Those of you who follow me on Twitter (if you’re not, what’s keeping you? – a list of reasons you should are the post-script to this post) know that I spent a decent amount of my Tuesday afternoon listening to a homeless man play trumpet. I was just sitting outside one of my usual coffee-haunts when out of nowhere the steady hum of the urban landscape was delightfully, amazingly pierced by the wail of a horn playing Giant Steps. My musician friends tell me that playing the lead for a saxophone driven piece on a trumpet is no easy feat.
I was transfixed from the very beginning of the familiar opening phrase. Before he had finished that musical introduction, I was so impressed that I went to the ATM so could drop a twenty spot on him. I wrote then that he was simultaneously “lifting my spirits while breaking my heart.” I don’t know if I’ve ever penned truer words. This man – who I presumed to be homeless because of his attire and the bags that carried too many possessions – infused each note with a sadness that I can only describe as haunting, yet played so beautifully that I was simply mesmerized.
My favorite versions of our National Anthem are the superlatively soulful offering from Marvin Gaye, and the unquestioned genius of Jimi Hendrix’s left-handed guitar. This homeless man followed Giant Steps with a rendition that became number three. Perhaps it is the heart-wrenching poignancy of a man who’s country may have failed him having the ability to play Our Song, or just my own patriotism being stirred, but I stood to listen because I didn’t know what else to do.
This homeless virtuoso returned to Coltrane with Niama, but he immediately and seamlessly transitioned into a playful version of Pretty Woman when a striking brunette came into view, and just as easily went back to the jazz ballad without a breath. I wanted to applaud just like I would any seemingly impossible bridge at any ordinary concert.
The Prince classic Kiss was interrupted by the vulgarity of car horns from the hands of impatient drivers. Ordinarily I glare at the offending vehicles for interrupting solitude for the sake of their self-absorption and wish the DC Police would enforce the law against non-emergent uses of the horn. That day I wanted them arrested for this crime against civility and music.
For 30 minutes, I needed to go to the wash-closet – I held it. I wasn’t going to miss a single note of Kinda Blue, Sir Duke, Girl from Impanema, or what proved to be the closing number, Fly Me to the Moon.
I was slightly miffed with the people who didn’t find something in their pockets to give this man, but in a tough economy, I gave them all the benefit of the doubt. I was out-right angry, however, with the people that didn’t pause to acknowledge the beauty of the moment; and I was plain furious at the people who hurriedly passed with cellphones against one ear and a finger to the other as if this was some sort of inconvenience rather than one of the incredible bonuses of urban life.
Most of my scorn was reserved for our country – not for the predicament of this one homeless man, who knows what he’s done to arrive here. When the wealthiest nation in the world has allowed homelessness to reach epidemic proportions, we deserve the scorn. I rarely talk politics in this space, and this will not be an exception. As much as homelessness can be a political-football, it is not a political issue. This is a question of our very humanity.
How is this not a national embarassment? How is this staggeringly large problem not a clarion call to action? How can we even consider the concept of American Exceptionalism without addressing this festering sore on the body of our compassion? Homelessness is about two heartbeats away from catastrophic proportions, yet somehow, the country that invented the internet, placed a man on the moon, and is so proud of its greatness is largely, consistently ignoring it.
Post-script / A Whole New Post – Just call It a Twofer:
Reasons to Follow Me on Twitter / How I (the reluctant Twitter) Think the Medium Should Be Used
- I will only tweet that which I consider to be truly funny, important, poignant, curious, interesting, etc. In other words, I actively avoid the banal, the vapid, the over-sharing of the aforementioned.
- The most tweets I have ever sent during a single day is seven – not to diss the more frequent tweeters, but I will never send eight tweets on the same subject that should probably have been combined into one blog post.
- I do not link my tweets to FourSquare (maybe a valid use for some – helpful in knowing which places to avoid) so you won’t learn through my feed that I am randomly sitting at some coffee-haunt/bar/Metro Station/Ass Waxing shop.
- I refuse to abuse the English language through annoying (to this Luddite) abbreviations.
And a few of my favorites tweets that you’re clearly missing and you’re life would be all the richer if you saw (ok, not really, but just follow me anyway):
- if you’re seeing this, you’re not the duplicitous harpy so incapable of decency that she’s no longer welcome to my scotch or tweets#blocked
- Only in 2010 would a “pre-dating” agreement contain a clause agreeing to joint custody of a bar; in other news, yes, I’m seeing someone now.
- me: howzabout we watch baseball and drink wine while I condescendingly explain the game to you? her: sounds lovely.#Shegetsmyjokes #smitten
- With the week I’ve had, it’s fitting that I’d be out of cream for my coffee too. With the week I’ve had , it’s ok to use Baileys instead.
- I know that she lacks both the physical and cognitive dexterity for it to have been intentional, but I think a 1yo just gave me the finger.
- Dear Food Network, I’d rather eat Top Ramen for a week than watch a SemiHomemade marathon with that hair-twirling fraud Sandra Lee.
- her: whatcha doing tonight; me: drinking with a woman of loose morals and questionable character; her: so clearly every pot does have a lid
- buckets of rain have me stranded in a bar. thank you, mother nature, how’d you know I needed a beer?
- From a Craigslist post: put the rear adapter assembly on my tranny-possibly transfer case / #accidentalhumor http://tinyurl.com/27pdekb
- reasons morning drinking is ok: vacation, never stopped from the prior night, thanksgiving, grand slam tennis sundays. where’s my champagne?
- bible study meeting just broke out around me at my coffee shop. i’m taking it as a sign from god that i should be at the bar.
- Listening to Yankee Fan argue with Sawx Fan feels like witnessing a debate between Hitler and Gengis Khan. #shootmenow
- Me; I’ve been lobbying for 10 yrs for cocktailing as olympic sport; My Friend: but Refugee, you lost your amatuer status years ago.#Truedat
- just learned that really cute stranger at my coffeshop table & reading the SAT Prep book is a teacher. DirtyOldMan crisis averted.