Moments that inspired The Hypocrisy of Philanthropy Happy Art Series by Victor-Hugo Vaca II. Before performing alongside music industry titans at the World Series Champion, Boston Red Sox, Spring training home opener concert, the maverick artist Victor Hugo shared time with special children to manifest art therapy and a work of art titled, “The Rock & Roll Legend of American Vinyl All Star Band Rep. Bill Johnson, His Girlfriend Melissa And Her Son From The Able Academy For Handicapped Children”.
Mr. Bill was a friend of mine. When he needed shelter, I housed him. When he needed food, I fed him. One day, Mr. Bill called to ask a favor of me.
“The All Stars are getting together again, would you like to be part of the reunion?” He asked.
I recalled the thrill of being on stage, in front of thousands of cheering fans in Fort Myers, Florida, using my gift of synesthesia to interpret wavelengths and frequencies of music in color on canvas, with rock & roll legends, who collectively, sold over half a billion records worldwide.
“Is it going to be like the first time?” I asked.
“Yes.” He answered. “Only this time, it will be to benefit handicapped children. My girlfriend’s son has autism. He attends the Able Academy in Naples. I wondered if you wouldn’t mind working with them the day before the show at the school. The band is going to be there and so is FOX News. At the concert, I’ll make sure the stage is set up properly. If you don’t mind, we’ll bring the kids up and let them paint with you during one of the songs. You can stay with the band at the beachfront mansion I rented and I’ll cover your travel expenses. What do you say, can you do it?”
“Sure.” I answered.
“Oh, and after we perform for the children in Naples, we’re scheduled for a gig in Fort Myers, at the opening game of spring training for the World Series champions, the Boston Red Sox.” Mr. Bill paused before continuing. “So, you’ll be there too, right? You can create three Modern Art Music Movement paintings to commemorate the All Star weekend.”
“Yeah, sure, no problem. I’ll be there for all three MAMM Jams”
After hanging up with Mr. Bill, I got a phone call from my best friend Todd in New York, a huge Orthodox Jew that looks like an albino gorilla wearing a yamaka. He’s a wrestling champion, nicknamed, “The Hebrew Hammer”, who plays the harmonica with chutzpa and soul.
“My friend just invited me to a VH1 Fashion Week Party full of notable celebrities, he’s one of the performing artists, so it’s going to be VIP all the way, you want to come? VH1 gave him a suite at the Times Square Marriott, there’s plenty of room, you can be my guest.” Todd said.
“I would love to.” I answered, before realizing that the dates conflicted with the bond I had given to my friend Mr. Bill for sake of the children at the Able Academy. “Why don’t you join me in Fort Myers for an All-Star MAMM Jam with former members of Boston, Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Third World, The Wailers and The James Brown Band, to benefit mentally handicapped children? I’ll tell Mr. Bill I’m bringing you as my guest and you can stay with me at the beachfront mansion he’s renting for the band.”
“You sure it’s going to be alright, remember, I’m Kosher, what about Shabbat?”
“ Dude, they’re rock legends, not anti-semites.”
“Alright, I’ll buy my ticket to fly down to your Labyrinth of Creativity on the beach near Miami. I’ll rent a big car for us to drive across Alligator Alley together, as long as you make sure I can celebrate my Weekly Holy Day.”
“You got it, Todd. I promise.”
So began my covenant with the Able Academy kids and my friends, never realizing that my commitment would lead to a series of events that left me afraid of charity and suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
THE SPECIAL ARTIST FROM NYC
The day before meeting the Able Academy kids in Naples, I was scheduled to appear on WRPBI-TV, which broadcasts out of Boca Raton, Florida, to promote the All Star event in Fort Myers. Prior to my interview, on a show titled, “Out Of The Haze with Bryan Hayes”, I was introduced to Snow, a Canadian Reggae Musician, whose song, “Informer”, has been recorded twice in the “Guinness Book Of World Records” as the best selling reggae single in U.S. History, as well as the highest charting reggae single in history, after spending seven consecutive weeks at Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1993.
