Happy, and the untidy topic of compassion

Since his relocation by FEMA from New Orleans to Asheville two-and-a-half years ago, Earl Grey has been trying to eke out a living on the streets downtown. Perhaps you know him. People call him "Happy." There was an article about him in the September Laurel of Asheville. I understand the Asheville Police have been trying to move him along from his accustomed place on the street, citing him for panhandling, and I'd like to raise the untidy topic of compassion in our town.

I first encountered Happy when parking across from the Fine Arts Theater and trying to figure out if I needed to plug the meter. A mellifluous voice from behind me offered to help, and I turned to see a big man, missing a leg, crutch under one arm, sitting just outside a shop. He was smiling and greeting passersby, offering an informal concierge service and being helpful where he could. He knowledgeably explained Asheville's parking regulations to me, then turned to give directions to a couple nearby who were lost. He was courteous, helpful and a pleasure to talk with for a few moments. Though he had a bucket by his side inviting help for a veteran, at no time did he ask me for money. As it happened, I freely chose to tip him for his assistance. Since then, I've seen Happy on the street several times, sometimes playing his harmonica. He wishes a good day to all regardless of whether they contribute to his bucket or not.

I work on Wall Street, where it's common to be approached by street people asking for handouts, often with elaborate (and changing) stories of why they need just a buck or two. But Happy is not a hustler. He freely offers his music and his assistance. In my view, both are genuine contributions, and I see no reason why he should be removed from our streets.

— Carol Pimentel

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