Where are you from?
I'm from New York City, I left in '65 for LA with my mother and sister because my father was abusive and a tyrant, so we went to live with my grandmother, who was another tyrant. Her name was Big Red, she was one of the first black women in the Air Force, and she helped break the Navajo code.
My mother was one of the few blacks in the University of Minnesota in the 40s. She studied nursing, and when she got tired of it she decided to follow her sister to New York âcause she thought it was more fun and there was more going on in a big city.
I'm a musician and street performer. I play electronic keyboard, electronic sax--that's a digital horn. Mostly I play recorders. You know, the flutes, in the subway here at Union Square. I play in Brooklyn a lot, sometimes in Queens. It's a lot of effort. I used to work 16 hours a day, going back and forth to different spots and sleep on the subway between appearances. In the subway you get a better rapport with the crowds. It's a lot of effort to play good enough for people to listen to you. I only do it on occasion now, a couple days a week.
How long have you been homeless?
I've been out here 2 years now. I used to live in a flophouse. I'm in a book called Flophouse, by David Isay on page 136, I think. You can get a free copy if you call StoryCorps.
Flophouses are in the Bowery, but the Bowery's being gentrified now because it's become very valuable property. There used to be 60,000 homeless in the Bowery every day. Slowly but surely they're moving them out.
In the heyday there were 35-40 flophouses. They charged $1-$2 a day, then it went up to $4. Now the few they got left are $10-$15 a day. If you can get in.
How do you get in?
You gotta ask. It's a big system. They used to all be very prejudiced and not accept black people and minorities. One is called the Whitehouse just because of that, it was only white people, it's still there. There's a flophouse called Saint Andrews. They still won't let black people in. And the Sunshine Hotel, they're trying to sell it now.
They used to call me the âSue Man' because âcause I took âem to court so often and I won. I got a lot of money from them. They tried to evict me a bunch of times. They're supposed to supply locks, and they don't keep it up like they should, and even though I took them to court they didn't do all the repairs. All of âem--Sunshine, Whitehouse, Providence, Sun Hotel--basically they didn't comply with the law.
How has gentrification of the Bowery affected you?
It's been devastating. There's not many places you can go.
Why are you homeless?
That's involved. I first came back to New York in an obstinate huff. I couldn't stand LA. I was living in Compton, you heard of it? I wasn't in with any of the black people there. They weren't into talent--well, they got muscle talent. But I was into music, and speaking. I won 15 awards for public speaking. I came in 6th in country in the Expository Speaking Nationals in Miami.
That's a very promising beginning.
A lot of people thought I'd be in politics or a lawyer âcause I had such a promising start.
I became a hippie and got tired of school and work and became a "peace love sex and drugs" type. After the peace and love I found yoga.
How did you find yoga?
Listening to The Beatles.
You were ahead of your time.
I think yoga puts you ahead of your time. You see through the illusions that you're suffering under. I went through my first big realization when I dropped acid and I started crying because I saw how wild and evil people are and I saw all this energy in their faces. You have to learn to adapt, to be survival-ready and existentially aware of what you need to do--where you wanna be and where you're at.
You have to see if the religion you believe in is a system of repression--patriarchal, matriarchal or a self-worship system where the guy is getting you to worship him and vampyring your energy making you think he's a god.
How there's very little freedom and so much power and control. You have very little free minded-ness. You're like a reactive drone. You're Pavlovian, at 9 o' clock you gotta make that coffee and go to work, you don't have any time to think about your family or your political affiliation, your health, yourself.
Is the only answer to be homeless?
No, but I'm getting to that. They have wandering Ascetics and they don't participate or have any focus but their general aim, if you can call it that, what they're trying to do is find God. A non-aimed method of attaining truth, using a process of elimination. You eliminate everything until you find what's left and when you find what's left you obviously have what it is.
I liked Ravi Shankar since I was a little kid because my mom used to take me to the movie club and there were these three tremendous movies, The Pather Panchali Trilogy. It's about a young man on a spiritual path. Personally I went through the same thing as everyone who's on a spiritual path. To reach discovery and develop their inner capacity.
For the longest time I thought that Christ was just a story they were telling people, but then I learned that he's very influential, like Charlemagne, Mohammed, Napoleon, Beethoven, Krishna and Buddha, who were all real people.
What have you learned?
That in yoga they're more like the life of a vagabond or a gypsy and they don't lend to societal industrial use of time. They're more non-linear.
Basically, the thing is, when I came back to New York I got immediately ripped off and I was really cast out into the streets and I had to learn how to live.
Your life is a spiritual journey and you are learning to remember and be more morally advanced and concentrate on learning because we all have Karma.
Is there anything else you want to say?
Stay alert, people--you're got Karma. Do good, be good, take care of yourself and the environment. Eventually there will be a day of atonement. We're on a hell-bound train. Every man is God, every person is God. No one is responsible for you.