I signed an autograph for Snow’s daughter talked to his manager, invited them all to the event in Fort Myers and next thing I knew, I was being asked intimate questions about my career as a “maverick artist” on a soundstage, in front of a television camera. According to Todd, who watched the show on a monitor backstage, the half-hour interview was “perfect”.
Outside, the weather was beyond nasty, torrential downpours and lightning strikes peppered the day and were forecast deep into the night. My trip across Alligator Alley to Fort Myers would be a dangerous journey. Thunder struck as Todd and I exited the television station, making a mad dash for the rental car, through deep puddles, under umbrellas that failed to keep us dry. Soaked, we began our adventure to the west coast of Florida, in the name of charity.
Halfway over the treacherous road that cuts through the Everglades, I received a text message from Mr. Bill advising me that Skunk Baxter, formerly of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, had arrived at the Fort Myers beachfront mansion with his grandchildren, which meant there was no room for Todd and I.
There are no U-turns or exits on Alligator Alley, it’s one- way in and one-way out so, we had no choice but to stay the course. The weather was grave, as we drove cautiously through the darkness of night with little road visibility, in spite of glaring high beams, that only shined light on our immediate predicament. I could not respond to Mr. Bill’s untimely message in the midst of such severe weather because of our remote location, in the middle of the Everglades, which offered no cell phone reception.
After a grueling five and a half-hour road trip, Todd and I made it to Mr. Bill’s home near the Henry Ford and Thomas Edison estates in Fort Myers. My cell phone battery was dead, so I knocked on the door and asked Mr. Bill’s housekeeper to notify him of our arrival. I smiled at Todd, when I noticed the framed painting of, “Cristomujer”, which I had personally signed and gifted to Mr. Bill when he last stayed at my home as a houseguest, hanging prominently on his living room wall. Todd and I looked at framed photographs of Mr. Bill standing side by side with every single United States President since Richard Nixon and other notables in the music and entertainment world, as his voice carried over the cell phone speaker of his house-keeper.
“Don’t send them over to the beach house.” Mr. Bill said, unaware that he was on speakerphone.
“Shall I set them up here?” The housekeeper asked, with an embarrassed look on his face.
“No! Let them sleep in the fixer-upper.”
“But, there’s no beds or furniture, there’s no hot water or locks on the doors. Are you sure? There’s plenty of room here.”
“I don’t want them staying at the house, do what I tell you.” Mr. Bill said firmly before ending the call abruptly.
“I thought you said this guy was your friend?” Todd asked.
“He is.” I said, with a confused look on my face, as I dripped onto Mr. Bill’s wooden floor in front of his housekeeper, who looked back at me with pity.
“There’s a mattress in the garage. The garage is full of junk. If you guys help me, we can take the mattress out, put it in my truck, and you both can sleep on it over at the fixer-upper.”
An hour later, after wiping cobwebs and spiders off a stained mattress in the middle of a thunderstorm, we arrived at what appeared to be a crack house near the Edison Estate in Fort Myers. There were no blinds, shades or window treatments for privacy. Puddles riddled rooms in fluid Rorschach shapes from leaks in the ceiling. A blood red stain covered the kitchen floor in the manner of a human body drawn by Keith Haring, which made the place appear like a crime scene.
“You’ll have to climb through the window.” Mr. Bill’s housekeeper announced before exiting through the dank garage.
“I thought I heard you say there was no locks on the doors.” Todd interjected.
“Well, I don’t have keys for the padlocks used to secure the front and back exits, so, you’ll have to climb through the window if you really got to get out, otherwise, just come and go through the garage.” Mr. Bill’s housekeeper said in visible breaths that sliced through the pungent smell of mildew permeating the carport. “Doors broke, so it’s always open.”
“Are you serious?” Todd asked, looking at me sternly.
