Thursday, February 13, 2014

Another Night At The Bum Barn

"Where are your purple pajamas?" asked the volunteer. He knows that I usually sleep in pajamas but tonight I've decided that it's too cold to wear them.  So They are folded up in my backpack.

The volunteer's name is Dave and he is one of the most responsible workers on the roster. Dave comes in and discusses what is going on here...WITH US...and keeps mental notes in his head. He hears what we say and pays attention to what our concerns are. Dave knows what is going on in here and when HE is here, he sleeps in the main room with us. Nothing much gets by Dave because he's not sequestered back in Tom's office or curled up somewhere in the kitchen. Nope, Dave is exactly where he is supposed to be: With us.

The rest of the homies have no idea what it is like to sit on a cot, in the middle of the night and gaze across the dining room. They never see the long tables, standing in the half-light, above other blanket-clad bodies in the middle of the night.

We share this room with tables, rows of folding chairs, microwaves and refrigerators. This room is filled with people and food and noise all day. But at night, this space in this larger building, becomes our bedroom.

We each have our own "spot" where we prefer to sleep every night. And so we do...sleep, that is. Sometimes. We deal with snoring that is so loud that it rivals the roar of reefers parked together at a truck stop. And the squeak from the cots where the local tweakers can't settle down, is an every night occurrence.

We come in at 7 p.m. and leave at the same time, twelve hours later.

Sometimes a guy comes in with a bad attitude or a box-cutter and winds up taking the "blue taxi" down to the local jail. Sometimes a doper or a drunk fills one of the bathrooms with the ragged sound of his own vomiting. Some people cry out in their sleep...and some just cry.

Recently, a man named Bill was taken away in an ambulance. Bill is dying from a terminal illness. And the other morning, Bill wouldn't wake up. He just lay comatose on his cot...with his oxygen tank...and in his skin that no longer reflects the pallor of life. We stood around him and watched the paramedics do their job. No one spoke a word. But then, what could we say?

I listen to some of the homies as they tell me the story of their life. And with each word, I see a bit deeper into their own bent part of ravaged humanity.

In the morning, we lace our boots up, put our cots away and then walk out into the parking lot, again. Then we sit down at the picnic table and wait...for something. Yes, we sit at that picnic table and wait...like rotten peaches in the cold, Winter sun.

ROTTEN PEACHES--RECORDED BY ELTON JOHN

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