The Enemies of Art

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. To be perfectly honest, I’m not quite sure.

Q. Why do you say that?

A. Because I thought I knew who you were, but I thought wrong.

Q. Who did you think I was?

A. My superego.

Q. Your superego?  Why would you think such a thing?

A. Because you seem to represent my conscience, my higher faculties, always questioning everything, encouraging me to look before I leap — as opposed to my id, who has no conscience, questions nothing, and only seeks immediate gratification with no regard to consequence.

Q. And who are you?

A. I am my Ego.

Q. Why do I find this laughable?

A. Because I was wrong about you.  You have no conscience – no feelings.  You are merely a machine, generating inane questions from deep within the core of my confused and convoluted consciousness.  You are not my superego; you have nothing to do with morality or even with Sigmund Freud, for that matter.  You merely show up every now and then at times of particularly angst along my journey, and occasionally our dialogue is helpful to me.

Q. And this is why, on occasion, you summon me?

A. Yes.

Q. And this is a time of particular angst?

A. Yes.

Q. How so?  Haven’t things suddenly taken a turn for the better?

A. Yes and No.

Q. No?  In what way, “no?”

A. My external enemies having disappeared, my internal enemies have resurfaced.

Q. Can you say that again, please?

A. My external enemies having disappeared, my internal enemies have resurfaced.

Q. And who are your external enemies?

A. All those people who kept knocking on my door, trying to engage me in all kinds of nefarious activities at any time of the day or night, neighbors who were more nosy than neighborly — all of them.   Everybody who lived at Friendship Square.

Q.  Your neighbors were your enemies?

A. “Enemy” might be a strong word, but it sure felt that way.

Q. And you call yourself a Christian!?

A. That would depend upon your definition of the term, I suppose.  But yes, I do identify as a Christian, of a certain type.  So – what are you driving at?

Q. Doesn’t the Lord say: “Love thy neighbor?”

A. But that’s the whole problem!  I loved my neighbors so much I couldn’t get any work done!   Everybody wanted to talk to me, at all times – it was uncanny.   I had to escape – I had to get out of there — but now that those guys are all gone, and I’m alone, I’m faced with my internal enemies.  

Q. Loneliness, perhaps?

A. Ha!  Loneliness is for lesser men.  I’m talking about the Enemies of Art.  They’re like these — inner demons.  They surface whenever I begin to immerse myself in projects about which I am passionate.  The more passionate I am about my project, the more they try to interfere.

Q. Can you give me an example?

A. Well, for that, we need to revisit the Professor.

professor
(So throw a pie in my face.  I couldn’t resist.)

There was a certain professor whose unfavorable reactions to my half-written rough draft of Eden in Babylon kept rushing through my head for three years every time I tried to sit down to work on the script.   Now that I have solitude again, and am away from all the “hard knocks,” so to speak, I’ve naturally taken up the script again, thinking quite innocently that now would be a perfect time to do a second draft, polish up a few rough spots, and so forth. 

So, I sat down the other night to embark upon a very simple scouring of the script in order to return four unnamed characters to the Kids Chorus Line, after I had irrationally removed them from the script at the last minute.  For you see, the Professor had warned me about having too large a cast size – and of course a large cast is a deterrent.  The first version he saw had a cast of 56, according to his count.  I myself was neither counting nor concerned, since at the time I was aiming to submit the show to a specific theatre in the Bay Area that was requesting submissions for “large cast traditional musicals with a full orchestration.”  But this is long past.

I proceeded to whittle down the cast, doubling parts when necessary, and actually feeling quite good about the whittled version.  But at the end, I made the serious mistake of significantly reducing the Kids Chorus Line while not significantly reducing the cast size!  So I sat down this past Saturday night to return the four unnamed Kids to the Chorus line, and thus enhance the experience musically, while only increasing cast size from 23 to 27.

I had presumed this would be a simple matter.  However, it involved a technical nightmare of placing an unformatted, unpaginated copy of a script next to a paginated copy, locating all the places where the Kids had once been involved, and making the appropriate adjustments.  This challenged my dyslexia.  Moreover, as I tired into the wee hours of the night, I became less and less focused, but more and more determined not to let go until I got the job done.   That was when the Professor surfaced.

I would see a line in the show that I thought was particularly exceptional, and I would suddenly remember his scathing critique of my earlier draft.  I would fly into a rage inside my head.  I would shout within myself: “How could he?!  How could he not see how good this is??   How inspired I was!!!  Did he even read the script??”

So, my old enemy, of associating the script revision with the unfavorable response of a previous presumptuous professor of the past, had returned.  And that’s only an example.

Q. A second example?

A. My other friend, seeming to have money, and not wanting to kick it down to help me pay the singers, but dismissing my request for assistance as evidence of a “mental health episode.”   He also appeared in my mind, and I also became enraged at the thought of his classist arrogance.   Rich people are often quick to blame the abject poverty of poor people on some kind of problem the poor person has, as though I’m supposed to spend the rest of my days solving whatever problem they think has resulted in my poverty, in order to become rich like they are, and similarly blame the suffering of those less cozy than they on some random peccadillo in their personality, thus silencing my conscience. 

Q. And just who are we calling “classist?”

A.  Look, buddy.   I had to spend years sleeping in a gutter getting the shit kicked out of me, while one by one, every so-called “friend” I knew from my previous life of opulence dismissed my legitimate need for shelter by telling me to see a psychiatrist.  And so what if I do have a psychological problem or two?   I’m in my damn sixties!   I’m practically fighting Alzheimer’s trying to get this show on the road!   What am I supposed to do?  Spend the rest of my days trying to solve some elusive problem of mine?   Or spend my days trying to figure out a way to use my God-given gifts for the good of humanity? You can’t shovel out the darkness!!  You can only turn on the Light!! 

