That’s His Whole Problem!

I’ve been under the weather lately, and I’ve taken to composing music to pass the time.  As I broke out my music notation software for the first time in quite a while, I noticed an assortment of unpleasant feelings associated with the task.   For some reason, I keep thinking that it is wrong for me to be writing music.

Wrong to write music?   Ah, but this makes no sense.   Where does that come from? Arguably, my father, though I’m sure the poor bloke was only trying to protect me from myself.   He would see the delirious obsession overtake me, quite like his own very similar obsession, and he feared for where it might lead. 

Wrong to write music – what do you make of it?   I can somewhat understand the inherent dangers in the “new toy effect” of this amazing music notation software — especially since I first acquired the new toy over ten years ago, and one would think its fascination would have faded by now.  Ah, but no – there is an almost addictive, compulsive quality to the way that I attack the Finale commands with such fervor, almost like playing a video game, or taking a ride in an amusement park.  Too much fun is involved, and escapism.  How can it possibly be good for me?

Escapism . . . I tend to escape the doldrums of life — by writing music.  In fact, I even escape the demands of the music world itself.  After all, I’m supposed to be finding other musicians to play my stuff, aren’t I?   Other musicians are supposed to play my notes; other singers are supposed to sing my words.  Instead, I belabor for hours over this feigned representation of my music, produced by the artificial, heartless software.  I pretend that there’s an improvised saxophone solo between Measures 33 and 48.  But let’s face it, every note of that “improvisation” has been painstakingly fabricated by the workings of my own tomfoolery, trying my best to mislead the listener into believing that there’s actually a sax being played there, rather than a sophisticated electronic fake.

Don’t I have more important things to do?  Aren’t I behind on my blogs?   I’m supposed to be writing about Homelessness, aren’t I?  What’s music got to do with that?

Well, that’s just it.  It’s got everything  to do with that.  And everything to do with this sense of wrongness that engulfs me whenever I try to write music these days.   It recalls a former time, not too long past, when the average person in my life believed that my relationship to Music was the biggest problem I had in life.

whole problem

It was widely thought, seemingly by everybody else but me, that it was a huge problem, this obsession I had with composing music.  It was a conspicuous problem — a visible problem, something that could not escape public notice.   In a way, it was like Homelessness itself.   There was no way I could hide my homelessness effectively from everybody in the city of Berkeley.   No matter how nice I tried to act, how good I tried to look, the cat was out of the bag.  Everybody knew I was homeless.   Everybody knew I was “just one of the local wing nuts.”   So my obsession with composing music, whether I used the software, or whether I only walked about town singing “bop bop bop” and playing drums on my pants legs, was all part of that huge visibility.   I couldn’t hide being homeless; and I couldn’t hide writing music.  So to my observers, they only seemed like two sides of the same coin.

“That’s his whole problem right there! Look at him writing music all day long, while he’s homeless.  No wonder he never gets off the streets!  How disgusting.”

I remember how depressed I would become whenever I encountered this objection.  Even at church, or at the recovery fellowship I attended, there was this idea that “music was more important to him than God.”  And it disturbed me.   I kept wanting to defend myself.  I honestly did not think it was true.  I just happened to be a deeply driven, tightly wound, highly charged composer, who just happened to keep getting all these musical ideas, that he felt a deep need to pursue.  What’s that got to do with God?  Other than that it was His gift?  How would eliminating this huge part of me possibly help me, either to figure out how not to be homeless anymore, or to be a better Christian, or achieve more sobriety, or recovery — why would eliminating music be so essential to my health and well-being?  Wasn’t Music what was keeping me halfway sane throughout all of this insanity?

I still feel the depression of all that.  I start to relive it, even now, while trying to write music again, after all this time.

But it wasn’t like that when I first got to Moscow, Idaho, almost two years ago to this day.  By that time, I had so much music accumulated in my mind, stuff that I had written without the software, that I’d kept track of in my head — I basically couldn’t wait to get it all notated, now that I finally had a computer, and a place to live.   

When I sat in a cafe writing music, I couldn’t help but notice that the reaction of passersby was much different than I’d become accustomed to.   Nobody scowled at me.  Nobody looked over and thought: “There’s his whole problem right there.”

Why not?  Because there was no huge visible problem that people were hung up on trying to determine the cause of.   There was not this thing called Homelessness hanging over me everywhere I went, seeming to demand an explanation.   

My friend Danielle put it nicely once, with this analogy.  “You see a fat guy eating a doughnut,” she said, “and everybody says: ‘that’s his whole problem right there.’   But you see a skinny guy eating a doughnut — the very same doughnut — and nobody squawks.”

“So what’s that got to do with me?” I asked, naturally.

“The fat guy has a visible problem.  He’s fat.  Everybody can see it.  So they look for the probable cause.  As soon as he sinks his teeth into that doughnut, they think they know the answer.  Genetics, upbringing, age, alcoholism — any other factor is thrown by the wayside.  That there doughnut is his whole problem.

“Same thing with you.  You’re homeless.  You’re conspicuous.  Everybody knows you’re homeless, and they wonder why.  As soon as they see you writing music — and all the time, by the way, you must admit it — any time of the day or night, anywhere, for hours on end — they say: ‘That’s it!   That’s his whole problem!’  Socio-economic factors, mental health, company downsizing, landlord owner move in evictions — none of those more disturbing, complex factors need come into play.”

“That is very disturbing,” I agreed.

“Quite so,” she nodded.  “But now?” Now you’re not homeless.  You don’t this big visible problem that everybody’s trying to figure.   Now you can write as much music as you want, and nobody’s going to fault you for it.”

Needless to say, I was quite relieved.   Now if only I could turn back the hands of time, and get them all to see that it was never my “problem” to begin with . . .

Or was it?

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Brotherly Love

As any of my close readers surely know, I’m a person who made a dramatic shift in  location and lifestyle round about July 2016.   So dramatic, that I’ve been having some difficulty relating to old friends and family members.

I don’t know if age is “relative,” but I do know that as I’m about to turn 65, I feel like a fit and vigorous, healthy man. Even though I earlier lamented that I’d gained weight and that my vital signs no longer boasted a 55 heart rate and a 100/65 blood pressure, I found recently when I had a check-up that my pulse is still 60, and my blood pressure 112/80.  Although I suppose it’s inevitable that I eventually contract a serious disease, I’m not any more worried about it than I was twenty or thirty years ago.  The idea that life stops at 65 flies in the face of the fact that after twelve years of homelessness, I feel that my life has just begun.

So when old friends contact me, I often feel a tinge of depression.  Most of them are so depressed and distracted by life.  Of course I have moments of depression, but I don’t live there.  One of my friends never even laughs at my jokes anymore.  It’s not that I mind being around depressed people when I’m not at depressed myself.  I’m not that insensitive.  It’s that it’s hard for me to deal with their expectation that I, too, am “supposed” to be feeling depressed or miserable, at this stage in my life.

At the local Recovery Center where I volunteer, I try to help other men who have had similar issues as my own, whether derived from homelessness or from some other form of sustained trauma.   So I asked my counselors there about this dynamic.

One of the counselors suggested I don’t contact any of these people at all, even the ones whom I’ve always gotten on well with.  She said that to continue buzzing them is only preventing me from fully embracing my new and better life.

Then I asked: “What about my brother?”

“That’s different,” she said. “Contact him about three times a year, unless he contacts you first.”

At that, I figured it was about time to contact him.  So I did.  He hasn’t contacted me back, but that’s just Steve.  In some ways, he’s about as opposite of me as they come.  Whereas I tend to use too many words to convey my point, he tends not to use enough.  Also, his issues are much different than mine – what I know of them.  Basically, he was brought up by my logical-scientific dad, and I was brought up by my emotional Sicilian mother.  Somehow, she favored me, me being the first-born son.  But Dad favored my brother.  As the first-born son, I was supposed to follow in his footsteps.  But the logical-scientific stuff was just — not me.  It was Steve.  So Dad taught my little brother everything he knew — so much so that Steve got 800’s all across the board on his achievement tests: physics, chemistry, and Math Level 2.  He graduated with a 4.0 from the California Institute of Technology.   I haven’t graduated from anywhere.

Not yet, anyway.


The above is my rendition of an old Hollies song I kinda like.  In this day and age, we often feel that our siblings have been a burden to us.  I often think I must have burdened my brother quite a bit when I was still homeless, continually looking for help that he was not disposed to provide.   Similarly, I wonder if he feels he was burdened by me.  It seems to be a dynamic in modern life that one brother will “succeed” financially, and the other won’t.   I wonder if I gypped him out of some of his success, by leaning on him, as I did.

In any case, I thought of him as I played this song.   If only we, as Christians or spiritual people, could freely bear the burdens of our birth brothers and sisters, the way we so readily bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Here’s hoping.

I love you, Steve.

Once Homeless Always Homeless?

smileIn trying to do my part to raise awareness as to the homeless phenomenon in America, I would be remiss if I left out the fact that there are certain perks to the homeless experience that often go unnoticed. In fact, it is partly because of those positives that I managed to sustain my homeless condition for as long as I did. If it had not have been on some level enjoyable for me, I would probably have figured out a way out of it before lingering twelve long years in it.

This is not to say that it wasn’t absolutely horrible at times. So horrible, it made me wonder why people thought I was being hyperbolic whenever I compared it to being in a war zone or a concentration camp. Nobody in their right mind would think homelessness was a “piece of cake.” But just as people had no idea just how awful it could be, they also seemed to have no idea what it was that I actually liked about it, that kept deluding me for so many years into believing it was “worth the risk.”

Here are some positive aspects of my homeless experience that I have not yet been able to replace readily by living indoors:

(1) I did not have to pay any rent. I was therefore able to use my monthly disability money for things such as food, clothing, and creature comforts. If I had still lived indoors in the San Francisco Bay Area, most (if not all) of my monthly check would have been consumed in rent.

(2) I had no trouble coming up with food. Because I lived in an area where it was lawful and commonplace to sit down and fly a sign on a sidewalk, I often received food at my Spot, even when I had no money. I also lived in a city where there were 35 free community meals per week, at various churches.

(3) Being considered unemployable, I did not have to work on a job that, chances are, I would have screwed up somehow.  Therefore I had plenty of time to work on my various artistic projects, most of which were inspired by the very colorful and unusual world in which I lived.

(4) I had no trouble maintaining a healthy exercise program. My lifestyle necessitated that I walk at least ten miles a day. So I remained thin and fit, no matter how much I ate. My vital signs were always excellent: 100/65 blood pressure, 55 heart rate. Believe me, fifty pounds heavier from living inside, it is not easy to maintain physical fitness.

(5) I had no trouble with overeating. Not having a kitchen or a place of my own, there was no urge to binge-eat or gorge down food late at night out of general uneasiness and nervousness. Even when I did happen to come into, say, a box of doughnuts, I could divide them up between me and my homeys, and know that within a day or two, all of those calories would be worked out of my system.

(6) I did not suffer from the kinds of annoying “addictions” that are inherent in indoor living. For example, it was not possible for me to remain on the computer for twelve hours goofing off, because I hardly ever owned a computer. When I did, I was constantly in search of an outdoor power outlet and a quiet spot where I would go unnoticed. Usually, my computer would be stolen within a few short weeks, so Internet addiction became basically impossible.

(7) I kept my sexual desires in check. Hard to engage that stuff when you live outdoors and you might at least wind up with a “lewd conduct” charge (if not indecent exposure.)

(8) Negative ions in the air have been proven to be good for one’s physical and mental health.   The vast majority of Americans do not spend nearly enough time outdoors.  I miss the amount of time I spent outdoors, because it seemed to be good for me.

(9) I was not a softie in those days, like I sometimes fear I am becoming. I was strong, and a staunch survivor. I endured life’s vicissitudes without pampering or babying myself.  I was vigorous and ready for anything.  Now I’m lazy, slacking, undisciplined, and not ready for jack shit.

(10) In general, things that would be regarded as frequent temptations in the realm of indoor living were seen as rare opportunities in the realm of the outdoors. If somebody tossed me a doughnut, I rejoiced — I didn’t worry about my calories. If marijuana showed up, I rejoiced to smoke it, and went my way. I didn’t worry about smoking the whole bag in less than twenty-four hours because it was just so easy to keep tugging on that thing while staring at all the pretty images on my indoor computer.

In conclusion, things that I absolutely loved when I lived outdoors have become the very things I absolutely hate while I continue to try to live indoors.  The shock of the hugeness of the transition continues to be too much for me, and I am extremely surprised that I have managed to stay indoors for over a year and a half now without giving up and hitting the road.

Those are just off the top of my head. I’m sure many other benefits of homelessness will come to mind, if I really think about it. But along with those benefits came huge detriments, often suddenly and out-of-the-blue. My life was often threatened, I was subjected twice to strong armed robbery and once to arson, and many items of value were stolen from me in the night whilst I slept.

So it’s important at this stage in my journey that I resist the temptation to default back to homelessness. It’s important that I regain some of the simple disciplines that kept me trim, fit, and healthy for so many years before I ever had to be homeless. Being sedentary, after being highly active for so long, has not been a whole lot of fun.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I have not gone so far as to get an automobile yet.  I still walk four to six miles a day for transportation, and I go on long runs on the weekends. But somehow, used to all that excessive exercise, I’ve still managed to gain fifty pounds. I gotta get that weight off – and if all else fails, I know one sure way to do it.

Once homeless? Always homeless. Guess it’s just in my blood.

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The Law of Respect

“I don’t have money or food,” said the man, smiling.  “But I’ve got something you’re gonna like even more.”

“What’s that?” I asked him, looking up from my spot.

“A pair of socks.”

I remember how happy the man looked when he saw the joy in my face.   After all, I came by food almost every day down there.  If I didn’t, there was something wrong with me.  It’s pretty easy to keep eating in a town where they offer thirty-free free meals a week to whoever’s willing to walk to the meal site and wait in a line. 

And money?   Seventeen dollars a day was my quota.   Barring the unforeseen, it met what I needed to get by from one day to the next fairly comfortably.  Everybody figures a beggar needs money or food.   But a pair of socks?  Was this guy psychic or something?

socksMaybe he’d just been around.  Or perhaps he was smart. If you stop to think about it, it won’t take long to figure out how difficult it can be for a homeless person to come up with a clean pair of socks on a regular basis.  Socks were like gold down there.  But people usually didn’t stop to think farther than the basics, if they even bothered to think about us at all. 

And I tell you honestly: shoelaces were the worst.  Wearing dirty socks from day to day was one thing.  Going two weeks without shoelaces was quite another.  I would essentially be immobilized.   Days on end would pass me by.  Somehow I could never squeeze the simple expenditure into my “shoestring budget” (no pun intended.)

I got tired of opening my mouth toward people who lived indoors.  We were in such incredibly opposite worlds, it seemed communication was impossible.   I wished we would talk about anything other than my problems, my difficulties in life.  Not that they didn’t care (although a lot of them didn’t.)  It was just that, they didn’t understand; and after a while, it seemed impossible trying to get anyone to understand — if they even listened (which a lot of them didn’t.)  Not to mention, in the rare event that someone “understood,” what could they do about it?   Let’s talk about something other than Andy’s problems, please.  Just once.  

“I wrote a song yesterday,” I would venture, meekly.  “Want to hear it?”

“A song?!  You must be out of your mind!   That’s your whole problem right there — that you would have let yourself deteriorate into this God-awful position, and there you go wasting your time writing music!  No wonder you’re still on the streets.”

Everything somehow would get turned around to the topic of my “problem.” Whatever my problem was, this elusive “thing” that had somehow “made me homeless” — it was all that was supposed to be on my mind, at any moment.  I suppose if I had been a sports fan it might have been easier.  Surely they’d let homeless people talk about the Super Bowl, wouldn’t they?  If not the San Francisco Symphony??  But somehow it never came about. 

Where was the respite I so wished for?  The breather for which I longed?   The break from having to dissect and devour myself over what could possibly be my “problem” — other than the obvious fact that I didn’t have a roof over my head — where was it?  That moment of oasis, that moment of reprieve, was as elusive as the inexplicable problem itself.   If I couldn’t get anyone to understand what the problem was, try making any headway toward its solution.  As soon as the subject of homelessness arose, unless I were talking with another homeless person, all bets were off.

I would speak my simple truth, and people would look at me quizzically, dumbfounded, as though the words I had just spoken were somehow verboten, somehow not to have been spoken, and not to be addressed.  But if I had said the same words to another homeless person, their response would be more like this:

“Yeah, I know what you mean.  Same thing happened to me the other day, only it was with Officer Forbes.  But I was sitting there, same thing as you, same exact scenario.”  

It got to where I felt as though a homeless person could recognize me two blocks down the road, somehow sensing in my emanating vibration a kind of kinship or partnership that didn’t just emanate from every guy on the block.   On the other hand, I’d be sitting with a non-homeless person in a McDonald’s on a rainy morning; and if I were lucky enough to be talking about Ravel or Debussy rather than how hard the weather must be on all the homeless people right now, chances are the person would never even have guessed I was homeless.   Usually, they didn’t find out till another homeless person came in and joined us.  After a while, they would detect a rapport that had been absent earlier, and they would turn to me and ask:

“Are you homeless?”

The very question I had hoped not to hear!  I had so been enjoying talking about classical music with somebody neutral.  For a brief period of time there, I was neither one of “us” nor one of “them.”   I was merely a guy in a conversation over a morning cup of coffee at a Mickey D’s.  

It always seemed as though the things that people would assume were the big negatives in the homeless experience were never the things that we ourselves thought were so negative – we being the people who actually were homeless, who lived that way 24/7, and who would naturally would be familiar with all the ins and outs of it.   Of course, perceptions about the homeless phenomenon varied from one homeless individual to the next – and sometimes even from one moment to the next.  But in general, if someone were to ask any of us what bothered us the most about being homeless, we would unhesitantly reply:  “The way that we’re treated.”

Yet usually that was the last thing on anyone’s mind, when they stopped to think about homelessness.  The first thing, of course, had to do with the weather.  The weather?  Yes, you heard me.  The weather.  Naturally, the weather must be the big difference, if one is living outdoors, rather than in.  Logically!

But let’s dissect this for a moment or two.  How much did weather conditions bother me, on a day to day basis?   Outside of the occasional thunderstorm, really, not much at all.  I remember freezing for the first three weeks or so, having all these uncontrollable chills, every time I woke up.  It seemed it took forever to get warm in the morning.  But then, after about a month, where had all the freezing gone?  It had gone the way of what we used to call “body armor.”  It’s this thing your body does to protect you.  I suppose you could still die of hypothermia when you don’t happen to be feeling the cold, but there’s something to be said for not feeling it, too.  One less thing to rattle you, in a world where you’re constantly rattled.

