Went to the pub last night. Ah, the Irish Heather.|
I got there early, so I waited outside for everyone else to get there. This was Gastown, so there wasn't a lot of traffic. I stood, in my long black coat, at the corner of Gaoler's Mews, a cobbled alley that winds between the buildings and past the back of the Irish Heather pub, and watched the people going about their business. The clubs around me were all quietly throbbing with the repetitive thump of dance music, pulsing lights leaking from ill-sealed doors and the large second story windows that framed people as they bounced and swayed to the music. The flavours of the street.. a combination of the old-fashioned restaurants, the people, the clubs, the smokers huddled outside, and that indefinable scent that says "heritage." Gastown is old. It's got that feeling.. that sort of old Dublin charm, but taken out of time. Not Now, now Then. You can just as easily picture the clop of hooves on the cobbled streets as you can the purr of engines. It's modern and aged all at the same time, with people of all different sorts, from the pretentious to the homeless, with the club-goers somewhere in between. So it was that I met Gordon The Preacher. I stood and watched a line of people waiting to get into a club, and listened to the thin, spiky-haired guy just outside the Heather talk quietly into his phone, and noticed the homeless lady rummaging through a rubbish bin, when I heard the distinct sound of a harmonica. I had no idea what it was playing.. it wasn't terribly good. But the sound was enough out of place that it caught my attention, and I glanced across the road to see a shabby fellow stamping along, clearly filled with purpose, but not quite certain as to what it was. He turned a corner and started to move away, just as some very cute, though slightly accessible-looking girls wandered past in a swirl of fragrance, dressed for clubbing, and I lost him. So, bored again, and waiting, I gazed up the street toward the Heather, wondering about the time, when suddenly the harmonica player was back, stamping toward me, a rendition of "I'm Henry the Eighth" finding its way out of the depths of his beard. And such a beard it was. Castro himself could not have conjured such a beast. It clung to his face for dear life, as though he would be only too happy to leave it behind if it let him. As I turned my attention toward the sound, the beard and its owner appoached, with a purpose now very obvious. Here was a homeless man, and he was about to ask me for money. I braced myself to utter the standard "Sorry, I don't have any change," and waited for him to ask me. He wandered up closer, but not too closely, giving me my space, and finished his song with a flourish.
"I played that because you look like royalty, man. I mean that. You remind me of Henry the Eighth. Just put you in the robes and everything, the crown and everything, and you're just like him. I mean the guy had so many wives, he must have had a good thing. Variety, you know, bro?"
Ok, an interesting opening. Any second now he'd ask me for change. Any second.
"I like the guy, you know? He was cool. Didn't hurt no one, bro. Just liked his wives."
Well, aside from all of the beheadings, ok. But perhaps this scruffy creature didn't know about that. Since he was clearly taking his time to get around to asking for money, I took a moment to actually look at him. He had clean, washed hair, not the greasy mess that homeless people usually have. Not that they have a choice, of course, but it was a stark contrast. He wore a fraying green jacket, with a thin, striped sweater beneath it. I didn't take my eyes off him long enough to look any further down, since Gastown does have a reputation. In his face, there was no trace of drug use. There was no trace of alcohol abuse. And though his clothes could have used a good wash, there wasn't even the reek of tobacco smoke about him. Normally, you can tell a druggie from the eyes. He was completely clean. If he'd ever been into drugs, it had been so long ago that he showed no signs of it any longer. Clean and sober. Someone who was really trying.
"You going to the Heather tonight?"
"Yes." What do you want, then?
"You Irish or Scottish?"
"A little of both, though mostly Irish." Why haven't you asked for money yet?
"I should a been Scottish or Irish, bro, you know what I mean? I mean, I'm Yugoslavian. I was totally born in the wrong place, you know? My mother always said 'You're not Yugoslavian. You should a been from Ireland,' you know? That's why, you know, I always watch the old movies. When they're in Scotland or Ireland, and I recognise that stuff, the country and everything."
And he proceded to play "Scotland The Brave" on his ratty old harmonica. And he was really playing.. either very good at improvising or he had been practicing. Probably the latter. But he was so earnest that I couldn't help but smile. Over the course of the next little while, he told me about how he believed in reincarnation, and about how he had been Irish in a previous life. He told me about how he had been homeless until a few weeks ago, and about the things that happen to people on the streets. He explained that his time on the street was obviously so that he could learn a lesson, thanks to "The Big Guy," who had some sort of plan for him. He told me of his philosophy, about how the way he treats people will change the way they treat him. I heard about how he was trained as a boxer by a world champion, and about how he's living at a hotel that costs fifteen dollars per night. That was when I thought he'd hit me for money, but he didn't. He just kept talking. It's why they call him The Preacher, apparently.
"What's your name, man?"
"I'm Gordon. Yeah, Irish, huh?" I felt obliged to shake the hand that was offered, even though I had no idea where it had been. I did make a mental note to scrub my hand the moment I got into the Heather, though. But for all of his strange appearance and behaviour, and his odd outlook, I quite liked Gordon The Preacher.
"Did you come from The Old Country?" The Old Country? That's going a bit far, Gordon.
"Yes, some time ago." He was delighted to hear that, and immediately launched into a rendition of "Gypsy Rover" featuring harmonica and jig.
For almost forty minutes The Preacher talked at me about life, society, personal interaction, respect, and many other subjects, and listened to him play his favourite songs, including a very heartfelt "Danny Boy." I heard all about his most recent altercation with a bouncer, his incident with a crack dealer, and many other stories.
Eventually, as I knew it would, the request came.
"James, I'm trying to find work, but I've got to get by while I do. I'm only accepting fifties and hundreds tonight, though. See, there's that laugh. I like you, bro, you've got a sense of humour. Is there anything that you can do to help me out? If you can't, that's no problem, man."
"Sure Gordon. Here's twenty dollars,"
Yeah, it was probably all an act. Either that or he's a little off centre. But you know what? One way or the other, I liked Gordon The Preacher. He worked very hard for that money, and he was probably only expecting a small handful of change anyway. Sure, he doesn't have a job, but he's still working as best he can to get by. I have my nice, clean office, and my nice car and clothes and everything else. I can spare twenty dollars for someone who goes to this much trouble for some change. He works much harder than I do.
His eyes lit up when I held out the fresh, uncreased bill. He took it quickly enough that I couldn't change my mind, but still politely enough that he wasn't snatching it from me. In one hand he clutched his harmonica and his twenty dollars, with the other he insisted on punching my fist.
"Hey, thanks a lot, man. Listen, if you ever need anything around here, if anyone ever gives you a hard time or you need to find something or someone or anything, you just let me know, ok? Thanks a lot for this,"
"No problem Gordon. It's the least I can do for another fellow from The Old Country,"