31 March 2010

My Old Man

I have always called him "Tricky Dick" because of the time I caught him stealing my dry erase marker and he claimed that it, in fact, did belong to him, but that he would give it to me as a gift. Everyone else simply called him "The Old Man". Once in a while, I would call him "My Old Man"; his usual streetname with a posessive paternal spin. I love him.

I saw him in my office. We talked about his favorite Biblical passages and his favorite sacreligious interpretations of them. We called his siblings who lived in far away cities and looked up pictures of their hometowns on Google Images so he could imagine where they were. We talked about how the police always picked on him because he was missing a few toes from the war and consequently always walked like he was drunk, and then the irony of the fact that he really was always drunk.

I saw him outside of my office. He liked to use this old broomstick to hit on fenceposts and to pretend to cut down trees. He was really going at it on a sapling in front of the bank, so I sat him down and gave him some iced tea and told him to give the trees a rest for the sake of preserving the earth for my future offspring.

Someone left a message for him on our universal message line that his brother had died. I was nominated to take the old man into my office and tell him, because we realized he had no one else here to tell him. We talked about his brother, we called his sister, and called his sister again. We looked up pictures of where his brother used to live, so he could imagine where his brother's body would rest.

And then Tricky Dick didn't come back for a long time. I thought about him, and about him thinking about his brother. I thought of him pretending to cut down trees somewhere as an attempt to ease his broken heart. I we were weeding out old mail one day, mail we would have to return to sender because it had not been claimed, and I found a letter sent to him by his sister. I kept it in my desk, in my top drawer, for months and months hoping that he would come back and that I could give it to him and that it would give him some hope. Yesterday, he did.

As usual, there were a million things going on, and I was in the midst of placing mental bookmarks next to two other requests while I focused on a third... but when I saw him, the rest of the world blurred. I stared at his old and tattered and weathered and wrinkled face and shook my head.

"There's my old man. I have something for you."

I gave him the letter that had become the inner decor of my top drawer like it was some kind of certificate of merit. I held my hand on his shoulder for a minute, and felt like I was about to cry for relief or joy and grief for my old man's life, what I know of it and what will come of it.
He thanked me, and the moment passed, and the other demands flooded back in as Tricky Dick stumbled and tipped his way back out into the street.

05 March 2010

Doctors, Patience

It has been sunny this week, but not warm.

I don't know where they came from, but people have started wearing medical facemasks (you know, blue paper, elastic) to keep their faces warm. There are quite a few of them right now wearing medical gear, not because they're sick and want to keep the germs in, and not because they're healthy and want to keep the germs out, just because they're cold. But I've never seen something look so out of place.

I didn't like it for a while, because I thought that people looking at them would think that the masqueraders behind them were diseased--people who already view the Heartside population as defiled and infected. I can't stand this, and don't want any visual reminder to stimulate it.

But then I asked Dave why he was wearing one.
"I've got this until something better comes along," he said, "I'm just waiting on it."

And then I relized who else wears these masks: Doctors, surgeons, the world's definition of success and progress and respect. Something better.
When I see these masks now, I forget who is behind them, and who could be behind them. I think about the fact that something could be different. That one thing in the early life of this person could have caused them to wear this mask for a completely different reason, a different necessity.
(And something later in life could do the same.)
There is no division.
It's just a street name.

02 March 2010


64 : People came through my office yesterday. That is the information that we will give to the board, the donors, report to the public.

46: In the morning
18: In the afternoon

32: Utilized the ID Program
32: Utilized the Referral Desk

4: Needed transportation to get to an appointment
1: Needed transportation to get to employment
4: Needed Degage ID's to utilize neighborhood services
5: Needed housing assistance
4: Needed to search for local employment
2: Needed help filling out an application
3: Needed to make a long distance phone call
1: Needed furniture for a new apartment
2: Needed help filling prescriptions
23: Needed help attaining State Identification
9: Needed help attaining their Birth Certificate
12: Needed... something else

: Gary had to call his friend in Muskegon, because he just had to get out of here. Just for a minute.
: Jackson has been suffering from gout for so long. Today one of his hands was completely swelled up, "But!" he exclaims, "It makes me look years younger! No wrinkles!"
: Nelson just started school, but has no way to get there every day.
: Austin could pay for an apartment if someone would overlook the fact that he was evicted from one once.
: Ralph just needs someone to vouch for him. Needs someone to say that he's been doing okay, that he's been treating people respectful. Needs to be respected.
: Mr. Sartini had his medical coverage cut off because he didn't mail something in time, and now his extensive nerve damage is killing him with pain unless he can find a place to get his prescription.
: Jack is sure that this resume, this employer, this is going to work.
: David can't figure out what to change his password to. It's always been "password", and he doesn't know if he can remember anything else.
: Tanisha is 56, and tired of sleeping on the floor.
: Tom's parents just won't anwer the phone. No matter what time of day, they just won't answer.
: Sarah's kids were taken away, but not for long. You can't separate a mom from her kids. "They said they didn't weigh enough. What's enough? I just don't have the money to fill them with food."
: Henry is going back to school, "but is it a problem if you have to help me fill out the application? Will that disqualify me?"
: Reggie just got out of prison and has no idea who he is or where he is or what comes next.

(Alyssa is liberated because she changed her last name, and now she doesn't have to think of her dad everytime she gives her signiture.)
(Shayla performed her pantomime act at a restaurant, and they loved it!)
(Demi is trying a new hair color.)
(Alex is not a failure.)