Monday, March 3, 2014

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."

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