Tin Man thinks of the ancestral quilt that hangs in his wife’s suburban guest room. His auntie gave him the quilt because he was named after his great grandfather whose name is stitched in the quilt. Nevertheless, Tin Man considers himself the black sheep of his family.
Tin Man is the oldest cousin among nine on his father’s side, but childless. Most the rest of his family resides on the East Coast. Tin Man’s people were lumber barons in upstate New York. He did what he could to leave them behind at age seventeen. Looking back perpetually hurts.
Tin Man navigates with Langston’s directions in his little put-put Ford Fiesta. He still doesn’t know how to navigate with his phone, so he is grateful for his memory. Before long he finds himself deeply embedded in urban Richmond.
As he starts negotiating one-way streets, he notices a much older part of himself emerge. His chest puffs out and his shoulders naturally drop. He drives a bit faster. It’s as if a piece of the inner-city has entered him. He chooses to view this as acculturation rather than racism. He spent years and years fitting into inner-city contexts as a youth.
Tin Man arrives at Taco Bell. He knows his dog, Jesus, won’t do well in the car alone with the window down. Indeed, she barks despite the treat. Worrying about Jesus throws Tin Man off center. When he enters the Taco Bell, he feels a need to rush.
Langston is easy to spot in the small sitting area with a sprawled-out suitcase open and many small objects. Tin man notes a carrot stub, a prayer book, some writing pages, a phone, and a candle among other things. Langston looks like he has lost a lot of weight. Tin Man wonders about his wellness.
“Hey, isn’t it great, they finally allow them to play Mexican Music in Taco Bell,” says Langston when he finally picks his head up and sees Tin.
Tin catches the wise smile as their eyes meet. But in many ways Langston looks sweaty and vulnerable in his undershirt in a way he did not when he was Tin Man’s guest speaker some years ago.
Tin finds himself having to slow down, check out the scene, and make small talk while Lang collects his stuff and talks.
Finally, Tin Man explains that his dog is in the car barking.
“That’s right,” says Lang, “You have a new dog.”
Tin explains about Jesus’s separation anxiety. Sure enough, as soon as the door of the Taco Bell is open Jesus’s bark fills the parking lot.
Lang speeds up and with confidence across the rough-textured parking lot, and says, “Oh, I think we are going to have to make friends.
Relieved to be soothing Jesus, Tin Man leashes her and lets her out of the back seat.
Lang takes off his hat and bows his head and says, “When she sees I have no attachments to material belongings she will become more at ease with me!”
Before Tin can control Jesus on the retractable leash, Jesus bares her teeth, gets extremely close to Lang’s face, and snaps with precision, just missing.
Tin’s apology does little to pierce the intensity of the moment. Lang becomes more determined and flattens his entire body against the pavement.
Jesus barks as she is pulled backwards but slowly presses against the leash until she successfully sniffs Lang.
“Now we will be okay,” says Lang with assurance.
Lang ignores Tin’s apology and arranges to put his suitcase in the trunk of the Fiesta. Jesus allows Lang to get in the passenger seat without protest.
As the car rolls out of the parking lot, Lang lets Tin know what time he needs to be dropped off by to make curfew at the shelter where he is staying. He gives himself an extra forty-five minutes so that he doesn’t have to go to a church service. He is sure he can get away from it.
Tin Man has no problem accepting it when Lang quickly falls into a pattern of doing most of the talking. Tin recalls a time period when he was coming out of crisis when he’d had to do the same thing. Unfortunately, his hosts had always been very judgmental and socially disciplined him. As a result, he is happy to be there for Lang without saying much. He drives slow devoting full attention.
When the car hits Richmond Parkway which circles the north half of the declining, post-industrial city, Tin knows the way. They cross under the freeway and enter the posh Point Richmond. Tin navigates to the little tunnel that goes through the hill.
As Lang talks, Tin is reminded of elements of Lang’s story from the hospital and occasionally fills in blanks he might not otherwise get. Langston was dropped off at a Chinese Orphanage and adopted by his grandmother. His family expected high levels of success and when he got accepted at UC Berkeley, he had to admit that he couldn’t read due to learning disorders he’d hidden. Lang is good at telling his story!
Now Lang is talking about dropping out of Medical School, which he points out happens to a small portion of every class. A van comes from behind and violently speeds past on the double lines.
Tin feels bad because he had slipped into a slow pace due to giving his undivided attention.
Lang is clearly thrown by this display of contempt. He interrupts himself a couple of times to exclaim his disbelief.
