken its toll on the hobo's face. His green eyes are rheumy and the skin on his cheeks is cracked and red. Frye has done a much better job of protecting the rest of his body.
In conjunction with the boys down at Firehouse No. 51 in Alexandria, Frye had developed the month-long approach to haberdashery. In the winter, it works like this: Frye, sensing that his clothes are starting to wear out and smell repulsive, walks about one mile north to the firehouse. There, some of the firefighters give him a plastic bag filled with long johns, flannel shirts, underwear, socks, jackets and stocking caps. He then heads upstairs in the firehouse for a shower and change.
It is the hobo's only chance to bathe, and Frye, his tongue stuck in a cheek covered by a scraggly beard, says he takes that shower "nearly every month whether I need it or not."
After his shower, Frye puts on his new clothes and stuffs the old ones -- which he says are by then too far gone to wash -- into the plastic bag. The bag, the firefighters note, is promptly thrown away.
The firehouse-clothes connection was developed by Frye during the past 10 years a period in which he has made a reputation as an honest hobo who doesn't whine about his lack of nearly everything and who is generally a swell fellow.
"He's a real nice guy and I never knowed him to bother anybody," says Elizabeth Tiller, a short-order cook at Williams Sandwich Shop on Wilkes Street. Frye shows up there every morning at 5 a.m. and get a cup of coffee and a briefing on the latest events in Old Town.
"He don't beg for nothing. He's no bum. He cleans up around here and does a little odd stuff. And, you know, people just give him things," says Tiller.
After hitting Williams Sandwich Shop, Frye moves on to the firehouse (where he has his own coffee cup), to the Safeway, where he picks up dented cans of food and does some janitorial work, then goes back home to the plywood board.
Even in the coldest weather, Frye refuses to sleep in a building. He turns down offers to sleep in the firehouse on nights of killing cold because he says he gets "too warm and stuffy" sleeping indoors.
"Now you got people who hear about a blizzard on the TV news and they's cold right then. It's psychological. The cold don't bother me," says Frye.
With darkness coming early on winter nights, Frye is home and in bed (he takes off his green K Mart rubber boots before getting into his sleeping bag) by 6 p.m. But in the summer, life loosens up.
"The summers go fast, the winters are long,' said Frye, who is anxious for springtime and the chance to take off a layer or two of clothing.
Frye, who was born in Monroe, Ala., and is an Army veteran of World War II, claims to have slipped easily into the hobo business after leaving the Army in 1950. He had a marriage that fell apart sadly and fast. His parents were dead and his brother was an enemy because of an old debt. He has a taste for beer, whiskey and wine.
"Now they [meaning the world in general] blame everything that goes wrong on alcohol," says Frye. The hobo says alcohol hasn't done anything to him but keep him relaxed while fishing for catfish in the Potomac. Firehouse friends say the hobo overindulges only a few times a year.
At his camp beside the parkway, where Frye has collected three hubcaps and some tarnished copper wire, he said yesterday that people who would call his life a failure would be wrong.
"I don't drink for false courage or when I'm in bad moods," Frye said. "I may stay here or I may leave. I don't have to worry about anybody but myself."