All that we really ever wanted down there was to be treated with respect — the same way that we tried to treat others.   The way we were brought up, maybe.  Something having to do with the Golden Rule, or principles of etiquette, or common courtesy.   We felt that we had lived by the Law of Respect throughout our days.  We had not engaged in cut-throat competition in order to prevail over others, to secure a better paying position, or some better post in the scheme of things.  We had instead loved our neighbors as ourselves, and had often sacrificed a perk of our own for the joy of seeing it granted to another.   And where had it gotten us?

Maybe it was too much to expect respect from a world that had grown so deeply divisive and cold.   Those who didn’t show respect for us probably showed little respect for anyone else either.   Maybe they weren’t all brought up with the values that, prior to twelve years of homelessness, I had always taken for granted.   Or maybe they had tried those values, and found them wanting.  Maybe they knew how to stay off of the streets of San Francisco.  Maybe they had learned how — possibly even by looking at us.

By contrast, there was something charmingly simple about the man’s approach, when he somehow knew that what I really needed was a decent pair of socks.  Socks are pretty expensive, after all.  He could have just bought a pair for himself, then come out of that store realizing there was a guy sitting there who probably needed those socks more than he did.

God bless him.  I hope that kind of thinking doesn’t land him homeless as well, like it seems to have done for me, and for many others.  I could tell from one look at the guy, he’d have an awfully hard time pulling out of it.   

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Three More Articles Published

I learned a few days ago that three more of my stories have been published in Street Spirit.  This makes ten short pieces I’ve had published in the past six months, in Street Spirit, and in Classism Exposed.   I find this astonishing, especially because I never expected to have anything published at all.  It brings a new sense of purpose, with a connection to fulfillment in life — something I can always look towards pursuing, at times when I might be tempted to ponder that my life is without meaning or reason.  

Street Spirit

February 2018 Issue of Street Spirit

The above link is to the full 12-page issue.   I think it’s an unusually good one, if you want to leaf through it.  Or, if you just want to check out my own work, I’m on pages 8 and 12.  Terry Messman the publisher again gave me the entire p. 12, which is the back page.  He gave me the whole back page for the posting of The Revelation of Humanity, which I’ve gathered from reader response to be one of my better recent pieces. Other pieces published from my blog were On Disorganization and She Called Me Dad, both on p. 8, the former having had its title changed appropriately for the February issue: “Scrambled and Scattered by 12 Years on the Streets.”  

Now, I trust Terry’s editing in general.  Sometimes, a title change in particular will draw the reader toward a particular point of view the selected article might espouse.  There can be no doubt, for example, that I was indeed “scrambled and scattered” throughout my twelve years of sojourning on the streets of the City of Berkeley and elsewhere.   In many ways, it has been indisputable hell trying to readjust to a set of procedures that, while crucial to the more mainstream modes of living here in today’s America, is entirely inapplicable to the drastically altered set of conditions governing the lives of street people and of those who inhabit the Great Outdoors.

But there was also evidence of some pretty amazing grace that surfaced during the perplexing period when for years I drifted about the outskirts of what society holds to be acceptable.  There were even recurring gifts of a nature that I’ve been hard-pressed, while living indoors again, to replace.  This is why I know that my life has meaning.  It would be one thing if my task were only to report the sordid horrors of extended homeless living.  Some of these may surprise, or even startle or shock.  But we can be startled and shocked by sordid stories any day of the week, anytime, anywhere.  It’s the stuff that was good — that seems almost irreplaceable — that often goes unreported.

The challenge to find sufficient replacement for these blessings is something that adds new purpose to my path.   Anyone who’s been reading me throughout the past year and a half will know that my path toward accepting and positively managing the details of indoor living has not been a straight line.  It’s tempting at times to want to default back to a homeless situation, despite the inherent dangers thereof.   To address that dynamic, it makes sense that I would be about discovering what it is that certain redemptive aspects of the homeless experience were providing for me, so that I might regain their provision, in a different form, in my new story of indoor life.  

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A Parallel and Opposing Culture

I’ll try to have a new speech posted by next Wednesday.  Here is more of what I had to say back in 2013 on the matter (the matter being the phenomenon of homelessness in modern-day America, and my own experiences therein.)

A Parallel and Opposing Culture

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The God of Love

For many years, I taught private piano and voice lessons in a very wealthy area of California. Rarely did I find the parents involved meaningfully in the lives of their children.  They were too busy working their two high-paying jobs, as well as attending unnecessary high-brow social occasions to which the children, of course, were not invited. Most of the children were brought up by nannies because the parents did not have time to bring them up themselves.  In almost all cases, the nannies were from foreign countries and did not speak English.  The children did not speak the languages of their nannies, and no effort was made for either party to learn the language of the other.

The parents placed their children in numerous activities that they had the money to pay for, seemingly to take them of their backs.  The children, involved in ballet, lacrosse, musical theatre, volleyball, etc. often received only four or five hours of sleep each night.  Actual parental contact with their children was minimal.  In one case, the mother did not even know my name six months after I had been teaching her award-winning son how to sing, and had been showing up at their home on a weekly basis.

On the other side of the socio-economic spectrum, we find a similar disregard for the sanctity of family love.   Consider the preponderance of foster children, emancipated children, and homeless children. I have spoken with homeless teenagers who were so eager to emancipate at the age of fifteen, that their concept of living indoors had become associated exclusively with abuse, neglect, violence, violation, and bondage.  The speech I gave in the previous post deals with this phenomenon, which I have experienced first-hand. 

Because I met these remarkable young people at a very difficult time in my life, when I myself was homeless and struggling to survive outdoors, I was inspired to to write a musical about the effects of homelessness on the youth of today’s America.  I honestly never dreamed I would be ever be able to finish an entire musical – book, music & lyrics – at this time time in my life.  But I did, because I was exactly that motivated, and that inspired, by these Kids.  What was so inspiring was the immense love that these Kids held for one another – a form of love they had never found anywhere else.  In their unity, one to another, they developed ideals toward the kind of universal love that could well save the entire human race.

Why on earth should today’s young people have to leave their birth families in order to awaken to these first-time experiences of love?  Why have we permitted our sense of family and birth community to disintegrate to the extent that love cannot be provided first of all in the first places of our lives?  I have seen some of these Kids absolutely freak out at the idea of living indoors.  When a well-meaning social worker recommends an indoor living situation, it cannot help but remind them of the only indoor living situation they have ever known.  There, the ungodly treatment that they suffered at the hands of their so-called parents had scarred their capacity to live inside, rather than outside —  possibly for the rest of their lives.

America has simply forgotten how to love. We seem to have lost sight of a few very basic standards that will dramatically improve our national morale as soon as we choose to re-implement them. A chain is only as strong as the weakest link. A house divided cannot stand. The Good Shepherd does not go after the ninety-nine sheep who remain in the fold, He goes after the one who is lost.

chain weakest linkYet we split our houses in half at the drop of a dime.  We toss our aging “weak links” into poorly run, dehumanizing retirement homes.  We throw our “lost sheep” to the wolves so as not to have to cast our blinded eyes upon the sight of the pain in theirs. We have become a nation of self-serving pleasure-seekers, when we would profit immensely from redirecting our energies away from the pursuit of wasteful pleasures, and toward the love of our neighbors, of ourselves, and of the God of Love.  We have become, as predicted in 2 Timothy 3:4, “lovers of pleasure, rather than lovers of God.”  That we have not yet been completely consumed in the colossal consequences of our misdirected love is astonishing.   I think it’s high time we opened our eyes and realized what is going on in the shattering of the spiritual fabric of an entire generation.

It would not be a burdensome matter for us to cease burning bridges with such futilities as identity politics, liberal bashing, political correctness, White nationalism, and pointless flirtations and arguments on Facebook.  Why not become far less concerned with recreation, and far more concerned with creation itself?  Are we not all born with creative power to change, in the very likeness of the Creator who gave us all birth?  We have the power within us to create a new and better world for ourselves and for our children!   Why are we wasting our precious time doing anything else?

So – call me fanatical or reactionary or whatever you want to label this kind of thinking.  In my mind, of course, I am nothing of the kind.  This is neither a conservative statement nor a liberal statement.   It is a statement of hope.  I will confess that I hope not to have to express this position more than once.  But I express the reality of this hope as one who is old enough to remember when America was a compassionate nation.

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Spiritual Independence

This is one of nine speeches I made in the year 2013 concerning my experience with homelessness.  I created these speeches in a tiny spot that I rented for six months on the outskirts of Stockton, California.   Spiritual Independence was created on May 17, 2013, shortly before I returned to Berkeley to be homeless once again — by choice.

tent-secluded-night

Spiritual Independence

My views on the homeless phenomenon in America have changed and expanded quite a bit in the past five years since that speech was made.  I’m eager to begin a new Spoken Word project that I have outlined accordingly.  Assuming I can surmount the current technical hurdles toward this end, I will post a speech entitled “Homeless By Condition: Part One” on this blog one week from today.   Thank you for your ongoing interest in my work.

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Gimme Shower

I recently found this email in my Sent folder.  To this day, I wonder if it was my sense of desperation that prevented each of seventeen people in my life from permitting me to offer them twenty dollars so that I could step inside one of their homes for a period of a half an hour so that I could take a shower — or whether it was “something else.”

From : andypope7 at zoho dot com
To : [17 friends and family members]
Date : Mon, 11 Jul 2016 13:51:40 -0800
Subject : Shower?

Dear Friends and Family Members:

I kinda hate to approach you all in this fashion, but I don’t really have a cell phone now, and as you all know, I disdain to beg for change.  Not to mention, they’ve ripped out the pay phone by the library, outside of which I’ve been camping out these days.  I hope somebody will get back to me.

showerI really need a shower.  I’m not used to this neck of the woods, and I can’t just go hang out at the Multi-Agency Service Center like I could in Berkeley, where I could usually be assured of a shower in the morning, though I often had to wait for over three hours with about fifty other people, and sometimes would have my things ripped off during the brief period of time I was allotted for my shower.

As you know, I don’t drink, and I’m honestly not on drugs or anything like that.  I have twenty bucks I can give you for your trouble.  I promise I’ll be in and out really fast, and I won’t leave a towel on the bathroom floor, as someone complained about last time I tried this.  Honestly I’m totally clean, I just need to get cleaner enough to put on some decent clothes I got at Goodwill and hopefully pound the pavement and find a job pretty soon.

I’m only asking a half hour of your time.  I really really really need a shower.  Can anybody help me with this?  I’d really appreciate it.

Love,
Andy

Only one person replied, which was kind of him.  Now, in deference to that person’s kindness, I must admit that I have not been able to find the exact email.  I did, however, have several conversations with this individual (whom we shall call “Randy”) during that period of time.  So I recall that this is the basic gist of what he had said.  I hope you can appreciate the disparity in our viewpoints here.

From : “Randy McRiddle”<randy@mcriddle.net>
To : “andypope at zoho dot com”
Date : Mon, 11 Jul 2016 15:28:17 -0800
Subject : Re: Shower?

Hey Andy –

I talked to my wife about this, and I’d like to help you.  But we let a homeless guy in here last year, and it turned out he had lice.  It was a real hassle getting rid of all the lice.

Also, to be quite honest with you, my daughter is home from school for the summer, and she gets really freaked by those kinds of people.  You understand.

If it was just me myself, I’d probably consider helping you.  But I’ve got the wife and kid to think about.

Hope it works out for you, trying to find a job.

“Randy”

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The Revelation of Humanity

It was the year 2008 — the year in which I lost over half of my so-called “friends” and at least one close member of my extended family by sending a single three-sentence email that I guess they couldn’t handle.   The word “homelessness” might as well not have even existed in that email. 

The few friends who cared wrote back with advice that had to do with anything and everything other than the fact that for over four years now, it had been all I could do to keep a roof over my head.  One person even advised me to look at its contents when I was “sober” — as though assuming that a person had to be drunk in order to express that he could no longer handle the ongoing conditions of Homelessness.   I had written that somebody had to believe in me enough to let them stay at their house long enough so I could get back on my feet — or else, I would do something drastic.

I would take my own life.

Record gales were assaulting my entire body in Golden Gate Park.  Do I die of hypothermia tonight, or do I spare myself the trouble and do the deed of my own courage and power?   I had just heard yet another landlady claim that I had to leave my cottage because her daughter was separating from her husband and needed to move in. In California, they call this an “Owner Move In.”  It’s the easiest way to get rid of a renter whom you don’t happen to like.

I had been working as an accompanist for a Gilbert and Sullivan company, the Stanford Savoyard Players, at the time.  When I lost the cottage, the musical director kept paying for my motel rooms so I could finish the show.  This was more than gracious of him, but of course I could not expect such treatment to continue once the show was over.

I had been in so many different programs, shelters, and board-and-care homes — in addition to all the rentals that somehow only led to irreconcilable conflicts, owner move-ins, and finally a crash landing back on the streets — I had stopped counting long ago.  None of those situations had ever put a single dent in the rock hard armor that is Homelessness.

In this case, I guess my $900 monthly disability money vis a vis my $550 rent was making the landlady nervous.    And though she knew I’d landed the Stanford gig after finishing my opera coach service at Peninsula Teen Opera, she still came up with the Owner Move In.  Last I checked, her daughter never even moved in.   Guess she didn’t like the way I looked. 

Sure, I remember pacing the floor in her living room, when I was supposed to be staying inside the college.  I remember her approaching me, asking: “How did I ever wind up with the likes of you?”

I remember the incredulity she expressed when she didn’t believe that all of my family members were refusing to let me stay with them.

“But why should they let me stay with them?”  I asked her.  “You won’t even let me stay with you, even though I’m paying rent.”

“You’ve got a point there,” she shrugged.   And of course, she still kicked me out on my ass.

So the show ended, and a couple days later I found myself completely lost in the kind of “summer” that Mark Twain claimed to be the “coldest winter he had ever spent.”    I crawled into the Simple Pleasures Cafe on Balboa, and after breaking my last five dollar bill, bought a minimum three dollar hour on their public computer.

It was then that, overwhelmed with despair, I emailed at least one hundred people at once with these words:

I am stuck in a T-shirt out in Golden Gate Park in the freezing cold wind, and I do not believe I can make it through night.  I am writing to let you all know that I can no longer handle the ongoing conditions of Homelessness.   Please, somebody let me stay over tonight, or show me where I can go, because at this time, I am prepared to take my own life, to avoid what I feel is coming.

And though I indeed lost at least a hundred formerly positive contacts with a single email, the revelation of humanity that poured forth from exactly three people whom I hardly knew was astonishing.

An Actress: Andy, I’ve been there.  Give me your number; I will do everything I can possibly do to help you.

A Bartender: Andy, I’m driving over from Lodi to get you.   Tell me where you are — my dad says you can stay at his house for a night or two.

A Poet: Andy, check your PayPal.  I just shot you eighty bucks.  Get yourself a hotel room, get inside for tonight, and take it from there.  Tomorrow is another day.

Of course, the final offer was of most immediate appeal.  I used my last two dollars to hop on a SamTrans bus and check into a cheap motel in Belmont for the night.

In the morning, I woke up, scratched my head, and scanned my options.  I knew that Greg the bartender was willing to come get me.  But it seemed as though something more important needed to happen first.  So, I walked up the hill to Sequoia Hospital, and told them everything I just told you. 

I explained how my job contracts had ended, and how it would be a bit of a lull before I could find another gig.  I expressed how I had thought that surely now, with both employment and a rental, I should have managed to get back on my feet.  Before, I explained, I either didn’t have a job or I didn’t have a place to live.  This time, I had managed to muster up both at once.   And yet still the Homelessness loomed larger than any of that. 

I told them how two nights prior, I had written to all of my family members to beseech them to let me stay at their homes for just a couple nights, and no one at all replied.  I told them I had been trying to deal with my mental health issues ever since a first-time manic episode in the year 2004 had lost me my job, my car, and my home.  I told them how every time I entered into some kind of program, something would happen, something having to do with my inability to get along with others in close quarters, and I would get kicked out.  Or else I would finish the program, and then what?   Where would I go?  All roads, I told them, led to Homelessness.

I told them I completely understood why people didn’t want to have me over, because I probably would’t want me over either.  But at the same time, I asked them, where is compassion?  Who has a heart?   Can’t somebody bend for a little while?  When is anybody going to realize that I’m not going to be able to solve any of my “boundary issues” or exacerbations of ADHD or bipolar disorder if I don’t find that somebody loves me enough to make a simple sacrifice – and yet, nobody will.

“Can I possibly be that bad of a piece of shit that nobody will let me stay with them?”  I asked them.  “I’ve let homeless guys stay at my place before.   I didn’t like having my space invaded either, but I had compassion.   Sure, Tony slept for twelve hours and left a mess in the kitchen.  So what?   Was I supposed to let him die out in Golden Gate Park on a night like this?  Why can’t they get that I won’t be able to solve any of these other problems of mine if I can’t first solve the much more enormous problem that is Homelessness? 

“And why, why, why doesn’t anybody love me anymore?” I cried.  “How can they keep saying they ‘love’ me, yet forbidding me to even so much as knock on their door, or to come over for Christmas dinner?  What is wrong with me?  Am I that horrible of a human being that, for all of my God-given gifts and musical abilities, I am supposed to die in a damn gutter?   Why can’t anybody give me a break?”

I shut my mouth and ceased my appeal.  I looked in their eyes, fully expecting them to say the usual:

I’m sorry, Andy.  We’re not a spa or a ski resort.  I know you want to get your meds fixed and find some help here, but we can’t just let every homeless person on earth over for a 72-hour stay.   We feel for you, but you will just have to receive help for your condition somewhere else.

Tears were flowing down my eyes.  I stayed silent and gazed at the three women in front of me, who in turn gazed at me. 

And I tell you — when those three social workers rushed up and hugged me, I remembered again the Revelation of Humanity — that inkling of hope, not just for me, but for the entire human race.   

I was not a piece of shit.

I was not “worthless homeless scum.”

I was not a “dirt bag.”

I was a human being who needed and deserved real help.  

Sure, I lost at least eighty professional contacts, maybe twenty people I had thought were my friends, and another person whom I very much love, with a single email.   But what I gained from this experience was far greater.

I thought I would end my meaningless, worthless life.  Instead, my life of worth and meaning had just begun.   

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Another Article Published

Every morning I get up and make a pot of coffee, equaling four cups in my cute little coffee maker.

Then, I pour the entire pot into this gigantic cup I have, which holds one quart of beverage.

So, when I claim to be down to “one cup of coffee a day,” know that I am not exactly lying. However, I am not exactly telling the truth either, since the single cup is actually four cups worth. In other words, every morning I get up and drink a quart of coffee.

