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Panhandler Nation #2
Little Eddie Horn: Wonderboy of Beggars
© 2013 James LaFond
I hate panhandlers. However, I have known the occasional likeable panhandler. These are really the most tragic cases. Because any person capable of shinning as a panhandler, you sense instinctively, could have done really well at something more acceptable. They might be my enemies, but that does not mean their job is easy. As you might suspect the likeable panhandler is a versatile person; something more than a rack to hang a cardboard sign on.
Eddie and The Man
I had been managing a ghetto supermarket for two years now and the applications were flooding in: the more men you fire, the more want to work for you; that is the counterintuitive truth. A regular source of applicants was a men’s halfway house a mile down the street. A boy, it seemed, was waiting for me by the courtesy counter. He smiled and waved, holding up an application. I motioned that I would be right there and went behind the counter to confer with Silenshay, a cute mathematics major, who wanted to speak with me.
The boy was stretching on his tiptoes trying to get a look at our conversation so my beautiful assistant, escorted me Bob Barker like up into the officer. There was a conspiratorial tone to her voice, as she once again made ever pretext imaginable to touch me and I shuffled back nervously trying to keep my bank account out of her gunsights, “Mister Jimmy, that fool boy is trouble. Mister Duz caught him shoplifting last year—and look at this.”
She then held up a forged Selective Service registration form that this fellow was trying to pass off as his I.D., “Look at where he changed the age Mister Jimmy. We told him you were busy—besides I don’t like the way he looks at me.”
“In that case Silenshay, I think I’ll hire him to replace me.”
She snorted—and somehow made it sound cute, “You don’t mean that Mister Jimmy.”
I took the I.D. to the copier, made a copy for my records, and attempted to pass my highly professional assistant in the hallway, who stood with one hand on her jutting hip as the last two buttons on her blouse attempted heroically to contain what she had somehow jammed into the undersized garment, “Mister Jimmy, what am I going to do about this?”
I faked left and darted right as I advised, “I’m sure NASA has worked something out.”
I ran downstairs and emerged into the area before the courtesy to parlay with the young man, who had provided I.D. indicating that his name was Eddie Horn. To my dismay he was arguing with Mymecca, my big no-nonsense courtesy clerk, who was wagging her finger at him and calling him ‘boy’.
He was pacing angrily as I approached him with his I.D., “Nice documentation Eddie—hey, I can’t have you cussing my girls. You have to go.”
He seemed relieved to be talking to me, “I’m sorry Mister Jimmy. It’s just that I admire you so much; just want to be one of the men on your crew, and it seems like everywhere I go, there is some lady with a gigantic ass wagging her finger at me and telling me what to do.”
I put my arm around him and walked him toward the door, “Look Eddie you are welcome back to update your application and to shop, but you have to respect my employees, particularly the women.”
“I know Mister Jimmy. But why do they get to be in charge. Why do I have to respect women when they don’t respect me?”
I stopped and nodded at the registers, “You see all of those things, they bring in the money; and the girls, even the ones with the gigantic asses and wagging fingers, they operate them for me. Eddie, I can’t even operate this cell phone. All of these chicks they run this place. I just make sure everybody follows the rules and feels safe. Any man that comes in here and talks disrespectfully to the ladies has to go. It’s an implicit social contract. I do that for them, and they let me pretend to be in charge of all this stuff.”
A deep, previously un-guessed revelation, seem to wash over Eddie’s dark brown eyes. He had an ‘aghast’ expression on his face as he looked out over the parking lot, and then turned to look at me with something approaching pity, “Wow Mister Jimmy. So even if I get to be the boss—even if I get to be you—there is still going to be some giant-assed lady bossing me?”
“Eddie, wherever we go, whatever we do, some chick is going to be telling us what to do.”
Eddie seemed to get depressed, “Well, no disrespect Mister Jimmy, but if being you actually sucks, I don’t think I want to work for you. I mean what’s the point?”
I watched Eddie walk off attempting to shrug the new found weight of the world from his lean young shoulders, shaking his head as he made it down to the street. I found out from some of my new hires over the course of the next year that Eddie was a problem resident at the halfway house and had difficulty dealing with the lady that ran the operation. I would catch him panhandling on occasion, but he always managed to make me smile.
I liked Eddie. I knew that the ex-cons he roomed with occasionally beat him up for stealing their food and that he had to be watched. But, after our first encounter he was no longer rude to my female staff. He was also not prone to intimidate customers when he did beg money from them. There was something sweet about him. However, he was a feral child, and like a domesticated kitten cast into the world, once he got some time in on the street some of the ‘cute’ began to wear off.
The Last Panhandler on Earth
The double-blizzard of 2010 drove your ordinary panhandlers into shelters; back to mom’s basement, and to the verge of extinction. But Eddie was made of tougher stuff. With two feet of snow on the ground I kept the store open into the second blizzard with a few employees. We largely serviced public works and emergency people. So when Eddie showed up to hustle on the store front I told him to keep it outside and let him have at the customers. These were all men, so I wasn’t letting him have at old ladies or girls. Even so, this was a lapse. I should have been deposed by a more draconian Khan. Thanks to the state of emergency my shameful mercy was not noticed, and my heartless reputation was not besmirched.
As I was leaving the store that stormy Wednesday evening Little Eddie Horn was there on the sidewalk, wanting to get in the front door to spend the money he had begged from our last customer. We were the only two souls in sight, quite a change from our normal venue. Eddie had a ball cap crusted with ice, a snow-crusted windbreaker, torn jeans, and canvas tennis shoes with wet socks. This was a nastier storm then the last one, with more wind and sleet mixed with the snow.
I said, “Get lost Eddie.”
He pleaded, “Please Mister Jimmy, I’m hungry?”
