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.

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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 52

Q. What are you doing here?

A. What do you mean, what am I doing here?  I’m here to answer your questions, as best I can.

Q. But didn’t you say you weren’t coming back until October?

A. I changed my mind.

Q. What made you change your mind?

A. There’s much less stress in my life now than there was when I made that decision.

Q. But didn’t you give me your word?

A. I did, yes.

Q. Then why are you breaking your word?

A. Are you really taking this game that seriously?

Q. What makes it a game?

A. Hmm – good question.  I used the word “game” automatically, without really examining it first.

Q. Why do you think you did that?

A. There was a game on my mind.  A game where we used to always give our words, and shake on deals, even though a lot of the times, those deals were broken.

Q. What game was that?

A. Do you really need to know?

Q. Why shouldn’t I know?

A. It’s privileged information.

Q. Am I not privileged?

A. You are not.  And neither am I.

Q. Well, can you give me a clue?  

A. Can we have a guessing game?

Q. Okay.  Where did this game take place?

A. On the streets.

Q. Who did you play it with?

A. A bunch of other people who lived on the streets.

Q. What was the game called?

A. It was called the Game.  Capital G.

Q. How long did you play the Game?

A. Three years.  I began, to be honest, in July 2013.  I stopped in June 2016.

Q. Do you have a photographic memory?

A. I’m not sure.

Q. What did the Game consist of?

A. Interactions with others based on monetary exchanges, supply and demand.

Q. Were you a merchant in the Game?

A. No.  More like a customer.

Q. Why did you stop playing the Game?

A. Because I was no longer interested in the products that were being provided.

Q. Did you then begin to play another game?

A. I did not.  

Q. Why not?

A. Because, as a dear friend once told me, I am not immortal – and life is not a game.

The Questioner is silent.  

Life is Not a Game - Being Effective for God (April 2012)

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How I Got Inside

Attached is a verbatim transcript of the first story I had published in my new column in the new Street Spirit.  My column is called “Homeless No More,” and my story is entitled “How I Got Inside.”  This is based on a blog post called Bigger and Better than the Streets, also written on request of Alastair Boone, the new editor-in-chief of Street Spirit.    However, this version involves signature edits and additions.  As such, it stands on its own.

Note also the illustration provided.  The caption reads: “A drawing of Andy getting on a bus and leaving the Bay Area, soon to be housed elsewhere.”  Outside of being an outstanding illustration in its own rite, the work of one Inti Gonzalez, portions of it are charmingly telling.  Note how the homeless Andy is haggard, with a more unkempt beard, wearing a helmet, carrying a sack on a stick, eagerly boarding the bus for greener pastures.

And then, on his arrival!  Suddenly his beard is trim, his hair short and styled – he’s even wearing a Hawaiian shirt – as he bounds into his pristine new place of residence with a shit-eating grin on his face.  I see “white male privilege” reflected all over, which makes  sense in the context of my having moved to a largely all-White State.  But the white male couldn’t have felt too privileged a few weeks back, flying a sign on a Berkeley city sidewalk all those years.

In any event, here’s the text.  You can see for yourself what I wrote on the subject.

When I was homeless in the San Francisco Bay Area, I relied to a large degree on the moral support of lifelong friends and family who were not. For one reason or another, it was not feasible for any of them to let me stay in their homes for any substantial length of time. Still, they frequently provided me with encouragement, and on occasion sent me money. While I was often upset that nobody was “letting me in,” I nonetheless was dependent on their emotional and financial support in order to endure the ongoing conditions of homelessness.

One of the reasons why I delayed the decision to leave the Bay Area for so long was because I was attached to my support group. I felt that my old friends and family members were just about the only people who knew that I was a competent guy who had landed on the streets as the result of a costly medical misdiagnosis. They were the ones who knew that a mistreated health condition had led to a mental breakdown, as my inability to properly manage a health condition threw me into first-time homelessness at the age of 51. They were the ones who watched in horror, as one by one I lost all my accounts, and could no longer keep up with the high cost of living on the S.F. Bay Area Peninsula. But still, they believed in me, and they did what they could to help me get back on my feet. Of course I needed their support!

The only thing they didn’t do was to let me stay with them. Ironically, to have offered me housing, even temporarily, would have been the only thing that could possibly have helped me to get back on my feet.

