The irony isn’t lost on Sam Carpenter: A man who makes a living laying floors for homes and businesses often finds himself sleeping on the ground.
Carpenter, 53, is homeless, and on the nights when he can’t stay with a friend, he sleeps outside or in an abandoned trailer.
“The hardest part of being homeless is sitting alone and dwelling on the good times you had in the past with your family and why you’re in this situation. A lot of things go through your mind. I’m not bitter in any sense at anyone. I’m bitter at myself. I know I’m 100 times better than this,” said Carpenter, wearing his ever-present Pittsburgh Steelers ball cap.
An alcoholic, Carpenter has not had a drink in more than a month.
It’s a promising start for the man who, for a 15-year stretch, woke up every morning, drank four beers and a pot of coffee and then left for work.
He worked in flooring for 30 years, he said, and drank the whole time.
“It’s hard to hold a job like that. You lose your dependability,” Carpenter said. “I know I can (quit). I’m trying really hard. I’ve never drank socially. I drink to get drunk, and I don’t know why. I’ve been to rehab three or four times, and I’ve been to so many halfway houses. I know what to do.”
Carpenter still works occasionally, “nothing big, a living room here, a bedroom there,” Carpenter said. After he carpeted a set of steps recently, the homeowner let him spend the night.
He recently finished laying the flooring for DubTown Ink, a tattoo parlor owned by his son, Sam Jr., and he’s especially pleased with the entrance, the same bright orange and yellow carpeting found throughout the Meadows Racetrack & Casino.
A proud father, Carpenter thinks Sam Jr.’s business can take off and enjoy the same success as tattoo shop High Voltage Tattoo, featured on “LA Ink.”
“He’s very good at what he does. He’s going places with this. I really believe it,” said Carpenter, rolling up the sleeve on his left arm to show off a Pittsburgh Steelers tattoo that Sam Jr. inked for him.
A fan of Pittsburgh sports – he’s passionate about the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates – Carpenter is considering getting a Penguins tattoo if they win the Stanley Cup.
He’s grateful that he has a good relationship with his son and his grandchildren, and he’s working on his relationship with his daughter, but knows it can be difficult to repair the damage his drinking has done over the years. Carpenter still grieves the breakup of his 18-year relationship with Sam Jr.’s mother 11 years ago and occasionally visits her at the restaurant where she works.
“That was really sad, to put that many years into a relationship and then to just have it all fall apart because of the drinking. Drinking has cost me a lot. I thought we were soul mates,” Carpenter said. “For her, I think the love is gone, but the caring is still there.”
Carpenter is both emotionally and physically resilient, bouncing back from a laundry list of broken bones and other injuries.
In August 2012, he broke his neck and several ribs when he fell down a flight of stairs. After lying at the bottom of the steps for about 45 minutes, he said, he crawled outside where a passerby found him and called 911.
He also showed where a knobby bone near his shoulder protrudes a couple of inches and appears close to popping through the skin on his small, thin body.
“I guess it’s my collarbone,” said Carpenter, who tripped on an uneven sidewalk 10 years ago. “My arm was stuck for two days. Hard-headed me won’t go to the hospital, so I pushed as hard as I could, and it snapped and the bone came up through. I was afraid to look; I thought it went through the skin. I never did get it fixed.”
Other injuries he’s sustained: damaged ligaments in his right arm when he was 3 years old and caught his arm in the wringer of a washing machine; a severed muscle in his left arm after he put his arm through a window when he was 19, and damaged nerves in a foot from frostbite after he got drunk and fell asleep outside during a snowstorm.
“The will of God holds me together. I really believe that,” said Carpenter.
Carpenter laughed and said he rarely takes aspirin, and that he manages to get a good night’s sleep, even if he’s outdoors.
He went camping often when he was young, and he keeps telling himself that being homeless is similar to camp.
“That’s more or less the way you have to look at it. You have to try to find something to keep yourself occupied. You get used to it,” said Carpenter.
If he can stay sober, he knows his life will get better.
“I’m not going to push things. I’m just going to take things one day at a time,” said Carpenter. “I have a lot of years ahead of me.”