So – obviously, don’t you think it makes a hell of a lot more sense for me to throw my energies into  looking for singers, musicians, a venue. a crew, a cast, a production staff, and $50,000, than to keep hammering away at trying to keep shit jobs that I always lose?   And wind up feeling demoralized?  And incompetent?   Sure I’m incompetent in every area of my lifelong failure — so why don’t we start focusing on the relatively few but valuable things that I can actually manage to occasionally do well?  I am not incompetent in the areas of my expertise — I know exactly what I am doing!   I am not crazy!  I am a very talented, but spaced out, absent-minded, but ingenious, agitated, but highly determined, totally stressed out man!

Q. Fifty thousand dollars?

A. You heard me!  But this pointless dialectic is nothing but drivel!!  Let’s adjourn until tomorrow.  Your incessant questioning of everything I do or say angers me.  Goodbye.

The Questioner is silent.

A. And don’t you dare ask me if I am in “denial!”  If I want to hear about denial, I’ll go to a frickin’ 12-Step meeting, for God’s sake!! 

The Questioner is still silent.  

A. And I am not lazy, either!!!

The Questioner, quite wisely, remains silent.

TO BE CONTINUED

The Crying of the Muse

I thought about calling this post “I’ll Be Brief” in order to remind myself to do so.  Yesterday I set out to write a “brief” post, and yet somehow it consumed five hours of the early morning, and wound up becoming eleven paragraphs in length.

In all that verbosity, it seems I inadvertently obfuscated the information that I have moved.  Yes – I have finally left my 14-month tenure at the apartments euphemistically known as “Friendship Square.”  The good news is that I am no longer surrounded by felons, cons, tweakers, thieves, and hustlers.   The bad news is that it’s going to cost me an extra $175/mo.   But the good news is that it’s worth it.

In the confusion, I have been composing compulsively.   When I compose music, I am somehow completely focused.  I enjoy the process very much, even if the product is lacking.  When I write text, however, I am almost completely unfocused.  Yet, yet, yet — everybody seems to like my verbal writings, and almost nobody appreciates my musical writings.  It’s a sore spot for me.  I didn’t go to a Conservatory of Music in order to spend all my time writing about Homelessness.

Then again, what is it that made me homeless to begin with?  I mean — outside of socio-economic factors, what was it about me that caused me not only to become homeless, but actually to embrace Homelessness?  (That is, before I literally got the sense knocked into me.)

Quite simply, life was not rendering me enough space to focus on writing my music.  Ah – I remember it well – the last straw.   In April 2011, I was living in a small house with the landlord, his four year old boy, and another roommate.   I had been homeless before, off and on for seven years.   So I knew that I could generally handle it.   But could I handle the four year old boy bursting into my bedroom, right at the moment when I was making the final edits to The Crying of the Muse, shouting “Hiya!” and waving a large plastic spear over his head?

It seems the young fellow wanted to joust with me.   And don’t get me wrong – I would gladly have taken up my spear, and jousted with him at another time.  But he just happened to throw me off of my delicate musical balance at that moment — and enough was enough.  I needed space. 

So, in order to find the space I needed, I quite naturally headed to Berkeley, California, where I figured I would “blend” with approximately 1,000 other homeless blokes, and write my music invisibly, without such annoying intrusions.

It worked for a while, till the thrill was gone.   And Friendship Square worked for a while, too.   Here’s to a new and more productive chapter of my highly-driven, restless life.   I’ve gotten as far with my current compulsive composing as meets the eyes and ears below.  The eyes see a telling view of Friendship Square at night, illuminated as if with fireworks.   The ears will hear a fraction of the piece tentatively entitled the New Royal Rhapsody.   Please enjoy — if at all possible.  

Art is Hard Work.
They keep firing me because I’m absent-minded and too easily stressed.
Art will never fire me, nor will I quit Art.
Please pay me for it here.
Thank you.

 

An Incredibly Empty Place

As most of you know, I am a person who became homeless at the age of 51 in the San Francisco Bay Area during a midlife crisis of enormous proportion, after working for many years as an elementary school music teacher and private teacher of Piano and Voice on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula.  I struggled in and out of homelessness for the next twelve years, mostly on the streets of Berkeley, California.  For the past fourteen months, I’ve successfully maintained an apartment in a completely different part of the country, and have been gainfully employed throughout most of that time.   Still, however, I sometimes miss the allure of the streets.  I find myself wanting to “hit the road” — to chuck it all, to flick it in, to flip the switch — and to become homeless once again.   But when I read something like this short blurb I wrote in 2015, I remember why this might not be such a good idea.

An Incredibly Empty Place

Believe it or not, the streets used to inspire me. I used to feel free here. I wrote ten songs from the streets, arranged them, recorded them – here in Berkeley, in 2012, I wrote decent interesting music — while homeless. But now? They all recognize me. They see me on the streets.

Who’s “they?”   Whoever it is who assumes — is they, and not we.   Whoever stigmatizes is “they” — not we.   We know who I really am  — we who neither stigmatize nor assume.   But they?  They assume, because they see me on the streets, that I’m all about the hustle.  Then, if they are not on the streets, they look down upon me, as though I am a dirt bag, here to rip them off.  And if they are on the streets?  Then they assume I am one of them.  I’m supposed to have a hustle, supposed to have a game.  When they find I have no hustle, when they find I have no game, then they assume I am their enemy.  I then become a target.   I must be a nark, a snitch, a rat.  Why is Andy never in jail?   It can’t possibly be that Andy isn’t about committing crimes, can it?   It can’t possibly be that he wants nothing whatsoever to do with that game.   It must be that he is a police informant.  He’s going to turn us all in.  We better get that guy Andy — before he gets us.

I’m either one of them — or I am their prey.   And as for Music? What is Music?  As for Art?  What the hell is Art?  Isn’t life all about the hustle? About taking from people who have even less than you have? And feeling good about it at the end of the day? As though it were an honest day’s work?

But to write music — what is that? Does it make me any money? No — not yet, anyway.  Perhaps it never will.  But why is that the prevailing question?   Why is the question not whether I do another person harm?   Does my writing music intrude on others at all? No.   It does not.  Then why am I not left alone, as I once was, in 2012?   Because they think they know me now.  They think they know me — because they see me.    Whoever they are who assume, they judge the book by its cover.  Whoever they are who stigmatize, they see me, and think they know me.  In reality, they know me not.

