Sunday, June 06, 2010
Another day in the neighborhood
Sawman saws on the cello as I walk past. I'm on my way to Fred Meyer to get 7Up for Maty because her stomach is upset. His music sounds discordant, agonized, chaotic. It is hard to hear it clearly, at this distance, through the sighing traffic, the faint whisper of the rain, the echo created by the concrete sidewalk in the dry space beneath the enormous protruding facade of the Bagdad theater.
People are stopping to listen. I'll continue on, though. 7Up for Maty.
Outside the entrance to Fred Meyer, a bedraggled, raggedy, younger man stands near the public disposal bin. He wears a cap with the bill pulled down low so you can't see his face when he bends his head. He has long, dirty hair, unkempt beard and moustache. His clothes are ragged and dirty. He shifts from one foot to the other, standing close to the disposal bin. He will not look at me as I approach.
He was there this morning, too. I saw him earlier when I came to buy yogurt. He wouldn't look at me then either. This morning there had been a woman standing near the disposal bin, too. But she didn't look like a vagrant. She was dressed like many of the young hipsters you see around this neighborhood on the weekend. She looked at me with mild alarm as I walked past. She seemed agitated. She stood there and watched me as I walked past, while the raggedy man shifted back and forth, his face turned down at his feet, hidden under the bill of his cap.
On the one hand, it's none of my business. I've pulled enough shady stuff in my time that I can't feel comfortable about passing judgment on anybody. Not even people like that. And I sure resent it when people intrude in my life. Live and let live, etcetera, etcetera. And who knows how he got there?
On the other hand, this isn't kids smoking dope in the parking lot. This isn't some panhandler begging for change. And, hey, this is my community, where I live and where I don't want to have to worry about my wife walking to the bus stop.
I walk inside. The store-greeter and the checker are standing by the scanner-register near the door. It's slow. They're chatting.
"What's that guy doing out there?" I say.
The greeter is a young man with a soft tuft of moustache and black curly hair. He is young, but already there are a few strands of gray at the corners of his temples. He shrugs. "He's panhandling," he says.
"I've walked by him twice," I say, "and he hasn't asked me for money."
The checker is a woman about my age. She's short and chunky with straight black hair and a wide face with a wide mouth. "He's selling sh*t," she says. Her eyes squint to narrow slits as she says it.
"Why don't you call security and have them talk to him?" I say.
She picks up the receiver of the phone by the scanner. I go to find 7UP.
On the way back, I come along the north side of Hawthorne. I don't know if I did the right thing. After all this time, how could I know what is the right thing?
A beautiful young woman with Red Irish hair is on her break, smoking a cigarette on a bench outside the Italian restaurant. She is looking down the street to where Sawman is still sawing on his cello.
"What's the verdict?" I ask her.
She turns her face toward me. I expect freckles, but her skin is clear and beautiful. I'm startled by the pale blue of her eyes. "He's amazing," she says, passionately. "I'm very glad he plays here every day."
"Oh, really?" I say, but she has already turned back to listen to Sawman.
And so, I walk down and listen.
He is using an electronic device which allows him to capture a riff, and then continuously repeat it while he plays an accompaniment over the top of it. His music is solemn, with rises and falls that evoke a longing, a high and light sadness. He plays with his eyes cast down across the body of his instrument, his face hidden by the bill of his cap. I sit in a chair nearby and listen.
When he finishes his piece, I clap, along with a half-dozen other listeners. He casts a brief glance at those of us nearby, mouths a silent word of appreciation, then turns back to his cello.
I take the 7Up home to Maty.