He sits in a plastic lawn chair on the Santa Monica Pier with an acoustic guitar. His matted blond and white hair is pulled into a ponytail which falls haphazardly over his army jacket.
Spread out behind him is the expanse of the Pacific Ocean, sunlight shattering across the ripples. The sky is a heartbreaking clear blue, divided by masts of boats and seagulls rising and falling. He doesn’t see it. He stares into a wooden staircase, where an old black man sits on the landing wearing a bright blue pinstripe suit and yellowed dress socks- he gives the impression of having sat there, on that step, for years.
If they have sat there, year after year, one singing and one listening, they give no clear sign of recognition, no bond but the bond of the refugee. One sings sad songs, songs about Vietnam in a clear and classic voice, and all the tourists are sobered as they pass. The other waits, old dress shoes hanging loosely over the weathered plank bleachers. Nothing is coming, and nothing will change. They wait.
The singer strums and pours out his blood as the Asian tourist holds his camcorder and observes from a 4 foot radius. A dollar bill is dropped in his guitar case. He sings about saying goodbye to his brother while a teenager and her boyfriend pass, hands in each other’s pockets, carefree and in love. He doesn’t see them. He sees the steps, and the pain, and the dollars.
We sit on the faded blue bench in the hot sun and listen, our backs to the singer. His harmonica weeps and then he sings about knocking on heaven’s door. Everything is quiet but the clarity of his voice and the harmonica reminding us that we, all of us, are in need.