Friday, March 14, 2014

Stories from the Mission... bit 65

  One day while standing in the Billy Sunday room at the mission, I was looking out the clear glass section the forms a cross behind the steel podium. On the cement sidewalk that circles the courtyard I saw a small black fluff that I knew in an instant was a bird that had hit one of the many huge windows. Looking like an upside down comma, it's beak aimed up... beyond the roofs edge, I could feel it's wonder... up there, I just want to go up there, into the sky... why is this even a question? Why won't my body respond? I should just be up there, effortlessly, pop my wings and shoot up, arc over, head home, miles from here in minutes. I'd be glancing down at things absentmindedly as they are no hindrance... normally... shouldn't be, wouldn't be, not like this! What is this? I want to be... up there!
   Then I noticed I wasn't the only one to see this lil drama unfolding. They where to the right of the bird, in the day room, probably behind the very window the wounded fluff hit. A couple of homeless dudes, in situations that shouldn't be, unable to fly, watching with compassion, the fellow fallen for a spell.
   I wonder how often they, like me, look at the folks living life in a normal kind of way and think how they too just want to be... up there...

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Stories from the Mission... bit 63

   I'm sick as a dog now, and have felt it coming on for a while now. You would think that living in a building with 600 guys that head out into the city every day, crawling into all kinds of nasty spots and dragging it all back here with them, that this would be sickness central but his is my first cold here so far. Maxamino, on the top bunk across from me, has been sick for a week, coughing and puking, so it was only a matter of time for me. Max was found by a lady living in a park, he knows English perfectly well but pretends that he doesn't, angry and arrogant, I don't know how he has made it through the program this far. At times he is very quiet, then at others he will be singing in Spanish very loud, it wasn't till much later that I found out he was drinking the whole time he has been here. Ok, not the whole time, just when he was singing.
   I rode with Clarance yesterday and had a lot of fun, we seemed to agree on a bunch of stuff. He has a funny way about saying things, like when a girl driving a car made a left right in front of us, he leaned forward and said emphatically, "YOU... ARE... A BUTT!" We got comped some big ol burritos at a Chipotles, and where did that place come from anyways? I had never heard of it before I came down to the mission! The food is fresh, chopped and mixed up every morning, I've seen it being down, but the interiors of the restaurants is very stark and industrial for some reason.
   Why are the bridge towers so plain on Lake shore drive, flanking the river? They are just big, blank blocks, so dull compared to all the other ones in the city with fancy metal roofs and bas relief  sculptures. These dull monoliths make the view out onto the cold lake even colder.
   Lil Ed is gone, got kicked out for fraternizing with a woman in the elevator. many of the women end up here due to abusive situations they had been in, they shouldn't have any fear of that here, and frankly, Ed was a strange little guy, enough to freak out any woman. He knew better, he just has some damage.
   Today on route A5 we went past a place the Sharon and I used to visit, the general area where her mom lived. It's like a dozen scattered data points fit a memory and bam, I knew it. The buildings all have more stuff on them, some colors have changed and the trees are bigger, but that is it for sure, even after 26 years, I know it. Hard to believe that was my life as I look back now. If it had worked out, we would have been long married, a combined income of easily over 100K and have kids of drinking age now. Dang.
   Oh hey, got some cool news, I'm going on the trip to Oklahoma on the 23rd! Last year there was a Bible camp down there for kids that got some damage from a tornado that the mission has some connections with. After some planning, the mission sent a van full of guys down to help rebuild.  The group I'm going down with will be the third trip, and lil Ed had been on the list to go for some reason, which would have driven all of us nuts. Seriously, is a guy like that one of the guys you want to represent the mission?? In the immortal words of lil Pimp Ed, "You ma nig!" Yeea yeea!
   Got a weird idea for a plot device for a movie. In Revelations 9:5-6 it talks about being stung by locusts like a scorpion does and they shall seek death and not find it for 5 months, that death will flee them. I could see in a movie a guy allowing the sting so he could be invulnerable to death for 5 months. A horrible existence, for sure, but able to do things the rest of us couldn't. Oh, we also need to search the Euphrates for the four bound angels, set in place 1 year, 1 month, 1 hour before killing a third of mankind, Rev 9:14-15, a bit of a paraphrase, I admit.
