For those of us old enough to remember, Saturday morning cartoons were “the bomb”. At a time prior to the instant gratification of “high-speed video streaming”, we had to actually wait till Saturday morning to see the best cartoons and children’s shows. Yet even with no early school requirements these morning shows were a strong enough impetus to get us up with the rising sun. We'd grab a bowl of Captain Crunch and turn on our old console TV giddy and excited.
Now of all the magical Saturday morning cartoons “Casper the Friendly Ghost” was my favorite. There was something about this character’s pure heart and timid soul that resonated with me. Oh how I wanted Casper to be my best friend. Plus he had a very very cool theme song that not only had you humming along but really illustrated who he was as a person (well ethereal being that is). Some of which went something like this:
Casper, the friendly ghost,
The friendliest ghost you know.
Though grown-ups might
Look at him with fright,
The children all love him so.
Eddy “Blanket” Turner has been at the crosswalk pan handling in front of my building for the as many years as I have been working in Downtown LA; ten years this June. When I think of Eddy I am reminded that he has several similarities with my otherworldly wannabe childhood friend Casper:
Much like the invisible nature of a ghost, I basically tuned out his presence for nearly a decade.
His disposition and mannerisms remind me exactly of Casper
Every day for ten years Eddy was right in front of my building, hitting the crosswalk button for patrons and timidly repeating his mantra over and over and over again. “Spare-a Dollar, spare-a-dollar… spare-a-dollar.
The few times I did notice him "spare-a-dollar" is all I paid attention to and thus his mantra became his sobriquet.
Thankfully when I started my Hipshot project I became more in tune to my homeless friends around me. More in tune, more compassionate and more action oriented. So after almost ten long years I finally decided to actually “spare a dollar” and talk to the button tapping man at the crosswalk.
To my pleasant surprise the man whom I had only heard muttering his repetitive panhandling chant was exceedingly polite and very articulate. When I asked him if I could take his photo and he graciously complied with a large smile under his snappy Andean style Chullo hat.
Over the next several days (and several spared dollars) I continued my dialogue with him. I showed him the photo above (big smile in return). I found out that his name was Eddy but his street name was “Blanket”. I told him about my blog photography and asked if one day I could sit down with him and have a longer chat. He asked if I was with the press to which I replied the truth, “No I simply want to understand more about the homeless people in the area. I believe we all have stories to tell and I would like to know more about yours.” His signature response was “Yes sir, that would be fine”.
During our interview (lunch of Starbucks edibles), I found out that Eddy, 46 was originally from Maryland. He received his handle “Blanket” because when he first came out here he was so sick, his blanket was a permanent fixture on his body; an ongoing attempt to keep his sick and cold body warm.
Eddy confirmed to me that he was in fact a "homeless man" and lived in the skid row district. Being reasonably ignorant of street terminology I asked him if Skid Row was the term he and his friends used or was that inappropriate. He confirmed, yes, this was the standard street vernacular for where he lived and to my surprise communicated a perspective of the Skid-Row District was quite opposite to what I had imagined. Eddy proceeded to describe that, while life is very hard in this area, skid row it is designed to help people “get inside” again. I questioned the term "get inside". He explained that get inside means to get housing or a home (as opposed to being “outside” on the streets). He also went on to describe in detail how the recent vote to provide a new Neighborhood counsel for skid row had failed to pass(see LA Times Article). He intelligibly described how the representation might benefit the area that was in desperate need support with sanitation, clean-up, Medical, dental, vision and other similar services. Eddy envisioned a mobile unit on the streets assisting the Skid-Row inhabitants.
As Eddy spoke, I continued scribbling notes on my legal pad listening to his story.
He had a daughter; he was honestly happy that she was healthy and being raised well by a new father.
When he was younger he wanted to be a fighter pilot (I chuckled to myself because I did too).
He carried around his oversized Duffel bag with his life’s belongings which included among other things:
2 winter coats
A blanket (the famous nickname item)
A pocket knife (for use as a tool)
Clippers (that were broken)
His tent (he had the last one stolen so now kept it with him)
He was bipolar
He makes about 40-$50 in “donations” a day from pan handling.
His best donation ever was when from a man who had just walked away from an ATM and handed him a roll of dollar bills. When he looked down he realized they were all $20 bills, 14 of them to be exact for a total of $280
Our time together and Eddy’s lunch had all but vaporized, the guy was hungry that much was obvious. I could tell he was getting a bit fidgety; after all I was interrupting his time of income. I acknowledged this and gave him a $20 bill for his for helping me. Appreciation was very apparent on his face as was his now more relaxed demeanor.
After a half a dozen thank you's from both sides our lunch was at it's end. My final question to him was one that I plan on asking every person I interview; What was the one thing in life he truly enjoyed?
After a brief pause he said writing, specifically poetry. Intrigued I asked him to tell me more and we chatted for a few more minutes about some of his work. It concluded with me telling him I would love to read some of it one day.
“How about I write a poem for you about life on the streets? I was now as excited as if I was back with my cereal on Saturday morning.
My response, a simple “That would be amazing!”
Quite honestly I wasn’t sure what to expect. Poetry is tricky, I write well and Poetry is always a huge challenge for me. But...when I finally received his Poem a few days later I was in awe as I think you will be when you read it below.
As I write this blog and reflect on this experience with Eddy "Blanket" from Skid Row Los Angeles, the phrase “Don’t Judge a Book By It’s Cover” screams out loud. Just a little over a week ago my perception of Spare-a-Dollar was that of an unintelligent homeless man whose barely audible mumbling and tapping a crosswalk button. I understand this man is homeless and lives on the streets. Hell he may always live on the streets. But today I see him differently.
Today I see Eddy Turner as an intelligent and articulate man that greets me with a smile, is without question the most polite person I have met in my life and most of all...
... a Poet
The Mystic (‘Co’)
By Edward “Blanket” 2017
All of these things were on my MIND
Tiller of the LAND, BIBLICALLY I’m passing time
Curses curse Covenants-Manasseh can see Ephraim's blind
And the House was Yehudi – A Bastard left behind
The USA participation, passed down through Generations
A man loses his Imagination, loyal to a fault
The House had Symbols and Signs, all brought to a halt
A BLACK KNIGHT and a dead KING – Hold the keys to the vault
Power Corrupted and Egos of Grandeur Sicken, Poison and deceive
A Corporation – in the FUTURE – but it’s the Past that is must retrieve
And a Black Man’s Jail Reprieve - Everything the Mystic Co
To Early it was Touched and you can Bank on EVERYTHING has to go
All Hail Almighty God with a Quickness – Be or not to BE
See or not see, Hear or not hear- no Stop! WHO Goes there?
SKID ROW is a Field of Action in these things, Its HEROIN Affliction and Addiction
West Coast Bloodline into TODAY –POOF!
The LAND of the Magician, and the land of science fiction