Ah, the Staunton Lick, a beautiful little roll into my working mode. Gotta love it when just the perfect song plays at just the perfect time. I sometimes suspect Pandora of mind reading.
Last night I had an evening so full of beauty and magic that I became certain at points that I could either predict the future or control reality. It can be hard to tell the difference between the two of those. It was the kind of night that serves to remind us that an open heart, an open mind, and following instinct will always lead us true. And it started with a joyful fella named “Deaf Tony”
Deaf Tony came into my place of work towards the end of my shift. It had been a long shift, I’d been ignored, bullied, and outright insulted by people who had no suspicion that their words could even affect another human being. Or they simply didn’t care. I’m going to pretend the former, helps to quiet the voice chanting “Kill all Humans”. There had been a long period of silence, sparsely broken up by people who bee-lined their way past my focus and to the register. I’d essentially given up on trying to interact with anyone that didn’t initiate the experience. That’s when Deaf Tony showed up. He’s an older fellow, old enough to have gone deaf in the war but I couldn’t tell you for sure which war it had been. He wore an oversized red t-shirt and black sunglasses, despite the fact that the hard light of the sun had dipped behind the mountainous peaks of building that formed the valley in which I work long ago. His hair was white and wild. His voice had the excited tempo of water coming from a hose that was being pinched and unpinched by a mischievous child. He entered the room and exclaimed with joy that this was the exact place he’d been searching for all day. He began to tell me, the gentleman at the register and anyone else who’d care to listen how he’d been all over our little world all day just trying to find me. He’d heard that there was another grey, wild haired, old man that he could speak with and have a particularly magical experience. I looked up from my work to listen to him, he spoke of his pilgrimage with such gusto that it was enchanting. Once he’d explained he’d set out at the beginning of his day to speak with me, I felt it only fair to given him my complete attention. He is a war veteran, after all. We began to chat and he was so delighted to hear words simply come from my mouth, words that acknowledged him and developed as best they could on the ideas he presented. He could hardly let me finish before he’d begun to respond. We connected over both being grouchy and hard of hearing. It was near impossible to keep from smiling and bursting with joy, his enthusiasm so infectious. Our exchange was short but it touched us both. He says he’ll return the following day to chat again, if I have the time. Such a polite man, so humble, yet indomitable. I happily thanked him and wished him farewell. I don’t know who I’ll be tomorrow but I do so hope that the next time I see Deaf Tony, I can recognize him and we can have another chat.
My mom tells a story of meeting Jesus. When she was younger, before she’d even met my father, she went on spring break with some friends. When her car broke down in Virginia Beach, they abandoned her there with the dead car. She sat, distraught, alone at a dinner when an older man approached her and asked what was wrong. She relayed her story to him and he offered to help. She told him she had no money to give for help and he said that wouldn’t be necessary. Her instinct told her to trust him. He helped get her car to a shop. He paid for the work to be done and dinner. When she was ready to hit the road he wished her well and went on his way. She says the feeling of trustworthiness he gave off was calming. His genuine kindness is what she’d imagined it to be like in the presence of The Christ. And I imagine he was. I think there is a Christ or Messiah born into every generation, one who’s trials and fortune align them to be able to understand and act out the divine truth. I think we each have the capacity to be a christ, we each have the ability to be the Word or Voice. We can all tap into that innate power to speak the word of peace and love through our actions. We can each chose to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. I imagine the spirit that filled that man who helped my mother was in Deaf Tony as well, and I hope he felt it in me.
Later that night, I set out on to the city with Jack and our friend, Tex. We were off to see the Magic play. Tex’s girlfriend was dancing as an NBA cheerleader for the first time that game and it was to be a terribly exciting time. It began with getting lost as fuck. Which is fine by me because I am more than happy to sit in the back seat and pretend I’m a queen in my carriage, with my warrior king and one of his knights sitting forward in control of the vehicle. We found the destination well enough, it’s a giant art-deco warehouse looking building covered in screens that illuminate the night sky and bright flashing and strobing lights. It’s what gathers the moths to the flame. The difficulty was in finding somewhere to leave the vehicle. We were fully prepared to pay 20 dollars to park the car in the concrete complex that would bottle next at the end of the night. Funny how convenience often ends up being expensive and frustrating, isn’t it? That was full up though. So we drove around a few blocks this way, a few blocks that way and eventually found a spot not too far away for a decent 10 dollars. We piled out of the car and begin to make our way toward the arena.
