I met him in Starbucks while drinking a cup of coffee. He didn’t look like the kind of man that frequented Starbucks. He was reading a newspaper and I sat down at the table and chairs next to him. Even sitting down he seemed very tall; his hair was neatly shaved off his head, and he had a small graying goatee. His skin was black and weathered, and when he tapped me on the shoulder to ask me the time he had the biggest brown eyes I had ever seen. They peered right through me. I’m not sure I would call him handsome, but there was something very striking about him.
After I gave him the time we began to talk. His name was Alex and he was a musician. He had been playing music since he was nine years old. He spoke about growing up in Rochester and seeing all of the jazz greats that would come to town–Dinah Washington, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie. You name them and he was in their presence. He played the sax, piano and I don’t know what other types of instruments and was self-taught. He moved to NYC in his early 20’s and got straight jobs working in banks and finance companies to keep himself going with his music. He played all over the world and the week I met him he was getting ready to leave for Finland and Sweden and would be gone for a week. It appeared he didn’t make much money, living a simple life and loving his music.
When he was young and working to finance his music in NYC he began to feel the unkindness, racism and being passed over for promotions on the straight jobs. So much so that one day, he got up in the morning, packed a small bag, and left his place to live and play in the streets, which turned out for a period of twenty years. He never dreamed that he would be out on the streets for so long. He played anywhere he could, and when he first began playing in the streets music was banned in public places and the subways, but through the years that began to change. He had a room in a local crack house, but somehow never seemed to get involved with all of the drugs and the prostitutes who hung out there. He had his music. He had to watch his back at all times, meeting up with many people who wouldn’t think twice of killing him or throwing him over the side of a building. To this day he doesn’t know how he got through it all.
When he spoke he had a loving, kind and compassionate sound to his voice, as though he had come through hell and was now on the other side. He appeared to me as a black angel. He had so much soul in him and was so mesmerizing that I forgot where I was and how much time had gone by. He had no regrets and he told me that he wanted to now play his music, not hurt anyone that he would ever come in contact with and find a good woman. While speaking to him I realized that he and I had come from completely different backgrounds, but the one thing we had in common is that we both had come through hell and come out on the other side. Somehow this poem comes to mind “No one knows his name—a man who lives on the streets and walks around in rags. Once I saw that man in a dream. He and God were constructing an extraordinary temple.”
When I looked closer at him, I could see the cold on his skin that he had lived with all those years. He told me that he had seen other homeless people die from the cold. Once it got to them, they couldn’t move and it would overtake them and they would fall asleep and never wake up. Alex knew if he didn’t get off the streets soon, he would die like the others. He couldn’t take the cold any longer. Today what keeps him warm is a roof over his head, his music and thoughts of being with a good woman. Don’t know if I could ever be with someone like Alex. Does he even know how to care for himself? Does he know how to care for a woman? His voice is very loving, but does it reflect his actions?
After speaking for some time he looked at me and said, “You are so beautiful. Your eyes are so big and brown. When I speak to you I know you understand, you totally understand what I am saying.” Jokingly, he said to me, “When are we going to move in together.” “I don’t know,”, I said. “But let’s check this out. There just might be something worthwhile here.”
He kissed me on the cheek and left. He was to leave for Europe in two days. Would I ever hear from him again? Who knows. Who knows.