If you live anywhere near 6th and Spring, you'll hear Leprechaun coming down the street before you see him. The squeaky wheeling of his shopping cart stacked ten feet high accompanies the gravelly drone of his voice like some cacophonous symphony as he hawks hand-made bracelets and dreamcatchers to passersby. His given name was Russell Walters but nobody knows that. Even he refers to himself as Leprechaun. He looks more like an off-duty St. Nick impersonator than a Lucky Charms salesman, though, and his slow moving cavalcade of shopping trolleys is a constant presence on the square block around my building. About a month or so ago I proposed to him the idea of an interview. He was receptive. "I have a lot of crazy stories," he said. Even with that forewarning I wasn't prepared for the tale he was about to weave around me.
How did you get the name Leprechaun?
I'm from Ireland and I have a big leprechaun tattooed on my back. I came here when I was three, went back there when I was ten, stayed there until I was fourteen and then I came back to America. I then went into the service as a Navy Seal…they liked my shooting and the way I could take care of myself and they decided they needed me for special things. I was all Black Ops. I had 47 confirmed victories and no losses or innocents killed
When did you learn to make bracelets and other crafts?
The last 15 years i've been messing with crafts, flowers, weaving, dressing, tying. I lived in the woods for five years as a hermit and I made an igloo out of sticks. I lived on a river and caught fish and game with string, a bowie knife and a snare and I lived there through five winters and then decided I wanted to come back to society and make things and make people happy. Right now i'm a guardian angel of this area and the eight blocks surrounding where I sit. I prowl, looking for people that are looking to do bad things to people and if the police aren't around, I stop them.
What kind of people do you mean?
All kinds of crazy people. Most of them are IV users, drug addicts, some of them are on PCP, some are just crazy. The only thing they respect is their level, which I go to, but I don't want to get too deep into that on the recorder. They'd use that evidence to kill me forever and I don't want to get into that.
Where do you sleep?
I sleep in different locations. Wherever I sleep is my home. This is my home, my gypsy wagon, my trade. My father in Ireland is a king and he has a castle and I'm the only heir. When I came to America, I told my father that I was never coming back. He asked "Why, Son?" and I said, "I'm King wherever I live. Wherever I lay my head, I'm King. I'm never gonna be a prince again. I'm too old to be a prince" I choose to live this life until my father is dead.
"Right now I'm thinking of changing my name to Dreamcatcher," he went on, "because I find so much joy in making dreamcatchers from nothing on the ground and giving people joy from things that are dead, making them look alive again and trap evil spirits, which they will because I bless each one of my catchers. I'm a holy monk now, a man of God, a warrior of God I should say." I asked him if he was religious and he responded, "I am totally religious. I go to church every morning. My church is on 6th and Broadway. It's a Spanish church, but I speak Spanish and English and French."
The more I spoke to him, the more the central tenets of his reality became clear to me as they were repeated. He went on, "When my father dies, I plan to liquidate everything in Ireland and move here forever and i'll buy the whole top floor of that circle building (US Bank Tower), no matter the cost, no matter what they say it is, I'll buy it. I'll be living on that and my domain will be overlooking L.A in the nicest building in L.A, I feel, and i'll have a little church up there and a little following of people that I bless and pray to. I'll be training monks as guardian angels. I wont be training people to go to church, I'll be training people to protect people."
I knew that to understand Leprechaun best I'd have to suspend disbelief. Too often our judgments of maligned social groups are drenched in preconceptions and we dismiss when we could listen instead. That said, he didn't make it easy to follow along his fantastical life history. Leprechaun operates with a quiet but grandiose self-image centered around secret riches and near superhuman skills. Through it all, though, I was touched by a deep empathy that runs central to his beliefs — a desire to protect the weak and help others, often positing himself as a modern version of David Carradine's character in Kung Fu.
