Saturday, February 18, 2012

Riding the bus with the Rose King

Tonight, I met the Rose King. A gregarious fellow holding a Big Gulp cup full of roses, fussing away removing petals and, like me, waiting for a bus from Marina del Rey to Santa Monica. He was fussing with them, pulling petals, stripping thorns and just as the bus was about to pull in he handed me one and said 'give this to your girl'.

"I don't have a girl" I replied.

"Use this to get one" he shot back. Seeing him standing there, I started to think of a refrain from a poem. I started to try to recite it but the Rose King turned to me and said "no, write it out". So I did.

Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky:
The dew shall weep thy fall to night;
                                    For thou must die.

Sweet rose, whose hue angy and brave
Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye:
Thy root is ever in its grave
                                    And thou must die.

Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses,
A box where sweets compacted lie;
My music shows ye have your closes,
                                    And all must die.

Only a sweet and virtuous soul,
Like season’d timber, never gives;
But though the whole world turn to coal,
                                    Then chiefly lives.

- 'Virtue', George Herbert.

I scribbled it on a random sheet of paper and gave it to him, trying to recite it so that he could read over my terrible handwriting. We chatted on the bus, he let me take a picture of him. He's Iranian, with a son over here. He has political asylum, obviously concerned about the whole immigration process since that's what he mostly talked about, but he also explained what he is doing with the roses (in a roundabout kind of way). He said "Sometimes miracles happen" and told me a tale of how a young guy, with a beautiful girl on his arm, one time bought his roses for $100 and then gave them back to him. An act of magnanimity that seemed to reaffirm his faith in the world's goodness. Like everyone here, he has his thing, and his thing is roses. 

Currently, I am reading a book about the Middle East: a 1200-page tome called 'The Great War for Civilization" by Robert Fisk. It's a masterpiece about the wars, horrific persecution and disgusting hypcrocrisy that have torn through the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran (and I'm sure we'll get to Lebanon, Syria, Israel as well quite soon, I'm only up to page 200). Rather than read about the torture methods used by the Savak (the Iranian secret police, back in the day) to carve up dissidents, I got to chat to this charming fellow who must have lived through that oppression at some point in his life. 

I don't know this man. I don't know what to make of him. Riding a bus at 11pm with a whole bunch of roses, just to give away to strangers. His story sounded a little sad, a little regretful. He's probably poor and even maybe a little desperate. In the way that matters, and with a twinned Persian gregariousness and Angeleno semi-pseudo-spirituality with that simultaneous shabbiness and dignity, he conjures up the last, powerful stanza of the poem as a sweet and (somewhat) virtuous soul. 

Here he is. If you see him, say hi. 

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