Lang’s comfort with homeless shelters is admittedly foreign to Tin. Back when he was in an emergency state, he had worked seemingly endless numbers of twelve-hour days to avoid them. He’d had to bike and BART four hours a day just to travel to his job at a suburban Italian Delicatessen, Money from home was needed for ten months to supplement his nine dollar an hour income to keep him in the boon town apartment he’d rented. He hadn’t considered the alternative of receiving food stamps. If he had been resourceful and applied for entitlements, he would have been far less tortured by his family during that time period.
As a result, Tin understands that he can’t relate to Lang’s disgust with the speed of the modern word.
In the trailhead parking lot, a camper van is parked for the night. There are more and more people enduring a homeless lifestyle in every pocket of the bay area these days. Up north fires are raging and the air quality is poor.
Tin notices a few dogs leashed on clothes lines. He hastens to leash Jesus and give her a chance to sniff.
The dogs get up and bark forcing the woman and man sitting in lawn chairs in the dust to pull on the clothes lines. Both Tin and Lang greet them and hasten to get Jesus out of their way by starting up the trailhead.
The walk is a little steep for Lang who is fifteen years Tin’s senior.
It takes Tin a little while to tease out where Lang is coming from. He senses Lang knows about his struggles against the black-market economy during Tin’s emergency. Lang seems to be trying to help him. There are many stops.
Lang is proudly able to describe some of his grandfather’s attributes. The attributes explain his rise to power. He ran a company that operated along the west coast in Canada and the U.S. that provided alcohol during prohibition.
Lang explained how his grandfather won and maintained his power and how the workers used him to police and eliminate dangerous people. “It is not an easy business,” exclaims Lang, “but it is necessary part of life.”
Lang shifted over to his Mother’s Father. “When Communists came to take over his village, my Paw Paw encouraged everyone to escape and stayed to fight the Communists all by himself.”
The trio arrive at a fork in the trail. Tin who had envisioned doing a bit more walking accepts that this is the place most of the work is going to happen. Jesus is quite nervous and constantly claws into the dirt pressing against the leash.
“My mother couldn’t look at me as I grew up and my grandma loved me to death. However, when I boarded the plane to come to America, Grandma said she would be right back and I didn’t see her again for two years. I was six years old and I felt utterly abandoned. I have been repeatedly hurt by people who abandon me as a result. When grandma died, I felt I lost everything! I have struggled not to blame people for abandoning me my whole life and it wasn’t their fault . . .
As Lang talks boldly in this manner including flurries of details, he cries openly; and then, quickly returns to laugher. Then, he seems to return to his next lesson. Tin Man recognizes this being a sign of true healing. He does his best to link into the analogies made to demonstrate listening.
“My mom was hateful to me. She expected me to become a doctor and disowned me when I got into drugs. I wanted to be a minister and author and she said, ‘I will not have a poor penniless preacher for a son!’ That is when I went into the corporate world. It is the one time I really committed evil in this world. I am ashamed of myself for that.
“I never knew a thing about my mother until I visited her on her death bed. She loved my Paw Paw so much she refused to flee with everyone else. The communists killed her family and forced her to come with them. She essentially had to marry one of her beloved family’s murderers to survive. There was a rape in the process. When I learned about that on her death bed, I learned to forgive her.
“Memory and history are funny little beings,” ponders Lang, “It is like that movie Castaway with Tom Hanks, when they tried to find the deserted island that his plane crashed on. All they have to do is be off a fraction of a degree, and they won’t even know the island exists. And the ego suffers in isolation.
Tin had likewise been touched by the movie which he saw eighteen years ago. At that time, Tin’s one black market friend had referenced the movie and promised him that one day he would get off the island.
Tin believed he was being gang-stalked by his family. He had not trusted a soul other than his puppy dog.
He’d done everything he could to defy his friend and his family. His friend had after all threatened his life. His family had supported a long-term hospitalization and his father had begged him not to leave the dilapidated compound without consideration for how much incarceration hurt Tin Man’s heart.
In Fresno, Tin Man had prayed for the chance to have safety in a therapy session like Tom Hanks did in the movie. That kind of safety he hadn’t found until he met his wife twelve years ago.
“It wasn’t until 2000, continued Lang that I was finally able to admit that I was bipolar. I was working as a social worker in Fresno and in the height of my addiction.”
Tin noted that he was in Fresno at that time, nearly homeless and looking for work. “That’s where I was when I saw the movie, Cast Away!”
When Tin finally got hired at a Foster care agency called Genesis, he’d had to choose between the job and family support. And the only way to get family support was to move up to the bay area and take the Italian job with the killer commute.
