The Invisible Man: A Short Story
"A true friend reaches for your hand and touches your heart." ~Attributed to Heather Pryor
Folks in Riverside have a lot to say about the homeless that live here. However, I cannot share it with you here, because woman and children may come across these words. For those that don’t know me, my name is Sara. I am an artist that paints these misunderstood people. I know that as you drive by in your car that you turn your head in order to avoid making eye contact with them. I know, because I did the same thing. I pretended they didn’t exist, until one day a homeless man turned my life around. If you get to know these people, you will realize that they all have a story. We all do, actually. The trouble is that nobody wants to take the time to listen! Everyone is in such a hurry to get from here to there that they don’t even take time to breathe. We forget how precious the breath is. How precious our life is. We take for granted the fact that we have a roof over our head and food on the table. To those that live on the streets, these things are a constant struggle. A cardboard box doesn’t make a very good home and digging through trashcans to get recyclables to buy a 99 cent hamburger is not my idea of a 5 star dining experience. I am very sorry for lecturing you. It’s just that we can’t keep pretending that these people are invisible! Each one of us matters! Each one of us is here for a reason. It is up to, you, me, and other courageous souls to do our part in making this a better world.
- What Can You Possibly Give the Man Who Has Everything?
Taylor Roadhouse believed that money could buy it all. It would take the kind act of a stranger, the love of a dying child, and a reminder from a gifted autistic child that love connects us all.
March 5, 1980
“Johnny, that was beautiful man!” stated Gerald Walker, his record producer. They just finished recording the last song on the album. “This is going to be a big hit! You are going to be very rich beyond your wildest dreams.”
Johnny Rogers was grateful that he was going to be played on the radio, but he was concerned about the other songs on the record. “Gerald, what other songs are we going to release as singles? I would like to release “The Invisible Man.”
“Actually that is the b-side to “Rock in Roll Eyes.” Gerald smiled.
Johnny didn’t feel like smiling. He felt betrayed. All these record producers only cared about was making money. They didn’t care about the art form, or that the song had substance. I just hope the radio stations will play the b-side, he thought. Johnny picked up his acoustic guitar and headed to his mountain home.
"Homeless" - Paul Simon
I placed Paul Simon’s latest CD in my backpack, unlocked my bike and headed downtown to the coffee house on University and Orange. The owner wanted to talk to me about displaying some of my artwork there. Jack’s coffee house wasn’t your typical place to get a cup of coffee or tea. It was an eclectic melting pot for all walks of life. You didn’t know if you would be sitting next to a punk rocker or a college professor. It was really out of this world, definitely a place that you wouldn’t be bored in.
“Hey Sara,” stated Jack, giving me a big hug. “How’s my favorite artist?”
“I’m doing well,” I answered. “I am working on a new painting. You know me. I am always keeping busy.” Jack smiled.
Jack took me down to the basement. For those that don’t know, this is where the art gallery is located.
“Sara, you can put your artwork on this wall. These photos will be coming down tomorrow.”
“Sounds good, Jack.” As I took a quick glance at the photos, one in particular caught my eye. It was of an older man playing his guitar on the street. For some reason, I knew I had to find out more about this man. “Jack, do you know anything about this guy?”
“He is a homeless gentleman. I don’t know his name, but I do know that you can often find him by the library playing his music. He is very gifted. I’ve been trying to get him to play here for years, but he says that he’s not interested.”
“Thanks Jack!” I gave Jack a quick hug and hurried to my bike.
June 20, 1980
For the second week in a row, “Rock in Roll Eyes” was number one on the charts! Johnny couldn’t walk down the street without getting harassed by a fan.
“Hey Johnny! Can you sign my album for me?”
“Johnny, my friends think you are the best. You rock, man!”
For some reason, Melissa felt nostalgic. She dug deeply in her record collection and pulled out one her favorite records as a kid. She placed the 45 on the turntable, directing the arm to the right location. Once Melissa was satisfied, she slowly dropped the needle down and powerful, moving music filled the room. Melissa grabbed her cup of herbal tea and sat down in her favorite armchair. She was in Heaven. While sipping her lemon and ginger tea, the song, “The Invisible Man,” played from her speakers.
As I made my way to the public library, I spotted the man that I saw in the photo. He was playing his guitar at the bottom of the steps. I locked my bike at the bike rack and made my way to him.
“Hi, my name is Sara,” I announced. “Do you mind if I take a seat?”
“I guess?” replied the older man. “My name is Johnny. Not too many people ever ask my name, or want to take a seat near me.”
“I’m different. I like talking to people. Do you mind if I listen to you play?”
“I suppose that’s fine.” Johnny picked up his guitar and began to strum some chords. After a few patterns, he began to sing. His singing and lyrics were very intense. I felt tears fall from my eyes.
