Gratitude List 1641

(1) After nearly two weeks of enduring a totally erratic sleeping schedule, I believe I have finally returned to my preferred early-to-rise routine. Already, I am feeling calmer and more confident than I did throughout the week last week.

(2) This also blessed me to see an absolutely gorgeous sunrise, which unfortunately I failed to capture on camera. The sight of it reminded me of new beginnings, and hope for new blessings in the week to come.

(3) Someone left a workstation and an executive chair about a block down the road, with a sign that said “FREE.” As I paled at the task of dragging the items down to my apartment, a kind couple across the way asked if I needed help. The upshot is that I was finally able to replace my large collapsing table with a very nice black workstation, creating more space in the apartment and making me much more comfortable at my new desk.

(4) In the process of excitedly hurling the many items off the previous very messy table, I created such a horrific mess in the living room that I was finally motivated to perform a thorough tidying-up thereof. No doubt I will soon continue this happy trend with the kitchen and bathroom.

(5) Tears of joy put me to peaceful sleep the night before last, after receiving the greatest show of respect I believe I have ever received from a group of people in my entire life. Somehow, a musical I’d almost forgotten I’d written came up during a meeting of my Eden in Babylon team. Noticing that the current team consists of four very fine male singer-actors and three equally talented female performers, I saw how the seven Artists corresponded almost magically to the four male characters and three female characters in The Burden of Eden.

It then was not long before the complete piano-vocal score to that show had been submitted to them, and my team was excitedly going about learning their songs. After years of having my work written off as that of a “crackpot,” I have finally found good people who believe in me. I’m crying now, just thinking about it. It’s almost too good to be true.

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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.

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Tuesday Tuneup 57

Q. What are you doing here?

A. Waking up.

Q. Literally or figuratively?

A. Both.

Q. Aren’t you usually an early riser?

A. Up at 3 this morning.   There’s a chair where I meditate sometimes.  I sat down to meditate, and fell asleep.

Q. Is this a good thing?

A. Sleep?  Generally, yes.  I don’t think we get enough of it.

Q. We?

A. We the People of Today’s Society.   We seem to run ragged on the lack of it, and even glorify ourselves in the process, as though proud of this insanity.

Q. How did we ever get that way?

A. First Industrial Revolution, I suppose.  From there it happened gradually.

Q. What about figuratively?

A. Figuratively?   Refresh my memory.

Q. Aren’t you waking up in some sense other than the literal?

A. Well yeah.   Waking up to some of the harder realities.   Folly in my behavior.   False sense of nobility.   Twisted use of the Golden Rule.  

Q. Twisted?

A. Check it out:

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  — Luke 6:35

Q. How did you twist that rule?

A. How do ya think?

Q. Did you expect something in return?

A. Yeah.   I didn’t think I did at the time, but I did.  When I was homeless, I expected compassion from people who lived indoors.  That was a pretty unwieldy expectation.  It set me up for a lot of disappointment.   Then when I lived indoors, I expected respect from those who were homeless.  That didn’t happen either.

Q. But the passage refers to loving your enemies.   Who, then, were your enemies?

A. That’s a loaded question.   For a long time, my enemies were just about anybody who slept in a bed, and who wouldn’t let me inside their front door, even for a half hour to take a needed shower, even when offered money in return.

Q. And how did you try to love these enemies?

A. By appealing to them.   By making them more important than my friends.   By trying to state my case, very respectfully, as to why they should let me inside their front doors.  By advising them how great their rewards would be in heaven if they did so.

Q. And who were your friends?

A. Homeless people.   People in the same boat.   People who knew how hard it was to be out there — not just being rained on — that wasn’t one tenth of it.   It was being stormed on — by people.   By condescending social workers, treating us as though we were good-for-nothing, incompetent nobodies.   By cops, security guards, business owners, property owners — and worst of all, other homeless people.   It was this indignity, this demeaning demoralizing crap, crammed into our heads, day after day, year after year — this idea that we were somehow worse than other human beings — if indeed, we were even regarded as human at all.  Much of the time, we were regarded rather as inanimate objects to be stepped around and shouted over, whilst we tried unsuccessfully to get our good night’s sleeps.  

Q. Go on.

A. I remember my one friend Jerome — a big black guy.   He and D’Angelo, another big black guy, they kinda protected me.   We slept in a big vacant lot.   I had my laptop.  If someone wanted to steal it, they’d have to get past these two big guys.  So I wasn’t so easy a mark.

Q. What about Jerome?

A. He would say to me — “Andy, if you ever get lucky enough to get inside again, you’re not going to be one of those guys who never lets us inside your house, are you?”

Q. What was your answer?

A. My answer was: “No!  Of course not!   I know what it’s like out here — I could never do that to any of you.”

Q. Then what?

A. Then I got inside.

Q. And you didn’t let them in?

A. I was thousands of miles away.  And light years away in culture.   I couldn’t let them in, so I let other homeless people in.   Homeless people, and people who were on the verge of homelessness.  

Q. And what happened?

A. Every single one of them took a gigantic dump on my good nature.   

Q. How so?

A. It pains me to go into detail.   I made house rules.   No alcohol in my house.   No cigarettes, no overnight guests, no sex.   Lights out at ten.   

Q. And they disobeyed your rules?

A.  Yes.  They dishonored my graciousness.   So you know what that means?   I expected something in return.  I expected appreciation.   I expected respect.    So where was the Golden Rule then?