He tells this to Lang whose eyebrows rise.
“Yes, I know of that foster care agency!”
Lang makes a reference to the apocalyptic fires burning in the distance that are clogging up the air with smoke. “How can a tragedy so vial become something we learn and grow from. Tin, you should imagine how Moses felt when he wandered through the desert for forty years. Can you imagine what that felt like to walk in circles for forty years.”
“Yes, I can. It must be like the people who drive circles around the city of Richmond without ever knowing the stories that lie within!”
Tin imagines that many of Lang’s stories lie within the city. He is still not sure he’d made any sense. Lang’s point seemed to be that it takes time to heal from slavery. Tin has always known the stories of those enslaved in Oakland and feels the world will learn to care again during Armageddon.
“Tin, I too have written a book and I lost all of it one day when my car got burglarized. It is about the seven deadly sins.” Lang lists each sin and creatively defines each . . .
Jesus’s claws are still digging in the dirt. Lang continues to go from tears to laughter.
Finally, Tin proposes that they begin walking on the flat trail. Tin unleashes Jesus who instantly puts some distance between herself and her owner. Tin notes the distance.
“Give your dog some trust and she will trust you back,” suggests Lang.
Tin definitely understand where Lang is coming from. He reflects on Lang’s suggestion knowing Jesus.
Jesus bolts after a squirrel, a sure sign she will not respond to calls to return to safety. Jesus is a devout hunter and her prey instinct is very high. Lang and Tin are safely above the street on the trail and Jesus is barking up a tree that is ten yards from the road below.
Tin calls for Jesus. Eventually Jesus responds. The two reconnect. Lang and Tin walk along the flat trail and the conversation flows.
“You may wonder how a person with a background such as me ends up in prison!” says Lang.
Tin thinks about the terrors of prison and the warehousing of so many undeserving individuals. He believes that it is far to easy for a body to get framed or marked during the process of incarceration. Prior to his hospitalization he had been the only law-abiding social worker in a section 8 housing authority.
Lang goes on to reflect on his time in prison fondly. He identifies the role he played as being a negotiator between the gangs.
“Prison gangs have complete control over the behavior of people on the streets because they know where everyone lives and can harm gang member’s loved ones if they don’t comply.
“But for me,” continued Lang, “I knew that my negotiations could result in many lives being saved on the streets and a strong sense of justice that was of optimum benefit for everyone. It was one of the better times in my life.
This reinforces many of Tin’s views about Prison. Tin thinks of the prison stories of his co-worker and clients. Prison politics remind him of the State Hospital where he received many recruitment efforts. It is a bit of a preoccupation for him.
“I know how easy it is to get caught up and even framed or sacrificed by your crew. I make no preconceived judgements. I was afraid for two years that I would end up in prison. Three months in the state hospital was enough for me. I get what it’s like. But I really appreciate you sharing your knowledge with me.”
Jesus has made her way back to the vicinity of Lang and Tin. She creeps up on a mole hole. Suddenly she pounces. Jesus’s motion reminds Tin of the dance move in the movie Teen Wolf. Jesus assumes the pose and slowly lunges for maximum impact. Then, she digs at the hole trying to terrify the mole.
Suddenly, Jesus makes a high-pitched grunt and then jumps back in fear as the mole has lunged back at her. Poor Jesus has to get a taste of her own medicine.
The three reach a dirt road that cuts back to the paved road. Tin Man leashes Jesus. They descend down the road. It has been a very short hike but a lot has happened.
Tin knows he is not a man of color like Lang. The privilege of his skin is one of the only reasons he did not end up in prison. He thinks about how conscientious people like him often become the mark. They end up poor and penniless in the mental health system. From Tin’s perspective, jail and prison are a slave industry just like the mental health industry from which he now takes a salary.
The streets of Point Richmond are full of cars on Saturday night. Tin Man circles the blocks hoping to find a parking space with shade for Jesus. He continues to listen intensely to Lang until Lang realizes that it is dangerous to keep talking. Then, Lang aids Tin in just barely finding any space.
Tin knows Jesus is occasionally able to stay in the car for his wife when she runs errands. He sets her up with water and another treat. She immediately starts trying to pry open the window with her two paws and then with her proud chest. She is shrieking with anxiety.
“Okay,” says Tin, “I am sorry but we are going to have to find a place where we can eat outside with Jesus.”
“I’d be happy to break bread with Jesus,” says Lang with a smile.
Tin, Lang and Jesus circle adjacent blocks looking for restaurants with outdoor seating.