   Many of the doors can only be opened with key cards, which is really pretty cool for a homeless shelter from a security point of view. In practice, these guys are forever forgetting their cards. As I write this, there have been 5 guys banging on the dorm door, and it's not even noon yet. Good news is I'm over the cold now, slept 12 hours, missed breakfast, so hungry now.
   A week ago, Angel got put in Office C and to mess with him a bit, I asked for form 43c and for the 8th month test study guide. He stumbled a bit and looked bewildered and finally admitted he didn't know where they where. (They don't exist, lol). Today I related the story at lunch to Phil, "Froggy" H, and not realizing I was talked about a joke, took it for real. Fred was at the table and joined right in, telling him you need to memorize Psalm 119 (The longest verse) and John 11:35 (The shortest verse), LOL. I later asked Angel about the 8th month test and he said someone came in asking about it, and that he still couldn't find it.  I laughed, stomped my foot and said, that's because I made it up! LOL.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Stories from the Mission... bit 62

   My Dad worked for a guy that knew how to make money. Marvin befriended an old man that was on his last legs and when that old man passed away, Marvin inherited a warehouse full of old pluming supplies. Marvin didn't know much about the hands on end of the business, but knew my father did, so he talked him into working for him. Marvin was ruthless, and why not? That is what business is to him. If you're short on payments for your big boat down at your second house in Florida, you lay workers off, so what if it's a week before Christmas? My father took me to Marvin's house one time and I saw how the hall ways where lined with expensive statues of horses rearing up magnificently and lions roaring with raised paws, trimmed with gold accents, like a storage room in the back of a museum. We hung out with them once down ion Florida where I got the tour of his small yacht of 45 foot. I never liked the guy and his gaudy dressed girlfriends, I never understood how his wife put up with him.
   Years later I'm washing clothes at a laundromat, talking with the Muslim owner about life. He and I didn't see eye to eye on a lot of things, but we could have deep discussions on them. Looking back I can see he was being diplomatic, I came in and made him money every week, so he took everything I said with a grain of salt and let it go. In our far ranging discussions I let on about how I would go to the gun range from time to time, and he started acting unusual. He started dancing around some thoughts... how a girl he knew had something wrong done to her, what would I do in such a situation. A while later he steered it back to that idea and how someone could make some money with a gun... when it dawned on me he wanted me to be that someone that rights a wrong for the girl, I had to get my stuff and leave, fast. He came out to me in the parking lot, laughing in a queer way, saying that is not what he meant and not to worry about it, but I just got in my car and never went back.
   That was too bad, I enjoyed our conversations. he was rather new to this country and I helped him understand some of our ways. heck, there was a night when we where talking and I looked up at the TV that was always on and saw a familiar sight. It was a news report about a house burning down in a wealthy suburb, flames shooting out of big windows. In one of those windows was a statute, an ornate one of a horse rearing up on it's back legs, gold hanging off in tiny chains, the gout's of fire about to consume it. I knew exactly who's house it was, even though I hadn't been there in 20 years, I knew that horse! I called my dad as soon as I got home to let him know, and we followed the news for the next few weeks. Marvin finally learned the hardest way, that when you don't care about the people you step on, sometimes they kick back. Turns out it was a man that was a glass sculpture they had hired shot them and burned the house to try and hide the crime. Apparently he knew about the large sums of money the sometimes eccentric couple kept under rugs and in boxes. They were worth more than $10 million and had an extensive art collection that included a Frederic Remington sculpture, well-known paintings and even a doll collection, according to news reports. I feel bad for what happened... to the artwork.
