"Debbie come home."
A longing phrase whispered in the night, summing up a life dead-ended. Walking through the cots in a night shelter gives one the sense of God, hearing the bared prayers and soft supplications locked tight during the staged day. That was Fred's whisper I heard and whoever Debbie was he certainly has no home to offer her. She could reside two blocks away and the gap between them would still be as the stars.
Doris is a rather large black woman who spends a great deal of her time just sitting on the sidewalk a few dozen yards from the shelter. She's very approachable without an ounce of bitterness in her. In the real world she's a superstar. I measure myself against her when tempted to drink from the cup of self-pity. Even in my private moments I fear what she'd say, knowing her true light is out there.
A Baptist preacher from one of our sponsoring churches was making the rounds of the "streeters" who feel more comfortable outside than in (like me). I know I'm not supposed to speak ill of the churches who sometimes are the only ones who acknowledge we exist, but sometimes I feel we are nothing more than a check box to them to be marked off as a good deed done. I'm not a cow to be processed despite the slaughterhouse world I live in.
So this preacher goes up to Doris smiling and she responds in kind just like she does for anyone who approaches her. He starts in on some lecture of the Word or whatnot, I couldn't really hear his words but you could tell from the body language and tone he was meaning to impart wisdom - even if he wasn't. What I did hear was Doris' classic reply: "But Father, if God love me any more I'm just gonna die!"
Whitfield - only name I heard associated with him - was an actor of the finest kind. Acting is done to one degree to another here by lots of folks but I truly appreciate the ones who take it to a whole other level. Whitfield's got a story to tear your heart out, a pure victim of circumstance. He dressed the part with his suburban white clothes laced with a middle class background of one who'd done everything right but it still wasn't enough. Damn this world of ours!
But it was sheer fabrication. Whitty was an observer and seeing the tale to sell he molded in his mind the life story most suitable. Not often you get a master weaver of storytelling but they do come through on a regular basis, driven by the pathology of their situation. I doubt even a real actor could pull off the con these guys do but then actors don't have the same life and death motivation.
These guys are hell to spot. When first hearing their story your mind says, "My God! My God! Don't let that be true! Don't let that be the true face of our society!" But if you keep your mind open and remove all prejudice - a tricky thing to do to remove the advocacy - one can hear the false note that inevitably pops up: a fact too well emphasized or a point made out of concert, "Why did he say that??" Once the spell is broken you get to the heart of the matter even if you know your storyteller will never come clean, the truth too shattering, living a lie to get by.
Gerald the Russian Jew, now there was a breath of fresh air! Man, if only I could can what he's got. Gotta love a guy who yells at a WWII movie on TV: "You never in war! You just acting!" We're all looking at each other like, "Who is this guy?" He too was a con man but not like Whitfield who created a story as a buffer from reality. Gerald loved to weave fact and fiction together to the point you had no way of telling what was real or what was not. I suspect this was his way telling the world he too could not tell what was real and what was not.
He'd make these wild bullshit statements like, "In St. Petersburg all the kids learn Klingon so parents not understand what they say." Who the hell knows if it's true but it's a damn great story! But deep down I really do want to know it if is true, the crazy mind fucker. But it was watching him interact with Maria that was truly delicious. Maria, the Grande Dame as we mockingly called her, was of the ilk who preferred makeup over food. She maintained the pretense of her previous life at all costs - often to the disgust of the rest of us just scraping by.
Gerald was drawn into her like a helpless magnet. But he was a rolling stone and she an impenetrable rock, doom rising on the horizon. It did make for one of the oddest exchanges in a place of odd exchanges. Even if repressed, it was clear to anyone watching the exploding chemistry between the two, then Gerald pops out: "Maria? Your name's Maria? My dick is named Maria!" The room just erupted in laughter and shocked smiles. Steam belched out of Maria's burning red ears and Gerald surprisingly seemed taken aback by our reaction. But like I said, he was truly a breath of fresh air.
Afterwards I felt I had to say something to him about his words - even though a little voice told me not to. Like most Jews, Gerald was an old soul and had traveled paths most never knew. But I know a few paths of my own so I told him he wasn't really impressing Maria with talk like that.
"Who want impress?" His hawkish nose showed me its disdain. "I put her off good!"
He stood there ramrod straight waiting for me to catch on, the wheels in my mind spinning furiously but I was too flustered to make the connection. Then he turns on me, flushing my face and waving me off with, "Tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner." Gerald had stung me well. I hate it when I try to pigeonhole people and I end up with egg all over my face. Keep.Mind.Open. Gerald the rolling stone moved on, painfully aware he had no life to offer Maria even though he wished it in his soul. So truth became opposite and he'd brushed her away.
Many are the lives I see here, detached like autumn leaves separated from the Tree of Life. Their lives turning hopelessly brown without the nourishment they need, leaving them to dry up and blow away and rarely do we see the final resting place.