But they could not do this. They had their own concerns. Meanwhile, I watched while the sordid conditions of homelessness gradually transformed me from a naïve, overweight singing teacher to a scrawny fraction of my former self. Gradually, I got to be half-crazed from protracted sleep deprivation. Often, I became fully crazed from feeling that I was treated like a sub-human mutant, rather than an equal. Passersby sneered at me in disgust.

In order to cope with this massive sense of ever-increasing dehumanization, I turned at first to marijuana, though I’d smoked no more than twice since the 80’s. Then, during the last three years of my homeless sojourn, I turned to a harder drug. I used speed to desensitize me from the cold—both the physical coldness of temperature, and the spiritual coldness of the condescending mockers in my midst. One by one, my old friends and family members, with rare exception, abandoned me. One of them recently told me: “We were all just waiting to read your obituary.”

Finally, in June of 2016, I picked up my social security check and walked out of the city of Berkeley without saying a word. “If the drugs won’t kill me,” I told myself, “the thugs who dispense them will.”

For a month I wandered the other side of the Bay in search of a permanent answer. But nothing seemed to work. In a shelter, I caught a flu, and was kicked out for that reason. The hospital wouldn’t let me in, because if they let me in, they’d have to let all of us in. I got kicked off of the all-night bus for fear of contaminating the other homeless people, who relied on the all-night bus as a shelter.

In desperation, I got down on my knees. I told the Universe that all I wanted was “a lock on a door, a window, and a power outlet.”

Then I took action. I began googling keywords until I found a place in the Pacific Northwest that rented for only $275/month—something that would easily have gone for $900/month in the Bay Area. It was a tiny room in a converted hotel—but it would do the job. I called an old associate, someone whom I’d worked with long ago when he was a music teacher at a middle school. Hearing my story, he agreed to front me $200 for a one-way Greyhound ticket to a new life. After that, I told my story to the prospective landlord, whom I called while still in San Francisco. To my amazement, he agreed to hold the place for me until I got there.

Forty-eight hours later, I was sleeping in my new room. It had a window, two power outlets, and three locks on the door. Four days after that, I signed a one-year lease. Three weeks later, after years of being considered unemployable in the San Francisco Bay Area, I landed a part-time job as a piano player at a small-town church.

A part of me wishes I had made the decision earlier. It would have spared me the last three years of psychic hell. But had I made the decision earlier, I would have abandoned the bulk of my support group. For me, leaving my support system and moving out of town was what it took to lead me to housing. However, it is a common misconception that the homeless crisis would be solved if homeless people just picked themselves up and moved out of town. This is not always the case, nor is it always readily possible.

I was lucky to have found a sympathetic person who would front me the money for a one-way-ticket to another state and help me with an apartment deposit and a few other odds and ends. Not everybody can find such a benefactor. Also, we cannot deny the obvious fact that I am a white male brimming with the semblance of “white privilege”even while living on the street—if only for the ability to decide to move to a state largely composed of other white people. While I obviously did not possess a whole lot of privilege per se, I looked as though I could conceivably be, or become, a privileged person. Let’s face it: Had I been Black or Hispanic, to show up in a largely white neighborhood would not have worked to my advantage.

So in a way, I had it easy. At the same time, however, I believe that there is a way out for everyone. Though the sheltered world does not know it, homelessness is not the same thing as alcoholism, drug addiction, or incompetence. It’s not the kind of thing where one needs to “change their ways” in order to overcome it. In order to overcome homelessness, what one needs is dignity. We are all created equal; we are all endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are all bigger and better than the streets.

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Homeless in Mayfield: Part Two

This is more-or-less a sequel to the first post in this series, as our hero begins to discover that Mayfield isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Again, please bear in mind that this writing was penned some years ago, when I was still in the frustrating throes of abject homelessness.  As such, it does not reflect my current head-space, so please take my ascerbic tone with a large grain of salt.

Just got swept off my Spot by yet another local city officer, this time a grisly old K-9 cop.  Ironically, this was the first night I had found a decent covering, a thick white quilt. It was at a church where clothing was also deposited. So I got a clean change of clothes, too.

(Of course, curled up in white during the black of night wasn’t the brightest thing a boy could do.  But a cover’s a cover.  Too bad I blew my own.)

Cop seemed uncomfortable. I think he was hoping for a dirt bag. I came across like a decent guy who was down on his luck. Still — he said I had one more night, and then:

Image result for bum control clipart“Move on!”