“Oh, and the toilets don’t work.” Mr. Bill’s housekeeper paused before adding, “And, I wouldn’t drink the water either, it’s brown.”
Todd and I were out of there, back into the storm, without a place to rest, hours before I was supposed to perform for handicapped children in Naples and thousands of classic rock and Boston Red Sox fans in Fort Myers.
After Midnight, we showed up at the beachfront mansion, where we were initially supposed to stay. I called Mr. Bill, to let him know we were outside but he didn’t answer the phone. Minutes later, he responded with a text message that read, “You can’t stay here. Don’t ring the bell, you’ll wake the band”.
Todd and I stared in disbelief, through buckets of rain being scattered by windshield wipers, at a huge RV that could easily sleep a dozen people, parked outside the beachfront mansion, while I contacted my manager to explain the situation.
“Can you find us a hotel?” I pleaded.
Half an hour later, my manager called back to say that all hotels in the Fort Myers area were booked. She said she would try to find us a hotel within a hundred mile radius and call back once she had secured a room for us.
In that time, Todd received a call from his friend, who had just finished performing at the VH1 fashion show in New York City, he was on speakerphone, so I could hear every detail of how awesome the event was and how amazing the star-studded after-party was going. I slumped into the seat as Todd stared down at me. I felt like such a shmuck.
“Why don’t you guys fly over on the red eye? There are hot models everywhere! I’ve got a suite at the Marriott Times Square for the weekend, the party’s just begun!”
Finally, around 2 a.m., my manager called with reservations for a hotel in Naples, not far from the Able Academy, where I was supposed to arrive at 8 a.m. to rehearse for my 9 o’clock performance with the All Stars in front of FOX News cameras and a roomful of handicapped children. The hotel was about two hours away, according to the GPS. It would cost me $287.00 to rest my head for a few hours, or I could hop on a flight with Todd and be in Manhattan, cavorting with A-list celebrities and models all weekend.
“It’s up to you.” Todd said. “I can drive us to the airport or to the hotel. Mr. Bill doesn’t sound like a very good friend and I don’t think he’s going to honor his word. Let’s cut our losses and get out of here.”
“Yeah, but I promised these kids. My manager says they’ve been studying my work for weeks and are looking forward to meeting me.” I answered, not sure why I cared, since, I don’t have children of my own and I much prefer partying with women than I do playing with kids. My instinct told me to get on a plane to New York and live like a party animal for the weekend but my heart told me to do the right thing and stay for the youngsters at the Able Academy.
Darkness shifted from crimson to amethyst before turning azure in the heaven above, shining a bright light in my eyes through the window shades, as the alarm went off, two hours after falling asleep. Todd stayed in bed; there was no waking him up. My brain was mush from lack of rest and my body ached from being trapped in a car for over ten hours. When I arrived at the Able Academy, the director of the school told me that Mr. Bill had just called to inform her that the All Star Band was not coming and since the band had cancelled, FOX News decided to abort the affair as well.
I had never worked with handicapped children before in my life. Without a clue, I told the director of the school to follow my lead and we would make something special happen for the rising generation. I determined the disabled kids would get a MAMM Jam, with or without Mr. Bill and his All Star Band.
“The show must go on”, I thought, through all the confusion. So, I grabbed some canvas, paints and brushes, out of the trunk of my car; found a radio and some strobe lights and hustled into the Able Academy as a text message from my manager came in, reminding me not to be late for the “Boston Strong MAMM Jam” , honoring victims of the Boston bombing at the Boston Red Sox Spring Training opener in Fort Myers at noon.
I told the school director that I only had two hours before having to rush over to the stadium. She said it wasn’t enough time to spend with all the kids and that they would be disappointed because they had spent weeks examining my work in anticipation of my arrival.
