Succeeding

I’ve been succeeding in putting in the three hours a day that I promised myself I would do in order to notate my piano-vocal score, but I have *not* been succeeding in getting the three hours to occur consecutively one after another, or in the same place at the same time each day.

The first day was the best. I found a spot at the Co-Op with a power outlet that was just perfect. I did the first two hours until I noticed I was beginning to nod. So I went home and took a power nap, then returned to the same Spot to wrap things up. My pastor Norman came in while I was working there, and he gave me a good muse.

teensuicideintervention_1186378
INTERVENTION

So, I was extremely encouraged after the first day. Tuesday consisted of three scattered hours at totally different times, and also turned out to be a day (naturally enough) when nothing else was accomplished. Then yesterday, I worked the three hours pretty much consecutively, although I was seeing stars in the third hour. This is probably due to my having to manage multiple choral parts and solos in the gargantuan Opening Number, entitled Intervention (only a mere fraction of it being reproduced on the foregoing link.) But then, I had enough to time to prepare one of the four speeches on the Homeless Experience I’d planned to prepare.

I worked on that speech for six and a half hours, but it didn’t come out too well. I knew there was something wrong with it when I went to bed late last night, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. My friend Danielle listened to it, and said it was “pedantic” and that I sounded like I was “lecturing” and that I had “no real feeling for what I was saying;” that is, up until the very end, when I seemed to pour my whole hugely indignant heart into it. She said she liked the earlier speeches on my Talks page a lot better, because they just sound like “Andy talking for a half hour or so.” (She’s certainly heard Andy talk for a half hour or so, without stopping, many times on the phone in the past.)

Well, I guess I’m just a talkative guy. But I do agree with her perception. I left the speech on the shared link, but I’m going to re-do it once I have the presence of mind. Also, I am committed to getting the three hours of score notating done before I pursue any more pleasant projects. It will be good if I can get myself regularized (fat chance!) and do them concurrently, rather than all over the daily map.

Today, I’ve only done one hour so far, but I’m all set up at the Bagel Shop and about to do the other two. I’ll be done at four, then I’m going to see a show tonight at the Moscow Art Theatre.

So I’m right at the spot at “Intervention” where all the adversarial characters in the Opening sing at once, just before the hook where they are joined by the characters sympathetic to my protagonist. It will be a cacaphonic nightmare if I don’t determine just the right harmonies. But it will be good for me – and let’s get crackin.’

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A New Pair of Glasses

The first time in my life that I had ever lost a pair of glasses was on May 20, 2004, when I awoke in Golden Gate Park and realized that I had casually tossed my glasses down in the foliage when I was about to go to sleep the previous night. I and another person spent about a half hour trying to find them, then concluded they were lost. Since I had only been homeless since April 1, 2004, I had not yet come to terms with the many subtle nuances that would distinguish my homeless life from my previous life. Losing a pair of glasses is one of them.

When I lived in a house, I might have casually tossed my glasses onto the rug of my bedroom floor. I might have spent a few minutes looking for them, possibly even more than a few minutes, depending on the nature of the toss and the location of the landing. But once I had found them, I could not truthfully claim to have lost them. I had only misplaced them. The $300 pair of corrective reading glasses that I lost on that morning can never be replaced.

This is telling. Homelessness is not about misplacement. It’s about loss. In some cases — in my case, for example — deep loss. Loss that a person doesn’t get over very easily. In some cases, they might not get over it in an entire lifetime. In my case? Well, the jury is still out.

As I walked toward a certain cafe that morning where another homeless person was going to buy me a cup of coffee, I told myself: “Now I really *have* to do something about my situation! I’ve got to stop being homeless before this gets any worse. All kinds of things have been happening since I’ve been homeless that I could never have predicted would happen. Problems that used to take me five or ten minutes to solve have been setting me back for days.”

But then I thought: “How do I stop being homeless?”

I did not know the answer then, and I do not know it now. That was twelve years ago. Now is now. You cannot imagine the number of “subtle nuances” that have accumulated in those twelve years. If I became cold when I lived in a house, I turned on the heater. It took me less than one minute. If I become cold now, I go about town looking for extra layers of clothing outside the good will stores, in the “drop boxes.” and on the ground. And remember – there are about a thousand other homeless people living in this city. Many of them are very much like me, and so many of them are doing the exact same thing. We fight each other over a pair of pants. It can literally take me days to turn coldness into warmth. Sometimes you don’t even bother. You’re starting to become hardened. You’re tired of fighting another homeless person for the only sweatshirt in your size.

