Friday, May 25, 2007

My mentor

When you die, can I have your clothes?

Two reasons:

One, to take a load off your family. Cleaning out the closet is often very stressful for survivors. It releases a torrent of memories not yet ready to be re-lived. So if I am in town, I'll come empty the closet for you.

Two, I give the clothes to Bobby Lee (see yesterday's post below), who gives your stuff directly to poor people, street people.

Many times, Bobby has been known to jump in his truck and drive to Austin just to pick up a box of clothes, turn around, and drive back to Houston.

That's just one of his scrambles. Bobby helps everybody, young or old.

For a long time, Bobby has been mowing the yards of seniors living in the Fifth Ward. For free, of course. Push mower. That's his signature.

Bobby was born a hustler. His parents ran a night club not far from the ship channel. He learned to run numbers and women. Today, he hustles scholarship money from black athletes to help bright kids get into a college they couldn't otherwise afford.

He sees opportunity everywhere. Every day, I toss pocket change into a jug by my front door. Takes a couple of years to fill it up but when it's full, the jug holds between two and three hundred bucks. That's when I call Bobby. He scoops loose change into plastic sandwich bags and gives them to kids in the 'hood. Bobby doesn't take credit. He tells the kids there's a white guy in Austin that wants them to have a burger on him.

By his actions, large and small, he teaches neighborhood children that love trumps hate.

Real warriors aren't afraid to show heart. For a street-savvy tough guy, Bobby has more compassion than anyone I know. His writing and his art can be edgy. But that's because Bob Lee cares so passionately for people, no matter their color.

His lawn mowing days are over. Bobby has multiple sclerosis and can barely walk. By normal standards, Bobby should have been in a wheel chair years ago. But Bobby isn't the normal patient. For years, he has done battle with the meanness of this deadly disease with only the help of Tylenol Extra Strength. He explains it this way: "If I take the medicines, they will weaken me and I'll die in the wheelchair."

So Bobby endures. Without complaint. If you talk to him today, he'll tell you something about beauty.

Bobby and his wife, Faiza, came up from Houston to have breakfast with us the day we left Austin for Minneapolis. He drove, aching legs and all. In good humor.

What a beautiful send-off for us.

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