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Musical accompaniment provided by Steely Dan’s “The Royal Scam”
Tuesday, November 20, 2012

by Larry Ciptak

Don’t Take Me Alive

Man, I wish I could tell you what my life is really like. It’s much more amazing than the silly antics I write about here. So I generalize about the street stuff and instead attempt to capture a general mood or ponder a thought, placed in somewhat of a social context and without judgment, which is impossible.

But I appreciate you reading this anyway.

Every Monday night I am presented with the opportunity of finding light in what appears on the outside to be the darkness of street homelessness. But I find light in abundance. Sometimes I keep it to myself, sometimes I write about it. Tonight I needed to write, despite the fact that I have 15 things to do tomorrow.

Steely Dan’s “Don’t Take Me Alive” just came on and caught my attention. I stopped and listened to lyrics for a change–as a musician, 95% of the time I am listening to the musicians rather than the vocals. They seemed appropriate for tonight. I’m going to take the lyrics to this song and write some thoughts around them. But I wish to acknowledge my deepest regret that I can only divulge portions of my street adventures in my sporadic posts, mainly out of respect for the residents of the underpass.

Imagine that–a Ciptak, practicing portion control. Let’s wait to see how long it takes for that experiment to go awry.

Below are some lyrics from the composition coupled with following meandering thoughts. I’m winging it tonight, writing about whatever floats through my Polish onion. The Chinese say when you care about what others think of you, you become a slave to their thoughts. I am letting you inside my head to a relative but innocuous degree. What you do with that information is up to you and does not affect me.

The Chinese had a lot of basic truths figured out–2,500 years ago. I was born in the wrong period of history and in the wrong place. I’ve had it way too easy. Bring me a hard life. Maybe next time around I’ll be sufficiently challenged on a multitude of levels. For the most part, my generation does not grasp the concept of sacrifice. It’s not an indictment, it’s simply a fact. I wish I understood sacrifice, but I never will.

The lyrics:
Can you hear the evil crowd
The lies and the laughter
I hear my inside
The mechanized hum of another world
Where no sun is shining
No red light flashing
Here in this darkness
I know what I’ve done
I know all at once who I am
Don’t take me alive

This spiritual journey we’re all ultimately on has taken me to some interesting places. As a rule, I naturally gravitate to where I feel fed spiritually, intellectually and emotionally. When I don’t nourish myself spiritually, I feel separate from my Creator and typically wind up depressed. If I wasn’t getting something out of “helping” the homeless, chances are I’d stop doing it. My street rounds are a spiritual vessel for me. It has less to do with benevolence on my part than you might realize.

And if what I “do” on Monday nights is not of body but of spirit, how can I adequately explain it when I have no clue myself? It’s not a calling and I am not evangelizing –so what am I doing? Who knows and who cares. There’s an indescribable connection there, and that’s all I know. It is what it is. So be it (Latin for “Amen”).

When something was really cool in the late 1970s, we’d say it was “tits.” You should meet some of the individuals who provide the needed items for the street rounds. To me, they’re tits. Beautiful men and women, generously donating their time and sometimes money to buy or collect good, practical gear that’s needed on the increasingly cold streets of the North Side. What wonderful, kind, intelligent, soulful folks I’m encountering. Some of you I’ve known for years and others are names or emails at this juncture. The guys and gals under the bridge wanted me to thank everyone for the goodies. They take only what they need, and everything is much-appreciated. Everyone responds well to simple kindness.

Rumor has it a load of deer, bear and wild turkey are soon heading this way from Lewistown, near State College. Everyone is looking forward to eating the game, cooked proper (need to research proper marinating methods and such). I envision a big pot of bear stew, with whole small potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, some garlic and other spices, with thick gravy made from the stock. Umm. Any time-tested recipes would be appreciated. We’ll be grilling it every Monday, regardless of weather or temperature, even when it’s 10 degrees out. Bring on the meat (did someone say, “that’s what she said?”).