This, too, is telling. Homelessness is not about warmth – it’s about coldness. It’s about discovering that your lifelong friends and family members, the very people whom you thought were truly supportive of you, are suddenly very leery of you. They won’t take your truthful statements at face value anymore. They keep looking for the “reason” why you’re homeless, and in so doing completely ignore the obvious fact that you are homeless because you don’t have a home. So you turn to them for support, just the way you always used to, in the hope that they might help you to find a home, just the way they always used to help you help you deal with a difficult co-worker or help you after the break-up of a relationship. They cannot seem to imagine that all these problems you are having are the result of the conditions of homelessness, and not the cause. They find that while you always used to be noted for your punctuality, you suddenly are showing up late. They correlate this with your increasing instances of absent-mindedness, and conclude that you need a psychiatrist. You know in your heart that as soon as you are no longer homeless, you won’t have these problems anymore, so you start to feel a bit brushed off. They brush off your need for a place to live by providing answers for all the other problems, while ignoring the fact that these other problems are related to all the “subtle nuances” that distinguish your homeless life from your previous life. You suddenly realize that half of these people you thought were so supportive never really did a damn thing for you at all. Anybody can give advice. It takes somebody who really loves you, to let you in much farther than that. But they’re not letting you in. You thought they loved you. But where is the warmth? Why is your own brother, even having a spare room in his house, forcing you to sleep out in the cold?

Finally, you yourself become cold. You thought you were warm, but all these cold blasts are turning down your temperature. The cold blasts accumulate. You used to be able to handle cold weather, but you’re getting older, and it’s getting harder. You used to think you could endure homelessness till the ends of your days. Now you know that if you don’t get inside soon, those days will be drastically shortened. The many unanswered pleas for dignified shelter accumulate. The failed attempts at getting a stint in a homeless shelter to lead anywhere but to another homeless shelter accumulate.

The subtle nuances themselves accumulate. When I lived indoors, how many times did I lose my cell phone? If I recall correctly, none at all. Since I’ve been homeless, how many different cell phones have I had? It pains me to count. “Why is Andy losing his cell phone so often?” I seem to hear them ask. It’s not just because there’s a drastic increase in Andy’s absent-mindedness. It’s because homeless people steal from homeless people. If there is a cell phone in my backpack, I can guarantee you it will be gone within a month or so. Usually, within a week.

As far as the $300 pair of protective reading glasses is concerned, talk about your “luxury” problem! I’ve been buying non-corrective readers for $1.10 at the dollar store for as long as I can remember. And the rate at which I am losing them is steadily increasing. I cannot solve this problem – of losing my glasses 3 to 5 times a week – without help. Real help. From someone who cares. Somebody help me. Let me keep a pair of reading glasses everywhere I try to use this computer. Somebody help me. Give me a place to live. Somebody, somebody, somebody —

“Why isn’t Andy helping himself?”

Because Homelessness is not about love. It’s about hate. Jesus could have had a place to live, you know. He could have lived anywhere he wanted to. So why did he choose to live outdoors? Well, look at this way. If Jesus had been living in some nice plush three-story house and living the good life, how would that have prepared him for the event that He knew was coming, when He would have to endure the mockeries of those who tortured Him to death out of pure hatred for anything so good as Him? How would He have been tough enough do produce enough love to compensate for all the hate in all the history of the world?

The thing is, I’m not Jesus. I’m not headed toward that kind of event, but I am headed toward an event that will be sufficient for who I am. Let me in, please. Before it’s too late.

Andy Pope
Berkeley, California
June 12, 2016 7:52am

lost pair of glasses

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The Questioner

Q. Do you even have the slightest idea who I am?

A. I know exactly who you are.

Q. Then where were you last night when I needed you?

A. Too wiped out.

Q. You weren’t avoiding me, were you?

A. No – not really.  I just didn’t have much to say to you.

Q. Do you realize how small that makes me feel?

A. Vaguely.  But perhaps you’ve been a bit too big for your britches lately.

Q. What makes you say so?  Why would you even think such a horrid thought?

A. Well, it’s one thing for me to have finally summoned you as a last resort, when I was in a bind.  But you outlived your usefulness when you started becoming all codependent on me.