This, combined with forgetting to hydrate, might have something to do with why I had a splitting headache all day yesterday.  So I drank a lot of water throughout the day, especially last night before bedtime, and also in the morning.  The headache went away eventually – but it sure lasted a long time.

In a way, it’s a good thing I got the headache.  It served as a buffering force to keep me from becoming too overjoyed after receiving the shock of my life, and seeing that another one of my articles has been published, this time in Street Spirit. The thrill of having two articles published in two different places two days apart — after not having anything published for my entire life until five months ago — would have been too much for me, had I not been granted the annoying headache, which effectively distracted me from my budding over-elation.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised by this, because I had earlier sent reams of work to Terry Messman, the publisher, permitting him to use any of it that he saw fit, and edit it in any way he felt was appropriate. I made that decision after discovering that I completely trusted his editing, and also completely concurred with his vision. But I was still stunned by the sudden publication, partly because of its proximity to the previous publication, and partly because of the hugeness of the way that I was personally gifted by his use and placement of this particular article:

Breakthrough

Church1-248x300

Homeless Man Resting on Church Steps – Jonathan Burstein

For one thing, he gave me the entire back page, so that somebody could easily see my name simply by picking up a paper and flipping it quickly front and back. For another thing, he selected an article based on a blog post of mine that clearly led up to a plug for my musical and a request for money to help me move this project forward. Finally, the article selected was just about the most revealing thing I’ve ever written in my life.

And this is a good thing. There’s something about honesty that has power, especially when the honesty is consistent, and extended over a long period of time. I’m also finding that, in this world based largely on appearance and affectation, real gut level honesty is relatively rare. I think that we as Writers are fortunate in a certain regard, because when we sit alone at our desks and pour out the pieces of our passion, there is nobody there to filter or judge our words, to tell us that our beliefs are unwise or socially unconventional, to discourage us by telling us that we’re full of malarkey when we’re doing our darndest to get the salient truth out to a conceivable readership with whom those particular truths might resonate.

So anyway, I’ve been doubly blessed this week, and this coming on my having locked myself out late at night a couple days ago and felt forced to rent a hotel room for the night before finding my keys at the grocery store lost-and-found in the morning.  My Starving Artist status will be assuaged somewhat when I get the two paychecks for the articles. Hopefully it will be enough to pay my Internet bill and buy groceries, without which I’d have been totally strapped.

Speaking of which, the topic came up the other day at the Recovery Center where I volunteer, how there are two subjects that are considered taboo in our culture, and yet almost everybody has issues with both — sex and money.

Sometimes, when I talk about either of those subjects too much, someone will become really frustrated and even tell me to shut up — which reaction is probably a large part of why these subjects have become taboo.   We’re just not comfortable discussing them, and we’re not often comfortable hearing about them.

I say this — and yet there is a donate button on almost every page on this site.  Why?  Because I finished a certain musical a matter of months ago, and I am not able to package the musical and send it out to theatre companies, with a decent demo recording sampling some of the songs in the show, because I simply do not have the money to do so.

Believe me, I hate the sight of all those donate buttons, and I cannot wait till the day comes when I can joyfully remove them all!  The idea of promoting a project about which I am passionate in the same manner as one might sell a used car frankly makes me nauseous.  Once I get the money, can hire the singers, can buy a microphone, can make the demo, can afford postage to send out the packages, etc. etc. etc., all those obnoxious buttons will be removed, and I can breathe a sigh of relief, go on to the next stage, and hopefully never have to ask anybody for a buck and a half again.  You know why?

Because I don’t want any bucks.  I want to live a quiet, reclusive, healthy life for the rest of my days, as modestly as possible, until the day I die.  It’s not so much that I don’t like what money does to people, because I’ve met an awful lot of really nice rich people, as well as a few pretty mean and nasty poor people.   So it’s not that (in case anybody’s ever wondered.)

What I don’t like — is what money does to me.   And if you knew some of the whacked out decisions I have made on a couple rare occasions when I suddenly received a lot of money out of the blue, you wouldn’t like it either.  That’s why every penny of these donations goes to my friend Danielle, who knows how to handle money  — which is one great gift that I do not happen to have.

Another great gift I don’t have is the Gift of Brevity.  Therefore I will close.  But if you want to know how much money I need and exactly where it will be going, go ahead and fill out the contact form.  You might be curious as to my immediate budgetary needs, whether you personally can help or not.

Enough said!

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Andy’s Story Published

I haven’t posted in a few days because I’ve been waiting for something to happen — and, well, it happened.  

As of December 27, two weeks ago today, I have been hired by Denise Moorehead to write for Classism Exposed.   Yesterday my first article, simply entitled “Andy’s Story,” was published.   

Andy’s Story

Homeless

Andy’s Story: Class and Homelessness

(And now, being as I just spent over an hour trying fruitlessly to figure out how to link to my story and make it look like it does on the blog, with the picture and everything, I will now cease from the pretense of having any patience with technology, and return to my more idyllic realm of being a reclusive — if clueless — Artist.)

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Are You Homeless?

I walked into the Courtyard Cafe this morning wearing my running shoes with spikes on.  We need to wear spikes around here to walk comfortably in the treacherous snow.  My ordinary shoes were slung across my shoulder as usual.

I asked a worker here if the spikes were creating dimples in the hardwood floor.  He said they probably were.   I mentioned that I hadn’t been in Idaho for very long, and I was still getting used to all this stuff.

Suddenly, a lady sitting across the way asked me: “Are you homeless?”

“No, I’m not,” I replied.  “But I’m curious.  That’s an odd question.   People don’t generally ask me if I’m ‘homeless.’   What prompted you to ask that?   Is it the way I look?   The beanie?  The beard?”

Ando Smiling“No,” she said, possibly lying. 

See that guy to the right?   That’s how I look.  This is my most recent look, after having lived for just about a year and a half now, here in Idaho, after escaping twelve years of on-and-off-again homelessness (mostly “on”) in a State I hope I never have to set foot in again, quite frankly.

“You’re dressed like every other guy in this town,” she continued, possibly telling the truth.   

(I did notice upon moving to this particular city that just about every man in my age group wore a beanie or cap, had a beard, and usually carried a backpack.  It made it easy on me.  Nobody assumed I was “homeless.”)

“You said you were new in Idaho, so I thought you might have been homeless.  I’m sorry if I offended you.”

“No, you didn’t offend me at all,” I clarified.  “Nothing wrong with being homeless.  I just wondered what it was about me that got you to think so.”

She drew a breath.  “A lot of people who are new to Idaho were homeless in another State.  It’s because here, people are just people.  They don’t judge you for being homeless in a place like this.   They don’t think of you as a scum bag or a loser.  They just figure you’re down on your luck – and they try to help you out.”

“Are you homeless?”  I asked.

“No,” she replied, looking a bit puzzled.  

She then walked to the counter and came back with a breakfast for me in a to-go box.

“Merry Christmas,” she smiled — and walked out.  

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Source of Happiness

feed starving artist

WordPress, as we all know, is free.  I paid an annual fee to get the domain name, and another annual fee to remove the ads and gain access to chat support.   The total is $35.99 a year, which I suppose even an impoverished sort such as myself ought to have been able to come up with.

However, I was working when I made that decision.  I am unemployed and considered disabled at the present time.  Long story short, the automatic payment failed.  So I contacted WordPress with these words:

I don’t have any money right now.  I didn’t get a warning on this.  I’m disabled and I don’t get paid again until the beginning of January.  Is there any way I can get an extension?  WordPress is my main source of happiness.

(To say that WordPress is my “main” source of happiness was a bit hyperbolic, but I did want to let them know how much I appreciate this site.) Anyway, this was the very kind reply I got from the Happiness Engineer, who will remain unidentified:

Your plan doesn’t expire until January 16, 2018, so you can definitely wait until the beginning of January to pay for your site. To make a payment manually, you can go here:

https://wordpress.com/me/purchases

If we can help with anything else, please let us know.

Resting assured that I wasn’t going to be thrust into the red or robbed of my wherewithal, I relaxed.   In the meantime, a friend of mine on the East Coast wired me fifty bucks for groceries.  Then suddenly, I received a mysterious receipt for my “payment.”  My response:

Um, I think there has been a mistake?  I told you I could not pay this till January.
You said it was not due till January.  Then all of a sudden I get a “receipt” for a payment.  I check, and it was taken out of my PayPal.

And what can I say?  I was honest with you.  I told you I am poor and disabled.
You told me it was not due till January 15th.  I agreed to pay it at the beginning of the month, when I get my check.  You robbed me of my grocery money.

Please return every penny of that 35.99 that you robbed from me to my account.  My PayPal is andrewpope109@gmail.com.  Thank you.

Their reply:

Looks like the subscription renewed automatically. I apologize about the trouble!  I’ve gone ahead and gave you a full refund, and you should see the money returned to your account in 5-7 days.

To let you pay for this on January 15, 2018, I prepared an invoice for you here:

https://manualpayments.wordpress.com/?u=24d2cbc6a1

If there is anything else I can do for you, let me know!

Note the grammatical licentiousness here:  “I’ve gone ahead and gave you a full refund.”  I thought that was cute.  Anyway, here’s what I had to say next:

To “let” me pay for it on January 15th?  It was not DUE until January 15th!!!

So I hear Automattic is hiring?  Do they take long distance employees?  Or do I have to move back to San Fran and probably land on the streets again?

Thank you for taking care of this.  I’ll send you the medical bill for the heart attack you just gave me.  Enjoy your day.   I suppose I can go another 5-7 days without eating until this clears.
 
Take care and God bless you.  (At least you didn’t get away with it.)  Geeze….
Their reply:
 

Glad to be of help! Have a nice day as well.   If anything else comes up, please let us know!

In conclusion, if anybody mistakenly thinks that this post is a “cry for help” and not a social statement, please refer to the blog post simply entitled Social Statement, and then read The Story on the home page of this web site, in order to find out what Eden in Babylon is all about.
 
Dayight’s burning, peeps.  Let’s get this show on the road. 
 

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On Disorganization

Disorganization has been my mortal enemy lately.   So much so, that I often feel that if it weren’t for disorganization, I’d probably be able to get my musical produced.   Although we all have a tendency to be set back by forces beyond our control, it seems to me that disorganization is something that I can control.  It therefore leads me naturally to wonder why it is that I have become so disorganized.  I used to be one of the most organized people on the planet.

I used to be so punctual that people practically set their clocks according to the time that I was going to show up.  Once, back in around 2003 or so, my client told me they had almost called the cops out of concern for me — only because I was ten minutes late.  It was unlikely that I would have shown up later than a minute before the prescribed time.

I used to run my morning ritual like clockwork.   There were about five or ten actions that I performed religiously every single morning, in the same order every morning, without pausing.  Nowadays, the occasion of getting out the door in the morning is almost nothing but one giant pause.

“Where’s my shoes?”   
“What happened to my headphones?”   
“I could have sworn I had one last coffee filter!”

So how exactly did I become so scattered?   The answer could be given in less than four words – but here are the first four that come to mind:

TWELVE YEARS OF HOMELESSNESS!

homelessoffice

“Homeless Office”

When I was homeless, I had no problem finding my shoes because I slept in them.  Why, you may ask, did I sleep in them?   For at least two reasons.   First, at any time of the day or night, anybody could come out of anywhere and interrupt my sleep, sometimes with knife in hand.  I needed to be able to get up and run as fast as I could, as far as I could, calm my nerves, and find another place to sleep.

Secondly, if I took off my shoes and set them at my side, there would be a strong chance they wouldn’t be there in the morning.  They just might be the right size for another homeless guy whose shoes had been stolen as well.  Even if they weren’t the right size, they would still go for at least five bucks at the pawn shop.   And five bucks when you’re homeless and out in a thunderstorm can save a homeless person’s life.  That person can get on a warm bus and sleep all night, rather than die of hypothermia in the elements.

Headphones?   Do you think I would dare own a pair of headphones under such conditions?  Well yes, I often so dared, and I would have to buy a new pair before I knew it.   Why bother?   A pair of headphones equals a twenty dollar bag of dope in that realm, and I might even risk bodily harm if I tried to defend myself.

(The absurdity of there being any role for coffee filters in such a realm is too absurd to warrant an explanation.)

But the bright side of all this is a fact that not many people would even guess, had they not themselves been homeless over an extended period of time.   For that same homeless person who stole your twenty-five dollar SONY headphones will later drop a twenty dollar bill in your cup without saying a word.

Barring the sociopathic and criminal element — which does indeed exist but is far from the norm —  the homeless person doesn’t steal because he is a thief by nature.  He steals out of desperation, and feels pretty bad about it.   Even a young man who stole an entire laptop from me felt so bad about it, he ingratiated me with various gifts for two years, until I finally told him we were even.

So it’s not too much of a surprise I’m having a bit of difficulty getting organized, considering the level of “organization” I was dealing with for the better part of twelve years.  I’ve only lived indoors again for about a year and a half now, and old habits — or the lack thereof — die hard.

And if you want to find out what homelessness is really like, find out from someone who has been there.  Not for a week, or a month, or a season.   From someone who has been homeless for nearly half of his adult life — and who amazed everyone he knew by pulling out of it.

Find out from Eden in Babylon.   Please support this timely project, and please be “punctual” — while there still is time.

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

Turns Toward Dawn

This has been a very strange and telling phase in my life.  While I’ve not seen myself make much headway in the areas where I have typically been placing my focus, I have noticed that progress appears to be taking place on a completely different level.   This is the second time in recent months when the desired progress toward the production of my new musical appears to be at a standstill, but yet an unexpectedly bright happenstance is seen taking place on an entirely different plane.

The first time was during August through October, when I saw five of my short pieces on the homeless phenomenon in America become published in Street Spirit, a Berkeley-based periodical dealing with such issues, distributed throughout the East Bay Area and in Santa Cruz.   (A sixth article, by the way, was published in the November issue, which unfortunately has not yet made it online.   The article is called The Class Gap, and is based on my blog post The Voices That Count.  The link on the title is to a pdf of the full page devoted to my story.)  The sudden opportunity for publication in the hitherto unexplored periodical coincided with a dry spell in my own efforts to persist in pushing my musical toward production.

Similarly, in the past two weeks, I really haven’t progressed at the desired rate with my usual push to produce the show.   But I have seen the community here come to embrace my piano playing on the local level, which is something for which I have been silently longing.  First, on Wednesday the 29th, I had the opportunity to play for the annual holiday dinner hosted by the Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute.

There were probably close to a hundred people there. All nice people. I played jazz standards like I used to play when I had a regular piano job in the 90’s in the Bay Area.  I got paid for the gig in cash, and made decent tips, too.  I felt so good about it all, and was so appreciated, that it made me want to do it all the time. Imagine if only I could make that kind of money on a regular basis! I wouldn’t have to do anything else in life, other than rejoice and relax, I suppose. I mean, I’m sure that binding obligations would arise as usual, life being life. But it would sure solve a lot of problems.

The most flattering part of the night was when a critic named Donna from the Tuesday Night Critics Group showed up. She put a tip in my jar and said: “I’m the one who emailed you raving about your new musical.” Then I remembered that I’d met her briefly when I had shown up for critique one night. She went so far as to read the entire show and write to me in detail. It was funny too, because she had an idea for a device in the last Scene that I had to admit was a good one, and I wound up using it in the second draft that I finished on November 8th. She hasn’t read that version yet, but I assured her it was in there.

Then, last Tuesday, December 5th, I played the piano for the Community Event of Remembrance, when every year people in the community gather to commemorate those who have passed away in our lives throughout the past year. Usually the music is provided by whoever does the stuff at funerals, but for some reason they had to back out at the last minute. So I was called.

I believe I did a good job, despite myself. I think I selected appropriate music for the prelude and postlude, as well as an interim processional when everyone was approaching the tree to be given an ornament representing the one who had died in their life.  There was a tenor from the Evangelical Free Church who directed the hymns and sang special music at the piano. I was otherwise at the Baldwin grand piano, and messages were delivered by the priest from St. Mary’s, the pastor from the United Church, and my own pastor.  It seemed very well-coordinated, despite little rehearsal.  Moreover, it was a very meaningful event, where people were in no way disingenuous or full of affectation, but extremely real and genuine, authentic, and without hypocrisy of any sort.  Afterwards, I received a number of very kind compliments.  People seemed genuinely moved by my presentation, which was a little odd, considering how detached I felt from it all. But it was definitely an honor to have been given the opportunity, and it was good that I rose to the occasion.

Otherwise, I’m on the new computer now. I found one like it on Amazon — it lists for $875. It’s a pretty amazing machine, came with 8gb installed RAM and an Intel i7 processor, 2.8ghz. It’s a real blessing. Having a new computer is kind of like having the new apartment. It gives me a chance to start afresh, and not make the same mistakes I made last time. It’s also about as much better of a computer than my last one as this apartment is a better apartment than my last. So there’s a positive sense of moving up in the world.

One of the first things I did with the new machine was upload this you tube of my playing piano at Moscow First Presbyterian Church on Wednesday the 30th.  It came out surprisingly well, especially considering it was recorded using my pastor’s iPhone.  But in a way, that gives it a raw, uncut quality that I believe informs its artistry.  It’s amazing what kind of effect a fine piano can have on one’s musicianship.

 

Well, I need to get to church and sing with the Choir.   I wanted to make sure I got this stuff to you beforehand.   I did – so now I can relax!   Hoping you all have a blessed Sunday.  Take care, and God bless.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

Another New Development

There’s been another new development — possibly even a breakthrough – insofar as my goal to produce the new musical Eden in Babylon is concerned.  

It looks like there’s a very strong chance that the University will permit the use of their Theater Arts students in a reading of the script, to be held at some point after the 14th of January.   

This came about when my assistant Danielle asked me if I had ever thought about simply walking into the Theater Arts Department with a hard copy of my script, and asking if they had any ideas as to how to expedite a work-in-progress production.  I had to tell her honestly that the thought had never crossed my mind.   For one thing, I really didn’t have a script with which I was completely comfortable until a little over a week ago.   Nor was  the first coil-bound copy of the script created until six days ago.   So it seemed like an idea whose time was ripe.

The reception I received at the Department office far exceeded my expectations.  The Media Relations Assistant turned out to be a wonderfully warm and supportive person.  During a very pleasant and informative chat of about a half hour or so, I was advised of the Department philosophy: 

“Plays are not meant to be read —
they are meant to be acted, directed,
and produced.”

So while they would not read my play further than a quick skim, I was assured that if I sent them a email letter of intent with script attached, my email would be forwarded to all undergraduate and graduate Acting students in an effort to encourage their involvement.

group-reading-2The MRA also told me that my having a large cast (27) would actually work to my advantage in this context, because students are typically much less intimidated with the larger-cast projects than if, say, it were a cast of two.  She said that they generally are enthused about the large group effort, and eager to participate, free of charge.

