Friday, December 24, 2010

Richard LeMieux: A Christmas Story of Hope

The man stood at the edge of the bridge, looking at the water far below. The traffic that passed ignored him - he was just another homeless person - invisible to most. Besides, people were celebrating Christmas, and the suffering of someone on the bridge was of little concern.

Richard LeMieux had lost everything during the past year. His business and home, his country club membership and his sailboats were gone. With his fall from financial success, his support system crumbled. He was an embarrassment to his family, and his ‘friends’ had long stopped returning his calls.

High atop that long cold bridge, Richard felt like a failure yet again. He desperately wanted to end his life, but he couldn’t even do that. For, in his van waited a small white dog named Willow, and he could not abandon her. So, Richard returned to his new life of surviving on the streets.

It has been eight years since he stood on that bridge. Years of pain, hardship, growth and miracles. “I was a 58 year old man with no place to go and no one could fix my problems for me,” said Richard. But, a few people did care, and slowly, the mending and the growth began.

“I got little bits of hope from a lot of people and I had to write about what I saw,” he said. So he wrote. He wrote about those who fed him at the Salvation Army, and the people at Kitsap Mental Health who listened and cared. He wrote about the odd assortment of friends he began making who were living on the streets. About kids living together in the woods and a mother raising her family in a storage unit.

He wrote about the dark times, and the unceasing love of his dog, who got him through so many cold and lonely nights. Without meaning to, Richard had a book - deeply personal and meaningful.

With the publication of “Breakfast At Sally’s” many have come to better understand the plight of the homeless, and three shelters have opened around the country, named after his little dog, Willow.

I was honored to meet with Richard last month, and I felt his story deeply. There was no sense of bitterness over what he had endured, and no arrogance over his accomplishments. The man I sat across from was warm, gracious and humbled by the events of the past few years.

Richard learned on a very personal level what has always bothered me about our society. That, for the most part, people are judged not by who they are, but by what they have. “I went from hanging out with rich people to hanging out with the homeless,” said Richard. “The homeless are the ones who have treated me with respect and accepted me for who I am.”

Richard no longer sleeps in his car, but he is still a regular at the Salvation Army where he has become a beacon of hope to others. “Now, I live to make a difference. For myself, I only want a place where I can be warm and dry and where I can write.” Richard is working on a children’s book, “Willow The Wonder Dog”, about how dogs give us unconditional love.

With so much to discuss, Richard and I talked for hours. As we prepared to leave our little coffee shop a man approached. Richard took his hand, looked deeply in his face and told the man how proud he was of his accomplishments and of the efforts he was making in his life. I had the sense that this was a man who was overcoming his own life challenges, and I could tell that Richard genuinely cared. He knew and practiced the truth - that each individual has the ability to be the voice of hope in another person’s life.

May the holidays not bring you bags of goodies, but peace, hope and an appreciation of each other and of each day’s miracles.

Photo: Richard LeMieux could be found writing his book, "Breakfast At Sally's", on a donated manual typewriter at local parks.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bob, The Seducing Cat

His name is Bob.  Covered with fuzzy blonde hair, his broken left ear - crunched over at an odd angle - gives him an air of jaunty personality.  But he is a cat.  Just a fluffy old stray that showed up one day and decided to stick around where the food was good.

He lives outside and for the most part, does what cats do. He hunts mice and drops their carcasses, and squirrel entrails at the front door - gifts to those who live inside.

Bob selected this house with care, for Bob is kinda kinky for a cat.  Bob has a passion for those of the canine variety.  He loves dogs.  LOVES dogs.  And, within this house reside Newfoundlands.  Lots and lots of Newfoundlands.  Somewhere close to a ton of Newfoundlands - some 17 in all.  This is heaven for a perverted cat like Bob.

Today, Bob has another 100 pounds of Newfoundland arriving. Arayo is in town. Arayo - the one with the high prey drive. The one from who's jaws I've removed 2 cats. Fortunately for the cats - removed unharmed. I saw a bumper sticker recently that was made for Arayo. It read "I LIKE CAT'S TOO! WANT TO EXCHANGE RECIPES?" That's Arayo and cats........

We get out of our car and Bob comes running. He wants to meet the new dog. To rub against her. Weave between her legs. Jump up, place his paws on Arayo's face and nuzzle her nose. Bob seems like such a sweet cat, so I swallow and wait for what will come next.

