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On a recent Friday I was at Interfaith Community Services in Escondido, where I encountered some beatific (I think that’s the word) people, a diabetic seizure, two movies, and some dozen or so miracles. The place, technically, is in an establishment called Sobriety Services, a detox — or “spin dry” facility, as cynics would call it — hosted by ICS. They also host a residential program for drug addicts and alcoholics. Not many; they have little room. They operate pretty much on a shoestring, but at least they’re not at the mercy of the County.

Don’t ask me what I was doing there. Regular readers know enough about me already, and I’ve far surpassed what might have been interesting reading on the subject. Let’s just say I was working that night, okay?

I want to tell you about Rita, Frieda, Patrick, and Will, at least. Rita works there — you know, for a million dollars a year. She’s an attractive senior with a savvy manner who will go out of her way for you unless you give her crap. One tends not to. She gave me money out of her own pocketbook, as I was stranded in Escondido, broke. Also a pack of Marlboros and several other favors she did not have to do for me.

As for Patrick, he’s the toughest Irishman I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen plenty. I don’t mean tough in the violent sense, I mean this: the guy was detoxing from many months of daily cases of Icehouse. If you’re not an alcoholic, you just don’t know what it is like coming off that run. He shook it out with the stolidity of an oak. He’s not only tough but intelligent (really, man) and more articulate than even most Irish folk. I’m saying something here. He was given the phone to talk to his girlfriend to come and bail him out for the umpteenth time, shaking, but still constructing persuasive sentences. “It’s not going to be this way forever. I understand your hesitation, but you and my daughter are family. That’s what we do.” She came. I don’t think Rita was supposed to let him use the phone.

Frieda was there detoxing from alcohol. A marine biologist, more educated than most of us, and a compulsive reader — reading the whole time she’s sweating — she was the Sprinter and bus-schedule reader/translator/researcher for everyone. She, too, doled many dollars out of her pocket to drunks and drug addicts she did not know. She got at least three people home.

Will is a kind of self-described maniac. He started the first Jet Ski business in the country. But Will’s also a diabetic drug addict fallen on hard times years ago, and, like Job, has been through one damned thing after another. He was discharged from Tri-City Hospital after necessarily being given Ativan, which gave him a dirty test at the Salvation Army homeless shelter. His hospital discharge paperwork did not reflect this explanation. Just at lunch, as he was being seated, he went into a kind of arrhythmic jig and could not sit down. Paramedics were called. He was given insulin, which he was out of and had no means to replace. He’s finally getting an appointment with a Social Security judge in February after waiting 47 months. Will told me his former plan: walk into the SS office with a baseball bat, ask the nice lady in there to leave, and then destroy the joint. He would. This guy would.

The two movies I saw that night were The Last Boy Scout and The Negotiator. Detoxers were welcome to watch. Among, say, 20 of us, here was the most popular scene: Bruce Willis is trying to sleep in the bad guy’s house. A flunky gunsel punches him in the neck, then offers him a Marlboro. Willis thanks him and asks for a light. The flunky looks reasonable, extends a lighter, and bashes Bruce in the neck again, cackling like a hyena. Willis says, “Got a light? You touch me again, I’ll kill ya.” The guy extends the lighter and does it again, convulsing himself. Willis stands suddenly, launching the palm of his hand into the guy’s nostrils. Gunsel doesn’t know he’s dead; his nose has been driven into his cerebral cortex. He sits down fast, falling backward but still upright. He looks puzzled and falls directly backward, dead. Willis turns his back, lighting the cigarette. “I told him,” he says with a shrug.

At this point, some of the kindest, most considerate, thoughtful, selfless people I have ever met went into paroxysms of guffaws, helpless with mirth. These were the people who would insist anyone should get in line ahead of them for meals, hand them money (which they are not supposed to do), give out cigarettes they cannot replace, comfort, compliment, offer genuinely helpful advice or a shoulder. Go figure.

One after another, I watched people with no means home — having burned every possible bridge — get home. Including me, and I had no idea where I was. Escondido? Sorry.

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Comments

EricBlair Jan. 21, 2009 @ 9:52 p.m.

The last paragraph of your essay tells the tale: "home" is living around the big hearted and imperfect people you describe. Souls, not stucco.

And who would think that the face of God would peer at you for a moment in the glow of an old Bruce Willis movie, surrounded by people some would call sinners, but you rightly see as fine comrades-in-arms.

You were the one who got me reading C.S. Lewis again, among other Christian authors. Here is a quote that I thought of as I read your essay: "“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” God has been shouting at you for years, John, and your essays are a powerful echo of those shouts.

You remain in my thoughts and prayers, brother. Drop me an e-mail when you have the time and inclination.

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