It’s early June. A bright blue dumpster is reflecting the setting sun on a scorching summer evening. Flies are swarming to feast on garbage piled high, thought to be forgotten. This garbage, though, is far from forgotten—for some, it’s a treasure.
Every day at University Gables, a 65-year-old Hispanic man rifles through three dirty dumpsters. His eyes are bright, but his wrinkles make them droop close to the middle of his cheeks. Hoping to find goodies and knickknacks, this dumpster-dig has been Luis’ routine for four years. Today, he made out with a plastic storage bin, a mini-fridge and a few pencils.
After previously being homeless for six years of his life as a Californian, Luis has learned to appreciate the smallest things, even his new pencils. Today he is retired and living off his prior success in the furniture business. He had a shop in California, but he hopes to create a furniture store in Murfreesboro. His vision is to create a store in the building that used to be Rose’s on Mercury Boulevard.
“Oooo-ah!” Luis gasps in fright as I approach him digging through the dump. “In all my years digging through these dumpsters, not one person has come to say hello.”
Minding his own business, Luis ransacks a dumpster full of unloved items. He calls this his hobby. Luis has lived in the University Gables for four years in hopes to keep “under the radar.” He believes attention isn’t the way to live. Although, he says one day we will see his face on television.
“I will give you an autograph,” says Luis, “You better frame it. It’ll be worth something soon.”
Luis is very adamant about appreciating what he has. He has great advice about spending money and life in general.
“There is a difference between loving money and respecting the money you have,” says Luis.
He believes all he needs is pennies. After hearing a story on the radio about a little girl who was satisfied with just 57 cents when she died at a young age, he couldn’t help but be satisfied with the little he has. Luis said he had $100,000 in the bank at one point while living in California, but then he blew it all and became homeless.
One day, after blowing the money, he asked God for just 57 cents. Upon his arrival to a bank, three people gave him money. It all added up to 57 cents, just like he asked. Soon after this circumstance, Luis lost 11 cents.
“When I lost 11 cents,” says Luis, “I felt like I lost a million dollars.”
Now, Luis gets blessed with money often.
“I find at least seven dollars in coins on the ground,” says Luis, “but next, I’m going to ask God for a dollar. Just a paper dollar.”
He’s sure he will be given that dollar. Luis has a jar in his room full of pennies. He believes that if he has 1,000 pennies, they will later be rewarded to him as $1,000 from God. When asked when “later” is, he says God decides the time. Luis believes God provides him with everything he needs.
He is wearing a navy blue sweatshirt and grey sweatpants. It’s 90 degrees outside today. Actually, all the clothes that he is wearing today were acquired from previous dumpster dives. He is also wearing a flat-billed hat featuring a pink Muppet; Luis calls the Muppet “Nemo.”
“A lady told me that’s what this Muppet’s name is,” says Luis: “Nemo!”
His favorite book is The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. The book features secrets from successful people. Luis has a very big heart and a special love for success. Previously, Luis was married to a beautiful blond-haired woman.
“I shouldn’t have ruined that marriage,” says Luis seriously. “I ruined it . . . I brought a skunk home. She got mad at me, and then she kept the skunk and kicked me out!”
When asked why his past wife didn’t just kick out the skunk instead, Luis merely says, “Women are crazy like that.” Although he is no longer married, he has very successful step-grandchildren who have gone to school and made great lives for themselves. He couldn’t be more proud.
Although he has pride in his family, one of his step-grandchildren messed up. His said his step-grandson was one of the top wrestlers in the state, but he quit high school after hanging around the wrong crowd. He stole $7,000 from Luis’ now ex-wife and got into trouble.
Now, Luis has a new life. He has a car that has been parked in the same spot for over two years. He chooses to ride the bus or walk for exercise, so his car hasn’t moved. He says it’s just easier that way. No insurance to pay, no responsibilities. While Luis was walking alongside a road one day, a car hit him. Luis was in a coma for 30 days. He now has brain damage and a damaged leg, but his spirit is still strong.
He recently started attending church at The Experience Community. At first, Luis seemed puzzled by the offering plate system. Traditionally, a plate is passed around. Not at The Experience. Getting used to the stationary offering jar was a struggle for Luis. Today, he put pennies into the offering jar.
Luis is still standing near the jar. He confesses, “That was me.” Sarah winks kindly at him. At The Experience Community, connection cards are offered for new attendees. Luis fills out a card and asks Sarah where to put it.
“Oh,” says Sarah, “You can put it in this.”
She holds the pouch of money towards Luis so he can put the card in. She had already collected the offering jar that he was supposed to store it in. Luis slides the card into the pouch and pretends to take the pouch out of Sarah’s hands. Sarah was worried for a few seconds that he was trying to steal the money, but Luis let it go with a chuckle. Hopefully Sarah has a good sense of humor. . . .
“I like to make people laugh,” says Luis, “If I can make one person laugh every day, I’ve done my job.”
Although he dumpster-dives, Luis is content. Every day, Luis says to himself, “I will find a penny.” This morning he found 26 cents. He still has a goal to find a dollar bill. Luis writes down all the goals he has set for himself to reach. He accomplishes every goal he writes down and sticks them onto the bulletin board in his office.
“For the rest of your life, you might not be broke,” says Luis, “but you can be broken in spirit. Broken in drive. Right now, I am happy. I am content.”
Sometimes, pennies are all you’ve got. Luis gave all he had to the Lord today in church, even if it was just a lot of pennies. If you or someone you know is in need of some money today, it could be enough to give them a lucky penny.
“I want to give people 100 times more than what God gave me,” says Luis, “and I’m rich. Not with money, but in love.”
Luis waddles along the road with his cane, heading back to his apartment, one step closer to his next goal. One step closer to his next penny.