 Lots of transitions here in the Pacific garden missions Bible program. You start out on a top bunk, exposed to the lights, climbing a ladder and having no where to sit normal. About a month in an lower bunks open up for you to move down to and then you can put up a tent and hang things to make space. Normally it's 6 to 7 months before they shift you over to dorm 3014, but now they are sending guys with just 3 months over here and jamming us up which is an irritation. Guys just keep coming into the program in huge numbers, and it's not even cold outside, so we are thinking the economy is worse than the media is letting on.
   Once you get to 3014 your on a top bunk again, worried that your feet might hit the guy in the lower bunk, lol. I was lucky in that I was only on top for a few weeks, but the new guys are looking at being up there for months if the graduates over in 3017 don't get jobs and move out. The lower bunk I got is against the wall, so in theory that side of me should be quiet. Unfortunately, one of the louder and more gregarious guys, Wayne R is now working in security, and they got tired of hearing him, so now he is stationed outside the mens main door, which is 3 stories below, and directly behind me. Yeah, I can hear him pontificate on everything all day long now, through a brick wall. I like the guy, but don't want to live near him ever again. I had to write him up once for being to loud in 3026, well, I should say he demanded it. Part of the responsibility of being an IC was helping to enforce rules, and so over in dorm 3026, when the volume started getting to loud, I'd walk around and see if there where any guys trying to sleep. If I saw guys laying with their hands half over their eyes, looking at me in a pained way, I'd seek out the loudest guys. The other IC's would just yell 'LIBRARY QUIET", which I thought was kind of backwards, but they didn't like confrontation I guess. Normally all I'd have to do was the hand motions of lower your voices and the guys where cool. They know some of us work nights, but just get carried away talking, no biggie. Wayne had a bunk way in the front of the dorm, mine was in the back, so he pointed that out when I was quieting some guys down. I replied to him, 'How come I could hear you from all the way back there then?" He got mad, started chirping about all kinds of stuff and in his blur of words told me I should just write him up. I sighed, went back to my bunk, sat down and got out my write up sheets. He had followed me back there, yelling about this and that, and when he noticed the paper, asked me what I was doing. I just looked up and told him he got his wish, I'm writing him up.  A lot of these guys got through life by doing what they call "a lot of woofing". I didn't grow up with that happening, so, like an insult from a different era, it doesn't phase me much. Call me "yellow bellied", I might laugh in other words. I have been here long enough that if you tell me to "move around", that can get my hackles up. I guess this old dog is learning new tricks, maybe even how to woof back.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Stories from the Mission... bit 61

   In the bible program at Pacific garden mission we have a class on Hermeneutics taught by Donald Connolly. Hermeneutics is derived from the Greek word ἑρμηνεύω (hermeneuō, 'translate' or 'interpret') and we use to it understand the Bible better. It's a fascinating class, once he gets done introducing himself for the first 10 minutes, lol. In the last class he asked a question to the guys and went around the room looking for answers. Why did we come to Jesus? many of the guys had decent answers, but I was having trouble with it. I could drag out my testimonial and say how I screwed up I was and how I saw the light, but instead gave a Biblical answer in that God had chosen me before the foundations of the earth (Eph 1:4). Donald challenged that pat answer, and in a way, he was right in that the question was not about what God did, but why did I come to him. I thought deeper about it, was it because I admire Christ and what he did for us? Was it something inherently inside me that said it was the right way to live? Then there is the idea that just because it's one of the more dominate religions in the USA, you're bound to get into it, but I've studied many of the belief systems in this country, even took classes on them in highschool. Then this morning I had a thought, that Jesus had been with me all through my life, beckoning for me to come to him, and I was finally so worn out that I got tired of fighting him. Maybe I humbled myself, but even that implies too much of what I have done. I'm like a wild horse out on the plains, fighting the bridle even with the oncoming freezing blizzard, like a wary wild Mustang circling the man with the soft voice and outstretched hand. I found him later in the week and told him about the battle in my mind to get my hands around the thought and told him straight up, I never came to Jesus, I simply quit from turning away from him.
