“What’s up with that weird old guy?” one of my customers asked me. I didn’t have to follow his pointing finger to know he was talking about Harpo.
“He owns the bar,” I said. I walked away quickly before he could see me smirk. I am, after all, a terrible liar. And what kind of bar is owned by someone who looks like a wizard?
I don’t usually go out of my way to mess with customers, but when it comes to Harpo-related questions, it’s just too easy. With his variety of tuxedo coats covered in broaches and pins, with his lacey scarves wrapped around the poof of his wild white hair, he stands out in a college-aged sports bar.
As I carried an armful of empty glasses back to the bar, Paul Simon began to blare from the jukebox. I was responsible. I walked over to Harpo, who loves “Me and Julio” almost as much as I do. We began the Harpo-dance.
His cowboy boots lit the dancing fire. He stepped forward with one foot, and then the other, and then quickly did a full spin, keeping his arms at his sides. As soon as he was facing me again, I followed suit. My dreadlocks flung around me, coming back to rest on my shoulders. He spun again, the many beads around his neck flying through the air, beating back down on his narrow chest. I could sense the eyes on us, and could feel my customers’ confusion. This was our ritual.
Harpo and I sang through the whole song. His wide-opened mouth revealed the gaps between the teeth deep in his mouth, the front teeth showing the effect of years of smoking hand- rolled cigarettes. As the song neared the whistling solo, I chimed in. Harpo’s lips were pushed together, but the bar was too loud for me to hear him.
“Can you whistle?” I asked him.
“Not yet!” he replied, with his usual optimism. The song finished, and we stopped spinning. “Thank you Anna! I think the Universe is glad that happened,” he said.
I returned to wiping down tables and emptying ashtrays. Harpo turned back to the bar and the bartender placed a Mike’s Cranberry Lemonade in front of him before Harpo could ask for it.
Harpo picked up the bottle and twisted it open. He held the bottle cap in his hand for a moment, and then dropped it to the floor. He looked down at the cap and said, “I’ll see YOU in the morning!”
Harpo sweeps and mops the floor of the bar each morning before the bar opens. While he cleans, he plays female jazz and blues singers of the 1920’s, loudly. In the summer, he cares for the plants on the patio, watering them and plucking out any dead flowers. He always picks me a pink or purple flower when I start my shift. I put the flower off center among the ropes of my hair, and he watches me. I pose and ask, “How’s it look?”
“Cosmic, ha ha!” he exclaims. “I want you to stand by me when I start puttin’ stuff in my hair. Bones and stuff. Stuff that speaks to millions of males.”
Beads, bones, and stones fascinate Harpo. He collects perfectly rounded stones that he finds on his walks by Lake Michigan. He hides the stones throughout the bar, along ledges or above picture frames and bar signs. He checks on them in the morning to see how long they last among crowds of partiers. Most stones survive for a surprisingly long period, even ones that are within the reach of anybody passing through.
Harpo uses these rocks as gifts as well. I knew I was important to him the first time he pressed one into my hand and said, “Here, Anna. This is concentrated joy, like a pill, straight from Atwater Beach.”
On my last Birthday, Harpo had a brown paper bag waiting for me sitting on the time clock. I unrolled the top, glanced in, and saw jeans inside. “Thanks,” I said. “I’ll try them on later.”
“Be sure to check the pockets!” he said. That night, after work, I pulled out the jeans. I unrolled a pair of way-too-big tapered-leg designer jeans; a valuable find from an estate sale. Harpo had strung a scarf through the belt loops and tied it off at the hip, following the same style in which I wear my own scarves at work. In one pocket was a small cream colored doily, and in the other was a perfectly rounded stone. The doily lies beneath a vase in the entryway to my home. The stone rolls around with the coins in my wallet.
Besides beads and stones, Harpo also likes shoes… baby shoes. He often kept one tucked into his breast pocket, with just the toe sticking out or with the laces hanging down. “Shoe’s there?” I’ll sometimes ask him.
He’ll smile, put the sole of the shoe to his ear, like a tiny cell phone, and say, “Shoe is it?” Then he laughs and places the shoe on the bar beside his Mikes Cranberry drink.
Harpo has been living on the third floor of this bar for an undetermined number of years, much like his age. He loves the bar and the people in it. He calls it “our piece of cake by the lake!” He had formerly been a regular at the bar across the street. It was from that bar that Harpo first saw the artistic potential on the north side of the road. “One night when I was hallucinating in the early ‘80’s I envisioned this ship, an arc of art, I call it,” he explained to me. Then he continued, “I’m very connected to the spider grandfather in the northern hem-o-sphere.”
He tried to move in to the open area above the two-level bar. Eventually he got his wish, and began to fill the space with his treasures. Harpo has spent years collecting a variety of items from estate sales. “Estate sales bring an energy of grace,” he told me.
Now his home is a maze, a walkway lined with antique dressers and bookshelves, coats hanging back to back above the furniture. Mirrors are angled in the entrance above wind chimes. The sitting area is a grouping of chairs, each one different from the others like a refrigerator full of leftovers. The windows in this area have colored glass bottles that emit soft colored light. The front corner of the house has a giant “stone of a thousand faces” that rests below a window that Harpo likes to lean out of. This area is a greenhouse of plants, most of which hang down from the tall ceilings. “There are nine at-MO-spheres here,” he says.
The entrance to Harpo’s home has a grand wrought iron gate rather than a door. The stairway that leads to it begins in the bar’s upper level. The upper level has a small bar and a stage and usually there are about three bands that play on each weekend night. It’s surprising when the music is enjoyable. Most often, upper level nights are ideal to laugh at the different band’s groupies. The customers almost always love alcohol, the color black, and loud music. The first time I had the opportunity to see Harpo’s home was on a night that I was working in the upper level. The night was starting slow, so my co-worker Bradley and I went up for a visit.
I walked through Harpo’s house, following his lead until curiosity made me wander, exploring his treasures on my own. In one secluded area there was a desk covered in papers and framed photos. Must be his office atmosphere, I thought. On top of the desk I found a small notebook with yellowed pages and illegible writing in it. I flipped through it until I found a blank page. My apron’s right pocket holds six pens at all times, and so I took one out and thought for a moment. I could hear Harpo talking to Bradley in the walkway behind me.
“The Earth Mother has her own agenda, and that’s the celestial stuff I’m talkin’ about,” he said. “This whole world is interwoven with light, and that’s what the Internet is. It connects people instantly, creating the illusion that we’re all connected- a myth- the truth is we all already are. But we’re becoming removed, robots, zom-bies, haha! We’re brought into this world as part zombie.” I smiled, and wrote, A mind full of marigolds is more fun than sanity. ~Anna Sweet, 8-22-06.
Harpo and Bradley walked into the office atmosphere where I was standing. “Who are these people? Do you know them?” Bradley asked, pointing at the faces framed on the walls and the desk.
“In a sense I know them. I know humans,” he said.
I was still holding his notebook. I closed it and set it down in front of him. “I wrote something in there for you,” I said.
“Great, Anna! Thanks. I’m just waiting for someone to come along and manifest creative energy. They can put on a coat, sit in a chair, and just breathe. Cuz that’s what it’s about. And if the wind kicks in, just sail.” I walked away, scribbling down his quotes on my waitress receipts before I forgot them. I trailed back through Harpo’s maze and made a wrong turn. I found myself in his bedroom, just another area isolated among his treasures, but with a small cot neatly made with a thin green blanket. I backtracked and found the stairway, and I gently tapped all the wind chimes on my way out.
(written in 2008)