Apparently he knows what he's doing. He's a pro, ole Bob is. Perhaps seducing all the other dogs he's met before were just preparing him for this moment - charming Arayo - - the cat eating Newf!

And, charm Arayo he did. Charmed Arayo's cranky, kinda "not so thrilled about cats" owner, too. We both took to Bob. But he still leaves those body parts at the front door………….

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Murdering the Bitch in the Box

She insisted I take her to New York City. Whether to see Broadway or the Statue of Liberty, I don't know.

I tend to believe she was evil to the core. That she knew a detour into our country's largest city would put me into traffic and bridge situations that would trigger a panic attack that could prove my demise.

So, I ignored her. But she kept up her nagging. "Turn here, right HERE!" she'd demand. She was some kind of high-maintenance nag - or more likely a clone to the townswoman in the Wizard of Oz who wanted Toto killed - the nasty Almira Gulch. Almira morphed into the Wicked Witch of the West, and see how that turned out! This chick was starting to really tick me off.

But, I had the steering wheel and she was the mere navigator. I ignored her. She continued her unrelenting annoying harping, then changed tactics, taking up passive aggression. In her role as copilot, she'd direct me to the wrong address late at night. Take me down long dirt driveways which, rather than ending at the home of a loving couple with Newfoundlands, presented a series of beat up trailers which were guarded by pit bulls. I could usually hear the strains of the theme song from Deliverance coming from within the depths of the compound.

I decided to kill the bitch. I'd had just enough of her and she was becoming a major liability.

She's gone now. I'll not hear any more from her. She's been replaced with Paolo. Paolo speaks Italian with a heavy accent. I don't understand much of what he says, but that is okay. He may be trying to send me off into major cities as well, but with his sexy voice and delivery, every time he tries to direct me off my plotted course, I imagine he is saying "Bella, why don't you turn off on this road? I know of a lovely little trattoria where we can stop for a bit of pasta and a nice glass of wine. Not there? Well, this road will take us to a little cafe with the finest cappuccino in the state."

"Oh, Bella - if you must follow your own directions, that is okay," Paolo will say. "I'll stick by you, no matter where you take us. I'm Italian and for Italians, it is about the journey and not the destination - unless the destination includes an excellent plate of pasta, wine and good friends."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Visiting The Dead

We are joining the dead today. I draw Arayo near and we pass through the tall gates on which statues rest, eyes closed, mourning those who have left this world. Those we are about to encounter. Quietly, we make our way into this place where spanish moss drips from tree branches that reach across roads - like rotting skin which has lost its hold on long boney fingers.

As far as we can see, stones and statues mark the place where the dead lay. The bodies of Civil War soldiers and ashes of Holocaust victims share the grounds of the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah with politicians, authors, mothers and children. It was brought to international attention when a haunting photograph of one of its statues - a young girl holding two bowls - became the cover for the book "Midnight In The Garden of Good And Evil". The "Bird Girl" has been removed, but the photographer, Jack Leigh, died too young and today rests within these grounds.

Possibly one of the most haunted cemeteries in America, we watch for the pack of ghost dogs, said to roam this place - growling and barking their intimidation of the living. Perhaps they are guarding little Gracie Watson who died at the age of 6. Buried beneath a life-like statue, the little girl was so beloved that even into death, visitors bring her trinkets and leave them at her grave. If they are removed, the statue cries tears of blood.

But, it is not for these that we search. We have come to this place, for Arayo has a special connection to one who rests here. Officially named "Capriccio's Life's What U Make It", after a song written by lyricist and composer Johnny Mercer, we've come to visit the grave of the man responsible for her name.

Beneath a simple flat stone, Johnny Mercer rests, though a bench has been placed across from his grave. Inscribed with the names of some of his more famous songs, an etching of his profile adorns the top. A couple weeks ago Johnny would have celebrated his 101st birthday and someone marked the occasion by placing a red rose on his grave and stringing a tacky birthday banner on the bushes behind.

Is Johnny Mercer hanging around, waiting for visits from Newfoundlands who's names contain his song titles? Perhaps. It is reported that someone visiting his grave once began softly singing some of Mercer's songs when a mist formed in a stream of sunlight near the grave. The mist disappeared as quickly as it came but those who witnessed it suspect he may drop around to visit from time to time. Or maybe its just some of "That Old Black Magic".