Fernando Anglero carries one of his cardboard signs during the monthly… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)
Fernando Anglero is a fixture among the street people who live in downtown L.A.'s Arts district, known for his off-color, funny signs that one local loft-dweller says bring "fun energy" to the neighborhood.
But the homeless man residents know only as Fernando stands out for another reason -- he's marketing himself as a street comic using social media.
To promote his "cardboard comedy," Anglero has created a website with help from Arts district residents. He also has a Facebook page and a personal hashtag, #fernandolove, to make it easier to find him on Instagram and Twitter.
At downtown's monthly Art Walk, the slight, balding man is swarmed by people clamoring to take his picture as he holds one of his signs. "I'm a Freegan -- I only eat free food," reads one of his hand-stenciled cardboards. "If God Would Be a Woman She Would Be as Beautiful as You Are," goes another.
Several are raunchier. He apologizes for the vulgarity, saying he's simply giving the market what it wants. "If I'm printing Bible verses, they're not going to laugh."
Anglero, 54, doesn't own a computer or a cellphone. Throughout the day, he drops by the SS Gallery, an arts collective on Vignes Street, to go online and check messages or post a status update. He's obsessed with his Instagram hashtag count.
"More than 400!" he says with a nearly toothless grin.
Anglero's savvyness with computers is rare among the skid row street dwellers, and public computers are scarce, limited mainly to the Central Library or a handful of job resource centers.
"It's pretty unusual," said Allen Ceravolo, vocational services manager at the Los Angeles Mission. "First, for someone to have those skills and abilities. And second, to be making a living that way."
Anglero said he receives a monthly disability check because of a bipolar disorder and supplements that with money people give him for taking a photograph with his signs. He said he's saved about $1,200 over the last year and stashed it with a trusted Arts district friend.
His goal is to save enough to move back into an apartment. He had one in South Los Angeles for about a year, when an Arts district resident co-signed for him. He's vague about what happened, saying the lease was not renewed in January.
He hopes one day to land a spot on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." The largest sign he's made to date is a homage to the daytime talk show host, whom Anglero says "has a big heart."
Andrew Jackson, a 25-year-old filmmaker who has followed Anglero with a camera for two years, has started a Kickstarter campaign to fund a documentary on Anglero's life.
"There's a lot of misery on the streets," Jackson said. "But Fernando, for the most part, is a happy man. He brings a lot of energy to this street. And he's hilarious."
Anglero was born in Puerto Rico and came to Los Angeles as a young man. He says he was married, had three children and held down a job as a custodian at the Beverly Center. But he started drinking and using drugs, he says, and ended up on the streets.
About two years ago, Anglero said, he kicked his substance abuse and focused on making humorous signs. The turnaround came after he visited his family for the first time in 25 years, and was able to say goodbye to his father before he died. The positive feedback he's received from his signs has made him more determined to clean up for good.
"I'm getting too old for this," Anglero says of his life on the streets. He regularly takes public transit to Hollywood and Venice to display his signs for tourists and collect change. At night he sleeps in an alcove on the 1st Street bridge.
He carries himself with a Mr. Bojangles lightness, but can grow somber when deeper emotional currents surface. Anglero admits his weekly treks to Hollywood are partly motivated by a hope of seeing his now-grown daughter. He's heard she lives in the area with his ex-wife and other children, he says, before catching himself.
"No. I'm not going there," he announces. Turning to the young man filming him, he brightens and calls out.
"Hey Andrew! Tell me not to cry."