Meet the Cap of “Will & Grace”

Mark Roman Empire
5 min readMar 14, 2019


Before the stroke. Before the homelessness.

We flock to brands. As we flee curiosity. Is that our human condition? Yet we audition for “Best Heart” when we “suddenly” notice evil. Or human suffering.

Like Boeing killing people. The wrong way. War in some country where people don’t look like me? Patriotic GOOD! My Southwest flight to Vegas? BAD! Or the NCAA insisting their athletes play without pay. (Too soon? Perhaps. Celebrities or the Justice Department have yet to ask loud enough “How is that not slavery?”)

Or the pay-to-play university system suddenly “uncovered” via college athletics loopholes larger than your alma mater’s football stadium. Only when some ditzy celebrities manage to discover, among all the legal bribes, the few illegal ones. Meanwhile, in 2019, humans remain sick, hungry and homeless. Like my friend Venka.

Just this morning I had to drop everything to watch the latest Avengers: Endgame trailer. Granted, I cosplay Captain America as a busker. But 14,911,508 others watched, too (As of the moment I type this sentence. About 8 hours after the trailer dropped.) The MCU is a huge brand. And now the apparent budding #ThorVel romance competes with Boeing death-trap planes and TV moms buying college admissions (but in a bad way) for our attention.

Can I smack your face with Captain Marvel and Will and Grace for a moment? Sorry, but apparently that’s how to command attention. For my friend Venka. She’s the Grace. And the Carol Danvers. You haven’t seen on your screen. Yet.

“Jail is better.” That’s how the ACLU describes homeless shelters in Orange County, per the L.A. Times. Does not surprise me in the slightest. Based on what Venka’s told me from her experiences. Homeless. In the San Francisco East Bay I called home for a decade. An OC of the Bay Area. One of many. It was in Danville in the East Bay where I first met Venka. She was the Operations Manager of Capital Market Funding, a mortgage brokerage. I was a reluctant mortgage loan sales agent. It was the 2000’s. Before The Big Short.

Fast forward a few years. The Big Short happens. Banks are bailed out. Bankers avoid jail. Homes are foreclosed.

Venka’s adopted mom gets sick. Venka drops everything to become her in-home care-giver. Her adopted mom suffers from dementia. She would stab Venka in the arm with scissors if CSI: Miami didn’t appear on TV at just the right moment. Venka perseveres. As best she can. Her Viking heart believes it is the right thing to do. Ultimately her mom passes away. Venka is left with all the financial and emotional damage of The Big Short and her mom’s illness.

Then Venka suffers a stroke. It is not properly diagnosed until 23 months later. She becomes homeless. Since September 18 of last year, Venka has raised $4,310 on her GoFundMe. Why does she have a GoFundMe? Well, Venka:

  • is homeless
  • suffered a stroke
  • struggles with her vision due to retinopathy
  • struggles to eat healthy while diabetic (without resources)
  • suffers from pernicious anemia (treatment requires regular B-12 shots)
  • struggles with stress & depression, elevating her risk for future strokes & brain injuries
  • has two ulcers and is at high risk of stomach cancer
  • avoids homeless shelters housing angry abusive young men — she’s been threatened repeatedly by one such man
  • do we need to complete this list before we act?

In spite of her challenges, she can see a future for herself when she is not homeless. Once her own survival needs are adequately met, she plans to help others. More. Her professional history as an operations manager coupled with her experience being homeless: who do you think is better qualified to find a cure for homelessness? Venka volunteers.

She created a GoFundMe for her companion in homelessness, Will. Together, they are “Will & Grace”. Will cared for his mother, who suffered from Alzheimers and pancreatic cancer until her death. Will struggles with spinal stenosis and prostate cancer. He’s gay. Certain upright religious charity citizens mind. Venka doesn’t. Venka’s helping Matt. His mother just died. While he’s homeless. Matt suffers from edema (swelling), a heart condition and sleep apnea. A homeless shelter rejected him because he snores. Also possibly because that shelter is homophobic.

Venka shares her car and (when resources allow) a hotel room with Will and Matt. Venka, Will and Matt are all “of a certain age”. Just trying to survive. In America. In California. In the San Francisco East Bay. In 2019.

Could you survive on $4,300? For the last 7 months? I couldn’t. I’ve tried to do what I can to help Venka. A little money here and there, to her GoFundMe, to her Cash app or Venmo. Money I did not save for my son (in college), new headshots (I’m an actor), my podcast’s sound engineer, or costume maintenance & upgrades (busking as costume characters is how I pay my rent). I’d like to do more, but I did fall out of the middle class after The Big Short.

I did create a page with links to her GoFundMe and other resources to help Venka and Will. When I record a podcast, I promote Venka’s GoFundMe and my page for her. My efforts are not enough.

I write this article hoping Venka’s story reaches more people in a position to help. Even $5 makes a difference. She’s not a television or film star. She’s not an Air Force fighter pilot turned superhero. She’s not the First Avenger.

Venka is a homeless woman. A fellow human being. With a heart and a plan. Just no money or power. My wish is that you too will see in Venka what I see: the Cap of a Will and Grace we should all get to know better. And HELP. Thanks for reading!



Mark Roman Empire

“Hero Tears” creator, “Son of Elmer Gantry’s Bitch” poet, expelled student editor, religion survivor, former improv comedian busker “Lt. Frank”, SAG-AFTRA actor