Meet Jorgé- I never did learn his second name, but Jorge is Puerto Rican and has spent most of his life in the United States, with most of that time spent in Manhattan. I met this fascinating character in a small Coffee shop in the “Little Italy” district of New York City and today I would like to share his story.
I was relaxing with a smooth Latte, inside what must have been New York’s smallest cafe. Sitting with my back to the window, ambitiously trying to avoid the slight but non relenting draft coming from a rather noisy air conditioning machine, the door suddenly swung open and through it entered a rather sweaty, cheerful, moustache -wearing man.
He must have known the waitress, unless he just happened to call every waitress in New York ‘Lola’. He slumped into a very rickety looking seat on the table across from me, at which point he removed a comb from his back pocket, straightened his hair and exhaled heavily. Something about that entrance seemed to welcome my arrival to New York City…
I was coming to the end of my Latte and my unread emails, and Jorge had just whipped out an old looking laptop from a ‘100% hemp’ marked drawstring bag.
As I consider leaving, the character across from me very quickly grew more and more frustrated and vocal in-front of his computer screen. Speaking in Spanish, I was unable to decipher what kind of a problem he was having when he suddenly jerked his head up at me and on seeing that I had noticed him, called out, “Gimme a hand with this piece o’crap, would’ya?”. I laughed and pulled up chair.
After fixing a very minor issue, he insisted he bought me a coffee as a thank you. And then the conversation flowed…
Jorge is sixty-five. Although from his build and boisterous and outspoken manner you wouldn’t have known it. Throughout his early twenties he lived as a squatter, merging into many squatting communities throughout the city, before going solo or how he put it, “freelance”. He had found a squat in Brooklyn when he became the victim of a police raid as the city was toughing up on the various communities around the city. He knew this moment was coming, what he didn’t know was what was coming next. Jorge was to be imprisoned for a short time, I think it was probably linked to other things than simply squatting, but he could however choose to enlist with the US army for a “unspecified period” and see out his prison sentence representing his country, “How I saw it..”, Jorge reflected, “ I was being offered time in a prison on home soil, or abroad. I had always wanted to be a jetsetter, so decided on the free travel option” he joked, followed by a very loud laugh that seemed to startle the waitress, maybe ‘Lola’, painting her nails behind the counter.
Jorge didn’t like the army one bit and after finally being released fifteen years later, he spent the remainder of his life travelling across the states volunteering at various institutes for mentally and physically damaged (usually permanently) ex- army servicemen. He told me he just hopes there is “someone on the other side”, doing the same as him, “because hell, this type of military victim is not decreasing, I’ll tell you that much.
When asked on what he now thinks about the current use of military power and war, Jorge gave what I believe a hugely necessary reflection on our society’s use of war. I recorded the audio but it is in a strange format and won’t upload onto wordpress, but I will post it in a YouTube video later, but for now:
“ America is quick to celebrate military success. But War has never been victorious. The military is a machine that only ever loses- it loses for humanity. The moment someone is killed, the moment a child loses a father , a wife loses a husband, a man loses his conscious state of mind and a country loses a citizen, no matter what side the guy was fighting for, humanity loses …every time.”
Jorge was a character that I am hugely grateful for meeting. It is individuals like Jorge who continue to enrich my time here in the States. Thank you Jorge.