I have been a fan of Humans of New York for quite a while now. Never did I think I would try to recreate it in my own town. In the first meeting of my interviewing class today, we were tasked with a very HONY-esque assignment. And it was actually really awesome. We were told to interview a random person somewhere in Columbia – but not on campus. This may or may not be my first and last “Humans of Columbia” post. Paul and I bonded over the St. Louis Cardinals, bum knees, adorable small dogs and even swimming. Below is his “story” and a photo I took of him:
On a sunny Saturday afternoon that could even be described as warm for January in Columbia, Missouri, Stephens Lake Park is teeming with runners, walkers, children and dogs.
Toward the outskirts of the park, a man with a bushy white beard, a St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap and red stud earring to match sits alone on a park bench facing the lake.
Paul Steeno strokes a small, squinty-eyed dog on his lap and watches the people passing by as he waits for his wife to return from a jog with their two other dogs.
Paul enjoys the people watching and enjoys people in general.
“I’m the type of person who’s an open book and connects really well with people,” he says as he waves and says hello to strangers passing by.
Secretly though, Paul wishes he could be alongside his wife Paula, enjoying the park more actively.
“I have a hip that just doesn’t let me go like she does,” Paul says as he looks down at his Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Casey, with matching white whiskers.
Years ago, Paul was diagnosed with osteoarthritis, which means the cartilage in his joints is worn out, preventing him from being as active as he would like to be.
“Cartilage is six times slipperier than ice,” Paul says. “That’s what my surgeon told me.”
Before his many knee and hip surgeries, Paul owned his own company as a painter and paperhanger.
Although Paul is a people-person, painting provided him a peaceful kind of solitude.
“A lot of the time it was just me, the wall and the radio,” Paul says.
For 27 years, Paul climbed ladders and painted on his knees eventually wearing down his joints until he could no longer paint. Since cartilage does not grow back, Paul’s doctor advised him to get out of the painting and construction trade altogether.
But for Paul, being retired isn’t too bad because he gets to spend more time with the people he loves.
“It was lonely,” Paul says. “I would come home and talk a mile a minute to my wife and my kids because I missed them.”