Because I had been expecting anything from a cold shoulder to a run–through-the-ringer, I found the brief encounter to be a catalyst to further inform my path.  It occurs to me that I might as well take the vocal score to the School of Music and ask the director of the jazz choir if there are any singing majors who would like to sing on a demo recording of the project.  it can’t hurt.  And who knows?  They might even work for free.

In general, I don’t feel the sense of postpartum that I felt last March after having given birth to such a huge baby.  At the same time, I know a few things about my bipolarity as it can manifest over the long-term.  If for no other reason than to stave off another period of deep depression and artistic frustration, I think it behooves me to optimize the current energy — and strike while the iron is hot.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

 

Somebody Gave Easily

Lately there has been a gnawing sensation within me that a critical part of my story has been left out. I’ve been wanting to relate a certain turn of events that occurred in July 2016, after I had left Berkeley, but before I had moved up to Idaho. It may explain why it is that I am so passionate about what I am writing, and why I now know that my life has meaning.

To provide some background, I left Berkeley, California on the day that I received my monthly Social Security check for July. On that day, I bought a laptop. Knowing that four laptops had been stolen in a three year period in Berkeley, and that I was a known “mark” for the thugs and gang bangers who hung out by the local rapid transit station, my plan was to silently leave town before anyone caught wind of my acquisition.

The city where I landed on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula was a small town of about 25,000 composed almost entirely of upper-class Caucasians. I selected it because it was noted for a low crime rate and a peaceful aura. However, it wasn’t particularly friendly toward outdoor homeless types, and after the second time my sleep was interrupted by an officer of the law, I agreed to be transferred from my spot behind the local library to a shelter about twenty five miles South of there, in a more industrial neck of the woods.

At first, I was very impressed with the shelter. They had a number of programs designed to help homeless people get back on their feet and regain self-esteem. It was, however, assumed that I was an alcoholic or a drug addict, and daily twelve-step meetings were required. Still, I acquiesced.  I think twelve-step meetings are great, in general.  The only thing that bothered me was the assumption that I needed one. 

About five days into my sojourn at the shelter, an unfortunate turn of events took place. In the Men’s Barracks, where I slept on a bunk in close proximity to about twenty-five other men, I caught a flu.  I went to the hospital, where I was told I had “viral bronchitis” — which I’m pretty sure is just a fancy name for a high-follutin’ flu.  I definitely do not have bronchitis in any other sense.  In any case, I was given the usual stuff, and told to “rest in bed for ten days.” 

But when I went back to the shelter, they told me that because I had a contagious disease, I could no longer stay at the shelter.  This disturbed me.   After all, I had obviously caught the flu at the shelter.   So I was not the only person there with a flu.  Half of the guys in the barracks were coughing, sneezing, and wheezing from all their cigarette smoke anyway.  Here I’m this guy with an unusually strong immune system, who had caught exactly two flus in the past fifteen years, works out, doesn’t smoke or drink — it very much upset me that I was being reprimanded for my honesty.

So I went back to the hospital and explained what happened, hoping they would let me in to recover.  But at the hospital, I was told that they couldn’t show any special preference for me, just because I was homeless.  

“I know you have the flu, Andy, but let’s face it.  Homeless people come in here trying to get an overnight stay all the time, for all kinds of reasons.  If I were to let you in, I’d have to let in the whole lot of you.   I’m sorry, Andy, but that’s just the way it is.”

A rush of numbing fright consumed me.  I suddenly realized that I was going to have to fend with this flu outdoors!  I’d seen homeless people die overnight after catching a flu!  I feared death – but I was too young to die — and generally a very healthy, fit human being.   But what could I do?

Throughout the next five days, my condition worsened.  I was sneezing, and often visibly perspiring.  The driver of the all-night bus stopped letting me inside the bus at night, because all the other homeless people who used the bus as a sleeping spot were complaining that I might be contagious.  I told him that viral bronchitis is only contagious in the first two to three days.  But this was to no avail.

Then one night, something came over me.   And this is why I now know that my life has meaning.   Shortly after midnight, on July 17, 2016, I was walking by the Sequoia Station in Redwood City, wondering where to sleep that night, sick with a flu, and angry.  Suddenly I dropped down on my knees and screamed at the top of my lungs:

God!!  If there is Anybody out there, I don’t care Who you are, or what your Name is, if you can feel me, where I’m coming from, please — I do not care about drug addiction or alcoholism, or mental illness, or being a lazy bum or a slacker or a slouch – I care about Homelessness!  Please put an END to twelve years of totally unpredictable, totally unreliable, ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN, ANYTIME ANYWHERE HOMELESSNESS!!! In the name of Jesus Christ I pray –
AMEN!!!!

Granted, it was an impulsive emotional outburst, and I’m sure any theologian worth their salt could easily chop holes in the wording.  But I felt an eerie sense of calm when I got back up to my feet. 

I looked around.  The night was still and quiet.  My spirit was overwhelmed with the clear feeling that Somebody had heard that prayer — and that Somebody would honor it.

A couple days later, as the symptoms of the flu subsided, I remembered an associate of mine, a now retired music teacher with whom I had worked when I was still a sheltered elementary school music teacher making a modest living on the Peninsula, before all this homelessness ensued.   He had earlier said that if I could choose a spot outside of the State of California where the rents would be cheaper and I could conceivably live off of my Social Security, he would spot me the one-way ticket.

The rest of my story I have told.  Here, there, and elsewhere.  Within forty-eight hours, I had rented a room at Friendship Square on a temporary basis.  Three days later I signed a one year lease on an apartment that would have rented for $900 in Berkeley, and was only $275 in Moscow, Idaho.  I alighted upon the city of my birth for the first time in sixty-three years — a city that I knew nothing about whatsoever, other than the fact that I was born here.   Three weeks later, I applied for a part time job and was hired — after years of being considered unemployable and mentally incapable of working in the State of California. 

I only later learned that Idaho Repertory Theatre was founded in this city on the year I was born, and that the Lionel Hampton School of Music sports a city-wide jazz festival every year here — in the town where I was born.  I only later walked through one of the city gates, and saw the city proudly proclaiming itself: “The Heart of the Arts.” 

I’m not going to ask you to believe in God, if you don’t already, after having read these words.  The word “God” after all, is only a word.  If you ask ten people the meaning of that Word, you are likely to get ten different answers.  I know what I believe, and you probably do too.

But I will ask you to believe that my life has meaning — and purpose.  If you can help me in any way to move that purpose forward, please do. I’ve been sleeping in gutters for almost half of my adult life.  That I did not die a meaningless death on the streets of Berkeley is an absolute miracle.   I have written a full-length musical about homelessness since I have been off the streets, in addition to numerous blogs, and five articles published in Street Spirit.   If you can help me in any way with the money I need to make a demo recording of three songs from my musical, please believe me:

giving-is-easy-620

That one has got to be true.  After all, Somebody gave pretty easily — once I finally, earnestly asked.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

The Voices That Count

In the sixties and early, pre-Watergate 70’s, we heard a lot about the Generation Gap.  It seemed that the schism between those who represented the Establishment, and those who had “dropped out” or represented what we called the counter culture, was much too wide for the sake of constructive communication.  Much tension occurred as a result, and it often morphed into violence.

That gap was called the Generation Gap because those who comprised the Establishment were substantially older than those of the emerging counter-culture.   But today, I find ourselves immersed in an even more serious gap than the age-based gap — a gap that is based on class.  

Speaking in general terms, it has not been uncommon for there to be a millionaire in office.  But a cabinet composed largely of billionaires?   That’s a new one on me, as of 2016.  And I’ve been watching this kind of stuff go down since the sixties – since before Watergate – since before the War on Drugs.   

And what about on the other side?   Poverty has abounded forever.  But for so many poor people to lack roofs over their heads?   For poverty to engulf the disabled and the developmentally challenged?  The Class Gap has never been so wide.

There has always been division – but not like this.   There has always been tension – but this is unprecedented.  And what about communication?  It’s almost impossible for those in the privileged classes to even understand what the impoverished are trying to say.  This creates frustration among the underprivileged, and frustration turns to anger, turns to outrage, turns to hate.  I see a lot of outright hatred emerging from those who struggle,  as they turn to those whose material and monetary wherewithal make them better equipped to help balance the scales, and receive only insensitivity and indifference in return.

I have lived almost sixty-five years, and I have watched this trend worsen.  We tend to frame our differences around race, gender, culture, ability, sexual orientation and age.  But seen through a lens less often considered, many of these differences really boil down to differences in socio-economic class.

I have worked for the wealthy, and I have generally found them to be very nice people: courteous, accommodating, and caring.   I have also been down and out, and have lived on the streets, where the tension is much more intrusive, and etiquette is held to be unnecessary — so much so that any use of it is often viewed to be hypocrisy.   On the other hand, the language that is commonly used for communication on the streets is often regarded as crass or even abusive among those for whom such communications are unnecessary.

A poor person who is broke, who finds five dollars on the street, will naturally see it as gift for which to be grateful.  But when I told a person who was wealthy that I had found five dollars, that person literally shouted: “Shut the f—k up!”   Once when I was renting a room from a very wealthy landlord, he came down and saw me counting the pennies on the table.  Scowling in disgust, he shouted: “Stop that!”  When I was in a similar position, and I asked a friend for five dollars, he replied: “Five dollars is not going to solve your problem, Andy.”  But five dollars could have kept me alive another day.

I saw five homeless people die overnight, having preexisting medical conditions, unable to withstand one more night in the cold.  Had any of them had but five dollars, they could have gotten inside a bus and slept throughout the night.   Granted, the problem of homelessness would not have been solved by five dollars.  But a far greater problem might have been solved — the problem known as death.  

This is why frustration mounts, for that same person was perfectly magnanimous toward me when he wasn’t hung up on needing to “solve my problem.”  Nor was I asking him to provide a solution, as though nothing but a detailed plan to get me off the streets would be satisfactory.  I was only requesting a small amount of money, fearing an overnight death in the cold, as I had seen my other friends die.  So naturally, it is easy to rage and roar at the rich in light of such a constant cold shoulder.  But to do so does little good for the cause, for some have done so with violence.   

I have written a musical that explores the effects of classism, social stigma, and homelessness on the youth of today’s America.  I conceived of this musical because I have been there.  The impoverished may not be able to afford tickets to this musical once it is finally produced.   But the impoverished, the homeless, and the underprivileged, are not the ones who need to see this production.  Those who need to see it — at least according to its author’s intent — are those who have never experienced the energy of the streets, nor of the outdoors, of Nature, and the terrifying adventures thereof.  I write from a position of one unsheltered, and I write to the sheltered – not to shatter their shelter, nor scatter the remains of their relics abroad to destruction, but to show them the shamelessness of those who are without, that they might be moved, and share of the shelter that is within.

The gap created by class distinctions and social stigma in America has always been wide.  Throughout history, it’s been very wide, and a very difficult one to bridge.  But it can be bridged — and it must be bridged — if America is to endure.   After all, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.  But we do nothing to strengthen our weak links.  We throw our elders into poorly run board-and-care homes, rather than care for them ourselves.  And some of the shelters into which we throw our homeless are little more than glorified prisons.  Should we really be that quick to discard from our company those who have lost their homes?   

viktor frankl

Viktor Frankl

Many of us who have escaped the horrors of continuous homelessness seem driven, or even desperate, to convey a message that at first may appear to be unintelligible.  A similar dynamic took place, on a much more grotesque, grandiose scale, when those who survived the Nazi concentration camps emerged with a sudden upsurge of vigor.  Viktor Frankl reports that many such survivors entered immediately into massive consumerism, guzzling beer and gobbling down huge helpings of their favorite foods, of which they’d been deprived.  In Frankl’s case, he launched wholeheartedly into the book that became Man’s Search for Meaning.  They who have survived the conditions of homelessness often display a similar spike of renewed motivation, drive, and sense of purpose. 

The gush of enthusiasm with which we who have survived the conditions of homelessness often seek to reveal the hidden secrets of the Homeless Experience can be off-putting.  But the message itself is little more than a restatement of time-honored principles that have helped hold this nation together for over two hundred years.  I did not coin the phrase: “United We Stand; Divided We Fall.”  Still, because of the frustration we tend to express when we feel we are not being heard, and the violent, hostile nature of a conspicuous minority among those who seek to express it, they who have the power to do something about the matter quite naturally turn their ears to more appealing voices.  If only they knew that in so doing, they are shunning the voices that count.  

The Dialectic (Part Four)

This is it, guys.  It’s the final post in the four-part series known as “The Dialectic.”  It is what it is.  I’m moving on now.   I’ve done my part, as best I can.  The rest is up to God.  

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. At this point, you’ve basically been reduced to a literary device that makes it easier to get my point across.

Q. From superego to literary device in one blog alone?  I’m crushed.

A. Join the club.  I’ve been crushed for thirteen years.

Q. So what’s your point?

A. My point is that $50,000 is not a whole lot of money to somebody.   Maybe not you, and certainly not me — but somebody.  Maybe not one person.  Maybe a group of people.  Maybe someone wants to invest?  Fine.  We’ll start talking about a return.   Maybe someone’s a patron of the Arts, and would simply like to be a donor.  Or maybe somebody just likes me — believes in me — and would like to see me succeed.  One way or the other, the $50,000 is obtainable, as long as we draw the right people to the cause.

Q. And what is the cause?

A. The cause is to produce the musical Eden in Babylon, which deals with the effects of homelessness on the youth of today.  I have placed within this piece a persistent suggestion that the solution to homelessness lies in better communication between those who are sheltered and those who are not — between those who have not yet seen the streets, and those who are forced to live there.   I know it’s sounds like I’m dreaming, so let me ask you this: why not?  What do we have to lose?   It just might be that if we embrace our common humanity, whether we be rich or poor, sheltered or homeless, we will bridge the Class Gap while it still glares, before it tears us apart.

Q. Why Musical Theatre?  Why did you choose that genre?

A. Largely, because that’s where my proficiency lies.  But also, the classic view of the traditional musical is that it is intended to present life, not as it is, but as it ought to be.  Man of La Mancha.  Carousel.  Camelot.  See a show like that — a show like mine – and you don’t leave for home in despair.

Q. Well then surely there must be patrons of the Arts somewhere who will resonate with such a cause.  But who will be these people be?

A. Well, they certainly won’t be poor people.

Q. But isn’t Eden in Babylon an exposé on classism?

A. It is.  So what?

Q. Well, don’t you think that the people who might have the kind of money to back you are the very people whom you have often antagonized?

A. They are.  But fences can be mended.  In fact – they must be mended.  It’s what the play is all about.

Q. But won’t you run the risk of antagonizing them again?  Or antagonizing people like them?   The kinds of people who tend to piss you off?

A. There are always risks involved in an enterprise of this scope.  Take no risks, and you get nowhere.  Besides, they no longer piss me off.

Q. They don’t?

A. Not often.  Not for the reasons that earlier got my goat.  You see, I am not in the state of demoralization in which I often found myself when I was destitute and frustrated, earlier in life.  In those days, I actually lived in all the indignity and insanity displayed in this show.  Today, on the other hand, all of my personal needs are met.  I’m in a decent living situation, in a secluded setting, with solitude — the kind of environment a Writer dreams of attaining.   I enjoy a fixed income, payable rent, eatable food, and lots of nice running trails, where I work out, and work things out, and sometimes let off steam.  I’m in a good place in life today, on a day that — though beautiful — cannot promise to last forever.   Best to strike while the iron’s still hot.   

Q. But what about the way that the wealthy are portrayed in the story itself?  Are they not the antagonists?

A. Wherever did you get that idea?  None of the three main antagonists are wealthy.  Two of them are only what you might call “mainstream” – those who are hired to serve the needs of the wealthy, to promote their interests.  I used to do that myself back in the 90’s with in a studio apartment with a Toyota Corolla, driving from one large home to another, giving piano lessons to children, cracking jokes with the parents, and sitting behind a baby grand piano at night in a three piece suit at a five star restaurant.  Did that mean I was wealthy?  Heavens, no!  I made about $33,000 a year before taxes.  There’s a big difference between having money to hire, and being hired by those who have it.

Q. What about the third antagonist?  The really, really bad guy whose name is Johnny James?

A. You’ve got his number already, buddy boy.  J.J.’s a homeless drug dealer — my own antagonist, as it were, on the streets.

Q. So the wealthy side with the protagonist?  With Winston Greene?

A. They appear to oppose him, but at the same time, they love him.  They are only misguided as to how best he might be loved.  For they are those of his birth family, and his original community.  They have sheltered him his whole life long, in an effort to shield him from that which they fear.  Naturally he rebels, and in so doing, learns that what they thought was so fearful, need not be feared at all.

Q. And he succeeds in getting this revelation across to them?

A. In the end, he does.  And then, those whom they feared, they at last embrace.  Those from whom they hid their eyes, they now see with eyes opened wide with clear vision.  So they let them in, to share in their privilege, and never be homeless again.

Q. So there is a happy ending!

A. Of course.  Why would there not be?

Q. But don’t they sing an elegy to Winston Greene?  At a jailhouse memorial, in Act Two, Scene Two?

A. Let’s just say, as Mark Twain once put it, that the reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated.

Q. And what about that horribly demonic, death metal Opening, the song Intervention, which depicts psychiatric intervention followed by techno-torture, in the song The Age of Nevermore, in the terrifying second scene?

A. It has been adjusted accordingly.  In the Opening, it still depicts psychiatric intervention.  As the Finale, it now shows divine intervention.  

Q. A pleasant twist! How did you arrive at it?

A. In a flash, as though given by an Artist Greater Than Myself.

Q. An Artist Greater Than Yourself?

A. Yes.  For I have made a decision to turn my will and my life over to an Artist Greater Than Myself.  

Q. And this Greater Artist is — on your side?

A. God’s not on my side.  He’s on our side.   Together, we’re going to win.

Q. Andy, let me ask you one more question.

A. Be my guest.

Q. What will it take, besides money, to get this show off the ground?

A. Divine Intervention – and Love.

can-do

LET’S PUT AN END TO CLASSISM.
LET’S PUT AN END TO HOMELESSNESS.
LET’S ALL SPEAK THE TRUTH
IN LOVE

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

The Dialectic (Part Three)

I know I’ve delayed on posting the conclusive part of the Dialectic for a long time.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, and you’re curious, you can flip back to Parts One & Two, respectively.  Still, I’ve got so much left to say, I’m going to have to split it further – into two or more parts.   I’ll do my best to have it ready very soon — hopefully by sometime tomorrow.   

Q. Do you know who I am yet?

A. Ah, so the guessing game goes on!   In the previous post I figured you for some kind of interviewer.  In the post before that, you were more like my Inner Critic.