Lang talks about wanting to open up a restaurant with friends from the shelter. He is having fun and showing his creative side. The restaurant would be called the melting wok and it would be full of all varieties of America’s stolen cuisines. And workers would share in the profits.
Tin had once wanted to have a show for single people who wanted to avoid domestic tasks. He had always bragged to all who would listen, he would be the nemesis of Martha Stewart.
Lang also explains that he is on a walkabout, traveling between here and LA. He explains that his wife and son stay in his studio apartment in San Leandro. He stops and befriends some patrons of a restaurant with gregarious manners.
Tin can see Lang has resiliency and hosts of social skills that he can use to survive on his walkabouts. Tin ponders Lang’s positivity,
Tin was utterly demoralized back on Unit C in Montana State Hospital when he was living a life of neglect. He remembers that Lang is likely dealing with bed bugs and a cot in barracks back at the rescue mission. All his belongings including the carrot stub are in the suitcase he has in the trunk of the Fiesta. And here he is still upbeat and wanting to have a good time.
Unlike Lang, Tin has always been sensitive to depravation. In college he went to an inner-city commuter campus. He never went to a single college party. In those days Tin was an unapologetic Marxist. He gave up his privilege in search of a better world.
Tin Man knows if he was in Lang’s situation, he would not be able to walk up to diners at restaurants and spread good cheer.
In another sense, he is observing a new skill he can learn here. He often learns by observing the beautiful spirits of others. He now believes in a spiritual world that guides people. It’s taken him a while but he can understand how elements of the spirit can be lost in some Communist regimes as well as by countries that enslave and exploit others for profit or cheap labor.
Tin has to reject almost all the restaurants because he is a vegetarian. Many places that look interesting don’t have outdoor seating. Lang and Tin settle on a Russian delicatessen.
Lang has made it clear that he is going to drink with his meal. And asks Tin if he drinks.
Tin explains that he hasn’t had a drink since he was sixteen.
“I had problems regulating my eating and ended up sitting in on twelve-step meetings while in my second hospitalization. Listening to those stories and struggling with an eating disorder was enough for me. I steered clear from all drugs and alcohol.
“How about you,” inquires Tin without judgment, “are you a friend of Bill’s?”
“Yes, the halls are a large part of my life,” admits Lang. “I get a lot of support in meetings. But I still drink. I believe in balance when it comes to substance abuse. I don’t believe in labeling myself an addict.
Tin leaves Jesus with Lang and takes Lang’s order, a sandwich with two meats in it, to the counter. He orders a cheese sandwich for himself. Then, he gets himself a Gatorade and Lang the Mickey’s Ale he requested.
Tin innocently wonders how strong the Ale might be. Then, he smirks. On the streets a mickey is a laced drink so his answer is clear to him. This Ale must be super strong.
Lang admits his shock that Tin does not drink. He eats half of his sandwich and packs the rest of it. He makes polite conversation. Tin Man is not at all hungry but finishes his very boring cheese sandwich. Jesus lays loyally at Tin Man’s side.
Suddenly Jesus lunges violently. I small child has just run past the table. Luckily, Tin is holding the leash tight. The table tilts as does Tin’s chair.
Even Lang doesn’t know what to say. After a moment, he comments that this is very unusual. Jesus is clearly deeply wounded.
Tin Man has observed this behavior before. It is very hard to understand what triggers Jesus. Some dogs don’t bother her, yet sometimes friendly, secure dogs set her off.
It has occurred to Tin Man that Jesus may be able to read the personal thoughts of other beings much as he’d been able to do when he was in psychosis.
Training Jesus has been a far greater challenge than his last dog. Tin Man’s last dog was very mature, loving, and resilient, kind of like Langston.
Tin Man had learned to train himself to act as if his ability to sense reality is not real through caring for his first dog. His past love had to endure twelve-hour days alone. The dog’s love and resilience had been a true inspiration. Her spirit was gregarious.
Tin had sensed that Jesus was wounded when he visited her at the dog rescue clinic. Even the literature that the rescue operation had written about her hinted that she needed help. But now that Tin has a house, a wife, a salary, and is not coming up off the streets, he has chosen to challenge himself.
Now he can help Jesus not react to what she sees. Now he can better understand what others went through during his struggles. Now he could right the wrong that was done to him.
Tin Man has been collecting his thoughts through the meal. He is stunned by the way Lang honors and loves his family in spite of all he’s been through!
Tin Man’s family had total control over a series of Lumber Towns in Upstate New York. His Great Grandfather had been the justice of the peace over his town. His Great Grandmother had been the social worker. Together they controlled the workers and made sure they didn’t go home and beat their wives and children. His Grandmother had been an only child. The company had even been profitable in the great depression. The rest of the family seemed to be enamored with their privilege.
