The Kindness of Strangers

My brother, Todd, would have been 46 today. We lost him ten years ago after a long, valiant and ultimately heartbreaking struggle with heroin.

This sounds depressing, and I apologize for that.

But I can’t apologize for the amazing journey that was his life and what he finally made of it: He was the picture of humility. As gifted a musician and writer as ever there was one, he was warm, protective and funny.

My hero, always.

Today he is my guest blogger. I share the following letter with a smile, a tear and a request. It is this:

If you meet anyone who is homeless or destitute today, please show him or her a little tenderness.

You can be certain that he or she is someone’s brother, sister or beloved child.

March 14, 00


Maybe there really are miracles. This morning I woke up in despair and despondency; I was broke and unemployed, feeling less than zero. I hadn’t completed my Grow Program classes. I was afraid I might be cut off from G.R. and worried how I’d make next month’s rent.

So, I decided to go out and pawn the guitar my friend Steve had lent me. Hopefully, I’d get it back before he found out. I was overcome with guilt, but I went out anyway.

I started up 6th street –I live in the industrial Cold-Storage warehouse district, just south of the artist’s loft district and just east of the mission district and Skid Row– and I headed west.

I passed the M.T.A. bus depot, the main dispatch and maintenance hub for L.A. buses, and S.R.O. row, a dozen refurbished single-room-occupancy shoe box hotels and “Cardboard Condo Village,” an extra-wide stretch of sidewalk with refrigerator boxes and plastic tarp lean-tos for the dedicated crack-cocaine street addicts.

I walked past Fred Jordan Mission through a sea of small-time, crack-addicted charletons and street hustlers, all calling out to me, “Cavy, Cavy,” ” Nickel, Nickel,” and the various other names for street drugs. I stepped over some drunks passed out on the sidewalk in the middle of the day.

I crossed San Pedro Street and weaved my way through crowds of shuffling homeless. I stopped in front of the multi-million dollar L.A. Mission complex and bought a cigarette from one of the many cigarette dealers –three to a block– that one finds in the mission district.

Finally, I was above L.A. Street and outside of Lucky Pawn broker. I asked for a loan on the guitar and was told that they don’t take musical instruments. Shit. I tried the next pawn shop just up the street and got the same response.

I stepped out into the street, and a little man with a white beard walked up to me. “No luck?” he asked.

“None of these places take instruments anymore, only jewelry,” I said.

He said, “They don’t know its worth because they can’t bring the beauty of music out of  it. To them, it’s like a camera without film.”

“I see your point,” I said, “but I think it’s really just a matter of business. They make a better business with jewelry. It appeals to anyone. Only a musician would be interested in a guitar.”

“I’d buy it from you,” he said, “but I don’t play. However, I’d be willing to loan you ten dollars if that would help.”

I was astounded. “That’s very kind,” I said, “but I don’t know how I’d be able to repay you.”

“All I ask,” said the strange little man as he dug through his pockets, “is that you help someone else if ever you get the chance.”

I told the man that I was very grateful for his kindness, and he assured me that it made him happy to see that I wasn’t separated from my guitar. “I perceive a genuine need,” he said.

The man gave me twenty dollars.

On my walk back through downtown, I stopped at the free-food line on Industrial Street, but I was too late; all the food had already been handed out.

“Hey there,” called out a short, older black man with a head of grey hair. “You a good man,” he growled pleasantly. He handed me a sandwich, a soft drink and an apple and sent me on my way.

Maybe there really are miracles.

Talk to you on Sunday. I love you.


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