Thursday, May 11, 2006

Peter Joseph Bis

This past semester I worked about twenty hours a week as a law clerk for a Senate Committee. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, I trudged up to Capitol Hill and, on my way, passed a friendly homeless man named Peter Joseph Bis. Each morning, Peter faithfully sits on a park bench in between Union Station and the three Senate Office Buildings just North of the Capitol and makes a point of greeting all the congressional staffers trekking to their respective offices. Far from your typical indigent soul, Peter, flanked by his shopping cart of belongings, cheerfully sits sipping his morning coffee and looks for conversation from any passerby that has time. He's not a pan-handler. In fact, he's never asked me for a dime. He seems more interested in interacting with others than anything else.

My first few days I didn't think much about him; I simply waved and said hello as I went on my way. About a week into my clerkship though, he noticed the International Arbitration book I was holding as I happened past him. "International Arbitration? I was involved in a UNCITRAL arbitration proceeding before the U.N. once."

He what?!! I stopped dead in my tracks. "Really?!" I said turning back toward him.

"Yeah" he answered matter-of-factly. "I went to law school in the 70's and used to work abroad." I'm sure my face betrayed the look of someone who'd just had his assumptions thrown right in his face. In hindsight, I figure he was probably used to this though. "Here's my card," he said handing me a crude makeshift business card. "Check out my blog."

I thanked him and went on my way, trying to process all of this new information as I walked to the Hart building. Once at my desk, I jumped on the internet and went straight to Peter's blog. It's one convoluted magic carpet ride. Written in the third person, it's basically a long running post of elaborate conspiracy theories. I began reading through it, but my mind quickly wandered as it became rather cryptic, bordering at times on incomprehensible. Peter, however, still intrigued me more than ever.

I made a point of arriving early the next day I worked so that I would have time to sit and chat with Peter instead of scuttling off to my Senate office. He seemed genuinely pleased that I wanted to talk. We first discussed his blog. I learned that he doesn't actually publish it himself. He dictates the content to a young man who posts it for him. Apparently very interested in what I thought of the blog, Peter kept asking if I'd visited it, and, if I had, what my impressions were. I told him I did visit the site, and that I thought the conspiracies it detailed were very interesting; he took issue with this description though because everything had been based on "solid fact." I also suggested he split his running post and make each update a new and seperate post, but he prefers simply "updating" the one post because it encourages new readers to read the entire narrative as a book or story (for the rest of the semester he took great pleasure in letting me know how many "pages" his blog had grown to).

We then talked about his past. As a child growing up in Michigan, he struggled with polio and a severe speech impediment. He said this helped him in his studies though because he lost himself in books. After getting a Bachelor's degree in History from Western Michigan, he attended law school at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School. He left law school a year early and continued his studies "unofficially", gaining what he called the equivalent of "five or six Doctorates." He even claims to have studied for a time in the Vatican. Meanwhile, he married and divorced once and bounced around from job to job. By the mid-nineties he found himself driving a cab in Michigan. He moved to DC in 2001 to follow up on "some work" and is now in trying to get enough money to purchase a boat on which to live. He views himself as a sort of freelance journalist who is exposing corruption at all levels of government. When I asked if he had tried to find other work so he could maybe get a place to live while he wrote, he said it wasn't worth it. He said he's been offered teaching positions, but "those don't pay more than $48,000 a year and that's simply not enough to live on in this area." It would also pull him away from "what he's doing now." While I in no way understand his logic here, he seemed pretty adamant about it so I dropped the issue.

Instead we finished up talking about me and my studies. Upon seeing the "Legal Ethics" textbook in my arms, he joked that that was an oxymoron if he'd ever seen one. He also told me to keep studying arbitration because "it's better than litigation." By this time I needed to get going, so I excused myself. He thanked me for stopping and went back to greeting all the passerbys. I left as perplexed about him as I'd been before we spoke. He had shattered all of my preconceptions about the homeless.

