Later on that sunny Sunday, I sat on the co-op porch, soaking in the atmosphere of the community hub. It wasn’t before too long that the old man who gave me directions to the gravel pit wandered by. William, or “Bobcat”, as he called himself, was an ex-pat with a matted white beard and weathered, smokey hands. He had a weekly radio program on the once pirate, now legitimate local radio station (that only broadcasts far enough for one side of the island to tune in.) The station was built by volunteers, out of spare parts they had sitting in their garages. Curious to see what this local radio station was like, I asked if he minded me sitting in with him during his broadcast.
“Sure, any time. Come on in tomorrow night.”
“I just may do that,” I replied.
As he pulled out his leather tobacco pouch and rolled another cigarette, we got to talking about music. He’s a blues harp player, originally picked it up because it was the most portable instrument he could take with him on the road. I asked him where he was from, and he responded with his aged crackling voice, “the road”.
I mean, where are you really from? I asked.
“Originally? From the states. In the 70’s, I received a ticket to a jungle in the far east, complete with a free uniform and a license to kill. I said, hell, Canada is closer and I won’t be gettin’ shot at! After that, I never returned.”
I told him I was tempted to do the same with the way things were going inside our own borders.
“How is it possible for you to become a citizen if you ran away from your own country?” I asked. “Didn’t they come looking for you?”
“It took me 6 years. From ’70 to ’76 I dealt with the Canadian government to get my resident status. Finally, I was offered citizenship.”
I didn’t probe much further on how exactly he managed to get his resident status, but part of me was skeptical that the Canadian government would be that lenient with refugees nowadays.
“You see all the farms around here?” He asks me with an inquisitive expression.
“Farmers always need a hand. All you gotta do is tell them you’re there to help. They don’t care where you’re comin’ from or where you’re goin’. They’ll put you to work and you’ll be able to stay here.”
Part of me lit up with the wild idea that maybe I could do something like that. The idea of having dual citizenship really appeals to me, especially considering that in Canada, if I’m hit by a truck on the side of a road while I’m biking across the islands, my medical bills would be paid for, regardless of my employment status. I told Bobcat about my friend who is $20,000 in debt because he had appendicitis. What a raw deal. Get sick, go into debt. Great job, America.
“You see, here, we pay higher taxes, but we’re taken care of. You just don’t need to worry about medical expenses.”
He’s not kidding about the higher taxes. Here, they have recently shoved through legislation that combines two taxes into one super tax, called the Harmonized Sales Tax, or HST for short. Through the combined taxes, you will pay nearly 25% tax on all your purchases, including services such as hair cuts. Ouch. As I write this, citizens are fighting to repeal the increase on taxes.
“You know, tomorrow morning, the Hope Kitchen will be giving out free food. You should stop by”
I asked whether this was like Food Not Bombs.
“Sure, it’s similar to that. We make pickups from local farmers, and give out excess food to people who need it.”
“That’s awesome. Back in Portland, I was helping out with Food Not Bombs, helping cook and make pickups by bike trailer. We would go to the farmers markets and get loads of perfectly good food. It’s amazing how much food there is that otherwise goes to waste.”
Once when my dad called me, I was helping out in the kitchen, I told him about Food Not Bombs, he said it was “God’s Work” that I was doing. I just think everyone deserves to not go hungry when there is clearly enough food to go around.
“Well,” I began, “I’m going to go bike around some more. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Don’t forget, there’s music tonight at the bakery,” he added.
I wouldn’t forget. I brought my flute with me all this way, and i was going to see to it that I would play it alongside other musicians. Hopping onto my bike, I rolled on down a long gravel hill until I reached the ocean bay.
After exploring the beach some more, I decided to head back to camp to make sure my stuff was all still there and to get my flute ready for playing. It was always a gamble, sometimes I may find a way onto the stage to play, other times not, but I figured I would give it a shot.
A long bumpy ride up the hill, and I arrived at the cardboard house pizza shop and bakery, where there was a sitar player strumming hypnotically in front of a grassy hill full of people of all ages. Children were chasing each other underneath the apple and pear trees, while young parents chatted over piping-hot pizza. There were all sorts of interesting people, including a few older folks who were dressed like it was 1969. I was liking this place more by the minute. The first thing I did was assemble my flute, because I immediately knew what to play. I sat down nearby the stage and began to play, to see if the performing sitarist would notice. He seemed to acknowledge me, but I wasn’t sure if he wanted me to play. I walked up to the stage and asked him if he wanted me to play. He was kind of busy playing, so only had the time to utter something to the effect of, “Talk to me later…” So, I got a few slices of pizza and started chatting with the locals. I talked with a woman whose family goes back several generations on the island. She said her last name was Depape, which I thought was interesting, because that was the last name of my first girlfriend. She was amazed at such a coincidence. I’m not sure they were really related, though.
During the interlude, the sitar player told me he might be able to let me play at the end of the set.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I have a really good ear for music and should be able to jump right in.”
“We’ll see. It’s a gamble, but I’ll give you a chance.”
Not that I want any ego gratification out of performing, but I love proving myself if there’s any shadow of a doubt that I’m capable. I don’t need to rehearse before performing with a new group, unless it’s something with many quick key changes like modern jazz. But this was slow, relaxing music that would be easy to improvise on top of.
Patiently, I awaited my turn to step onto the stage. After the next 10 minute song, the sitar player nodded and asked if I wanted to come up.
“Sure!” I gleefully responded.
I got up on stage with my flute, and the music began softly, and I had to wait a minute before it seemed like a good time to drop in. Once the beat started, I chimed in with a few melodies, adding another layer of harmonies. We played for 15 minutes or so, and I thanked the guys and packed up my instrument. I was offered free pizza and a lemon tart, which I couldn’t say no to. And to my surprise, the sitar player dug a 20 dollar bill out of the tip jar and gave it to me.
“I can’t take that…” I said, knowing that he was soon to have a wedding with the mother of his 7 month old child.
“No, really, take it. You’re not even from this country!”
I didn’t know what being from the states had to do with accepting payment for playing flute for a few minutes, but I replied, “You’re very generous, thank you,” and I took the bill. It was a nice surprise to be initially met with skepticism and then rewarded with a little food and cash once I delivered a solid performance.
The more I decide to stop thinking and start acting, the more I realize I can never know what life will offer me — until I ask. As night creeped further upon us, the air grew chillier and I said farewell to the musicians. I rode my bike back light as a feather, without all the luggage, it felt like a speed racer. The cool summer evening air blew back my hair and I looked up at the moonless sky, the stars penetrated the atmosphere brighter than I’ve seen in a long time. Life was looking up, and I was beginning to fall in love with the island.