Recently I blogged about a new project that I am starting called $2 portraits. The idea is that I will offer $2 to anyone who asks me for money from now on in exchange for their portrait.

Earlier today while I was having lunch with my friend Hemant outside of the Coffee Bean in Embarcadero 4 Herbert approached me asking for $2. Herbert told me that he was dying and would be dead in the next couple of days. He said that he had advanced stage stomach and colon cancer and had to wear a diaper. Herbert told me that he had arranged for a ride with Swords to Plowshares up to the VA Hospice in Yountville tomorrow morning where he said he was going to die. He said that he had $17 but needed $2 to pay for the $19 Green Tortoise hospice up on Broadway where he said he was going to spend the night tonight. He showed me his $17 and then offered to show me his diaper.

I told Herbert that I didn’t need to see his diaper and told him about my $2 portrait project and he agreed to pose for a portrait for $2.

Herbert told me that he recently had gone from about 175 pounds to 105. He looked frail and had a pocket full of prescription drugs and was smoking a cigarette. He said that he was in a lot of pain from the cancer.

Herbert told me that he grew up in Florida. That his father was in the Air Force and that when he was young they moved to Germany. He said after Germany when he was 16 he hitchhiked around the U.S. for a while and then joined the Marine Corps. Herbert told me that the Marines sent him to Vietnam where he fought in Da Neng. He said he knew how to handle an M-16 well. Herbert told me that he had suffered health problems due to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam.

Herbert told me that after he got out of the Marine Corps that he went to New York and got a bachelor’s degree in business and worked in the corporate world. He said he learned German and worked for Siemens for a while in Germany. He said he also worked in the UK.

Herbert told me that his wife had died about 10 years ago and that he’s been celibate since. He said he didn’t mind that. He said he had a son who was 41 years old living in Jamaica. He asked me how old I was and then guessed 39. I told him I was 40 and he was pleased that he’d guessed so closely.

Herbert asked me about my family and I told him I had 4 kids and he told me that I must have quite a nut to crack to take care of that family. He told me it was important to take care of them.

We talked for a bit more and then I wished him well and told him that I hoped that he would last beyond the couple of days that he said he had left. He wished me well as well and we parted ways.

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  1. Brad says:

    Cancer is such a bitch. I lost a sister to it in February (age 48). Unfortunately as the baby boomer generation begins to age we will see a huge rise in cancer stories in the news. Mainly due to the mass, not the actual percentage rise in cases.

  2. glen says:

    Your portraits are great but they account for a really small percent of your photostream.

  3. bj says:

    Thanks Thomas. Very touching.

  4. mikkelina says:

    This story encompasses so much: sadness, life, death, coincidences ($2), the reality of war, the reality of life, the truth that one can go from a so called “normal” life to a life on the streets…one of many portraits of America.
    thank you for sharing.

  5. PG says:

    heart wrenching stuff.

    The two bucks you offer pales in comparison to the time you take to talk to your subjects, offering some human connection and compassion. And then we all benefit too from being able to share your experiences in word and image.


  6. Christer says:

    Great portrait and a touching story…

  7. The story really touched me. I think everybody want the world to learn something about them when they done. I thought about that when being close to the deathbed myself.

    Hope he settles nice in the heven.

  8. […] Hawk’s portrait project is often very moving. This particular post about Herbert is excellent; great portrait and very touching […]