   I always get a bit of a laugh when I am out and about walking and a beggar asks me for money. My normal reply is, "I'm PGM." Most get it, some are like, what? So I tell them ,"Pacific garden mission." A few, upon hearing that, looked like they wanted to give me money, lol. I had one guy ask for money while holding a smart phone and texting, I told him, pointing at the phone, that he had more than me! And why is it always some odd number? "Can you give sityfye cent?" Round it up already, you ain't foolin me. Then there was the day that a guy tried to sell me a copy of the Onion. I told him I don't like that rag, and he got indignant and said, "Man, it's to help the homeless", and I fired back, "I AM homeless." He looked at me like I was lying, cause, you know, I'm white.
   On Monday I rode with Dean on an AM route, starting way deep in the city, inside the sub basement of the Hancock building. Built in 1965, the 1,127 foot tall building is a landmark on the north side of the Loop, to be able to go in it was awesome for me. The hall ways where extremely tight, with boxes of stuff along one side of every wall. We pick up donations from the freezers of some restaurant there, filling plastic bags with blocks of frozen soup while waiters, cooks and people with two wheelers try to get past us. It's exciting and irritating for me, I try to keep small, but the designers of these termite tunnels didn't think ahead enough, everything is so compressed.
  On this run we also stop at a K.F.C., a steak house and a couple of Pizza huts. I've been in a lot of back areas of restaurants now and there seems to be a basic theme to them all. Unlike the areas where the customers sit and relax, the backs areas are all tight quarters, those dirty hanging plastic wind stop strips that you have to push through, really cold areas, rich smells, people that know the areas really well weaving in and out quickly, stainless steel everywhere, power cords dangling from things, stacks of half crushed boxes of produce and it's sweet earthy smells, long shelves of huge amounts of stuff and always, always, loud Mexican music. Many have patches of rubber mats with round holes in them, huge stainless steel sinks with over head hoses held up by springs, chrome racks with every kind of ingredient they would ever need in rows and never a hall way that is free of stuff against the walls. Then there are the walk in coolers made of silver metals, patched from years of people ramming carts into them. They all have those big pull handles that slap back loudly when you let them go and often have the tiny windows so you can look out and scream if you ever get locked in.   Those back areas are jammed, built for a purpose, not for comfort, and yet so many live out half their lives back there, running, sliding, washing and cooking for the rest of us.

Stories from the Mission... bit 60

   Back in 1983 I was a bouncer at a church. Allow me to explain, lol. After highschool I went to collage for just under a quarter, and dropped out. I worked some odd jobs, but I was doing so many drugs, it's kind of a haze now to me. I and the group I was running with got an invite to a party out in Waconda and it sounded like a road trip, so I was in. This one seemed more organized than the usual parents are gone, come on over and ruin the house type party, this one had fliers with directions. Back then we all had long hair and wore some kind of leather jackets, and we piled into my 1968 Mustang and head out into the night. The fliers seem to have a flaw, the street names aren't quite right and we drove past the first few till we realized the mistakes. I'm thinking it might have been done on purpose... Plausible deniability? Noooo officer, that is not MY house, we don't live on THAT street. Or it could have been the person doing the fliers was stoned.
   So, we arrive at what to us was a rural area with large houses spread fairly distant from us, and this particular one had a big gravel parking lot. Hmmmm. We each pay $20 to get in, get a Solo cup and can hear a live band playing rock and roll somewhere deep inside. The inside of the Waconda party house is dim, dank, wooden and complicated. I suppose you could say it was a Frank Loyd Wright design without the vertical features, or many windows. It is a 10,000 square foot, $395,000 (Back in 1981) mansion, with a built in swimming pool, stage, sauna, bars and dance floors. The walls where lined with heavy duty, carpet covered plywood benches everywhere and the place was a maze that wrapped around a central indoor pool that reminded me of a dungeon. There seemed to be nooks and crannies for sitting and drinking all over and the main room had a bar big enough to be at an Applebees, just walk up, set your red Solo cup down and they fill it, for the duration of the night. The bathrooms cracked me up as they where big, like you'd see at a bar downtown, but felt like something you'd find in a residence. I became a regular at the Party house and the bathrooms often turned into mini parties where folks had the expensive drugs out as the doors all had good locks.