Q. Aren’t you being a little —

A. Hard on myself?  Don’t even go there.   Yes, Jesus said to feed the hungry, to help the needy, and to take in the homeless.  He didn’t say that after I take in the homeless, I’m supposed to put up with them trashing my place and stealing from me.   How the hell is that helping anybody?   In fact, maybe it’s not about the Golden Rule.  It’s about not being a doormat, a masochist.   Not making oneself completely useless in a failed effort to help another.   Check it out, the very next verse:

“Be merciful, as your father in heaven is merciful.”  — Luke 6:36

Q. Is that what you were trying to do?   Be merciful?

A. Yeah, but I forgot something.   I’m one of the people I’m supposed to be merciful towards.

Q. So what about nobility?   

A. The sense of nobility, of ideals —  totally false.   A sham.   Nothing more than masochistic hypocrisy — if you can even imagine such a baffling combination.

Q. What would be more noble?

A. Gratitude.

Q. How so?  

A. I wanted them to be grateful.   They were not.   So I became bitter.  But then I thought, well, if I want someone to be grateful, then I myself should be grateful.   You know, Prayer of St. Francis.

Q. Refresh my memory?


A. If nothing else, it’s a great psychological tool.  If I want to be understood, I should understand.   If I want forgiveness, I should forgive.   So if I want gratitude, I should be grateful.

Q. Grateful to whom?

A. To God.   God gave me a nice secluded spot of my own after years of sleeping outdoors.  I had only prayed for a “lock on a door, a window, and a power outlet.”  God knew that was all I needed, and He gave me so much more than that.

Q. And how will you express this gratitude?

A. By being a good steward of this great blessing He has bestowed upon me.   By making it my spiritual sanctuary, my place of my repose, and the place where I accomplish my creative work.

Q. Did the people you let stay with you keep you from doing this?

A. Yes.  But I invited it.   So I could have expected it.   And now I’ve learned from it.

Q. What have you learned?

A. That there was a certain thousand dollars that didn’t come easy.   And now it’s gone.  I will never let anyone through that door again!

Q. Are you embittered? 

A. Perhaps.  But this too shall pass.  Are you but a gadfly?

The Questioner is silent.   

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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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Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

Respect

Things have not been good.  Until yesterday, I didn’t gain any confidence I could even begin a routine such I described in the previous entry, one that would actually facilitate my construction of this piano-vocal score within the next five months.   Since the previous entry, I’ve succeeded only in notating the initial underscore, which is 24 measures of slow nothingness.   Even that was left unfinished because I couldn’t remember how to insert text into a Finale score (cues, etc.) even though I clearly knew how to do it the last time I created a score, back in 2008.

I finally wrote to tech support, being as Finale has discontinued their phone support, and got a lecture in return.  Whoever answered the request objected that it was not a “technical request” – I suppose that means the software wasn’t crashing, or whatever.   I don’t know what other kind of issue it was supposed to be.  All I knew was that I woke up depressed and unmotivated as usual, and that when I saw his impertinent, impetuous response, my depression transformed rapidly into a livid rage.   I won’t quote my first reply, but here is my second:

John –

I apologize for the foul language.  I am an old guy and we do not “flex” as easily as the younger people in this world.   I had somehow expected a direct answer — not a lecture.

Somehow, years ago, when I wrote the score represented on the link below, I knew how to do what I had requested.  Now I *still* don’t know.   Finale, like every other program, keeps changing all its names of commands, and a guy like me just cannot keep *up* with all that.

The Burden of Eden: Full Piano-Vocal Score

As you can see, in those days I knew how to do this.  I did not abuse your support service.  I contact you people as infrequently as possible out of respect for you.  To be treated in turn with total disrespect is what enraged me.

You could have answered my question directly, like you guys would have done when you still had phone support.  You could have shown me some respect.  Now I have to weave my way through a bunch of tutorials until I happen upon the answer that I’d have gotten in five minutes from phone support?  I am not a musical nit-wit, but what I’m telling you is that I am getting old and I have a deadline to meet.   It’s called DEATH and I am trying to get my life’s work done.

If you could please kindly tell where this “expression tool” is to be found on the toolbar, that would be a wonderful start.  After that, please answer my politely well-worded questions, directly.   I repeat, I did not need a lecture, young man — any more than I needed your D— R——— to squeeze $350 out of me on a technicality when I was practically starving to death on the streets.

Composing and arranging music is important to me.  Notating all the music I’ve “written in my head” is important to me, so that other musicians can play it after I die.   I can’t even *think straight” after being blown off the way you just blew me off – much less wrap my mind around finding all these damned new commands for something I could have done on Finale 2008 back in 2008.

Please show some respect next time.  At this rate, I will DIE before I get this musical score notated.   Show some respect for the elderly, and for lifelong dedication to Music, if you please.

Sincerely,

A.P.

Anyway, so that’s where it is,  and here’s my crassly placed request for financial assistance once again: please help if possible.   Damn – I want to get my work done!   Tired of being so broke I can’t think straight!!

But it’s all my fault.  I should never have quit that church gig.  I blew off 33% of my income because I couldn’t handle the disrespect I was getting from those finicky Choir ladies.  It’s some thing I acquired post-50’s in my life.  It comes from having landed on the streets where I had to desensitize myself to the constant flow of disrespect I was receiving from practically everybody in my midst.   Then suddenly, I get a job and a new place to live in a different part of the world, and I’m overjoyed to finally be treated with normal, human respect and dignity.  I got so much work done between July 27, 2016 and March 4, 2017 it isn’t funny.

But since then?  I just can’t get with it, and it’s killing me.  I don’t know if I should even try for the rest of this day.  I should just say, okay, the week failed, I didn’t get it together, I let all the obstacles overwhelm me.  But – daylight’s burning, I’m not going to live forever, I’m an old man, I brought up a daughter and a stepdaughter — or at least tried to.  I just wish I could somehow come to learn from my mistakes, and do the right things in life, but since I can’t — at least, dear Lord, please let me get my work done before I die.