Claude Shumpert, Vendor of the Week.
Photo by J.P. Gritton
If you'll forgive the sentimentality: getting to know most people is like peeling a piece of fruit: layer by layer, they reveal themselves. But some -- a few -- are like a sliced orange: seeds, meat, and skin laid bare. That is to say, what you see is what you get. Sappy metaphors aside, this week's Vendor of the Week is the genuine article.
Claude Shumpert was born in East St. Louis, but has lived in Seattle since the age of two, when his mom scored a job at Boeing.
Eleven years later, disaster struck: Claude didn't run when the cops found him trespassing on public property. Thus, sentenced to six months of juvie, Claude became, from a certain vantage point, a delinquent. By age 15, he was enrolled in the Green Hill School For Boys and shortly thereafter declared a "Ward of the State."
It's a little surreal hearing all this -- talking to Claude fills you with the quiet calm of your last cigarette on a rainy day, "Kind of Blue" playing on the stereo.
So, what happened?
Claude was 25 before an aunt answered the questions that had, up until then, haunted him: she shared the pasts of Claude's mother and father, shedding light on how Claude had come to be himself.
"And she gave me a book," Claude remembers, "Elements of Psychology." On this day, Claude discovered a passion.
"I began seeing things differently," says Claude, who has since read prolifically on the subject of psychology and is a volunteer counselor at the Cascade People's Center.
I listen to his story for 45 minutes before I realize that nobody could ever possibly capture all of Claude's depth, intelligence, and presence in 300 words. Though if you go to where he sells at Third Ave. and Spring St. and ask Claude to tell you more, I doubt you'll be disappointed by the response you might get. He's living proof that the unexamined life is hardly worth living.