SARASOTA — He calls himself the “Seeker.” He asked that his name remain anonymous.
For the last 14 days he says he’s visited different spots in Sarasota with a bowl and a sign offering people money. It has $100s, $50s, and $1 bills of real U.S. currency, but few people will take it. It may be because of his attire: dark sunglasses hiding his eyes under a scraggly grey-haired wig, topped with a beat-up Bradenton Marauders hat, and dirty clothes.
The disheveled look is an act. He wants people to think he is homeless. The smears on his clothes are from a melted chocolate bar.
The man, who is in his 40s or 50s, said he left his family about two weeks ago to start a spiritual journey with a “Four Question Challenge.” He says the campaign is meant to find commonalities across religions, races, and different lifestyles.
The only hint of his identity that he offered was that he was a husband, has a daughter he loves, was a research scientist in Michigan who suffered life-threatening burns in a fire. The graft marks are visible on his legs as well as surgical scars.
Part of his quest, he says, is built around life on a poor Michigan farm with his mother who had six children. She raised her family as well as 26 foster children.
“She always loved … she had holes in her shoes and she would take another foster kid,” he said.
His mother had a yearning for answers. “She was like a little puppy wagging her tail when she would ask you a question,” he said. “She would sit there with great anticipation waiting for the answer.” She died two months ago, he says.
The man who said his wealth allowed him to own planes, helicopters and cars, said he picked Sarasota randomly, driving more than 20 hours to get here in a GMC Sierra Denali truck.
He is asking people four questions:
- What advice can you give about how to live life?
- What was the best thing that ever happened to you?
- What was the worst thing that ever happened to you?
- What advice would you give on how to love one another?
He writes the answers in a small composition notebook. He said he will journal about them later. Getting answers to the questions became more difficult when he began his homeless act.
“People would say, ‘I read your sign … I don’t have money to give you,'” he said.
Those who did notice the disguise were hesitant to accept the money. They said they would accept his challenge to ask four others the questions.
The city of Sarasota ordinance says no pedestrian shall go on any roadway for the purpose of soliciting or attempting to solicit donations. The rule does not appear to apply to sidewalks, such as the Unconditional Surrender statue and St. Armands Circle, where the man was standing.
“There’s such unrest in our country,” the man said. “We are fighting against the wrong things. I had to submit to the higher power of love and figure out what the heck is going on.”
He said in an interview at the Herald-Tribune office his challenge was a “win-win” situation.
“There is no taking sides … there’s no anything except for love to win,” he said, holding up a hand in the shape of an “L.”
“Let this not be L-oser anymore, but L-ove.”
He said he visited a memorial at the Pulse Orlando where 49 people died in a mass shooting at the gay nightclub in June. In an answer to one of the questions a mother of three told him, “stop being afraid.”
A Longboat Key fireman said to “focus on relationships” and that he struggles to focus when life becomes busy.
A woman at a homeless shelter shared that she was raped at 5 years old.
Retelling her story he began to cry and said an earlier version of himself would have thought she was addicted to drugs.
“Ego is one of the biggest challenges people have to love each other better,” he said. “This is a point for us to open the door. If we can all start doing this this could be the most incredible thing in the world.”
The man did not say he would continue giving away money or where he would go next. He said he will stay in the the area for about seven more days before driving home.