blogMeet Carl

July 30, 2015
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He is a human, not a problem.

Stating that he is human seems to be an obvious point to make, that is if you have a heart and some compassion.

Carl has been in the neighborhood longer than any other resident on the street. Between his sometime eccentric manner of dress and collection of odds and ends, I was a bit caught off guard, but mostly intrigued, when I first moved in. On a daily basis, I would see him come and go in his big blue Chevy truck, hauling loads of items back and forth. He would carry-on with the neighbors, but he never engaged me in conversation. I was so fascinated by him, in fact, that it took me quite a while to even talk to the man. Not because I was scared, but because I didn’t want him to be freaked out or put-off by all the questions I wanted to ask him. So, for about the first year, I would wave and smile.

Once I finally spoke to him, I found out he is one of the nicest neighbors you could ever ask for. On occasion, I bring him things like cat food or breakfast. Each time I do, he is grateful and I know it is genuine gratitude, I can feel it. Not only is he a kind person, but he’s full of amazing stories and bits of information.

Recently, it seems as if the cordial nature of our little community has dissolved, all because of they way one person lives. What was once, at worst, a nuisance has become a huge point of contention between neighbors. Where there was once the sound of chatter and sometimes laughter, there are now scowling faces and yelling. Our once quiet and sometimes comical neighborhood has become a battleground and it makes my heart hurt.

This is Carl the human, not Carl the problem…

He is a man with two trucks, who loves his cats and a has a rich history in the city. His family apparently came from Spain and worked in the cigar industry. Carl is a proud Tampanian and has even run for mayor. In speaking with him I learned that, up until about 13 years ago, he wasn’t able to read or write. Now, he’s taking courses at the community college and aspires to be a lawyer so he can “help poor people like himself”. He credits the school with helping him get on track and take courses. I find that tremendously inspiring.

To simply look at Carl, one would see tattered clothes, long hair, a set of kind eyes and an infectious smile. He can make somewhere between $40-$100 a week on recycling, he works odd jobs sometimes (cleaning up after Gasparilla, delivering newspaper, etc.) which can’t possibly provide a livable wage, he has no family that I am aware of, one of his cats was recently struck by a speeding car AND he has racked up a considerable amount of code enforcement fines. Now, add to that, half of the neighbors are in attack mode, even calling news stations out to cause a ruckus. Those same neighbors that he’s looked out for for years. By all accounts, you’d think he’d have less to smile about than most.

I’m not kidding when I say he looks out for everyone on the street. When my cat ran off, he asked me multiple times a day if I had found him. When my bike got stolen, he was the only one to ask for a flyer. He promised to keep an eye out for it when he drove around. When speeding cars barrel down the street, he yells at them. I’ve even heard that he chased burglars away from a neighbor’s house with a metal pipe. Even though he doesn’t have much, he is always willing to help out or send over a sweet treat. Seriously, this is the kind of neighbor you’d want.

Yes, he has a massive amount of stuff (I have to generalize because a list of items would be too long), but no one gives thought as to why. People want to point fingers and criticize, but I doubt that any of those finger pointers have ever considered the why. They are more concerned with their property values and the way things look.

After the news came out to shoot, I promised I would write something that wasn’t spun to make him look like a complete nutcase (I know how the media does). With that promise came a great honor, he allowed me to come on his property and take photos, something I’ve never seen anyone allowed to do.

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In that brief walk, I gained some insight into possible whys…

I made a comment about the stuffed animals that were strewn about. He told me those were his visitors. That statement touched me, as I know he rarely has any human visitors coming by, other than to fight him about code violations. Carl isn’t a reclusive hermit, he enjoys talking to people. He even seemed excited to have his picture taken and to share his story. Perhaps those stuffed animals are filling a void.

It seemed as if every pile was started with an eco-friendly mindset, but his goals never came to fruition. His stack of straws was begun to, one day, raise awareness of how one small piece of waste can accumulate into a huge problem. Now, the only one seeing that message is him. The countless number of cans and glass bottles are all going to be recycled…one day. Rain water is collected in barrels to wash those potential recyclables out.

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He isn’t a lazy slob that just doesn’t get rid of things and wants to cause trouble. He is a person just trying to get by and do some good in this world. Carl may be scantily clad from time-to-time, but I’ve never been offended or uncomfortable. There’s never anything indecent going on and, quite frankly, I envy him on hot summer days. His property may be filled with what many may consider junk, but it has never been a bother nor has it caused me anger.

What we have here is a man getting through life the best way he knows how and a neighborhood divided over what the “best way” is. Does he live completely opposite of the way I do? YES, but I don’t have to live with him. I want to help Carl, not tell him he’s wrong. I am concerned about his well-being, but criticism isn’t as effective as support and compassion. He deserves to be treated with some respect. When a person can’t even keep a “slow down” sign in his yard after his cat was struck down, there is a complete lack of care and respect.

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