Some of these hustlers don’t seem to think they can make any money in life without totally infringing upon the rights of others.  Their means of earning money involves invading other people’s space.  All day long I hear them: “Got fifty cents?  Got a cigarette?   A light?   A cell phone?   Can I sync my cell phone to your laptop?  How much you want for that “top”?  What do you mean, it’s not for sale?  Who the hell do you think you are?”

I had a guy who calls himself my “friend” con me out of my last BART ticket. I paid for that BART ticket with my own earned money. It isn’t easy to sit there with back up against the brick wall of that BART station, flying a sign all day, and and keeping my mouth shut long enough for somebody to “get it.”   I’ve had jobs that were way easier than that!  But I’ve got my pride.   You won’t hear the words “can you spare some change?” come out of me.  I don’t want to be like those hustlers.  I don’t want to intrude on people’s mind-sets, or invade their space while they’re rushing to get from one gig to another in the Mainstream.  The sign says it all.  

need a miracle

But I tell you – some of these people just get to me.  They have no respect for other people. They don’t respect me. I have no value to them except for what they can con me out of. I don’t need their food stamps, their marijuana, their attitude. I don’t need them. I tell them I’m hungry, they tell me I should give them my last two dollars. I would so love to be able to eat regularly – to eat real food without having to wait for hours in a line every day, with fights breaking out, with security being involved and police being called — I’m tired of it all. Down here, it is either assumed that I am a criminal or, like I said, it’s assumed that I’m a mark. I’m either a potential perpetrator or a potential victim. There is no in between.

How did I ever get myself into this irreconcilable mess?  I should be hanging around college professors, theatre directors, school principals, and parents of singing students and piano students!  Like I used to be!   I should be hanging around Actors and musicians and set designers!  Like I used to!  I should be hanging around playwrights and screen writers. Piano players, singers – composers like me. But I am exempt from hanging with people like myself.  Somehow, it does not happen. Somehow, I cannot climb out of this hole. It’s too deep. My best hope is to communicate – and keep communicating – until someone feels me.

Does anyone feel me yet?  Do you?  I am constantly visible. Constantly seen – by whom? By everyone.   And believe me – some people down here – that’s all they do is look.  Look, lurk, watch, wait — and lay in wait.  They cannot sleep at night — unless they have done somebody harm.

There are no walls around me. I have no roof over my head. I have no bed beneath me. I am vulnerable – through visibility. And I am associated with all those who are similarly vulnerable – through visibility. Many of whom are violent. To find identification, I look to pimps, hustlers, hookers, and drug dealers. Why? Because they live in the same world that I do.  We have that in common.  I smile and laugh and joke in the presence of people of whose lifestyles I disapprove.  Why?  Because it keeps me from getting the crap knocked out of me, day after day after day.

And yet, through all of those smiles and all of that laughter, through all of the identification, the unusual common ground, the ground that validates us, that separates us from those who live “inside,”– throughout the foundation of our amazing common dignity, the buck always stops when the fine print is read.   And the fine print said:

I’m sorry, bro, but I really don’t want to distract that guy while you steal his bicycle.  I mean, I’m sorry man, but I’m just not into it.  I know you just turned me on to a bud of great medical weed.  I know, I know, but still, but still . . . 

How does one convey that just because one does not desire to partake in a criminal activity, this does not mean that one is the enemy of those who do?   At least five times a week, I have to look into the shocked, threatened eyes of someone who has just realized that I simply have no desire to commit a crime. No desire to steal from anyone. No desire to do someone bodily harm or psychic damage in order to obtain what I want for myself.

At that point, our common dignity means nothing. I am only an easy mark. My personality means nothing, really. And so, nobody recognizes me for who I am. It’s an incredibly empty place to be.

Andy Pope
Berkeley, California
June 15, 2015

 Anything Helps!
God Bless!

 

The End from the Beginning

I tend to use the word “composing” a bit loosely.  The word “arranging” might be more appropriate for what I’m currently about.   I wrote the song “Bone of My Bones” in my head a little over a year ago, when I was still homeless in Berkeley.   I arranged it shortly after I moved up to Idaho, and used that arrangement as the first movement in my Royal Rhapsody.  But then, throughout the months that passed since creating that arrangement, I kept “hearing” a different feel for “Bone of My Bones,” one that suggested rock instruments and a driving rock beat in places.  So I created the arrangement linked to the title below, and I called that process “composing.”

Bone of My Bones

Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Michael Pope
All Rights Reserved

It often seems to me that I am not truly “composing” the piece in question until I actually put the notes down on paper, reasonably replicating the way that I “hear” those notes in my head.  Hence, the looseness of terminology.  Also, I’m intending to use this version of “Bone of My Bones” as part of a much larger piece, described in this post.  All of the themes I allude to have already been “composed” in my head.  But have they truly been composed?   If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear the sound, did it really fall?  

Well – if you want my opinion, it did.  But enough people differ from that opinion, I figured it would be best to post a more-or-less philosophical disclaimer at this time.  We basically do not know at what point in the process the “composing” of the musical piece actually begins.   In like manner, we also do not know when the composing of the piece of music ends.  

Case in point.   When I started working on Bones again, I decided to name the first file “Bones 17-A” since this was the year 2017, and I wanted to distinguish it from the 2016 version.   When I got to Version 18-F, it therefore meant that I had created 32 versions of the piece, going all the way through the alphabet once, from 17-A to 17-Z, and then up to the letter F with the number 18 preceding.  I then played Version 18-F for a friend of mine named Cindy.

Cindy liked the piece of music, even though it wasn’t nearly finished yet.  Then, when I got to Version 18-W, the 53rd version (the one you are hearing now), I wanted to play it for her again — but she said:

Why

Apparently, she thought it was fine the way it was, and that I had no need to work on it any further.  Yet I had already created seventeen more versions of the piece!   At that point, I was afraid to play it for her, for fear that she wouldn’t think it had evolved.

