Thursday, March 19, 2009


Yesterday I saw someone from the design store days. His name is Vince. He doesn't recognize me anymore but he looks very well. Vince has been a fixture of downtown for the last 20 years or so. He's got very tan, lined skin and gold hair that he trims in a straight line just past his ears. He wears expensive jeans and looks relatively clean for being homeless.

When I first moved here, he was always dancing - wearing spandex - to a silent boombox in some corner of downtown. He seemed to put his whole heart and concentration into dancing. I probably made fun of him at first.

The owner's son from the design store had great compassion for Vince. He offered to pay him to do odd jobs for us like breaking down boxes and sweeping. Vince would suddenly appear in the office, standing silently. He would think for awhile about what he wanted to say. He started telling us about his life.

Vince decided to live the "gypsy lifestyle" after suffering from mental illness. He had a gypsy mentor in Southern California. He left his wife and young daughter . . . or maybe he was asked to leave. One of my co-workers would make phone calls for him as he was trying to locate his daughter. She would have been a teenager by that time.

Vince lived partially by foraging through the trash yet he was very selective about what he took. He often offered us pastries that had been thrown out from the next-door bakery in sealed bags. He was very generous. One day he brought me sueded leather fringe boots and told me "these will fit you fine." They did . . . . I only tried them once. I still have them as a keepsake.

Once a year, Vince hitchhiked down south to visit his mentor. He would spend a couple weeks in Long Beach on and around 2nd Street then return. The whole trip took about a month. The first time he told us he was going, we privately joked that it was an imaginary trip. Then we received a series of postcards with the appropriate postmarks.

My favorite thing about Vince was his love of color. He was fascinated by color and obsessed with naming the correct shade. I relished talking color with him. Was it celadon . . . lime . . . sage . . . chartreuse . . . moss . . . mint? There is something so meditative about considering color.

Vince's life probably isn't very easy or restful or comfortable. But he has such a peaceful look on his face. It amazes me that someone so gentle could survive the harsh elements.


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