I can feel the vibes as I’m passing along what on the surface appears to be simple custodial items–like a blanket–and that’s really all they are without a real human encounter to go along with it. I tap into the collective humanity within every one of you. I need you and more like you. When I say I feel the love, I mean it. I am simply a conduit, a messenger, letting these men and women understand that we see the human beings behind the broken facade. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart, which bursts with joy and breaks simultaneously.

There was a small surplus of blankets tonight. Everyone who needed a blanket received one or two.
The homeless climb into bed earlier when it’s cold. It was quiet tonight when I arrived as usual around 8:30. Perhaps I’ll switch nights or further shake up what little routine I have and simply go down to the underpass earlier. Who knows what I’ll do, this is a work in progress.

So it was a quiet and rather peaceful night under the bridge. No one was shooting up (unless well-concealed) and I didn’t any signs of prostitution or other such nonsense. No obtrusive drunks. Quiet. Would have been a great night for a fire but the police don’t allow that.

Underneath that indistinct underpass I have these moments–who knows how long they actually last, because time becomes suspended– of what I’d describe as pure clarity of thought. It’s an incredibly heightened awareness where all senses are suspended and it’s possible to see the interconnectedness of everything that surround me and the things that surround that and so on down the line. How we are truly one–whether we like that idea or not. God help us if we should stop, think and realize we’re not the center of the universe but instead play a miniscule but nevertheless vital role in something beyond human comprehension. It doesn’t happen every time but it has occurred more than once. These unique periods of time, those moments when the world stops, are absolutely invaluable to me as I strive to achieve higher levels of consciousness because I feel that pull, that yearning for oneness, that level of pure understanding that comes and drifts away as quickly and as mysteriously as it appeared. But a moment, however short, is gold. And those who participate through their philanthropy and with their good hearts make it possible.

No good street stories to tell tonight, folks. The real good ones I save for those closest to me anyway. Mick and I hung out and played football, while people came and went but with more purpose, like it’s f’ing cold out and I’m getting from Point A to Point B as expeditiously as possible. So no real milling-around tonight, just me, Mick and a football.

It takes a good 15 minutes to work Mick sufficiently up for good sport by gradually increasing his physical challenges (I can still throw a football well at 50) until something in him snaps into place and bang, it’s game time. Then we go at it. I brought my A game tonight but with a sore shoulder and a long day behind him, I got a B out of Mick. But he gave 100% of what energy he had left. Usually he runs circles around me but tonight was mine. Bear in mind that we’re both competitive individuals, hard-wired that way. We enjoy mutual respect but deep down both of us like to win, to emerge with that sense of hard accomplishment that these soft little bastards of today will never understand. They play their Wii and see who can kill more virtual soldiers and their lives become further mediated to where everything appears to be a secondary experience and their emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth is stunted. Bah. My daughter is not going to grow up inundated with that nonsense. Primary experience only is what she’ll get when with me. Interaction. Socialization. Volunteer work (which she’s already doing at five). Learning to coexist and develop meaningful relationships with people even if you’re tuned into your own proprietary frequency (“the mechanized hum of another world”). Self-acceptance. God-consciousness. Love in all its facets. A sense of community, possible even in these transient times. Bountiful opportunities. Travel. Exposure to lots of great music. Ample encouragement and resources to nourish her as she pursues her own creative paths. She locates the itch and I’ll help her scratch it.

Back to football. It’s in the 30s and I’m running around making these crazy catches that a balding, half-blind, out-of-shape white guy shouldn’t be making. I surprised myself tonight–still have it in me, eat my dust, young ones! I’m taking off my increasingly sweat-soaked layered clothing off one at a time. I threw an absolutely perfect and relatively long pass for the observing Pittsburgh Police to enjoy–then politely nodded to them. Then I whooped a couple passes over some PAT busses. With the exception of a few miss throws, I nailed Mick time after time and gave him some great passes to jump after.

At the end I stood there drenched in sweat, arms in the air, taking in deep breaths of city air, feeling triumphant, alive, prepared for the world, bring it on, all of it, let’s see what I can really handle, I’m ready!

Larry Ciptak
11-20-2012 2:39 a.m.