But if I defer to my own sovereignty in the matter (since after all, I am the Artist here), I still don’t think it’s done, even at Version 18-W.  The only reason why I have stopped here, and am permitting you all to hear it in this highly incomplete state, is because I know it’s only one theme in a much larger work, and I want to get onto the other themes, and start connecting them together.  In that process, many things are bound to change anyway, so I might as well not be too much of a perfectionist.  At the extreme, I would keep working on it until it was Bones 47-C or greater.  And I would never get anything else done, in life, at all.

I once lived behind a Fine Artist – a sculptor, in fact, one of great renown.   I had to walk through his studio in order to get to my apartment.  (A bizarre but symbiotic arrangement.)  Once, for days on end, I saw him become increasingly frustrated working on a certain sculpture.  Finally, he said something to me as I passed through.

duchamp
Marcel Duchamp

“Andy, do you see that spot there?  I’ve been trying for days to get it off of this damn thing!   It’s ruining the whole sculpture!”

“Spot?” I queried.  “What spot?  I don’t see anything.”

“Right there!  Don’t you see it?  It’s right there, damn it — getting in the way of everything!!”

“Uh…er…Darryl — who is the sculptor whom you revere the most?”

“Why, Marcel Duchamp.  You know that already, Andy.”

“And what did Marcel Duchamp say about the completion of a work of Art?”

“He said that he never finished a piece of Art.  He only abandoned it.”

“Well, I hate to break it to you, Daryl, but I think it’s about time you abandoned this sculpture.”

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Every little bit helps.

 

 

Culture Shock

I haven’t been active here lately because I’ve been trying to deal with complex issues related to my mental health and my Christian faith.  Much of this is explained in a 27-paragraph Facebook timeline post that prints out to 16 pages double-spaced.   It’s extremely lengthy and revealing, but if you want to read it, I will of course be highly gratified.  I’ll post again with a progress update once the smoke clears from this most recent explosion of nerves.  Take care in the meantime, and God bless you.

CULTURE SHOCK

Whenever I’ve had a Facebook in the past, there has usually been a much larger number of “friends” here, and I have created timeline posts of substantial length and content much more frequently. This wasn’t such a bad thing, because it provided a forum for the expression of some of my rather unusual personal views. However, it also got me into trouble. Not that I couldn’t handle the lively debate I had in fact been hoping to incite, but that sometimes I would be misconstrued in my core intentions. Sometimes, people would become concerned about me personally, when basically all I was trying to do was render a social statement based on my experience.

The classic example in my history would be the event of having three Oakland city cops knock on my door and haul me off to a loony bin over something I wrote on my timeline. To this day, I’m not even sure what I wrote, or how it was thus misconstrued. If I recall correctly, it had something to do with the ownership of a certain type of firearm, and how it related to 2nd Amendment rights. It was *not* along the lines of my being about to *use* a firearm on anybody. In fact, I have never owned a gun in my life. But this is the kind of thing that can happen here on Facebook. It was an unfortunate event, but like all unfortunate events, it did motivate me to think a few things through. I am always grateful that God gifted me with an unusually analytical mind, because the intellectual analysis of social details is invariably far more pleasant and productive than any mere depression in which I might otherwise engage. So – call that sublimation or what-have-you. I am an Artist and a Writer – or at least, I think like one. As such, any negative experience I have will immediately become source material for a future work of Art. That’s just the way I roll.

But many other things about my relationship to Facebook concern me. They seem symptomatic of a larger ill. I am never quite sure how much is *my* ill – my boundary issues, communication problems, impulse control issues, impatience, and so forth – and how much of it is due to the fact that the world is simply evil, and that Facebook instantiates the evil that is in the world already. If so, it’s a pretty huge, multi-billion dollar replica of that evil, and not just something to be trifled with. Whatever the case, Facebook is a lot more manageable if I keep it on the down low. But I will keep it. There are people in my life who will never answer my emails or even check their email. There are people in my life who won’t even call me on the phone or answer back if I call them. If I want to find these people, I know where to find them: Facebook. It’s a fact of modern life, just like the damned smartphone that so annoys me. The O.G. is just going to have to live with it.

rotary telephoneFor my part, I would rather we all still had rotary land line telephones that had only one function. Nowadays the smartphone has so many hundreds of functions, it frustrates me no end trying to keep track of them all. My sense of isolation from humanity is completely fed and fostered by modern-day technology. Am I the only person who has all these weird issues around Internet communications and social media? Maybe I’ve just never really bothered to explore it deeply enough to learn what’s truly useful and enjoyable about it all. But it just seems to me that all these different devices, and syncing them together, and two-step verification, and all that other rot is essentially a ploy on the part of the Powers That Be to rob us of our privacy and personal sovereignty, under the guise of increasing our security and convenience. Then again, I can never quite tell how much of this is *me* and how much is *it.* So I take the middle road, and have a smaller Facebook that I use much less frequently. Life is easier that way — for me.

Life is easier for me in a lot of ways, these days, than it has been for many years. This is why I am writing tonight. I haven’t created too many lengthy or meaningful timeline posts, and it’s about time I made a contribution. The lamentations that I have indulged regarding modern technology and the effects of classism on our culture were once those of an embittered old man who assumed he was on his way out. Despite my dreams, despite the worldview about which I am passionate, and despite my God-given talents, I was consigned to die a miserable, meaningless death on the streets, among others who were slowly doing the same. I would have died, as Cervantes wrote about the soldiers he saw dying in battle, not wondering why I was dying, but why I had lived. When I moved from Berkeley, California, to Moscow, Idaho, all of that changed. The sense of culture shock, though still quite shocking, was at the same time a true inspiration.

culture shockBut don’t get me wrong. I still believe what my unusual experiences have led me to believe. I still romance the year 1975, when we all had rotary land line telephones with only one function. But it was remarkable how many things that I loved about the seventies, that I thought had disappeared for good, were obviously still alive here in Moscow. So any despair I might have felt over the state of affairs here in America was instantly removed from my system of social perceptions. I almost feel guilty expressing optimism at this time in our history, but if you can get a grasp of the hugeness of the culture shock, and of its overall impact upon me, you will understand why. I simply did not know there were any places left in America where people still trust each other and believe in each other, where the average person has no reason to suspect that his neighbor will steal from him, and where it is ordinarily assumed that the person in his midst is a competent individual, capable of making rational choices and earning his own living. You have no idea how encouraged I have been to have made this discovery.

