Entries in Gretchen Crowe (19)

Friday
Jan012010

Eric "Fuzzy" Johnson 

Published January 2010 Vol. 14 Issue 1

by Gretchen Crowe

Mention metal music, and “Fuzzy,” as we call him, perks up.  He’ll tell you who’s sincere, who’s based on fashion or who’s down right bad.  Eric Johnson is “Fuzzy.”  His nails might be painted black or his hair dyed, but Fuzzy is unmistakable.  His most noticeable trait is his candor, and his words and veracity are the precise reason he’s probably still here today.  Even though he might be the first to criticize us here at the VOICE, his patriotism for it is inherently folded into the core of his own identity.  “If it wasn’t for this paper and Rick, I would be dead.  That is really, really real.”

Fuzzy was born in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, in September 1973.  After finishing high school, this bass and guitar player took off on a hitch-hiking journey to New Mexico.  Resonating with this freedom, he found a home within the “tour-heads” of the Grateful Dead.  He branched out to some Jerry Band (that’s Jerry Garcia) tours, and he stayed mobile for two years.  At age 20, he settled in Denver, because in his travels, he liked it.  Like most kids on tour, life wasn’t just happy hitch-hiking and music; there’s an underbelly, and it set the seeds for the next years of Fuzzy’s life.

He was married, had a son and then divorced.  He lived on the streets for the next six years.  Caught up in the social problems of street drugs, Fuzzy drifted, making enough money day-to-day by reading poetry for tips to the pedestrians he encountered.  “Would you care to hear a poem for a small tip?” was his catch phrase.  “I lived on hand-outs.”  One day, his waitress friend at Marlowe’s introduced him to Rick Barnes, who had just launched the new Denver VOICE the same month.  Something, Fuzzy said, clicked.  Rick tipped him well and said to call him, because he could help him work.  Fuzzy wasn’t sure if Rick was sincere or if he was trying to proposition him (not a far-fetched notion to people on the streets).  With a chuckle, “I figured out he wanted to help,” Fuzzy said. Fuzzy became vendor #9.  Out of thousands of vendors since the time he signed up, #9 is a pretty amazing number to still have.  “The VOICE lifts people from the ashes of life.  Look at me, it’s given me a way to make a living and get an apartment.  Since being a vendor, I got my head where I can go to school.”  He’s also been published in the VOICE several times, earning the nomination for a North American Street Newspaper Association award, “2009 Best Vendor Contribution.”

Fuzzy celebrates his beautiful fiancée, Xea, and their apartment together.  He celebrates getting to go to college.  His wit might make him seem contemptuous or wry, but we know better; Fuzzy, true patriots always offer the hardest questions of all!

Tuesday
Dec012009

Jerome Cotton

Published December 2009 Vol 13 Issue 11

by Gretchen Crowe

Jerome Cotton was born in St. Paul, Minn. in 1952.  Like so many in this economy, he talks of his current struggles and his desperate search for work. He wants a full time job so he can get an apartment with the “sanctity of having time to myself.  I haven’t been alone in over five years,” he says.  In the interim, he makes good money off the VOICE as a successful vendor—“it’s making people independent, prideful and having hope,” he says.

Jerome’s search for work and solitude is made more difficult by his past. Jerome has recently left the prison system, in fact, after living in it for 32 years.  With employers saturated with applicants, how does a felon fare?  Jerome talks of his new life, what he looks forward to.  He knows it’ll take time for people to believe him.  But with each step, he’s closer.  First, he’s out; he’s free.  Second, he’s clean.  He is proud to say, “I don’t even smoke cigarettes.”  He’s got a hotel room, but for once, he wants to have his own kitchen, bedroom and quiet.  He wants to cook for the first time.  But, is that feasible for a felon?

At 15-years old, Jerome was tried as an adult and sentenced to 20 years in a maximum-security prison.  He talked about a lifer who offered him candy and cigarettes; he talked about not knowing it meant anything as he took the treats.  But, it did.  When this gang leader came to collect and assert his power, Jerome fought back and ended up in the hospital for 3 months.  Then, transferred back to the prison, this man again returned to try to take his service on Jerome, padlocking the door to his infirmary cell.  Jerome fought back, able to hear the guards trying to break in, and he held the assailant as close as he could, like a hug, so as to not aggravate his previously broken ribs.  The guards cut their way in, and they found teenage Jerome standing over a dead inmate.  He was tried and sentenced for 1st degree murder and another 45 years were added to his time.  “You lose hope when hear a sentence like that.  I did what I thought I needed to survive.”   Part of his sentencing was three and a half years in “the hole.”  “I came out with a reputation I didn’t want—taking a person’s life isn’t nice.  They don’t know how much I cried.”  He was, after all, a kid.

As Jerome looks to make a new life, he has taken steps to better his job chances.  He just got his flagging certificate—so he can work on road crews—and certification to operate a forklift.  So, time will tell how Jerome fares in this job market.  We’re glad the VOICE is here to help him as he works for his goals.

