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 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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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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The Belly of the Whale

I strongly sensed that I was being followed,
and I thought I knew by whom.
It must have been those two young men
Who had questioned me oddly
across from the Walgreens.
They had seemed so strangely disturbed,
when I merely declined to purchase
Some small item they were peddling,

in which I had no interest.

Though I thought I had been quite polite,
I feared I must have crossed them,
For I virtually saw them stalking me
From a place where eyes have never seen.

I broke into a jog.
I thought I might elude them.
I ran about a mile.
I thought I was in the clear.
So I thought nothing of stopping at the well
and shuffling through the throwaways
in search of shirt or trousers,
or perhaps a pair of boots.

Suddenly I heard a sound.
I looked up to see a handgun

rapidly, forcefully striking me
On the top of my head, and hurling me
Down onto the sidewalk.
I hid my eyes.
I felt the power of their guns
Repeatedly beating me upon the head
Like drumsticks on a drum.

“I am going to kill you, White motherfucker!
Kill your White ass, bitch-ass, dead!
White bitch-ass motherfucker!”
White racist pig!!”

Something made me plead with them:
“Guys!  Guys!  It doesn’t have to be this way!
Take everything I have — take the laptop –
but please, please spare my life!!”

As quickly as they had appeared,
they yanked the pack right off my back,
and while I watched in disbelief,

they fled into the night.

Down the stairs a lady ran.
“Are you all right?
Are you all right?

Do you want me to call the cops?”
Of course I did!

But when the police arrived,
they questioned me for what seemed forever,
as worried neighbors emerged from their doorways
and blood poured down my face like rain.
They ordered me to slow my speech,
And frisked me, shouting harsh demands,
mocking my requests for medical help,
and seeming to suppose that I was a criminal,
Or some kind of offender,
Rather than the victim
Of a crime of theft and battery,
Of violation – and of hate.

Finally they let me file a report,
which I held powerlessly in my hand,
at the Community Breakfast, before Bible Study,
in the morning following that long, long night.

There I saw the first of my assailants
Staring at me from across the line,

with pain is his own young twenty-year-old eyes,
as though pleading with me to spare him,
The way he had spared me.
And something gave me pause –
“He’s just a kid!” I thought.
And I collapsed in my integrity,
For I did not have the heart.

O Berkeley, city of my sorrow!
You care about social injustice and human rights from afar,
Yet you overlook the suffering of the one who sits nearby!
I swear I will not return to you,
Till running frantically upon your shores,
I warn you of the wrath to come,
And urge you to repent your wrongs,
Or face the fate that is your due.
For that will be the  dreaded day
Of many nightmares coming true –
The day when God will place me
In the Belly of the Whale.

Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Michael Pope.
Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

There is a God

The piano-vocal score to my song “The Very Same World” is finished now.  If anyone wants to take a look at it, you can click on the title below.   (It will lead to an 11-page pdf file.)

The Very Same World

from the new musical Eden in Babylon
Words and Music by Andy Pope
Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Michael Pope

I’d hoped to get three of these finished and then approach a certain professor from the nearby School of Music.  A number of people told me that he would be the logical person to talk to, if I wanted to find singers to help me out with my musical demo.   But a couple things arose to deter me, much as I so desperately desired to proceed unhindered.  First of all, I got behind schedule.  I had been hoping to have two of them done by Friday, and the third by next Friday.  Instead, I only have one of them done — and it’s already Monday.   Secondly, I was somewhat intimidated by the man’s awe-inspiring credentials.  This played into my natural shyness, and I began to doubt my fortitude.

But then, a mysterious turn of events took place.  As it happens, the professor is actually coming to meet me.  You see, the departing Minister of Music at my church has to leave during Holy Week due to the poor health of her husband.  It turns out that she knows this professor, and so she called him to take over our rehearsal on Wednesday night, as well as the Good Friday and Easter Sunday services.   So by this Wednesday, I will be following his conducting on the piano as I accompany our church choir.  Naturally, I used this as a deadline to finish the score to The Very Same World I printed it out today, and after I make minor corrections, I can simply show it to him.  So my shyness and timidity are no longer an issue.  

I also just happened to  meet three decent singers who have expressed an interest in working with me on this project.  One of them, a mezzo-soprano whom I ran into at the local pub, looked over my score briefly, then said she would reply to my call if I “posted a notice.”  Being the new kid on the block here, I haven’t exactly found out where to post this notice.  She said it with such authority, I did not want to admit my naivete.   But then, I met two young men at a cafe who were working on theory assignments on music paper, so I invited them to come look at my score.  Turned out one of them was a baritone, and we exchanged contact information.  They also advised me that anyone can audit the Jazz Choir that meets in the afternoons throughout the week, and that I could pick up a bass part and sing with them.  I don’t have to be a University student to participate.  Finally, there’s this fellow Josh who works at the Bagel Shop downstairs from me, who has a degree in Acting and has sung professionally in musicals.  He seems eager to help me out with this as well.   So perhaps I already have two or three singers.  I only need two or three more.

All of this points to an eerie phenomenon that might best be explained once it’s understood that I have only lived in this particular city for eight months.  I came here from the San Francisco Bay Area, largely because the rising cost of living was getting to me on numerous levels.   Six years ago, I lived in a situation that was almost identical to my present digs, as far as basic specs were concerned, and it rented for $900/mo.  What do I pay here in Northern Idaho for the same set-up?   You guessed it.  $275/mo.   So I finally came up here on a lark, answering a Craigslist ad, looking for a mere hole-in-the-wall where I could plug in my laptop, unhassled by numerous disconcerting factors: high crime rate, distrust among neighbors, frequent homelessness, and so forth.

friendship squareI moved into small studio in an old-style apartment building, where there are business on the first floor, and residences on the higher floors.  What I did not expect was for there to be a running store in my very building.  Being a runner, this intrigued me.  I then noticed yoga centers and bike shops.  A health-and-wellness emphasis, I thought.  Very good.   I then learned about the School of Music, and that the State Repertory Theatre was founded here as well – in the year I was born, incidentally.  As you soon will find, that’s quite germane.