Nobody seems to care
And nobody seems to understand
Life is a constant struggle,
‘cause I’m the Invisible Man
You pretend that you don’t see me
You act as if I’m not there
Your words have pierced the tender heart
of the Invisible Man
After Johnny finished playing his song, I applauded, wiping the tears from my eyes. Johnny was moved by my reaction, but surprised at the same time.
“You liked it, Sara?” asked Johnny.
“And how! You should definitely record that, Johnny! You are very gifted. Well, I hate to run. I am supposed to meet my husband for dinner in twenty minutes. I will see you soon!”
“Alright. I will see you later.” I waved and Johnny waved back.
July 2, 1985
“Johnny, I can’t take this anymore!” announced his partner, Jessica. “You write these silly inspirational songs that nobody gives a damn about. You refuse to write another hit song. I just can’t take it. It’s over!!! Don’t try to call me. I’m outta here!” Before Johnny could even reply to his life partner, Jessica slammed the door. It would me the last time that he would ever see her.
Johnny felt on top of the world. It was a very, very long time that someone appreciated his music. Since he refused to write another hit song, the record company dropped him, his partner left him, and not too much later, his fans forgot about him as well. However, that was in the past. He felt inspired to write some new material. Perhaps the world was ready for his music! As Johnny grabbed a piece of paper out of his backpack, a couple of street kids made their way to him. One of the kids grabbed his guitar and began swinging it in the air. The other kid held Johnny back.
“Hey, that’s my guitar,” shouted Johnny. “Give it back! This guitar is very special. It was given to me by my father!”
“Not anymore, old man,” replied the street kid with a hundred piercings. He slammed down the guitar on the ground, shattering it into a million pieces. Both kids were laughing. They got their kicks by tormenting people. Johnny had tears in his eyes. His father bought him that guitar for his birthday when he was a kid. Then, as the kid with the piercings was going to take Johnny’s back pack, a very tall African American man ran to help.
“Hey, you kids leave him alone!” They took off running.
As the kids were being chased away, the taller kid without the piercings shouted over his shoulder: “Do the world a favor, old man. Why don’t you kill yourself?”
The kind man placed his hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “Pay no mind to those kids! Are you okay man?”
“I guess?” replied Johnny. “Thanks for helping me out. I really appreciate it.” Johnny wiped the tears from his eyes.
“No problem. It’s really sad that these kids have nothing better to do then to harass people. If you like, I can buy you a cup of coffee. That will help calm your nerves.”
“No, that’s okay. I do appreciate the kind gesture, but I need to sort things out.”
“I understand. My name is Mike. I live pretty close to the library. Here’s my phone number if you ever want to get that cup of coffee.”
“Thanks Mike. My name is Johnny.” They both shook hands and parted.
July 3, 1985
Jessica opened up the car trunk and proceeded to throw away three boxes into the dumpster. Inside the boxes were the un-opened letters from Johnny’s fans. Jessica managed to hide them from Johnny. After she was done, she got into her car and headed to Hollywood. She heard there was a promising star that was on the rise there. Jessica saw dollar signs in her mind.
"Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)" - David Byrne
Dinner was wonderful! Ted made his famous lasagna dish, while I made a nice tossed salad, along with a homemade salad dressing that I found in one of my nutrition books. It was Ted’s favorite! After dinner, both Ted and I decided to make a surprise visit to see Melissa. We got Melissa her favorite coffee and a chocolate chip cookie for dessert. I gobbled mine at the coffee shop in seconds. Ted was laughing hysterically because I had cookie crumbs on my face. I stuck my tongue out at him. We rang Melissa’s doorbell. It was our turn to surprise her. After a minute had passed, I rang the doorbell again, but as I released my finger, I felt a tap on my shoulder and heard the word “Boo!” Both Ted and I jumped-up in surprise. We turned around and smiled. It was Melissa! She was always joking around. Melissa gave me a big hug. Then, she did the same for Ted.
“Hey you too!” announced Melissa. “Come on in.” We walked in and I handed her the coffee and cookie. “You two spoil me.” Melissa smiled. We returned the smile.
Both Ted and I sat on the couch. I sipped my café mocha. “What have you been up to today, Melissa,” I inquired. I winked at Ted. He smiled.
“Oh, I’ve been listening to some old records.” Ted and I both smiled. We also have a record collection that we are both proud of.
“Melissa, you are not going to believe this. I met a new friend today. He is a songwriter. He played a very powerful song that brought tears to my eyes. The words said something about life is a constant struggle and I’m the Invisible Man.” Melissa smiled and pulled out one her 45s that was on the bottom shelf of her stereo cabinet.
“Listen to this.” Melissa put the record on the turntable; and as soon as the music played from the speakers, both Ted and I were blown away. I felt my eyes get wet again. This song that Melissa was sharing with us, now, was just as powerful as the song I heard early. And, for some reason, the singer sounded exactly the same as Johnny. It couldn’t be, could it?