Q. Oh really?

A. Really.  It’s hard to say who you actually are.  You are who you want to be.  Ever-changing, elusive, deceptive.

Q. The Devil, perhaps?

A. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that.  A minor demon, maybe.

Q. I see.  Now what brings us here today?

A. I’m here to make my plea, to explain exactly what’s happening to those who may be confused, and state my case as to why the $50,000 in question will not be very hard to come up with.

Q. Go on.

A. First off, first and foremost, the money will not go to me.

Q. Why is that important?

A. Because rumor has it that I do not handle money very well.  This rumor, though it is disputable, can either be contested or acquiesced.

Q. What is your choice, between the two?

A. I acquiesce.  As you know, I have been poor throughout my entire life, save for a few rare occasions when my talent got the better of my alleged inability to handle my finances.  On one such occasion, I had $13,000, in addition to a market rate savings account and an IRA.  I was making more in those days than I knew what to do with.  

Q. And what did you do with that money?

A. Like I said, I didn’t know what to do with it.  So I spent it frantically, which the psychiatrists in my life at the time told me was a function of a first-time manic episode.

Q. But were you not 51 years old at the time?  Isn’t a first time manic episode supposed to take place when one is much younger?   

A. Theoretically, yes.  It even baffled my psychiatrists.   Then later on, I was told that it might have been an instance of a new diagnosis, called Bipolar Four, whereby the manic episode, involving the spending spree, is induced by a psychiatric medication.

Q. Fascinating.  So you feel the same psychiatrists who diagnosed you with the disorder provided the very medication that induced the disorder in the first place?

A. Exactly.  And in the process, I lost everything I had.  The $13,000. the savings, the IRA, a car, a house, and all my professional accounts.

Q. Why didn’t you sue?

A. Because I’m not the suing type.  I’ve experienced my fair share of resentments around it.  But in my heart of hearts, I’m the type who wants to move on and get the most out of life while I’m here.  Besides, once I did lose everything, and I found myself out on the streets, I had the bizarre and totally unexpected sense that I was happier than I was before.

Q. Happier?  On the streets?

A. Well – when we say the “streets,” we speak a bit euphemistically.  I lived outdoors.  Sometimes this involved camping out in nature.  At other times, I was on the fringes, the outskirts of an urban homeless community.   At times, I was flushed enough to get a hotel room, sometimes even for an extended stay.  Not to mention the series of temporary shared rentals, none of which really worked out.  Nor could they have been expected to.  For by that time, I was driven.  And my drive — the essence and the source of it — necessitated that I spend large amounts of time in solitude.  

solitudeQ. So you have two problems.  You cannot handle money, and you cannot co-inhabit with others.  

A. Not cannot.  Will not.   The essence of my drive is that I need all the psychic wherewithal I can get in order to focus on the manifestation of my calling.

Q. That sounds a bit New Agey.

A. You’re supposed to be asking questions.

Q. I’m letting my guard down.  Let’s go on.

A. I did my best to get along with my roommates, and to shy away from senseless quarrels over my inability to clean the microwave the way that Billy was taught to do so by his grandmother in Arkansas, so to speak.   But when you see a train coming, you gotta get off the tracks.  I would be so hassled in some of those situations, I couldn’t get anything done anymore.  At that point, I’d fly the coop.

Q. Where would you go?

A. To the nearest power outlet where I could plug in my laptop and not be bothered.

Q. And you didn’t mind this being an outdoor power outlet?

A. To be honest with you, not really.  My focus was so intent upon what I was seeking to create, I barely noticed my external environment at all.  Let’s put it this way – the external environment was irrelevant, as long as it did not interfere with my work.

Q. But what about when it rained?  

A. There were awnings.  A laptop has a battery.  I could usually get through the night.

Q. I begin to see where the rumor that you cannot handle your finances has come into being.  So – backing a bit, if you are not to receive the needed $50,000, then just who will?

A. Hopefully, Danielle.

Q. Danielle?

A. Danielle.  At least at first.  If the money were to arrive, say, tonight — by say, midnight PST, it will be 9 pm on the East Coast, Danielle will still be up (and in fact expecting my call), and whether she accepts my ultimate proposal or not, at least the money would temporarily be placed in the hands of someone who meets three needed criteria.

Q. And what are the three criteria?

A. Number One: Danielle can handle money.

Q. And Number Two?

A. Danielle can be trusted with money.

Q. What about Number Three?

(Pause for dramatic effect.)

A. Danielle can handle me.  

(Another poignant pause.)

A. I assure you, not many people meet all three of those particular prerequisites.  But Danielle may not be able to be the ultimate Business Manager on this project.  She’s extremely busy, she has to talk to her husband about it, and she doesn’t have specific experience in musical theatre.   But she can handle money and be fully trusted with it, and as my best female friend of many years, I’m sure she can handle me.

Q. But on something this huge, would you want your friend to have to be involved with you on a business basis?

A. Not really.  I don’t want to push her past her limits here.  Knowing her, she’d probably say “yes,” just out of wanting to help out a friend — and then she’d get overloaded, and I’d wind up feeling lousy.  But I just can’t think of anyone else off-hand whom *I* would trust to hang on to the money until the True Business Manager appears.  I’d lose sleep if it were anyone else.

Q. But why does there have to be a middle man?   Why does the money have to come so soon?   Why can’t we just wait until the True Business Manager emerges?

A. Ask a silly question, get a silly answer.

Q. What??

A. Obviously, I need to have capital on hand while in the process of trying to schmooze the best Theatre Artists I know to get on board with me on this damn thing.  And that includes the Business Manager, as well as the House Manager, Stage Manager, Director, on down.  I’ll probably be the Musical Director myself, and I certainly don’t need any money for it.  But decent Artists on a par with my specific level of expertise need to be paid.  If the money doesn’t exist, why should they be swayed?  

Q. Spoken like a man who can’t handle money!

A. My point exactly.   Not to mention, as Musical Director, I’ll have my hands full as it is.   I shouldn’t *have* to handle the money — like I’ve been saying.  But get the crux of this dilemma — it’s not enough for the money to simply exist.  It needs both to exist, and to be placed in solid hands for safekeeping.  My hands are anything but solid.  In fact, they’re fluid.

Q. Fluid?

A. All over the map.  Just like you, my friend.

(Pause.  The Questioner muses.)

A. Listen buddy boy.  We’re gonna get this show and the road, and soon.  

Q. How?

A. I’ll tell you how.  Be patient.  The O.G.’s gotta eat.

STAY TUNED.

Help End Classism in America.
Help End Homelessness in America.
United We Stand. Divided We Fall.
Let’s Get Eden in Babylon Happening.
NOW.

 

Pick of the Litter

It was hot. I was tired. I had enough money for a candy bar, and I thought the sugar might help me for the long walk ahead. I bought a Butterfinger at the Touchless Car Wash.  I saw a step with a couple stairs about half a block away. Seemed to be a business, not a private residence. Didn’t look like they were open. It was Saturday. I sat down to eat the Butterfinger.

Suddenly, a hostile voice interrupted the pleasant onset of the desired sugar rush.  The ensuing dialogue was most unfortunate.

“I don’t mind you guys sitting here, but I sure hate the mess you always make!”

“Us guys? What guys? There are guys who sit here? I’ve never sat here before! What mess?  What the hell are you talking about?”

The man said nothing, but seemed to sneer at me before shutting the door between us.  Guess he was the business owner, or property owner, or what-have-you. Jesus! I had just sat down! I’d been walking all day! All I wanted to do was eat my damned Butterfinger, get an energy lift, and move on. Did the guy have to pop me over nothing?  

Not to mention, being identified as a member of some group of guys, rather than the individual whom I am, obviously pressed a pretty big button in the Berkeley Boy.   Seriously, it was all I could do to bite my lip. Fortunately, the grouch who so grossly growled at me had shut his door on my brewing indignation. Best for both of us, I thought.

I got up to walk away, then noticed that the top my Butterfinger wrapper was lying on the sidewalk, about four feet from the stairs.  I must have dropped it there in my hot hungry haste.  Gee whiz.  Guess that was “the mess you guys always make.”

Next time, remind me to buy a Milky Way instead.  Darker wrapper, better blend.

litter

Anything Helps
God Bless

 

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.

 

A Meaningful Life

I just received a forward of a letter of appreciation that someone sent to Terry Messman, the publisher of Street Spirit, with regards to a previous article of mine he had published.   I deduced that it must have been the August article, based on the context:

Hi Terry,

I just wanted to say that I was really moved by a recent piece by Andy Pope (unsure of which volume, but it was from several months ago). His writing really helped me understand what it’s like to be in his shoes, day by day. I also felt incredibly sad reading it. I wish that I could offer someone like Andy a place to stay.

I’m also curious about your fundraiser, and if . . . .

Alison

Upon reading those words, I felt a poignant surge of pathos.   I did not need a place to stay at the time the article was published.  I wrote that piece in June of 2016.  It wasn’t published until August 2017 — long after I’d succeeded in getting myself indoors.  So it felt somehow wrong that someone should be thinking of offering me one.  

At the same time, however, this is the point of its having been published in the first place.   When I wrote it, I was fortunate enough to have gained a seat for me and my laptop in a Starbucks on a rainy Sunday morning.   I had been living outdoors for so many years that the idea of ever actually attaining to an indoor dwelling place again seemed inconceivable.  It was that sense of resignation to the complete unpredictability of the homeless condition that gave the piece its purpose.  It was written by a homeless person while homeless, and thus filtered out nothing of the very present feelings so painfully described therein.

This also served to remind me that my life has meaning.  I had always fancied myself something of a Writer, even as I wrote frivolous bagatelles to pass the time away while bored.  I wrote pieces of garbage that I knew to be garbage, only because my nervous need to engage myself in such intellectual thumb-twiddling was so pressing in my restless mind.  But now I have been granted this great gift of experience, and not only of experience itself, but of the subsequent freedom to actually sit down and write about it.  This is something I never dreamed I would gain.  I, like almost everyone else I knew, had consigned myself to die a miserable, meaningless death on the streets.

Not two years have passed since I penned those words sitting in that Starbucks, grimly watching the sun make an effort to reveal itself from amid an early morning cloudburst.   Thankful was I indeed, as I’d have been on any other rainy morning, to have gotten out of the homeless rain.  But at the same time, how completely cynical I was that after all those years, I would ever manage to get myself into a decent, dignified living situation again!

Kate in Cabin

A Decent, Dignified Living Situation — for Me.  

I had been so happy to have landed the simple hole-in-the-wall that I found at Friendship Square, almost an entire year went by before I could even grasp the concept that there might be a better place in store for me.   This adds to the pathos.  For so many years, I prayed specifically that I would one day be given “a lock on a door, a window, and a power outlet. ”   That  wish having been granted so dramatically, I sincerely felt like an ingrate when I began to look for a more suitable living situation.   After all, God had answered that prayer pretty much down to the letter.  I received exactly one window, two power outlets, and three locks on my door.   (God apparently knew which of the three priorities was most important to me!)

Eventually, however, it reached the unpleasant stage where not even three locks could do the trick.  I would surface from fitful sleep in the wee hours, only to hear the ribald congregating of drug-addicted young men out in the hallway.  Then, I would presume in my half-awake state that I still slept outdoors, and that these other fellows must have been outdoors, as well.

“Where am I? Who are these people?  Are they coming to steal my stuff?  Or did I steal their Spot by mistake?   Or are these the security guards, or maybe even the property owners?  Damn!  I better get out of here!”

But then, a few seconds would pass, and slowly the details of reality would sink in.  I was in no immediate danger.  The voices I heard, though they seemed intrusive, were actually separated from me by the three locks on my very own door.   And yet – why could I not sleep for the evidence of their presence?   Could I honestly be that traumatized?   Could I not separate the aggressive energy of my new neighbors from that of space invaders of times past?  My pastor literally had to persuade me that the little hole-in-the-wall was not the be-all-and-end-all to my life’s experience.   I did not need to live among practicing thieves and drug addicts if I did not want to.   

It was hard to leave Friendship Square without feeling like an ingrate.  But that is exactly what I have done.   It’s costing me a bit more money than I can comfortably squeeze out at the moment, but the trade-off is well worth it.  For the past two nights, I have slept soundly and peacefully in my new secluded apartment, far removed from the downtown denizens, and all the constant raucous activity that I so easily overlooked in my earlier elation over having landed any kind of indoor place of residence at all.  And you know what?  The moment I set my laptop down on that dining room table, I felt instantly more focused than I have felt for months.  Surely now I have everything I need!   I have my own bathtub even.  And a dishwasher.   A medicine cabinet in which to store hygienic needs.  My own bedroom.   A living room.   My daughter can even comfortably come visit me now.  Do I deserve this?  Honestly – it is almost too good to be true.

Well – I suppose whether I “deserve” it or not is immaterial.  At best, it would lead to pointless theological debate.   For me, the purpose of the gift is to put it to use.  I am going to set myself down in this seclusion, and write write Write Write WRITE —  because now I have something to write about.   And not only that – but a place to do it from.   So do me a favor.   Don’t ever let me forget how huge this is.   

On the streets, I would have died a meaningless death.  Here, far away from the streets — in distance, if not in memory — I have been granted a meaningful life.   

Please help raise awareness as to the Homeless Phenomenon in America.
Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Every Little Bit Helps
God Bless!

Published Again in Street Spirit

I just received this very pleasant email:

Hi Andy,

I published another of your really well-written reflections in the October issue of Street Spirit. I’m sending you the pdf version now, and I’ll send a link to the online edition in a few days when I post it.
 
Thanks so much for your insightful, thoughtful writing.
 
Best,
Terry
and now where

And Now Where?

I’ve uploaded the pdf on this link if you want to check it out.  I’m on p.3, the story entitled “I Remember Who I Am.”

He uses the illustration to the right, a lithograph by Rockwell Kent named “And Now Where?” in conjunction with my piece.  The piece itself is taken almost word for word from The God Who Believes in Me, earlier posted on this site.

The “Author’s Note” is taken from editor’s notes on that entry and also on the one entitled An Incredibly Empty Place.

In the past three months, since I have been fortunate enough to have had some of my short pieces published in Street Spirit, I have come to admire Terry Messman, the publisher, and Sally Hindman, the Berkeley activist and Quaker minister who connected me to this unique opportunity.  It’s interesting that I never knew either of them when I actually still lived in Berkeley.  Maybe I was too busy dealing with the extenuating circumstances described in these articles.  Rarely did I extend myself toward people with whom I might network, as though I had something distinctive to offer, and was interested in making a contribution to the community.

When I moved up here to Northern Idaho, all of that changed.  I told the personnel director at my church that if I had to summarize the difference between my life today and my life back then, I would say that previously the idea around me was that I had some kind of huge problem, and so how can we possibly help Andy solve his problem?  The idea in the here and now, on the other hand, is that Andy has something to offer.  How can we help him to offer it?

I would think anyone in their right mind would prefer the latter of the two scenarios.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Any and All Contributions are Appreciated.  

She Called Me Dad

A young Hispanic lady named Maria used to come sit across from my Spot about five or ten feet to my left.  Repeatedly, she would accost passersby, shouting “Fifty cents for a soda?  Fifty cents for a soda?”  At first it annoyed me, because it’s what we call “spange-busting.”  I was there first, and here she’s stealing my business with aggressive tactics.  It was especially annoying, being as I was determined to remain silent throughout my entire sign-flying tenure — partly so that I would never come across like she and others did, constantly invading the space of innocent bystanders.  

After a while, though, I developed something of a heart for the poor young woman.  She obviously had some kind of mental health diagnosis of the more severe variety.   Schizo-affective disorder maybe, or dissociative identity disorder, perhaps, or maybe paranoid schizoprenia.  She would break into different accents and identify herself according to different names, some of which belonged to fictitious entities with extremely interesting personalities. It made me wonder if she had done a lot of musical theatre at some point in her past.

watch my backBy and by, perhaps sensing my budding affinity for her eccentricity, she began to call me “Dad.”  She would hop off the bus, see me sitting with my back to the wall, and smiling, shout out: “Hi, Dad!”  How sweet, I thought.   She certainly wasn’t a bad looking young lady, either.  Perhaps having her “dad” nearby would afford her some measure of protection from the local wolves.  

One day, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to fulfill that very role.  A young man approached Maria flirtatiously, and proceeded to come at her with all kinds of odious pick-up lines.  Maria turned her head toward me as though to convey that she was in trouble.  We made eye contact, her fear meeting my concern.   Finally, breaking the silence, Maria scooped all the money from the cup beneath her feet, saying:  

“Hey Dad, I’m going to the grocery store.  Do you need anything?”

“No, I’m good.”

“All right –  see you in a half hour.”

“Okay — stay safe.”

At that, she scurried off, and the young lad turned to me with a look of shock on his face.  Approaching me, he spoke sheepishly:

“Hey – I’m sorry, sir.  I didn’t know she was your daughter.”

I glared at the fellow with a disapproving look in my paternal old eyes.  

“Maria and I are not biologically related,” I explained.  “We do what we can to take care of each other on these streets.”   

“Oh, I see,” the young man replied, taking a few steps back from me.  Then, turning his head from side to side as though to scan the neighborhood for possible friends of mine, he shrugged his shoulders and headed off up Allston toward the University.   

I looked to the right.  Maria was coming back from around the corner.

“Coast is clear,” I said.

She dropped a Hershey bar into my hat and took her seat.  The sun was setting on another beautiful evening in the city where I belonged.   

Please help raise awareness as to homeless rights issues.
Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Every Little Bit Helps
God Bless!

The God Who Believes in Me

This undated piece was written in Berkeley in early 2016.  I hope it gives you a picture of what Homelessness was like — for me.  

It’s driving me nuts having to be outdoors while almost everybody I can halfway relate to in life is indoors. If I relate to the people who live outdoors, it is because we all live outdoors. We share the values and mores of outdoor living in common, even if we share nothing else. But ninety percent of the time – damn right we share nothing else.

Approximately three times a week, someone who lives outside, someone whom I’ve never seen before, emerges out of someplace where I’ve probably never been and threatens to knock the crap out of me.  Yet I am a man of peace.  I only want to make my music.  I want to sit down with my laptop, crank up my music notation software, and compose.  But if I even dare get my hands on a laptop at these days, I’m an easy mark for every living thing that hides behind a bush.  I’ve been hit on the head with guns down here. If I buy a laptop, they assume it’s for trade or sale.  If I’m not willing to sell it, they might just take it by force.  My musicianship means nothing to a predator.

