Not Always What It Seems
It is so easy to look at the outward appearance and expression of a deaf and homeless man, and discount him as crazy, nuts or dangerous.
We’ve all seen many examples supporting that conclusion, and we rarely look any deeper. However, there is always a story behind the person that we observe and, in all cases, that story reveals a great deal about who that person is. Sometimes it reveals someone who has struggled through life in ways we could hardly imagine. Other stories inform us of a situation that was brought on by that person themself. Regardless of how the story starts, we see the person with the eyes of today, and we make a judgment.
That is exactly what we did the first time Jhon Roberto LeBlanc walked into our store shortly after moving our shop to Redlands in 1995. At first he was just another poorly dressed and dirty homeless person. He was sometimes loud and obnoxious, but we quickly discovered that he was witty and personable in his own way. He had created several names for himself including our favorite, The Roast Beef Zollinger. His name is John, but he wants to be called “Je-hone” because he can hear that better than John.
Jhon grew up in Illinois and attended a school for the deaf in Kankakee. He is of limited mental capacity. While he may not be totally deaf, is extremely hard of hearing. When he turned 18 the school (or state) put a few dollars in his pocket, put him on a bus and shipped him off to California. Alone and mostly deaf, he travelled across the country, landing in the Los Angeles area, ultimately ending up in Redlands over 30 years ago. When he arrived, he arranged for some SSI benefits and found a caretaker. While there have been several care takers in the past, his current one lives in Mentone. That caretaker gets paid by social services to provide Jhon with a room and a bed, access to a restroom, and one meal a day. Unfortunately, Jhon has been relegated to a small trailer in the yard, and is required to pay more money to take a bath. Over the years, Jhon has come to feel a certain loyalty to this caretaker who has convinced him that he cannot go stay with anyone else.
As a result of his unfortunate situation, we have taken the responsibility of helping Jhon by holding some of his money and his medications at our store. Since he spends so much time in downtown Redlands, he is a frequent visitor and he comes in to get some money for food, to fix his watch, or to take his pills. The pills are of great importance as Jhon suffers from both diabetes and epilepsy. We also keep hearing aids on hand so that we can try to communicate with him more easily. While Jhon remains loud and sometimes disruptive, he is generally very kind and thankful. He may be a simple man, but he is generous. We have watched him give money to a beggar out of his own pocket. His generosity and overall trust of people has put him in situations where some people have taken advantage of him and stolen things. Teenagers often heckle him and have taken Jhon’s backpack and money several times.
Our goal in sharing all of this, is for people in our community to know that Jhon is truly a gentle soul who means no harm to anyone. He does do strange things, like lay down in the crosswalk, and he can be a little scary. But he is a kind man who has nowhere else to go. We understand that it is uncomfortable to have someone like Jhon approach you on the street, and it can be unnerving. We love Jhon, and we do whatever we can to help. If you find yourself with an encounter involving an unruly Jhon, you are welcome to call us at our store, Coops Coins at 21 E. Redlands Blvd. Our number is (909) 792-2511.
How can you help? A bottle of water or a Diet Coke would go a long way. You might offer him a simple sandwich or enough money to get lunch. He knows exactly what a meal costs at each fast food place in town. He doesn’t want to carry more money than necessary so it won’t be stolen. He is diabetic, so please, don’t offer him candy or cookies. If you felt safe, you might offer him a ride. He usually walks from Mentone to Redlands almost daily. He could use simple T-shirts and as it gets cooler, he could use a jacket or two. He has often slept at our business door and he feels he is protecting us.
I suspect many of us have “Jhon stories”.
One of my favorite stories happened one year, the week before Thanksgiving. Knowing Jhon finds much of his food in trash bins behind restaurants, we offered to bring him a Thanksgiving dinner. He promptly responded that he, “only eats dark meat!” I remember being stunned that he would issue a qualification to receiving my home cooked, free range, hormone free turkey. None of us really care for dark meat, so it was easy to oblige. So, after every Thanksgiving, we prepare a huge plate of dinner, loaded with dark meat.
Another “Jhon story” is, if you notice he is rarely wearing matching shoes. That’s because he discovered that if he wears shoes that match there is a high likelihood they will be stolen. But if he wears shoes that don’t match people won’t steal them. He will go to Goodwill, buy two pairs of shoes, split them and wear them mismatched. There is a certain logic to that.
Why not post one of your Jhon stories here: