Three Dogs and a Mexican (Part 2)
It was a Sunday.
Boulevards normally jammed with traffic were less so and moved more freely. It was a day of leisure. People were out and about.
The park was busier than the day before. Children ran in circles. There was laughter. Music played.
And, my eighth run began alongside the concrete aqueduct.
Just as the day before, I ran about a mile, and then veered off the right. I scaled the first wall effortlessly and ran a considerable distance before coming upon the same cinder block barricade I remembered from the previous day.
I had arrived at the blue tent.
But this time, the tent had an occupant. A small-framed man, perhaps 30 or so, sat upright on what appeared to be a sleeping bag. I did not want to startle or disturb the man. So, I quietly made my way over the wall and began to proceed down the path to continue my run.
Suddenly, one of the dogs started barking. And the other dogs too, joined in unison. The canine alarm bells had gone off.
I could not see the man’s face clearly. But, he must have been fearful. After all, few passersby run along the aqueduct and certainly no one scales over two barricades – on a weekend, no less – to invade the solitude this man had etched for himself in what was a gigantic foreign metropolis.
Alerted by the barking mutts, the man quickly rose to his feet when he saw me. He appeared startled, and it was easy to understand why this was so.
Seeing a invader passing along the aqueduct, in a place off-limits to pedestrian traffic, had to be a terrifying prospect for this frightened man resting in solace, who was clearly Hispanic, probably Mexican — and almost certainly an illegal alien.
That’s right — an illegal alien. Chew on those words for a moment.
The term we so loosely throw around in media and casual conversation sounds so dirty and dangerous. But that’s the term we use to describe this man. What a perverted abuse of language it is. An illegal. And, an alien.
The man looked at me with fear in his eyes.
Sympathetic to the notion that I had invaded his space, I tried my best to reassure the man that I meant no harm. I uttered one of the few Spanish phrases that I knew, which was — hola.
Hearing this one single word must have put the mat at ease, at least somewhat. He began to realize that my intent was not to bring harm.
The man replied with a string of words and phrases which I did not understand. There was an awkward moment of silence. I considered that it might have seemed odd to suddenly steak away at that instant, to continue my run — which had been my intent on this day. If the man saw me approach his tent and then suddenly dart away – even in an exercise mode – the consequences of that fear may have provoked a response I did not want.
I walked quietly past his tent. The three dogs began pulling away from the ropes that bound them, eager to bond with a human touch. Next, the man approach the dogs. He kneeled down. He smiled and began to pet them. The dogs stopped barking.
And that’s when it hit me.
Here’s a man — no different than me, really – except he had the misfortune to be born south of a certain river somewhere and is now sentenced to an undeserved purgatory of utter anonymity. A man without a home. A man without a country. Persona non grata. Neither here, nor there.
Here was someone who presumably was a good and decent man, who was willing to make extraordinary personal sacrifices, probably leaving behind all he knows and his loved ones behind, in search of a better life.
How can we fault this man? Who would dare fault this man?
The man came here for one reason – to do shit work. He didn’t come here to steal my job or yours. He didn’t travel great distances to drive you from your home. He didn’t come here to rob us or cheat us. He didn’t come to America to change us. He arrived here to wash our dishes. To clean our toilets. To pick our crops. To mow our grass. To do all the the shitty back-breaking ball-busting disgusting tasks we either do not want to perform, refuse to do, or which are beneath our so-called dignity.
Yes indeed, this was a man who had sacrificed everything. Here was a man who had nothing. Nothing at all. There wasn’t a hell of a lot different from this man and those who landed on the eastern shores of America some four-hundred years earlier, except that this pilgrim crossed a desert rather than an ocean had darker skin. And yet, we celebrate those same forefathers while deeming this man an illegal alien.
Despite all his hardships, here was a man who possessed enough compassion to do what was so simple, yet so utterly extraordinary. Despite not knowing what the next day would bring, he provided shelter, food, water, and devotion to three stray dogs. He didn’t even have the means to feed himself. He had no job. But he was willing to sacrifice for the sake of three helpless animals, who were probably convinced they were living in Beverly Hills.
He had nothing. Yet, he gave everything. Think about that exceptional inspiration for just a moment.
Oh yes, I thought about it. A lot. In fact, there rest of my day was thought-provoking in a way that other days were not. Over the next several hours, I reflected back on what I had encountered — my close encounter with the alien kind.
Determined to do something — anything — to help this man, I visited a Dollar Store and bought some wet and dry dog food. I also purchased various food items the man could use. The following day, I vowed not to run. Instead, I would walk from the park to the blue tent. This was not to be an exercise, but a mission.
And so, on the ninth day — I came upon the blue tent, just as before.
This time, the man recognized me. Only, he wasn’t afraid. He seemed to welcome my visit. When I approached the man with two bags, I think he knew something special had arrived. To me, this was far from making any kind of personal sacrifice. But at least it was — something.
The man seemed both astonished and grateful. For the first time I saw the face close up of this immigrant. The lines in his face. His dusty clothes. His leathery parched skin. His persistence under unimaginable conditions over which he had no control. More Spanish was spoken, which sadly I did not understand — but which in actuality I undertood perfectly. The words were essentially his way of expressing thank you.
There was something immeasurably pleasurable about that good deed and seeing the gratitude upon the face of a man whose name I did not know. What this man desperately needed was a break. What this man needed were many, many breaks. He’s alone, but he’s not alone. Out there are undoubtedly millions more like him. Indeed, millions of breaks are needed, even if they come one small gesture at a time.
More days passed. I ran alternate routes and different paths during the following days. But as my stay in Los Angeles neared its impending horizon, curiousity began to set in about the Mexican and his three little dogs. Before departing the City if Angels, I would make one last trip to the tent, and bring more food.
And so, the ritual was repeated again. The store was visited. The first barricade was crossed and then the next.
And, as I stood upon my toes to peer over the fence, hoping and expecting to see the man whose name I did not know, I was instantly struck by a sight I could not have anticipated.
The man was gone.
The dogs had vanished.
The tent was no more.
An empty pall hit me. I felt sadness.
The frame of the tent remained intact. But the familiar blue canvanss was gone. So too were the baskets of cans. Instead of barking or phrases in Spanish, there was only silence. There was a barren void. There was a sense of abandonment. The man and his three companions were gone.
Gone to where? No one knows. And no one cares. But, he’s still out there. Somewhere. He has to be out there — somewhere.
There is a man among us. He’s an utterly-impoverished man, but also a generous man. He’s a man so ordinary, but also so very unique in his ability to carry on.
There are many more men, and probably many women too who are just like him. They are pawns in an atrocious chess game played by governments that have abondoned his basic needs and corporations starved for cheap labor who have reduced good people to being treated like refugees.
And that’s exactly what they are – economic refugees.
We see them all the time in our communities. They camp out in front of our Home Depots, waiting from sunrise to sunset, hoping for work, any kind of work in order to make barely enough money to make it through another day.
So, the next time you pull into a Home Depot parking lot, look carefully at those faces so full of hope and desperation. Maybe you will see him waiting there. He’ll be the Mexican with a smile, with little reason to be joyful.
He may even be carrying a few cans of dog food.
Writer’s Note: This story took place in early January 2012 while I was visiting Los Angeles. The next several blog entries will be a backlog of original essays and never-before published stories from the past six months. I also expect to post several past experiences and reflections, including my first-hand account of the 1989 Romanian Revolution, which I have never discussed. This blog will be updated daily with new material. Welcome!