“The Minstrel” is a 130,000 word novel that takes place over the course of four months, with the exception of the conclusion, which takes place three years after the rest of the story. Its genre is that of subterficial urban drama, where many things seem to be happening below the surface for those characters that are willing to look. The perspective follows the experiences of seven disparate characters from an intimate third point of view: the protagonist, Raul Valesquez, a middle-aged Latino amnesiac searching for the daughter he has lost; Cindy DiEsposito, a thirtyish Caucasian woman who lives on the streets hiding from her abusive husband; Emmanuel Jackson, a fortyish African-American who to the outside eye is a charismatic Christian minister but internally is imprisoned by a crime he committed in his past; Jonathan Pfeifer, a Caucasian paralegal in his early thirties who is caught in a spiritual quagmire where he realizes that the cultural goals he pursues as an adult pale next to the idealism of his youth; his boss Russell Frawley, a playboy Caucasian lawyer in his late forties who finally finds meaning in his life of cynicism after meeting and falling in love with Cindy; Russell’s wife Joan Taylor Frawley, an alcoholic who is paying the price for giving up her individuality to fit the social norms of wife and mother, avenging her losses in such a way as to take down everyone in the society with her, and Carmen Sanchez, a middle-aged Latina nurse who is the key to Raul’s lost past. These people, representing conflicting sides of general society, come together in such a way that their latent prejudices and fears explode upon one another.
It all began when the bum showed up in their town.
It was obvious he was a bum. First of all, no one had seen him before in this proud town just outside the Big Apple. He didn’t seem to be anyone’s friend, or relative. If he had been, the advice dispensed would be to get the guy some mental help. He was wearing a brown winter jacket that had been out of style for at least twenty years, even though it was at least sixty-five degrees out this October day. Nowadays it seemed the men wore jeans to work, but his looked like they hadn’t been washed for six years, again, the wrong style, no belt, and at least two sizes too big. He carried a backpack, even though there were no colleges or hiking trails in the area. People crossed the street and gave him wide berth as he passed, especially the women. But a few brave souls managed to get a good look him, trying not to be intimidated by his linebacker stature. They witnessed his dark mane contrasting against his pale skin, hair remarkably trim and contemporary considering his lifestyle, the square jaw with the low and even stubble. They saw steel-like posture that would give a sense of comforting authority if he were a man in charge of a disaster. Most disconcerting was his eyes; dark orbs squinting just enough to announce to anyone daring enough to confront them that he was paying attention. Some people later said that when you looked at them, it was as they could see into your soul. He wandered about the town’s streets where the merchants set up their shops, looking to see which of them would offer him work. The first store he came upon was a grocery store with missing paint and broken window shutters, a building out of place in this land of Victorian Vogue. He entered the store, the door creaking complaint with its effort. The store seemed as a morgue compared to the flurry outside, darkened with neglect. The wanderer looked about the store, seeing only a lone man with thick glasses cowering behind a counter of bored vegetables and asked if he needed a worker. The shopkeeper nervously shook his head, no, no hablo espanol; grateful he hadn’t listened to the wife with her gun control rhetoric, and for the security of the gun now behind the cash register. He clutched onto the piece until the bum disappeared from his turf, then hurriedly locked the store, afraid of what would happen next. Most of the people here were okay, but a bad element was coming. What the shopkeeper had just encountered was added proof to this statement. Damn hobos had finally arrived in his neighborhood. Worse, they didn’t even speak English anymore.
The stranger was not angered by the reactions of the townspeople. He had seen it all before, souls starved in fear when the feast of love was right before them. His thoughts of them were not thoughts of retaliation but prayers that they would see the love of God as he had seen throughout his life.
He presently gave up his search for work, seeing that today he had no prospects. He left the town and started down the streets of fenced-in yards, yards that got bigger and bigger as he got further and further from the town. It was getting dark, and he was searching for an empty yard so he could go to sleep. He still had some food and money from his last job. For a while he would be okay without work.
