A sanctuary village for Bill

09/26/2019

I was beckoned that morning by the bench tables in front of Toby’s Coffee Bar, to either read the Chronicle tucked under my arm or to see if there is someone around with whom to share what’s happening. Looking, I saw David Mitchell at the sidewalk end of the table with a stranger who has caught my interest many times before, raising questions in my mind about what kept him around and often sitting across the table from David.

Feeling a little like a meddler, I sat down and glanced at the shaggy man staring at me. “Are you a friend of David”s?” I asked. The wrinkled face smiled and looked down at his hands, saying nothing, but chuckling, which sounded like “hack-hack.” David turned to me, and said, “His name is Bill. Have him show you his sketches.” Slowly, Bill removed a rubber band from a stack of notebook-sized papers and faced them toward me as he thumbed slowly through the cluster. What appeared was startling: mythological Greek gods, our indigenous Indians, abstract forms pictured as landscapes—all drawn from a set of colored pencils residing in a cloth pouch. “I have more here,” he said, picking up a small notebook. “Hack—look, Kule Loklo—hack. Yeah, dancing, you know, out there dancing in those trees—yeah, Miwoks. Hack-hack.”

Bill kept shuffling the drawings and telling me about Prometheus and other Gods mixed with Indian legends, making me wonder who this character was—homeless yes, but educated, and, apart from the “hack–hack,” quite articulate.

After I finished my coffee, I decided I had pried enough, so I left. 

Over the next few days as I picked up my mail, I walked past where Bill had established himself near the post office. I would glance to see what he was up to, and I was astonished to see who stopped to talk with him. At one time, a young guitar musician sat next to Bill playing, and they both sang. Another time, I saw Jack walk from his farmer’s market vegetable stand to sit by him to talk. Yet when I spoke of Bill to friends, they showed no interest in listening and were disgusted by his appearance and homelessness.

When I see Bill’s dark, wrinkled hands, his stained fingers clenched around a colored pencil smoothing out a tone, I see narratives translated into art. His imagery evokes the essence of the myths he talks about. Bill doesn’t care about what you think of him. He will not enter a shelter, but he will sell you a drawing. He’s lived and built up some degree of resistance to his situation, while accepting the thoughtfulness of folks, even one who cared enough to buy him a new pair of pants. When I had first spotted this tattered character, he sat blanketed and bent over; now, I see him come alive, standing to greet people. Point Reyes Station has awarded Bill a sanctuary by being compassionate, at least for the moment.

 

Igor Sazevich, an artist, lives in Point Reyes.