An Interview with Matt Perez

This Wednesday’s audio presentation is an interview with Matt Perez, who is currently playing the part of John James — a street hustler, drug dealer type — in our current workshop of my musical, Eden in Babylon. I know that not all of my followers take the time to listen to these talks, but if you can manage to fit this one in, I think it’s unusually strong. Then, if you feel like backtracking for further info, all six of the interviews have been posted on this playlist.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Tuesday Tuneup 93

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Another Tuesday has begun.

Q. And what will this Tuesday bring?

A. How should I know? It might bring happiness. It might bring sorrow.

Q. How does that differ from any other day?

A. It doesn’t.

Q. But did I ask you about any other day?

A. No, you did not.

Q. Then why don’t you answer my question about today? Isn’t today Tuesday? Why did you generalize? Why did you extrapolate? Why did you just answer about any old day?

A. Wow – you’re certainly firing a lot of questions at me!

Q. Isn’t that my job?

A. I imagine so. But in this case, the rapid-fire is a bit overwhelming.

Q. Rapid fire? Am I firing at you? As though I intend to harm you? Do you see me as an enemy? An adversary?

A. You might well be.

Q. Why would that be? Why?

A. Well – think about it. If one is trying to be confident in what one does, and another person is questioning them constantly, wouldn’t that undermine their confidence?

Q. Are you suggesting that my role is to undermine your confidence?

A. Uh — er — not exactly. At least, not all the time. You seem to — um — wear different hats, and —

Q. Why are you hemming and hawing?

A. I wasn’t aware that I —

Q. Do you think you can pull the wool over my eyes?

A. Well, I haven’t really thought of it in those terms, although —

Q. Although what? Why are you beating around the bush? What are you really trying to say? Why don’t you just come out with it?

A. I — uh — er — am — um —

Q. I uh er am um? What on earth is that supposed to mean?

A. I — uh — er — am feeling a bit intimidated at the moment.

Q. Intimidated? Why in heaven’s name should you feel intimidated? Am I not the most harmless character you’ve ever run across?

A. I can’t say that you have ever harmed me physically, no.

Q. Are you suggesting I have harmed you psychologically?

A. Let’s just say you’ve sometimes shaken me up a bit.

Q. Am I shaking you up right now? Am I?

A. As a matter of fact, you are. And you’re reminding me of someone.

Q. Who?

A. About five years ago, there was a man who shook me up on the streets. He was a very aggressive man. He would not take “no” for an answer. Always trying to sell me marijuana. I would tell him I had no money. But he would insist I could pay him later. I would tell him I wasn’t interested. I would say this and that, but kept on insisting.

He was a very strange man. He kept a King James Bible on the dashboard of his car, and showed up regularly at the Bible Study. At first, I assumed he was a devout Christian. But as I got to know him, I realized his Christian veneer was but a cover. The King James was merely a good luck charm, and he attended the Bible Study largely to find customers to whom to peddle his marijuana. That, and to schmooze with attractive Christian women.

Q. Why didn’t they kick him out of the Bible Study? Isn’t such behavior ungodly?

A. This was in Berkeley — a city noted for tolerating what it shouldn’t, and not tolerating what it should.

Q. Should you have tolerated that guy?

A. Well, I should have put up with him. But I shouldn’t have caved in to his conniving nature.

Q. How did you cave in?

A. By not saying “no.” The easiest thing to do was to accept the marijuana and tell him I’d pay him later. That way I could finally get rid of him.

Q. Do you have trouble saying “no?” I mean, in general?

A. Yes.

Q. So why did he shake you up?

A. Obviously, he shook me up when I failed to pay him.

Q. Are you saying you smoked the marijuana, but did not pay him?

A. If I recall correctly, the last time he did this, I instantly gave it all away to people more interested in smoking it.

Q. You’re not interested in smoking marijuana?

A. Not really, no. At times I have been, but not in recent times. And not back then, either.

Q. How much did you owe him?

A. In that case, $120. Earlier though, I only owed him $20. And that was when he shook me up.

Q. He shook you up over twenty dollars? Why would he do such a thing?

A. Probably because he felt disrespected.

Q. How did he shake you up? What did he do to you?

A. He saw me walking down the sidewalk in his direction, took off his jacket, glared at me, and hit me on the right shoulder with one hand, on the left side of my waist with the other. Then he walked off, pointing back at me, and admonishing me: “Don’t f—k with me!!”

Q. Were you hurt?

A. Not at all. Just a little shook up.

Q. So how do I remind of you of that guy?

A. It’s your aggression. Granted, you’re not always this aggressive. But neither was he. On some days, I find you more annoying than others. This particular Tuesday, your level of annoying aggression approaches that of the aforementioned adversarial entity.

Q. Entity?

A Well — I would have said “asshole” to complete the alliteration, but I don’t like to cuss.

Q. Why do you think I’m being so aggressive? And why have you thought about that fellow?

A. Not sure. Maybe it has to do with the letter I got in the mail recently.

Q. The letter from Mike?

A. Yeah. I took his good will at face value. I wrote back, and even left a return address.

Q. And you’re suggesting that Mike might not be trusted with your address?

A. Well, I usually don’t give it out to anyone. I don’t even let people in my home community know where I live. But the content of Mike’s letter warmed my heart. So I made an exception.

