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Completely different perspective

Every now and then, I run into someone who remembers me from the long past. I look forward to these times and don’t experience them enough. Their memories surprise me and give me insight into myself that I don’t have and can’t get on my own. Almost always, I’m recalling the time they speak of from a very different perspective

Last night, members of the Westside Community Action Network Center (CAN Center) went to the Hispanic Economic Development Corporation (HEDC) awards dinner. My good friend Chato, a Kansas City police officer, picked me up and we had a good chat on the way to the event. There we met Jorge Coromac, the CAN Center’s executive director, and Chato’s partner, Rich. Chato and Rich are our neighborhood community policing officers and keep an office at the CAN Center.

The Boulevard Brewery’s Muehlebach Suite is expansive, glass and steel with views out over the neighborhood on one side, and over the big brewing vats on the other. The event was crowded. The people there were attuned to networking, so breaking the ice and meeting people was easy. And fun, too. We met neighbors who we haven’t seen in a long time and made acquaintances that will help us with our work at CAN Center.

We milled around listening to music and having drinks until time for the HEDC awards ceremony, where they celebrated community partners and gave special recognition to the business of the year, a machine shop a Mexican immigrant established in the Northeast neighborhood. I was able to catch up with people I hadn’t seen in a while and exchanged cards with friendly strangers.

When it came time to settle in for the awards, Rich, Chato, and I took up at a table with some neighbors. Among them were Francisco and Leigh, who I have been acquainted with for years. We only really had a good conversation a couple of weeks back. They were part of a group of people who had grown a weary of some of trash in the neighborhood, particularly the area around Observation Park.

They had worked their way down Holly Street from the park. At the time I met them, they were on Jarboe Street, trying to find something to pick up from the triangle of parkland across the street from our house.

I introduced myself to them again and found they were affable and open. They wondered why they found so much trash around the neighborhood but could find none once they arrived where West Pennway, Holly, and Jarboe all meet.

I explained that my son and I keep things picked up around the triangle. Ismael Gallegos keeps the corner of Holly and West Pennway cleaned up, as well as another triangle of parkland just north of his house. We had a good chat and then went on our way.

Last night at the HEDC event, Rich, Chato, and I sat at the same table they did. I didn’t recognize them at first, as when I met them formally the first time in front of our house, they had floppy hats and sunglasses on. They remembered me, though, and we started to have a good conversation. They live not far from here and have been in the neighborhood for decades.

We chatted a little about our neighbors and some of the things changing in the neighborhood, as well as developments downtown that impact our area.

After a lull in conversation, Leigh leaned over to me.

“I remember you from UMKC, back in the 80s,” she said.

“No kidding,” I said. I feared the worst. “Was it good . . . I mean what you remember? Anything you heard about me that was negative, well, it’s all true. Just terrible.”

“No, nothing bad. I remember you in good ways. When I was at UMKC, I used to see you sometimes in the student union. My friend Dianne and I used to follow your columns in the student newspaper. I mean, you were something of a legend, really. I felt like you were up here,” she raised her hand above her head, “and I was just down here,” she put her other hand at the level of the table.

“Really?” I said.

“Well, you did what every student wanted to do but never did. You dropped everything . . . I think I remember you sold all your stuff, and then bought a one-way ticket to Europe. Everyone wanted to do that. But you did it.”

“Yeah, I went to Germany and landed a job in a famous winery,” I said. “I worked in the vineyards. I was there about a year and a half before I fell in love with an American opera singer from Kansas City.”

“You met her in Germany?” Leigh said.

“No, I met her the day before I got on the airplane,” I said. “She lived around the corner from me. I sent her a note when I settled into my job. She came for the summer. It was all young and stupid and caught up in young and stupid stuff. I followed her back here and it was a disaster, a real life-changing disappointment.”

“Well, it’s still amazing you went to Europe without a way home. People admired you for that. I admired you for that.”

At this point in the conversation, I was trying to remember Leigh. Nothing came up.

“And then there were the things you did on campus,” she said, “your newspaper work, the kinds of activism you were involved in. Everyone knew Patrick Dobson.”

I didn’t remember it that way. I was having a difficult time during the period she talked about, 1987 and 1988. I was drinking heavily. I had made a disastrous second trip to Germany to go to school, but with lack of money and support, I came home with my tail between my legs. I attend the university, as I didn’t know what else to do. This was, perhaps, the smartest thing I did at the time.

What amazed me about Leigh’s recollection was how her view of me differed from mine. She didn’t know I was in the throes of alcoholism. She didn’t see me as a person debasing himself. She remembered a friendly guy who many people admired.

Since our conversation last night, I’ve though hard about how I perceive myself. I often give myself a hard time and look with a critical, if not cynical eye on that time of my life. But with Leigh’s perspective, I believe I ought to rethink that period and see if I can’t find some positive in it.

Leigh’s view reminds me again how poor a judge of myself I am, that I have been exceedingly hard on me. Maybe, beneath the drugs and alcohol, I retained some of the nice guy, some of the naïve man who looked out at the world with stars in his eyes and who had a well-meaning heart.

Certainly, I was a cad sometimes. But, maybe, I was a little more than that.

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