Memo to CBS: Electronic Ed is your man!

by Thomas Beller

01/02/2002

220 w 11th Street, ny 10014

Neighborhood: West Village

Photographs by Josh Gilbert

The New Face of CBS News? Ed, in winter.

Electronic Ed called out to me and I pulled my bicycle over and heard his news: CBS is interested in his story.

He was lounging on a stoop on West eleventh street, in the dappled shade.

“This Girl, this woman,” he corrected himself, “from CBS. She saw something on your innernet thing. She wants to pitch it to these producers at one of those news shows. She works there. She did all this research.”

Now, Ed is a homeless person, more or less, and it may seem somehow wrong, condescending, to throw around a word like dappled in this context, but Ed is also a very stylish guy, both in demeanor but also in the way he conducts his interactions. He’s humane, and his face has the dignity of an El Greco. He can handle a little dappling.

“She went back and did all this research and she knows that I got a medal in Vietnam for saving my platoon, and the plate in my head, and she found these photo’s of me in the ring,” he waved his craggy (filthy) biblical hand, a gesture encompassing himself, stretched out on the stoop, and also about the last twenty or thirty years, as though to say, one things leads to another.

“And now I’m out here!” he said. “And there’s this court case going on with my wife, there’s sixty five thousand dollars that’s supposed to be mine that she got locked up.

“And there’s a house I’m supposed to be living in. She had her fifteen years. Now it’s my turn. This was all agreed on fifteen years ago! The kids have grown, it’s my turn. Time for them to get out!”

I listened to this and thought: My God, the city has another acrimonious divorce on its hands.

In some way the Mayoral divorce situation was having some bearing on this friendly chat with Ed. When someone like Raul Felder, who is smart, well heeled, rich, active in the life of the moment, behaves with such ugly, gruesome, barbarity– “squealing like a stuck pig?” is that what he said about Donna Hanover? I mean, those crazy rednecks in Deliverance and Raul Felder are operating on about the same level here. Ed looks very good in comparison, a bastion of civility, even if his hands are dirty and he’s missing a front tooth.

It’s hard not to think of Ed as a guy doing really well, sometimes, seeing him roam around, his spirit hanging in there. He told me he is dying of cancer, once, “it’s not long for me,” is how he put it. He didn’t blurt it out. He mentioned it after we’d been talking on and off for a while now, in the depths of a cold winter. He said it, “cancer,” and I had to stand there and watch the horrific reflex of my own doubt. Who am I to doubt is Ed?

By his side was the big black bag of his that he always carries around. From this bag emerges, from time to time, objects of really impressive aesthetic value: Once I saw him with a small whicker rhinoceros which, placed in the right modern furniture store on Lafayette street,x could have sold for a few hundred dollars. Often these objects were electronic. He had an eye for vintage objects. Apparently people throw them out, and Ed finds them. He’s got a good eye.

The “internet thing” is a series of pictures Josh Gilbert took of Ed this past winter that appeared in a series, Eleventh Street Characters. It had it’s little run in new stuff and who know who sees these thing? Suddenly Ed has opportunities with CBS.

He says internet with a Western Cadence. “Innernet.”

He took something out of his bag. It was a small lock box, spray painted gold.

“It still has keys,” he said, and he opened the box and there in a small envelope were a pair of keys.

Ed spent some time demonstrating that the keys worked.

“Do you want me to write something for your innernet thing?” he said. “Because now that all this stuff is happening, I think I might like to write some things down.”

Last winter I had advanced him a twenty for some bit of reminiscences. I told him if he would just keep some sort of diary of what he’s been up to… but it’s never that simple, you ask someone to take a nibble of their life and soon they are staring with numb horror at the entire enormity of it, the whole history, a mountain towards which one can’t take a single step, or, on the other hand, maybe he didn’t have a pencil. Either way, the famed manuscript drop at the M&M grocer never occurred. It was going to be some weird kind of drug deal: I give this vagrant a twenty and he delivers the goods. But the good, they never came. (“Success, it never comes.”—Pavement)

I told him if he wrote something down I would love to publish it. Then I put my foot on the pedal.

“What’s her name, from CBS, he last name?” I said in parting.

“I don’t know. Her name was Cindy, Cynthia?”

On one hand, the whole thing sounded dubious. But then again, he had told Josh Gilbert all about his days in the boxing ring. Maybe he told this woman at CBS, and she has been looking into it. She verified he has the medal of… The medal of… saving your ntire platoon. Is Ed for real?

Oh hell: It sounds real! Someone out there has taken the time and energy. Put the CBS research department to work, Dan Rather and Morley Safer and Mike Wallace are not yet alerted to these developments, I realize, but hey! Get on the ball! Electronic Ed is an interesting guy and he should be on your network.

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