SideWalk Ghosts / Interview 40: The Hang Out Zone – Demystified

“It’s impossible to go through life without problems,” and at only 20, Aaron has had his share. But this young man is remarkable.

I’ll start this entry with a few Aaron quotes. They really do set the stage for who he is, and the experience credentials he has earned early in his years – some self-inflicted, others by situation.

If you are a regular reader, the following is a common question to you by this time. If you are new, I ask everyone, “Do you have any words of wisdom you would like to share with my readership.”

I ask Aaron this question early on in our interview, even as we are shooting photos.

Actual photos taken during the moment Aaron responds to my questions

After a moment of thoughtful pause (I can tell he is thinking deeply regarding his response), he replies, “Everybody feels the way you do; what you do with it is up to you. You can either handle it, or you can be a victim.”

A very deep thought. I question him back, “Do you mean everybody CAN feel the way you do?” He is specific, “No, there is no can in it.”

We chat about it for a while. I realize what he is talking about are core emotions: love, fear, envy, joy, shame, empowerment and on and on. He relates them to life in general, linking all to the second part of his statement, “What you do with it is up to you. You can either handle it, or you can be a victim.” What he is talking about is self-respect and empowerment. In this he has earned a self-managing diploma received from the University of Hard Knocks.

Even though he is short in years, there is a palpable feeling of comfort radiating from him. I wish you could meet him and experience it yourself.

His story starts as one we have heard many times; troubled high school years, falling away from home, and a list of general rebellions. But what is unique about Aaron is his early willingness to change, not just for himself but to truly help his friends follow in his footsteps.

Here is how I know about him (notice, I have not yet told you how I met him).

Just two houses down from mine is the hang-out zone for a group of about fifteen regulars. Teen and twenty-something boys and girls loitering at all hours of the day. Usually tossing cigarette butts into our yards, and at times speaking loud obscenities. Really puts a damper on allowing my 8-year-old girl spending time in the front yard.

I even know a few of them, mostly good kids (or as least I’ve led myself to believe so). But still, they are there day after day, at hours most would either be in school or working.

Tonight, as I set out for a 365 stroll, I see Aaron, sitting by himself in the hang-out-zone. In past, I most likely would have not approached him, choosing to be tolerant yet unengaged. However, 365 is shifting my outlook by allowing me this thought, “If I have a question, or do not know the individual who prompts said question to my mind, I will not ignore facing them straight on.”

That said, I do not hesitate in approaching Aaron, and am fully glad I do so.

We’ve all heard actions are stronger than words. So what is he doing about life? His philosophies are deep and reflective, but is he acting on them?

Per his service to his friends? I facilitate the answers with a question, “Why is he sitting alone at the hang out zone?” A couple answers:

Having not hung out for some time, “I wanted to check in on Jacob” (the kid living at the hang out house). One who Aaron is pushing to get his G.E.D. He states this: “I tell Jacob, If I can do it, so can you.”

TWO (and a little heavy):
He has just come from counseling one of the group, a kid living close by. How was he helping? Talking him out of  suicide attempt. This in itself would fold most twenty-year-olds. I’m thinking he ended up here to simply decompress.

Per his self work:

First, Aaron has made up for his high school follies in flying colors and is currently attending Pierce College, taking all his GEs with a few music electives. He cares about every course he is enrolled in and is pulling great grades, even Sociology. On top of that, he has applied for grants and financial aid to further his education and is serious about finishing with a degree in music.

Coming from a line of musicians, this is not a pipe dream. “I eat, live, breath music.” Supported by and following in his father’s footsteps, it is a well thought-out career decision, and he wants to do it right. Currently he is in the process of applying to The Musicians Institute, one of the more credible institutions in Los Angeles. A proven starting point for many successful artists.

On a closing note, I ask him about his plugs. He seems somewhat frustrated by them. “It was a thing I did a long time ago, but now they are holding me back. Too many people judge me because of them, and even my tattoos.” He tells me,  “They were the width of soda cans and very offensive to many employers. I’m working hard to find a good job and need to lose them.” For the past 6 months he has been getting them to recede, going from smaller to smaller ring. Now just a touch larger than quarters, he is almost there. The last step is a surgical procedure that costs $500. He is saving his money.

We talk into the evening, this is a good kid. I realize that all of our photos are somewhat serious or moments of captured conversation. I suggest one final portrait. The light is gone, but thanks to Apple and the illumination from my trusty iPad, we make one final photograph. Almost a smile, but with a one second exposure, I think we did a pretty good job.

Hey Aaron, see you at the hang-out. And thanks for your willingness to get the rest of the gang ashtrays for the cig butts.

Talk again my friend!

Almost forgot, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?”

“To be a working studio / touring musician and to be happily married.”

“I have a feeling you will succeed.”