123. Blind and Kind

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Philip is 55 and blind. He has been blind since birth. He says he does not feel like he is missing anything, because he cannot imagine what sight is like. He can smell a rose, but he cannot tell if it is red, white, or blue. It does not matter to him; he enjoys the beauty of the scent itself.

People sometimes take pity on him, but he tells them he is a contented man; he does not feel cheated by Mother Nature. The doctors never figured out why he was born blind.

But his life is not a bed of roses. It is difficult for him to travel. He cannot drive, of course; he travels by bus. At home, he cannot just look out of the window to see what the weather is like, and then dress appropriately. He can't look at the clock on the wall to see what time it is. He uses his Braille watch or a special radio for that.

He must always put everything in the same spot in his apartment. If he doesn't, "I'll spend forever looking for it," he laughs.

Philip can look for and look at, but he cannot see. He says strangers often correct themselves when talking to him. They'll say, "I see," meaning "I understand." But then they think they've been rude, so they'll correct themselves and say, "I mean, I understand."

Philip has never seen a good movie or a bad TV show. He has no idea what a sunset or a full moon looks like. He is a musician. He plays the saxophone, but not in a band. Four times a week, he travels to Old Town in Pasadena on the bus in the afternoon. He gets off at the bus stop and then finds his way across the street to The Cap, a hat store. On the sidewalk in front of The Cap is his "spot."

He unfolds an aluminum chair and assembles his sax after taking it out of the case. He sits down and starts warming up. He puts a hat, upside down with change in it, on top of the case. "The change keeps the hat from blowing away," he says. "It also lets people know where to put their donations. I usually spend about four hours here. I'll earn from $10 to $30. One evening I made almost $100. Another evening, someone stole everything. I guess he needed it more than I did."

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