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  1. #1

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    I start a new job Sunday, and it involves playing. It's in NYC, 'mentoring' adults with autism or Asperger's---2 guys who play piano/violin and elec. bass, respectively. I'm working in their homes, sometimes w/other mentors and there's jamming involved. I even have a place to crash to cut down all the commuting, until I make the permanent move. (Funny the way it worked out: I got certified as a 'peer support specialist' early last year and didn't even have to look for work. The gig came about from a long ago ad in Craigslist I answered and forgot about).

    The parent organization seems very good and the families rave about it. So...

    I turned 67 last Wednesday. No one knows how much time they have. I want whatever time I'm gifted with to be used well---and for the good. Composing pleases me. It's solitary until you can play the material in public, so it could be viewed as selfish in a sense. Playing for people, there's always a way and getting paid is better but I have to have that connection with people either way. I know enough good players to keep my chops sharp, get better. Those things are holding steady. Made 2 CDs I'm proud of and a book of my music will come out shortly. On the 'selfisher' front all is cool.

    I never revealed it online before, and I don't generally get into my personal life, but in NY I was in the shelter system 3 times (once by choice---so I could save for my move to PA). I also am supposed to have the milder form of bipolar (which I believe is a misdiagnosis, and anyway it's calmed down a lot---self-discipline; not being too reactive and just aging and getting comfortable in one's own skin are key. There's also the outlet of my musical gift and the ability to make and keep friends). But I've been around mental illness my entire life with my family. My brother's very disabled, living in assisted living. Our sister disappeared. My parents, father especially, were tormented and their lives shortened by it.

    I got some insight into people on the edge in the 'system'---and in 3/4 housing afterward until I got myself together. There ARE people working the system left and right---I'm not so liberal anymore---but a guy at Bellevue Men's Shelter nailed it: 'A black man's got to hustle to survive'. I grew up middle class and living with guys who didn't was a real eye-opener.

    So I thought, in terms of giving something back for the help I got (the Jazz Foundation of America especially were life savers, but I got plenty of other help and am very grateful) maybe this: once this org, the CFS (Center for Family Support) gets to know and trust me maybe do what a drummer I saw back in NY did. He organized a jazz band---I heard them in one of the shelters. They were pretty good. If they have a budget to pay a band, cool. If not I'd do it solo. Or lessons. Or direct a group in a facility.

    My teaching gig is for a national co. and can move me. I believe I'll be accepted into a low-cost senior building in Stamford, CT---a much easier commute to NY than from Philly. I don't need much more money, doing fine. So maybe if I don't get paid I'll just volunteer.

    We have to be thankful for our gifts and use them unselfishly. I do enough to satisfy myself...

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  3. #2

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    Joel, thank you so much for sharing this. It's inspiring.

    Regarding people on the edge working the system: many people truly on the edge have no way to take advantage of the programs that exist to help them. Without a computer, or a friend with a computer, they can't register; if they can get forms to fill out, many of those forms are complicated, and full of traps put in to make it harder for people to successfully fill them out. Programs to help the poor are much, much harder to access than benefits for the well-to-do. From an article on how much time we waste filling out government forms in The Atlantic:

    Programs for the wealthy tend to be easy, automatic, and guaranteed. You do not need to prostrate yourself before a caseworker to get the benefits of a 529 college-savings plan. You do not need to urinate in a cup to get a tax write-off for your home, boat, or plane. You do not need to find a former partner to get a child-support determination as a prerequisite for profiting from a 401(k).

  4. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Ukena
    Joel, thank you so much for sharing this. It's inspiring.

    Regarding people on the edge working the system: many people truly on the edge have no way to take advantage of the programs that exist to help them. Without a computer, or a friend with a computer, they can't register; if they can get forms to fill out, many of those forms are complicated, and full of traps put in to make it harder for people to successfully fill them out. Programs to help the poor are much, much harder to access than benefits for the well-to-do. From an article on how much time we waste filling out government forms in The Atlantic:

    Programs for the wealthy tend to be easy, automatic, and guaranteed. You do not need to prostrate yourself before a caseworker to get the benefits of a 529 college-savings plan. You do not need to urinate in a cup to get a tax write-off for your home, boat, or plane. You do not need to find a former partner to get a child-support determination as a prerequisite for profiting from a 401(k).
    I was referring to guys at Ward's Island specifically getting mad benefits; room and board on the arm---and selling drugs to residents there on top of it. Why would anyone in that position WANT to leave it? Free everything is a disincentive to work or DO anything. I didn't have the rough beginnings of some of these guys and even I got lazy and used to my hand being out---until I snapped out of it. Started driving for a car service again. Awful gig, but it got me off welfare and into a room. (But I'd mess up again---guess I hadn't suffered enough---and end up back in the system. Last time was '15).

    Tough love is the best kind. The safety net should be there for the truly needy, the disabled, those who b/c of lack of education; those who've done jail time due to early exposure to criminal ways and have a 'sheet'---making it hard to get a good job; those defeated by abject poverty.

    But some of those people use these things as excuses to keep the hand out. There are plenty of success stories that had these places as a step on the path too. And I know white privilege has always been there for me---whether or not I wanted it.

    If I'm gonna work with these guys to try to find a way to say they can do what I did---without sounding superior? Don't think so. Best to just let the spirit speak. People know when you're real or not.