My question is this: How does one end up like Peter Bis? Although he's got some strange ideas, he's pretty personable and appears well-educated (Especially if you take him at his word. Only 24.4% of Americans twenty-five and older have Bachelor's degrees and only 8.86% have Graduate degrees). How did he end up on the streets? He seems to have had a lot of opportunities in life and also seems somewhat capable. I know I really don't know about much about him, but he almost plays living on the streets off as a conscious choice. Was there a single moment in which he simply accepted it as his lot? Or did a "sometime" thing just end up becoming an "all the time" thing? Furthermore, just how many homeless are like Peter?

I know there are a lot of factors that are said to contribute to homelessness, including drug addiction, mental health, and cycles of poverty, but I still struggle to understand the problem. More than that, I'm also at a loss with how to address the problem. How do you help someone like Peter?

69 comments:

tigerfoxbear said...

I really liked this post except for the very last line, "How do you help someone like Peter Bis?" Who the hell said he needs any help? From the story you've written it sounds pretty clear that he has chosen the lifestyle that suits him. I'm guessing there are about as many Peter Bis's as there are Marc Bohns out there. Now, not having read his blog, nor talked to him, I am going to assume he is a normal guy. So with that, I think you just accept that he's made his own decisions on life, and he seems content with them.

Marc said...

Point taken. People should be able to make their own choices. But I still wonder about Pete's mental health. Is this REALLY how he wants to live? Though an atypical homeless man, he still is somewhat odd and certainly appears to have some issues (see his blog). Then again maybe I'm just one of those "liberals" who likes give help that's unasked for and unneeded.

BA said...

Well you definately are one of those liberals but that isn't the end of the discussion.

From an incredibly flawed "reasonable person" perspective it seems that no one would make a decision like Peter's who was thinking rationally. His cost/benefit analysis of only making $48k seems to make that point.

I think there has to be some mental condition. I took psychology 1010 at the Tech and I think it qualifies me to make certain assessments and psychological evaluations. Peter is clearly suffering from a beautiful mind or bipolar disorder.

melbo said...

I love how a 3 credit course suddenly makes you a psychologist. I can't beat those credentials so I suppose I'll have to concur with the resident expert: BA. At least until his wife logs on. She is the one with an actual "psych degree" after all.

Gargantus said...

i think you need to "teach him to fish" especially if he is planning on living on a boat at sometime in the future.

Marc said...

BA - Well which is it? Bipolar or a beautiful mind (and just what the hell is "a beautiful mind"? Does everyone who has schizophrenia qualify as a John Nash?).

Melbo - Well said.

Garg - Not sure I'm the best person to teach him how though. I've only been 15-20 times myself (back in the Scouting days). Maybe I need someone to teach ME how to fish.

BA said...

Oh, I see how it is...negative reactions to Gar and I while Melbo gets a pass. Typical.

Marc said...

Is my reaction to Garg really negative? I hadn't thought so. My purpose was to single you out BA, couldn't you tell?

Gargantus said...

you can't believe everything this homeless bum is telling you marc. He could easily have been following you, found out the titles of the books you're studying, then read up on them via the WWW. It could be an intricate undercover plan used by some of your potential employeers, to see if you will mingle with the lower class. Are you a blue blood or not, marc?

Anonymous said...

I need some legal advice . . how can I get a hold of Peter?

Marc said...

The park just north of the Russell building between 7-10am on any weekday is always a good bet. Otherwise you could always try commenting on his blog (though you might want to make certain you'd enjoy a legal privilege there given that a 3rd party moderates the blog).

Mrs. McDreamy said...

I am not going to assume to understand Peter's psychological history, but I do find it very interesting that some people do in fact "choose" to live on the streets. While I agree with BA, it is probably not the choice of a person with good mental health, it still comes down to a chain of events and choices made over the years that a person ends up like Peter.

I work with a girl who is a hygienist, she is well educated, has a boyfriend and seems somewhat normal. But she is crazy and really wants to be a hippie/bum. I asked her once what she would want to do or where she would want to live if she had the choice. She said she would want to be a drifter. She would love to not have a home, to not have a job, to drop off the radar of the government and live off the land and to be alone. It made me realize that some homeless people are just like that. They don't want to answer to anyone and that being cold at night is a small price to pay to be able to have the type of freedom that they seek.