Maybe five times a week, a person who lives inside (whom I’ve also never seen before) approaches me and asks: “Are you homeless?”   How I have come to hate that question!  I almost disdain telling the truth, because I am so tired of seeing so much blood come pouring out of their heart, you’d think they’d have expected me to slurp it up and drink it.  Then, as they begin to promote whatever form of “help” they think best suits me, I find that in order to gain access to their assistance, I will be required to change my taste in food, my outlook on life, my political philosophy, and sometimes even my religion.   I’m frickin’ sixty-three years old, for God’s sake!!  I worked all my life!!  And they’re asking me to change my faith?  Now, of all times?  My faith is exactly what has kept me alive throughout twelve years of indignity and insanity.  Why should I abandon that which has helped me the most, in order to risk being hurt more than helped by the benign but misinformed intentions of a total stranger?   

I know a very conservative homeless man who tells me he is expected to become a liberal because it is the liberals who are feeding him.  But I have also seen many who identify as liberals become homeless, only to find themselves expected to become conservatives because, in their case, it’s the conservative Christians who feed them.   Why is that, just because someone is down on their luck, they are expected to adopt the views of those who are not?  Everyone is entitled to their own perspective, and it angers me that I should be expected to adopt the perspective of another person only because that person happens to have a roof over their head and more money than I do.  Just because a person is in a higher socio-economic class doesn’t make them right.  All it means is that they are in a better position to take advantage of another person’s weakness.  And in my case, that weakness is H– H–H–  My God, I don’t even want to speak the word anymore! 

What word?  The H-Word!  Homeless!  The word that, in one way, nobody ever hears — and in another way, it’s the only word they hear. It’s maddening. It’s exasperating. It’s more than frustrating – it’s infuriating.

Then there are the those who are not strangers.   These are the ones to whom I once was close, perhaps even intimate — the well-meaning friends and family members who want to “help.”  Oh, they’ll help all right!  They’ll help in any way they can shy of actually putting a roof over my head.  They’re always looking for the problem that “caused” me to become homeless, as if solving whatever that elusive problem might be could possibly solve the much more enormous problem that is Homelessness Itself.  None of those band-aids can possibly heal the wound of Homelessness.   That wound is way too deep for that.

There’s this huge division between the people who live outdoors and those who live indoors. It’s almost as though we’re an entirely different species. I can’t seem to do anything to bridge the gap, nor can I seem to do anything to get myself back inside. I’ve tried everything. All the suggestions everybody gives – they only lead me back to Homelessness. They never hit the core issue at its heart. So I get into this space where I start thinking: “Well, screw it. What’s the use of even trying?”  

I shrug my shoulders.  I head back to my Spot, lean my back against the brick wall of the BART station at the corner of Shattuck & Allston, take off my hat, and hold up a sign that reads:

BROKE AND HOMELESS
OFTEN HUNGRY
PLEASE HELP IF YOU CAN

I silently watch them all go by.  I make eye contact.  I look as many of them in the eye as possible.  Then, slowly but surely, little bits of change find their way into my hat.  Then a couple of dollars here and there, every now and then a five, a ten if I’m lucky, perhaps even a twenty.  People ask if they can buy me a sandwich.  Some people sneer, but they’re easy to overlook.  By and by, I calm down.  I forget my frustrations, my angst.  I meditate.  I pray.  I look around me, and it is a beautiful day in the city that I love.

An hour goes by, and suddenly it doesn’t matter any longer what they all think.  No longer am I driven nuts.  Then another half hour or so goes by, and I remember something.  I remember who I am.  I know who I am.  I even like who I am.   So what’s that word I hear?  The H-Word?  Is that supposed to say something about me?  Ah but no – perhaps we have forgotten.  Nothing says anything about me but the Me who Knows Who Me Is.   I Am the One I Am.

Three hours go by.  I pick up my cash.  The sun is setting.   I weave my way off toward the spot where I sleep, where nobody knows where to find me.   I look to the stars, and say my prayers to the God who believes in Me.

Please help raise public awareness as to the Homeless Phenomenon in America.
Please peruse this site and make a contribution to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps — God Bless!

My Secret Place

I promised Terry Messman, the editor of Street Spirit, I would post three homeless-related pieces on this blog before Friday, just in case he sees fit to publish one or more of them.   The first is my post An Incredibly Empty Place.   This is the second: something I came up in Berkeley during the summer of 2014.  I hope you like it.

My Secret Place

I used to feel really hassled when people would suggest various living situations for me.  I usually cringed, as though such environments were completely out of the question — but I didn’t have the guts to explain why.  Lately, however, there has been a turn for the better.  When I simply state my truth, I find that more often than not, it is accepted.  You cannot believe how good it feels to turn to these people and say: “I prefer sleeping outdoors.” 

Less and less do I hear them reply: “You’re crazy!”  Now maybe this is because I am speaking my truth to people who already know me somewhat — enough to know I’m not exactly bat crazy mad.  Naturally, if somebody suspects that there’s still something rationally ticking between my ears, despite the past ten years of near total sleep deprivation, they’re more likely to respect my position.   Still, the feeling of finally being able to stand up to somebody who insists I ought to be shooting for a slot in someplace like a long-term psychiatric facility is, in a word, liberating.

When I try to think of living situations that have worked for me better than my current one, the only thing I can think of is when I have had my own lockable space with plenty of ventilation and sufficient electrical power.  Even then, if enough of the “wrong people” find out where I live, I will default to sleeping outdoors. Moreover, in any other situation, such as living with roommates, sharing a house or an apartment — or worse yet, living in a homeless shelter, board-and-care, halfway house, or anywhere else that has the ring of “institution” about it — I will eventually default to Homelessness again.  Note the use of the word “default.”   Over the years, I’ve become more comfortable sleeping alone outdoors, despite the alleged risks, than sleeping indoors and having to deal with there being other people too close to my personal living space.

I recently lasted six days in a “sober living environment,” sharing an attic with three other guys.  One of the guys was a crack head who kept the other three of us awake all night, babbling incessantly about nothing.  One of the other two men was constantly threatening the crack head to bodily harm.   The third man snored at unbelievably high volume.  Add to this the factor that my “overhead” in the attic was literally about two feet shorter than I am, six days was about all I could take.  I’ll settle for an empty church stairwell any day, thank you.

Shortly after that, I survived four days at the Men’s Shelter.  Just didn’t care for the conversation topics, didn’t like the assumption that I must have just gotten out of State Prison or at least be interested in collaborating on some criminal heist of some sort. Not that I’ve never broken a law – I do so every day.  But that doesn’t mean that I identify with the criminal mind-set — and I’ll tell you why.

Smoking marijuana ought not to be a crime. But unfortunately, it can lead one to the company of those who commit other crimes if one is not careful. Further reason why marijuana should be legalized, immediately and totally decriminalized, and why personal drug-related issues should be treated as mental health or medical issues, not as criminal issues. Somebody must be making a lot of money filling up our jails with decent people who got popped for some piddly little pot deal. Disgusting, if you ask me.

So – knock on wood — but in my current living space, I sleep well just about every night, nobody ever hassles me, nobody approaches me, nobody wakes me up in the middle of the night to ask for a cigarette lighter — basically nobody knows I’m there. No one knows where I sleep – therefore my privacy is assured. If even one person finds out – word will get around, and I’m screwed.

Screwed — until I find another secret place. Which soon I will.  I always do.  And isn’t that a good thing?   Look at what the Psalmist says: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”  Psalm 91:1.  Doesn’t that say it all, right there?  Where would you rather “dwell?”  In the secret place of the Most High, resting in the shadow of the Almighty?  Or in a four foot high attic with a crack head?

Granted, it’s pretty weird that this is what a person will do in order to achieve privacy. But it is exactly what I have done.  And – it is okay that I have done so. It ‘s my choice.  All I need to do is cast aside the social stigma, and make the most of it. Nothing’s perfect in this world anyway.  We all have our different sensibilities.  The best we can do is to honor the choices of ourselves and others, and to try to get along.

Besides, getting a lot of fresh air is good for you. They say that fresh air contains “negative ions,” which are oxygen atoms charged with an extra electron.   They clear the air of dust and pollen, and significantly decrease airborne viruses and bacteria.   Barring other factors, people who sleep outdoors are less likely to have respiratory issues, colds and flus, and even asthma.  Seriously!   The more you can soak in the negative ions, and the less you have to soak in the negative people, the healthier and happier you will be.

Andy Pope
Berkeley, California
June 6, 2014

secluded

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

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!

 

My Pitch – Reiterated

Re-posted from the original ‘pitch’ of August 15th of this year.   Not one word has been changed.  Unfortunately, not much of anything else has changed either — yet.  

I have been flagrantly panhandling online for far too long for the sake of the advancement of my project.  I suck at marketing, sales, and advertising.  In fact, all those departments annoy the living daylights out of me.  I rock at playwriting, singing, playing the piano, writing music, musical direction, and homeless rights activism.  Blogging probably falls somewhere in the middle.

online-business-to-start-nowIt has occurred to me that if people perhaps knew why I’ve been asking for money, and where the money would be going, it might help me to get some donations from sympathetic people who can afford to do so.  So here goes.

I’m a person who has written a musical, and I would very much like to see this musical produced.  The musical paints a picture of the effects of homelessness on the youth of today’s America.  It is a very positive, upbeat show with an extremely encouraging, happy ending.  I have written the entire script, all of the music, and all of the lyrics.

But there I stop.  It will not be possible to move further toward the production of this musical without getting the kind of green stuff that doesn’t grow on trees.  This stuff is not known to come wafting through the window.  So I need to make a pitch.

There are numerous hurdles I need to surmount before anyone is going to take a look at this show — that is, anyone having the power to produce it.  First and foremost, I need to make an adequate demo recording of three or four of the songs, with real singers singing with their real voices, rendering the melodies and harmonies I have so meticulously created in the musical score that I have painstakingly composed, over a number of years, as I have been passionately absorbed in this project.

Talking around campus, and especially at the local School of Music, I get the feeling there are competent singers who will get behind me.  But like all singers, they will need to be paid.  My songs are catchy, urban, progressive show tunes, Broadway-influenced, and according to many, Broadway-bound.   However, it’s not the kind of stuff that even the quickest of studies are going to be able to pull off with minimal rehearsal.   No singer worth their salt is going to want to lend their voice to this endeavor without at least two or three rehearsals, prior to recording.  The very least I feel I should pay such a singer would be $125 for the whole shot.   I also need five singers to pull this off.  Even some of those five voices will be doubled or tripled, in order to replicate the chorus sections of the musical numbers that I have scored.

I am a serious composer who emphasized in Music Theory and Composition at a major Conservatory, and I hung out with my composition mentor, Dr. Stan Beckler, till shortly before the day he died.  My music draws from folk, classic rock, hip-hop and rap as well as from traditional comic light opera, but by no means does it entail your typical, tired old  1-4-5 progressions.  I have taken great pains to honor the genre of my youth, and bring fresh life and vigor to my favorite Performing Arts Form.  So basically, I need $625 to get started with this leg of the project, and create a decent demo of at least three songs.

I am technically situated so that I can record the singing over the instrumental tracks you hear on this page, eliminating doubled melody lines when necessary, to emphasize the live vocals.  This will sound a lot more authentic than one might think, and any irksome complaints regarding the “canned” use of the “electronic” sounds wll be instantly jettisoned, once my project is heard.   If I had the money to hire musicians and schedule studio time, I would probably go that route instead.  But I don’t have the money, and it would take quite a bit more rehearsal time — so this is the starting point that I propose.

It has not been easy to write these words tonight, much less paste them in three different spots on this web site, and blast them all across the Internet, to the expected ridicule of those who don’t believe me.   But because I know what I am doing — musically, artistically, and theatrically — in the realm of Musical Theatre where most of my lifelong experience lies, I can confidently tell you that I will back up my claims with action — as soon as I have the bucks to make it happen.

powerofprotestWe can take it from there.  I am not above self-producing the show locally, and directing it myself.  But all these moves will require money, which a mere church musician in between jobs on a fixed monthly income cannot possibly conjure.  Rather, if I could conjure up that kind of capital, I’d neither have the time nor the energy to pursue my passion, and the dream of my lifetime will land in my grave.   Daylight’s burning.  I’m in my sixties already.  Let’s get a move on.  Let’s get this show on the road.

If you’ve been reading this blog, and listening to my music, and reading my posts about the Homeless Phenomenon in America, then get the word out to those who have the power — assuming you don’t have the power yourself.

And power to the people.  Power to all the people!  Power to the Homeless People of the United States of America.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps.

Despair

I’ve never felt a depression anywhere near this deep before.   The depression keeps me from being able to do simple things in life.  Wash the dishes.  Take out the trash.  Make my bed.  Wash my clothes.  

It just doesn’t seem that there’s any way out of it.  I hesitate to write, to even post, because it consumes me so entirely.

It used to be, there was a reason to be depressed.  Now it’s just — constantly happening.  I keep telling myself that maybe if something changes for the better, I will feel better, and I can start anew once again.  Or I tell myself, I will just pick up where I left off, before I got so sidetracked.  But nothing works.  Nothing helps.  

I used to be able to rely on this person, this Andy, who was always motivated, who always gritted his teeth and faced whatever adversity there was, and endured it.

Now I can’t rely on him anymore.  He’s missing, he’s vacant, he’s gone astray – he doesn’t know where he is.  He can’t do the things he used to do, and enjoy doing them.

I’ve been writing music for several days.  But I don’t like the music.  It’s lousy.  I don’t enjoy it.  I don’t want to be writing it anymore.

I wrote this musical – but – how easily it came to appear to me to be useless.  I can’t even put a demo together; I can’t find singers; I should not even try any more.  All it does is increase the depression.

I just feel like – God blessed me so hugely in bringing me here, bringing me off the streets. Then I somehow transformed the blessing into a curse.  It used to be the other way around, and it should be.  I used to be able to transform curses into blessings.  That was my strength.

I just don’t know what to do with myself anymore.  I pray – but I feel so disconnected from God.  I just can’t see a light at the end of this tunnel.  It just goes on and on, winding in a way that I never can tell what’s ahead.  All I know is what is ahead — is total darkness — and I am always, always in despair.   

No Longer an Island

I mentioned in this recent post that three more of my pieces have been published in Street Spirit. It looks as though Terry Messman, the publisher, is going to want me to contribute regularly.  So far, he has published one story in the August edition, and three in the September edition.  I told him I would try to come up with three publishable pieces each month after this.  I’ve noticed that he and I seem to see eye to eye on these themes, and I am basically blown away that a newspaper even exists wherein my work would be appropriate.  I am no longer an island unto myself.  

I’m writing today to let you know that the online version of this month’s Street Spirit is now available.   Below are links that will lead you to all three samples of my work, along with copies of the illustrations attached to each.  (The beautiful painting below is “Serenity Base” by Christine Hanlon.)

SERENITY_BASE-770x257

The Voices of the Streets

MobyNO

Easy to Say No

(Please note that in addition to the story now entitled “Easy to Say No,” you will also find an exact copy of my short statement, I Told Them I was Homeless, on that same page.)

I want to thank Sally Hindman for connecting me to Street Spirit, and of course I want to thank Terry Messman, the publisher.  Information on these two very interesting people, and their connection to Street Spirit, may be found here.  It strikes me as interesting how I never actually met Sally and Terry when I actually lived in Berkeley, but am now connected to them now in a very meaningful way.  For I have discovered a wonderful newspaper, created by like-minded “kindred spirits” who, prior to the past two months, I did not know existed.   This, coming as it does at a very tumultuous period in my admittedly very rocky and uncertain life, is a true sign of hope.

Finally, I want to thank all of my faithful readers for your ongoing interest in my creative work and in the cause therein embraced.  Thank you all for your support.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

The Voices of the Streets

Good news — I just had three more pieces published in the September issue of Street Spirit.  The publisher, Terry Messman, has not yet prepared the online links, but he did send me a pdf of the hard copy:

September 2017 Street Spirit

You can find two of my pieces on the 4th page.  On the top is the one entitled “Easy to Say No,” the title of which has been changed from Social Statement by the publisher.   I Told Them I Was Homeless is below.   There are very interesting illustrations involved, as well as a posting of the lyrics from the song “Easy to Be Hard” from the rock musical HAIR. which incidentally I music-directed at U.C. Davis in 1979.

But the best representation of my work is the piece now called “Society Must Listen to the Voices of the Streets,” which is published on p.8 beneath a beautiful painting called “Serenity Base” by Christine Hanlon.   This is actually the second half of Homeless Tinge, done up newspaper-column-style, with some of the paragraphs split into shorter components.  

I hope you all get a chance to check these out.  I really had no expectations when I stumbled on this gig.  But I must say that any expectations I might have had have been far exceeded by the wonderful work of Terry Messman.  I also want to thank Pastor Sally Hindman for connecting me to the paper.  I had never pictured myself as a “columnist” before!  It is a surprising and strangely welcome feeling.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

Daylight

This will undoubtedly be a more difficult post for me to write than the two more wild posts that have preceded it.   What has been happening is that I have been coming to terms with how severely my personal issues of the past six months have completely interfered with the discipline I need to move forward with my larger creative projects.

When I first moved into the Friendship Apartments on July 27th of last year, it seemed an incredible godsend.   This was especially the case when compared with my previous “place of residence.”  I had been on the streets for three years consistently in Berkeley prior to that, and for twelve years I had been homeless off-and-on in Berkeley and other towns.  That a trustworthy landlord even appeared who would trust me with a one-year lease on an apartment was remarkable.  So I cannot claim that Friendship Square has not been a blessing of tremendous magnitude.

However, something began to change within me, maybe not exactly on March 4th, when I reached the “pinnacle” described in the previous entry, but in a gradual way following that date.  Whereas before, my studio apartment had been a place of refuge and solitude, it gradually became on open door to all the social activities I eventually found among those who also took up residence in the Friendship Apartments.  I’m not sure how to describe what happened to me, other than to say that my loneliness eventually superseded my aloneness.  

The blessing of aloneness had been in solitude, seclusion, and sanctuary.  I found creative asylum in aloneness, and I proceeded with the Berkeley Music and the Babylon Script with a disciplined fury, only taking Sundays off from my writing.  Slowly, however, the blessing of solitude was transformed into a curse of loneliness.  I began to interact with whoever happened to be nearby, often another lonely person like myself.  I honestly think I did not even realize that I was lonely.  I doubt that many of the other men in my building were in touch with their loneliness either.  It isn’t easy, after all, for a man to admit that he has such feelings.

Before I knew it, I had befriended every man, and most of the women, in the Friendship Apartments.  It seemed they were called the “Friendship Apartments” for a reason.  Much reveling took place.  I would sometimes wake up in the morning wondering what I had done with myself.   (At this point, I am certain I need say no more.)

