When I walked into Espresso Roma last Sunday morning, there was a sad look on the Emily's face, the kind and intelligent barista, and on the faces of many of the regulars that morning -- Jude, a beautiful, kind and compassionate Buddha of a man, Steve, a homeless man who served our country in the Army and then worked as a drafter for years before meeting with some police violence, and James, a fixture around the Hill for decades, who has known homelessness and knows many of the homeless around town. James had let folks know that Cliff Kellman was dead.
He wasn't sure of the facts around Cliff's death, but that is not what mattered that morning to those of us who cared.
Almost anyone who has visited the Hill in the past 20 years has likely met -- or at least seen -- Cliff Kellman. You might not have ever known him by name or just dismissed him as some weird homeless guy. Maybe he had asked you for spare change or a cigarette, maybe some weed or a coffee, but Cliff was so much more than "some homeless guy on the Hill." In the better part of two decades that I knew Cliff, I don't think he was ever homeless. And he was a friend to many, someone who will be missed. His loss hurts.
Cliff could often be seen in his beloved Michigan sweatshirt -- his mop of curly blond hair, more recently dreadlocked tucked away under the hood or bouncing out in the sunshine. A huge sports fan, Cliff had an encyclopedic memory for important games, stats and players. He was in some tellings a member of the Beatles and in other tellings Paul McCartney's son. Depending on what combination of prescribed and self-prescribed medications Cliff may have been on, he was alternatively engaging, funny, compassionate, and sometimes downright annoying. He was Cliff.
He frequented Espresso Roma and for a long time regularly cleaned up in the mornings, sweeping and putting out chairs for a few dollars and a cup of coffee. That had changed more recently. About a year ago Cliff was no longer allowed to live at Chinook House, his residence for many years. He explained that it had something to do with how long he lived there, and that it was meant as transitional housing. He moved to a more self-sustaining group home. His mood seemed a bit more dour recently, though there were always flashes of the boy who grew up well in Michigan, may have had a head injury in a car accident, said he was arrested a few times for his foot fetish, visited his grandfather's Laundromat on Stonewall Street in Coral Gables, and even went to Camp Walden in Cheboygan, Mich. -- where my wonderful partner went. Cliff's stories were always rife with detail, and he told stories. It was sometimes hard to know what was truth, fiction or a symptom of his mental health.
I'm not sure Cliff would want his death to be an indictment of the mental health system or how Boulder just goes on with its la-di-da, my third-car-is-a-Prius existence, but his passing has reminded me how much everyone in our community matters. I hope those of us on the Hill who will undoubtedly miss seeing Cliff around have an opportunity to mourn his loss together -- perhaps the way a community might mourn the loss of an elk, say?
But mostly I wanted everyone who cared for Cliff -- his friends, family, beer and weed buddies, anyone who got a moment of goodness from Cliff -- to know that someone cares.
Mark Gelband lives in Boulder.