Monday, November 19, 2007

Eddie heads back to NC

Quote of the Day: I thought before that pineapples were a decoration for hams, but I found it to be super fish food and I was a minnow for the sharks in the bowling alley. -- Eddie Koopman
Frank and Eddie meet again at Retsil, WA, June 2007

One year ago this past Friday, Eddie Koopman walked off a plane at Seattle-Tacoma airport and into my life. I nicknamed him "Easy Eddie" and wrote of his exploits in my blog. I even allowed him to be (so far) my one and only guest blogger.

Prior blogs concerning Eddie Koopman:
Easy Eddie, November 18, 2006
My Inner Donkey, November 21, 2006
Guest Weblog, November 29, 2006
Die Fledermaus, November 30, 2006
Leave the Driving to Us, December 12, 2006

As I write this, Eddie is on a bus somewhere between Denver and Kansas City. He is heading home. He has new eyeglasses, new teeth, new medications and a new attitude. I am very pleased at the progress he has made.

Ordinarily I would leave my comments at that. But I promised him that I would post a message in my blog from him so that he could thank some of the people who have helped him during the past year. Now that I have read his words, I am somewhat embarrassed to post them here. But I promised. So here goes. Except for correction of a few typos and some editorial changes that did not change the substance of his message, these are Eddie's words...

by Eddie Koopman

One year ago almost to the day I had the privilege and honor of meeting a man who became one of the best friends I have ever had in my life. Frank Niro and I had been in contact for some time while playing together on PokerSchoolOnline.

In 2005, I suffered a stroke and it made me unable to work and hold a job. The same year I also had a large pine tree decide it was tired of standing and it landed in my bed next to me taking out the roof of my home. Frank responded with aid just like many others who were in the school at the time.

Time went on. Unable to work, my rent got further and further behind and I was about to become totally homeless. I was now about at wits end and seriously considering stepping out in the front of a semi on the highway outside my house. Even knowing my chances at employment were slim to none, Frank (who I had never met in person) suggested that I leave North Carolina and start my life over again. He suggested that I come out to Seattle, assuring me that my chances of getting my life back together were good.

So in November last year he sent me a plane ticket and told me to come on out. He knew full well this was going to be difficult to make work, but he never seemed to care.

Last November 16th (one day before I would become homeless and be seriously considering suicide), I flew out to Seattle. Frank and his friend, Chef Billy Town, met me at the airport. I had no idea where I was or what this wonderful man’s plan was for me. I guess he didn’t either; he just wanted to help…

He told me that his friend Delilah, the radio personality, was potentially looking for someone to work as a fund raiser for a charity she formed called Point Hope. After looking at the web site, I told Frank I would be happy to help out, as anyone would, because she was trying to get clean water and other needs to young families in Africa.

Frank and Billy drove me from the airport and took me to the Days Inn hotel in Port Orchard, WA. The hotel was very expensive and Frank also gave me money to cover my meals and anything else I needed. Frank then showed up the next day and told me that he was planning to go East to spend Thanksgiving with some friends in New York and asked if I would like to come along. He suspected I would and had already booked me on Amtrak. Of course, I really liked this idea because I did not want to be alone for the Thanksgiving holiday.

We boarded the train in Seattle. Because of a history of blood clots, it is inadvisable for Frank to fly on a plane. So, he prefers the train. It was my first time ever on Amtrak.

Eddie and Frank at the train station in Seattle, Nov. 2006

It was quite long but a fantastic experience. When the train stopped in Chicago, we had a layover of several hours. Frank was as hungry as I was, so we took a cab to Harry Caray's restaurant. Frank treated me to my first steak that almost cost as much as a cow.

For dessert I had a baseball, which was made from chocolate mousse and ice cream. It was a first for me. I wanted to keep it because, like the steak, I think I could have sold this baseball on e-bay and got enough cash for a new car. After a dinner that I will never forget, we caught a cab back to the train station, re-boarded the train, and tossed and turned in our beds as we continued our quest for New York. During the trip we continued to play poker on Frank’s notebook computer. Once we got to our destination, a driver friend picked us up taking us to one of New York’s most beautiful remote locations called Easton Mountain Retreat Center.