   Of to the right was the stage room where the bands played, and I once saw The Radiators blast a party out in there. There was one room that had a foosball table and some kind of hockey game, maybe some beat up pin ball machines. Then there was what I called the living room with it's sunken pit lined with the benches and a table in the middle. Often where the times that groups would hang out in there, chain smoking and drinking the brains away. That room had a large window that looked down on the pool and I so recall one evening seeing a naked guys clinging to the small ledge of the sill, above the pool, inching his way to the deeper end to jump off. A girl sitting below the window looked up, got disgusted, and smacked the window really hard right where his junk would have been, causing him to fall in, LOL! She had a cup in one hand with a smoke, and barely missed her stride in her conversation with us. The pool was fun, when you could get people to go in. It wasn't fancy, it kind of looked like a flooded basement, but I always brought a suit.
   There was a second floor, I was up there just once, but all of the parties where confined to the first floor and basement. That was another maze of rooms of random sizes. The dance room had huge speakers and a lighted floor light Saturday night fever and I have a fond memory of watching people in there as the Talking heads 'Burning down the house' played 5 times in a row. One room had a small table with a mirror built into the top that people made the mistake of doing coke on. Want to have 17 people you don't know talking about the weather and laughing at all of your jokes? Put some coke out in a public place then.
   In my 5th or 6th weekend of going to the party house, I started to be more accepted by the son of the owner. I never made any trouble and was gregarious, so soon he wasn't charging me an entry fee, as long as I would help him out if there was any trouble. They never carded anyone, so often there where a lot of rampant, drunken teens, I suppose it helped him to have me looming near by if anyone got out of hand. One night we where walking down a hall in the basement that I had been down a bunch of time before and he asked me if I wanted to see his place. I'm thinking, how long of a drive is that? I wanted to stay here at the party and tell him that. He laughs a bit, takes out a small block of wood from his pocket, touches it to a wall, and a section moves in a bit. It's a freaking hidden door! He and his wife have their own apartment in the basement, and I had never known it! We hang out for a bit and I find out that his dad is a mail order minister for the Universal life church for just $30. That is how they have been getting away with this... this is supposedly a church!
   I stopped going after a while, they where in court to keep from being closed down and I was sure that sooner or later I would get a DUI leaving the place. For some reason I would go through three packs of cigarettes a night there and the idea of getting knifed just for free beer lost it's allure.
   Moral to this story? Hmmmm... watch your kids maybe, there are false gods out there and people willing to give over their entire house to make a buck off them. I get the feeling that if it can happen in the sticks outside of Chicago, it has happen in a lot of places. Out of the many hours I went there, I can only recall bits and pieces.

Stories from the Mission... bit 59

  I had a little run in with an over night guest the other day. He has been at the mission, here and when it was over on State street, for over 30 years. He feels like the rules don't apply to him and I see not following basic rules as one of the reasons a lot of end up here. Being here longer than me just means he messed up sooner than me, not that he is any better then me. 30 years. For a short time, later in my time at the mission, I worked on the second floor, signing the overnighters in at night. It was a madhouse... three guys, each with piles of paper and coat hangers, would call a guy over, ask for his name, date of birth and last four numbers of his social security number, and write all the info down. They say it's in case there is a fire, we would know who all was here and how many. Some of the guys I worked with at that desk would yell at them to get them over to be signed in, which I thought was uncalled for. Most of guys might be sleepy, but all you had to do was look up and wave a bit, they knew what to do. The thing that really killed me though was hearing the dates of birth. 3/22/54, 9/17/73, 4/2/65 and so on. I'd think, that is not what their parents had hoped for them back then... born with so much potential, what happened to end up here, year after year? Sure, there are guys new to the mission, but there is a rather large core of guys that know the routine all too well, I wish I knew a cure. They come in all shapes and sizes, from the lumbering white guy that dresses like he used to be part of a country club and now is silent to the impish grinning lil ol black guy that smiles with few teeth. There is the one guy that wears a suit that looks like it's from the 20's and is a bit too small now, showing more than the tops of his socks to the guy with dreadlocks wearing a military uniform. I once saw a guy that looked like a muscle bound Charles Bronson carrying a duffel bag on his back big enough to hold me in it. 