I know this does not represent the majority of the homeless. And I for one think that this is a very messed up, but to some people it makes sense.

Gargantus said...

Dude! That is pretty much my life! Except i recieve some money from various parties... If i didnt have the "job" i have now, i would probably camp on a beach somewhere and learn to surf on a board i ripped off from some visiting tourist.

Mind Spewer said...

Thank God I turned down the scholarship that the Thomas Cooley School of Law offered me. I'd much rather sit on my but in an air-conditioned cubie then on a bench in D.C. talking to Congressional staffers (yuck).
I think the moral is clear here: Going to Thomas Cooley School of Law will lead you to a life of blogging and homelessness.
(And I will completely ignore that fact that at this moment I am homeless--living in SLC with a friend--and blogging).

Mind Spewer said...

Excuse me, I meant "butt" with 2 t's.

Gargantus said...

sure you did.

Sue Ellen Mischke said...

Interesting story. I wonder about the mental health of homeless people too. I used to live in the Loop, where homeless people nearly outnumbered those that have a home, especially since there was a mission a couple blocks from where I was renting. I always wanted to try to have a rational conversation with the people I passed on the street everyday, but I was convinced I'd pick the one that wanted to rape me and steal my credit cards.

Gargantus said...

you know, people who arent homeless do that too.

Marc said...

Ali - Interesting. So I wonder if most people see a big difference between the hippie that wants to live in and be one with nature and the homeless man on the corner. I really can't say why, but my gut reaction was to say they were different.

Mind Spewer - Doesn't it feel good to have your choices validated?!

Sue Ellen - Had many women been raped and had their credit cards stolen by homeless men in the area? Perhaps you're walking past Chicago's very OWN Peter Bis and you don't even KNOW it!

Garg - Yeah, but Sue Ellen always seems to be dating an officer of the law... it has a way of warding off that element.

Gargantus said...

I thought that officers of the law were more likely to rape and steal, as has been my experience.

Ben said...

Wow, interesting stuff. You never cease to surprise me Marc.

Anonymous said...

i've recently met the BIs and the man is very intelligent and his story seems consist between you and I. However, the man displays classic signs of paranoid schizophrenic. He talks about the government and the cia watching him, and meeting with high ranking government officals. Also, he claims to have brought down many mafia gangs

Marc said...

Can't say I'm qualified to diagnose schizophrenia, but I wouldn't be surprised if you were right. It would explain a lot.

CIA Suspicious said...

I just talked to Mr. Bis today after a similar fascination with his friendly demeanor. (He always says, "good morning, hang in there, only X days to the weekend...") A friend of mine at the library of Congress said Mr. Bis had a blog site, which also intrigued me.

In the past week, I began talking to another man of the street, who is stationed generally a block north near Union Station. This other man is not homeless, but a clean cut man with a mission to eradicate the CIA. He wears a jaunty straw hat and has a large poster that says GET RID OF BUSH, or something to that effect. He passes out a printed daily leaflet, full of government treachery stories, from his own homemade press.

I took one leaflet last Friday, and Mr. Bis saw that I had a copy as I went toward work. Wanting to return his friendliness, I gave him the leaflet and for a few days I have been making sure Mr. Bis gets his daily anti-CIA leaflet.

OK, so today Mr. Bis opened up to me a little and yes he is fascinating. We talked about a few things, and then I asked him if he thought the other man who writes the leaflets up the street is actually from the CIA. (After all a clean-cut man with anti-Bush slogans blocks from Congress...) He looked at me suspiciously and said, "just take a look at my website, that's all I can say about him, now."

Marc said...

I know well the other gentleman you speak of. Oddly, during my time on the Hill I often saw Peter speaking with him. Perhaps he was cavorting with the enemy?

J.D. Thinker said...

It's interesting to hear someone else's thoughts on Peter Bis. I just chatted with him for the first time this evening--after waving to him politely for about two months. I had always wondered how he knew the day and obscure holidays--he seemed very intelligent.
I agree that his story seems consistent, although after going to his website I was less convinced of his mental acuity. Still, I did graduate with a J.D. and listening to him speak intelligently on legal matters was fun. Since I live close by, I'm sure tonight was the first of many conversations I'll have with him.

fried said...

