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Newly homeless part 5

Updated on March 13, 2012


Well, we got through the storm the best we could. It was a little cramped in the shelter, as more cots were brought in so people could come out of the cold. And boy, did it smell in there! Smelled sorta like a gym locker with a pair of shorts that hadn't been washed in a month. Add remnants of cigarette smoke, alcoholic beverages, puke, and lots of body odor, and it was not pleasant.

But we got through it. A guy named Jason had some incense, and even though we're not supposed to have it, the staff let us burn some to combat the smell. All in all, everyone was pretty well-behaved, and there were only minor incidents, as nobody wanted to be asked to leave. It was almost like a campout, only we were inside.

Shockingly, Donald did go to the free clinic, and they told him: A. To stop smoking, B. He has emphysema, C. To stay inside as much as possible in this weather, and D. Take your medicine. They gave him a powerful antibiotic, and he sounds better, but emphysema is no laughing matter, and I don't mean to lecture, but I want him to stop smoking. He won't listen.

As i go out today, I actually have a day planned. Jason told me he gathers cans and sells him at the local junk yard. I ask him how he gets around, and he says he has a deal with a guy who buys appliances at the junk yard, fixes them up and sells them. He calls the guy up and the guy gives him and his cans a ride to and from said edifice. Jason and I meet up outside the convenience store after having a breakfast sandwich and coffee (of course,...I need coffee just to get through the day,...)

It's nine o'clock or so, don't know exactly since I forgot to charge up my prepaid cell phone. There's still a lot of snow on the ground, but the roads are clear, and that's the important thing. We hit the parking lots of all the neighborhood shops, and Jason dives in a dumpster or two to see if any cans have fallen out of the trashbags they were placed in. I find this strange, but this is my first day of doing this, so it's not for me to say.

Jason got a shopping cart from the local Petsmart, stole it actually, but it's not something the store's gonna go out of its way to prosecute. They can always get more carts. This one is pretty big, and sturdy, and can handle some serious volume. As we wander around town, I ask him how he became homeless.

He says he was always in trouble with his mom, and it got worse when she brought home a boyfriend. He acted out more, and the boyfriend and he had a showdown. "Guess which one she backed up", he says, shaking his head as he puffs on a Sonoma. Long story short, she kicked him out, and none of his friends would take him in, so he's been on the streets since the summertime. "It's not that bad", he says, "but it sucks not having a place to go to just to think and relax,...and get high!" He laughs, and I suspect that was one of his major problems with his mother.

We hit the big shopping centers and the mall, and nobody bothers us, much. Oh, some teenagers laugh at us gathering cans, and one throws his drink at us. We just tip our stocking caps and leave. I've gotten so used to being ridiculed on the streets that it doesn't faze me anymore. It does bother me, but you can't give them idiots the satisfaction on knowing they got to you. You just keep on going. You can cry later.

At about 3 o'clock (got the phone charged thanks to a friendly store owner), Jason calls his man and asks for a ride to the junkyard. The man agrees and we are to meet him at "the usual spot", nearby the bridge. As we walk over there, Jason tells me of the tent city of people that live outside. I don't know how anyone could just stay outside in freezing weather, but they have their ways to keep warm. Even so, I'd rather be inside where it's safe.

We get there, and some of the folks greet us. They apparently know Jason and he knows them. I introduce myself, and the people look kinda raggedy, but they're all nice to me. I ask them how they survive in the cold, and an older fellow, about my age, mid-40ish, tells me that have their ways and get help from various groups who come out and check on them. Ike is what he calls himself, although he says his birth name is Michael. His wife/girlfriend/s.o./whatever Sharon offers us some food. I say that I don't want to take what they have, but Sharon says that since so many folks have come to help them since they were written up in the local paper, they have plenty, and tell us to have a sandwich or two. You don't have to tell us twice. We eat some ham and cheese sandwiches and drink some tea that they made, and it was nice. I said I'll share with you guys when I get something and they said that it wasn't necessary.

Our ride shows up and we skedaddle. We ride in the back of a pickup, which sucks in 38-degree weather. The cart is filled to overflowing, so it was a good day, I guess. We get to the junkyard and unload our stuff on the scale, and it tips the scales at 20 pounds. Not knowing what the cost is per pound, I asked Jason how good that was, and he says it's a nice haul. We get inside, and the man pays us 40 cents a pound, or a cool 8 bucks. 8 bucks, 4 dollars a piece for 6 hours work. While Jason is happy, I'm a little disollutioned to be making 67 cents an hour. But, money's money, so we head back in the truck and get to our starting point about 4:45.

I am glad to have had the experience, but i won't be doing this again in the near future. My time's worth a little bit more than 67 cents an hour. Not much more, mind you, but a little more.

Soup kitchen is full, but I get in, and eat a modest meal of beef stew and mixed vegetables with carrot sticks and fruit cup for dessert. I'm reading a book about writing techniques, and it keeps me engrossed for a while. Pretty soon, I'm told it's time to leave, so I do, heading on down to the shelter.

Looking back on the day, it was good to get out with someone else and do something instead of sitting around and moping about all day. But I know that I need to do something to get my life moving forward. I still don't feel like I've hit rock bottom yet, nor do I want to, but I keep expecting it, and that, i say to myself, is when I'll get serious about helping myself.

Back at the shelter, it's crowded, but not as much as last week. Donald looks at me, shaking his head. "What?", I say. "Damned doctor told me to stop smoking, and I ain't coughing any more." I said that's great, what's the problem. He says, "I really need a cigarette. Really do, you dickhead!" There's an uncomfortable pause in the air, and then he laughs, and hugs me. "I appreciate you looking out for me, but I ain't gonna do everything you say, and I ain't gonna do everything the damned doctor says, okay?" I shrug, and say okay. Enough said.

An hour later, I keep reading, and I hear Donald coughing again. Not as bad as before, but enough to worry me. Still, he's got his medicine, so he'll be all right. I pray to God to help me have a good day tomorrow and to help all my new friends and my family.


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