Q. Codependent?

A. You heard me!   My personal habits and manner of self-care are my own business.   All you codependents are alike.  Constantly harping on me to take care of myself, as though you practically owned my body.   I’m the one who lives in the damn thing! I’m the one who knows what it takes to function properly.  I’m the one who hasn’t had a serious disease in sixty-four years of living, while all around me all these sick people keep harping on how I “don’t take care of myself.” 

Q. Are you calling me “sick?”

A. Aw, you’re healthy enough in low doses, I suppose.

Q. Don’t you think you’re beginning to come across like Job in Chapter 33?   Exalting your own righteousness above that of the Holy Name of God??

A. Oh please.  The transparency with which you resort to throwing the Book at me is odious.

Q. How so?

A. You always pound the Scriptures at me in order to bring guilt upon my head, just at the moment when you figure nothing else would work but a religious guilt trip. 

Q. But can’t you see that I am only trying to help?

A. That’s what they all say.

Q. But what do you say?

A. I say that yes, I thank the Good Lord God for keeping me in decent health long enough to finally get a good crack at my life’s work on this planet.  But at the same time, I can’t deny that following some simple rules such as (1) not smoking cigarettes, and (2) getting sufficient, moderate physical exercise, have had at least something to do with it.   God didn’t waste his gift of good health on a guy who was going to sit on a bar stool all night long whining with a Camel non-filter hanging out of his mouth as though it were a blue tooth in his ear.

Q. How can you claim to have always made healthy choices?   Is not the very notion preposterous?

A. I never said I have always made healthy choices.  I am only saying I make a point of taking care of myself, whether anybody else thinks so or not, and when I fail or lapse, God has been merciful in letting me wake up in the morning without hangover.  Or similar such show of mercy. 

Q. Why is that you seem so damned smug today?

A. Because you and I are splittin’ up, baby!  I got to the point yesterday where I just did not need you or your flagrant codependent guilt trips, you flailing flimsy excuse for a superego, you!  I made a speech last night.  I’m going to edit it tonight to taste.  And I worked for three hours on my piano-vocal score, according to my schedule that I’m determined to keep up till the end of October.  I even enjoyed the work.  And I ran two miles!   And did fourteen push-ups!  When was the last time you ran two miles?  Not to mention, before you completely fade and fizzle into the oblivion where you and all your moralistic guilt trips belong, heed the wise words of Bertrand Russell, my agnostic hero.

Bertrand
Russell: “One should never worry about one’s health unless one is unhealthy.”

A. My agnostic hero chain-smoked till he was 80, became unhealthy, stopped smoking, and lived to be 97.   Are you going to live to be 97?

Q. Are you?

A. We shall see!

The Questioner has been silenced — for the time being . . .

 

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

The Mark of Cain

“Do you really need that thing?”
I heard the softness
of a half-familiar voice
as my eyes were opened.
And I saw a pair of young White hands,
playfully swinging my brand new HP notebook
from side to side,
and to and fro,
and side to side, again.

“Yeah, I do,” I smiled, looking up
from my half-slumber,
from the bench on which I sat,
just outside McDonald’s,
on University and Shattuck Avenue
in Berkeley, California.

It was still dark.
McDonald’s would not open
for another ten minutes or so.
I had seen other friends of mine
across the street,
and had waved.
It did not seem like any other morning,
as we all awaited our senior cups
and the single refills we would receive
as long as we promised not to linger
more than twenty minutes in the store,
and promptly took our first and only refill
for the road.

I was certain this was a young buddy of mine,
playing a joke on me,
as others had in the past,
when they noticed I’d acquired a laptop.
“High Top!” they would shout.
“High Rise!” – and I would grin.
But the grin of the green-eyed monster
was much wider than the smile
which which I looked up at the lad,
only to see his hoodie obscuring his young face,
like a veil, and his body,
like a cloak.

Then, in an instant, I felt a metallic force
carving a ridge into my lower back,
and just as quickly, a sharp yang,
a strike less than half an inch
below my right eye.

“Take it! Take it!”
I shouted, as though consenting
to be plundered, or condoning
the crime as though it had been mine
to commit as well as theirs —
as though having counted all the costs,
I no longer cared
that it took me a month to save up for that “thing” —
I in fact had slept outside,
when I did not really need to.
I had left a cozy cottage
in another County,
to prioritize the purchase
of the device I called my home.