As a DC journalism(ish) intern, I once spent two hours talking to Mr. Bis outside of Union Station. The story he told you matches up to the one he told me - same card and everything. Nice guy. I bought him lunch. He freaked out when some guy took out a camera to shoot Union Station and pointed it in our direction, though. He then told me I was on a couple hit lists because people had seen me talking to him. He told me he was going to pray for me. I'm sure he meant well.

Anonymous said...

The man in the straw hat is Andrew Bestor. I believe that they are friends rather than enemies. I am so curious about the background of Andrew Bestor. He is stationed at Columbus Circle outside Union Station EVERY morning. He also walks up and down Pennsylvania Avenue every weekend with his sign and donning his usual straw hat.
I admit that I know nothing about psychology, but Peter also seems to have some sort of memory deficiency as he clearly remembers me (every morning he tells me to say hello to my husband, whom he's never met -- but I gave him a few of my husband's T-shirts and other items once) yet he tells me the same story over and over again. He pulls out his wallet (which I gave him) and shows me a photo of a blond woman which he claims has been remastered and is circa 1960? Peter and Andrew are just so intriguing and confusing to me...

Marc said...

Andrew Bestor intrigues me as well. As for Peter, the local NPR affiliate here did a short segment on him yesterday.

BlindViper said...

I have talked with him a few times. I see him daily. Andrew Bestor helps him push his belongings up c-street in the morning around 8am. I work for William
V. Walsh. I gave him my knee brace to help with his leg. I thought he was well educated

Claire said...

Happy Sunday to you (that's a Peter Bis original). I also see Peter daily as I walk past Bagels and Baguettes and have wondered about him multiple times. I'm happy to know others are as fascinated by Peter as I am.

Ceridwin13 said...

I commuted to DC for almost 5 years on the MARC train, and I remember seeing Mr. Bis every morning for quite awhile. He was such a nice person, very intelligent (thought a bit paranoid) and friendly. I haven't ridden the train for 3 months or so now (I've moved to Bethesda), so I haven't seen him recently. He's still there, I hope? After reading your blog and the comments, I'm tempted to just walk down and pay him a visit. He once told me that he can't get a job or a home anymore, because he had "outed" some crooked business men and that he was now blacklisted. He also said people are looking for him and want to kill him. Seems to me that if someone REALLY wanted to kill him, it wouldn't be terribly hard to find him, but he emphatically believes it, so...what can you do?

Anonymous said...

You all should read this book and see how hard it is to get people like Peter Bis the help that they deserve. It is one of the main reasons why there are so many homeless.

http://www.amazon.com/Crazy-Pete-Earley/dp/0399153136

Pete Earley is an investigative journalist with the Washington Post and his son came down with mental illness while he was away at college. Mr. Earley does an amazing job describing his experience and frustration with the mental health system in this country, and he provides readers with some historical and political context of why our system is broken.

I suspect Mr. Bis he has a form of paranoid schizophrenia. He probably has the type of mental illness that makes him misinterpret data that is actually around him, as opposed to "traditional" schizophrenia disorders that manifest themselves with the sick hearing voices or seeing things that aren't really there (hallucinations).

Biscould probably be helped with medication but is probably just "sane engough" to avoid being committed to a hospital where he can get the help, counseling and medication that he deserves. Poor fellow!

Anonymous said...

We met Peter Bis yesterday at the same corner you mentioned in your blog. I, like you, am totally intrigued by him. I also went home and logged right onto his blog, and am still thinking about him today.

deidra said...

SO, I'm a year late in commenting on this post, but I just found out about it today. Peter Bis was referred to as "homeless Pete" in our intern apartment. He brightened my spirits several times. (my blog post about Pete)

I also noticed that you're an avid Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me Listener. Funny that the only three posts of yours I've read have been about things I love! I liked the comment about Peter being on of the 3 Nephites in the comments of the NPR- Peter Bis post. I could almost believe it...

Kevin said...

I know Peter quite well, even consider him to be a friend, but let me tell you, Peter is the only person I've ever met who finds a roach clip and then decides for some inexplicable reason to locate a police officer and turn it in.