Even so, people in California warned me that I would find Idaho to be “backwards, bigoted, and behind the times.” Even as I gushed about how thrilled I was to have finally been able to pick myself up off the streets and craft the lifestyle I had been longing to know for years, many of my friends from California would only emphasize the negative. This could have been a reaction to the effusive and sometimes hyperbolic nature of my ravings. Or perhaps they were jealous that my life had suddenly become easier than theirs. Maybe they just wanted me to chill out, or calm down, or not to fly too high. What happened when Icarus flew too high? He crashed and burned. People who have known me for years know that I have this tendency, which in modern terminology is known as bipolar disorder. But there are other ways to frame the effects of this tendency rather than to treat it as a disease. I got a little bit hot under the collar when I was trying to express how wonderful life had suddenly become, and most of my friends in California were responding by telling me to go see a psychiatrist. Whatever the case, the inability of almost everyone I knew in the State of California to simply be happy for me, without inserting uninformed criticisms of the State of Idaho into their responses, angered me to the point where eventually, I decided to cut all contact with people from my previous existence. This was a rash and blanket, catch-all decision, which after a few weeks I recanted. But it kept me focused at a time when I was, in fact, beginning to “fly too high,” and I needed all the focus I could get.

So let’s take a step back and analyze the gist of their warning. Essentially, the warning states that Idaho, and every other State besides California (with the possible exception of Oregon and Washington) is “backwards, bigoted, and behind the times.” I hesitate to speak for “bigoted” because of the obvious fact that there is no distinct race in Idaho with a large enough population to comprise a target for bigotry, other than the White race. For bigotry and racial tension to be active in any environment, there would have to be at least two races of substantial population in that environment. However, I also want to say that I haven’t really met anyone here who expresses prejudicial or bigoted sentiments. I include this information partly because of something that Julian Hoover posted on a meme recently, regarding the Trump administration, and how racial tension and distrust have increased since his election. This may be true, but since I personally am emerging from a background of such *extreme* racial tension, it’s difficult for me to imagine how much worse it may have gotten since the election. After all, I’m not there anymore. I can only read about it in the papers. But when I was there, in the situation I was in, I was constantly being accused of being a racist by people who did not know me at all, who made this accusation on first sight, merely because my skin was White. Now in that dynamic, who exactly is the racist?

soical-stigmaThis is not mere prejudice. This is stigma. It is the event in which, as the sociologist Erving Goffman wrote in his work on the subject, “perception spoils identity.” I was being judged, not as an individual with his own unique identity, but as a member of a social faction that, in the perception of the person making the judgment, was composed completely of racists. It’s like assuming that the man begging for change on the sidewalk is a drug addict. Or that every drug addict is a thief. Neither of these things is true. In my opinion, the sooner we can all relax and see each other as the unique individuals whom we are, perfectly molded and crafted through our DNA by intentional divine design, at the hands of an invisible and ineffable Creator who knows exactly what He is doing, in a manner that we mere human beings cannot even conceive of, then the better off we will be. This is another reason why I was so overjoyed in coming to Moscow, Idaho. It was the first time in years that anybody was bothering to take me at face value for who I appeared to be, and not just lump me into some box. In the previous world, I kept feeling that the representatives of a political philosophy were trying very hard to put the round hole whom I am into the square box whom I am not. They almost succeeded, because their influence was so pervasive, I almost came to believe that they were right. Had I stayed in that environment much longer, I might have lost my identity completely.

Then, as far as “backwards” and “behind the times,” I think we need to take a look at this as well. For one thing, I have really come to question what is “progressive” about a society in which people have no good reason to trust their neighbors. Have we “progressed” to the point where there is so much theft in our worlds that we turn a blind eye to it, and much of it goes unreported? When I left my wallet at a Starbucks in Berkeley, it was gone fifteen minutes later. I had to replace all the cards, and of course I never got the cash back. When twice I left my wallet in the laundry room of my apartment building here, each time it was returned to me within three days by the janitors, once with $75 in cash in it. I also bought five cell phones during a five year period of time. With the exception of the one I sold when I was destitute, all four of them disappeared from my backpack overnight, whilst I slept. Finally, as most of you know, I had four laptops stolen from me in a three year period of time in Berkeley, and a fifth in Oakland, during that same period. Two of the Berkeley thefts were strong-armed robberies, meaning that I was pistol-whipped in the process. Outside of having to deal with the indignity and trauma thereof, I was extremely frustrated for the interruptions. I had work to do that was important to me, if to no one else, and I was tired of not being able to have a solid place where I could sit down, plug in my laptop, and resume my projects. Finally, I bought a laptop from Bill at the Used Computer Store on Shattuck Avenue, then quietly left Berkeley without saying a word. It has been over a year now. I still have that same laptop today. How long would that laptop have lasted me in Berkeley? Your guess ought to be as good as mine by this point, but I can guarantee you it would not have lasted an entire year.

get-a-jobWhen I lived in California, it was generally assumed that I was unemployable, due to an alleged mental health condition, the veracity of which dates back to January 1, 2007. On that day, I made the two biggest mistakes I have ever made in my entire life. Both mistakes were a direct result of my having bought into the lie that I was unemployable. The first mistake was that I placed myself on Social Security Disability Income at a time in my life when I was easily young enough to be working – and was, in fact (unbeknownst to them) still working. To what degree this was a “scam” of mine, I honestly cannot say. Most of us are glad to receive extra money, no matter where it comes from. But as I accepted the $875 monthly government crazy money that I had not earned, along with the $15,000 back payment that I did not deserve, I had to see the words LEGALLY INCOMPETENT placed in capital letters on a bizarre document informing me that I could not, and should not, ever work again. And, as I saw those words, I believed them. Why did I believe them? Well, that has to do with the second big mistake, which was even bigger, and which we need not discuss at this time. (You all know what it is anyway – or if you don’t, I’ll write a book about it and get back to you.)