    When I was at Ward's I got wind of Loren Schoenberg---an old friend from the West End days---had opened and was curating the Jazz Museum in Harlem. I visited and we had lunch a bit later. He told me about a guy he'd met who was writing on jazz for the Daily News. The idea was for me to write an editorial on the views I've just given about the shelters, propose some changes. He was coaching me and spending generous time emailing me with pointers. After I got out of Ward's I still had some rough waters to navigate in the 3/4 situation. 2 and 3 in a room---and these MFs were DANGEROUS! The house captain disappeared one day---to start his 2nd stretch in the joint for rape. He was a pussycat compared to my roommates. So I told Greg I'd best concentrate on getting on my feet---I could be a scribe any time. (Read Stephen Boone online on shelters in NY---he was there too, and his stuff is very good).

    I found out about Fountain House Bronx---and they were very important in getting me to play again (I was depressed and the guitar in a closet for a year. When I felt like playing again director Michelle Rodriguez got funding to put on a concert. These people with mental illness had never been to a jazz concert and they ate us up!); hooked me up with good housing. Making my solo CD at the late Bobby Lenti's (my friend since 1968) home studio in Lansdale, PA, I decided I'd had enough of NY for a while. Went back into the system for a few months to save some bread and move down Bobby's way. This time I again got lucky: the shelter was in Midtown---Turtle Bay, a few blocks from St. Peter's (the 'jazz church'). Music director Ike Sturm let me stash my axe and microcube amp in his office so I could busk and earn a few shekels (you can't keep a guitar in many shelters and psych wards---it's considered a 'dangerous weapon'). The JFA bought me a car. I got very lucky to find affordable senior housing in Philly and things turned around. Now it's time to go back, having learned a few things.

    And no one or thing caused my fall but ME. I lost my footing, f'ed up, and just happened to find it again. Not everyone is that lucky.

    Love people, but don't feed their sicknesses...
    Last edited by joelf; 07-28-2021 at 08:46 AM.

  5. #4

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    I think this is great, and you will do great.

  6. #5
    Thanks Jeff! Hope so...

  7. #6
    A lot of guys in shelters are just out of the joint. They're angry; scared---and have nowhere else to go. Men's and women's shelters are different than those for families. I had some rough scrapes with these guys---bullied; threatened. One nutburger had been in my multi-bed room. We left for a lounge at the same time. 'What're you lookin' at?' (I was looking straight ahead---he was behind me). Started chasing me and in that little lounge picked up a metal trash can to crown me. The guys gathered around, smelling blood. A fight is entertainment in those boring-ass places. I didn't know it but a young housing cop had followed him (they don't carry weapons in the shelters---it's a law I believe) and put his arms around the guy. 'Walk around outside for an hour and cool your nuts down. And STAY OUT OF THAT ROOM'.

    The very next night he was back---had to get security to remove him.

    But the real eye-opener was from a guy who was nice to me. This is how guys 'inside' learn to think: My bed was perpendicular to that of a stocky, rough-looking dude. He was sleeping and I went to plug my phone charger into the outlet near his bed. He woke with a start, said with some compassion 'I've been in jail a long time. My instinct is to punch 1st, ask questions later when someone I don't know gets too close'. He was on my side, but that's the way it is 'inside'. When these guys come out imagine what they're feeling. They need compassion; help; and most of all jobs. The looney who attacked me needs meds and counseling.

    Kept my head down after these brushes and got through it. At least I could leave and stay with friends when it got to be too much. The late Ben Gee, manager of Fat Cat, was a real friend, risked his job to shelter me. Inside I spoke when spoken to, unless I'd vetted people very carefully. It's how you survive.

    I play guitar and write music. That's the way I can help. If I do talk it's gonna be in their language and no lectures, no trying to show I'm down with the street thing. I'm not, and they'll laugh me outta there. I have a song, Shelter, that came right out of the experience. The lyrics resonate with all audiences we've played it for so far. I expect these guy's get it.

    Gonna say it with music...
    Last edited by joelf; 07-28-2021 at 12:17 PM.

  8. #7

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    Good job, Joel. i travelled a lot for business for many years and carried a real guitar if i drove, a soloette if i flew. I tried to stay true to my practice regimen. One time a lady saw my guitar in the corner of the workshop room and asked what i was doing for lunch. I said 'practicing'; she said good, come w/ me and bring your guitar. She was visiting her mother in a nursing home and she brought me in and i started playing standards and hymns i thought they'd know. This led to many more, all over, some of my favorite gigs. I learned that even dementia patients will remember lyrics and sing. I don't charge for it, and i always come away thinking i got more out of it than they did. I continue to do it today, sometimes involving guys from our big band, and have suggested it to players who want to gig....

  9. #8
    Seniors can be great and appreciative to play for. And they know the old tunes. They can be grouchy as hell too, for obvious reasons. Got some funny stories on that, for another day.

    Gonna stick to the mentioned populations though, for the above-stated reasons...

  10. #9

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    Well done, Joel. Keep up the good work!

  11. #10

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    This kind of work is much more effective when done by person's such as yourself, who have been around these kinds of issues. How great of you to share your experience and advice with those that need the help and positive influence.
    Last edited by AlsoRan; 07-28-2021 at 02:11 PM.

  12. #11