Now, this is all going to sound very prejudice but I want you to stay with me. Listen to the whole story, and not just the parts that offend you. This is an example of growth, something we are all capable of. So I get particularly nervous around street people. Poor people. People working in the lowest rungs of the service industry. Are they frequently black? Yes, but you give me a choice between a homeless white guy and a homeless black guy I’m going to be equally uncomfortable about both. Money is the great equalizer and when you are at either the highest peak of those who have or at the bottom of the ocean of the have not’s, the pressure of the world all around you, that concentration is all that matters. Either you have money, or you don’t. You’re either full and sleepy or starved and desperate. Nothing else matters, not how you look, what’s your gender, who do you fuck or what is the color of your skin. In an democracy we value the character of a person, but in a economy we value the value of a person’s bank account. And that is the true nature of the two party system that we live under, it’s a choice between democracy and capitalism. You can vote for whoever you like, and maybe the one that tips the scales in your favor gets in power, but until we vote to restore power to all people, it will always be a fight between the rich and the poor. Us in the middle? We’re just getting tossed around, getting thrown about and fighting to just stay afloat. We succumb to the fears we get taught, we fall for the brainwashing we self impose. And it will never truly matter if we don’t have a leader we can all follow. Have you ever been to a festival or large busy park with a big group of people and you have to spend the day shoving through other large groups of people and then some people want to go do something else and there are others who disagree and so the suggestion is made to split up, but then when we get down to the details of where we’re going to meet, how long the group that leaves will be gone, who’s going to go, who’s going to stay, who’s going to go only if someone comes with them, who can’t be bother to care what anyone else wants to do, who is mad because they didn’t want to argue about this in the first place. That’s what it’s like in the middle class, we’re just fighting and bickering, all wanting to get somewhere, mad there’s obstacles to where we want to go, and just ready to fight or give up and do whatever everyone else want to do just to get it over with. The solution comes in the form of leaders, standing up for the needs of their groups, agreeing and being hospitable to the others so we can all make a plan and meet back up to continue celebrating life. Until then, kids, we’re the mice constantly bickering over who gets the crumbs, so much so that we don’t notice that the fat rats made away with the whole cake. Those who get no crumbs at all, if they’re smart enough to recognize it, come together to cooperate in order to survive. It’s a savage jungle we live in, and it’s about high time for those of us who can see above the trees to take a look, I think we might be in the wrong jungle.
…Anyway, I get nervous around the poor because fear uses my vulnerabilities. And my vulnerability is letting my guard down. I am fearful that I’ll fall victim to pickpocket or scammer. I fear their hunger will have made them mad, made them starving dogs, coming at me with foaming mouths and glistening fangs. I fear if I am taken advantage of, I’ll be seen as incapable of protecting myself, unprepared to take a strong defense an attacker. I fear rape. I fear men driven savage by lust and drug. I fear looking into the eyes of someone desperately in need and find myself frozen with fear, unknowing what choice to make. I fear being charitable because I don’t want to risk helping someone in need for the sake of not being gullible. I fear giving. I fear giving because I fear getting my trust broken. Simply put, I fear trusting.
So, as I felt apprehension creep up my neck I actively chose to relax. I engaged my creative powers to connect with the people I saw, actually taking a second to smile at someone and observe them. To put myself in their world. I certainly understand the feeling of emptiness and longing that can occur when you try to make eye contact with someone and they refuse to even acknowledge you. I imagined how their night was going; it was later out and the weather was a classic crisp, comfortable autumn night, the kind that reminds you of what makes one love Florida in the first place. The kind of nights we used to get more of when it wasn’t so damn hot all the time. I imagined that, since it was later and most people were already in the arena, the people working the parking lots of downtown Orlando were really having a night of it. I imagined them laughing and jarring with each other. One lot blasted out fantastic funk music. I smiled and gave genuine greetings to them all. I felt good about this, I was having a private victory that I had chosen to be pleasant and hopefully I might have even brightened someone’s night. Then I began to do this stupid thing I do to myself, soon as I start to feel good about something, I continue to daydream and come up with all these wonderfully depressing or horrifying ways to feel bad about being nice to people. I imagined having offended someone who mistook my greetings for arrogance. I imagined that I hurt the man who looked up with sad hungry eyes, and I said good evening to him, without even letting him ask for change. I completely destroyed my own private victory party by picking apart my accomplishment, belittling all the ways I could have done better in the situation. I think I do this because I have misunderstood being humble to not feeling good about victories, private or public. I understand the homeless problem in Orlando is far more complex than white people learning to feel good about being nice to other people, but fuck it’s a start at least.