Sunday
Nov012009

Milton Floyd

Published Novemvber 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 11

by Gretchen Crowe

If I could assign one word to Milton Floyd, I would say, “coy.”  But then again, I am a woman and Milton tends to be a flirt—in a good, benign way.  When asked about defining his most distinguishing feature, Milton giggled and answered, “I’m always smiling and that’s what they all like about me.”  With a name out of Western fiction and the eyes to melt a sunrise, we celebrate Milton’s one year anniversary with the Denver VOICE on February 2nd. 

 Born in Boise, Idaho in August 1951, Milton began working in construction in lieu of finishing high school.  He worked on a crew building new houses.  Leading a relatively smooth life, he married his beloved wife, Debbie, and had a daughter, Annie.  Milton lived and worked construction in Boise until he was 33, packing up his family to move to Denver, so they could be near his brother, Pastor David Thompson with the Activation Ministries in Evergreen.  Every Sunday, Milton still heads up to the church to see his brother.  He goes up there alone now.  In memory of his wife, “Debbie,” is tattooed on his right arm.  As he smiles, yet acknowledges his pain, he says, “the tattoo’s a little faded now, but hey, it’s just like me.”  He lost his wife to a brain tumor in 2008.  They were married 30 years.

 While living in Denver, Milton continued to work, but he worked with a day labor group doing construction clean-up until a month or so after his wife’s death.  He was laid off, and had the sense to know he was going to be on the streets.  He applied with the Coalition for the Homeless for housing, anticipating his homelessness.  That’s also when he found the VOICE, having met several vendors on the 16th Street Mall.  The Coalition’s application process took approximately three months, and by the last month, Milton was homeless.  Not being accustomed to shelter life, he reluctantly lived at the Denver Rescue Mission.  “I am real glad I got my apartment,” Milton says.  “After all that, it affected my nerves and my self esteem, and the VOICE really helped with that…That’s what I like about vending the VOICE, I meet so many nice people and everywhere I go, people seem to like me.  It’s about the people, and of course, the money too.”  Milton shares the 16th and Tremont block with another vendor, Manuela Shaw.

Looking at only his smile, it would be hard to tell that 7 months ago Milton was diagnosed with prostrate cancer, which has spread.  He just finished radiation and by the time this profile is printed, he will know if he will be in chemotherapy.  “When they took me off radiation, I told the nurses, ‘look, I’m now my own night light!’”  That’s a great example of Milton’s humor and unique way to positively shed light on his environment—after all, he is a self-proclaimed night light.  So, for February, let’s celebrate the past year with Milton, and here’s to many, many more! 


Thursday
Oct012009

Chris Schoenberger

Published October 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 9

by Gretchen Crowe

When picturing Denver VOICE vendors, one conjures ideas of hard work and dedication to self advancement, but do we truly think of success—that kind of success seen as a broad and universal term?  We should. 

Meet our deep-voiced, sports fanatic hailing from Wapakoneta, Ohio, Chris Schoenberger.  An only child who is a U.S. Air Force veteran and Ohio State University alum, Chris came to Denver to be near his son four years ago. He began vending September 2008 after losing contact with his son and ex-wife.


Chris is a picture of evolution.  He is that success story in the vending program, accomplishing substantial growth.  After claiming he didn’t have a business model, a three-step tier began to slip out as he talked about working with the VOICE.  He started vending by working corners, and after three months, he attempted to vend at a parking lot of a large, retail store.  He was thrown off, and began asking, “How do I get permission?”  After some meetings, he got that permission at a local store.  From this move, he tripled his paper sales, and for six months remained the second highest in sales each month.  Around three months ago, Chris began to put out Denver VOICE information tables outside a local mall.  He can man several tables at the same time. And, by evolving, his successes continue to grow.  His next step, a more personal one, is to re-establish a relationship with his son.

When asked his techniques to engage people while vending he says, “Stay in the conversation when you’re talking to someone. Don’t ask someone else for a donation while talking to another.  People respect their time, so should you.”  

Tuesday
Sep012009

Richard Wolfe

Published September 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 8

by Gretchen Crowe

“You just might be screwed, Denver’s street paper just closed up—you can’t move there!” said a fellow Portland vendor to Richard Wolfe around 2006, as he made plans to move to Denver. 

Thoughtful and gentle, Richard stands uncomfortably as I snap his picture for the September Vendor Profile. He is part of an emerging group of vendors that don’t just claim one paper or one city, but many. These are vendors that tour the country, mapping their adventures through cities with street papers—sometimes they hop locations, but some, like Richard, use the papers to help create a new home. 

Richard has vended in Chicago, Seattle, Portland and has been a vendor in Denver for over a year. His personal interest in studying psychology certainly makes his job intriguing. When asked if the climate of vending varies geographically, Richard replied, “absolutely!” Denver residents will only talk in passing about the concept of the paper, while Portland natives aren’t afraid to pick up the whole conversation. Seattle’s multitudes of tourists are ripe to ignore vendors, and Chicago’s big city mentality leaves vendors open for frequent off-hand comments. But all in all, “the best part of the papers is helping poor people get on their feet. Vending used to be my secondary means to make money after having a job, but now it’s my primary. One thing I can tell you is I do best with common people. Too rich or too poor and I don’t do as well. I like the common person.”

Born in Danville, IL into a coal mining family, Richard smiled as he reminisced on his life story. “And you know what I’m looking forward to now?!” Saving up for a 55-gallon aquarium for his new apartment.