I suggested doubling the number of youngsters I would work with at a time and she said that would be impossible because mentally handicapped children could be uncomfortable and unpredictable in large groups. She warned me that even with the most experienced of teachers and professional counselors, they could get violent or unruly. I told her we didn’t have a choice and so my spontaneous adventure in art therapy with the special kids at the Able Academy began.
Boston Strong Created Live at the Opening Game of Spring Training for the World Series Champions, Boston Red Sox at Jet Blue Stadium, Fort Myers, Florida, March 2014
“All interesting artists are autodidacts.” – Massimiliano Gioni
In some Italian provinces, the word ‘artist’ is a synonym for dunce. An artist must walk a tightrope between being perceived as an illustrious nobody or a famous intellectual by critics disguised as cultural sycophants in an arena filled with smoke and mirrors. Being a creator is not a career for fragile egos, so to be a virtuoso, one must have thick skin.
I have been called all sorts of things by critics, not all of them complimentary, but I survive and my work will live on, long after my corporal being exits this plane of existence, in the expanding multi-universe.
In 2005, after performing a MAMM Jam with Rhythmm Epkins, drummer for “The English Beat”, and founder of the R&B funk group, “Mind, Body & Soul”, to raise money for the mentally handicapped, at a sold-out show in Bakersfield, California, where the first five rows were reserved for the mentally challenged, who were the most appreciative audience I have ever had the pleasure of performing in front of, I became known, by some critics, as, “Victor-Hugo: The Artist of Retards”.
When I performed MAMM Jams during 2009 Art Basel Week in Miami, Florida to sold-out, standing room only crowds attending the infamous, “Crackhead Jesus: The Second Coming Art Exhibition”, at the “Buck 15 Gallery Lounge” on Lincoln Road, a large group of women from Weight Watchers joined me onstage while I painted the unique moment on canvas, at which point, I became known, by some critics, as, “Victor-Hugo: The Artist of Fat Chicks and Retards”.
Some call me, “The Maverick Artist Victor-Hugo” others call me, “The Maverick Meatball”. Whatever the case, I’m happy. However, as I am an artist/activist birthed from a business background, I’ve come to notice that artists are often treated like “The-Retards-of-the-Business-World” instead of sober-entrepreneurs, by some ignorant top brass. Though, thankfully, not all influence makers exploit an artists’ passion, those who choose to dim the light instead of fueling the soul, manifest dark energy that fills the multi-universe, all this, in spite of knowing that entertainment is, in fact, like any other business, an industry that must flow perpetually, in balance of soul currency, to exist infinitely.
Art is not cheap to create. It takes effort, ingenuity and time and since time is money, if I had a Bitcoin, for every time someone, like Mr. Bill, told me, “Why don’t you perform for free, it’ll be good exposure?” or, “How about giving me one of your paintings, for free, to hang in my mansion, so all my filthy-rich friends can see your work, while smoking weed?” I’d be a tycoon of Rothschild proportions.
Do these unenlightened moguls ask Doctors to perform surgery for free or ask lawyers to satisfy their legal issues, free of charge, because it’s good practice?
I don’t think so. An artist must always risk failure, for failure is part of the process but that doesn’t mean creators should accept the status quo of double-dealing in business matters or any other affairs. An artist has class mobility, for that reason, particularly in a disturbed society, a virtuoso must ask the right questions, open consciousness, raise awareness and elevate minds.
An artist should serve mankind, for that reason, humanity should not become complacent with the profiteering of an artist because a true artist can be childlike forever and the exploitation of children is detrimental to any culture pursuing Enlightenment. Some muddled people feel the world doesn’t need artists because art doesn’t meet our basic needs to survive but that’s bogus; art fuels the soul currency of human capital that trumps any banknote or material treasure.
These thoughts raced through my aching head, as I prepared to meet my audience of special children at The Able Academy in Naples, Florida, hours before my gig with the All Stars at the Boston Red Sox Spring Training Opener in Fort Myers, Florida, to honor victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. As if taunting my choice of career, the outstretched, blank canvas, measuring 36 x 71, clipped to the front of a long table turned on it’s side, resting atop another elongated table, stared back at me, screaming, “Fail! Fail! Fail!”