I don’t remember if I consciously decided to end the string of thoughts or if Jack felt my mood change and distracted me from my own internal flogging, but my mind drifted from the debate of right and wrong, and began to daydream that King Jack and Sir Tex were now escorting their royal highness into the colosseum of some neighboring kingdom’s gladiatorial event. In disguise, none less. We were coming in during the 4th quarter at this point, and were joking about how there wouldn’t be anyone to take tickets. We checked the score to see about how much longer the game was supposed to go. I announced “Wouldn’t it be nice of them to tie and go into overtime and then win?” The Magic were already up but I felt that was safe enough to not jinx the game.
The amount of light in that building is staggering. I’d imagine that the retro Sci Fi idea that everything in the future will be constantly glowing and wrapped in white light came from set designers who looked into today’s times with a crystal ball and the bright curved world they saw in that blurry and distorted image of what is mundane to us is how they interpreted the future. There was a formality to the ushers and ticket takers that was akin to attending the theater. The professional smiles and tailored courtesy. I could imagine them all in bellhop suits. To a foreign queen of a wild land, the appearance was that of slavery. Or that of a population in glut, inventing jobs for people because people needed jobs. Still, it was very pleasant to have people to cheerfully point us in the direction we needed.
We came into the arena’s main room, the stadium itself. We took our seats, up high on level five. The room was dense with wildlife of all sorts. A sea of blue and white and black and red. Music and noise filled the air almost textually. The jumbo tron hung in the center, like a dazzling chandelier. We made our way to our seats, settled and began to take it all in. The boys spied down to ascertain where our friend on the court was. I took out my notebook and began to jot down observations. It was only a few minutes that we’d been there when The Heat tightened up the score. Still a few minutes to go, the energy of the crowd verged on tense and excited. And there is was, the tie. The two teams sat at dead even in the score. We laughed at the fantasticness of it all. The rest of the game was riveting. I found myself glued, eyes to the ball, catching my breath and then releasing gently as if I could control the ball that way. They went back and forth, control changed, mistakes were made, but in the end, the Magic were the winners. Oh and how good it felt to be in a crowd of happy, hometown winners. Earlier in the game, they were exciting themselves into frenzy by getting rowdy for the jumbotron cameras. I found myself overwhelmed by the joy I felt in that room, seeing people having spontaneous moments of fame. It was truly beautiful. Orlando is a city often at odds with itself. Not many of us grew up here, we’re all sort of just floating through. Some stay longer than others, some say they don’t intend to stay, even though they’ve been here longest of all, some have different perspectives on how things should work, some are offended by the way others choose to live their lives. We are a city of opinions. We are a city of competitors. We are a city of warring tribes who just want their place in the sun to shine. Their share from the drinking hole. We are a city that worships money and we each have our price. We can’t understand why nobody else can drive, and we all feel the city would be a lot better off without one group or the other. We are the mouse kids, running the maze wondering who moved our cheese, never realizing there may not be any cheese. So to be a wildly diverse room, full of people chanting and cheering with each other, people covered in tattoos and people in crisp white collared shirts all sitting on the edge of their seats yelling encouragement to their team. Something for the city to be proud of, something we can all agree on, that’s what we need. And I so hope the sense of community I felt in that room is able to stay in the hearts of everyone that was there last night. I hope we all carry that to each other out on to the streets of downtown, and on I4 and at our mindless corporate jobs. I hope that as a city, we find common ground with each other, we find what we can believe in together so that we may find a way to help and support each other and make this the City Beautiful, inside and out.
Oh, and at some point during the overtime they played “Tear in My Hearts” by Twenty One Pilots, a particularly special song to me and Jack and if you have ever heard it, you’d understand why.