   One night while doing search, I saw this one gentleman had 8 flash drives in his bag. I asked him why so many? He tells me he is a writer and in the coming weeks we have more conversations. Turns out he is a fairly famous writer, doing stuff for Rolling stone, the New Yorker and other high end magazines. They even fly him to far flung places to do reviews on art galleries, like Paris! I got his name and looked him up on-line and saw his body of work, really impressive. He would show me pics of his young Asian girl friend, lol. Happy go lucky, interesting guy to talk with, he was excited the week before Christmas that his family wanted to see him, that he was going there for the holidays. Then, come Christmas day I saw him in the hall, looking dejected. We sat down for a bit and talked... he hadn't gone because he got drunk again, he looked so sad with himself. He was a well educated, eloquent and fun guy to be around, yet he let the booze control who he was around.
   I admire the guys in the program. They may not all make it, and some are downright irritating, but they are trying. It's like the saying, "I may not be sinless, but I try to sin... less." We had a guy come in, John O., that was a real hard head. John had arms that looked like thighs and threw words around like bricks. His head sloped toward his face and he let the tooth pick in his teeth show what direction he was going. He was a walking Howitzer, loaded for bear, and wasn't timid about where he aimed it. On one of his first days he got into an intimidation stare down with four senior program men that had been through hell and lived to tell, yet he wouldn't sit in the front row like the rules say. Pastor Green had to come in, wave him out and after a while he came back in to sit in the front row. He had a huge anger demon on his back that he barely contained, and while he, um, impressed me with his restraint, I admired him in the fact that he did. I got to know him over time, but like being around a tiger, I felt more at ease when he wasn't near by, lol. John didn't talk about his past much at all, but one time let on in an impassioned way about a subject and let slip that he might have been involved with some horrific events in a matter of fact way. Yet here he was now, wearing a tie every day, attending classes, working his job in the Mission... trying.
   I have to be honest here, transcribing this in 2014, that in this section of my journal I was a alot harder on the guys. I saw so many guys that I had gotten to know over a year, fall and backslide, guys that seemed to be always trying to find a way around the rules instead of humbling themselves to the rules. It can be very frustrating to see so much growth and then to slam into stupid. Looking way back at myself, I'm sure I was the same spectacle to my parents at times. Heck, I bet I've been a disappointment with some here in 2014. There is another saying, "God doesn't make ugly." Society does. Society says if your hips are an inch too big, you're fat. Society tells you're no fun if you don't get drunk. The society that John came from told him he was a wuss if he wasn't ready to kill. Our society tells us there is no grey areas any more, we all must conform to set jobs with the constant threat of being fired. It's almost like this society can't work unless there is a layer under us like grease, to be examples of what happens to those that can't fit in. 
   Ironically, after getting done with this part of the blog yesterday, I saw an article a few hours later that had this in it:  Alan Greenspan was testifying before Congress in 1997 on the marvels of the economy he was running, he said straight out that one of the bases for its economic success was imposing what he called "greater worker insecurity."

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Stories from the Mission... bit 58

   So, lets see, Pedro Velez got a copy of my Giant lego spaceship and wanted to incorporate it into a video project he was working on called "The program", so he sent me an e-mail asking for permission. I was like, sure, just give me credit and all. Pedro was part of the FGA and the program was a video about 6 hours long that people could let play, forward or rewind it at whim. A lot of weird stuff on it, lol. He invited me to his opening at his apartment and I had my first exposure to an art show party. I remember people asking me which artist I came with... heh, I guess I didn't look the part yet. I learned how not to be diplomatic when I made some comments about artwork in his place, so stoned I didn't realize they where his, heh. Still, he invited me to be a part of a shindig called the Stray show, in it's second year, 2002.