We checked in then brought our luggage up a rather large hill to a motel style dormitory room. Wow, what a trip it was! I will never forget it.

The next few days we spent getting settled in and enjoying the pure beauty of the place. Frank took me with him on small trips to the village nearby. The first stop was a barbershop so I could get a haircut. I prefer the bald look. So when hair grows on my head I go and get it shaved.

Thanksgiving came and we had a wonderful family style dinner with the other guests and the owners of the resort. Chef Billy flew out from Seattle to join us for the Thanksgiving meal. On Friday, Chef Billy offered to make breakfast for the entire community. But they already had it covered. They had no idea what a treat they missed! Once Delilah’s restaurant opens and he becomes famous, they will be sorry that they passed up his offer.

Frank kept on his teaching of a game we both love: poker. He put some money in my Bugsy’s online poker account. One night I sat down at the computer and one of the other guests who had an interest in the game began to watch me play. He was learning too. He was a real nice guy and a lucky charm for me. I ran what Frank had put in my account up to five hundred that night, mainly by showing off to this guy.

Frank then told me that, since he was already on the east coast, he would like to go for a visit in the Boston area with his family and friends. He told me he would go back to Seattle from Boston or Hartford and asked me how I would like to return there. I was really starting to feel a little guilty about how much money he was spending on me. So I thought about it and told him that I would like to see the country and leave the driving to Greyhound.

Well, I wrote a trip report on this bus trip earlier for Frank’s blog. It was not as advertised because Greyhound couldn’t stay on schedule with a gold plated road map. I arrived back in the Seattle-Tacoma area more than a day late.

Frank already had reservations and a prepaid room at the lovely Vista Motel. It was an older place and wasn’t quite the same as the Days Inn. But, of course, it was only $250 a week (and worth it too).

He got me in the room, and left to go back to his bunkhouse on Delilah’s farm, where he spent part of each day writing his memoirs. I can’t wait to see his book finished because my story is really boring compared to some of the ones that he told me will be in his book.

Anyway, he made sure that I had money to meet any needs I had. Frank did not particularly like the clothes I was wearing when I arrived. He came back to the motel and took me on a shopping trip to the mall so that I had some clothes to interview for a job. He redid my entire wardrobe top to bottom.

Downtown Seattle, Washington, looking southeast, with Mount Rainier in the background on the right.

As the days went by, Frank suggested that I use the buses across the street to go where I needed to go. I had never seen a ferry before and I was afraid of getting lost in Seattle. So I didn’t go out much other than to the poker room across from the motel in an old bowling alley. I found out quickly how to get my butt kicked playing games I never had heard of like crazy pineapple. I thought before that pineapples were a decoration for hams, but I found it to be super fish food and I was a minnow for the sharks in the bowling alley.

Frank was busy writing and helping Delilah plan a restaurant that she had been thinking about opening (where Chef Billy will be the head chef). I did not see him for a while. The rent on the room was coming due, so I started to call Frank. This is when I found Frank hates phones. It’s a residual effect, he says, of all those years as a hospital administrator when he had to be on the phone all day long and was constantly being interrupted.

It literally came down to the day the rent became due before he showed up. I had found a couple of jobs in the newspaper that interested me. Frank told me he would take me to Seattle to apply for them. He then handed me a folded piece of paper telling me go to the office and pay my rent. I unfolded the piece of paper and it was a check for one thousand dollars, signed by his friend Delilah. I took it to the office and noticed a sign on the door with big hand-written black letters: no checks.

I went in anyway and gave the check to the owner. The owner of the motel took the check and gave me a receipt for a month’s rent, no questions asked. He said, “If Delilah is paying your rent, we will take her check”. Delilah is known around the country and the world. I should not have been surprised that she is revered in the community where she lives.

I went back to the room. Frank gave me food money from his pocket, making sure my needs were met. I mentioned an electronics show and sale in Tacoma where laptops were on sale for under $500. Without hesitation, he drove me to the show, opened his wallet again, and I became the proud owner of my first laptop computer. Then he gave me his printer/scanner…and a boatload of software.