He began to sing. Always his voice had been his solace. His voice had carried him as he had wandered over the years, a minstrel traveling far from anyplace he had known, just like the minstrels of old. It was the talent that God had given him for his comfort in his darkest times, and for praise in his brightest. He sang a song that he memorized as a child, long before he could even read. The song was a simple prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for the great works he had done in the world. He was grateful to be alive, just so he could love the Lord. For as sinful as he was, he knew the Lord was giving him a second chance.
Inside the two-story colonial style homes that he passed, the everyday bustle of life continued, not yet aware of their new visitor. In one home, a young girl with hair flowing like snow lay on her bed crying, her thoughts flowing like the run-on sentences she spoke in: the one who was captain of the cheerleaders, homecoming queen, prom queen, etc., because her blow dryer had fizzed out; she was finally going out with the captain of the football team tonight, but omigosh she couldn’t go out with her hair like this because what would everyone think? they all thought she had naturally curly hair, and now she looked like a dead fish. In another home, there was another young girl. She was the one who as a child had been the girl with bad hair and thick glasses who always gave the right answers, but had in her seventeenth year transformed into a girl with the latest style of frames and tailored skirts, but just as many brains as before. She, too, lay on her bed crying, not as loud as Ms. Homecoming Etc., but crying nonetheless, for she had just been accepted to Vassar college, her first choice. Unfortunately, she had also found out from ept home pregnancy that the first and only time she had sex, she had gotten pregnant. Downstairs her parents were watching TV, Comic Relief to be exact. There was nothing else on; everything was about sex and violence nowadays. The jokes were funny, but the father, being the good leader that he was of his family, immediately shut off the comedy when Billy Crystal appeared on the screen asking to donate money for the homeless. Since he was so rich, he could donate the money himself, the father reasoned to his wife. Leave us working folks alone. His wife, being the good doctor’s wife that she was, sat in mute compliance. Neither one seemed to sense the despair of their daughter upstairs as the TV channel switched to a story about Vietnam on PBS. The house was mute except for the peppered sound of gunfire on TV and the grave drawn out voice of the commentator. Vietnam was a scourge that has been forever etched in the minds of Americans, he declared. His listeners mutely complied.
In another house, one that was not so concerned with sex and violence, Melrose Place was on full volume so that the Mrs. could clean up in the model gourmet kitchen after her football playing sons and stock broker husband. She hated the domestic chores, but this week the cleaning ladies had done a shoddy job. She was going to have to give their dispatcher hell; she’d give the crew hell, but her high school Spanish from twenty-five years ago was all gone except for Buenos Dias. Well, at least she had her sixteen inch TV perched by the bread maker. This way she wouldn’t miss Jane sleeping with Jack while Amanda walked in on them. All of the sudden, her exciting interlude with the tube was interrupted by Sally Struthers asking her to send money to starving children in Africa. The Mrs. caught a glimpse of a very dark child with an extremely swollen belly. She shut the TV off in disgust. Amanda should be back in another minute, she reasoned, timing it on her Rolex watch. She had these commercials timed down to the second. One minute, twenty-two seconds, to be exact. Then she could turn on the TV again.
The voice of the stranger broke into rhythm of their evening. Weak yet powerful, it jolted each and every one of them. The voice was a sound that they had never heard, and it made them afraid. Their fear manifested as annoyance that someone was making a racket at eight at night; startle for the unexpected sound on their otherwise quiet block, and most importantly, as anger, for the noise that they heard was in Spanish, and that could only mean that an intruder had entered into their midst.
The men of the block came storming out of their homes to set the matter straight and get this guy off their street, relishing the showdown. They were great men ready to defend their homefront. But when they stormed onto the battlefield of their front steps, they were met by emptiness and quiet, like no enemy had ever been there. The men looked around in bewilderment, their noble war march halted in confusion. They wondered if they were having early senior moments, or if those drugs they took in the sixties were finally striking back. Then each saw their fellow neighbors in similar quandaries standing on their steps. In talking to one other, they discovered the voice they heard wasn’t in their minds, but rather a collective and communal experience. Each admonished the others to keep a lookout, and to lock the wives and children in the houses for the night. They bonded together, having this common enemy. Trees and gardens invading property lines were forgotten in this time of crisis. They were united. This is how the stranger who would only be known by many as the minstrel arrived to the last stop of his life. A lover of peace, he was unaware that his arrival here was a declaration of war.