John Densmore on the Immigrant Heart

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February 12, 2013 in Culture & Media

Well… my 68 year old brain has done it again. It’s bad enough going into a room and wondering why you’re in there, but leaving your wallet on top of your car at the gas station, and then driving off, has much more serious consequences. It’s being pre-occupied with multi-tasking in this jet-set age that has overloaded the wiring upstairs. The New York Times had an article that creative acts need a singular focus; you can’t answer the phone, eat lunch, or text while playing music or painting. So I don’t know where my mind was after I set the billfold on the roof, pumped petrol, and left.

Certainly the miracle woman who was driving by later was in her present mind. That afternoon I was in a complete panic, going back to the gas station, looking everywhere, asking the attendant if anything had been turned in… all to no avail. I phoned my accountant with the depressing story, and instructed him to cancel all my credit cards and said I would be going to the DMV to get a new driver’s license.

Meanwhile, the miracle woman was leaving her job at a fancy home in the Pacific Palisades, where she was a house cleaner (not for California’s former governor Pete Wilson — just a maid). She drove down into the canyon, and turned on the little side street where she would catch the PCH south. Looking over at the gas station, she spotted something in the gutter. It looked like an old-style Mexican wallet. She quickly got out to retrieve the item, when the signal changed. Cars behind her started honking. It didn’t bother Rosa one bit — she was on a mission. Grabbing the billfold, she jumped back in her car and sped off through the intersection. Due to her little endeavor, the rest of the cars caught a red light. Too bad for them, too good for me.

The miracle woman pulled over before going through the tunnel onto the 10 freeway. She looked at my driver’s license and noticed the address was in Century City (my accountant). Instead of taking the 405 south to Culver City where she lived, she continued on the 10 to Century City… well, actually she had to take several side streets after exiting the freeway, to wind up at the Avenue of the Stars. It was rush hour and parking was twenty dollars. She went anyway. Going up to the 10th floor where my accountant had his office, she found out that the accountancy corp. had moved. The new resident gave her my accountant’s number and a phone. She called and the man who pays my bills was amazed when he heard her story. He asked Rosa to hold on for a minute while he called me.

“Stop, stop… a woman found your wallet!” Fortunately, I hadn’t gone to the Department of Motor Vehicles yet and he hadn’t cancelled any of my cards. He clicked back to Rosa, and said he would send a messenger to her house to get the wallet. “No, no, there’s money in it… someone might steal the cash.” “Well, we certainly want to give you some of that for finding it!” “No, no, just tell Mr. Densmore that he should pick it up himself.”

I was elated! I hadn’t gone to the DMV and stood in line forever, while she had negotiated Westside gridlock to do a stranger a favor. Maybe she thought it was one of her countrymen who lost his billfold, me having purchased the machine-tooled wallet at Olvera Street (a tourist area in downtown L.A. emulating Old Mexico). But she saw my name on the license when looking for an address, and “Densmore” meant “gringo.” It didn’t stop the miracle woman.

I headed for Culver City, driving carefully because at that moment I, too, was an “illegal” — no driver’s license. I wanted to do something for this kind woman, so I pulled into a flower shop. If she wouldn’t take money, I’m sure she would take flowers… only flowers cost money… and my mind had wandered again — I was broke! She had all my dough. Cruising past her house several times, I finally caught the address and pulled over. Her apartment had the usual security grid on all the doors and windows. Another idea hit me, and this might be a good one… a good mental diversion. I shuffled around the floor boards of my Prius and found what I was looking for: a Doors CD. Maybe Rosa was into music…

The slightly over-weight, middle aged woman from Mexico opened the door. As she invited me in, I spied a shrine to the Virgin Mary on the wall behind the front door. On another wall rested a shelf full of books, with one about Mother Teresa prominently displayed on top. Rosa offered me a seat on the couch and as I sat down I heard some giggling from the hallway. Even with my pleading, “Hola… hola,” we couldn’t get her four-year-old girl to come out and say “hi” to the “gringo.” The miracle woman went into the kitchen and brought back the familiar black Mexican wallet that had brought us together.

“Please check to see if everything is there,” she insisted. Embarrassed by her concern, I quickly rummaged through and pulled out a twenty.

“You must take this for your trouble…” She shook her head.

“Didn’t you have to pay for parking?” Now she was shaking her head affirmatively, and starting to give in.

“I have something else that I would like to give you… some music.” I handed her the CD along with the twenty dollar bill. She reluctantly took both, saying that her brother likes music and maybe she could make him jealous if she accepted the gift. Now she had a mischievous look in her eye.

“Actually, I’m a member of this music group,” I said pointing to the CD. “The Doors… have you heard of them?”

“I think so… I know my brother will know…”

“Ya know… uh… Jim Morrison was our singer,” I said trying to help. Recognition crept over her face.

“I could autograph it… sign it to you…”

“Bueno,” she responded. After dedicating it to “Rosa,” I gave the CD my John Hancock. We sat silently for a minute or so, and then I blurted out, “I’m Catholic, too!”

Where the f… did that come from?! I guess with the Virgin Mary and Mother Teresa leering down on me, I fell to my knees (metaphorically, of course). I had been a “renegade Catholic” for most of my adult life, hating the church for giving me huge doses of “sin,” as well as dominating the world with no birth control, and a whole lotta gold in their coffers.

Organized religion is not my cup of meat. Still, the goodness in this devoted woman warmed my heart, and I wanted to give back, so something in me bubbled up out of my mouth… and it made her smile… big time. They say, “Once a Catholic, it’s for life.” I don’t like that phrase one bit, but there are many good people in all of the world’s religions, it’s only when they get into “my God is better than yours” that I get crazy. When the right wing attacks immigrants they focus on the small percentage of criminals but not the Rosas who contribute day in and day out to our society. She is everything they claim they want in a citizen; hard-working, honest, generous, and religious in the best sense because her actions match her beliefs.

In the coming months, as we get into immigration reform, let’s try and remember the likes of the miracle woman. This great melting pot we live in has been built by immigrants, and most of them are like Rosa.

(Former Doors drummer John Densmore has written for Rolling Stone, the Guardian, the Nation and Los Angeles Times. This post first appeared on Huffington Post and is republished with permission.)

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  • Stella Ursua

    Here, here, Mr. Densmore…those “takers” have the values that I was raised on…honesty, hard work, caring for those that have less, and…yes, the Catholic thing gave us “some” good principles to live by too. Rock on.

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