   The Stray show brought together many smaller galleries in one big warehouse to show artwork that might have been missed in the scattered places where the galleries are located out in the city. I embarrassed myself right away, lol, as I had a new cell phone and frankly never got any calls. I was about to be introduced to the people running the show and got a call from my sister Leslie. Family is important, and being that I never got calls, knee jerked the phone into my ear, lol, kind of rude to people that could have been a connection. I had a lot of fun looking at all the other artworks, I was too new to be jaded, yet too new to know the intricacies. I was showing at the Joymore booth and Nick Black had these balloons with eyeballs he was handing out. pretty cool to see them walking all over the place, looking at stuff. I had nothing better to do, so I started helping him, learning along the way that he was going in for surgery the next day and had no one to do the balloons for the rest of the weekend. I happily volunteered. I had fun handing them out on Saturday morning, but I'm never one to leave well enough alone, lol. I was soon daisy chaining them together (He had left me with a huge tanks and boxes of balloons) into long and longer strings. Soon they where getting 30 foot high in the big warehouse, you could see them from across the room like a land mark. it became it's own bit of performance art, this looming tower of bulging eye ball balloons.
   By the end of that long weekend I managed to sell one print that I called 'Toy shelf' and was exhausted. Artists, well, I tend to spend a lot of time by myself, doing the artwork, so to be out in the face of crowds and talking, is taxing, but necessary. I am gathering all my stuff up, carrying it across Kingbury street to my PT Cruiser and getting ready to head back to the Burbs when I get invited to a party. I don't know the city at all, but they say it is informal and fun, writes the address on a scrap of paper and heads off. I get all of my stuff squared away, sit on the tail gate of my car and think about it. I look down the street facing south east at the Chicago skyline, reach into a compartment where I keep a small flask of Dewars and think, why not?
   I drive on down to Pilsen on the south side of Chicago, find a place to park and try to find a door into what they call the whale. It's on the corner of Canalport and Halsted, a big white house with dark windows. I spot another person that seems to know whats going on and join them in going around through and alley to the back door. The houses I grew up and knew in the burbs are all neat and square on the inside, in the city they are much more random. The Whale is full of odd shaped openings, artwork and slightly warped floors, with complete strangers that barely notice another stranger has entered their house. To my right is a bench built along one wall facing a table, and at the end of that table against another wall is what seems like a shrine of random strangeness. Maybe it's because it was the end of a long weekend of drinking and what not for most of them, but they all seemed kind of flat. Then again, to me this was all new and exciting, and to them, old hat.
   They have this kind of ritual where they all read out loud a series of sayings, based on some object in the shrine. At some point they named me "Adjutant" (which I find they do to any new person), which involves getting a huge sombrero and a thick steel chain as a necklace. I'm told that I am to preside over the festivities and that they have to do what ever I say. I test this by tell everyone to leave the room. They do, with no complaints... which is weird, lol. I tell them right away to come back and we continue on like nothing happened. Part of the tradition here is to do artwork based on a word provided by the last weeks Adjutant. Each person takes a turn to show and describe their piece and some are really good. One girl has a video on her laptop of photos of the group and the song
"Push th' Little Daisies" playing in the background. Other people show small paintings and drawings while one guy each week has really well made statues of found objects that showers hate on the Catholic church. I was there to meet artists, not to talk politics, so it surprised me at the undercurrent of bitterness. In a way, I felt like Jane Goodall, accepted, but not really exactly the same, I watched and learned.
   I went to many gatherings there over the next few months, met a lot of people that didn't like to shower and some that where strung out. As I said, these get togethers where late on Sundays, so many like arriving at a bar at 2 in the morning, I was seeing a side that had run it course those nights.
   Standing on the roof deck one night at one of the pig roasts they would have, I could see the top of the Sears tower glowing impressively. Little did I know that within 8 years I would be living less than a half mile away, a completely different life. Living at the mission is hard, but I really feel much more at home, much more accepted, we all know we messed up, so we are all at the same level.