Buddhahollah: My Man Jones

Boy, did I need this guy today:

I’ve been documenting my ridiculous Monday on Facebook today, and it’s been a lulu, starting with an earthquake jolting me awake to an overprivileged Berkeley mother asking me to move in the coffeeshop when I coughed twice because she thought I might be sick (I was here first, cunt—take your fucking neurotic ass elsewhere) to a jury summons to our health insurance coverer denying my mammogram to our next-door neighbors having to put their sweet dog to sleep.

So I’ve been half-jokingly/half-seriously whine-documenting my day on Facebook in a SERIOUSLY, MONDAY?!?! kind of way. But in all honestly, I have been feeling a little sorry for myself today.

And then I headed down to our bar, which is in what can be arguably be called “a rough neighborhood” by even the most charitable standards. And I ran into Jones.

Jones. My man, Jones

This guy. He’s been a fixture on Telegraph Ave. for so long that many refer to him as the Mayor of Telegraph. He’s earned the title, that’s for sure. He’s the eyes and ears of our stretch of the block. Nothing happens without Jones knowing about it. He keeps his nose clean, but that’s not to say he’s not tapped in to the seedy underbelly of the area. If someplace gets hit, you can be sure he knows whose fingers are in the mix.

Jones lost the use of his legs in Vietnam. He also lost a brother there. I can’t imagine his country has treated him particularly well in the decades since, but there isn’t a shred of bitterness hanging on him. The guy always has a smile on his face, and every time I see him—every goddamn time—I say “Yo Jones, how you doing?!” And his answer is always an unfailing “Hey! I woke up today! It’s better than the alternative!”

I can’t imagine anything in this guy’s life has been a cakewalk, but here he is, always rolling up on the scene with a big grin on his face and a big ol’ hug for me, making me feel like I’m the queen of his world.

Jesus, Jones. You really know how to make a girl put her day into some perspective. For that I thank you.

#buddhahollah

 

Buddhahollah: These Kickass Chicks

Got out into the world this weekend and met some fantastic folks in my community who are finding happiness in their own unique ways.

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“I’m an animal nut. I have weird animals. My boyfriend and I moved here in the dead of winter from Baltimore and drove all the animals cross country. We’d unload the dog first, and the people in the motel wouldn’t think anything of it. Then would come the chinchilla. Then our hermit crabs. Then Scooter here.”

 

“I met my husband when I was 17. We were married two months later, and that was all she wrote. We were together 50 years. He was part Greek, part Portuguese. Talk about a mix! God we had a lot of fun together! He died three weeks ago, and I’m having his face tattooed on my arm, with his ashes mixed into the ink. That way I can kiss him whenever I want. Poor man always had to deal with me kissing him all the time! Now he still will. This is my daughter. She’s doing the work for me.”

Buddhahollah: These Dudes

I worked the door at our bar last night, which is always a great chance to meet some kickass members of the community and snap some shots for my #buddhahollah project. I ask strangers about happiness—what were their happiest moments, what is the thing that brings them most joy, what mantras do they embrace to maintain a happy life—those sorts of questions.

Last night I met one happy motherfucker. Sure maybe because it was Friday night and he was a few beers in and feeling fine, but I think it was more that this dude has it dialed in. He’s figured out that you can’t control people so why get butt hurt about that which you cannot control? The man is speaking the truth. Anyway, a more laid-back dude you will not find.

“I wake up each day like I mean it. I wake up with a purpose. Life is good.”

 

Then we went to brunch this morning and the good fortune to meet this dude, who was smiling up a storm. When I asked him why, his answer was simple, and it reminded me that, really, you can always find something for which to be grateful.

 

“I woke up today with all my limbs. What’s not to be happy about?”

Buddhahollah: Mike

Yo my little Buddhafaces, I’m pleased to finally have gotten my shit together and gotten the BuddhaHollah! feature of my blog off the ground. I’m shamelessly stealing from Brandon and HONY and I’m getting out into my own community and taking pictures of the glorious people around me.

A bit of a twist though: in tying in with what the theme of my podcast will be (happiness…are y’all paying attention?), I’m asking the people that I photograph questions in the theme of happiness—what they do that makes them the happiest, what they do to get themselves into the flow, or remembering a moment they’ve been the happiest.

I was gonna start a separate BuddaHollah Facebook page and Twitter account, and I started and Instagram account and all that shit, but no one liked it the FB page, and even I’m at the point of social media saturation of myself, so I’m thinking I’ll just keep the BH as a feature of this blog and post on the Struggling Buddha Facebook page. Keep all this shit simple and not give y’all fucking fatigue. I am all about simplification these days, believe me.

Anywhore, without further ado, here’s today’s subject:

“I’m starting to get to a place where I’m seeing all the good things in myself that other people see in me. That feels really good, man.”

Buddhahollah: Robert

I’m not sure if I’ve ever talked about Humans of New York on my blog, but if you know me in real life, you know I’m a huge fan. If you’re not already a fan of his facebook page, get thine ass over there and like it because it will be one of the best parts of your day each day, I promise. I long ago decided I wanted to shamelessly copy his style for a segment of this blog called BUDDHA HOLLA! for people in my own community of Oakland. I plan on making it a regular feature on this blog. 