Frank continued training me in poker, bringing me stacks of poker books to read from his library. He lent me his wireless Internet card so that I could play online. He began to get me some live play by entering me in tournaments at the Clearwater Casino.

To train me to play better, he offered me a bounty on his own head. In other words, if I lasted longer than him, then I made money. If I knocked him out of the tourney, I made more money. I cashed on both during these trips and was ecstatic the day that I made it to the final table and won my entry fee back.

But that was very far from the last step. If I made a mistake and he saw it, I would hear about it all the way home. When Frank discusses something that he has a passion for, make no mistake…you will hear him clearly. I began referring to him as the Bobby Knight of poker coaches. But I admit that I made some bonehead plays. It took a while to sink in, but I definitely learned a lot on those trips home.

The coach wanted to see me get more experience in live play. So he took me to a small casino in Bremerton called Chips. He would hand me fifty to one hundred bucks and tell me that I could keep whatever I won. My live game was decent and, with that motivation, I never had a losing session at this casino.

I began applying for jobs and first went to a company called Tele-Tech. I managed to get hired for Sprint customer service. At Delilah’s insistence, Frank also drove me and showed me the Washington State Veterans Home in Retsil, WA. He told me that he had promised Delilah that he would no longer give me cash because it wasn’t going to help me in the long run. She felt that I should be in Retsil where I could get the help I needed.

I protested but I could tell that Frank was committed to connecting me with the people at Retsil. He helped me fill out the application for the home. The rent would be free because I was a veteran. But there was a problem: a very long waiting list...

While working at Tele-Tech I ran into a woman who needed a roommate. I talked to her and the rent was definitely good: only $250 a month.

That was in January of this year. Frank then began talking about someone he had fallen in love with. “Her name,” he said, “is Tash, and we are planning to get married.”

Later, he came by the motel and gave me another $500, telling me that he was getting married and would not be able to help me anymore. He said that I needed to get myself into Retsil. Of course, I was worried for myself but very happy for him. If there was anyone who ever deserved happiness in his life, it definitely is Frank.

I took the money and paid the woman at work for the rent and moved in with her. Within days of doing so, she got a notice that her apartment was being sold off as a condo and we would need to get another apartment. The lady and I found another apartment, so I went with her and signed the lease for the new place. I was in mild shock that my credit report was actually accepted.

The apartment was low rent housing in Bremerton. We needed to come up with $600 each to move in. In the meantime, I lost my job at the telemarketing company and did not have my share. I tried to contact Frank and managed to fill his voice mailbox. Then I got a job at the local mall doing surveys. I still had not quit on myself.

Moving day came. I still did not have enough for my share of the new apartment. The lady told me that I would need to go someplace else. Then came move out day. By this time, Frank and Tash had moved to Oregon and were unavailable to assist me. I left carrying my bags up the street to a state park. I made myself a lean-to and set up housekeeping. I now was officially, if only temporarily, homeless. And it was raining and freezing cold outside. I tried voice mail again and still no answer. I remembered Frank’s last words: I had to get into Retsil where I could get the help I needed.

So, reluctantly, I began the trek up the hill to the Veterans home at Retsil. I would sneak in for meals and hang out with the other veterans. One of them saw to it that I did not run out of cigarettes. He gave me cigs each day. But no one knew I was homeless. The place still had no rooms available. I had gathered discharge papers and was pre-qualified, but I had to wait my turn for a spot.

I continued to sneak in for meals for a couple of weeks. I slept in the woods. When it rained, I locked myself in a public bathroom and sleep there. Inevitably, I got caught sneaking in for meals. It was ironic, they said, because most of the residents usually run AWAY from the mess hall. They asked why I did it and I told them I was homeless, which they could easily see. They ran me off and told me not to come back until they called for me. I was coughing and sneezing while I talked to them. They checked me out and determined that I might have pneumonia.

As I left the property and dejectedly headed back the woods, they told me to come back. They found a room for me. They gave me a room in the infirmary and began giving me 24-hour a day medical attention. The care was better than I would get in any hospital.

On March 2, 2007, I became a permanent resident of the Retsil home. It was warm. It was dry. And the food was decent…a lot better than the Vienna sausages I had been stealing and eating in the woods.

