When you watch Revolution MacInnes walking through the streets of Oak Park, you get the feeling you’re seeing, if nothing else, someone different.
He has the hulking frame and wardrobe of a pro wrestler, with the gray-white tendrils and big bushy salt-and-pepper goatee to match. Adorned with a scarf around his neck and a kerchief around his wrist, there’s a hint of aging Lothario, too.
And then there’s the searching eyes of man who’s street wisdom and intellectual heft afford him a certain frantic professorial vibe, The Dude plus 30 pounds.
Currently, he’s homeless.
Born with the name Rob Sidio, “Rev” is an artist, an employee of a nonprofit and an advocate for the homeless who’s taken his mission of help to social media. Which all sounds sacrosanct and noble and simple.
But spend a few hours with him, or click through his blog entries, and you’ll soon discover nothing’s really that simple.
Now 45, he’s battling bipolar disorder and bouts of depression stemming from his own infidelities. On Feb. 14, 2010, Valentine’s Day, his mistress committed suicide. Five months later he was divorced, and the rift between Rev, his ex-wife and their 8-year-old daughter remains.
The psychological wounds are evident, if not visible. He keeps a fingernail on the ring finger of his left hand, "where a wedding band is traditionally worn," painted black.
The ordeal drove him into a dark period, but Rev corrected course and found new direction online, courtesy of the modern miracle of the Internet — and an iPhone paid for through terms of the divorce.
Slowly, a lost loner began connecting to homeless advocacy organizations, artists and fellow atheists around the globe.
Now, more than 1,600 Twitter followers watch as he tweets about the trouble of securing more SNAP benefits in Illinois, about helping a friend land work as a nurse and about veterans who are mentally ill, in peril and in need of serious help.
The web has connected him to new friends and new inspirations around the world: a woman in Australia, @Pinkelstein, is among his great friends; a lady in Iceland sent him a ten Euro note. He’s developed a working relationship with @MitzvahCircle, a Philadelphia nonprofit which pairs donors and donations with those in need. Just check out the connections.
Of course, there’s a certain novelty about the whole exercise. Oh look, a homeless guy checked in at the YMCA on Foursquare.
Rev acknowledges it, saying he understands any knee jerk reactions and potential disdain for the concept.
But he’s angling to make the technology work for him, and for others. He blogs about the importance of obtaining small important necessities, like eyeglasses, for homeless people and blasts out tweets with blunt reminders about the daily realities of the so-called underclass.
Recently, he’s taken a job and draws a "considerably less than modest" salary as the chief philanthropic officer for Gifted Dreamers, a Chicago nonprofit "empowerment network." He stays at the West Cook YMCA in Oak Park but is trying to secure an apartment soon.
You could argue he's "doing better" than other homeless people on the streets, though Rev might tell you that's a classic straw man argument.
We’re walking east on Lake Street at Kenilworth Avenue and Rev is about 3,000 words into his latest sentence, which began as, well, who knows how it started. He speaks quickly but eloquently and his conversation melds from topic to topic.
Regardless, this portion of our talk centers on various deities and Buddha and how he wouldn’t mind getting high with the “historical Jesus.” A man roughly six paces ahead of us pivots around, tells Rev he’s “very wise,” then steps into a black Mercedes Benz and drives away.
The exchange serves as an impromptu boost of confidence, and justifies his mantra of always talking to everyone, all the time. Because you just never know who you’ll connect with.
“Atheist or not, you’ve got to give the universe a little credit, right?”