Then I saw a large Black hand grab my backpack.
There went my new headphones,
a bag of marijuana, and a pipe,
a new lighter, socks, and sunglasses –
But no matter:
I was alive.

I got up and watched them closely –
the Black man on the right,
his gun facing sideways to his right,
as though informing me he was armed
and dangerous.

Mesomorphic.
The taller ectomorph to his left,
With the hoodie.
Him I recognized,
but I knew not where or why.
I watched them jog,
I noted that the White boy on the left
was a runner.
No one runs with a form like that,
unless he has been trained.

They turned off to the left
and darted down Berkeley Way,
not to be seen again, until —
One day at my Spot,
I saw them together walking past,
That view from behind that I shall never forget.

“Are you who I think you are, Officer?”
“I am,” she said, turning to me
with that inscrutable austerity
That so defines her nature.

“I know who stole my laptop.”
And I told her who and who,
For each of them had walked past me
on the same day
and flashed at me the peace sign,
which I returned in kind.
I also questioned the younger one,
And asked if I should bother to replace it,
Getting right into his face,
feigning a crazed countenance,
eyes bulging widely,
as I chided him with these words:

“Or will I just get jacked again?”
The young man never missed a beat,
but looked up at me shrewdly:
“Do you really need that thing?”

“I tell you it was he,” I told the stoic,
jaded cop with whom I spoke so candidly
in broad daylight just outside the station.

“I’m not at all surprised,” she said,
without expression on her serious, worn face.
“But watch your own back
and be wise as befits your years,
Because we know that you are of the streets
when you call it Provo Park
and not Civic Center Park,
or when you call it Ho Chi Minh Park,
instead of Willard Park.
And know that on your forehead
there is the Mark of Cain,
because for all intents and purposes,
you yourself have killed a man.”

© Andy Pope
Moscow, Idaho
17 June 17

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A House Divided

Q. Back so soon?

A. I promise there won’t be more than a third time before the weekend’s out.

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. I think so.  More so than I did yesterday, anyway.

Q. So why have you summoned me?

A. Insecurity and uncertainty as to my path.  Stuff that has to be resolved.

Q. What stuff?

A. Work-related.  And spiritual.

Q. To what work do you refer?

A. My life’s work.   A calling I feel I have been shirking.

Q. What calling?

A. It  has to do with classism in America, especially as seen through the eyes of one who has been fortunate enough to have been homeless for many years in an urban area of great social and racial tension, and to have escaped it and been granted the great gift of solitude in a favorable social and racial climate.

Q. How have you been shirking this calling?

A. In two ways that I can think of.

Q. First?

A. First, by throwing my energy toward projects that, while inviting, do not pertain to the calling.

Q. Such as?

A. This novel I’m compelled to write.  I wrote a first chapter, and sketched the second and third chapters.  Sent Chapter One to my Writers’ Guild, who will critique it this morning.

Q. Are you afraid of their criticism?

A. Yes.  I’m afraid they might like it.  And if they like it, I will be tempted to pursue it.  But it has nothing to do with what I am supposed to be about right now.

Q. How do you know this?

A. When I am working on what I am supposed to be about, eventually something comes over me — like chills.  Sometimes the chills engulf my entire body.  They seem to come from some place far beyond my normal experience of human consciousness.  I get this sense of inspiration – of privilege and honor.  As though I have been selected to channel something of great, great magnitude and consequence.  As though I am a conduit – an oracle.

Q. Don’t you think that sounds a bit grandiose?

A. Of course it does!  But it is true all the same.  I can’t deny it – or if I do, I suffer for having done so.  As I have suffered for the past three and a half months.  And this is why I hesitate to discuss it — with anyone, at all.  It’s so deeply personal, yet at the same time universal.  Nobody will believe me.  People will think I’m nuts, even here in Moscow, as they did in Berkeley and Stockton, and other places where I have attempted to live throughout my highly dysfunctional, disoriented, aimless past.

Q. Can you put that past behind you now, in order to focus on your calling?

A. Yes and no.  I don’t want to put certain elements of it behind me, because they are crucial to the inspiration of the calling.  Had I never lived on the urban streets continuously — for years on end, that is — and had I never been a member of a cohesive community of others who were in the same predicament as myself, I would never have gained these unique perceptions on society that many people either have never shared, or, if they share them, are unable to articulate them with clarity.