The so-called "Town Square" at Retsil, where I spent many, many hours picking up cigarette butts and other trash. It looks like a college campus or a resort in the photo but, in reality, it felt more like a prison. Still, it was "home" for eight and a half months and I am much better now than when I arrived. Most people leave in a horizontal position, so I am very grateful. -- Eddie K.

During the next few weeks, I was sent to see more doctors than when I had my stroke two years ago. They got me over the illness and began to work on my other physical problems. On regular medications they brought my high blood pressure back to stone normal. I could not see well and I broke a tooth (one of the few remaining) on a piece of meat. So it was off to the dentist for me. The dentist pulled the rest of my teeth and set me up for the surgery that I needed to handle dentures.

I finally got my new prescription eyeglasses and a mouthful of new teeth in early October. Meanwhile, I called the local cable company and had Internet service put in my room.

Frank started me doing poker stakes for him online. He and his wonderful wife, Tash, introduced me to two great web sites, and The Donkey websites. From both these sites I started getting stakes from players to play my wonderful, life saving, game of poker. I have made a few dear friends from these sites. If some of you are reading this, thank you so very much. Frank also included me in the so-called BAP stakes he was running and told me to send him my Internet bill. I no longer expected it, but here he comes still doing what he could to help me.

This summer, he and Tash drove up from Oregon and brought me more poker books and some cash (so I could at least buy a Pepsi).

More recently, I began to get tired of living here and watching people die. I applied for a special grant so I could leave this place. With my new teeth and new glasses and proper medications, I feel that I can be a productive member of the work force once again.

Well, I got the grant. That’s the good news. At first they were sending me to a Vets home in Las Vegas. But I could not do the paperwork without being there in person so that fell through. I contacted my old landlord who had wanted to toss me out in North Carolina. He agreed that I could come back there, so long as I could pay the rent. The State had said they would pay it, at least initially. So now as I write this I am two days away from what could become the longest bus ride in history to a homeless shelter! I leave on Friday, November 16 (exactly one year to the day since I arrived here). By the time you read this I will be somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, or further east.

Once again, Frank has stepped up to the plate. He deposited a couple hundred dollars in my bank account for food money on my 4-day bus ride. The government also gave me $15 per day food money for four days on Greyhound. I’m not going to worry about the rest. I have my health back and all the energy I need to get things on track. I will get my old job back when I get there. If not, I am capable of working day labor. Somehow, I will get what I need from that.

Well, all in all, I can honestly say that it has been the most wonderful year of my life. I say this because, not only have all my hopes and dreams been realized, I have met someone I am damn proud to call my friend. I could not name one person in the world who would reach out to a stranger like Frank has done. There is no way I can put into words what his help has meant to me. I mean, I could say “thank you”, which I have many times with tear-filled eyes.

Delilah and Tash, I know you will most likely read this. Thank you both very much as well. To Phil and Valley, I hope you will read this too. Thank you for being my backers on The Donkey Farm.

Most of all, Frank, thank you again for what has really been the trip of a lifetime. Without your assistance and insistence, I would have been another bug on some trucker's grill. Now I have my second chance at a life that I came so close to ending.

This, for real, has been the trip of a lifetime.


Final Note: I appreciate all the positive feedback, but this isn't about me. I wouldn't have been able to help him if Delilah hadn't helped me.

Before I got in the picture, people on PSO like HERMES and Kailyn31 and missouridave and many others that I don't even know about gave over $2,000 to woodstied. A PSO member (BUSCHMAN) even gave him a new bed.

People on NeverBeg and the Donkey Farm gave him stakes with no expectation of getting any money back. They, too, wanted to help Eddie.

Let's celebrate together that Eddie is back on his feet. Let's give Thanksgiving for all of our gifts. Most of all, let's remember that every day is indeed a gift.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!!


POSTSCRIPT: I heard from Eddie each year through 2013 on my birthday. It was the only contact I had with him once he moved back to North Carolina. Sadly, Eddie passed away in his sleep on November 30, 2013, at age 62. Rest in Peace, my friend.

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