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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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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Anything Helps – God Bless!

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!

 

Scarlet Letter

I’ve been having a lot of emotional problems, largely related to my inability to move forward with my work.

The computer I’m using now only has a single 1.4ghz processor, insufficient to handle Finale orchestrating without frequent crashes.  I ordered a decent computer from Rakuten with a dual core 2.7ghz processor, but it arrived with a broken sound card.

This, on top of numerous setbacks, threw me into a livid rage that lasted most of the night.  I finally got it sent back to them with the assurance of a full refund.  My friend Danielle handled the phone calls for me, which she did very masterfully, being as I was too afraid of flying off the handle at the time.

Although it has seemed to me that having left my job and winding up in much greater financial need has been at the root of the problems that have kept me from moving forward with my project, it would be odious of me to request assistance at this time.  I am too depressed by now to move forward, and the greater issue has become my mental health.   And nobody can help me with that but God.  I have a stack of unpayable bills for therapy higher than my ceiling – I only pray they don’t go into collections.

I won’t be posting in the future until things are brighter.  Maybe that won’t be as far away from now as I think.  People at my church have been very supportive, and they still seem to like me at the Bagel Shop downstairs. But otherwise, I have been walking around this small college community visibly perturbed, using wild arm gestures (as is well-documented in other cities where I have attempted to live), talking to myself, and attracting the attention of the local cops.  I don’t drive, so this behavior is particularly conspicuous.  But I need to work off all this steam somehow, and sitting cooped up in my room isn’t doing the trick.

0559918bce9b1ca7cdcf70aadc4361baI feel as though there is a Scarlet Letter on my forehead.  It will be very difficult for me to make any further Artistic progress in this environment.  My fit of rage at the cafe yesterday was quite visible, when I thought I was all set to start notating the score again, only to find the headphones suddenly non-functional.  I threw them away, unfortunately, and only later discerned it was the sound card.

I strapped myself for the month on food, rent, and computer.   I really hope I get the refund, even though I might use it to leave town.  I need to find a place that will be as supportive of my artistic endeavors as this place used to be, before everybody began to ostracize and condemn me, over things they do not understand.  I regret having opened up to so many new people to begin with, when I was only looking for a quiet life.

I had no idea how narrow-minded and conservative this so-called liberal progressive community has turned out to be.  My daughter has suggested a quiet community of Artists on the Washington Coast where she spent some time as a little girl with her mother, and of which she has fond memories.  That might be a better place for me to show up with my music notation software.   But right now, until my technical issues are resolved, unfortunately I cannot write a note.

I truly am sorry about all this.  I hope things get better from here.

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

Six O’Clock and All’s Well

There are a number of unpublished and/or recently deleted posts sitting in a folder on my desktop.  I could at any moment publish any number of such posts, but I disdain because I don’t want to be perceived as vomiting on my readers.   However, I do think I ought to make some kind of communicative statement as to why these as-yet-unpublished or no-longer-published posts exist.

Recently, I gave up writing in an online diary I have kept, in one form or another, since 2002, almost fifteen years to this day.  When I began the online diary, I had only been online for about three years.  The Internet was still new and fascinating to me.  I ran across a site called DiaryLand, where I quickly observed that people were actually publicizing all the details of their inner daily weirdness.  This intrigued me.  In some cases, they would code-name the true identities of people and places in their lives, so as not to be “found out.”  In other cases, they would utilize the option to “lock” the diary, and have it be password-protected.  That way, one could be more lenient about their location and the basic first names of their associates, but the readership would be restricted only to those who could be trusted with the information. 

rantEventually, I opted for the latter.  At the time that I left the diary site, approximately one month ago, there were only five readers with permissions to read my diary.  I was pretty sure I trusted them all — but that was no longer the critical issue.  The issue became my dependency on the diary, and in particular, on the dubious practice of letting off steam or “ranting” whenever I felt a need to work through my frustrations.   While it might have been healthy to “rant” in the short-term, it seemed actually to further my anger issues in the long run.  I basically had become addicted to letting off steam.  In other words, my online temper, through the medium of this online diary, took on a form that was much more furious than whatever temper I might have actually been displaying in real life.  Many times, I showed not the slightest bit of real-life irritation while I proceeded to rage online over how badly I wanted to give somebody a piece of my mind.  In fact, it started to feel as though the diary had become the venue where fits of temper could be safely and legitimately performed.   Still, it seemed a performance of questionable box-office value, if you ask me.

It wasn’t just the ranting that eventually got to me.  It was the hyperbole — all the dramatizing I would apply to the details of my life.   It seemed I had an Artist’s need to make the situation somehow more engaging, more compelling to a readership than a mere, dry diary could ever possibly be.   So naturally, I asked myself why I should not apply all those devices to my real writing?   It just seemed I was barking up the wrong tree.

Because the Internet was fresh and exciting in the year 2002, I jumped right onto the online-diary bandwagon, at a time when the word “blog” was almost unknown in the common nomenclature.   The online diary did shape my attitude toward blogging, but I would never have gone for it if it had arisen in my life today.  It was the novelty of the Internet that was at the core of its appeal.   Because I understand this now, I am able to keep my commitment not to return to the site, no matter how addictive I found it to be.  The Internet is simply no longer a “novelty,” and so a decision I made on that basis no longer applies.

This has, however, left a void.  So, if you have found that I am posting a bit more often than usual, know that I’m in the process of trying to fill a void.  This might also cause some of my posts to be more personal than earlier.  Be that as it may.   I found that when I wrote on DiaryLand about my creative work, very few people responded favorably.   People mainly wanted to hear things more along the lines with of my crush on the lady cab driver, which bills I was postponing paying for what reasons, or how much progress I was making not trying to scratch the scab off the top of my head.   I do miss discussing such mundane topics – but as they say, there’s a time and a place for everything.   It just seemed like – it wasn’t the time or the place any longer.  It was only an old habit — dying hard, as do they all.

Ah well – I’m about to attend somebody’s graduation party.  I did manage to engage the interest in the young woman Aubrey whom I mentioned may be singing on my demo.  I also forged ahead to Version 2-M of my Long Version, before I realized that it had basically peaked on Version 1-Z, the presently posted rendition.   I feel like I’m moving a bit too slow — on this demo project, and everything else.  There’s too much precognition going on, and not enough action.  This makes me restless.  But otherwise, it’s six o’clock on a Sunday evening in the city of my dreams – and all’s well.