I’d asked for the fourth time, “Who is playing on the stereo?” He said, “If you ask me again, I’m going to punch you!”
Sitting in the car engrossed in my entry, I had asked my friend Michaelbrent (he was driving) the same questing four times in ten minutes. Some people can be too touchy, can’t they? But I loved the guy. Or was it that he might have been a little hungry snappy. We decided to stop for dinner to grab a bite.
Ah! Applebees, a great place for a quiet wind-down meal. I was proven wrong.
We parked, walked to the door, and in route, met Victor. The Harmonica playing dude who was sitting on a bench in front of the restaurant. The guy was cool blue. Turned out he was a classically trained musician, held degrees, and was a local contributor to weekly jam sessions held at Applebees.
For some reason, I’d been running into a lot of past military and/or families of servicemen and women throughout Sidewalk Ghosts. In that, I promise I have not been pre-selecting my destinations or planning on who I interview. I’ve truly been going with the flow and have worked to be as spontaneous and open to a situation as I can, and the night that Victor appeared before us, as in many cases was spontaneous to a feeling that pushed me to reach out to him.
By first impressing, it was easy to profile Victor as homeless, but that was farthest from the truth as I got to know him. Later becoming offended when, as he entered the restaurant, two girls at the front desk, in a very apparent way, showed faces of judgment the moment he walked into the establishment. Killed me to witness.
It was an interesting observation of human behavior as Michaelbrent and I watched the way the two hostesses chose to direct their responses based on Victor’s outward appearance and subdued behavior. A real-time case study played out directly in front of us as we witnessed how the first impression was more influential than actions in this scenario. To that point, as loud tone and foul language were belligerently thrown into the public air from three clean-cut men, who as they screamed obscenities over a TV broadcasted baseball game, went completely uncorrected by the restaurant staff. Or at the other end of the bar, a group of drunken women throwing their underwear at the tribute singer performing a Guns and Roses hit, Neil Diamond style; again, went totally ignored. Not that I condemned their actions. It was just that, looking around the restaurant, and seeing a few families who had young children, I thought that a little discretion was in order for that particular venue.
So why did Victor come in? Simply: To get a cold glass of Coca Cola and to watch the karaoke night that was happening. Makes you pause to rethink perceptions of society, doesn’t it?
Sure, Victor looked run down, maybe even hard of luck. Homeless. But let me tell you a little more about Victor. He was a Vietnam veteran, a proud husband, and a father with two children: A son studying music and a daughter enrolled in nursing school. Even told us of his giving his son a Les Paul for school and helping his daughter pay tuition.
Victor was, in no way, transient. He lived within walking distance, paid his fair rent for a two-bedroom home, and carried a legitimate veteran’s card. “I was honorably discharged and I support my family via my military pension and disability,” he explained.
I do have to admit a pet peeve: People who irresponsibly live off the system. There was no way I could put Victor in that category. At the age of sixty-five he spoke of the importance of not taking a handout, an attitude that he ratified as he told of his past, “I had worked up until my disabilities became too unmanageable.”
Open in speaking of his obstacles. Victor did not address any of his issues in a poor me way or use them as a crutch in any form, but with a very matter of fact point-of-view he spoke of his character. “I don’t want any handouts.”
No handouts wanted, he was completely the opposite of what some might have profiled him as. A man who, on a deeper trust, revealed the fact he was recovering from a stroke he recently had. That in itself explained his troubled speaking and slumped walk. It was not alcohol-induced, but conditions brought on by a very serious medical condition that almost took his life. Yes, his teeth were decayed, yet his smile was still grand. The guy was a tank.
We learned of his exposure to Agent Orange, bullet wounds, and shrapnel that was lodged in his side. His continence was lucid and his spirit was kind, inquisitive, and humorous. There was only one thing that concerned him. A question that arose when I asked him to sign a release and one that I think was more joke than serious, “Are you guys, Communists?” I assured him we were not.
Victor left us with these words, “Enjoy music, play it, learn of it, it’s very good for you.”
Victor, we hope you are still jamming!