Walter Mencken 1:04 p.m., Sept. 4
Broke at the Pearly Gates
Looking at hunger from above and below the poverty line
I can’t claim I know what it’s like to be homeless, chronically unemployed, or otherwise societally dispossessed. I’d guess I share that with most people. But, sometimes I get a glimpse into that world and it’s usually informative. I accidentally walked right into the midst of it off of Fourth and Cedar out of curiosity about a sign for the Heavenly Market and Deli (349 Cedar Street). The sign was on a fenced-in courtyard, but it stated that the deli was “open to the public inside the complex.”
The complex itself was part of the Catholic Charities building, abutting St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Cortez Hill, and the courtyard was filled with an assortment of homeless or transient people. I gathered that the building was a shelter or outreach service for them, perhaps for the working poor as well. Sitting forlornly on benches and soaking up the warmth of the sun, the people in the courtyard gave off an aura of timelessness, as though nobody was going anywhere because there was nowhere else to be. It was a little sad, but mostly just quiet and somehow foreign, like I were in a different country with different rules of public conduct.
I kept walking because I wanted a snack and I was determined to find the Heavenly Market.
Across the courtyard and around the back of the building, there it was. It wasn’t much of a store. They sold some groceries, drinks, lottery tickets, etc. A cooler along one wall held some pre-made sandwiches that were available on the super cheap. Most of them were under $5.
They also had forties and other cheap drinks that go well with getting drunk alone, in public, on the sly.
And, hey, there was the Reader display right by the door. Something to peruse during long days in the courtyard with the pigeons and silence.
The store is clearly a resource for the working poor, under-privileged, homeless, truant, fixed-income elderly, and otherwise unfortunate members of society. Hunger had brought me in there, but it was different from the kind of hunger that most of the customers probably know. Being able to find something to eat for just a few dollars is a daily struggle for some people. That kind of barrier, typically invisible to most, is a major impediment for them. The Reader answers column dealt with free meals for the needy a few weeks back, reading which got me started thinking about this phenomenon, and the Heavenly Market illustrated the predicament with perfect clarity.
Standing there, drinking Muscle Milk (overpriced at $4 in stark contrast to the sandwiches), I watched people pass by who don’t set foot in restaurants with any regularity. The Heavenly Market is hidden from the world by the turning of a few corners but it might as well be off the grid during the middle of a weekday.
It even closes before most people get out of work. To shop there, having a job is actually an impediment.
Leaving, I noticed that someone had scrawled graffiti on the sign at the courtyard entrance. “Love people not money,” it said.