Dealing with the rising cost of living as we all were down there, and working less and less the more I leaned on my government money, I eventually landed on the streets. There, I lived for years, desperately trying to find my Andy, and get my Andy back, while not one person validated for me the notion that maybe I could still work. Local agents of the Powers That Be incessantly kept trying to put me into some kind of institution, agency, program, shelter, halfway house, board and care home, or other such strictly structured residential environment. Only once did a stranger passing by me look down upon me, and shout: “GET A JOB!” You have no idea how good it felt to hear those words, when all around me, it was assumed that I was completely incompetent, if not gravely disabled, and in need of some sort of assisted living situation. Honestly, I still remember looking up silently at this total stranger, and hearing him shout: “GET A JOB, MAN! GET OFF YOUR BUTT! GET A HUSTLE!” All I could do, after hearing everybody else around me only tell me where the free food was and how to get a bed in a homeless shelter, was to look up at the guy, and silently think: “You know something? He’s right.”

But the pervasiveness of the identity-crushing, dehumanizing ideology that insidiously weaves its way into the hearts of every free speech advocate who dares take up residence in the city of Berkeley was overwhelming. I consistently thought that I was wrong, and that all of them were right. I couldn’t possibly be right, and the whole world wrong, could I? I must be wrong, I thought. So I permitted them to place me into all kinds of programs and facilities, only to my hurt. For whenever I did succumb, and try to take up residence in one of those God-awful situations, I only found myself surrounded by other people who were also thought to be completely unemployable, if not criminal, and I only drifted further away from my simple goal of regaining the Andy whom I had lost. I lost him when he was smothered in the maze and mire known as Stigma. I would last maybe five weeks at most before it finally dawned on me that I was happier pitching a tent in Tilden Park and quietly saying my evening prayers to the stars. In that solitude, there was a glimpse of the Andy whom I had lost, and even a hint of hope that I might regain him. But I honestly never dreamed I would truly get my Andy back, or even a part of him, until I moved to Moscow, Idaho. Here, after years of living on the streets, I had a job within three weeks after my arrival. Backwards? Behind the times? If this is “backwards,” then give me “backwards.” If this is “behind the times” — all I can say is: Bring It On!

The move I made was phenomenal, abrupt, swift and unforeseen. It seemed to everyone I knew that one day I was dying in a gutter, and the next day I had a job and an apartment in another State. Four days after I arrived here, I signed a one-year lease on an apartment. Would that ever happened down in California? Not on your life. There would have been a complex series of providing references from past landlords as well as personal references, not to mention a credit check and a criminal background check. In the process, some other applicant would have beat me out. But here, when my present landlord even hinted at querying about past landlords, I only had to tell him that they were all a bunch of lying crooks, and that if the tables were turned, I would never provide a reference for any of them. “You, on the other hand,” I smiled, “seem like a genuinely decent fellow.” That was all it took to get a one year lease on an apartment. He trusted me; I trusted him; we still both trust each other. In Berkeley, even after four months of renting a room in an old Victorian, there was never a moment when the landlord and I truly trusted each other.

And the cost of living? I was paying $900/mo. for a place just like this in Berkeley six years ago, only without an on-site laundry room. Here I pay only $285/mo. — with all utilities paid, and free wireless Internet. One might wonder, then, if the clientele consists of completely dubious characters. I can tell you for a fact that I am easily the most dubious character of them all – and that I truly try not to be. I have stolen from no one, nor would I. No one has stolen from me — nor would they. Nobody has assaulted me, or accused me of being a “racist” or threatened to knock the crap out of me, only because my skin is White. I still have the exact same laptop that I bought on the day I left Berkeley. In Berkeley, I had been frustrated that I couldn’t finish a large project – a full scale musical with a cast of 27 – throughout the whole five years since I had conceived of the idea. In Moscow, I sat down between Thanksgiving Day and March 4th of this year at the Moscow Bagel and Deli, and finished the entire thing, all 135 pages of it. I had been furious that I could not score any of the music I had been composing, a song cycle including 18 songs, and a certain instrumentation. I sat down in the One World Cafe in Moscow, Idaho, and I finished the whole damn thing, 400 pages of music, fully orchestrated. Given those personal successes, weighed against my background, one would think I would have no reason to complain about my life at all. And I basically don’t, except for one single horrible, inescapable truth:

I, Andy Pope, have not changed. Oh, I got my Andy back all right – and when I got him back, he was same arrogant, obstinate, stubborn, touchy, finicky, over-talkative, over-sensitive, boundary-breaking, foot-in-the-mouth son-of-a-gun that he always was and probably always will be. (Guess it’s the DNA I was gushing about, and maybe a little of that “divine design.”)

change-231x300I need to change. If I cannot change my heart, which is deceitful above all things, than I at least have to change my approach. Everything that happened before I left my church job on April 15th was stuff that could have easily happened down there, were it not for my circumstances. But I never changed inside of me. I didn’t even try to. I didn’t want to. All that happened was that I got to show my good side for a change, to myself, and to a bunch of other people whom one year ago, I never dreamed I’d have met. But that’s not enough in the long haul. The reasons why my job began to frustrate me were no different than they have ever been in the past, except for maybe that I’m older now, and my ability to roll with the punches of normal workaday stress is even more diminished. I’ve always been too sensitive. I’ve always been too absent-minded. I’ve always stressed out too easily over things that weren’t stressing the others out, leaving them wondering what the problem was. But to move from those relatively minor shortcomings to LEGALLY INCOMPETENT was a big mistake! All it did was to erode my confidence even further, in an atmosphere where everybody around me believed it, and I dared not think they all were wrong. Believing that lie has led me nowhere but to the unenviable position of unemployment in which I find myself tonight.

