Everyone atOccupy Denver
has a story, but James Andresen's might well be the loudest. The animated 58-year-old doesn't share his story as much as he shouts it, a habit developed after a lifetime of working with power tools took a toll on his hearing. It is with a born-and-raised New York accent that he is shouting, this time at a pedestrian, about why Denver belongs to both of them. It's a big city, after all.
"You people are ruining Denver!' a man with a walker yells at Andresen, who is sitting on a white plastic tub near the corner of Broadway and 14th. His pace makes it impossible for him to dodge the repercussions, but he continues nonetheless. "This is my city!"
Andresen stands, and his normal speaking voice is equal to if not louder than his new audience's. "It's my city, too! What did you think this was? The Bowery in New York?"
Although the conversation, if you can call it that, dies off, it's never long before Andresen returns again to the topic of New York City. The man spent forty years of his life there, and both his accent and most of his stories constantly return to the city where he grew up, married and was divorced by the same Puerto Rican Pentecostal woman... twice. (He can't explain this, but he shares it openly -- and, of course, loudly.)
"People ask me why I'm kooky, or they ask me what's wrong with me, and I tell them that I raised four daughters," Andresen says. When one of his stories veers close to its punchline, he transforms into a human toy, so wound up that he can no longer sit -- which means in this moment he has just thrown his water bottle on the ground and is pretending to pull out his hair. "I tell them that I lived with five ladies and the fifth was the craziest. Someone told me I shouldn't say 'ex-wife' -- I don't know why -- so I tell them my ex-woman did this to me." Later, he would marry another, though he's not entirely sure if they're still married.
In the four months prior to his move-in date at Occupy Denver, Andresen lived near the Platte, and in the year and a half prior to that, he camped in the mangroves in Key West, sometimes in his bathing suit, sometimes naked. Gray is creeping up the sides of Andresen's head toward the center of his hair, and his face, lined with deep cracks, is a dark tan. When he is at his most emboldened, at the peak of his volume, gold teeth peek out from the recesses of his mouth.
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When he talks about his second wife, they wave. "I learned that you can't fix everything early on in life, though sometimes I think you might not be able to fix anything at all," he says. "To make a long story short, she was involved in the Mexican mafia, and I had to leave her and that world of organized crime three years ago."
The actual long story behind that short one is complicated, but what's more important is the idea that Andresen, who worked his entire adult life as a contractor specializing in remodeling and restoration, has spent the last three years of his life with no income and no home rather than return to the daily grind. Not all who occupy the space between 14th and Colfax on Broadway do so for purely political reasons, and Andresen has opted out of most of them. His focus, he says, is on basic human rights. The focus is surprisingly political for someone who says he isn't.
"I was attracted to this place by the basic essentials: food and clothing," Andresen says. He has lived with the group since the first Thunderdome, which he helped to build. "I gave up on the world a long time ago, and if the politics ended tomorrow, I'd be fine with it. There are a handful of us who only care about the needs of the people, and I say we're just as important as the rest."
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: Michael Moore calls CBS4 reporter "punk media" liar -- on CBS4 (VIDEO)."