There is a tree in a park past which I drive five days a week. Under that tree in that park, more often than not, sits a man with an ocarina. A year ago, I didn’t give him a thought beyond the thoughts I give to scenery. Half a year ago I had to notice him, as did many people for the first time. Today I drive past and give a half-wave in his direction and am not surprised when he does not wave back. I took notice with the rest of the city when he got a write-up in the Statesman.
Right there on the Life & Arts section, his picture was blown up and plastered, two thirds as tall as the page itself. He was sitting in contemplation, blowing on his ocarina, his eyes half closed. In the picture in the paper, he was wearing a clean, white T-shirt and blue jeans, which he wore most days. His shirt changed, so we assumed he wasn’t homeless, and he always looked clean. In the picture in the paper he also sported a bruise across the left side of his face and a bloodied lip.
The injuries, we read, were the result of an attack on his person by police. He had been accosted by one of Austin’s finest, and hit twice with a club. He’d managed to avoid any damage to his instrument. They had urged him to leave his spot by the tree, and he’d taken a moment to stand and walk away. He’d been arrested for loitering in a public place and for public camping, the usual charges for vagrancy here in town. It turned out he isn’t a vagrant. He's the CEO of a small company headquartered near the park on I-35. After work, he walks out and sits under the tree to meditate, blowing on his ocarina.
He still sits there most every day, and he hasn’t been accosted again. In the article, he says to chalk it up to the quirkiness of the city. “It’s just proof,” he says, “that Austin is the kind of place that it is.”