Jim Wilson’s Blog, 22 October 2015
I am living in New Jersey and it is a very pleasant time of year with the leaves changing colours and everything. Shortly it will begin to get cold but as for now the air is merely fresh. The autumn colours of New Jersey are every bit as delightful as those in Central Otago. I love waking up to the sounds of V8 engines outside the window. I love it that it will snow in a month or so.
I’ve just spent five weeks travelling through Europe putting up poetry posters and mine is a privileged position for which I have a lot of gratitude. My life has never been easy but sometimes it has been very sweet.
I began putting up poetry posters wherever I could about six or seven years ago. The act of merely doing this expresses most everything that I believe about this life. When life has handed me a lemon (and it has done this many times) I have always steered towards that which is beautiful.
Some people, places and things exist only to drag other people down. A man does his best in difficult circumstances. There is so much bitterness, violence, sarcasm and irony floating around the world these days that you may have thought we would have changed as a species. And yet, I actually think we’ve all gotten worse. New accusations are leveled every day and seemingly everyone knows how to do things better. A bloke who has never worked in a manager’s position knows how to manage everything better and so on and so forth. A guy screws a chicken, ends up in jail, and is never forgiven. People like to hold on to things like an old-timer at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting who is still talking about that slice of toast and butter he had on that bad night 35 years ago.
I believe people can change.
But, it is a long way easier to carry a burden than it is to let it go and hatred and distemper are major burdens for people everywhere. In New Zealand, we have paradise on earth and yet I see so many unhappy citizens. A lot of them have everything they could possibly need and more.
I’ve had some very touching things happen to me lately.
A couple of weeks ago I was in Paris and then I flew into the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. It is always stressful for me to face Customs and Immigration in any country, but particularly in the USA.
I have to have a ‘waiver of ineligibility’ to enter here. I tried for more than twenty years (making some bad mistakes along the way) before I was granted one. I am not eligible to live in the USA because of a Heroin conviction dating from 1974 and I have convictions dating up to 1992 that make even coming here for a short period something that can be disputed and it has been.
But there is genuine human kindness at every turn and I just believe that people have a deep fear of being ‘touched’ emotionally. A lot of people would rather go in the direction of the anger. I’ve been there and it was a bad trip. That place is where you lose all your faith.
At Customs and Immigration in Philly the first officer at the desk, looking at my computer profile, asked me what the hell I had done, had I smoked something weird back in the 1970 and listened to some Grateful Dead maybe? Well, that’s weird enough, but I said, “No, worse than that. It was Heroin and Cocaine and I took it the man’s way and I was a chemist burglar.”
He loosened up given my honesty and became a human soul and a kind and caring one at that. It’s remarkable where you can meet these people. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t being either defensive or angry, I was just being me. I am prepared to be vulnerable because I consider that I have nothing to lose. I’ve been kicked by the best in the trade.
On the walk out the back to my ‘second interview’, the officer walked like John Wayne and he was quite a cowboy. He must have been six foot three and he had quite a big mop of tousled, black, Italian hair. He told me that he’d just worked in downtown Philadelphia on security during the Pope’s visit. A good Catholic I would have thought. The new Pope seems like a very kind man and yet you see some people railing against him and suggesting there is some kind of conspiracy afoot.
At “Secondary” there were three officers sitting at an elevated bench slightly above me. They asked why I couldn’t get a Green Card and I said that having a Heroin conviction, even if it is from 1974, makes me completely ineligible. I said, “Not even an 85-year-old big time Jewish lawyer with nose hairs from downtown Philadelphia could fix that” and they howled with laughter and they hooted and gesticulated. That’s a damn good dose of humanity to be carrying on with. Laughter breaks ice.
The woman who interviewed me said that her brother was currently going through a Heroin relapse and this touched me to the very bottom of my soul. That’s what I live for. Poetry, music and writing quite often reach me in this way too and so I really am grateful. But I’m just like anyone else, I have a synthetic layer to be carrying on with and yet underneath am a frightened kid who likes to come out and play when it’s safe.
The second touching episode happened when I was having a burger down at Five Guys in Wayne, Pennsylvania. An old guy pulled into the parking lot in a Volvo Station Wagon. He had to be about 95 years of age and he was accompanied by a fine doggie that must have been heading for 37. I love people who love animals and my doggies have gotten me over some tough hills.
The old man was wearing a sweatshirt from a local high school and Mister Magoo type eyeglasses. The glasses had so much magnification that I am sure they would have highlighted Mars if a person with ordinary sight looked through them. This gentle looking man wasn’t an inch over five feet tall and he was almost completely doubled over.
At this age he was kind, of course he was. Anger cannot usually get people through a long life because it tends to chew up the body. Anger and fear often have people hiding in the corner of damp apartments and all by themselves. I’ve been there in my life and I didn’t like that very much. I put needles into my arms in those apartments and with water running down the wallpaper as well. At the time I thought I was shooting up love but I was really just loathing the world and myself.
At Five Guys, they have sacks of peanuts in their shells that you can eat whilst you wait on your order. I saw the old man hunch all the way out the door in small, kindly and unsure steps and then he slowly fed his dog peanuts. This made me feel really good and I need to see kindness to survive. I need kindness to get myself out of the building and to live my day. I’m sure we all do and I think the best thing to do is to give kindness away wherever you can.
The third touching episode was at a shoe store. I had put the toe out of my sneakers on the European leg of the trip. I went to a shoe store owned by two Italian brothers. The brothers were both in their 60s. I believe the store is called “D’Amicantonio & Sons” and it is also in Wayne, Pa. The two brothers had me try on dozens of pairs of shoes over the course of two hours before I spent less than $85. Their grandfather, an immigrant from Italy, started the store in 1932 and it has existed since then. It is no fad or flight of the imagination, it is real.
Their father was in the USA Army at Anzio beach in 1944, which wasn’t a particularly nice place to be. The brothers (Lou and Bob) showed me two pairs of shoes that their grandfather had made in the 1930s for a woman who died before she got to wear them. Good manners and good service is one thing, but an authentic approach to life is something else again.
The brothers were dismayed that the internet had taken a lot of business, but they weren’t shrill and opinionated and they were philosophical. Sometimes in this life the best things don’t work and you have to let them go. The brothers felt to me to be sad yet true.
The new album by Keith Richards (‘Crosseyed Heart’ is superb and he has become easily the bluesman that his heroes (Robert Johnson and the like) were in their day. It is a tender, warm, sincere, and joyful album and is the best thing I have heard for probably a decade. Every so often one comes down the pike, a person unafraid to express himself in a good way.
In America, I’ve learned that there is a new trend in psychiatry back to ‘talk therapy’ (genuine human contact). In a major study conducted by the government, it has been found that many schizophrenics do better with talk and ‘understanding’ and a reduction in pharmaceutical intervention. Many schizophrenics have fewer hallucinations and are able to work better and have healthier lives by talking out their souls. I have thought this may have been the case all the way through these last two or three Prozac Decades (my term). I think it’s a crazy, crazy thing for any government to deprive a person of that which is real and that which touches us to our souls and that which so obviously sustains us. The tests results are not saying to jump off medication, they are merely saying that people like warmth and understanding as well and that this can improve people.
Anyway, that’s my five cents worth. I’m off to walk a hill by myself.
I hope love and peace live within you,