Jeff Smith 4 p.m., Dec. 20
- Community Blog
I remember standin' in line about 6 o'clock that evening in February 1998. If you weren't in line by 6 o'clock it was a good chance you weren't going to get a mat to sleep on the floor of Saint Vincent Depauls cafeteria.Even though it solemnly rained on us, it still stunk.Smelled like feces,urine,old beer and whiskey,old clothes and mattresses,dookey,funky cheap cigarettes,mold, mildew,various incarnations of old and new boo boo,toe jam,sweaty stinky hair and smelly armpits,females that don't use Massengill, and fella's that don't know the meaning of water and soap. Oh, and there were lots of snot "loogies" slowly melting in the rain, making them look like snails after salt had been poured on them. I remember thinking "I'm better than these people" and "We don't have the same situation or anything in common", yet it's funny how the cold weather and rain didn't discriminate against any of us.We were all homeless, or we would not have been there. There have been times in my life where I thought being a tall, bigger Black man may have been a hindrance, but this was certainly not one of them.It may keep trouble away from you, but don't get it twisted. It may also bring trouble your way.Anyway, I distinctly remember the scrawny 18 or 19 year old Caucasian young man, may have been a club kid from the haircut and makeup,in t-shirt and jeans with chains on them.He may have thought that no one saw him, but I seen him crying. As positive as I like to be, I remember thinking "He ain't gonna' make it". These streets ain't the place for the weak , or kids playing James Dean, or have always had a silver spoon in their mouth.Nevertheless, I felt sorry for him. Again, he's homeless, not me. I'm just going through a little somethin'. I guess my mindset was kinda' like the lady from the Green Acres television show, you know the blonde chick who was used to Park Avenue and Fifth Avenue and caviar and chandeleirs and Rolls Royce's and the diamond life? Yet she and her husband lived in an old barnyard in the country with the pigs? I guess I was the African American male counterpart to that stereotype.I couldn't even get with it, I simply wasn't feeling it.To make it simple for you and pull you deep into my brain, I just never could, or did, accept in my brain that I was homeless. To accept that realization for me meant to give up, and that was just something I wasn't going to do.I had been called hard headed and stubborn before, but this time I called it pride. Years later a family member asked me why didn't I call anybody and I said that I had too much pride.I wanted to say that also because yaw' would have talked about me like a dog (which is exactly what they did anyway). I got a mat that night and slept on that floor for two weeks. You've got to be "downstairs" for two weeks before you are afforded the luxury of going "upstairs", the second floor bay with bunk beds. You also have storage for your belongings, bathrooms, and a T.V. room. Cleaning duties and the like are carried out under the watchful eye of the "Floor Supervisor", a fellow homeless dude who may have been there a long time, and his cadre of lower enlistees.I never did get them. They wore these badges that they hung around their necks in yellow, green, pink, and blue to denote seniority.They wore them like they were a golden backstage pass to a Rolling Stones, Ramones,Plasmatics meets Metallica concert! They went everywhere with them on.To the store, on the bus, on the Trolley, to Horton Plaza.They need to quit. Don't get me wrong I applaud the fact that they are doing something, I just don't know if I want to scream to the world "HEY LOOK, I'M HOMELESS, AND YET THEY HAVE GIVEN ME THIS BADGE!!!" I'd rather keep that little bit of fascinating information to myself, thank you very much. They are the total bullies of the homeless shelter and the Floor Supervisor is supposedly the Don Corleone of the operation. Needless to say I butted heads with the Floor Supervisor. One evening I came in and there was a note on my bed."Go see the Floor Supervisor" it said. I went to him and it seemed like the theme from Clint Eastwood's gun showdown was playing. Everybody stopped what they were doing and it got all quiet, a rarity on the homeless men's floor. "You wanted to see me". "Yeah, you ain't been going to your orientation classes". "I wasn't aware I had orientation classes (and I wasn't), but I'll go starting tomorrow". "Nope, too late, you gotta' go" ! I was dumbfounded. "Well, I would have went if I had known". I turned to walk away and I guess he decided to be nice. "You can stay the night since it's cold and raining outside." I trudged back to my bunk and sat there. All kinds of thoughts flooded my head. Is this legal?What did they want to orient me to, how to be homeless? I thought I was doing a good job at it! I felt myself getting mad. How dare he.How could I peacefully sleep, well, as peacefully as one could in a homeless shelter, when the impending cold and barren wasteland of Skid Row awaited me in the morning? I knew what I had to do. That's right, haaad to do. I gathered up my stuff, went to the front window to get all of my belongings, and waited while they retrieved them. Amid the awestruck looks of the fellow homeless, I knew I was different. I was not going to let someone else feel as if they could make my life any worse than it already was. That's something I'll leave to myself. "Hey man, he said you could stay" "You don't have to leave til' tomorrow" "Go on back dude, he just playin' with you". I think they all knew how futile their attempts to get me to stay were. I'm sure alot of those guys had lost their jobs, families, hopes and dreams, and maybe they just felt that that was part of the game. But like I said, I am not the one. I have too much pride. I can honestly say that I knew I was better than that. And plus, I wasn't going to give that a**hole the satisfaction. On the way out he said "He'll be alright, he's perrrrfect"! Another guy said "God Bless You Brother". The God Bless You got me, but the Brother part really got me. I realized that we were all sort of like a family. A crazy ,mixed up,biracial, homeless family. Yet a family still. And I would miss them all in that crazy nostalgic way that we all have for the kid that nobody played with, the girl who had epilepsy,the autistic boy, the kid who wore all black and was misunderstood. I hope that they are alright. I was always kind to them. They were alright with me. It just bothered me that they were so complacent with the situation though. I walked out of there with my pride intact and my head held high. The smell of the rain and the strong wind invigorated me! All my troubles were blowing away with the wind. The wind whipping at my clothes made me feel like Superman. I stepped out and into positivity. Whoa! I almost slipped. What is this? A snail?