I’ve heard people say that animals can sense fear and weakness. I don’t know what experts say about children with autism but I can tell you this, the moment the Able Academy director opened the door, to let kids into the room where I stood vulnerable, feeling helpless and alone in a cruel world, a beautiful boy ran to me, clasped my knees lovingly and looked up at me like a cherub in a chapel. I felt such overwhelming affection from the pint-sized angel holding a tight grip on me that, in an instant, all the negativity and cynicism inside of me washed away like the Great Flood. I fought back tears in that abstract moment that seemed to last a lifetime because I did not want to break down in front of the celestial beings surrounding me.
One by one, frail angels entered the room, coalescing in the ecstasy of colors, dancing freely with paint and brushes in their tiny hands as they guided me through the purity of love being expressed on canvas without shame, guilt or remorse. I noticed one child slumped in the corner with his face in his hands. He beckoned me with magnificent eyes that stared at me through the cracks in his fingers.
“”Would you like to paint with us?” I asked, as I knelt down before him.
“Art has power.” He said, letting his guard down.
“Yes, it does.” I said as I placed a brush in his hand. “Show me what you can do.”
“Believe in your greatness and it will be the death of your creativity.” He said, taking my hand in his and leading me to the canvas where we melted into the void of color alongside the other offspring.
The joy was so intense, time flew by the way magic moments do and before I knew it the unique experience was over. I said goodbye to the kids, packed my equipment, called Todd, who was patiently waiting outside the hotel after having checked out and assured him I was on my way to get him for the hour-long journey to Fort Myers.
He reminded me that we were running late.
Before leaving, the stunned school director asked me how I had managed to get the catatonic child to speak. She said it was a miracle because the juvenile never spoke to anyone. I told her I communicated with respect and dignity. The innocent confided in me that the adults didn’t understand them and didn’t pay attention, which frankly, was no surprise to me, since out of the mouth of babes comes truth and most adults can’t handle the truth, which is why some adolescents choose to stay silent.
Traffic was at a crawl, leading up to the stadium in Fort Myers. It seemed all of creation had come to cheer for the World Series Champions at the Spring Training Opener. My manager had coordinated for the Boston Red Sox to sign the painting created with the Able Academy children, for the artwork to be auctioned off in their benefit but when I got to the stadium, Mr. Bill chastised me for my manager doing so, claiming she had overstepped her bounds, “It’s my show, damn it!” He stated indefatigably before adding, “Hurry up, you’re late! The band goes on stage in 10 minutes.”
“This is your friend?” Todd said, looking at Mr. Bill with disgust and me with sympathy, as Mr. Bill’s girlfriend Melissa approached me with open arms and a huge smile.
“Oh my God! I heard you got my son to speak, I wish I could have been there.” She said holding back tears.
“Why weren’t you?” I thought to myself, sinking into her warm embrace while Mr. Bill stared back at me with contempt that I could not explain.
One by one, the All Stars embraced me before going on stage. I was reunited with members of Bon Jovi, Boston, The Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, The Wailers, Third World, The James Brown Band and Foster Child, none of which were aware of the harrowing experience that had preceded our moment in time before the Boston Red Sox fans in Fort Myers. Like the victims of the Boston bombing, I was determined to carry on, undaunted by adversity, and so I did, creating “Boston Strong” alongside music industry titans, in front of a live audience on February 28, 2014.
The painting, “Boston Strong”, is signed by Bon Jovi’s bass player, Hugh McDonald; Fran Sheehan, the former bassist and original member of the band Boston; Barry Goudreau, guitarist and original member of the band Boston; Leroy Romans, former keyboard player for Third World and The Wailers; Robert “Mousey” Thompson, drummer for the late James Brown; Danny Beissel of the band Foster Child; B.A.M. (Bad Ass Musician) and Maverick Artist Victor-Hugo.
