Sidewalk Ghosts / “Be Good and Do Good”

“Be Good And Do Good”
– Mark –

 

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ContactSheet-001September 24, 2011: I was directing a casting session and in doing so had the opportunity to meet 200 people. Not exactly like approaching strangers on the street. But I figured they were still strangers—people I was meeting for the first time. So I thought, technically speaking, that made them strangers.

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My crew, however, begged to differ. Even after I interviewed the talented blues harmonica player and politically minded, Grandville, one of the day’s actors, my crew leaned into me, boldly telling me I was cheating as they threw my out of the studio. “He is not a true stranger,” they reproved. Arguing it was not fair to interview someone I had scheduled for a casting.  I pushed back, but after a futile debate, I lost the battle as they banished me out of the studio. I was glad they did.

It was a Saturday. End-of-day happy hour as I left the studio we were renting for the day. A windowless space situated smack dab in the center of the Helms Bakery complex in Culver City. An evening hot spot, surrounded by shopping and dining, where artists call home in setting up their shops.

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The night was ramping-up with the weekend crowd. The variety of people walking around and dining was eclectic to say the least. Everyone from dad’s holding babies, to suited business people, and the hip crowd, clicked as they congregated and browsed. So many people it was almost overwhelming as to which way to turn or who to approach.

In front of me where two well dressed men in white shirts. At first glance, the kind of guys one might assume are gentlemen of the highest quality. Figuring they could possibly be good candidates (yes, sadly I profiled a little,) I set sights on inviting them to be interviewed. But as I approached I began to overhear their conversation. Loud laughter that projected into the air, turning head and looking at the rear end of a woman walking by him, “That one is f@#*able!” Now, being a father, a dark feeling engulfed me. All of a sudden I wanted to attack two guys who I knew nothing about. After the other responded with an equally degrading comment (I do not wish to publish), I veered away as their loud and disrespectful comments continued to fly into the air, (loud enough that most likely the woman they disrespected heard their objectification of her). My blood was a little boiling as I held back my desire to correct their behavior, and not wanting to escalate any conflict, I watched them as they continued on.

Now, as I re-author this entry, years after the day, I have become more open to share my truest feeling. With the first pass I was very romantic in my writing—typical of how I write and see the world. But after stuffing the deeper story of the day, and with years of essays, interviews, and speaking engagements behind me, I have learned to not hold back the darker details of what I witness and publish. The account being a release of a rather dark memory that taught me a great lesson about the risk of profiling at first glance.

I watched them walk on, and as they were about the disappear into the crowd, they came across a rather scary looking homeless man sitting on a bench, paper bag beside him as he ate a popsicle. His chin was down, perhaps not noticing the world as people scurried by, and as the two gentlemen (and I use this term very sarcastically and with a tint of judgment, I’m still learning about forgiveness) passed by him they reacted as if they were coming across a skunk. Purposefully going out of their way to theatrically raised their arms, jumping to the side and around him in what looking like a mix of taunting harassment and dismissal of another human.

_L2R1332Either unaffected or not aware of the insult that was just thrown at him, he did not respond, just sat there, eating his popsicle. I couldn’t let it go. There was something interestingly peaceful about him, and I needed to know what it was.

As I approached it was easy to see he was world-weathered, but not dirty in any way. About him a presence that I could only explain as a shroud that was strangely spiritual—instantly, I was drawn in.

It took me about a second to connect with him as he smiled with great laughter in accepting my introduction. But when I asked him if he would let me interview him he said, “You don’t want to interview me, I’ve had a bad life.”

“Yes I do,” I responded, “your words matter as much as anyone else.”

He lit up in agreeing as I sat on the ground in front of him. Felt as if a weight had been lifted off him in having someone intently interested in knowing who he was. As we got to know each other, I began to feel of the energy that he lived with. A palpable sensation radiated by a mind-bending mix of distaining and compassionate gestures that were thrown by many a passer by.

Mark was his name. His heart heavy, peaceful and resolved.

_L2R1349v2“I had a hard life, but I’m thankful for living.” You see, Mark was a recovering drug and alcohol abuser. “I have wasted most of my life, but I’m content with who I am now,” as he explained himself.

I asked him what he had done. He flinched slightly. I worried for a second that I had touched a sensitive nerve with my question. A slight tear appeared in the corner of his eye as he gave me the list.

“I have not done terrible things, just stupid things. ”He did not go into great detail, just outlined his history: “construction, scab labor, fifteen years in the gutter, ten years in jails/prisons, four years in a mental institution.”That alone would kill most men, or at least push them to fully retreat from society. But Mark had chosen quite the opposite—to look in the mirror as he fought his way back to sanity and balance.

I was impressed with his courage to change as he enlightened me to the importance of community support groups. Making no attempt to hide his gratitude for the blessings of one humble Rabbi, and the local Jewish Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Center, he quoted, “They saved my life.”

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He offered me a popsicle, but after eating pastry at the casting, I declined. He smiled, “How about a funny face?” There was no way I could pass on that photo opportunity. Mark delivered with flying colors.

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It was impossible for me to truly comprehend the full level that changed a man who had fallen as low as Mark, but one thing was certain, his heart was pure and his mind was intact.

The sun was close to setting as Mark leaned toward me, “It’s Shabbat, time for me to go to Synagogue with my girlfriend.” Repenting for past mistakes, he had devoted his life to peace and to making his girl comfortable. The final lesson was given, “She has terminal Cancer. I’m by her side.”

I asked Mark if he would like to share anything with the world. “Yes,” he said, “Be Good and Do Good.”

There is no way we can ignore this statement from a man like Mark.

Mark, for then and always, Shabbat Shalom!

Talk tomorrow my good friends,

Richard

Readers, if you are returning, so nice to be with you again. If you are new, looking forward to getting to know you.

To all: please comment, like, and forward. Every engagement goes a long way toward connecting us; as together, we grow a movement that betters the way we view and treat one another.

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