Apr 28, 2015

I Keep Going

"There are always problems... s*** inevitably falls apart on you all the time... when you don't expect it man. You know righ' when you think you can't handle one more thing, just one more thing... you get this little push, to see, just to see if they can bend you a little bit farther." He lost his thought again and began biting at the corner of his pinky nail like he was taking off the cuticle. "But I keep going man, I always keep going."

The street was near empty. The buildings vacant and locked. He's standing at the edge of the circle of light hovering over me and I'm wondering when it got so dark, why I'm alone, and why I decided it was a good idea to leave the club.

We were only parked a few streets away at the end of a business strip filled with a printing company, an office supply store, and a discount carpet warehouse. Somehow I'd walked into a conversation with the only other person for miles. 

He was homeless. Nearly twice my size with one eye unnaturally bulging out like he had been in a bad fight and never healed right. Or maybe the injury was too severe to ever completely fix. The eye really stood out because he had real thin brows and was bald. The beginnings of an old tattoo on his neck peaked out when he looked around, hidden under the collar of his grey sweater.  

His teeth slanted out to the left. Stained from smoking, though his skin was incredibly smooth and he kept his nails short and clean despite how hard it must be for him to find a place to keep up appearances. To be honest what threw me the most was the smell. The smell from his clothes. The smell from his breath. Like an invisible cloud of sour-musk. The sweat of living hung a few feet around him in every direction. 

"Hold, hold a sec man," he said clutching both hands tightly to his stomach and walked into the alley.

I quickly opened the van door and grabbed my bag.

'I came here for a book. I had wanted to read... That's what it was that brought me out here? To read and be alone.' I'd left my current road read,probably Drum-taps, under the middle bench and it was still three hours till the show started. 

Stores, restaurants, this whole half of the city was shut down for the night and our hotel was three hours south. So that left hanging out at the venue or reading.

Sometimes, I see the whole caravan together, the other bands, our band, the crew, and I just can't make myself have a conversation. Even on the road, I get in these bad funks where I still feel like an outsider. Like I did when I was a fifteen-year-old senior in high school and couldn't go to parties cause I didn't even have my learners permit yet... Maybe I'm just more comfortable alone. I did spend my entire teens in the library. This isn't a pity story. It was all fine with me, I wasn't too interested in hanging out with my with classmates anyway. I much preferred poetry and beach boy records to whatever they were up to, but on the road, I wish I was more outgoing. These are supposed to be my people. Musicians I know I have stuff in common with. People who understand what being an outsider is, but there I am with nothing to say and a flood of words stuck inside my head. I have hours of conversations with myself, and nothing to give to others. I just stand silently, listening, taking. Thinking of words I'll eventually write but never say. Even when the homeless man was talking I only gave a lot of smiles and shrugs. Though he wasn't always forward with me either.

"I hate to ask you know," he said when I had first walked up to the van. He held one hand out, keeping the other tight across his stomach.

"Sorry man," I said with a guilty look from wanting to help but knowing the five bucks I had left was going to be for my dinner.

"It's aight, it's aight, just asking man, it's aight cause I always keep on going man. I never let it stop me." And he kept talking while I feel guiltier than ever, and wondered if it was too late to give him the give the five, and wishing I had smaller change.

I would've definitely given him a couple of dollars. And not just cause I was a little scared of him. Bands do a lot of work out of the public eye, the places where we load in and out, if not play, are usually tucked out of public view. We frequent the cheapest places to eat or sleep when you're on tour budget, the quickest routes between cities, the dark sides of the country, small roads, corners, alleys, truck stops, across the tracks and under the bridge where most people often forget to look, or try to ignore... And in every one of these places there are people who live so differently than the rest. Either by circumstance or choice, they ended up on the fringe. Now that I write it, it sounds a lot like being a musician.

It's not a secret the US as a whole has a big problem about how we care for each other, how we interact with each other, and how we try to understand people that live differently. Yes there are the really good people, and the really horrible ones, but as a whole I think we have a turn-a-blind-eye mentality that prevents us from solving the issue of kindness. I see it. The guilt, I felt. In the faces of the asking for help, and the in the faces of the ones that turn away.

I want to be kind. I want to be understanding and helpful. I want to live in a world where good people look out for each other. I want to look at the man and see the person he is and not a reflection of my own fear. He's got enough to deal with without me throwing anything on him.

So I waited for him to come out of the shadows. And he eventually came back from the alley with a small backpack over one shoulder. One hand still clutched tightly to his stomach, and I realized I hadn't seen that hand. It'd been hidden under the end of his sweater the whole time. 

"Just getting my things man... gotta move tonight. You know man? I bet you guys are always driving right? Always moving." He threw his eyes to our van.

"Yeah, we do," I said, "Just got in and have to drive tonight too."

He sighed.

And the air was cold. The buildings looked so unwelcoming when they are closed up. I could hear the highway a few streets away in the distance as a few cars passed. It felt like we were the only two in the city. And he's staring down the dark road, waiting for the courage to move, knowing he inevitably will. He had to. There's nothing for him there. If ever there was a place that felt less inviting, less nurturing, less accepting, less helpful than this street, I don't want to know it. 

"Hey man," I said as I opened the van again and grabbed an unopened bottle of water from under the bench. "Here ya go."

And he nearly fell right there, his eyes fell, his arm that was clutched to his stomach fell low, and he reached the other hand out grabbing the bottle. I think it was the surprise.

"Thank you man," he said his voice dropped low and serious. Stuck the bottle in between his fallen arm and his body and used the other hand to open the cap. 

A little water dripped onto his sweater as he grabbed the bottle with the same hand, and chugged. The bottle crumpled, as he emptied it in one go, but I was only looking at his arm. Motionless at his side.

I have heard some people make more money begging than I ever do playing a show. That crossed my mind as I watched him. Maybe that's true, but it seemed just cynical at the moment. This man was thirsty. From his body to his soul, he was thirsty. And he was drinking like this was the first and last water he was ever going to get. He was drinking like he needed it. 

"Lost it overseas," he said catching me staring, catching his breath and I felt a little embarrassed. I could see him watching me.

"Iraq. I mean I still got it here," He gave his dead arm a pat, and I could hear the thud of substance, "but it don't... I mean I can't..." Then he lifted the sleeve. His fingers were cramped together, stuck tightly pinky against thumb, and the other three pushed in between.

I was at a loss for words, and went back into the van and gave him the last five bottles we had.

He smiled again as he forced them into his bag, "Water, man," he said capping up the empty bottle and throwing it in a near by street can. "Water's always good. Keeps ya going. Ya know. Always keep going. Always."

-rene