THE HYPOCRISY OF PHILANTHROPY
Philanthropy is great but some charities are a sham whose only purpose is to make money for the producer of the fundraiser. Most charities are legitimate but others exploit children, veterans or the handicapped by using paid fundraisers whose fees eat up most of a donation through loopholes, so very little money is actually shared with those most in need.
In 2013, total giving to charitable organizations was $335.17 billion. Hundreds of charities claim to help the disadvantaged but how much of the money raised actually goes to the cause being donated to and how much cash goes to the fundraiser?
The answer, unfortunately, is almost nothing goes to the motive. Even if regulators try to shut down unscrupulous fundraisers for fooling donors, most operate without fear of reckoning because mainstream media, that survives on the public trust of its audience, has accepted exploitation of the underprivileged as status quo and therefore under reports the fact that very little money makes it to those who need it most when it comes to fundraising.
Case in point, the story of Charles Runnells, who covers arts and entertainment for The News Press in Fort Myers, Florida. When asked to research allegations of fraud by an alleged scammer in his community, focusing on specific causes like handicapped children and disabled veterans to play on the generosity of his readership, Mr. Runnells dismissed the accusation, as not worthy of his time for a thorough, in-depth investigation.
If you are thinking about giving to a charity, beware of fundraisers who: refuse to provide detailed information about identity, mission, costs and how donations will be used; won’t provide proof that a contribution is tax deductible; use high-pressure tactics in shaming you to donate; refuse to provide proof of percentage of donation actually going to the charity; refuse to provide forensic accounting of how much money will be going to the fundraiser, after expenses; are not registered with the state as a charity or fundraiser.
If you think you’ve been the victim of a charity scam, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or contact your State Attorney. There is no glory in being a stooge. Stand strong in the face of adversity. Your action can help detect patterns of unscrupulousness that may lead to investigations and prosecutions.
I wrote some of what you just read on canvas, in front of Red Sox fans, during my performance at the Boston Strong Modern Art Music Movement (MAMM) Jam in Fort Myers, FL. When I’m on stage, I enter a trance, filling the void with colorful letters that swirl into words that dance in syncopation to the wavelengths and frequencies of sounds that surround me, manifesting sentences that educate audiences in a cacophony of coloring that provides a foundation, for the work of art created to serve as a historical document of the event, for future generations to consider, and digest, in light of the fact that, if you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything, because truth is imprinted on the canvas of life.
NEWS PRESS, MR. BILL AND THE BILL COSBY EFFECT
If what’s alleged about Bill Cosby is less sweet than a pudding pop, watchdog journalists, like Mark Whitaker, won’t investigate thoroughly; so too when it comes to Mr. Bill in the news press. In 1914, Walter Williams wrote “The Journalist’s Creed”. Essentially, it reads:
I believe in the profession of journalism.
I believe that the public journal is a public trust, that all connected with it are, to the full measure of responsibility, trustees for the public, that all acceptance of lesser service than the public service is a betrayal of trust.
I believe that clear thinking, clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.
I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.
I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.
I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman, that bribery by one’s own pocket book is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another, that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another’s instructions or another’s dividends.
I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.
I believe that the journalism which succeeds the best and best deserves success fears God and honors man; is stoutly independent; unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power; constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, always respectful of it’s readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of the privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance, and as far as law, an honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship, is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world.
Well, that was then and this is now. In the internet age of NBC News Director, Brian Williams, being everywhere but in reality, journalist’s hide behind clips of kittens, puppies and laughing babies trending online, while wiping their asses with the Journalist’s Creed, which is why, I fused Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo journalism with Salvador Dali’s style of impregnating subliminal messages into psychedelically-poetic-cryptic works of art, to create modern art gonzo journalism for The Lied To Generation through the Modern Art Music Movement (MAMM).