" Occifer...uhhhhh....i've decided to mend my ways and I want turn my roach clip into you. Here ya go. "

lmfao...lololololol....

I give him hell about it daily.

Lance Kennedy said...

www.theuniverseconspires.com I posted a couple of pictures I took of Bis on my site. Check it out. I had a similar experience with him.

Anonymous said...

My family and I are visiting DC and we ran into Peter as we have been walking to Union station. He has said hello every time we went by and today I stopped and spoke to him. He gave me a long intro and a business card (homemade like the one Marc had but only the name and blog site). I went to the blog when we got back to the townhouse we are renting and tried to read it but gave up after a 1/2 hour. I think Marc captured my impressions but I am a bit dismayed at people's comments. Everyone seems to like Pete and some seem to have an opinion about his mental state but nobody seems to be trying to get him off the streets.

Marc said...

Anon - The question I asked to end my post still perplexes me. I have no idea exactly to help someone like Peter. He doesn't seem to want to get off the streets. Perhaps there are some homeless programs in the area that could help him in some way, but I figured others had already tried. Is that a cop-out or what? Speaking of which... you done anything to try and help him?

Anonymous said...

Quite by accident your site came up and was referred to me because of its content.If someone could ask him about his family as in the name of his mother or father or, if he had brothers and sisters,something to confirm that he is in fact who I believe him to be...that would be Peter Bis from Michigan.Once confirmed perhaps I can share with you some information on him.Cautin advised if he is.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the 11/2/07 posting regarding querying about family linkage...if he is as he says, then Jr. designation is appropriate. Also, elementary, high school (and graduation year)could be points of validation. If this information gets posted,some of the cautionary information may follow.

Anonymous said...

So, has this "project" hit a dead end...Is Peter still hanging in DC? Did previous two messages disrupt the inter-action. As an extended family member...well, obviously I have no idea of what is going on and more out of couresty thought that I would follow the trail from the outsider or should I say the locals perspective.

Anonymous said...

As of January 2008, Mr. Bis remains in the union station area. He sleeps under the awning of the chicago pizzeria, almost every night. He hangs out at the little park between 2nd St NE, D St. NE, and Mass Ave NE. The coffee shops bordering the intersection often give him free food / coffee.
I've lived in DC for four years, three of which were spent in the Eastern Market / Cap hill area. I've seen Mr. Bis many, many times. I am convinced, and not in a mean way, that he is a mentally ill individual. I do not know what happened to him, but after talking with him in depth on more than one occassion, it is clear that his thought patterns are not actually coherent. He's not a "normal guy" choosing to live on the street as part of some hip alternative lifestyle, he is a bona fide mentally ill homeless person.
Marc, as for your question, the answer is the same for Mr. Bis as it is for all mentally ill homeless people, which is to say that it is a complex answer requiring a combination of local activism, health services infrastructure, education, and low-cost / free housing. Not something an individual can just "do."

Anonymous said...

Can anyone can get a message to Peter for me? Please email me at tepidmonkie@gmail.com if you will drop a note by when you see him.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone ever read John Grishams book The Street Lawyer? If so there is a homeless character named Paul who tells this new lawyer working for the legal clinic he is wanted by the FBI. The new lawyer tells a long time lawyer of the legal clinc Pauls story, the older lawyer says dont you mean peter and yesterday it was the CIA. I had the pleasure of getting to know Peter while I lived in DC a few years ago and the character instantly reminded me of peter. I know that Grisham did some research in DC with the homeless legal defense clinic and one of the people he mentions, Mary Ann Luby,is on the NPR clip about Peter. I was wondering if anyone knew if this character was actually based on peter.

Anonymous said...

An update on Peter Bis: I have lived on the Senate side of Capital Hill for 3 years now and I know Peter well. Peter has not made a conscious choice to be homeless; he is both severely schizophrenic and extremely proud. He never asks for money and receives no government benefits. He is too crazy to work, too proud to beg, and too honest to steal. Currently, and perhaps poignantly, he mainly resides on the ledge marking the property line between Exxon and the Heritage Foundation on 2nd and Mass NE - a constant, living reminder to the architects of right-wing policies that there are, not just cracks - big gaping holes - in their small-government ideas, through which good people fall.

wingless said...

