Saturday, April 25, 2009

Who the hell is 'Moondog'?

My Island is a nice place to live. It takes a while to get used to the steady ebb and flow of traffic headed for the racetrack, hotel, and casino at the end of ‘Da I-Lan’, but after a while you begin to identify the cars and their destinations. For instance, the Buicks and Cadillacs are gray hairs headed to the slot machines. The brightly painted ‘rice-burners’, with their annoying ‘angry wasp’ exhausts, and the beat-up pickup trucks are headed to the poker tables. The Escalades and the Acura SUV’s with the blacked-out windows and oversized wheels are headed to the table games. The high-priced pickups and Suburbans will likely end up at the greyhound track. There is nothing carved in stone about this system, but experience tells me that it’s close. Being an area where families live, including teenagers, we also get those REALLY annoying teen-aged white boys in painted-up used cars with rap music playing on stereo systems designed for stadiums. The speakers are so badly bottomed-out that there really is no music, just a piercing, penetrating buzz that is so loud it vibrates my windows and hurts my ears inside of a closed building and forty feet away. Some day there are going to be lots of deaf young white men who finally turn their hats around and look in the mirror.

It’s starting to warm now and people are coming out of their houses. As I mentioned in an earlier piece, ‘Da I-lan’ has a lot of huge old houses that have been broken up into apartments, Those apartments are attractive to young people just starting out and working at entry level jobs. As a result, the warm weather brings out a flow of people on bicycles, couples holding hands, old people walking to the store, families and young women pushing strollers followed by toddlers whose little feet are flying just to keep up. I like seeing the families with the young father right there with his wife and their offspring. They are a family unit; the building block of our nation. I also see the young women, sometimes in pairs or groups, as they push their strollers along the street. Their animated conversations are often filled with anger and words that I’m still shocked to hear from a woman’s mouth. Where are the fathers of those children? Somewhere there is a male whose DNA matches that of their child. Are they supporting these women? And their children? If not, why not? Why are these women and their parents not screaming from the rooftops of the injustice of a ‘father-less child’. Maybe this all just goes back to a traffic accident many years ago that left me growing up without a father.

Down from the soapbox! The warm weather also breeds a variety of sights, some of which are enough to make me question my eyes. Close your eyes and imagine, shuffling down a public street, a three hundred pound shirtless man wearing what appear to be pajama bottoms and shower shoes. Yea, I opened my eyes too, just too scary.

Now picture a gaggle of young men, hats backwards, sports tee shirts, absolutely enormous baggy shorts hanging halfway off their butts exposing plaid boxer shorts. They walk along in an odd, bouncing kind of urban strut, each chattering and frantically gesturing with one twisted arm as the other hand clutches the baggy shorts to keep them off the pavement. Outfits like that must go a long way toward reducing crime since it must be impossible to run from the police when your pants fall around your ankles.

Perhaps the ‘King of the Streets’…well, at least on ‘Da I-Lan’…and after dark, is a local celebrity(?)…character(?)…oddball(?)…fill in your own word. He’s been around for years and ALL, believe me ALL of the locals know OF him, even if they have never seen him. I speak of “Moondog”, and he’s DEFINITELY not from an old Patty Duke TV series.

One of my first nights here I was still having trouble sleeping in the new place, especially with unaccustomed street sounds. Somewhere around 1 AM, I climbed from bed and walked to a window, perhaps to close it. There, on the next block was a strange sight. A single light, not bright enough to be a car or motorcycle, turned the corner and came toward me. As it passed beneath a distant streetlight, I could see large flags fluttering behind the light. When my curious apparition reached the next streetlight, I could see a man on a bicycle, battery lantern taped to the handlebars, wearing a construction worker’s helmet and a vest of bright orange with crossed reflective strips. Behind him fluttered full size American and POW-MIA flags, securely taped to the rear axle and seat of the bike. What the hell was that? Later I would learn that I had seen Moondog.

My curiosity piqued, I began to research my new discovery both in the real world and on the Internet. What I found was that, once upon a time, there was a boy named Charles who was ‘slower’ than the other children. As the years went by, he fell well behind the class and was simply left behind. As he was growing up, he got into trouble for some relatively minor infraction and may have been a guest in a juvenile facility for a short time. The records are unclear about that, as they are for many interim years. Although many mysteries persist about Moondog, he is a regular at parades through Wheeling, always marking the end of the festivities. He makes modest and usually anonymous contributions to local charities, shying away from any fanfare and instead choosing simply to make his donation wrapped in a scrawled note that states, “from Moondog”.

In an unusual public appearance, the Wheeling Nailers Hockey Team honored Moondog with his own night at the arena, and with his own bobblehead doll. I was among five thousand people standing and applauding when a painfully shy, graying man in his mid-fifties, dressed in an ill-fitting suit, that had probably been given to him for the occasion, stood fighting his instinct to run. He smiled a tortured smile as he nervously waved to the adoring crowd, all the while clinging to the new orange bicycle given to him by the hockey club. I couldn’t help but wonder what was the motivation for so many people to show such adulation to a man of no particular accomplishments. As I thought about it, I began to realize that their appreciation of Moondog was not for his accomplishments, but rather for the spirit that he represents. A man from humble beginnings, with many limitations, Charles beat the odds and became the best man that he knew how to be. He rides freely (and ever safety-conscious) without handouts. He sets his own course and lives his own life without infringing upon or asking for help from others. He does what he wants because HE wants to do it and BE DAMNED the opinions of others. And finally he holds dear his country, his city, and his neighbors, whether they know that or not. But they DO seem to know, and five thousand of them stood and applauded to tell him so. Roll on ‘Dog’!

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