The second week I was here, I applied for a part-time church position, was hired, and still hold that job today.   Before I knew it, I was surrounded by Artists and Writers of all kinds.  And as for music?  I’m doing gigs all up and down the main drag.   And culture?  I heard more decent music my first five days in this small college community than I heard in Berkeley, California, in five years.

There is more to this story, so I might as well tell it.

Why did I choose Moscow, Idaho?   Out of all the small out-of-the-way villages where I could have sought affordable housing, why Moscow?   Because I was born here.  I lived here the first year of my life when my dad was teaching ROTC at the University.  Then his Navy career took us all over the country as well as to other parts of the world.  I didn’t want my whole life to go by without seeing what Moscow, Idaho was like.  When I came here, I was astounded.  This city seemed to be custom-designed for me.

BerkeleyIn the first four months I was here, I sequenced all the music I wrote internally after four of my laptops were successively stolen in Berkeley, and I could not afford to replace them.   In the next three months, I sat down and finished a draft of the musical I had been struggling, through adverse circumstances in California, for five years.  Now I’m working on the piano-vocal score to that musical.  I have the same laptop now that I bought shortly before I left Berkeley.   Had I stayed in Berkeley, I would never have been able to retain a laptop that long.  It would have been stolen by now.   In fact, considering the huge upsurge in violence that has taken place on the Berkeley streets since the election of our current clueless leader, I can’t help but wonder if I would even still be alive today, had I stayed in this unfavorable town. 

This is why my faith has increased as much as it has.   I was so angry and discouraged when I was homeless on the Berkeley streets, that I shouted out to God:

“WHY am I always forced to be hanging around thieves and hustlers and pimps and hookers and panhandlers and criminals and murderers?   WHY does nobody care about my Music or my Art?  WHY am I not hanging around Actors and Directors and Musicians and Writers and Artists??”

The question “Why?” is often moot.  But if the desperation in that oft-repeated query could be interpreted as an entreaty to an unseen God, then the proof of the answer to that twisted prayer is in the very experience I own today.  It happened in less than forty-eight hours.   I hopped on a Greyhound, alighted randomly upon this little town in Idaho, answered an ad for a studio, and three days later signed a one-year lease.   I’m where I am supposed to be.  There is a God.

A Long and Winding Tunnel

The other day, another blogger cautioned me not to let my blogging get in the way of my Art.  She’s got a point there.  I reflected on this, and I realized that there have been days when I’ve put more energy into describing my project than I have into the actual project itself.  For this reason, I have decided that my earlier decision to try to post “every other day” is unrealistic.  I’ll post when I have something to say.  We must, after all, remember the wise words of Plato:  plato1

The fool speaks because he has to say something.  The wise man speaks because he has something to say. 

That said, I do have a couple things to say this morning.  I may be getting way ahead of myself here, but I worry about my song Children of the Universe being taken out of context.  In the musical, the Street Kids are fed up, they’re out in the elements, they have an inkling that they’d rather be “safe” in jail, and they decide to vandalize the homes of the wealthy where their friend, Winston Greene, was born, so they can go join him in jail after his wealthy birth family put him there.  It’s a vengeful act, and not an uncommon sentiment among those who feel they’ve been screwed left and right by society.  This is how revolutions have been started throughout history.

But once again, I’m a spiritual person, and a morally minded person.  Do I  myself advocate violent uprising against the bourgeoisie?  Actually, no — I do not.  I am a man of peace.   But I am trying to make a point here.  The point I’m trying to make is that if we don’t get a handle on the effects of classism in America, it’s probably going to happen.  Many people in the impoverished classes are incredibly frustrated that wealthy people seem at times to view their poverty as a moral failing.  They would prefer that people in the privileged classes respect them enough to at least listen to their points of view, and consider that what they have to say might be valid.  I am far from wealthy myself, but when I was even more impoverished than I am today, I felt this frustration.  I was simply receiving too many lectures from people who thought they knew the answers for me, when in reality they knew nothing about the world of poverty, and I often felt that I had a lot of answers for them.  But in general, they wouldn’t listen — and this was a frustration.

This frustration was shared by almost everyone else I knew who was in a similarly impoverished position.  Apparently, it was also compounded by the tensions of urban living.  This is one reason why I finally made the decision to relocate in a rural area, which is just about the wisest move I’ve ever made in my life.  Since then, my wrathful resentment toward those who flaunt their opulence has been reduced to a relatively mild disdain.  (We don’t “do” upper crust in this neck of the woods.)   

In light of that personal transformation, I would hate to go down as one who advocated violent revolt against the establishment – or against anyone or anything, for that matter.  But I wouldn’t mind going down as one who issued a warning that it’s probably about to happen if we don’t shape up.

The second thing I wanted to mention is that I’ve been vigorously working on the second Scene in Act Two and am beginning to see the light at the end of this particularly long and winding tunnel.   I have this odd feeling that the next time I put pen to paper, I’m probably not going to stop until the long-awaited moment arrives when I write the words “The End” at the bottom of the document.  This time, unlike my earlier efforts at getting this show on the road, I can see the end from the beginning.   For that progress, I may thank my  Writer’s Guild , my pastor, my Minister of Music, my friends in my current community of Artists and musicians — and all of you.  Without the support of other writers and like-minded thinkers, I would never have been able to reach this stage  — in fact, I wouldn’t have come near it.  So – what I have to say in closing is:

thankyoured