Lockdown Knockdown

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Longtime street musician Arthur Nakane has continued to perform through illness, injury and the pandemic.

By ARTHUR NAKANE, Rafu Contributor

If you ask me, “What is the most serious problem this corona pandemic has brought you ?” I must say, “Unable to work and pay my rent.”

Staying home all day, wearing a mask, etc. are inconvenient but manageable. But being unable to go out and work to pay my rent is a very serious problem.

When I came to Los Angeles in 1963 with 60 dollars in my pocket and checked into Masago Hotel in Little Tokyo, the first thing I had to do was to find a job to pay 10 dollars every week for my room.

A few days later I luckily found a dishwashing job at Kabuki Restaurant in Crenshaw. A few months later the restaurant owner found out I could play the guitar and sing. So he offered me a singer/guitarist job. That really helped me financially.

After I got married, I continued my study in college while working as a musician at Japanese nightclubs to support my fast-growing family.

After I graduated from Cal State University at L.A. and became a high school teacher, I had to keep my music job to pay the rent on time.

Now all my six children have grown up and each has their own family and owns a home. But I choose to keep on working to pay my rent — though I am 83.

My wife and I, unfortunately, have been separated for many years. So my children are paying her rent, in addition to their mortgage.

I suffered a severe neck injury seven years ago and became heavily handicapped and confined in a wheelchair. But I cannot be a financial burden to my family, who try to help me as much as they can.

I don’t own any properties, stocks and bonds or possessions to sell. I receive a minimal sum of Social Security pension since I paid very little income tax, having a large family with low income. So my living now solely depends on tips I receive as a street musician.

Fortunately, the Japanese Village Plaza in Little Tokyo allows me to perform three days a week, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Because of the injury, I am no longer the one-man band, as seen on “America’s Got Talent“ (2010). But I do my best accompanying my singing with a keyboard with my fingers now stiff and awkward from paralysis.

Now this pandemic has been completely cutting off the main source of my income since mid-March.

I managed to pay my April rent. For May I used all the money I had saved to make my own T-shirts to sell.

I received a stimulus fund to pay for June. Some dear friends of mine donated enough to help me pay the July rent.

I was hoping the pandemic would subside by July. But that was wishful thinking. The average daily new cases in Los Angeles County (population 14 million) has almost tripled from 1,000 in May to 2,700 in July.

Now with no money coming in and no end in sight, I have many sleepless nights.

Then it dawned on me that I have been saving all the coins from the donations for the past 10 years. Coins are not really welcome when most of the homeless nowadays get a dollar or more. But I decided to save them for my funeral expenses.

It took me two full days to count, but when I finally finished and found the savings were just enough to pay my August rent, I felt so grateful. “My funeral can wait,” I laughed.

Just as I was drawing a sigh of relief, I accidentally found out there was fundraising going on secretly, initiated and organized by my dear friend Jen Phillips (Jennifer Akamine Phillips) via GoFundMe online.

I was completely shocked and overwhelmed. I just don’t know how to thank her and other people joining the campaign to save me.

Now I must take real good care of myself in order to live as many more years as possible so I can repay all the kindness and support I have been given by my friends, fans and my family.

I was knocked down by the lockdown, but saved by the bell.

“Life is full of wonders,” they say. But this one is more than life to me.

I have many stories to tell, and The Rafu Shimpo is now giving me a chance to share with you. I hope you find my upcoming articles interesting and informative as well as entertaining.

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