Being human

My dream –

Selling local, national, and international newspapers and magazines at a busy corner newsstand; a money apron at my waist; no cash register, adding machine, or calculator. Staples are taxed; no staples, no tax. Early morning.

A good looking black man, early middle age, approaches with a local mid-week newspaper, placing a hundred dollar bill on my narrow waist-high worktop.

‘Sorry, man, I can’t change a hundred. If you haven’t any change, just take the paper on me. It’s only fifty cents.’

‘Really? You’ve giving me a paper?’

‘Come on, that’s nothing. If I could, I’d give you what you’re looking for, too, unless it’s news; I haven’t got much of that.’

‘You guessed it, kind of. I’m looking a place to crash, first, and then a job. Got any ideas?’

‘First, forget the paper. By the time it is printed, it is already out-of-date. Go to the public library right up the street, and look on Craigslist, or any of the other local job boards.’

‘Things have changed a lot since I was out here last.’

‘You been in the service?’

‘Yeah. How’d you guess? I tried to make a career of it, but everything is fucked up now, and that option no longer makes sense. I can’t stand to look at that picture of that pathetic excuse for a Commander-in-chief.’

‘May I shake your hand, both for your service, and for your opinion?

Shaking hands, ‘I was in Vietnam. It was bad, then, but it’s worse now, far worse.’

‘No wonder you’re cool. You’re an old hippie who got his head shaved, and was sent to fight a war that wasn’t his to fight.’

‘And you’ve been through a few yourself, I’m sure. Fighting in uniform for a country that treats you like shit at home. That’s gotta hurt.’

‘Yeah, it hurts.’

Another man comes up with a copy of the Manila Times. He is also middle-aged, greying sandy hair and beard, with an immediately noticeable wilt in the corner of his mouth. Confirming an accident or stroke, his speech is barely intelligible.

‘How much?’

‘Three dollars. Sorry, I know that’s a lot, but it did come all the way from Manila by plane, this morning.’

‘No worries. My girl friend, my fiancée, really, asked me to get her one.’

‘Have you set a wedding date?’

‘We have. We’re getting married the 14th of next month, July, in the little Catholic church on the hill.’

‘Congratulations. In that case, this paper, and every Philippine paper you get from me until your wedding, and through your honeymoon, is free, my gift to you and to your bride-to-be.’

‘You don’t have to do that, man.’

‘I know, I don’t, but I have a very fond place in my heart for the Philippines. Is she Filipina?’

‘Yes, she is. She was working here as a nanny, but got laid off. I helped her out, and we got to liking each other. Now we love each other; so we’re going all the way.’

‘You’re a good man. You know, if you marry an Asian, you marry her family. There are certainly advantages to that, but also, for some, disadvantages. You can’t refuse family.’

‘No, I’m cool with that.’

‘Well, I wish you and yours all happiness, good health, and prosperity.’

‘Are you serious about the paper, papers?

‘I am. I wish I could do more.’

‘Maybe I’ll bring her by to meet you. she will want to thank you.’

‘That would be lovely. But there’s no need to thank me. I would like that, though. What’s her name?’

‘Marissa.’

‘And your name?’

‘Gary.’

‘Cool. I’ll look forward to one or both of you again soon.’

‘We’ll be back. Thanks so much.’

As Gary departs, paper in hand, my conversation with the recently discharged serviceman resumes.

‘That was crazy. I didn’t understand a word he said, that’s why I didn’t say anything, that’s why he didn’t say anything to me, but you had no problem. How is that?’

‘I used to work with seemingly speech impaired, non-vocal children. I look and listen beneath the surface. Much of communication is unspoken. As far as Gary is concerned, I just took his speech as dialectical. If he is understood by someone from another language and culture, and he can make himself understood to her, there is no way I, too, can’t follow along.’

‘So you’ve been to the Philippines? You said you have a fondness for the country.’

‘Yes, I have been there many times. It was a refuge for me when I was studying in China, in graduate school, during the turbulent 80s. I am a China scholar/expert, currently masquerading as a newspaper salesman.’

‘Get outta here! What? Really? Why?’

‘That story is a long one, and now another story has begun. That one ended with my last drink. This one began in sobriety. There are no free rides. I have no friends or family upon whom to turn or to lean. I’ve had to figure out how to navigate the new maps of my life, because all of the old maps proved faulty. I got a bad start, followed by a lot of shit just as bad, followed by more shit after that. I don’t do recovery like most people. I work it out. I tough it out. I find a way. Life does not give itself to one who tries to keep all of its advantages at once. But it’s not the continual romance with pain that I always thought it to be, either. There is just as much joy as there is pain, and, strangely, miraculously almost, all that pain has made the joy even more exultant, more brilliant. You just have to be open to it. This conversation with you, and the one with Gary, I will remember them with a smile on my face.’

‘My name is Tyrone, by the way. What’s yours?’

‘Morgan Morgan, short for something most people regard as too long. Tyrone, pleased to meet you. Did you know that your name is Irish?’

‘You’re kidding. It can’t be Irish. It’s a black name.’

‘That’s what people think, but they’re wrong. Tyrone is from Gaelic ‘Tír Eoghain’, meaning ‘land of Eoghan’. Eóghan was an Irish king in his own right, and founded the ‘Tír Eoghain’. It is present-day County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.

‘How do you know all of that? I thought you were a China scholar.’

‘Before all that, before everything else, and more important to me than anything else, I am Welsh, and a native speaker of Welsh. Though our languages differ significantly, especially in orthography, Irish and Welsh are both Celtic languages. I studied, too, in Ireland, for a while, Comparative Celtic Linguistics.’

‘And now you’re selling newspapers.’

‘’You can’t judge a book by its cover. That’s why I don’t judge. Without saying anything, you put a hundred dollars down for a fifty-cent newspaper. What was I to think? I thought the best of you; that you didn’t have change. That is all. Most of my life, I have been the ugly white sheep amongst all those beautiful black and brown sheep. I could not change the colour of my skin, the colour of my eyes, nor would I, because I am as I appear, I appear as I am – Welsh, through and through. I felt my inferiority, though. I feel it still, standing next to you. That’s the truth. All that matters, really, when it comes right down to it, is that the heart is stronger than the hand. Our blood is the same. It’s not just that it’s red. You have some blood that is mine, but that I have never known; I have some some blood that is yours, but that you have never known. Does that make us equal? No, no one is equal. We are all unique. It does make us brothers, though – blood-brothers.’

‘Wow. You’re a wonder. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard something I wanted to listen to, and from a white man. I’m very glad I met you. Who would have thought? Can I buy you coffee sometime, to thank you for the paper, to visit with you some more, to get to know you better?’

‘That would be great. Coffee, however you take it, though, will be far more than a newspaper. Don’t worry about any of that. I’m off at three, if you want to swing by. Afterwards, if you’d like, we can go to my place, for my laptop, and my internet. It’s more convenient than the library…and more friendly. We can at least make some progress in your search for a place and a job. Until you find a place, if you’d like, you can sleep on my couch. My place is modest, but you could make yourself at home.’

‘That’s a very gracious offer, which I will gladly avail of, but staying there, that’s too much.’

‘It’s up to you. I always give as much as I can rather than as little as I might. By the look of you, you don’t need a hand up, but a steadying hand. If I can offer that, I will. I do. Everyone has something to learn, something to teach. I can’t wait for my turn to shut up, to sit at your feet, and to listen to the lessons you have to tell.’

‘Alright, we’ll see how it goes. I’ll see you at three.’

‘See you then.’