Q. Do you feel that you might have “caved in” to Mike?

A. Interesting question. I feel that I trusted Mike. But I also feel that the trust, in this case, was a risk.

Q. Why?

A. Because I like my anonymity. I like to be reclusive. I’m an Artist — I like to create. And I don’t like people to mess with me. I prefer that no one knock on my door.

Q. Did you get messed with on the streets?

A. Yeah. They were always messing with me. It interfered with my desire to produce my Art.

Q. Are you afraid that this guy might come up and mess with you?

A. Which guy? Do you mean Mike?

Q. No – no – the dealer. The guy who shook you up.

A. Now that you mention it, yes.

Q. Isn’t that highly unlikely? Don’t you live about a thousand miles away from him?

A. I do, but so what? Many things happen that are unlikely.

Q. Do you still owe him money?

A. It’s not about owing or not owing. It’s about respect. That’s what the streets are all about. When someone feels disrespected, they being to plot vengeance against those who have disrespected them.

Q. But wasn’t that about five years ago?

A. Ah – but in those five years, nothing has changed.

Q. Do you respect that guy?

A. I’ve given him no reason to believe that I respect him.

Q. Do you respect me?

Pause.

A. Yes, I do.

Q. Even though I remind you of that guy?

A. Yes.

Q. Why?

A. Because you’re another story. And because this life, where you and I have engaged, and where my Art has been produced, is not like street life. The Old Story has passed. We’re all living in a New Story.

The Questioner is silent.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Classism, Stigma, and Addiction

Statistics often point to the large percentage of homeless people who are drug addicts.  Recently, I read the figure “26%” in such a context.  That would mean that about one out of every four homeless people is a drug addict.

I don’t doubt that this statistic might be true.  But do you ever hear anybody asking what percentage of upper middle class and wealthy people are drug addicts?   Of course not.  Why would anybody even bother trying to find out?  

This is sheer classism.   I have associated with lots of hard-working people whom I would consider to be “industrious rich,” and you wouldn’t believe the level of legally sanctioned drug dependency that runs rampant in their circles.  Addictive medications such adderol and ritalin, ostensibly prescribed for “Adult ADHD,” are essentially used as high-power wake-up drugs.  It is also not uncommon to see klonopin and ativan used as tranquilizers or as “come down drugs” to ensure sleep after a long hard day.  Pills are routinely popped, often publicly, in an overt effort to manage the stress of an insanely fast-paced life.   

When I was an itinerant music teacher in cities like Burlingame, Foster City, and Menlo Park, almost every person I worked with openly proclaimed that they were using psychiatric drugs.   In fact, they would refer to their psychiatrists as “dope dealers” in a colloquial way.   Often, the doctor had no knowledge whatsoever of their issues.  His or her only role was to dish out drugs.   Less talked about, but just as prevalent, was the usage of marijuana.  I certainly found no fewer “stoners” among the upper middle class than I did among those who struggled to keep their sanity on the streets.

rich cocaine addictsThis says nothing about the “idle rich” — people who are rich by inheritance and may never have done a lick of work in their lives.   They have so much time on their hands, and so much money, that many of them become addicted to heroin and cocaine — and they buy top grade.

The idea that there are more drug addicts among people who have lost their homes than there are among people who live in big huge mansions is simply a lie.  There are plenty of practicing drug addicts among those with privilege.  It’s just that they’re so rich, they’re not at risk of losing their homes over it, unlike the other 99%.  The only difference between the homeless drug addict and the wealthy one, is that one has lost his privilege.  The other one never will, no matter what he does.

And here’s another thing that bugs me.  If a homeless person is on drugs, it is often assumed that his drug problem caused his homelessness.    This is another lie.  Why cannot people understand that in many cases, the homelessness came first, and the drugs further on down the road?

This is sheer stigma.  Sure, if a person is working poor or lower middle class, and that person develops a drug problem, they are likely to lose everything and land on the streets.   But the overall conditions of homelessness could easily drive a person to drugs who had previously been living a completely sober life.

I know a certain fellow who became homeless pretty darned fast due to a first-time manic episode.  Suddenly, this man was thrust from an insular world of parents, principals, teachers, and elementary school students into a world where all kinds of drug dealers were roaming the streets.  Here is a typical conversation that he would have with a drug dealer:

“Hey!  You good?”

“What do you mean, am I good?”

“You good!   Do you need anything?”

“Need any what?”

“Never mind.”

Four years down the road of homelessness, the conversation looks a little different:

“Darn, it’s cold, and I don’t even have a blanket.”

“Go up to People’s Park and steal one.”

“I don’t want to be a thief.”

“You’re gonna freeze your buns off.”

“Yeah, I know, it’s scary.”

“Well, I got something that will keep you warm all night.”

“Yeah?  What’s that?”

“This.”

And if anybody were to question that there are proportionately as many drug addicts among the 1% as there are among the 99%, I doubt I would even dignify such a question with an answer.  

There is nothing about having a lot of money that makes a person superior to one who does not.  Rich or poor, the Lord God made them all.  But try telling that to some of the more sheltered of the wealthy.   Half of those guys are so out of touch, they don’t even know the meaning of the word “rich.”

I know one thing for sure, though.  Once they learn the meaning of the word “respect,” we’re all going to be a lot better off.

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