14 November, 2020, in the very wee hours. I’m a tad more’n halfway through a double shift here at the shelter, which was s’posed to work out so I was the sleeper during the second part, but somebody didn’t show up so one of our administrative staff came in on the condition that she got to sleep, so I’m awake. See, we gotta have two staff on duty, but only one has to be awake – the other is here just in case something happens which has only happened once since I been around. There’s an appreciable difference in pay rate for awake vs. sleeper, so while I would like to get some sleep, I can console meself with the fact that I’m bringing home the scrillas. I’m actually financially stable these days, which is crazy considering I got the house payment and utilities plus the occasional check toward my higher education – I make just enough payments that they don’t come and repossess.
‘S been a night so far. There was a bit of drama between various guests that centered on one old codger who apparently threatened to hit his lady friend with his cane which some other guys thought wasn’t okay which led to him threatening to hit them with his cane which then turned into him getting kicked out, but then she followed him outside and they were hollerin’ some more and then she smacked him upside the head and I’ll just spare ya all the details, but we had cops and EMT’s – codger claimed he was suicidal and that he broke his kneecap a few days ago because he’d rather go to the hospital than the drunk tank. We’re evicting her too, but she was barely able to walk for being drunk and it’s kinda cold, so we’re letting her stay tonight and her eviction starts tomorrow. Three-night eviction for both of ’em. Three nights is our usual eviction. We can evict people permanently, but for most cases, three nights is enough to get them to think a bit and make some kinda effort to act better. For a while, at least. And it ain’t like we got high standards here at the low-barrier shelter. Motherfuckers could literally walk in here and say “Hello, I’m wanted in four states for touching babies and I’m tweakin’ on meth.” and we’d say “Aight – you’re in bed #32.” I mean, we are the shelter that you go to when the Salvation Amy won’t have you. We’ve had cops show up and try to foist off people they didn’t want to deal with – and we would take ’em if we didn’t have to be stricter because of the whole covid thing. Last thing we need is covid sweeping through.
I’m drinking the cold dregs of the first urn of coffee and I got “Ray-O-Vac” by Royal Trux on repeat in my head – which is a nice change, actually. I had Die Antwoord’s “Cookie Thumper” going around in there earlier. At least I can understand the words to “Ray-O-Vac”.
So yeah, all that happened. And there was a mouse in the women’s area. First time we had a mouse. we recently moved into a new location – a closed grocery store. It’s a good move – solved a lotta problems – but we’re still getting used to it and figuring out how things’re gonna work here, and apparently mouses is a thing we gonna have to deal with. That’s not a bad night – not by a long sight.
We have some drunks. They’re easy. They stumble in, mumble some gibberish, eat dinner and pass out. the druggies mostly just stare off into space or talk to each other. I overheard a conversation between two burnouts earlier that was kind of amazing in a tragic way – they were yammering at each other two streams of stoner-consciousness that didn’t make a lick of sense, but they were totally groovin’. There’s one guy who comes in occasionally who’s usually coming off heroin, but sometimes coming off meth. He’s not a behavior problem, but sometimes we gotta call the EMT’s. The shit starts when a bunch of ’em get fuct up on K2, which is one bonehead drug as far as I can see. I mean, I did a buncha drugs, but even I don’t see the attraction for that one. I guess it makes ya feel really good before you start seizing up and vomiting. Pretty much when one person is smoking K2, a bunch are, and none are tonight.
Over the summer, I got to messin’ around on some dating websites. I haven’t been involved with anybody in eight years and I wasn’t really trying hard to start anything – more like I was bored and figured I might as well see who was out there. I had a couple interesting exchanges with ladies in Virginia before I got bored with the whole online dating thing and deleted my accounts. In both cases, when I told them that I work in a homeless shelter, they commended me on doing good work, and in both cases I said uh, thanks, and shifted the conversation to anything else.
I understand that people who don’t work in a homeless shelter think that it’s commendable. I assure you that it looks different from where I’m sitting. For one thing, it looks like my job. I’m here so I can pay my bills so I can keep my house. Yeah, it’s also part of what God has called me to do – this is the job that God has given me, I assume so I can make a living and get some knowledge and experience that I’ll need for whatever job He gives me when I finally get through seminary. Shit, I wouldn’t be surprised if I got assigned to a homeless shelter. Hey, maybe I’ll be the executive director of this homeless shelter. So far, the board of directors has been partial to Brethren pastors, but they might take a chance on a Lutheran with experience.
I’d rather do interfaith bridge-building. Or take LGBTQ teens on Christian retreats in the George Washington Nat’l Forest. I’m sure God will take my preferences into account when He sends me to work in a low-barrier homeless shelter in Nineveh.
I get along with all the guests. I think they find it a little easier to take direction from me than from some of the other staff. I’m a middle-aged, tattooed guy who smokes with them and generally seems to have been around a few blocks. The rest of the shelter managers are females in their twenties who don’t give off an air of having ever dumpstered dinner. There isn’t any obvious difference in how those girls get along with the guests most of the time, I guess. The guests know I’m in recovery and that I’m a Christian. I’ve had a couple conversation this week on those topics. I’m happy to tell somebody where and how I’ve gotten help with my alcoholism and mental illness, and to talk about what it means to try to follow Jesus in this post-modern Babylon. I found a guy a Bible yesterday – I gotta remember to pick up a few up next time I’m at a thrift store.
