As I said before, we all have a story and I both love and respect the story of another no matter where it took that person. This is the story, or part of it, of a jazz musician. I saw this man walking along the street carrying a case which said to me theres an alto sax inside that thing! A tall man dressed rather like one who might be homeless, yet with a certain pride, clothes that could be washed and also carrying a colorful jacket. I thought no more of it but I would at other times see him on the street. I even followed him on one occasion to see if he might be going somewhere to play music, even if on the street.
A couple nights later, I was drawn to the sound of jazz being played on an alto sax. Following the sound I came to the restaurant Prada. There sat my ‘homeless alcoholic’ man providing playing the most beautiful soulful music that comes from a heart and soul that has lived a lot of life, that feels and carries much pain and hurt. I found an empty table directly in front of him and the 3 piece band taking in and absorbing every note I could grab a hold of. There was a guitarist who sang and another musician playing the bongos. I was entranced. At the break Miguel and I spoke briefly. Enough to establish an immediate connection. I could see he was in another space, partially with the assistance of some alcohol. That made not one wit of difference to me! It was his journey and that I respected. I thanked him sincerely for the inspiration he was through his music. Noticing the faces and enthusiastic response of the other folks sent a clear message, one I think that Miguel could very much use. I’m not sure how I stayed awake till 2:00am but music will do that and this music was coursing through my blood the rest of the night.
The next day I was sitting on the steps of a cathedral listening to another younger guy playing his sax for a few pesos when I saw Miguel walking up the street carrying his jacket and sax. Our eyes connected. He came over and sat down next to me and we began talking. He seemed to be living a short distance from his body! I wondered what his story was and if he would have any openness to a conversation leading that way. Gradually, as our conversation continued, the trust began to build. We had a good laugh when I humorously pointed out to him that the liquid in the Coke bottle he was drinking was not Coke! He was well on his way to a measure of verbal and physical instability.
I left for a little while, and when I came back down that street, he was still sitting there working on another small bottle of vodka. We laughed again. The church bell rang and Miguel immediately said ‘that’s a B flat’! Now I couldn’t verify if it was or not, but I was impressed. Maybe Miguel had perfect pitch. He said it so matter of factly. I cracked up. We both cracked up.
I asked him where he was playing that night because I want to come hear him again. He appreciated that someone actually wanted to come hear him play as well as the affirmation and encouragement. The walls came down more. He was counting how many times the tempo changed incorrectly by the young sax player. But he said that was all right. He’s younger and learning. He has the courage to put himself out there and let his mistakes be heard.
Just to be clear, I am not interested in intruding in someone’s life, and change the course of conversation immediately if there is some indication of resistance. My interest is genuine. I see the other person as another family member, a brother, sister, parent, a grandchild. One big, colorful family with incredible variety. I consider that a gift and a blessing to have such an amazing family.
He said he was done with the world and whether or not anyone liked him. He expressed his own hurt through some of his prejudices and, in contrast, that there were those who he felt didn’t like him. I learned that he had formally studied music and the sax in particular for at least 4 years. There was a time when he played the classical music of such greats as Mozart and Beethoven. He knew and had a reverence for such jazz greats as Charley ‘the Bird’ Parker and others whose names he rattled off.
The conversation went to our families. Miguel feels estranged and misunderstood by his 5 siblings. The don’t get along. None of them, and have little or no contact. That was difficult for him even though he professed not to care what they or anyone thought of him. We spoke some about my family and in the process told a few jokes. There was some silence. I turned toward him and noticed him suddenly begin to tear up. He said he felt very sad. He misses his wife who died two years ago. He didn’t say how. The tears flowed freely and at one point let out a gasp and then regained more of a steadiness. He was feeling a bit of embarrassment at this point and apologized for taking so much and putting all the information and emotions onto me. I thanked him for his trust and assured him that I would carry his words in my heart.
He collected himself a bit more and said he was going to go to the other side of the street to play some music and wondered if I would come with him. The trust, the bond deepened. Love this gifted soul. I wondered how he had gradually moved away from the successful track he was on. Thats another part of the story. We didn’t go there. This time.
Miguel and I would find each other in the next days and weeks and continue our conversations about many things.
One evening it suddenly started raining a bit and I was getting rather cold. So I was sitting just inside a cafe looking out the door because I was waiting for a friend to show up to pay back some money. Miguel came striding up the street carrying his sax, gray hair slicked back into a pony tail, full delightful beard. He glanced my way so I waved and he came over. He asked if I had six pesos. Thinking he might want something hot to cut the chill, I asked if I could buy him a coffee. He said, “Brother, I need some liquor!” Well he offers the information that he’s an alcoholic. As he has referred to himself before. I could be an enabler and give Miguel the money. You know what? I did just that.