I’ve wanted to do this for a number of reasons. One, because it’s such an amazing concept—the idea of telling people’s stories with a simple picture and the answers to a few direct questions. Brandon of HONY has obviously gotten amazing at it. He’s refined his list of questions and gotten good enough at his approach that he gets people to reveal incredible tidbits about themselves that are so relatable that when you read these vignettes, you feel instantly connected to these people—you empathizewith them (there’s that word again). You feel connected to a pregnant homeless teen on the street rather than feeling scorn for her. Your heart swells for the kid who’s working three jobs to get himself and his three younger sisters out of the projects. He’s singlehandedly doing what all the politicians in the world cannot—he’s bringing us all together, making the world a little smaller for us. 

But secondly, I thought it would be a good thing for me and for my depression to force myself to get out of the house and into the world to talk to people in MY community, to hear stories of other people’s struggles and triumphs. It would give me some fucking perspective on my own navel-gazing and get myself out of my own head and my own problems. Enough of my own wallowing about my job discontent or my chronic foot pain—here’s a man with no job and no feet. That kind of thing. And lastly, just maybe it would give a voice to people whose voices weren’t always heard, which makes me feel like I’m doing something more than taking up fucking space on this blue marble we’re on. 

That being said, my first subject ended up being more of a full interview rather than more of a “man on the street” type of deal where I just snapped his photo and asked a couple of questions, which is fine by me. Robert is a regular at my wife’s bar, which is in a rather rough area of Oakland. It’s across the street from a halfway house in which Robert is a resident. Robert comes in to watch the games on our TV. He sits at the bar with his bottled water or Pepsi and usually will buy a beer for whomever he ends up striking up a conversation with, but he doesn’t drink. Over the months, he and my wife have struck up many a conversation, and after getting bits and pieces of his story, my wife asked him if he would agree to be my first BUDDHA HOLLA! subject. He graciously agreed. 

Robert is a gentle, soft-spoken man. It’s hard to imagine him doing time in some of California’s most notorious federal prisons, but he spent nearly 25 years of his life in places like Folsom and, until a year ago, San Quentin. He was the driver of the car in a drug deal gone bad and ended up with 15 to life for second-degree manslaughter, a deal he agreed to accept on advice from his attorney, who told him he’d probably do eleven years at most. But it was during a time when they were building lots of big, expensive prisons and privatizing them, and they needed to keep those puppies filled, so there Robert sat for twenty-four-and-a-half years.

A lesser man would be consumed with rage and bitterness, but Robert is sanguine about the path his life has taken. Robert accepts the fact that he might not have killed anyone, but he was in prison because he’d made poor choices in his life, and those choices were what landed him there: “We all make decisions…we all make decisions. At the time, did I know between right and wrong? Yeah I knew. I made my choices.” 

Robert wasn’t a violent man, but he was a small-time dealer and a junkie. He describes himself as “his own best customer” back in the day, and he acknowledges now that, had he not gone to prison when he did, he would be dead of an overdose. He made the decision once he went inside to get clean and sober and he said he never looked back. Once he made that decision, everything changed for him—he was one hundred percent sure from that moment forward that he would get out of prison and return to his family, and that gave him something to work for. He went back and finished high school and became a prison clerk. He became an NA counselor to other inmates. He was such a model inmate, it was the glowing letters of the correctional officers with whom he worked in the counseling program and in the clerk’s office that helped get him released in 2013. 

And now that he’s on the outside, he’s continued his passion for helping others stay sober. He speaks at NA meetings, churches, and schools. “Man, I see all these kids getting high and so I go to the high schools and talk to kids and tell them this is what can happen to them. I am what can happen to them. And when I tell my story, for some reason, everyone’s paying attention. I tell them ‘People, places, and things. Remember when you go out in the world, you’re gonna encounter a lot of people, places, and things. Make sure you make the right choices when you encounter them. Otherwise you’ll end up on the wrong path.'” 

When I ask him out of everything he’s done in his life—getting sober, getting his degree, making it out of prison, all of it—what he’s the most proud of, he tears up easily, and he takes my hand in his weathered, rough hands and looks at me with his kind eyes and says “Staying sober for 26 years.” He looks out the window for a minute, out onto Telegraph Avenue, a street that boasts its fair share of junkies, before continuing, “People can do things they don’t think they’re capable of doing. They don’t think they can, but they can. How do I live now? I live by changing my life. I made the decision to live. I didn’t want to be a dope fiend anymore. So I made the decision to get clean and sober. I’ve been clean and sober 26 years. I know who I am. I know what I’ve been through. I can’t tell my story, I can’t help other people if I’m not true to myself, and right now, that involves me being clean and sober. That’s what I’m most proud of.” 

Robert just got permission to move down to San Diego to live with his sister and her husband. They have a room all made up and waiting for him. He showed me a picture of it, and it’s gorgeous. He’ll be able to see the ocean from his bedroom window. He’s got a job lined up too. He’s worked around horses since he was a small boy and describes them as his sanctuary. He’s got a job lined up helping with equestrian therapy, helping disabled kids and vets through horse therapy. He’s excited to be working with horses again. He feels he understands them and they understand him. It’s a perfect gig for him. Watching him talk about horses is like watching him become a little kid again, eyes aglow. He tells me stories of his first encounter with a horse as a five-year-old boy, full of awe and wonderment, and it’s clear he can’t wait to pass along that passion to people who desperately need it. Robert, too, has been wounded, and he wants to use that experience to help others heal. His heart is big, and it’s clear he’s made room in it to help as many others as he can. 

He’s ready for the rest of his life to start. “I know where I was. I know what I did. I know what my threshold is. I know who I am now. This is the Robert I am, that I want to be. I’m in the sweet spot. I’m tasting the sweet part of life.”