People have stories—every single one of us. It takes a voice, a desire, and belief in ourselves to make our stories known, but it only takes a set of ears to make them heard. We are all vapors with pages meant to be shared with one another.
Part of my job at LOVE NAIL TREE is to be a writer, and I am well taken care of. I am afforded time to write words I hope will affect people, and I am encouraged to do it often. Another part of my job is to make sure packages get to the right place at the right time (we are a small company and we all wear several hats). It can be a demanding task at times when it’s busy, and often I get frustrated; I act certain ways that don’t look very kind or loving. I treat people with sharper words than I’d like to admit. I am human. C’est la vie.
On Wednesday, after rushing to get a sample order for a big-name brand out the door before my FedEx cutoff, I sped down Central to a drop-off location in Little Tokyo. I swung into a parking spot along Second street, paid the meter for ten minutes and jogged toward the FedEx location. When I arrived, I handed my package to the express driver, whom I saw at the door. Then I began walking back.
At this point I had five minutes left. I was in a hurry to get back to my truck to get out before the sharks with yellow shirts and fresh citation pads started swarming. Along the way I heard a voice.
“Hey, excuse me.” It said.
I turned around and found an African American man approaching. He could have been homeless, but I wasn’t sure. I felt my pockets for change and knew my answer before he started to speak. I don’t like being the guy who says “No” to homeless people and keeps walking. I suppose I like to think I am doing them a service by pausing and looking them in the eye before I turn them down. I can become so numb to what I believe is the status quo. So, premeditated script in mind, I slowed, turned, and faced him.
“Do you have a minute for poetry? Do you like poetry, or can you at least tolerate it?” He laughed.
I was intrigued. This was a novel approach, I thought. Of course I liked poetry. “I like poetry, yeah,” I said.
“Well,” he started, looking down at his feet. His face was freshly shaven, and his baggy red t-shirt was clean, but something about his demeanor was changing, like there was something else he wanted to say, or ask. “Here, take this,” and he handed me a note:
“See,” he went on, “I’m homeless and I don’t have much but time to rhyme and think, and I write poetry. I’m trying to make a dollar, and I’d love to recite that poem to you for your generosity.”
A novel approach indeed, definitely one I’d not heard in my two years of working in Skid Row. “Oh,” I looked down at the paper and read the title: Only Now. I looked him in the eyes and said, “I really do wish I had some money to give you, but I don’t think I do. I also have to move my truck before the meter expires…”
“Say no more,” he said quickly, raising his hand. “Look, my name’s Kenneth Towler. Look me up on google and you’ll find me.”
“Are you out here a lot, Kenneth, here in Little Tokyo?”
“Well,” I said, looking for something to say but coming up short. My hands were in my pockets now, and one of them gripped a dollar that was burning a hole in my soul. “Next time I come by I’ll look for you. I’d love to hear a poem then.”
“Not a problem, my man. You keep that one for now,” he said flashing a row of clean teeth. “You have a good night.”
“You too,” I said, turning around and flipping his poem over in my hand. I rushed to the truck.
As I drove back to work I read Kenneth’s poem:
Only this moment matters, my friend.
The rest has faded into the wind,
to be remembered in nastaligic harmony.
Now, is a friend indeed.
I’d lied. I’d done it to avoid a parking ticket, and because a slightly self-righteous and well-planted belief in my gut told me maybe I’d be keeping someone from yet another bottle of oblivion.
I turned left onto San Pedro and left onto 6th. I watched the homeless people hanging out on the corners and thought of Kenneth. He was a man who believed in his dream, a man with a plan to succeed, to make an honest dollar—a writer hoping to making a little money to make it in the world, just like me. But I shut him out. I told him maybe tomorrow when he had given me a song about today; words that said, only this moment matters…now, is [the time to be] a friend indeed.
I googled Kenneth when I got home and found him on poetry.com with at least ten uploaded poems, all with ratings and reviews. If you have a moment, look him up and write him a review. He’d appreciate it. I know I would if I were in his shoes. Who knows, maybe one day I will be. I know I’d like my words to continue affecting people, even if I were homeless, maybe even especially if I were.
Keep doing it, Kenneth, and I hope to see you again soon.