by Nellie Wong

July 18, 2015

Sells the Street Sheet from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm
In front of Books Inc on Van Ness Ave
Born in Algeria 77 years ago
Algerian father, Black American mother,
Sixth wife
But didn’t want to be
Sixth wife
Brought Eric at seven years to the United States.
Lived in New York, Kansas and Texas
Before arriving in San Francisco in 1989.
Helped his stepfather delivering produce
Worked as a laborer laying concrete.
But jobs difficult and had no money
to join the union.
Had two daughters now
In Sacramento, one 26, 
Who come to visit him on Van Ness
As he sits, Street Sheets fanned on his lap.
Empty containers and plastic bags surround
His concrete home on the sidewalk.
His daughters give him a few dollars, when they can.
Two different women,
One saying, “There’s good vegetables inside,”
Laying down a bag marked 
With “Max’s Opera Cafe”
Next to his wheel chair.
The other woman coming out 
Of her car, slips a $5 bill into Eric’s hand,
His arthritic fingers peeling dry skin, saying, “Haven’t seen you
For a while. Darlin’”, dashes up the street and disappears.
Eric keeps peeling skin off his left forefinger.
“This is where I got knifed. A guy 
Tried to rob me,” pointing 
To his gallon jar
With five pennies and a nickel inside.
Luckily he held up his hands
In front of his chest.
Otherwise he would have been sliced
On the neck or through his heart.
“The cops caught him, didn’t get my money,” his mouth moving
Showing no teeth.
Three years ago, got cut
On the forehead.
Lift his watch cap, revealing a one-inch scar. 
Sells 20 Street Sheets a day,
If he’s lucky. Needs $26.00 for a room for the night.
Otherwise, goes to the shelter.
If no bed, he can sit up
And sleep,
Get a shower early in the morning.
Gets lots of pennies. A man
Brings him a roll, unpeels it, and pours 500 pennies into his jar.
“Why don’t you just give him a $5.00 bill?” his wife asks.
“‘Cause I want to give him something
to do.”
His mom taught him to read and write. never went to school.
Likes to read stories and poetry.
Been selling Street Sheet for 10 years now.
The cops no longer
Harass him ‘cause he doesn’t do drugs
Doesn’t do alcohol.
Besides, the sidewalk’s public space.
“I’m Moslem. Moslems don’t do harm.”
The people in the condos at Opera Plaza, some drop
Coins into his jar.
A lady at the corner panhandles,
Doesn’t compete with Eric.
But passers-by tell her,
“Why don’t you go back 
To where you came from? Don’t need
His kind here”, pointing
To Eric.
“Yeah, and where’s that?” she retorts. 
Some give her a quarter, a dollar bill.
But only pennies to Eric.
“ ‘Cause she’s white,” he says without a grimace. 
Likes it when his six-year-old granddaughter visits
His home across from a shuttered McDonalds,
Where another man sits
On the pavement,
As if guarding the abandoned building,
A sanctuary for passing his day in silence.
Eric saves his pennies.
“This is for college!” as he thrusts
A jar full of coins
At his granddaughter. 
The girl hunkers down
On the sidewalk next to him, and says
“Thank you, Grandpoo!”
“She calls me ‘Grandpoo’.
I call her ‘Majestic!’”

© 2015 Nellie Wong