Have you ever spent so much time thinking about how you want to say something in order have the biggest impact? Searching for the words that will be the right words to make a difference? That is how I feel writing this post right now..
WE spent last week in southern California’s eclectic, eccentric Venice Beach. Not our typical getaway as we are normally pulled to the quiet serenity of the Sonoma Coast. But when you have free tickets to Universal Studios and an almost 9 year old you must go south!
I have been to Venice beach and Santa Monica years ago before husband and child, and was excited to share in the dynamic cultural experience with Gunther and Eric. We did all the typical things.. We went to the beach shops full of cheep T-shirts and souvenirs. We went to the famous Venice Beach skate park and road our skateboards down the boulevard.
We ate at new, fun, restaurants and street stands.
We went to Santa Monica Pier and let Gunther spend a couple hours running around between Arcade games and carnival rides. We road the giant ferris wheel. We took endless amounts of photos to capture these new family memories. We were having a really great time.
Once Gunther had his fill of Carnival rides, and arcade games we knew we had to head back and take out the dogs, so we started our walk towards Venice Beach. On our way we were passing “Chess Park” A small little park right in front of the original muscle beach between Venice and Santa Monica.
It wasn’t much. 9 wooden tables with several chess boards permanently placed in each. As we were passing by we noticed this older man very grandpa-ish sitting by himself with a chessboard mat on top of the chessboards inserted in the tables. It was all set up to play with a big white rock and other collected items holding it in place.
It had been a long day so when Gunther asked if he could go ask him to play we were kind of relieved knowing we could just sit there and watch for awhile. Gunther asked. The man said sure. Where it went from here was none other than a completely life changing experience and I say this with tears streaming down my face as I write this. We’ll get back to the tears in a bit.
Noticing his accent we knew he was not born in the U.S. It was rather thick, sounding a bit eastern european. I was starting to wonder if Gunther would be able to understand him. Gunther is an old soul, has always gravitated towards the grandmas and grandpas, and takes his time to listen and pay attention. He had no trouble at all, or at least he did not show it. As they began to play Gunther was his typical quiet self. Moves were being made, and the questions and critiques started flowing. FROM THE MAN.
Why did you do that?
What’s going to happen?
That’s no good.
Eric and I look at each other and kind of giggle. This guy is legit and Gunther is about to get schooled in chess! Gunther continues to make his moves rather quickly while the man is still looking for answers and is determined to get them. You can see in Gunther’s face his want to give the man answers, yet he fails to find a reason why he moved that chess piece there. So as this goes on the man says to Gunther “you need to think about the end game. Slow down. Take your time. Why so fast. Why you move there?”
At this point he takes the next move against Gunthers recently placed piece and proceeds to eliminate every single piece from the board to show Gunther “The End Game”.
After Gunther was shown how the game would end with his single move the man placed each piece back on the board exactly where it was so they could continue on.
This continued to happen each time Gunther did not think about the move, and the man determining it as a “bad move”. This went on for hours. 3 to be exact. Taking pieces away to show the END GAME. Questioning Gunther on his “bad moves” and forcing Gunther to give him a reason why he chose that move. Eric and I had been looking for signs from Gunther for at least an hour trying to determine his mood and how tired he may be. He showed no signs of wanting to leave so the game went on. As the sun was starting to set it became clear that we were going to have to let Gunther know he needed to say goodbye to his new friend because we needed to get back to feed the dogs. At this point we asked the man his name as he did not give it to us at the time Gunther sat down. Only Gunther gave his. He told us his name was Eddie and he was from Russia.
Walking back towards Venice beach Gunther asked how long they were playing and we told him 3 hours. He said it felt more like 40 minutes. I was kinda shocked at this as I thought he was so ready to go but did not want to be rude to Eddie. He let me know that was not the case. In his words he told me he learned more in the 3 hours with Eddie that the 3 years in chess class, and asked if he could go back and play chess with Eddie tomorrow. Really?