Q. You feel that you are able to articulate these unique perceptions with clarity?

A. Yes. This is my calling.  This is what I have been put on this earth to do.

Q. How do you know this?

A. I just do.  It’s evidenced in the chills that come over me, when I am on fire for this cause.  It’s also evidenced in my health.  I marvel that my heart and lungs are in such good condition, my cholesterol is low, I have never had the diseases that many people my age have had and that most people who have lived on the streets have had.  I have never had Hepatitis C or Diabetes 2 or any kind of STD, unlike almost everyone else I knew when we all lived together on the streets.  I’ve been spared all these physical sidetracks – for now – for a reason; and I am convinced that it is because I am to offer these perceptions, through my Art, to the world.

Q. Do you understand how arrogant that sounds?

A. Of course I do!  This is why I continually shirk my calling.

Q. Are you afraid of your calling?

A. Only when I am shirking it.

Q. So what keeps you shirking it?

A. Incredible psychological blocks that sometimes last for months on end.  And this is the second thing that I’d meant to mention.  I not only throw my energy into irrelevant projects, but I balk at the natural roadblocks that arise when I try to go about my relevant projects in an organized fashion.  Take, for example, this piano-vocal score.  It has been almost three and a half months since I have known that it was the next logical step toward the production of my recently completed musical, Eden in Babylon, and yet, only last night did I actually complete a single number in that score. 

Q. But can’t you just forget about the past three and a half months, and build upon the victory of having completed one of your numbers?   And forge ahead to the next number?

A. I can.  But only if I accept a few hard facts.

Q. What facts?

A. First off, the compilation of this piano-vocal score is a chore that I will probably not enjoy too very much.  It will be full of drudgery and the promise of further technical hurdles along the way.

Q. And secondly?

A. Secondly, like any other thankless task, I will need to discipline myself stringently in order to accomplish it.

Q. How so?

A. By allotting three an only three hours a day for it, say between 8:30am and 11:30am, six days a week, and laboriously slaving away over it for an estimated five more months, until it is complete.

Q. Will this be total drudgery?

A. Nothing is total drudgery.  There are always ways to maximize and optimize the enjoyment of a miserable procedure.

Q. Such as?

A. Rejoicing in the success of a disciplined life.  Rejoicing in the benefits of a regular schedule, with fifteen minute breaks every forty-five minutes, as is conducive to the efficiency of the human brain.  But most of all, knowing that once 11:30am has come, I am free to work on other, more enjoyable projects, as long as they are not irrelevant to the cause.

Q. Again, such as?

A. Talks 2017.  I’ve already outlined the four talks.  I can get cracking on them.  My home studio is a perfect venue for their creation.  This will be an enjoyable and fulfilling process, and it will balance out the relative tedium of my having to compile my piano-vocal score.

Q. Anything else?

A. Finishing the sequencing of the music that I composed “in my head” while I was without music notation software — or any other possessions for that matter — in Berkeley.  Even though the themes may not seem to pertain to the calling, they actually do.  I was actually was writing some pretty decent music in Berkeley while all around me the only response I received was a highly resonant “Shut the f–k up, you worthless low life idiot!”  The fact that most people couldn’t even tell I was composing music at all, and that they all assumed I was crazy, is only yet another strong statement of the huge evil that is Classism in modern-day America.  I need to demonstrate to the world that I am a talented, Conservatory-trained composer, so as to bust through the stigma they carry that I, and people like me who have somehow been drawn toward the urban streets, are all worthless, low-life, drug-addicted, over-medicated, mental-health-disordered, unsightly blots upon our society — not to mention “idiots.”

Q. Do I detect a note of vengeance in your calling?

A. In a sense.  But I wish nobody harm.  Proverbs 24:7.  Romans 12:19.  I fight not against flesh and blood, but against a foul spiritual principle.  Ephesians 6:12.