The twenty-four hour news cycle is brimming with cross-legged beauties wearing little more than big smiles while flashing their stately pair of gams for the camera’s voyeuristic gaze as teleprompters feed them the horrific news of the day, before thanking rainbow colored pundits tripping over themselves to avoid saying, “You’re welcome”, in response to the inviting news anchors gratitude for joining the staged broadcast. Instead, we as audience witness talking heads state, with great inflection intimating courteous one-upmanship, “No! Thank you, for having me, on your program.”
One can only imagine the number of viewers who masturbate while watching the news, in a world where titillation has replaced fact and, on that note, with a long, hard stroke of my thick, wet brush I finished painting “Boston Strong” in front of an open-mouthed audience in Fort Myers, Florida, that was begging for more. Alas, there was no encore from the All-Star Band, at the Boston Red Sox Spring Training Home-Opener. The eager crowd got what they deserved and from the satisfied look on their faces, they loved every moment of the MAMM Jam experience.
“What the hell was that?” Mr. Bill asked, when I got off stage.
“Modern art gonzo journalism.” I answered, nonplussed. “I paint the news.”
“Thank God it wasn’t one of your DNA Series.” Mr. Bill shook his head in disgust and walked away muttering. “Sperm painting.”
“Hey Bill, where am I staying tonight? I don’t have a place to rest and last night cost me three hundred bucks out of pocket. What’s up?” I asked the back of Mr. Bill’s head.
“We’ll talk about it later.” Mr. Bill answered, without turning around. “I’m busy.”
At that moment, I remembered a rumor about a friend of mine who plays with The Cars, J Geils Band and The Bellevue Cadillac. Allegedly, Mr. Bill had asked the beloved musician to join the All Star Band for a gig on Wall Street to raise money for wounded veterans but when it came time to reimburse the artist for travel expenses and accommodations, as promised, Mr. Bill failed to honor his word and left the well-respected performer in the red.
It’s a small world and news travels fast about a person’s reputation but all I knew about Mr. Bill at that point was, that like Bill Cosby, both men were highly regarded, well-liked and doted on by those who did not wish to disturb the Natural Order of Things in the entertainment world, so bad press was hard to come by for either man and uttering anything negative about Mr. Bill or Bill Cosby, was simply taboo in the entertainment industry.
I chose to reserve judgment as I stared at Mr. Bill ignoring my concerns in favor of being fawned by fans, backstage, in front of his girlfriend, Melissa. The truth is hard to swallow, so I buried my instinct and threw myself into the only thing that made sense to me at that point; the steady process of cleaning brushes, packing paint cans and breaking down my easel after an exhausting MAMM Jam performance.
SHABBAT IN THE GHETTO
“I just ran into Taylor Swift and Clive Davis, I thought you were catching the red eye. Where the hell are you guys?”
“We’re at the Boston Red Sox game.” Todd answered his animated friend, who was calling from a New York City Fashion Week event.
“Well get your ass over here, Beyonce and Jay-Z invited me to their crib for a V.I.P. after party tonight and they said I can bring some friends.”
“I can’t make it, the Jewish Sabbath is in a few hours and we still don’t have a place to stay. Maybe tomorrow, after Shabbat.”
“What? I thought you said your friend set you up at a beach house with a bunch of rock stars.”
“He did but his friend bailed out on us and now we’re wandering about like vagabonds.”
The crack of a wooden bat smashing a baseball over the fence for a home-run sent the sold-out crowd into a frenzy drowning out the humiliating conversation going on beside me between Todd and his V.I.P. friend in Manhattan. I could hear every word screaming out of his cell phone as my Android vibrated to alert me that my manager was calling.
“You’re not going to believe this.” My manager said when I answered her call. “Mr. Bill told me to have Todd pay for a hotel but there are no hotels, it’s season, everything is booked.”