In the past three months, I have watched myself do everything I have ever done anywhere else in the world in order to shoot myself in the foot. I have committed the same sins I have committed at any other time in my past, whenever I have “crashed and burned,” and in so doing, inexplicably destroyed everything it had taken me months to build up. But what is different is the type of responses I’ve been getting from people in the community here. I have been stopped by cops three times over situations that, had I remained in California, nobody would have cared about. This is great. It means that I am getting wake-up calls for the very same things that would have been completely dismissed down in a State where the jails are too overcrowded for the cops to care. I have had a lady approach me to tell me that she saw a private message I sent to her son and had told him to delete me from his friends list. This is also great. Now I might start being a lot more careful about who I accept as a Facebook friend, and what I say in a private message. I have learned that personal emails I’d sent of a highly sensitive nature, erratic emails that I sent when I was in a volatile state, were shared by the recipient with her associates. This is even greater. Maybe now I will finally be able to address my perennial “email problem,” because in the past whenever I have sent such emails, everybody ignored them, and nobody even cared enough to call me on my stuff. But the most painful thing of all was the sudden rejection I received from a young friend whom I genuinely loved, when he inexplicably blocked me and made communication with him impossible, immediately after informing me that these emails, not intended for him in the first place, had been shared with him. But something stood out in all the mysterious things he was suddenly saying about me. It was his cryptic statement: “You only care about one thing.”

Of all the totally weird things that have happened to me in the past three months, things that would never have happened in California, that was the weirdest and by far the most hurtful. It has been almost impossible to find anything positive about somebody whom I loved absolutely refusing to talk to me, for reasons about which I can only speculate. But for anybody who knows me at all to declare that I “only care about one thing” is a total red flag. It’s a bigger wake-up than any of the other things that have thrown me off balance in the past three months, at a time when my main focus has been trying to regain my balance. The truth is that, in a sense, there actually is only One Thing that I care about. Any caring I might have for anything else stems from that One Thing. And yet, I am completely negligent in letting anyone know what that One Thing is. Most people don’t even want to hear about it, but the plain truth is this. If I don’t start being more vocal about my Christian faith, then the second of the two mistakes I made on January 1, 2007 will rear its head again, for the fifth time in the past three months. In that event, any words I may speak pertaining to the Person of Jesus Christ will be completely ineffective, if not ludicrous and disgusting. And as for Stigma, my avowed nemesis? I can only be grateful to have finally learned just how unscrupulous and indiscriminate my enemy can be. Stigma marches militantly through the narrow minds of the deluded and the depraved, like a ruthless crusader on a quest to rob each and every person on earth of their true and valid, God-given unique identities. If I thought Stigma was my mortal enemy in Berkeley, I had no idea how lethal it would be up here in Moscow. I will attack that monster with all my strength, before it kills me, and every word I write will in some way address its poisons, until I finally get my message across. As I said, every negative thing that happens in my life immediately becomes source material for my Art — and this one is just about as negative as they come.

After informing me that I “only care about one thing,” the young man also very kindly suggested that I ought to save up my money and move back to Berkeley to be closer to my daughter. It was a nice sentiment, and I know that when he said that, he was remembering that I also care very deeply for my daughter. But I have to tell anyone who has bothered to read this whole thing that I am not about to go back to Berkeley. After all the things I just told you (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg) why would I? Sure, I miss my friends from California, people who have known me since the 70’s I so fondly revere, people with whom I hope to always retain contact. But that doesn’t mean I am going to move back to the dangerous, costly, life-threatening situation that I have just now attempted to describe. In California, generally speaking, if I had a problem, everybody ignored me. They decided that it was my stuff, and that I had to work it out on my own, or at best, at their most compassionate, they referred me to some agency that would help me deal with it, claiming that they did not have the personal expertise to address my issue. As near as I can see, if I have a problem here in Idaho, everybody rushes up at me and gets totally in my face about it. I would say that I honestly don’t know which is worse, but that would be total bullshit. It’s a lot better to feel cared about, even if the caring is misplaced or misguided, than to feel as though nobody cares about you at all. So once again, thank God I am in Moscow, Idaho. I was born here, and I will die here, so help me God.

The difference between Moscow and any other city where I have attempted to live is this. By and large, except for a few minor, regrettable events, you guys have not tried to put me in a box. All of you, Paul and Niko and anyone else with whom I’ve talked to any meaningful extent, have obviously accepted me for who I am. This may seem very normal and commonplace to you here in Moscow, but outside of a few close friendships, it’s not something that I have in my experience. Whenever I was asked to resign a job at a Christian church, it was with the strong inference that they did not believe I was a Christian. And yet, my friend Danielle with whom I would talk every day on the Internet, had no doubt that I am a Christian. And this woman is easily one of the strongest Christians I’ve ever met. So what’s up with that? If, in my earlier exuberance for my new life here, people couldn’t even tell that I’m a Christian, then that’s a pretty huge problem — and I will definitely make sure I do something about *that.* A large part of being a Christian is to identify as such, and to let people know about it. It’s a difficult thing to do in a world that has disdain for Christians, but it is a necessary thing. It lets people know where you stand, and it keeps you from falling into sinful practices that could easily ensnare you if you are leading people to believe that you’re all right with those practices. I have to remember that Jesus warned us all that the world would hate us because of our beliefs. He said that the day would come when those who killed us would earnestly believe that they were serving God in the process. But he also said that if they hate us, to remember that they hated Him, before they hated us. They hated Him enough to nail Him to a Cross and force Him to endure the mockeries of those who tortured Him to death, while He was in the process of performing the greatest act of self-sacrificial love that has ever been accomplished in the history of the world. Had He not done that, I for one would be burning in hell. If you don’t believe this, that is perfectly understandable. There was a time when I didn’t believe it either. But there came a time when I reflected, and I realized the truth in it, as well as the power. Maybe that time will one day come for you as well.