(Always gets to me when they say that.  As if anywhere else I move to, the same damn thing’s not going to happen again.  And as if it solves anybody’s problem just to keep us sleep-deprived and on our toes all the time.   Oh well — the Leave it to Beaver Fantasy was fun while it lasted.   Guess it’s just yer basic Bum Control here, as everywhere.)

So, any of you 378 so-called “friends” of mine on this here Facebook wanna have me over and argue politics on the real?  I mean — can you bask in the presence of a tortured Artist? Money isn’t coming till the 26th, but until then I’ll freely donate my wit, charm, good looks, talent, charisma, and vision for the hope of humanity in a future age of widespread human liberation.  How ’bout it, peeps?   Anybody down for a crash course in Homeless Enlightenment?

Down to brass tacks: on the 28th I get my SS of $960/mo. and if you want to do this on a trial basis, I’ll pay you $460/month. 1-3 months okay – I want to get my bearings anyway. I don’t smoke,. drink, or use drugs. (Done my fair share.) No pets. Tend to  be absent-minded, but I like my space. Composer. No deadlines to meet. I use software and headphones. No loud music.  I’ll be quiet as a mouse.   Anything else you need to know, just ask.  My only critical requirement is that I will not live in the City of Berkeley.   I repeat: NOT!!

(BTW I will not live in Berkeley because my music is too important for it to be targeted by thugs needing devices to barter for crack cocaine. Four were stolen in a year’s span, two violently, not to mention the punk who poured lighter fluid all over my backpack, an burned down all my possessions before my eyes.  No resentments toward anyone, and I love all of the Kids, but I won’t live forever, and my music notation software is my key to success.)

So let me know. I’m serious. I’ll be spamming my own timeline with every piece I’ve ever written, just waiting for the bowels of somebody’s compassion to come bursting open.  Oh, and by the way, I clean bathrooms too.  The moment your guilt makes you erupt like a volcano, you can count on Andy to sweep the shit off your floor.  

© 2014 by Andy Pope

Also, I’ve so far kept my New Year’s Resolution to post specific things according to a specific theme at specific times on specific days.  In keeping with that concept, I’ll do my best to have a piano piece posted tomorrow.  Don’t expect me to sing, however, as I’m still a bit under the weather.   See ya soon.   

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The Homeless Monologue

This is in response to a Quora question, to the effect of one’s wondering why so many homeless people seem to be talking to themselves quite a bit.  I didn’t contest this perception.  I did my best to explain the phenomenon, and also referenced another writer who had done the same.  

I appreciated the answer of Adora Myers because this is a side not often seen in the homeless equation.

It is true that a person suffering from paranoid schizophrenia will often believe that s(he) is talking with those who are not actually there. It is also true that many schizophrenics, as well as people suffering from severe PTSD and other mental illnesses, are too ill to effectively access treatment, or else they lack privilege which would render treatment more accessible to them. So they wind up on the streets, more-or-less by default. This is a very sad state of affairs.

invisibleHowever, it is also true that people who have become homeless in large urban areas, especially where there is a sizable concentration of other homeless people, will feign or play-act the known symptoms of these mental disorders in order to protect themselves by making themselves more frightening to would-be assailants and thieves.

I know this to be true, because I did it myself. When I was homeless, I walked around a city that contained over a thousand visible homeless people. As I did so, I composed music in my head. This meant playing drums on my pants legs, guitars and keyboards in the air, and singing tell-tale syllabic sounds such as “Bop Bop Bop” in a manner that conceivably could be construed to be obnoxious.  

People frequently told me to “shut the f—k up” but they also had a way of keeping a distance from me. So this “act” worked in my favor.

Incidentally, I would guess that only about 30% of onlookers realized that I was actually a serious musician in the process of composing music. The other 70% shrugged and said, if they knew me by name: “That’s just Andy. He’s one of the local wingnuts.” If they did not know me by name that was reduced to: “Wingnut.”

Of the 30% who perceived I was writing music, I would say that probably 20% of them appreciated what I was doing. The other 10% frequently showed up with smartphones facing me and grim expressions on their faces, giving me the distinct idea they were out to steal my stuff.

So much for life in the Big City. Glad to be indoors — and far away from all that particular noise.

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Anything Helps – God Bless!