Intermittent are moments of sheer poignancy. "I live on small pennies," Leprechaun begins, "I start the day with sometimes a dollar, sometimes none. By the end of the day I have all I need to live and be happy. It may not be a lot of things, but it is enough to make me happy because I don't serve any times or clocks or anything at all except my own life and looking after others…I was a regional manner for three companies selling things door to door. I made them a lot of money, but me, not enough. Some jobs I got paid $500 a day and it still wasn't enough to make me happy…Helping people makes me happy."
Do you support the armed forces?
I support people who are out of the armed forces and are trying to make a living. Although, if they go in for a reason to protect us, I support that. If somebody invaded here, I would be the unlucky one they didn't want to find. I would make traps for them that they'd never even think about. I'd go to the mountains and I'd take one family to protect and that's it.
How would you pick them?
God would lead me to them.
What do you think of the police?
The police serve a purpose in society. Without police there would be total chaos. Although they are overzealous about what they do, especially with people like me that are no harm. They should be looking for people who are dealing, wheeling, and doing bad things…stealing. Stealing is wrong. It's not right to steal anything. You always ask and you shall receive.
Do you have friends?
When policemen are not around, sometimes there needs to be a friend available to take care of the situation without giving honest people problems. I have friends in all walks. I feed people who are hungry, give them clothes, blankets. I give them maybe a warm meal in their belly, a pillow, a pair of pants, a shirt. I have both men's and women's clothes in my wagon that I haven't washed for a while because I haven't had the money to do laundry but somebody blessed me with two new pairs of Levi's yesterday and ten brand new shirts! This is one of them that i'm wearing.
Do you have a girlfriend?
Oh, I have many girlfriends, just one at the moment, nothing permanent. I'm very picky about who to make my Queen because she gets everything I have when I die. She doesn't have to be the most beautiful woman in the world, but she has to have a fair body and a fair face. And a good mind as well - especially the mind. I'd prefer if she plays chess. I have a chess board but no pieces. One day i'll be able to afford the pieces.
What misconceptions do you feel people hold towards you?
I think by me living the life I live, some people are vindictive. I don't have to be homeless. I have a lot of rich backers behind me. All I'd have to do is make a call and a limo would pick me up in minutes. My father is so filthy rich that he could have a storefront of lawyers. I fight my own battles. I don't need help. There's always somebody watching over me. I'm protected by forces that people don't even realize. I find blessings every day. Every morning I wake up and i'm blessed as I walk. Today I found three perfect feathers. Other days I find money, clothes, food. Everything is a blessing to me. I take nothing for granted and I help all that I can.
Talking with Leprechaun is a bit like looking at one of those Magic Eye paintings. You have to squint a bit to follow along, but, when you catch the image, the beauty is undeniable. Throughout the latter half of our discourse a chewed up old timer was whacking messily at a detuned guitar in a parking lot within eyeshot. "That there is my friend," said Leprechaun, pointing over to him. "He's not very good at guitar," I quipped. Leprechaun looked at me and said, "It makes him happy." It took the grin right off of my face. Thus is the wisdom of the man. He lives with little ambition or ego and has a moment to spare for any person that may come across his path. At first I had to fight off my skepticism when retelling his tales in my mind, but I was so touched by the conviction with which he speaks of the beauty he finds in the mundane that I just decided to believe him.
When we talk about mental health, often there is the underlying assumption that if an individual has a loose grasp on reality, there is an imperative to treat them medically. My brief moments in Leprechaun's worldview made me pause to think. If somebody is delusional, but, largely content, and if their actions are of no harm to anyone else, maybe we as a society should be more ready to accept them as they are instead of trying to fix them or rationalize the wrinkles in their stories. In this city more than most, we often attempt to publicly define ourselves by what we aspire to be. In that performance, we walk the line between ambition and delusion and have all been guilty of lapsing into the latter at moments. I can't say what parts of Leprechaun's fantastical stories are true, but I can say this: I do feel just a little bit safer on the streets knowing that he's around. I'm glad he's my neighbor.