View from northeastWhen I left the church job that I had somehow managed to keep for nine months, despite my alleged incompetence, I was discouraged. But again, the discouragement was overpowered by the essential difference between Moscow, Idaho and any other city where I have attempted to live. I was not rejected for blowing my gig. I was not ostracized or abandoned or deserted at a trying time in my life. I did not leave a church – I only left a job. As far as my faith is concerned, Moscow First Presbyterian Church is my home. If I made a mistake in Berkeley, if I messed up somehow, I woke up in the presence of other people who had fallen into the same hole as myself, many of whom were making the same kinds of mistakes that I was making, and many of whom did not care. That kind of environment offered me no incentive to rectify my error. If I make a mistake in Moscow, I awaken to a beautiful city that has received me when I was at my best, and that has every reason to deserve my best. If, at some earlier time in my life, I could not tell how much of it was *me* and how much of it was *it,* then it might well have been because my self-esteem was so low, that I really could not tell how much of it actually *was* it, and how relatively little of it actually was “me.* Here, the disparity is much more glaring. I think I can honestly tell how much of it is me (a lot) and how much is *it* — (relatively little).

You see, I am a Christian. Part of being a Christian is to recognize that our true home is in heaven, and that we are all pilgrims and strangers on the earth. Our true body is a spiritual body, that we already have in heaven, and that will be made manifest instantly at the moment of our deaths, when we finally shed this fleshly body, which is only temporary. We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. I think this sentiment is prevalent among all the major religions, the perusal of which I also enjoy. But I remain a Christian, and Jesus Christ is central in my life — or if He’s not, He should be. But like Icarus, when I was flying higher than I’d ever flown in my life, I almost thought I had literally died and gone to heaven. But no way had I died and gone to heaven – I had only moved to Moscow. As a military brat and a lifelong wanderer, I have lived in so many different cities. They all have their different pros and cons. But as a Christian, I believe the words of Hebrews 13 and all the other Scriptures hat I clandestinely have referenced in this post: “We have no continuing city – but we seek one that is to come.”

My true home is not any of the cities or states I have been talking about. My true home is in heaven, where my place has been secured before the foundation of the world. I err when I empower Moscow to such a degree that its positive power becomes akin to that of God’s. I err when I think that Moscow will overpower or overwhelm me if I stay, and that I must then move — to where, exactly? Where else do I go? And when I go there, what will I find? I will only find the same arrogant, obstinate, stubborn, touchy, finicky, over-talkative, over-sensitive, boundary-breaking, foot-in-the-mouth son-of-a-gun that I always was and probably always will be. If I give this city so much power that I feel I must escape it, then I only rob power from the One who has all the power. So why should I empower any person in this city more than I empower God? I know these words may make no sense at all to anyone who is not a believer, but I write them in the hope that they make sense to somebody other than myself. It is God who effected the change that was “phenomenal, abrupt, swift and unforeseen.” I could not possibly have effected such an enormous transition on my own power, without invisible, superhuman, supernatural aid. It is He who snatched me up so suddenly out of all of that chaos, and plopped me down onto Friendship Square on July of 2016 — just the same way that He took me out of an untenable situation in Antioch, CA in September 1990, and I suddenly found myself in Burlingame CA in a three piece suit at a piano job that I was able to keep for nine more years. At no other times in my life has anything like that happened. I could not possibly have created all the sudden conditions that would enable such a dramatic shift of circumstance on my own. It is not a coincidence that I am here. If I were to move, I basically would be denying my faith in the very God in whom I try to put my trust — the very same God I initially thanked so much for putting me here – the God whom I need in order to live, without Whom I am nothing.

homeless-sign-3In the final analysis, God is the One Thing I ought to be caring about. Any caring I might have toward any other human being will then only result from the caring I have toward God. So, if I am to care about God, then I need to ask myself: has God told me to leave this city, just because times have gotten hard, and I am beginning to fall into old patterns that I had hoped to leave behind me for good? After blasting me with so huge a blessing as this, why would God be telling me to go anywhere else at all? You see, all my life I have moved around, first as a military dependent, then as an itinerant theatre person accepting jobs at different regional theatres, and finally as a confused, compulsive, chronic relocator who couldn’t seem to settle down for the life of him. So if I might have mouthed off lately about going back to Berkeley and sleeping on a stairwell while making meager bucks and an occasional slice of pizza flying a sign on a sidewalk, please know that any such sentiment stems from self-delusion and despair — not from any values I would truly wish to cultivate and embrace. I can only thank the Lord that all the insanity of that negativity has provided not only source material for my own Art, but for the ever-evolving, enduring work of Art that is continually being created by the most brilliant Artist of them all. Who am I to challenge the ultimate, perfected Artistry of the Divine?

Nothing in God’s Universe happens by accident. All things work out for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. It is not a coincidence that my sister saw the piano on which I learned how to play being wheeled out of the van of a door-to-door piano salesman in Moscow, Idaho, in the year 1953 when I was in my mother’s womb. It is not a coincidence that Idaho Repertory Theatre was founded in Moscow, Idaho in 1953, the year I was born. It is not a coincidence that there is a school of Reformed Theology directly across the street from me, and that the name of that school is “New Saint Andrews College.” My friends have been calling me “Saint Andrew” ever since. It is not a coincidence to have gotten into long-distance running, and to find that there is a running shoe store on the very corner of the building where I live. It is not a coincidence to have found out from my sister, God rest her soul, where to find the house where I was born, and that in walking up to that house, the cross-street read “HOME STREET.” Most of all, it is not a coincidence that although I only lived here for the first year of my life, I came back in my 63rd year to see what this town was like, and I loved it so much, it almost seemed custom-designed for me. To leave this beautiful city, only because I began to have the same problems I have had in every other city, everywhere else I have tried to live, for the past 34 years of my life, would truly to be to kick a gift horse in the mouth, don’t you think? Far better it will be to remain here, and actually deal with those problems, rather than continue to escape from them.

II was born in Moscow, Idaho, and there’s a good chance I will die in Moscow Idaho. Now how beautiful of a creation is that? Glory, I say therefore: Glory! Glory to God on High! I thank God that if I seek love, I now know where love can be found. If I looked for love in the “wrong places,” I need do so no longer — because I know where the Right Place is. Glory to the One who loves the unlovable. Glory to the Name of God.

Andy Pope
Moscow, Idaho
July 20, 2017

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

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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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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