“Melissa, who is this amazing artist?” asked Ted, eagerly.
“His name is Johnny Rogers,” replied Melissa. My jaw dropped.
“Melissa, I think he is the same person I met in front of the library today! I just can’t believe this.” I took another sip of my mocha. Ted placed his hand on my shoulder. Then, a crazy thought came to me. “Hey Melissa, since you are a songwriter and have a band, I think you should meet him. It would be awesome for you two to record music together!” Melissa smiled.
“That is so funny that you mentioned that. I have been trying to get in contact with Johnny for months. I want to get permission to re-record his songs; however, both the record company and publishing company doesn’t have a clue where he might be, and lo and behold, you run into him today. It is amazing how the universe works!”
Both Ted and I smiled. Did I tell you that I love this girl? Melissa never ceases to amaze me!
Later that evening, with the shattered remains of his guitar in his hands, Johnny contemplated jumping off the bridge. What that street kid said to Johnny hurt him to the core. How can people be so cruel, he thought? The tears began to pour from his eyes. Then, Johnny thought of his father and how his eyes lit up when his father bought him the guitar.
“This is for you, my son,” stated Johnny’s father, handing the guitar to him. “Don’t ever give up on your dreams. Don’t let people’s criticism deter you from following what’s in your heart. I believe in you son.” Johnny hugged his father.
The memory of his father helped to calm him down. Johnny made his way to the river bottom where his tent was pitched. He was truly grateful for his new friendship with Sara and Mike. They are both Earth Angels. Johnny decided that he would call Mike tomorrow and take him up on his offer.
The next day, around 4 o’clock or so, Melissa and I made our way to the downtown library. Melissa insisted in bringing her guitar and violin, just in case they felt like jamming. She said that a musician can sometimes feel inspired to play with other musicians. I shrugged my shoulders, since I didn’t know much about what happens between musicians. As Melissa parked the car, I saw Johnny sitting by the steps talking to an African American man. They were both drinking coffee, laughing.
“Hi Johnny!” I announced. “I would like you to meet my best friend, Melissa. She is a songwriter too!”
“Hi Sara,” replied Johnny. “It is nice to meet you, Melissa. I would like you two to meet my new friend, Mike.” Both Melissa and I shook his hand. “He is a very kind man.” Mike smiled. “He actually came to my rescue yesterday when some street kids started harassing me. They smashed my acoustic guitar, but when they tried to take my back pack, Mike chased them away. Today he bought me a cup of coffee and gave me one of his acoustic guitars that he doesn’t use anymore. I also found out that he is a percussionist. He has studied African, Jamaican, and Latin styles of percussion. I asked him to jam with me and he’s agreed.”
“Johnny, I am quite familiar with your work,” stated Melissa. Johnny looked puzzled. Melissa pulled out Johnny’s LP record and his 45. Tears began to fall from Johnny’s eyes. He thought that no one cared about his music! “I love your album. It is very beautiful and inspiring. I think your best work is actually your b-side: “The Invisible Man.” More tears fell from Johnny’s eyes. Mike put his hand on Johnny’s shoulder.
“I am touched, my dear,” stated Johnny. “I thought the world had forgotten about me.”
“That’s not true, Johnny! I am quite sure that you have many fans around the world that appreciate your music just as much as I do. Just because the radio doesn’t play the other tracks doesn’t mean that people don’t enjoy them. Some of my favorite songs are b-sides!” Johnny smiled. “Johnny, you are not going to believe this! I have actually have been trying to get in contact with you for months. I wanted to get your permission to re-record your songs. However, after meeting you and your friend, a thought came to me that I would like to re-record the songs with you and Mike, along with a few of my bandmates, if that’s okay.”
“My dear, you have made this old man very happy,” replied Johnny, wiping a tear from his eye.
“I am in too,” added Mike.
Before taking off, Melissa jammed with Johnny and Mike. It was a dream come true to play with one of her favorite artists! I wish I knew how to play an instrument, I thought. Instead, I danced my little heart away.
A year later, Ted and I found ourselves at a very special concert to promote the new album that Melissa and her band recorded with Johnny and Mike. The title of the album was “The Invisible Man” of course. It featured 12 tracks, with two of them being new songs. The album was a smash! It got really rave reviews. Of course, the commercial radio stations wanted nothing to do with the album, but independent stations loved it! They couldn’t get enough of these inspirational songs. I was so happy for Melissa, Johnny, and Mike. It was so beautiful how everything came together. As the last song ended, many people began to disperse; however, about fifty or so people stayed around. They either had an LP record, 45, or cassette tape they wanted autographed. Some even wore custom made t-shirt that had the words “The Invisible Man” printed on them. Then, after some time had passed, Johnny came out to meet his fans. They told him that his music meant the world to them. That it helped them to get through some really rough times. Johnny told them that he greatly appreciated these kind words, wiping the tears from his eyes. He hugged each and every one of his fans.