After I photographed Jen and CJ (previous post) My cousin Joel gave me a 10 minute walking tour of downtown Asheville. He pointed to a man across the street; he was in a wheelchair. Joel said that his name was Happy, and that he was a local icon in the area. After Joel left, I headed right for Happy.
He was very talkative, and half of the passersby knew him. Happy acknowledged everyone as 'My Brother', or 'My Sister.' A young man named Tug came up and began working on Happy's motorized wheelchair. It looked well used, and the control arm was held together by several yards of Georgia Chrome (Duct Tape). Tug tugged off the tape and snugged a few bolts with an off-brand, ersatz crescent wrench. Tug befriended happy on a city bus a few years ago and has been giving him a hand ever since. Nice. The VA has provided Happy with four motorized devices in the past, and all came to tragic ends. They told him that this one will have to last for five years – unlikely, in my opinion.
I asked Happy if I could ask a personal question. “You want to know how I lost my leg (pronounced lay-egg).” “Well, you guessed it.” Happy served three tours in Viet Nam, as a medic. Numerous times he was under enemy fire, but the leg was a casualty of a Brown Recluse Spider bite. Delay in seeking medical attention, and underlying diabetes, nearly cost Happy his life. That was 4 ½ years ago.
What interested me most is where he was situated. Behind him, on the inside of the sidewalk, was a black makeshift wooded wall, part of the 'Before I Die' project. This global initiative consists of similar walls in over 300 cities. They have repeating lines “Before I Die, I Want to:________ .
Chalk is provided and anyone can fill out a line. Here is a brief description:
I saw this 6 minuted TED talk a couple of years ago, and then bought a book about the project.
Happy said that he was in charge of maintaining the wall in Asheville. Often the wall is defaced, and he pointed high on the wall to the word F**K. It was out of his reach, so I took his damp rag and erased it. Then I added my missive: “Before I Die, I want to 'learn what it's all about'”
This wall has been up for 11 months. Happy hopes to get 49,000 entries in the next month so it will have 500,000 in the first year. I looked up the Asheville wall online, and could not confirm that Happy has any official role. Who knows.