Q. You dare to back up your insanity with Holy Scripture!?

A. Indeed I do.

Q. You presume that this mere musical comedy of yours is indicative of a godly calling?  A spiritual calling??

A. Kind sir, I would hardly refer to years and years of intently focused labor as “presumptuous.”  But again, your retort is exactly why it doesn’t matter how much I am mocked, sneered at, scoffed at, and ridiculed in my quite reasonable expression of my calling.  In a sense, all of that condemnation is immaterial.  The only person I have to truly answer to, in this context, is God.  But in another sense, the fact that they mock, sneer, scoff, scorn, disdain, jeer, and so forth — has everything to do with the calling.  It reveals that I am in no way distinctly different than any other formerly homeless person on the urban streets.  I am no different than anyone else  who had to fly a sign on a sidewalk and endure constant ridicule in order to survive.  The stigma has got to be broken, and people in this country have got to start listening to what homeless people have to say.

Q. Do I detect a tone of inspiration?  Are you getting the “chills” yet?

A. No, I am not.  And I probably won’t – until rare moments.  But because of those moments, and because of my faith, I press on.  I know what I am supposed to be about in this world.   99% of the people I know have no clue.  I am privileged.  I am honored.  I am called.

Q. In light of such grandiosity, how dare you even publish such words?

A. Chock it up to a pep talk.  I let three and a half months go by, basically forgetting I had any purpose in life at all — except to be a decent father to my daughter, to try to be a good friend to my friends, and maybe to sing hymns in the back-most pews on an occasional Sunday. It might be that the three and a half month lull will have been useful, when viewed in retrospect.  When I looked at my script afresh last night, I was astounded.  I saw this whole picture of what I am supposed to be about, and how, as I write the piano-vocal score, I can refine the script, and touch it up, and come up with a second complete draft that exceeds the first in Artistic and dramatic quality.  But I’ll be damned if, when Monday 8:30am rolls around, I only continue to draw a blank.  I’m revving up my engines.  This is it.

Q. So what about the time beforehand?

A. Talks 2017There are four of them: (1) Homeless By Condition: Part One.  (2) Homeless by Choice. (3) Homeless By Condition, Part Two. (4) Homeless No More.  They exceed Talks 2013 in clarity, truth, and power.  And this will be my gift to the world.

Q. Aren’t you still concerned about things like arrogance, mania, grandiosity, excessive goal orientation, flight of ideas, fragmentation, and pressured speech? 

A. Dude!  I am not a psychiatrist!  That the unscrupulous agents of the so-called mental health industry will never cease to regard creative genius as a disease to be treated with pills designed to dull the senses and numb the Spirit is only further proof of my purpose.  No doubt they were among the masses who mocked me and shouted abusive assaults as I merely sat in Ohlone Park playing drums on my pants legs and singing the various instrumental parts of my creations, after all my laptops and software were repeatedly stolen by crack heads and traded within minutes for grams of methamphetamine and cocaine.   Of course I am traumatized!  I don’t even report the most horrid of these assaults, for I have been strongly advised never to speak of them, by almost everyone I know, inside or out of the therapist’s office.   Of course I am dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  But all of that is further fuel for my fire.  Nothing — not even you — can stop me now.

Q. But what about — humility?

A. Humility is only knowing where you stand with God.  Believe me, I’ve got plenty of thorns in my flesh to remind me just how depraved and broken I am.  But I still know the joy of having a clear and distinct purpose on this planet.   Most people don’t know that joy.   It mandates me to do justice to the call.

Q. Don’t you think it is only quite understandable that at this time, I should be extremely concerned about your mental health?   Will you promise to check in with me again tomorrow evening, before you embark upon this path of wanton masochism and self-defeating self-torture?

A. As you wish.  But I will not let you crumple me.  I’ve got Matthew 12:26 and a great speech by Abraham Lincoln on my side.  For can Satan cast out Satan?  A house divided cannot stand.

The Questioner is silent.

lincoln3

 

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The Summons

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Kind of.  More-or-less.

Q. Does this make you uncomfortable?

A. Occasionally.

Q. Why?

A. Because the Bible says: “The question is in the mind of the man; the answer comes from the Lord.”  Proverbs 16:1.  Just read it this morning – this being the 16th day of the month.  But what we’re doing, you and I — it seems the other way around.

Q. Then why have you summoned me?

A. Because it works.  I really try not to summon you too often.  It’s a last ditch effort.  A gesture of desperation.  But – it does work.

Q. So what’s on your mind?

A. My incompetence.

Q. What makes you incompetent?

A. I can’t do it.  I can’t even begin to create a simple piano-vocal score.  I stare at the page, knowing it should be easy to open up the script to the proper place on one window, find the cue I need to input, input it onto Scroll View on the Finale template in another window; convert it to Page View, and see if it all looks groovy.  Yet I stare at both windows mindlessly, aimlessly drawing a blank, and feel guiltier and more helpless every damned day.