At 62 he has no interest in giving up his love. He doesn’t have a lot of pleasure in his life, and the liquor is his lover. It felt good to give him the needed money. He was grateful, said he’d be back in a couple minutes, walked down the street and came back with a small bottle in his hand which, as we began to talk, he twisted off the cap and had a taste of his lover.
Miguel then said: “I have a story to tell you.” I said “I’m listening.” He continued by saying that he was with his partner for 11 years. She was from Stockton, California, I believe. You’ll be impressed, he told me. She was a teacher and could quote Shakespeare by memory. Hamlet from cover to cover. A photographic memory. Here in Oaxaca she was teaching young children. It so happened a little girl told her mother that someone touched her private parts. The mother concluded it was the teacher. In a day or two, the mother, another woman and a man came to the classroom and beat Miguel’s partner to a pulp. They said if she didn’t get out of the country they would kill her.
Miguel was quite emotional while telling the story, his eyes brimming with tears, his cheeks wet. His partner returned to San Francisco within the week. Later the mother discovered it was another woman who had touched her daughter inappropriately. A bit late at that point. According to Miguel, he and his partner had a good but not perfect relationship. He called her frequently because he said he loved her and missed her. She had a son living with her. Not Miguel’s. After some period of time, the son one day called Miguel and asked him if he would please not call her anymore. Of course Miguel asked why. The son said because every time he called she would just cry and cry. Also, because of the earlier incident she did not wish to go back to Mexico. Miguel honored the request and carries a great sadness saying he is very alone. The tears continued.
At that point, the person I was waiting for came walking up the street. Miguel said it helps a lot to talk with someone about his sadness and loss. The burden isn’t so heavy. I thanked him for his trust and in turn he thanked me for listening. We hugged and went on our way, him to playing his sax on the street and I to meet my friend coming up the street. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again. I’m on my way to Guatemala. But he will always be in my heart and soul….
Outta Jail Traveling Neo
Meet Neo from Canada. Yesterday I was climbing rocks and exploring Guatape here in Colombia and later while in Central Park having a coffee I had a conversation with Neo. He’s probably in his late 30s and has a fully outfitted bicycle nearby. He seems like an ordinary guy and he had been traveling the world for the past three years as a way of being permitted not to do more time in jail. Well that peaked my interest so I asked more questions.
He told me he had been actively protesting the oil pipeline in a non-violent manner through writing poetry and speaking in the free speech zone in Vancouver. Apparently there is an area in Vancouver where you can go and speak your mind In public. Other places you are not permitted to do so, I understand. Rather nice concept, I think. He had been protesting for some period of time and apparently he was quite outspoken and became well known to the people and the authorities. Apparently they had been tracking him (there often is a bit of truth in paranoia!) for an extended amount of time and finally arrested him on some charge claiming he had a mental disorder. They slapped him in jail for 30 days so he immediately asked if he could call his wife or his attorney. Both were declined. He had no way of getting in contact with his wife and child. I asked if he had been evaluated by a psychiatrist. He said yes and was given a diagnosis of schizophrenia. He asked for a second opinion and said that a second psychiatrist stepped into the room for about 30 seconds and said “definitely schizo.“ So the police department said ‘you just increased your time in jail to 90 days.’
After serving sometime in Jail, he states they were about to put him on a lot of heavy medication which he wanted nothing to do with. So somehow they were able to negotiate that they would release him if he left the country. He’s been traveling the last three years and Now was thinking he might be able to go back to Canada given that time period away.
Neo also said that the police assigned an undercover agent to his wife unbeknownst to her. They begin spending some time together and the undercover agent told her that Neo was dangerous and could kill both her and her child. not sure he got this info. According to Neo he has never been violent in his life. The bottom line is that his wife and the undercover agent eventually got married! Hummm….
He is still writing protest poetry and showed me some of it. He has a unique way of writing short rhyming lines that get right to the point. Rather interesting. He also has a book that is available online free to those who wish to read it.
This was only about a 20 minute conversation and I had to leave because my group was leaving. I would have enjoyed talking with him longer. And learning more of his story. He seemed like a very interesting guy in an interesting situation. I have no idea if what he told me was true, or how much of it was true, but he certainly presents himself well. It’s also true that some types of schizophrenia do not become evident until there is some sort of stress or pressure in a given situation. Early in my career as a psychotherapist I led a number of groups composed of persons diagnosed with different types of schizophrenia. It was very interesting and very much a learning experience. Based on my limited knowledge of schizophrenia and the limit amount of time I spent with Neo, I would say he certainly did not fit that diagnostic category.