“Then starve Eddie!”
“But Mister Jimmy, that’s not fair! You’re not gonna starve are you Mister Jimmy?”
I then pushed my face into his and snarled, “Eddie I’m gonna spend the night with a fat woman—does that sound like starving to you!”
“No Mister Jimmy” he said as snot ran down over his chin and froze into an ice sickle, “that sounds kind of nice. Can I come with you?”
I snarled more deeply into his face, “Eddie when I hit that street down there at the edge of the parking lot, I’m not Mister Jimmy anymore, just the guy that will jump up and down on your scrawny ass—don’t follow me!”
I limped off into the snowstorm with Little Eddie Horn standing under the canopy on the sidewalk; wondering what to do, where to go. He did not follow me. For you bleeding hearts out there [Mom, Siss, Aunt Madeline] I would like to report that, despite my best Cain-like efforts at social antipathy, Eddie survived somehow. A week later, at Belvedere and Loch Raven, he was following this big light-skinned dude around the bus stop, quizzing him about what it was like growing up as a light-skinned black man. At one point, as the gentle giant continued his unsuccessful efforts to evade Eddie, the little man-child panhandler who had survived the apocalypse declared, “I feel your pain brother. I used to be a black man too. And they kicked me out because I look Latino.”
The bemused man looked at me, “Is he joking? How is this dude still alive?”
I just laughed.
My Country Too
On a cool Sunday night in May I was informed that a panhandler had a customer blocked inside of his car. When I emerged from the store in my white shirt, black khakis, and ill-fitted tie, I saw Eddie begging a tall man who was still seated in his driver’s seat, unable to stand up as he was being crowded so closely. The guy looked at me and I nodded to him as I approached Eddie. It looked like the fellow just wanted to get off the lot so I set my sights on getting Eddie way from the car.
I said, “Hey Eddie, step away from the man.”
He did not respond and kept chatting up the customer.
I got closer, “Eddie, leave the parking lot, now.”
Eddie then turned on me with a malicious fire in his dark eyes, “It is my country too Mister Jimmy. You don’t get it all!”
Eddie was not directly over the man any longer. However, the fellow was still unable to close his car door. Eddie was pacing and agitated. After over 2,000 documented confrontations with people like Eddie on this property I made a mistake. I should have taken my time but acted impatiently.
I grabbed a hold of the left sleeve of Eddie’s gray hooded sweatshirt at the shoulder with my right hand.
He snarled and snatched my right wrist with his right hand.
The man slammed his door shut and sped off as I grabbed Eddie’s right wrist with my left hand.
Eddie snarled again and closed with me, grabbing my left wrist with his left hand.
A middle-aged white woman was now passing us as Eddie snarled again and began to push me back toward the store front.
I was really surprised that this 120 pound kid was stronger than I. I wanted to let go and light him up with a combination but I was working, not at the bus stop. As he cranked up his retard strength and drove me toward the loading zone I crossed his arms over his chest and head-butted him between the eyes.
He let out a yelp as the woman exclaimed, “Oh God!” and hurried back to her car.
Eddie pulled away, “Why did you have to go and do that Mister Jimmy?”
“Eddie, you have to leave. You cannot hassle our customers!”
I then opened up my cell phone and dialed 911, “I’m calling the cops Eddie. You need to leave.”
Eddie seemed hurt emotionally as he rubbed his forehead, “You know how to use it now, don’t you Mister Jimmy.”
“Leave Eddie.”
By this time I was talking to the dispatcher and Eddie was walking off the lot promising to come back. He was not threatening, just adamant that he had a right to work the lot.
I stood on the storefront and waited for the responding officers as the police helicopter flew in from the Eastside. A regular customer of mine, an administrator at John’s Hopkins University, stood with me and watched the process. Eventually there were three police cars and the chopper at the entrance to the lot when Eddie returned defiantly from up the road, wanting nothing more than to express his freedom by way of drinking some other retailer’s beverage on Mister Jimmy’s parking lot.
The lady cop asked me what I wanted done with him. Is said, “Miss we just wrestled and he got the worse of it. I just don’t want him on the lot.”
She smiled, “He has emotional issues. We’ll just send him on his way.”
When Eddie walked on he did not seem angry, but hurt.
I still feel bad for head-butting him.
The following Tuesday morning I was in Eddie’s neighborhood, around the corner from the group home he lived in, waiting for the bus in front of the competing food store, where I had chased the half dozen panhandlers that now formed a picket-line at their parcel pickup railing. I never put on the hated management tie until I got to work, which strangely rendered me anonymous to most people on the bus stop. I had just begun writing my first novel and was proofreading a chapter as I sat on the bench waiting for the out-of-town bus. Then I heard a soft slight voice, “Excuse me sir, do you have the time?”
I looked over to see Eddie, who, as usual, when I ran into him on buses and bus stops, seemed to have no idea who I was. Before I became a store manager I would never even give people the time when I was out and about. For some reason, this had gradually changed, and I was actually glad to be able to help out Eddie in this small way, as he wondered if he had missed his bus, “It’s eleven-o-four; nine more minutes until the bus comes.”
Eddie nodded as he looked straight ahead into the hillside across the street, “Thank you sir.”
Since that time I have occasionally thought that I saw Eddie boarding a bus from a distance at Belvedere and Loch Raven. But with Eddie, I could never be sure it was him until he opened his mouth. He just looked so much darker than he sounded that I could never really be sure it was him until he started running his mouth in that engagingly antisocial manner that always left me smiling. I hope Eddie Horn is off the streets, and, more importantly, that he has escaped the Big-butt Tyranny he so railed against the day we met.
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Adam Swinder     Feb 4, 2013

I didn't know you had such a history with this kid.
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