My pastor at my church had become concerned, along with those few members of the community whom I had truly befriended, including Young Paul down at the Bagel Shop.   We were all decidedly looking for a new and better place for me to stay, even as I was clinging to the model of Friendship Square as the answer to years of prayers I prayed on the streets, praying only that God would grant me “a window, a lock on the door, and a power outlet.”  After being homeless for so long, I was convinced that this was all I would need to be happy.

I got on a list for subsidized Senior housing.  Then, just yesterday, something came up.  It’s a two bedroom apartment, actually, for only $318/mo.  It’s in a good area, near Paradise Path where I run, and near the Safeway at the East Side Mall.  It’s off the beaten trail of the student partying at the Main Street pubs, as well as the more insidious, invisible “tweaker” scene that lurks menacingly all around the current block.   It isn’t at all a certainty yet, but I feel a real hope about this option.  Also, if it falls through, Young Paul has offered to let me take over the lease on his one-bedroom apartment (also in an excellent location) as soon as he and a roommate move into their two-bedroom.   So it seems fail-safe.

If any of you are the praying types, please pray about this.  I believe that, while it may not exactly “solve” my problems, it will put me in an environment much more conducive to their being solved.   And in any case, I awoke this morning feeling that some unweildy burden had been lifted from me overnight.  I am no longer so “wild,” nor have I been contemplating the unfeasible.   It is entirely possible that, the next time you hear from me, I will be standing on higher, more fertile, ground.

“The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
–Romans 13:12

Hunted

The streets at midnight magnify the Hunted.
They are among the weirdest of the wanted,
By cops and hookers constantly confronted.
You do not want to be among the Hunted.

Hunted

from the new musical Eden in Babylon,
exploring the effects of homelessness on the young people of 21st Century America.
Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Michael Pope

All Rights Reserved.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

Your Moment is Now

The “s-words” and “h-words” alluded to in the first sentence of the post below are not cuss words.  They stand for “shelter,” “services,” “homeless,” and “housing,”   At the time when I wrote this post, I had begun to practice the elimination of these buzz words from my vocabulary.  It was becoming increasingly important for me to live indoors again, and the use of any one of those “buzz words” would work against me when seeking an affordable rental.   A person who has not been homeless doesn’t tell his prospective landlord he is in need of “shelter.”  He merely says he’s looking for “a place to live.”   

“Your Moment is Now” was written two weeks before I moved into my present-day apartment in Northern Idaho, a little over one year ago.  It describes how I was kicked out of a homeless shelter for having caught a flu, and thereafter found that there was no hospital that would keep me overnight, and no friend or family member who would take me in — as illustrated in an earlier post.  Please be advised that I was running a 103 degree temperature at the time when I scribbled down these words.  I say that in the hope you will forgive me if my writing style wasn’t quite up to par. 

I’ll be brief without using either of the s-words or h-words.

About five days ago, I was kicked out of the “dormitory” for having contracted a contagious disease there. It’s not a big deal – it’s viral bronchitis. It is only contagious during the first 2-3 days.

Unfortunately, this has left me to deal with the situation in an outdoor environment. I’ve been twice to the doctor who says that I need to rest in bed for ten days and drink a lot of fluids.  Obviously, I do not have a bed in which to rest.

fluI petitioned for an overnight stay at the hospital but was denied it on the obvious basis that overnight stays in hospitals are not generally granted to people for conditions that can be taken care of at home. Obviously, I do not have a home at this time.

I believe that if I can stay inside in a bed for 72 hours, leaving only to hydrate and use the bathroom, I will probably recover. I am not recovering, unfortunately, in the outdoor realm of living. Frankly, I have only had a flu like this twice in the past fifteen years. The first time a friend of mine fronted me $700 so I could get two weeks in a hotel room. I paid her back according to terms, but she is not in that position right now. I also am declining to ask for money, which I feel would be crass.  To request actual short-term lodgings, on the other hand, seems to me to be only logical, and appropriate to the cause at hand.

My petition goes out to those who live in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, and to the hearts of the Greater Humanity at Large. If somebody can provide so much as a floor with a rug for me to crash on for three days only, I will provide the Greater Humanity at Large with a lot more than said Humanity has evidently expected of me.

If not, I’ll subsist as usual, and perchance even survive. But know that when I say that I have watched numerous people in my position die needless deaths overnight, my statement is not hyperbolic.

People of compassion: now is your chance. Let me in. Let one of us in.  There are thousands upon thousands of Americans forced to sleep outdoors tonight.  Some will die tonight if no one lets them in.  Please, people of compassion — Let Us In.

Andy Pope
July 13, 2016
San Francisco, CA

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

Awake the Dawn

My heart is steadfast, O God!
I will sing and make melody with all my being!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!
(
Psalm 108:1-2)

Awake the Dawn

from the new musical Eden in Babylon, 
exploring the effects of homelessness on the young people of 21st Century America.
Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Michael Pope

All Rights Reserved.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

Published!

To those of you who might be more accustomed to getting more substantial pieces of prose or poetry published in more prestigious periodicals, my excitement about having been published yesterday may appear to be entirely unwarranted.  Therefore, I will try to subdue it.

As I mentioned earlier, I submitted three short pieces of prose to a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper called Street Spirit.  The pieces I submitted were Homeless Tinge, I Told Them I was Homeless, and A New Pair of Glasses.   Yesterday, I was informed that “A New Pair of Glasses” had been published – although the publisher change the title to A New Way of Seeing.  I didn’t mind the change, however, in light of its having been published.  I also find the layout to be very professional, and the illustrations to be marvelous.  Both are duplicated here below, with a link to the story itself sandwiched between them.  

Scavengers-1

A New Way of Seeing

Forgotten

The publisher Terry Messman offered to send some hard copies of the newspaper to my home address here in Moscow.  If anybody wants one, please leave a message on my Contact Page, and we’ll take it from there.  

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

Hang On To Your Wallet

Believe it or not, this is a true story.  It happened when I was house-sitting for a friend in Burlingame, California where I lived and worked for many years, long before becoming homeless in Berkeley.   It tells how I left my wallet on a bus on the way to a lunch for poor people at a Catholic church, in Redwood City and how my efforts to borrow a dollar in order to get a bus back to Burlingame were only greeted with suspicion, as though it were some kind of sophisticated scam.  After five failed efforts in increasing frustration, I never could procure a single dollar.  So I wound up sleeping on a lawn outside the city library.  I suppose I’ll have to put some serious effort into honing my dollar-borrowing skills for the future.

Get a load of this. I lost my wallet yesterday with my photo I.D. and all my cards including Starbucks and McDonald’s cards I had put money on knowing that I might run of cash early in the month. Lost both my debit cards – and even though one of my customers is paying me tomorrow, I have no way of receiving the money that I know of. My assistant Danielle will get the money as usual, but the typical means of transferring my cut of it to my account are inapplicable, since there is no way for me to draw the money out of my account.

I was stranded in a strange town all day where I had been going to a “feed,” which is a “free lunch” where people in the impoverished classes go in order not to spend money that they don’t have on food. I had left the wallet on the bus, and though I realized seconds later what I had done (waking up and hurriedly running off the bus, realizing it was my stop), I could not flag the bus driver down. Then, once I was able to reach a SamTrans office agent by phone, I was told that the particular driver had switched buses by then and that I would have to fill out an online form in order *maybe* to get the wallet back in 8-10 days.

walletAll right, so that’s typical bureaucracy, and worse things have happened. But proceeding to the feed after that was one of the biggest mistakes I could have made in terms of maintaining health or sanity at that time. For as I attempted to see about obtaining a bus ticket of some sort in order to get back home to Burlingame, I was repeatedly told by one social worker after another that I would have to walk a distance of over two miles in the noonday heat and get in a line at a separate social service agency in order to *maybe* get a bus ticket. There was not one iota of sympathy for the loss of wallet, cards, Safeway card, library card, photo I.D., etc.,” Slowly I began to realize that this was not an issue of my ability or inability to tolerate a difficult situation in life; it was an issue of prejudice against a person in a lower socio-economic class.  

After I had spoken with four or five people at the feed, trying to find someone’s supervisor and so forth, I admit that by then I was deploying what appeared to be a very well-rehearsed appeal — possibly even a scam. Did anyone actually believe me? I wasn’t quite sure. I could easily have been a very sophisticated street hustler brandishing some cockamaney tale in order to get one dollar after another from the gullible. That would at least explain all the chuckles and general feeling of amusement that I was getting on the part of these social workers as one by one, they dismissed my dilemma as frivolous and immaterial, not to be taken seriously.

But my “appeal,” of course, was that I be granted a single dollar bill in light of my hardship, so that I could simply take a bus home, and take it from there — given that I had also left my bus pass on the SamTrans bus. The fourth person had her arms on my shoulders telling me she would “pray for me,” which was a wonderful expression of complete abnegation of one’s responsibility as a fellow human being toward another human being in need, as though: “Of course I dare not help you, but perhaps God will if I petition Him on your behalf.”

Incensed, I approached a fifth person with my plea, to which she simply shrugged and said: “It is what it is.”

By this time, I was infuriated. I turned to her and asked her directly: “When you lose all your keys, and you cannot get into your car, and you cannot get back inside your house, and your kids are crying and screaming, and you cannot get them to school on time, and you left the burner on in the kitchen, but you do not have the key to the side door, and you call for help somehow to someone, and then you hear the words, ‘it is what it is,’ do you particularly appreciate that response?

At that point, I was advised by security that I was no longer welcome at the feed.

I said: “fine,” and set down my plate, somewhat emphatically, as it were. I was thereafter so exercised that I had no problem at all storming over to the Human Services Agency in the heat at a lightning-fast clip, being as one of the many great advantages of my years of outdoor living is that it happens to have put me into excellent, vigorous, physical shape. (That there were no vouchers for bus rides at the HSA came as no particular surprise, nor did my announcement that I would then therefore be crashing out on the lawn by their lovely city’s local library come as any surprise to the shoulder-shrugging social workers in attendance.)

People who are in the business of “helping” those of us who are in the underprivileged and disadvantaged classes need to become aware that it does net “help” us when we are not regarded as equals. Granted, nobody there “owed” me a dollar — but if they are Christians, which I would hope that people associated with St. Anthony’s Church in Redwood City are; then certainly the words of St. Paul apply:

“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” – Romans 13:8 NASB

What they owed me — what we all owe each other – and the only thing that we owe each other – is love. Where, I ask – where — is the love?

Andy Pope
Burlingame  CA
November 12. 2015

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Closet of Shame

This one was written at around the same time as my Homeless Tinge.  I had been living indoors here in Idaho for about four months, successfully managing a job and an studio apartment for the first time in over twelve years.  But I remember being annoyed with the friend of mine who had helped me with the one-way.  He kept advising me to completely hide the fact that I had ever been homeless.  I understood that he was only trying to help, but it just didn’t sit well with my integrity.

I need to make the decision whether  to “come out” concerning my recently heavily hidden homeless experience, or whether to continue to hide it. I have not told one person in Moscow that I was homeless, except for the therapist whom I saw for exactly two visits, and then left once I realized he wasn’t listening to my issues, and was actively in the process of beginning to address issues I did not have. I left somewhat regretting that I’d mentioned the homelessness to this particular individual, not that I didn’t like him personally (because I did) but because after I decided to leave the counseling, it seemed that my release of the information was entirely unnecessary.

woman-closetSome time ago, an intuition told me to wait six months before “coming out.” I’ve only been here four and a half months. It just dawned on me, however, that I’ll have six months of “sobriety” at six o’clock tomorrow morning. Could the “intuition” have referred to that six months? Maybe so. But if so, it makes me feel rushed. I feel like a “closet homeless person.” One might say that I am no longer homeless. But that’s not exactly true. I’m still homeless in my heart, by a certain very profound definition of the word that often escapes public attention. I may not be homeless in my current behavioral patterns; i.e.,using a key to unlock a door to a place I can roughly call “home;” using a forever-open window to obtain fresh air rather than an outdoor dwelling spot to obtain the same, and so forth. But all that means is that I am not currently practicing my homelessness. So what is the sense in which I am still homeless?

I am still “homeless” because I do not relate my current place of residence to permanence. The only permanent residence to which I relate is the Kingdom of God. My home is in heaven; I am a stranger and a pilgrim on the earth; I knew I was a stranger to the earth long before I became a Christian or could even contemplate identifying as a pilgrim. But then, in another sense, I am not homeless at all, because I have an eternal home in Christ. That’s huge. Still, I am homeless in a worldly sense, impermanent in the big picture, but permanent as far as life in this world, on this earth, is concerned. Whether anyone around me is aware of it, I think, speak, and act like more like your typical homeless person than I do like a person who holds his home to be a specific dwelling place on the earth, in the world.

It may seem I’m mincing words. But there is an enormity here that needs to be taken into consideration. Whatever the strength or weakness of my explanation, my identification as “homeless” makes me feel as though I am in the “closet” and hiding something essential about my nature to the people around me. I am not merely hiding my history of past homeless experience. I am actually hiding who I am.

This is spiritually dangerous. For one thing, it will inevitably impair my personal and social relationships here in Moscow. People will sense that I am hiding something – only they don’t know what it is. So they begin to speculate among themselves, as people will do. This may already be happening. How many times have I been talking with Norman, Kathy, or Mary – the three people at my church with whom I have been making a concerted effort to make friends – and all of a sudden there is a huge pause in my speaking? It’s as though I’ve run up against a brick wall. I’m not a person who hides his feelings very easily. People tell me that I am “transparent” or even that I wear them on my shirtsleeve. So I sense that these people receive my feeling very clearly – and yet the words have mysteriously ceased to emerge from my mouth – sometimes even in mid-sentence. “What is he hiding?” I can hear them thinking.

We know what he is hiding. So the more pertinent question is: Why is he hiding?”

Originally, I concealed my homelessness for much the same reason I would have concealed my experience with chemical dependency pertaining to an unpopular substance. I didn’t want not to be considered for a lease on an apartment; I didn’t want not to be considered for a part-time church job. I also didn’t want to be somehow funneled into some pointless program, facility, agency, or institution – although the more I remain in Moscow, the more I realize that this is unlikely. Outside of the obvious issue of personal sovereignty; that is to say, nobody can force me into one of those programs or institutions, unless I were legally mandated into one of them by Court order; there are two other Moscow-related factors that make the suggestion unlikely. For one thing, I can’t help but notice that people in Moscow are disinclined to put other people into “boxes” – far less inclined than people in, say, Berkeley, or the San Francisco Bay Area in general. This may or may not be a “California” thing; but it definitely hasn’t happened in Idaho as I have thus far experienced Idaho through Moscow. If a person is “headed down,” people here are much more likely to attribute it to the economy than they are to personal factors, such as drug addiction, alcoholism, poor mental health, or laziness. Needless to say, this is refreshing.

For another thing, there simply aren’t any programs, agencies, or institutions in the area. The only facility I’ve noticed is the Police Department, which I suppose contains a city jail. But how likely is it, given what I just said, that somebody is going to criminalize me on the basis of this revelation, should I choose to “come out” and reveal my true identity? Not likely – especially considering that I am not “practicing” my homelessness at this time. So basically the only remaining reason why I wouldn’t come out of the closet – is stigma. I have experienced so much stigma that spoils the identity of the true homeless person, and therefore diminishes reception toward his truth, that I basically am reluctant even to deal with it. Much as it is difficult for me to hide anything about myself at all, it is still in a way easier to overlook this issue, rather than risk opening up a Pandora’s box that could lead practically anywhere.

Now, to the moment  — and to the reason why this has come up at this time.

A buddy of mine, a retired middle school music teacher, spotted me $600 in three separate installments in order for me to get established here. He paid my security deposit (though not my last month’s rent), paid for my one-way bus ticket, and shelled out an additional $200 during the first couple months of my stay here. He’s a person who gives unsolicited advice by nature (many people in the teaching profession have this quirk), and he gave me a lot of advice that I soaked in for two reasons: (1) it made logical sense, at least at the start; and (2) I was kissing his ass in case I could get more money out of him. Now (2) is entirely against my integrity, but it actually took me until very recently – as in the past two days – to realize that this is what I was doing. The way that I realized it was as follows.

Usually, when he would send me am email of unsolicited advice, I would do one of two things:

(1) I would recognize that the advice pertained pretty well to my situation, thank him for the advice, and proceed to follow it immediately (with or without checking first with the Lord on the matter, or with any other person from whom I stood no real chance of receiving further money).

(2) I would notice that it did not pertain to my situation, be mildly irked, and send out some polite, half-truthful response that kept me on the up-and-up with the Rich Man.

But the Poor Boy could only suppress his true nature so far, and he would finally wind up exploding – as he did on Thursday night. The explosion would contain my truth, as opposed to all the previous bullshit; but since it was an explosion, the explosion itself would immediately become the issue, rather than any truthful content that the explosion would contain. So why was my truth coming out in an explosion, rather than bit by bit along the path? Obviously, because I had been bullshitting him, whether I knew it or not.

Why was I bullshitting him? Partly out of guilt because I figure I owed him (even though he wrote off the debt.) But largely, I was bullshitting him in order to please him, to live by his standards, and not mine.  I did this in the hope that further money would be kicked my way, further down the road. This is what’s known as hypocrisy. So I refused to do it anymore. The easiest way to do so, though perhaps not the best way, is to have announced that while I have appreciated his help, he and I are two essentially different people; and I would not be engaging in the email exchange any further, nor do I wish him to be anything but relieved of all sense of obligation toward assisting me with my personal struggle. That does sound like integrity, though a deeper integrity would have been to persist in the email exchange anyway and just keep arguing with him as long as he was down for it, with or without the ulterior motive of desiring money to be kicked toward the Poor Boy from the Rich Man. (Note the ironic hierarchical twist in my phraseology. One is a Man if one has money and a Boy if he does not.)

I have respectfully bowed out of the email aspect of my longstanding friendship with this man.  I have insisted that he not help me financially in any way any further. This doesn’t mean I might not call him further down the road, or write a letter, or something along those lines. But this daily contact through email, defining an active friendship with a large degree of dysfunction, has been terminated. I’m fine with that. What’s interesting, however, is what has transpired in the two days since I’ve ceased to try to live by his standards, but rather by my own integrity and the timeless biblical foundation in which it is founded.

truthWhat happened is that less than two days later, I spontaneously wrote the first inspired piece pertaining to the homeless experience that I have written since coming to Moscow, with the half-exception of Scene One of the new version of Eden in Babylon. When I wrote “Homeless Tinge,” I thought: “My God! It’s all coming back to me!” As removed as I have been from my homeless identity, that identity was thrust to the forefront as soon as I realized I’d been kissing up to a person who has consistently disavowed any integrity in my embrace of said identity. As soon as I ceased trying to adopt the uninformed values of someone who has no identification with the homeless experience whatsoever, my own homeless identification was reawakened. Then, my friend Jamie wanted to post a couple paragraphs of that piece on her Facebook, “with or without attribution,” which catalyzed the present dialectic. For one thing, it confirmed for me that the writing was strong and that the message is needed. When my voice was subjugated under my wealthy friend’s domination of my personal sovereignty, I’d neglected the message entirely.

