Skip's standing at the corner of 10th and G downtown, holding a white sign that's supposed to read 'Dollars Please,' but the P and E in 'Please' are almost entirely rubbed off.
'I gotta find a pen and fix that,' he says. He holds up the sign to motorists and pedestrians, tries to make eye contact and then raises his eyebrows to indicate that he's asking a question. Regardless of whether he gets a response, he flips the sign around to 'Thanks' written on the back. He says the word as he flips the sign. It's a little after noon on Sunday and, so far, he's gotten nothing.
Skip, who's 'not 60' (he's 59), is around 5-foot-5 and a bit on the roly-poly side. He doesn't laugh--he chuckles. And he likes to flirt. Despite the heat, he's wearing a Padres knit hat pulled over his unruly white hair.
Skip was born in Columbus, Ohio. He used to be a musician until a car accident 30 years ago left him paralyzed on his left side. He played 'rhythm guitar, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, piano, flute, trumpet'--pretty much everything. When he wasn't touring with his brother's band, he taught private music lessons to kids or played studio sessions for Columbia and Capitol records. He got by quite well on his patchwork income, he says, but he didn't have health insurance or, being only in his 20s when the accident happened, anything to fall back on. Compounding the paralysis, which three decades after the accident still significantly affects his speech and mobility, he says he's been diagnosed with something called 'coronary brain syndrome,' which means his blood pressure's erratic and his 'brain's messed up.'
So, now he panhandles to get by and sleeps on the sidewalk at night.
Skip says other people on the streets often ask him for money. Sure enough, an acquaintance stops by and asks if Skip will loan him 50 cents. 'He's a loan shark,' the man says. 'You have to repay him double what he loans you.' Skip refuses--he's got no money to loan--and the guy walks away.
'See--always asking for stuff,' Skip grumbles.
He's hesitant to have his picture taken and agrees only with the promise that he can look at the camera's screen and pick out the photo he likes best. After assessing a few shots, he asks for a close-up. 'You can't see my face,' he points out.
So people will recognize you when they see you with your sign? he's asked.
'Yeah, as long as they treat me nice,' he replies.