I wonder how I would have responded had I been related to in such in a manner based on this information. I certainly see the potential for becoming quite upset and angry and perhaps giving some kind of expression to it, at least vocally, which would do nothing more then serve as evidence to these authorities that I indeed was exhibiting symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. It would be a no-win situation for the powerless. The teacher in this for me is to wonder what I would have done had I been wearing those same shoes. Of course, we don’t know! But it is worth asking the question and doing some self examination.
I’m not forming any opinions about Neo but only sharing the information as he passed it on to me. Found him to be a really interesting guy and enjoyed our conversation a lot. I wish I hadn’t had to leave quite so soon.
Isn’t life fabulous? Full of such variety and so many interesting people. I often wonder what each new day will bring and try to remain open.
David, Medellin Columbia and Deportation
This afternoon I went to the most upscale and probably touristy part of Medellin. It’s called Poblado. Some pretty fancy hotels, upscale restaurants and shops. Even a Starbucks!! I stumbled on, or rumbled on, a Harley Davidson dealership! That made my day! Almost bought one!
As I was walking up one of the streets there was a guy sitting on a bench, slender, about 40, and he began to speak English to me as I was passing. So I stopped momentarily figuring he was asking for money, which actually he was. He said that when he tells most people who walk by and who speak English that he has been deported from the United States, they leave immediately. My response to this is to be intrigued. I want to sit down and hear their story regardless of how much it is true. And curious, I am interested, and hopefully I will gain a bit more understanding and compassion even if I don’t believe them. However, I became very intrigued with his story and sat down and listened to as much of it as he was willing to share. He arrived here last evening from Bogotá and slept on the street. He was deported from the United States for apparently being illegal. Again I cannot vouch for the truth of all he said to me but after being an old guy in this world for a long time and studying human behavior most of my life it becomes a little more evident when somebody is just BSing all the time. There was something authentic about David so I listened carefully and ask some questions. He was living in California with his wife and children. His wife is a US citizen. He was taken to the United States at the age of 10 with his parents who crossed the border at that time illegally and quite easily. That was back in the 70s. Since that time David completed school and found work, paid his taxes, never was on the dole, and contributed to the economy of the great United States of America. He even had a legal residency card. His brothers and sisters were born in the states and they were not deported, at least not yet!
David said that ICE came to his house, knocked on the door and told him he was illegal. They took his legal residency card and put him in detention where he waited for three months until two days ago when he was deported to Bogotá where he had to turn in all his identification and papers to the US Embassy. That means he has no ID. He filled out some papers and the embassy said he could come back in two months and he would be eligible for an ID and possibly have his legal residency reinstated and return to the states. In the meantime, with no ID he’s not been able to do much. His wife cannot even send him money because he needs an ID in order to pick up the money, which is true. I ask him if he had brought money into the country with him and he said, very little, that you were not allowed to bring anything into the country with you. Once he gave his identification and papers to the US Embassy in Bogotá, they very generously told him he was now free to go! Where, what, and how was of no concern to the embassy. At this point he is dependent on other people to do anything. He is from Columbia and says he has family on the coast and needs money for some food, a night in a hostel, and a bus to get to the coast where then he can possibly get some temporary help from his family.
I will admit, I am a bit of a soft touch sometimes for people like this. I may get taken from time to time but I really don’t care. I had a sense that he wasn’t BSing so after further conversation I gave enough money for some food and a place to sleep for the night. He’ll figure out the bus ticket to the coast. And he went down the street and bought food. When I gave him the money I told him, “you know why I am giving you this money but the truth is I don’t care what you do with it. People in my position know that often times, just giving money, it ends up being spent for alcohol. If you want to spend is all on alcohol, that is your prerogative. (There was no alcohol on his breath.) I give it to you because my heart says to give it to you. My responsibility ends there. Your responsibility begins there. Whatever you do, don’t give up. Stay positive. These experiences which often can be devastating are sometimes just the beginning of something great. I want that for you.” With kindness, he said I reminded him of his father. His eyes were glistening. And it wasn’t manipulation or high drama!
He’s got up and asked me if I would stand up too because he wanted to give me a hug. I did and we did. Oddly enough, as I reflect a bit, I feel like perhaps I am the one most blessed in this exchange which was not my thought or intention. Poorer but richer! Strange how these things work sometimes! I am grateful.
For more stories of ‘characters’ pull of the entry ‘Joel, Polio and a Crutch’……