I'm walking towards the South Ferry subway station down in Battery Park when I hear guitar strumming. I stop, turn back and see a guy wearing a sky-blue sweatshirt and softly faded blue jeans. He smiles as our eyes meet. The melody is soothing while invigorating. I stop and listen. My eyes are drawn also to an older fellow with a scraggly grey-white beard sitting at the other end of the park bench. He's wearing a baseball cap that says in bold yellow, "Vietnam Veteran."
When the song ends, I introduce myself and sit down between them. "I'm Jesse," says the guitar player. Jesse tells me he's been walking and hitching around the country for a year now carrying only a guitar and some clothes. Originally from Ohio, he arrived in NYC a few days ago.
Writing and singing songs as he goes. Says they are "prayer movin' through me." When he plays, people stop, people smile, can feel the good vibe. The other fellow on the bench says, "Hey, I'm Jimmy. Man, I like your songs, makes me feel good." Then he tells us he's a Vietnam Vet. Tells us about working down here on 9/11/01. He says, "There were ladies high heels everywhere. They were from the ladies who kicked 'em off, running barefoot." He sighs and pauses, then looks away in the direction of tall buildings for a moment.
Just then, Jesse starts strumming his guitar softly. Jimmy turns back towards us and tells a few more stories of a more hopeful note, about his wife and son, about moving on from hard times including the Vietnam War and Iraq and Afghanistan where he says his son has served. He says, "nobody knows how it hurts unless they've been there." Jesse and I nod our heads, "yeah."
When Jimmy leaves, Jesse and I talk about travelling, about getting lost in a good way, about walking in the mountains. He asked if I'd ever been to Nederland, CO. "Ha!" I said, "Been closeby, Boulder last month." And so we talk some more. I say I write songs also.
He smiles and hands me the guitar. I play a song and tell him wrote it when in a Cancer Center "playroom" with a boy in pain sitting in a wheelchair who wouldn't speak. I say, "I looked out the window up many stories and saw all these windows. And the song came through me, called it, 'Look Out the Window.' And as I played it, that boy came to life." Jesse smiles and nods his head like he gets it. When the song's over, I hand him back the guitar. He says, "you have a real sweet voice." That inspires me to sing harmony as he plays a song.
After a few rounds of this, as we're singing, the wind picks up. Rain drops started to fall. I ask, "what's the name of that one?" He said, "dunno." I say, "I like the refrain: 'Heart of you, Heart of Me'." He smiles.
I hand him a wondercard and invited him to stay in touch saying, "wanna hear where you land next." He laughs and said, "OK!"