But coming up during summer vacations in the Adirondacks, Tin Man tended to see things differently. He felt the company had abused their power with wages for the sake of ridiculous profit. He viewed his “good-hearted” ancestors as instilling exploitive social control over the workers as if they were slaves. He knew what it was like to be treated in this manner. True, they may have appeared to be loved by their workers, but growing up Tin tended to sense underlying resentment.
Tin always remembers ol’ Jack McKiney who was such a loyal company man he befriended Tin’s father and helped teach him to be handy. Tin’s whole family would visit the old lumbar jack and hear stories, summering away from suburbia away from their private school.
By the time Tin was eight years old the old man started a pattern of ranting at him. Tin’s father would sit back, smile, and let this go on as if there was something wrong with Tin. Year after year, the old man would seem to let out his lifetime of resentment on Tin.
The onset of the rants happened when Tin had repeated something his father had said about the work that was done by the townspeople to clean up the mill site. Tin had merely told his cousin what his father had said. His cousin had told this to Jack on a visit. Tin’s father had never said anything in defense of Tin, just smiled.
Years later, as Tin turned to the service economy for survival at age seventeen, he certainly started to understand how the old lumberjack felt. He wanted nothing to do with the vacation land that the rest of the family seemed to cherish. Tin had seen how his townsfolk friends survived poverty by running drugs amid rural poverty that was left over after the Lumbar company closed down.
Tin just couldn’t let go of this reality and love his ancestors. The disparities in the summer were just too strong. It wasn’t his father’s fault! His journey had caused him to emphasize the underbelly of the beast.
Ever since his struggles some eighteen years ago his family just seemed to treat him like a schizophrenic failure. That only made it harder to change his perspective on his people. His grandmother’s last words to him was that his book made the family look bad. She hadn’t remembered Tin Man due to dementia, but she had remembered the book.
Tin and Lang had to hasten themselves from the meal to the car to make Lang’s curfew at the rescue mission. Lang takes a precious minute to see what is left of his Ale. He carefully stows it in his water bottle so it can travel through the shelter undetected.
“Wow, Tin Man, I had so much fun tonight. If this was a date, I’d definitely sleep with you.
There is an awkward pause.
“No, Tin don’t worry! I am not gay!”
Normally, Tin feels embarrassed to have someone witness the deterioration of his affect. However, Tin senses that Lang can recognize that his extremities are tingling. Tin sensed that Lang could see some of the truth that had made its way back to Tin’s memory when he’d written his memoir. Still he doesn’t understand this part of himself very well. Somehow, it comforts Tin to imagine that Langston understands
In the car ride back, Lang tells Tin Man that he is a really good teacher for him.
With utmost sincerity, Tin Man repeats these words to Lang.
Tin hopes Lang knows how helpful his work tonight had been for his own sense of healing. Sure, Tin might have to engage in hustles to maintain his habits, but Tin Man is sure, he does mostly good for others. He fancies himself a good reader of Lang’s spirit.
Like clockwork, Tin pulls up to the mission and Lang hops out, grabs his suitcase out of the trunk and, joins the crew coming back from their mandatory church meeting.
Tin Man is alone driving back from Richmond and is hit with a sense of sheer exhaustion. He remembers that when he had crossed the boundaries of his job as a social worker and investigated street murders some eighteen years ago, he had lost his heart for beautiful souls like Lang.
As a result of those actions, good people like Lang had been forced to gang-stalk him for two years. Was this true? Had all the people who appeared part of the scheme really been forced to go out of their way just because he had not understood the rules.
At first Tin Man had blamed his experiences entirely by his own family. Eventually, he started to use medication. Now he attributes the gang-stalk to the powerful oligarchs that that run inner-city sectors of our country and decide who lives and who dies.
Tin Man can see his interdependence on good people like Lang. Tin prays they can be there mutually for each other in the name of generational healing.
Tin Man still wants to have his heart back. Perhaps all he needs to do is stop all the hypocritical rage.
Tin rages about his own good fortune that forces him to exploit good people like Langston for a living in a slave industry. He prays he is a mole in the system. Sure, his clients are happy to use him to heal. Sure, they love him. They are like his ancestors’ townsfolk.
Still, it doesn’t make his suburban house righteous!
Langston is right in the wisdom conveyed in his stories. Tin must find a way to forgive his family. He needs to love his people more and judge them less. He longs to end his dependence on the mental health industry and the machine.