Sir, BIS sounds like a classic sufferer of severe mental disorder (probably schizophrenia). He may be interesting and personable but that should not surprise - mentally ill people are not necessarily raving lunatics or catatonic zombies (though some psy. drugs have this unfortunate side-effect). That said, I would hardly call him atypical (I mean: how do you know? Have you sat and engaged many homeless people? I have spoken to a few and most are fascinating, if not severly confused souls)

Do not assume any of his stories are true for with this disease it is difficult to tell where truth ends and fantasy begins (it's a mishmash).
His site is irefutable evidence of this man's perception of our world. He sees conspiracies everywhere, people are 'implants', he sees surveillance and CIA in EVERYTHING, his thoughts are fragmented, disconnected, scattered.

Of course - 'what to do' with such an individual is a difficult question. Is he better off as he is now, seemingly content; or would he better off having to face reality, that is that he is now an elderly man who has likely spent a great deal of his life sitting on park benches and seeing conspiracies everywhere?

The answer to that is a mystery. I would suspect it's probably best to leave him. Don't dilude yourself though, his being personable does not make him any less out of touch with reality

wingless said...

Ali - you're coworker sounds like a typical suburban rich kid (or equivalent) who has romantic notions of the drifer lifestyle. They think it would be fun to be 'trully free' but can't appreciate the realities of such a decision.

Sure, not having to work a 9 to 5 would be fun, but squatting on wet ground, wiping yourself with some newspaper or leaves; not knowing from where, when or if your next meal will come (how many fat hunter/gatherers do you know?!); having to watch your back 24/7; being in a perpetual state of stinky, dirty unkemptness (not talking 'messy' or 'unkempt' as much as 'unhygenic'); and being looked down upon by most IS HARDLY APPEALING!

There's a certain segment of our society whose thought process is far removed from the factual, not being able to seperate grandiose fantasies from brutal reality.

For those people, unfortunately, the cold harsh reality may be the only eye-opener. Alas, by then it may be too late.

Anonymous said...

I actually met Mr. Bis in November 2007. I had gotten a flat tire. Two girls from Kentucky stranded in DC...I have no idea where I was but I stopped at a shady gas station to get Fix-a-Flat tire repair stuff. A scruffy homeless man kept staring at me...eventually he walked over and asked if i needed help. I quickly said "NO! I'm fine. Thank you." The fix-a-flat exploded at some point and he came back over and insisted that he help me. My girl friend was freaking out inside the truck. I told her to lock the doors and call 911 if anything happened to me. I gave him some quarters to activate the air pump and he proceeded to inflate and fix my tire. He was very friendly. He was going on and on about the CIA watching him and shooting at him and telling me that his wife had died in an automobile accident while the CIA or the Mafia chased him. Apparently some Mafia is looking for him so he has to maintain a low profile. He told me about how he used to do all of this Top Secret stuff and how he could make a ton of money but it just wasn't worth it to him. When he first sat down on the ground to begin working on the tire I said quite possibly the dumbest statement to him..."OH NO! Don't do that...I'd hate for you to get dirty" He matter-of-factly looked up at me and said, "I'm homeless." lol

Reece said...

I don't get this fascination with affable homeless people. People want to correct their image of impoverished indigents, so they treat the sociable ones they find with more deference than they actually deserve. That's why homeless people are artistically photographed so much by urban hipsters, who think well of themselves just because they interact with and dignify the homeless. Then they post their homeless person photos on Flickr (or blogger) so that other hipsters might think, "Hey, that kid must be cool. He hangs out with a homeless guy."

