Anthony Fuga has been posting up to sell Real Change since February 2021. His location is the Fred Meyer at Totem Lake in Kirkland, Washington. Every vendor has their own reason for doing the job. For Fuga, who is recovering from being hit by a car, this work provides him with income and time to thoughtfully plan out what he will do next in his life.
Fuga has served 13 years in the military, spending time in both the U.S. Army and Navy. He has scuba dived in the Pacific Ocean, but instead of searching for exotic sea life, he was inspecting Navy ship hulls for explosives as part of his job as a diver for the Navy. Fuga said he and a crew of scuba divers would slowly work their way from one side of the ship to the other, scanning for anything that seemed out of place.
Fuga’s first tour was with the Army in the “Big Red One” — the Army’s First Infantry Division — as a reconnaissance scout. He also provided support to air defenses. “What we do is we’ll hide out on top of a hill or something, camouflage ourselves, and then we’ll wait for airplanes or helicopters to come by, and then we’ll pull out these stinger missiles that are like a bazooka, and then shoot them off,” Fuga said.
Fuga’s time in the military has taken him all over the world. He’s served in two wars, the Persian Gulf and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and has spent time in Somalia. In 2004, he helped with humanitarian efforts when the tsunami hit Indonesia.
Fuga is comfortable being surrounded by masses of water, in part because he grew up in Oahu, Hawaii. His sister is still living in Hawaii and is a professional singer. On YouTube, there can be found duets of Paula Fuga and Jack Johnson singing together while the pair strum their ukuleles.
Fuga takes his Real Change work seriously. He is also proud that his newspapers help bring awareness to COVID-19 and social issues that affect underrepresented communities.
“I’m bringing awareness through the newspaper that I sell in the community, as well as what’s going on in Seattle. Just because we live out in Kirkland doesn’t mean we’re not all still connected,” Fuga explained. “We’re all Washington.”
Fuga explained that some of his customers have been surprised to see a Real Change vendor in Totem Lake. One customer excitedly told him that it had been years since they had bought a paper. Fuga wants people to know that he’ll be vending at Totem Lake at least once a week, if not more.
For the most part, Fuga said his interactions with the public are positive, especially with the unhoused community, which he attributes to a shared experience of living outside.
“I relate to the homeless community a lot more because I was homeless myself,” Fuga said. “I also noticed a lot of homeless people, they’ll come by and support me by either giving me $1 or buying a paper.”
For when Fuga feels negativity from people, he said he’s learned to separate himself from the situation “When I feel that, I just pack myself up, and I go back to my apartment,” he said. But even on the days Fuga might get discouraged, it’s his solid customer base and the connections he makes every day that motivate him to keep coming back out.
“It’s giving me a little bit of confidence, and I feel good about myself. It also helps me not to stay cooped up in my apartment in my safe zone.”
Fuga wants people to understand that Real Change vendors come from all walks of life, like himself. Who knows — if a person buys a paper, it might be going toward supporting a veteran. Right now, Fuga’s eyes are fixed on the present. He wants to sell more papers and eventually work toward something bigger. For now, Fuga is comfortable meeting new faces and growing his confidence in himself.
“I would like to do something positive and productive with my time while I’m here,” Fuga said. “I do have that secret confidence, you know, confidence in myself, but I don’t wear it.”
Samira George covers real people living real lives in the Puget Sound. Follow her on Twitter @samirakgeorge.
Read more of the July 14-20, 2021 issue.