In the morning we went and had breakfast and were deciding on the days plans. The only thing Gunther wanted to do was go to the beach and skateboard down to chess park, so that is what we did. As we got to the park there was Eddie. At the same table he was at the day before with his board all laid out, pieces set, and rocks in place. AS soon as Eddie saw us he stood up and greeted us with a soft happy smile. It took no time. They began to play. The questions started to flow.
Why did you do that?
Why did you move your bishop there?
If you do this then I do this.
Think about the end game.
This continued on for another 3+ hours. It was almost like Eric and I weren’t even there with the few bathroom break exceptions. During Gunther’s bathroom breaks we took some time to get to know Eddie a little better. WE had discovered Eddie speaks 3 languages, Eddie has lived in Los Angeles for 30 years, and how Eddie first learned to play chess. He had told us he first learned to play chess in Russia by watching the adults as kids were not allowed to play. They could watch but had to be silent. We got a little more information about Eddie with each bathroom break.
At this point we knew we needed to get back, pack up, and get ready to leave for home in the morning. WE were having a hard time leaving. Saying goodbye in particular. You see during these two days we also discovered something about Eddie that we could not get out of our hearts and minds. WE discovered Eddie is homeless. Eddie sleeps in chess park. Eddie is a 68 year old try-lingual homeless man. Eddies is also a master jeweler and has the same birthday as Gunther. I would not have believed it if I did not see it with my own eyes when he pulled out his ID card. He did this because we wanted to be able to keep in touch with Eddie and asked for whatever contact information he could give us. First I got his phone number. But when he said it wasn’t charged I quickly realized it is probably difficult for him to keep it charged being homeless. He also gave us his ex-wives address where he receives mail. Not what I was hoping for but knew it was better than nothing at all.
While gathering up our skateboards we asked Eddie if we could bring him dinner this evening. He said yes. WE told him we needed to go back to take care of our dogs, do some packing and cleaning the house, but would be back shortly with dinner.
Two hours later we headed to chess park with hot meals in hand looking forward to seeing Eddie. But he was not there. We decided to go down the street, eat, and come back. No Eddie. We left one more time and came back. No Eddie. We did notice there were police monitoring chess park that evening. After our third attempt we went back to our rental a little bummed. Why did he say he would be there but was not there. How could we leave tomorrow without saying goodbye to Eddie? What if he thinks we did not come back. We left felling a little sad and heartbroken.
AS we packed up the car we decided we would put together a care package for Eddie as an early happy birthday. I think we just wanted a reason to go back and see if he was there. Dogs in car, roof rack packed we drove to chess park to find Eddie. There he was! In his usual spot. All set up and ready to play. We walked up with care package and he stood and smiled. I’m sorry he says.. I was not here last night. The police ran me out. Told me if I did not go I would be arrested. The homeless were causing trouble by the pier that night, the police were called, and all homeless were pushed out of chess park. Including Eddie. My heart sunk as we gave Eddie the care package, knowing we were steps away from saying goodbye, getting back in our nice car, and driving back to Napa to our nice home. How could someone so smart, with so much to offer the world, and at his age be homeless? The answer. He just cannot afford rent anymore with his social security he brings in. Eddie has been homeless for two years after they raised his rent. So this is what he has. AS we turned and walked towards our car I broke into sobs. I wanted to drop to my knees. The sadness that overtook me in that moment could have filled an ocean.
Today I find myself needing to help Eddie. My husband finds himself needing to help Eddie, but most importantly my son finds himself needing to help Eddie. When asking Gunther what he wanted for his birthday he told us he wanted to find Eddie a home.
Starting today our garden stand earnings will go to Eddie. We will be looking to find Eddie help through the homeless foundations of Southern California. We are also starting a go fund me account for Eddie, so anyone that finds it in their heart can help him with food, medical needs, and work towards getting enough money for a apartment/rental home.