This explains my depression. It explains the emptiness I would often feel coming back from Choir rehearsal, feeling that something was definitely wrong, that my chi was clogged, that the life flow had been stunted, that I had been oppressed by arbitrary hierarchical domination based on classist values that I myself abhor. None of that stuff pertains anymore. Now that I have been granted this bill of divorcement, my true vision has once again surfaced. God bless the man; he fulfilled a purpose in God’s scheme, but that doesn’t mean that I owe him any kind of allegiance, to do his bidding thereafter.  I only him love, the same love I owe to all – great or small, rich or poor, close or far.  That I would feel obliged to “kiss up” to him is to my failing and my hurt.  But if I shed that false notion, than I am immediately washed with a balm of painless success.  The man did no wrong; I did wrong by him; I need do no more wrong, to him or another.  My sins are forgiven: I need only sin no more.

But the question remains as to how far I should come out. Do I come out slowly? Leak it out? Talk to Norman first? Or limit this divulgence to the three friends I’ve made at the church? And maybe to Paul and his wife, decent hard-working musicians whom I would be much inclined to trust? Or will that mean it will get around? Do I limit it to my writing only? And to unpublished writing? Basically, I don’t want Jamie to post my decent writing on a needed message without acknowledging its source – that would be extremely self-defeating for me as a Writer, being as anyone who’s read any of my writing at all will tell you that my writing on Homelessness is my strongest work.

I do not have the answer yet, except to express to Jamie that I don’t want the two paragraphs to be quoted without attribution. It’s either with attribution or not at all. But if there’s attribution, then how am I to be identified or contacted? My current public blog, though it deals implicitly with these issues, goes out of its way to conceal the homeless identity every bit as much as did the many compromising conversations that were used to maintain the dysfunctional status quo with my music teacher friend, and the conversations containing the awkward moments that I’ve had with those whom I have attempted to befriend. So if she puts my name there and people wonder “who is Andy Pope?” naturally as a Writer I would want there to be a link to my web site. But my web site suffers in the same manner as do the conversations in my budding friendships. I am telling the truth, but not the whole truth as pertains to the matter at hand. And it shows. And – it hurts.

What is the temptation? Am I tempted toward vainglory? Or, on the other hand, toward cowardice? If I come out, will I give God the glory? Ha – the point is moot. How can I not give him the glory? The risk involve is large enough, and the trial huge enough, that I will need to turn to Him. So turn to Him I will, and turn to Him I do, for in Him may I trust.

A Scripture has been running through my head all day. It says: “redeeming the time, for the days are evil.” Why is that coming up? What does it mean to “redeem the time?” Well, for one thing, it means not to waste time. Yeah – that’s what I’ve been doing – I’ve been wasting time – I could postpone this calling forever – but I mustn’t. So when do I come out? That’s the question – not how far. If I’m going to come out, I’m coming out all the way — none of this half-assed malarkey. But what does all the way mean? Shout it from the house tops? Stand up on top of the fountain at Friendship Square and say: “People of Moscow! I have an announcement to make!” (?) God forbid.

No that’s not where it is – but it’s somewhere. There’s something gnawing at me – hence I have sped the pace of this dialectic. What it is – is this.

When I have gotten depressed, and I’ve felt empty inside, as though spiritually dry, or even spiritually dead, I have almost invariably thought in my heart: “I need to be homeless again. I cannot be a member of the Mainstream of Modern American Life. It no longer works for me.” The wish to find my niche, my home so to speak, is valid; in fact, eternally so, for I am not a part of this world. This is something I’ve sensed internally, as I said, long prior to my deciding to identify as a Christian. But to seek to find my home in Homelessness; that is to say, in the practice of homelessness, is a misdirected application of this wish. My home is in heaven with Christ whether I live indoors or outdoors. So if I am experiencing separation from God in any sense by living indoors, it is not going to be solved by living outdoors. It is to be solved by getting my heart right with God.

In conclusion, my homelessness is not just a past experience, but an actual identity to be embraced.   Whether I live inside our outside, all I really need to do is validate that for myself, within myself, between me and my God. The rest will follow suit.

Given that conclusion, I already have repented. All that “repentance” really means is to change one’s mind. I have changed my mind. Have I changed my mind about living indoors? Not at all. Have I changed my mind about denying my homeless identity? Yes, I have. The only remaining question is when, where, how, and to whom is this information to be divulged. And the only answer I can come up with is that, since obviously it cannot be completely divulged all at once, I have to begin, bit by bit, step by step, to own my identity in some arena other than the Closet of Shame.

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

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I Told Them I was Homeless

I told them I was homeless and they began to discuss my mental health. I told them I was homeless and they began to discuss my alcoholism. I told them I was homeless and they began to discuss my drug problem, asking me which of various drugs was my “drug of choice.” I told them I was homeless and they began to discuss how much of a loser I was, how lazy I am, and how I should “get off my ass.” I told them I was homeless and they told me where the facility was, where the institution was, which program to join, what kind of treatment to get, where the shelter was, where the board and care was, where the halfway house was, and where all the other criminals were. I told them I didn’t become homeless for any of those reasons. But by that time I realized they weren’t listening.

Andy Pope
August 9, 2016
Homeless Villa, USA

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Social Statement

Because I have been recently lamenting a tendency for some readers not to recognize that my posts are generally “social statements” rather than “requests for advice” (if you can possibly grasp that there could even be a relationship between the two), I am entitling this post “Social Statement,”  just in case there’s any doubt about where I’m coming from.  Granted, it’s a lousy title, but let’s begin.

I was blessed last night to spend the night at my pastor’s house on his farm, where I learned that he is also a farmer, and not only a pastor.  It was  great to be out in the beautiful country, away from the city, and away from Friendship Square, if only for a single night.  It was funny, too.

It was funny — because when he invited me to stay the night, my first thought was: “In all the years when I was homeless, when I lived on the streets, how many times did anyone ask me over to stay the night?”

zero

When I was homeless, and I asked somebody if I could stay the night at their house, what was their answer?

no-no

Herein lies the gist of a social statement.  It may not be headed in the exact direction you are suspecting.  My fellow homeless people and I naturally became more and more discouraged the more these statistics accumulated.  But we also naturally asked ourselves, “why” did close friends and family members categorically refuse to let us stay the night at their houses?  Even for one night?   In my case, even when I offered money to let them stay over one night and take a shower  –  or even just take the shower itself – they said “No.”  Why?

Eventually, we all concluded what I am about to describe.  They all knew that we were homeless.  They also knew that we had a number of other problems, but that none of those problems had ever made us homeless.  They had let us stay over when we were total slobs.  They had let me stay over when we were addicted to drugs.  Often, they themselves were addicted to drugs. They had let us stay over, whenever we were passing through, as long as we had not yet lost a place to live.   So why didn’t they let us stay over when we needed a place to stay?

The answer is simple.  All the problems that they had known about had never made us homeless.  Now we were homeless, and they did not know why.  Therefore we must have some problem that they did not know about, and that problem must have made us homeless.  Obviously, they thought, we had somehow screwed up our living situations in some way — otherwise, we wouldn’t have become homeless.  Since that had to be the case, would we not similarly screw up their living situations as well?  Sure we would.  

They were not concerned about our problems of which they were aware — they were concerned about our problems of which they were unaware.  Everyone has a little fear of the unknown, don’t they?  That fear prevented each and every one of them from ever letting us stay at their houses when we needed to.

You can’t imagine how difficult it was for me to call up a very close family member ten days after I had become homeless in 2004, and ask him if I could stay for a while in his spare room, and hear the word “No.”  When I asked him why, he said, “I don’t care to expand.”  Whenever I asked him over the years if he could elaborate, he said: “No.”

Why?  Because he himself did not know the reason.  He was not afraid of what he knew – he was afraid of what he didn’t know.  What he didn’t know was why I had wrecked up my living situation, and he didn’t want to take the risk of my wrecking up his as well.

The simple truth was that in the urban area where I had become homeless, the demand for living situations far exceeds the supply.  When I lost my last rental — for whatever reason — I could not readily get another one — for whatever reason.  I then fell down into the hole called Homelessness — a whole so deep I tried for twelve years to climb my way out of it.

0519d869c2f17b567099948384b9099bf8a86d-wmIf you can imagine the hurt and the pain I felt from hearing my own brother refuse to let me stay in the spare room at his house ten days after I had become homeless, try multiplying that level of pain by fifteen.  One by one, my closest friends and family members told me that I could not stay with them, nor even take a shower at their homes – not even in exchange for money.  So the discouragement that was strong enough, became fifteen times stronger.

Whatever enabled me to become encouraged again?  Encouraged as I still remain today, despite depression, despite mania, despite a medical condition, despite the loss of a job?

The amazing commonality that I shared with my homeless brothers and sisters on the streets of Berkeley, California, almost all of whom were enduring the same indignity as myself, affirmed our common dignity.  Our conversations, over a five year period, eventually lifted my spirit out of that hole, even though there did my body remain.

I’ve since been in touch with a Berkeley social worker.  I asked him how my best friend Lauren was doing, if she was still on the streets, and if her health was holding up.  I broke into tears when I learned that somebody had finally helped her with the initial deposit and last month’s rent, and she was now able to live on her disability in her own apartment somewhere in Southern California.  I have also heard similar stories, all across the board, of homeless people in my tribe pulling out of that gigantic hole, because our spirits had finally become encouraged by the hugeness of our common dignity, so much so that our bodies were soon to follow.

In Lauren’s case, it was her own brother who finally stepped up to the plate.  In my case, it was a retired music teacher who knew what I was made of, and fronted me a one-way to Idaho and enough money for the deposit on an apartment.  But the dramatic lift in spirits is common in all cases.  I went from being homeless on the streets of Berkeley, assuming I was to die a miserable, meaningless death on the streets, to having a job and an apartment in Moscow, Idaho, faster than the twinkle of an eye.

If that’s not an inspiration, I don’t know what it is.  But remember  – it is not just my inspiration; it is the inspiration of hundreds, maybe thousands, of some of the most inspired people on the face of this Earth.  That inspiration can make a difference.  Please,  let us make that difference — before it is too late.

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A New Pair of Glasses

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

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

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

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

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

I did not know the answer then, and I do not know it now. That was twelve years ago. Now is now. You cannot imagine the number of “subtle nuances” that have accumulated in those twelve years. If I became cold when I lived in a house, I turned on the heater. It took me less than one minute.

If I become cold now, I go about town looking for extra layers of clothing outside the good will stores, in the “drop boxes.” and on the ground. And remember – there are about a thousand other homeless people living in this city. Many of them are very much like me, and so many of them are doing the exact same thing. We fight each other over a pair of pants. It can literally take me days to turn coldness into warmth. Sometimes you don’t even bother. You’re starting to become hardened. You’re tired of fighting another homeless person for the only sweatshirt in your size.

This, too, is telling. Homelessness is not about warmth – it’s about coldness. It’s about discovering that your lifelong friends and family members, the very people whom you thought were truly supportive of you, are suddenly very leery of you. They won’t take your truthful statements at face value anymore. They keep looking for the “reason” why you’re homeless, and in so doing completely ignore the obvious fact that you are homeless because you don’t have a home.

So you turn to them for support, just the way you always used to, in the hope that they might help you to find a home, just the way they always used to help you help you deal with a difficult co-worker or help you after the break-up of a relationship. They cannot seem to imagine that all these problems you are having are the result of the conditions of homelessness, and not the cause. They find that while you always used to be noted for your punctuality, you suddenly are showing up late. They correlate this with your increasing instances of absent-mindedness, and conclude that you need a psychiatrist. You know in your heart that as soon as you are no longer homeless, you won’t have these problems anymore, so you start to feel a bit brushed off.

They brush off your need for a place to live by providing answers for all the other problems, while ignoring the fact that these other problems are related to all the “subtle nuances” that distinguish your homeless life from your previous life. You suddenly realize that half of these people you thought were so supportive never really did a damn thing for you at all. Anybody can give advice. It takes somebody who really loves you, to let you in much farther than that. But they’re not letting you in. You thought they loved you. But where is the warmth? Why is your own brother, even having a spare room in his house, forcing you to sleep out in the cold?

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

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

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

“Why isn’t Andy helping himself?”

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

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

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

lost pair of glasses

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The 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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Anything Helps – God Bless!

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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Artist in Babylon

Check this out:

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

Now look at this:

anything-helps

I’m trying to make a point here.   Between Thanksgiving Day of last year and March 4th of this year, I wrote a complete 135-page script to a new musical.   I then naturally proceeded to try and round up singers for a demo for this project, only to find that nobody wanted to work for free.  And what was I to expect?  This music is fancy progressive Broadway show tune material.  Even quick studies would have to put a lot of work into it to make it sound right.   Such talent deserves to be paid.  

So I went about trying to raise funds for this leg of the project: $1000, to be exact.  In the past three months, I have raised exactly $100 – in three donations of $5, $20, and $75 respectively.   I could have raised more than that by flying a sign on the sidewalk.  However, to fly a sign on the sidewalk (aside from being illegal where I live), would be dangerous, as I described in the poem on this post. 

Three months and ten days have past since I finished the script.  I would very much like to move forward with the next leg of this project.  It irks me that money should be my object.  So, if you are person with some wherewithal, and if you believe in my work, please consider making a contribution to this project, so that I can move forward once again.

Just one catch.  Because I am an Artist, and I’m passionate about my themes, I tend to be a little sensitive.   At least glance at the script and give half a listen to my tunes before you make a donation.   I want to receive support from people who believe my project is worth their money.   This project means something to me.  It’s about something I believe in.  It involves a message that is not often heard, if at all, in our society.  So please believe in me before you click on donate.  I don’t want to receive money from people who don’t. 

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

My Choice

I’ve never written a novel before.  All I’ve written so far are a number of plays, some of them musicals, numerous short stories that I lost in a storage unit (unless the English department at U.C.Davis happens to have kept a hold of them, which I doubt), thousands of blog posts and diary entries (for whatever that’s worth), the couple handfuls of poems posted on this web site, and zillions of songs, complete with lyrics everybody seems to rave about and music that nobody likes at all.   Oh – and I also wrote a couple “rock operas” when I was younger, two movements of a flute sonata, and scattered piano preludes.  No first symphony, as of yet.  Typical story of a lifelong burned out starving artist. 

That said, I read the first paragraph of my new novel to the other members of the Palouse Writers Guild this morning.  All of them agreed that if those were the first words that befell their eyes, they would keep on reading without hesitation.   One guy I showed it to later even said he’d probably buy the book right off the bat.   But the problem with all of that is, of course, that there’s no book to buy.  Will there ever be?  Am I capable of writing an entire novel, just because I happened to get off to a good start?

I’ve been advised to barrel out 10,000 words as rapidly as possible, just the way I churned out the first five pages.  But I don’t know that I can.  Or even want to.

nothing-in-the-world-is-worth-havingOr even should.  Since feeling the worst impacts of all the demons that have come storming down my stairwell ever since I finished the script to Eden in Babylon, I wonder what my next course really ought to be.  It is clear that for lack of a definite, disciplined project I have practically let myself be devoured by all the local wolves, and whatever strange poltergeists inhabit my creepy confines in the dead of night, full of trickery and tripe.  But should I really dive head-first into an entire novel, just to hide my head from all the hunger, the hysteria, and the hurt?

Why not just notate my piano-vocal score like a good little musical comedy composer?  It would seem the thing to do, if anyone other than myself is ever to attempt to play such bizarre tunes.

There’s also this third idea hovering over my head, haunting me.  It has to do with the themes that were left hanging when I suddenly dropped the Berkeley project some months ago and dove head-first into my musical script.   Not that this was a bad thing to do, for I did, after all, finish the script.  But as I took from the Berkeley music those songs that seemed most to fit the Eden in Babylon style — the showiest, the most “musical theatre” of them all — I find that what is left is an intriguing set of strains.  The remains seem much less show-tune, less schmaltzy, more seriously operatic in nature, and somewhat other-worldly.

But this causes me to recall the neuro-physiological conditions under which I placed myself in order to conceive of such music; specifically, highly altered states of consciousness.  Somehow I just “heard” the music in those unnatural states of mind.  It fascinated me so much that I promised myself I would orchestrate it all once I “came down” (and once I had regained access to a laptop and a regular power outlet in which to plug it).   So I did that until the thrill wore off.   Yet, on examining the music of Sirens of Hope, and of The Royal Rhapsody, I must admit that the thrill returns. 

So – if I went by what others think I should do, I’d have to say that the other Writers in the guild probably would like to see me follow through with the novel, especially seeing as I got off to such a surprisingly good start.  That would probably also be the easiest and most absorbing thing to do – at least, in terms of generating a very rough, rough draft.  Who wants me to write music?   A bunch of stoners in a flop house who won’t even listen to it anyway.  Nobody ever listens to my music.  It makes me feel like all the huge effort I put into writing it is all for nought.

Now, the arduous task of painstakingly notating my piano-vocal score is something I’ve been avoiding for a good month or more.  Obviously, it’s what I’m supposed to do.  Otherwise, I won’t be able to live with myself.  There it would be, even should I die before my time: a complete piano-vocal score that conceivably some conductor could pick up on, some group of singer-actors sing and act from, and some pianist, other than myself, actually play.  How gratifying.  Worth its weight in gold.

The first chapter of the novel looks good, but knowing me, it would degenerate into mindless pornography before Chapter Three.  I’ve made my choice.  And you know what?  I’ll start tomorrow.  Today’s the Lord’s day and I’ll do my best to rejoice in it — even if it means putting on my headphones and rocking out to the music that no one else will ever hear.

Excerpt from Insomnia

I won’t go back.
At all.
I can’t let my not having a gig right now
Propel me back to homelessness
In a God-forsaken land.

I had all my possessions set on fire before my eyes…
I lost the only remaining CD’s of half my work –
A punk ass kid poured lighter fluid all over my backpack –
Set it on fire when I wasn’t looking –
just because he could.
Destroyed a PowerBook, pair of headphones –

I went to the Berkeley Fellowship in the morning –
thinking there would be compassion.
The lady there literally said: “Aw, so what?”
I went to the church council president.
He said: “Well, how did you expect them to react?”
On the other hand, I called my best friend in Georgia –
And she said (of course): “That’s horrible!”
So why couldn’t anyone in Berkeley have sympathized in kind?

The bottom line is:
Moscow will happen if I make it happen.
My nature works against me.
So I have to work against my nature,
to make things work.

Andy Pope
5/17/17 3:10am
Moscow Idaho USA