Q. Might not this simply be another Writer’s Block?

A. If it is, then I’m sure not blocked up about any other writing project I’ve got going on.  It’s just that those projects are not what I am supposed to be doing.  I’m supposed to be notating this grueling, arduous, tedious piano-vocal score that will take me five months to complete even if I do get on the ball with it.

Q. What makes you think you’re supposed to be doing it?

A. I’m supposed to be doing it because nobody will ever produce the show without a written piano-conductor score.

Q. Why not?

A. Because nobody will ever be able to play the piano part, except for me.

Q. Then why don’t you just produce it yourself, and play the piano yourself?

A. Because I don’t have enough money to do so.  I can’t even rent out the theater less than two blocks from my house.  You can’t do anything without money in this world. It sucks.  Talented people go to their graves with their dreams unfulfilled, while people who are rich by inheritance use their money to screw around with high-class call girls.

Q. Is that really always true?

A. No, it is not.

Q. Then why are you so hung up on the theme?

A.  I don’t know.  I’ve got some kind of chip on my shoulder.  I get tired of being lectured by rich people, because they have no idea what it’s like to be poor.  Nor do they have any comprehension that I would never want to be rich; never want ot be like them.  I only want enough money to produce my show.  And still – this piano part – I say I can play it, but that’s a crock.  I can’t even play it.  It would take a pianist much better than me to play it.  So the score needs to be notated, whether I were to self-produce the show or not.

Q. Then what’s keeping you?

A. The block.

Q. What is the essence of the block?

A. I’m not sure.  Somewhere between lack of confidence and laziness, or some combination of both.

Q. Are you lazy?

A. Um — no one who truly knows me would characterize me a such.

Q. Do you lack confidence?

A. Yes.  I’ve watched over three months go by without me being able to get started on this simple task.  How can I not lack confidence?

Q. Is there a way you can proceed without confidence?

A. I hadn’t thought about that.  Perhaps so.

Q. How so?

A. Maybe if I — if I pray – if I trust God — if I ask God to just get me through this block on His power, being as my own power is insufficient.

Q. But would that prayer be sufficient?

A. Only if He answers it.

Q. Why would he not answer it?

A. If it is not within His will.

Q. Why would it not be within His will?

A. If my creation of this p-v score is actually not what I am supposed to be doing.

Q. How will you ever know?

A. If I try.  If I pray.  If I pray, and then open up the windows, and see if the prayer has been answered.

Q. Then why don’t you?

A. I will.

Q. Will you?

A. Yes, I will.

Q. Honestly?  How many times in the past three months have you said you would get cracking on this, and yet not budged an inch?

A. Innumerable times.

Q. Then why should this time be any different?

A. Because it has to be.

Q. But what if you don’t even pray?  What if you’re scared to?

A. If I don’t pray, then somebody else will.  But I will pray.

Q. How do you know you will?

A. Because I just did.  And I ask other believers to pray for me as well.

The Questioner is silent.

 

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Homeless Tinge

I wrote this piece somewhat spontaneously last year, when the novelty of living indoors still amazed me.  Somebody recently suggested I submit it to three San Francisco Bay Area periodicals that deal with such themes.  I just received the address of the publisher of one such periodical from an East Bay minister and activist whom I hope will let me use her name.  So I’m in the process of submitting it, there and elsewhere.  Let me know what you think.

Homeless Tinge

I’m sure you guys are going to think I’m just the junkie from hell, but after not being able to sleep the entire night, I finally reached down into the drawer and tugged the last possible two hits off of a roach that had been sitting in the ashtray for God knows how long. I had a makeshift clip on it made out of cardboard, and I would venture to guess I smoked more cardboard than paper and weed combined. But I did sense the weed, at least in the first hit, so we’ll see if anything happens, and if I can get to sleep after this.

When I got a wiff of the weed, I suddenly had a flash glimpse of it being just about this time in Berkeley on a Saturday morning. I would have packed up my bedroll and stashed it neatly at the illegal spot where I slept every night on U.C. campus, then walked down Oxford Way till I got to University, turned right on University downhill toward the Marina, checked by Ace Hardware to see if Hunter and Tweaker John were awake yet, and if so, headed down with Hunter toward McDonald’s, where he & I would have gotten stoned in the entrance way to the bike shop next door. Maybe Bertha would have been with us, maybe someone else. But we would have gotten stoned before going inside for a Senior Cup, and if we were flushed, a Big Breakfast.