Peter Bis shouldn't lead you to question why homeless people are homeless. Peter Bis is homeless because he's delusional, and he lies. Studying "unofficially" to a point where he could have obtained 6 doctorates... bullshit. He wants people to view him for what he isn't, and he uses his homelessness as a way to make it seem more remarkable (even plausible!). If you saw a cashier at McDonald's with the same story, you wouldn't be as willing to hear it. Somehow, by being at the bottom of the social hierarchy instead of somewhere in-between, it makes it more plausible that a reasonable and well-spoken person should have a remarkable story to tell. We think, "Hey, you don't belong here!" That's what we want to see, and that's what Hollywood gives us. "Peter Bis had everything going for him, then [insert Bis' conspiracy theory] he LOST everything, and look where he is now..."

Peter Bis must find some solace in his predicament, and what a sorrowful predicament it is. It's not something to be glorified by urban hipsters with cameras and an ear to lend. Peter Bis finds solace in delusion, and so his predicament is tragic. We want to make his story compelling by believing his make-believe autobiography, but Peter Bis is just a homeless man. He knows he's just a homeless man, and it's we who make him something more.

Anonymous said...

I used to work in an office right by Peter's typical hangouts and was given his card once. Was trying to find his blog again to see what he's been up to and found this page.

I never actually sat down and talked with him, but I worked in that neighborhood long enough that he seemed to recognize me. Apart from short conversations waiting to cross Mass Ave, I never said much more than "hello" to him.

To state the obvious, he's got some significant mental health issues. I don't think it's his choice that he lives the way he does (though he tries to justify it with cost-of-living excuses), but it's probably the only way he can manage since he's likely unemployable.

Capitol Cowgirl said...

Having read the conglomerate of comments, I'm surprised that no one has mentioned Pete's obsession with skinny dipping. During our first coversation, Pete bragged about his skinny dipping excapade with Princess Diana (before she was married of course). As nice and interesting as Pete is, I find skinny dipping conversations with anyone (let alone a homeless man I just met) as fairly creepy. I didn't stay to chat long. The next time I saw Pete, in passing, he warned me against the perils of skinny dipping on the weekends. Hmmmmmmmmm....

Anonymous said...

Hey...I'm pretty sure I'm a relative from Michigan. I find it interesting to hear you comments. I just started following when I googled my name and his name came up. I guess that I am glad to hear that while he may be wierd, to date he has not caused any harm. God bless those of you who have shown kindness...it may be more meaningful than you think...but be sure to be safe in your efforts. I would hate to hear that harm came to anyone who lent a gesture of kindness.

Anonymous said...

Saw Peter almost every day when I was a Senate Page in DC... He lives right near the dorm and was always incredibly cordial to us as we walked by his hangout (the border between the gas station and the heritage foundation building), although he did talk about skinny dipping all the time.

Piece said...

Whoever Reece is, let me just say, you should really do some research before you make asshole statements like you did. I have been living in the cap hill area for about 8 months now. I pass peter everyday on my way to work in front of the exxon station. I've talked to him numerous times for hours at a time. He HAD a significant life. I saw proof. He showed me passports filled with stamps. An article in the Washington Post verified his degree from Michigan University and that while he did not finish, he did ACTUALLY go to law school. Peter is a little off the wall but by no means is he trying to get sympathy or handouts from anyone. He is a fabulous person and something obviously happened to him that put him in the state he is in. That being said, he's a happy guy. He has a ton of "friends" who walk by and talk to him. He is in good spirits and maybe his mental illness allows him to be be happy under his living circumstances. Regardless, it breaks my heart that you feel the right to judge a man that you have never talked to and have never even TRIED to see the truth in. I'm sure you have plenty of characteristic traits (I could come up with plenty just based on your post) that I could judge you with in a negative way, but I will not because I do not know you. I hope you have a story that can back you up acting like an asshole and making a judgement about a very kind and intriguing man.

liberty said...

I saw Peter Bis every day on my way to work at The Heritage Foundation on Mass. ave in dc. He must have schizophrenia, best I can tell, or something like that.

He tells you things that you can believe - like his education - and then wanders off onto something about ancient magic that controls destiny, and the relationship to the aliens (he told me he was an alien) and then something about Princess Diana (his girlfriend) and then back to how Los Alamos offered him only $57k per year so of course he turned them down.

He frequently talks about the intelligence agencies he's connected to, and is very proud about keeping up with news. DC fits him well. He also knows everyone's name - many stop to chat with him - which would be useful if he was working for intelligence.