“What?” I answered in disbelief as Todd ended his call and eavesdropped on my conversation.
“Mr. Bill said, Todd’s Jewish.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” I asked.
“Mr. Bill said, there’s no such thing as a poor Jew, therefore,” My manager sounded stunned by his logic.
“I assume, he figured…”
“I knew it. Mr. Bill’s an anti-semite! He looked at me kind of funny when we met. Stop being a cheap Jew and pay for a hotel.” Todd growled at me as he rearranged the black yamaka, adorned with the Star of David, on his head.
“Hot dogs! Peanuts! Get your hot dogs and peanuts here.” The vendor shouted as timber splintered after colliding with a baseball that flew over the fence sending hearts soaring for the World Series champions who manifested another point on the scoreboard as, exhausted, I rose, embarrassed and confused, in a sea of Boston Red Sox fans.
“That’s not happening. Todd’s not paying for the hotel. What the hell is wrong with Mr. Bill?” I shouted into the phone as the crowd around me reverberated with delight.
“Why don’t you tell him that?” My manager asked. “Isn’t Mr. Bill with you?”
“No. He said he would come by to get Todd and I before the seventh inning stretch, so we could all go out for a late lunch, it’s already the bottom of the eighth.”
“I told you, Mr. Bill ain’t coming!” Todd shouted over my shoulder into the phone. “I’m starving.”
“Get Todd a hotdog.” My manager suggested as I put her call on speakerphone.
“I’m Kosher! That dog’s not kosher! I need to follow Jewish dietary law.”
“Listen, I found a beach house for you guys. The owners are big fans and willing to trade accommodations in exchange for four tickets to the All Star MAMM Jam in Fort Myers tomorrow night. I told Mr. Bill and he said he would get back to me but I haven’t heard from him, so if you see him, tell him to call me ASAP.” My manager said before hanging up.
“Let’s get out of here.” Todd kvetched. “Shabbat starts at sunset.”
We sat in traffic for hours with all the snowbirds, waiting to hear from Mr. Bill but he never returned my calls or text messages. Finally, my manager called with the news that Mr. Bill refused to barter four tickets in exchange for safe shelter.
“He said Todd should stop being cheap and pay for a hotel.” My manager added with disgust, as I put her on speakerphone. “Mr. Bill suggested you guys stay at his house or a trailer that’s supposed to be parked in his driveway later tonight.”
“I need to find shelter before the sun goes down. ” Todd insisted. “That anti-semites home is too far away at this point, we’ll never make it before Shabbat.”
My manager promised to continue searching for hotel accommodations on the web while we dodged in and out of roadside motels without no-vacancy signs, through crawling traffic, as the sun beat down on us before beginning to set.
“There’s got to be something.” I pleaded with the motel desk clerk who, like all the other hotel clerks I’d interacted with in the twilight, informed me that because we were, “In-Season”, there were no vacancies.
“My cousin, owns a motel just over the bridge, it’s called The Welcome Inn. I will call him now to see if he has any rooms available.” The pungent smelling clerk said in an almost unintelligible East Indian accent.
“Please hurry, I think my friends going to turn into a Pumpkin if I don’t find him a place to stay before sundown.” I said, while looking out at Todd shifting nervously while reading the Torah, behind the wheel of our packed rental car in the parking lot.
“Good news.” I told Todd as I entered the car five minutes later. “We have a room at The Welcome Inn, I made reservations. It’s just over the bridge. We should make it before sunset.”
And, we did. Just as the sun began to set, we drove past the hookers and crack-heads into the parking lot of The Welcome Inn. When I opened the door to our room, the first thing I saw was graffiti. Written in black magic marker on the dark green wall, beneath the black mildew from the leaking, air-conditioning unit, were the words, “Fuck You”, staring back at me. The writing on the wall was literally a sign of things to come during my stay with The Hebrew Hammer on Shabbos at, what came to be known as, “The Unwelcome Inn”.