But I don’t honestly think a buncha commendations’re in order. I don’t feel like I’m some kinda saint just ’cause I keep showing up to walk around and make sure the local homeless ain’t smokin’ shit in the bathroom or whackin’ their lady friends with their canes. It ain’t a hard job or anything – especially now that it’s getting cold out. Real old nights do a lot toward making homeless people behave in the only place that’ll take ’em in. Of course, we are talking about a population that’s known for making bad choices, so I’m sure I’ll have to kick a few out into the cold, but whaddaya gonna do?
That old codger earlier was all “I ain’t got no place to go”, as if it was my fault. Is it commendable that I didn’t say “Well, maybe if you weren’t an abusive redneck asshole drunk you’d be able to get a fuckin’ job and pay some fuckin’ rent for a change?”, because that’s what I was thinking.
Or check this – a guy just asked me to refill the sugar shaker. Homeless people use a lotta fuggin’ sugar. This guy’s been sitting at a table all night drinking coffee with enough sugar to make it syrup, and he told me a bit ago he doesn’t know why he can’t sleep. Inside my head: “What the fuck is wrong with these idiots? Gotta build your rock on the Ray-O-Vac, gotta build your rock….”
So many people walk around with the expectation that they should be all fulfilled and happy all the furkin’ time and if they’re not then something must be wrong. I know a postal worker, a mail carrier, who picks up extra hours delivering for Amazon. He says he delivers to the same houses multiple times a week. “It’s these rich fuckers – they don’t need anything. They just buy more shit because they think it’ll make ’em happy.” My friend is low-income enough to refer to the middle-middleclass as “rich fuckers”. But that’s one of the fundamental premises of capitalism right there. Even people who know how bad Amazon is, who know the horrible working conditions in Amazon shops, will look ya right in the face and say “I know it’s wrong to get stuff from Amazon, but what can you do?” and I’m thinking “Well, you could not get shit from Amazon, ya fuckin’ dummy”, but I don’t say that because I don’t think it would do any good. There’s no difference between trying to fill the gaping hole in your soul with more stuff and with trying to fill it with K2. Well, K2 has less of a negative impact on the environment.
I don’t think that I should be happy and fulfilled all the time. I flat out reject the popular, white people paradigm that says I should have it all, go for the gusto, maximize my potential and do the Dew. I will not tweet, nor will I follow those who do. I will not craft fake images of my perfect family to post on Instagram, nor will I participate in the sucking hole of Facebook. I won’t get a smart phone, go to hot yoga, run when there’s no one chasing me, know anything about Tik Tok, drink 4 Loco, bang meth or smoke K2 and get myself kicked out of the low-barrier homeless shelter in November.
None of that works. None of that shit does anything but make you feel good for 8 seconds and then want more. Oh, hey – that’s exactly my experience with powder cocaine. And at the same time, I’m happier and more fulfilled than I ever been, so I’ma go ahead and assume that there’s some sorta relationship there and say that if ya wanna be happy for the rest of your life never make a pretty woman your wife, and also forget about being happy and start doing something that does anybody any good. If you can arrange to have God give you specific instructions, that might help, but in the absence of that, caring for the poor is always in alignment with God’s plan for humanity, so go do that. DO NOT expect thanks. My mom recently told me about some charitable donations she made and she was totally bummed out that those people didn’t say “thank you” or anything, and I was sitting there staring at her thinking “Shit – my mom’s one of them.” because I work in a place where people show up randomly to donate stuff we don’t want and then stand there like they should get a gold star or some shit. If you want to donate – donate cash. We don’t need your old clothes.
The poor are unfuckinglikely to thank you for caring for them. If you’re expecting that, you gonna be disappointed. Help the poor because it’s the right thing to do. Or get a job in a homeless shelter and do it because it’s the right thing to do and it’s how you pay your bills.
We aren’t designed to be self-centered. Homo sapiens sapiens has survived because a) God willed it, and b) people learned to care for each other. Individuality is all fine and good, but individualism, especially as it’s understood in the US of A, is a fuckin’ disaster. Be as individual as you want – shave yr fuggin’ eyebrows and look creepy like Yolandi Visser, for all I care – but let your individuality serve something bigger than you – God, your community, the environment, whatever floats yr boat. Put anything in the center except yourself. Me, personally, I’ma continue with this whole Christian Lutheran become-a-minister thing that I been doing, and the Daddy job, and I’ll keep showing up here at the old grocery store to stay up all night while bums either sleep or don’t. And I’ll keep on telling my cats they’re annoying, fat jerks, hanging out with lesbians, reading “Watership Down” to my purple-haired queer kid via Zoom and generally living the good life.
It is a good life. If ya don’t want a whole lot and if you don’t expect even that.