Most mornings at Real Change, Joey Pollitt ambles into the vendor-program area with a pair of thick black headphones stretched on over an evergreen cap. He settles into his usual corner of the vendor computer lab, content to escape to the serene sound of radio waves.
Joey’s story steals a little of your heart. His mom died when he was just a baby. He was born in Camden, N.J., in 1961 as one of seven: four boys and three girls. He and his brother Johnny Pollitt are twins and the babies of the family.
A foster child of Jersey Joe Walcott, the heavyweight boxing champ, Joey reverently recalls that his surrogate father was a great parent. “He was like a dad to me,” he said.
Unfortunately, when Walcott’s wife passed away, Joey was sent to live with his aunt who, he said, was physically abusive. Joey credits his uncle with saving him: “My uncle got me out of there. He sent me to my older sister’s so my aunt wouldn’t lay her hands on me anymore.”
He lived in North Carolina through high school and then went on to Job Corps for three years to study carpentry. Sporting a broad grin, Joey describes the experience, especially the abundant wildlife, with a sense of awe: “We took classes and lived in a dormitory, in the mountains. You wouldn’t believe it, but the skunks would come out in the morning time, with their backs hunched up. We saw bears in the trees. It was great. I enjoyed the place and the scenery, the occasional outings to movie theaters and shopping malls.”
When asked what prompted his move to the Pacific Northwest, Joey said a few of his pals had moved out West and encouraged him to travel. “They would tell me ‘Go see some other states. They’re pretty cool.’
“So I went to California for a little while. Then I heard about Seattle — saw the greenery in a picture and thought, ‘Damn, I want to go there.’ I saved up what money I could and made the move. L.A. had a lot of crime, and I had been there for around a year. It was time for me to get out.”
It turns out Joey’s move was a good choice, because he loves the Emerald City: “I enjoy my life here; I like the way it is. I smoke my cigarettes, I don’t bother anybody. I work, I have my technology like my tablet and my phone, and I keep to myself.”
Joey’s penchant for technology lends itself to a spooky pastime. “I enjoy watching horror movies. They really get you going. They’re better than any action movie; they make you think, ‘Oh my God, look at that.’ I suppose I especially enjoy vampire movies, like ‘Blade’ with Wesley Snipes. There’s a lot of trick photography in that.”
While content now, Joey admits the journey to his present life was an uphill battle. “I had a place in Belltown for 10 years, and I used to drink a lot and I would end up eating a whole pack of Oreos. I still love Oreos, but I have diabetes, and I had to clean up my act.”
While he’s worked many jobs — at The Millionair Club, a car wash — Joey now balances selling Real Change with his job as a dishwasher. “I started selling Real Change in the early 2000s. I saw this guy holding the paper up, shouting ‘Real Change!’ He wasn’t friendly at first, but then apologized and shook my hand. He explained that people often treated him coldly and ignored him, so he sometimes got defensive. He ended up telling me all about Real Change.”
Joey has nothing but love for his clientele. “I want to thank my customers for being there for me, and treating me with the kindness that I deserve.”