Hunter always had this weed he called the “bombarooski” in that weird language he was always speaking – the language in which I was “Poparooni” and sometimes even “Pepperoni.” He would have laid his whole street philosophy on me, about how each and every one of us had a role to fulfill in the Berkeley street community, all of it centered around a kind of crazy micro-economics, where everything mattered down to the very penny, and it was all about buy and sell. He’d hop on his bike after that and begin his “hustle,” while I would go sit at my Spot out in front of the Mini-Target, and stare like a puppy dog into the eyes of all passing female citizens until one of them took enough pity on me to put some change in my cup, or maybe a sandwich.

Life was somehow easier then, and yet much, much harder. It was easier in that I was my own boss and I didn’t have to answer to anybody. It was harder in that everybody else was their own boss, too, and we didn’t all play by the same rules. I would cringe whenever Andrew the thug came walking down the sidewalk, even though I must admit he was always nice to me, three years worth of nice to me after hitting me on the head with that there gun that time.

It’s almost uncanny how opposite of a world it is that I live in today. I brought almost nothing I did in Berkeley with me to do here in Moscow. And I’m doing things in Moscow I never got to do in Berkeley. I hang around professors and people whose first thought is that I must myself be a professor. I’m even considering applying for an adjunct professor position in the Creative Writing division of the English department – a full-time $48,000 gig. I’m balking, but why? They said to submit a twenty-page sample. I almost want to submit twenty-pages out of Part Four of Anthology for Anathema, just to see if it would work in my advantage to admit that I was homeless not six months ago, and yet here I show up smelling like a rose.

I guess what it is is, I’m not ready for a full-time job yet. I’d actually be afraid that they would hire me. What’s eerie, though, is that it’s the only job listed right now that I could actually walk to, and I still don’t have a car.

Life is incredibly different than it was down in B-Town by the Bay. You don’t see any panhandlers in Moscow, you don’t hear anybody on the hustle asking you for spare change or a cigarette. I remember the first time Seneca reached out her hand behind the counter at the One World Cafe and said, “What’s your name, by the way?” I had to duck into the bathroom to cry. I had only been in Moscow two or three weeks, and I could not believe that a barista in a cafe would actually care what my name was. It was too good to be true that I was actually not being viewed as a worthless piece of shit everywhere I went.

What people don’t seem to know about homelessness unless they’ve actually put in some really serious homeless time themselves is that the worst thing about being homeless is not having to endure the elements, or the lack of indoor conveniences like a space heater, shower, sink, or (of course) bed in which to sleep, or the lack of ready access to food or other basic needs, or difficulty maintaining personal hygeine, or any of that stuff. The worst thing about being homeless is the way that you are treated.

Homeless people in general don’t want pity or even compassion half the time. It seems like half the people pity homeless people and the other half pass judgment. All we really wanted down there, any of us, was to be treated with normal human respect and dignity, and treated as equals, not as inferiors. We wanted to be listened to, we wanted our voices heard. But people in general wouldn’t listen to us. They sure talked to us, and after a while we had heard it all.

Communication is a two way street. People in this country, especially in the upper classes, need to start listening to what poor people, disabled people, and homeless people have to say. They need to realize that these people are human, that they have valuable life experience, and that their experience is worth listening to, and learning about, and understanding.

When that happens, there will really be change in this country. We’ll start building bridges again, instead of burning them. With email and voice mail and social media abounding, with deletes and ignores and blocks aplenty, it has never been easier to burn a bridge in the history of this nation. And what has that done but caused the national morale to reach an all-time low? We need at some point to realize that to “make America great again,” we need to start talking to each other, hearing each other out, making an effort to understand each other’s perspectives before we just ditch them like they’re all a bunch of losers.

Homeless people, believe me, are anything but losers. Quite the opposite is the case. Homeless people are the winners. They’re winning life, day by day, against all odds. What do we win by treating them as sub-human creatures? Not a thing. What would we gain by hearing them out? Or even by sharing in their experience?

We might just gain our country back.

Andy Pope
Moscow, Idaho
6:45 a.m. – 2016-12-10

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