His name is Rain Dog. At least, that’s his nom de plume. He sits at a table outside a coffee shop. He supports himself with a crooked cane, a la Yoda. A mysterious, wise-looking figure, also resembling Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, he watches the passersby as he sits contently sipping coffee.
I must mention that I have been a recipient of much kindness through my search for stories about people who do good deeds in Long Beach, for this issue of 908 Magazine. The fact that, when I approach them at random at various locales in the community, people have been willing to take time out of their day to talk to me, a perfect stranger in their eyes, and tell me a heartwarming story -- that’s a good deed in and of itself. It goes without saying, people don’t really take the time to innocently approach people anymore to just say hello and introduce themselves. Why bother? And why bother me? That’s the adage we are told, anyway. And we believe it. But the fact of the matter is, I have found most people are willing, many times enthusiastically actually, to engage in conversation face-to-face, sometimes with a perfect stranger. To simply connect as human beings -- to share our flaws, discuss our triumphs or to just share an interesting story -- is what, in large part, makes us uniquely human. A perfect example of such an encounter is a conversation I had with author and publisher RD Armstrong, who I met on a whim at Portfolio coffee house on 4th Street.
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An unassuming man, but interesting character, I stopped to inquire if he could tell me a “good deed” story. And herein lies the good deed. He said, “Sure,” with a quiet kindness, subsequently bought me a cup of coffee, and sat down with me to tell his story.
“I publish a lot of poetry in bound books, in collections,” Rain Dog says. “I help a lot of poets get published.”
RD Armstrong is one of the best kept secrets in town. He’s been publishing poetry for 23 years, and on a full-time basis, most recently. He was also a handyman for 30 years.
“I pretty much assumed I’d drop dead with a hammer in my hand,” he says.
Because of health issues -- he has been seriously hospitalized twice -- Rain Dog couldn’t be a handyman anymore.
“Somehow, I thought I would be dead at 60,” Rain Dog says. “But here I am. I’m 66 now.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carl Sandburg, and one of Rain Dog’s favorites, once said, “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.” Well, it was the divine plan that Rain Dog should go on as well.
Rain Dog turned his hobby of poetry into an actual business and has helped touch lives through poetry. He tells the story of one man who lives in Indiana, who Rain Dog has been connected with for years via his various publishing endeavors. Rain Dog had lost track of his friend, but finally got a hold of him. The year was 2008. Rain Dog’s friend had been one of many people hurt by the downward spiraling American economy at the time. Rain Dog found out that his friend had lost everything -- his job, his house, his wife, his dog, and his mind. So Rain Dog suggested to him that he should start writing poetry again.
“I always really enjoyed his poetry,” Rain Dog said. “So I told him, if he started writing poetry again, to send me a manuscript. He later told me that when I suggested he start writing poetry again, it hadn’t even occurred to him that he could do that. It helped him get back out of the hole.”
Rain Dog says another man, living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, bought a poetry anthology from him -- Rain Dog publishes an annual collection of the best poetry he has received from the year.
Rain Dog says that at the time the man got the book, he was in a really dark space. Just looking at that book and reflecting on all the people who were writing these stories, folks who were dealing with things similar to those he was going through, really helped the man cope and get back on his feet again. “If that’s not a feel good moment, I don’t know what is,” Rain Dog says.
The psalmist wrote that the Almighty delivered him “out of the pit, out of the miry clay.” And that He turned his “mourning into dancing.” Rain Dog says he certainly wouldn’t consider himself Godly, or doesn’t pat himself on the back for doing good deeds, but he definitely believes poetry saves lives.
“Poetry is especially important today, in a time where words are totally compromised, and nobody trusts what the word says,” Rain Dog muses. “To me, poetry is one of the most honest forms of writing because you take something that happens to you and you synthesize it down into these tiny fragments and it has to truthfully communicate an idea or feeling.”
So why the name Rain Dog? In the 1980s, American singer-songwriter Tom Waits coined the phrase, calling one of his albums “Rain Dogs.” A Rain Dog is a dog that’s traveling out in the street at night and is caught in the rain. With its whole trail washed away by the water, the dog can’t find home. He is stranded. He’s lost his scent. And he’s lost his sense.
RD Armstrong listened to that album and Tom Waits’ explanation of the rain dog.
“I can’t find my way home either; and I lost my sense a long time ago -- I must be a Rain Dog too,” Armstrong said.
A poet and author himself, RD Armstrong’s nom de plume isn’t an abbreviation for Robert David, or Richard Douglas. It stands for Rain Dog. And his small press poetry operation is called Lummox Press. Like a poem he wrote in his Tracking the Rabbit collection, which he gives me a free copy of, along with Lummox Press’ poems of the year anthology, 2017 edition, Rain Dog concludes his own story and shakes my hand with “No sad farewells or long goodbyes.” I take his picture for my publication. Then, like the rabbit in his poem, Rain Dog disappears. “Now you see him, now you don’t.” Wherever he’s going, I hope he finds home. I might not ever see him again, but to Rain Dog I say, “Peace, goodwill to you, and thanks for talking to me.”
To find out more about RD Armstrong and his poetry, visit LummoxPress.com. Like “Lummox Press” on Facebook.