Heather said...

Wow, basically same story as everyone else...so interesting :) Think about it, in such a corrupt area as the Hill, Peter's probably got more friends than anyone else in Washington...and to think of the things that this man has seen and heard just from those walking past him.

Ken Pallante said...

I knew Peter Bis quite well. I lived across the street (with his entire family, mom, dad & siblings) from Peter for a 4 year period -- 1977 to 1981. I was a college student in a house that was known locally as, "The Shady Rest." We were quite friendly and used to have Peter at our home for parties all the time. If anyone reading this sees Peter, tell him Ken Pallante said Hi! He could email me at: kpallante@comcast.net

Anonymous said...

I'm only here because I knew Andrew Bestor 1988-199X before he, too, lost the curve on a potentially rich life arc. God bless both Pete and Andy.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if Peter Bis is still around? I know someone that used to talk to him and they said he vanished. Anyone know anything?

Dusty Trice said...

I spoke with Peter yesterday outside my office near Union Station. He's still around and still saying hello to everyone.

Marc said...

Great to hear. Since I haven't worked on the Hill for years, I've wondered from time to time what has become of Peter.

Anonymous said...

Peter is still at the corner of 2nd and Mass, NE with all the same stories and lines everyone has heretofore mentioned. Most days he's cheerful ("2 more days til the weekend"), but some days he's a bit gruff. I started a new job in Nov 2010 a couple of blocks up Mass. I quickly got accustomed to Peter's morning and evening greetings. When I started going into the office earlier in Feb, Peter was not at his usual post in the mornings, although he would be there in the afternoon. Each morning I happened upon his empty perch, I realized how much I missed his morning greeting. Now that it's getting warmer, he's been a bit more consistent. Interesting fellow!

Anonymous said...

Last Friday Peter Bis told me that he dated Princess Diana before she met Prince Charles. Seriously.

But yes I see him at the gas station every day.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, I've been informed that Andrew Bestor passed away on June 2, 2011.

May God rest his soul.

Anonymous said...

I finally spoke with Peter Bis after greeting him and sometimes sharing cigs for many years. He was more interested in me than talking about himself, but he also told me that Diane Spencer was his girlfriend.
I heard once that someone offered him a place to live on the Hill (??), all his stuff disappeared from under the tree. I even saw him around a few times last year riding a bike. Now he is back to the same place, under the tree, and packing more stuff. I believe he used to sleep under the tent at Armand's patio. He would move all his stuff everyday.

Anonymous said...

I saw the post on your blog that you had been informed that Andrew Bestor passed away? Where did you hear this? Please advise as I was trying to reach out to him. THANKS.

Anonymous said...

Hi Marc,
I just met Peter Bis today. It was an experience.
I have been walking by his corner (now he spends his time in the 200 Massachusetts Ave NE Exxon's sidewalk - you can see his stuff in Google maps street view now) for a few months and getting his 'Have a good Monday, 5 days till Friday' etc daily. Sometimes he's cranky and he mutter 'Nobody gives a shit' or things of the sort. Never talked with him.

Today I went to the convenience store across the street; he was buying a single-serving ice cream. He greeted me, I want to say he recognized me. As I am moving out of town, I've been meaning to ask him if he'd be interested in some gently used tees and some other stuff, so I took advantage of the opportunity.

He was very polite and added that if things were not fine for his size, he would see that someone got them and we started talking inside the convenience store - maybe to the dismay of the employees. At some point, he said he'd give me his business card and produced from some inner pocket in his jacket a big business card box - the ones you get when you order 250 o 500 cards. He had already handed in half of the lot. The cards changed from the one you got. These are nice, his name and the blog address in a modernized version of an old typewriter font, professionally printed and well taken care of.
We chatted for a while - fascinating guy. He told me about his multi-science PhD and mentioned his work in Geneva and Egypt. His conversation is just like his blog, with this conspiracy-soaked content made almost persuasive by the very articulate and well-constructed phrases.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to bring sad news, but Peter passed away last night. I came across this post while trying to learn more about him and other people's interactions with him. I thought I'd let you know.