Yesterday was my first day of unemployment since I was sixteen. We all saw more lay-offs coming. To be honest I lasted longer than expected, but it still sucks. After dropping my daughter off at kindergarten, I had no clue what to do with myself. I pulled out of the school parking lot and kept driving. I drove around aimlessly at first, then decided to turn towards the green hills and sagging barns outside of town. It had been years since I drove around the countryside by myself. Seven years to be exact. I drove by spring-green fields of baby goats, lowing angus, buzzards, wild turkey, and peafowl. I slowed down long enough to roll down the window and stare at a family estate with raging jealousy. I wondered at how someone got so lucky to have such a beautiful house complete with a barn, workshop, horses, and pond. I sighed and grumbled; “Even a fucking tree swing”. Thats when my Dad called and asked what I was doing. I lied. “Oh, I’m just getting some stuff in order, looking at finances…you know.” He told me I should come help out at Journey Home, the local soup kitchen he volunteers at on Wednesdays. After declining, I felt like a jerk and called him back saying I would be there at eleven.
It was crowded when I arrived, and I was tasked to sign people in as they came through the door so I spoke with everyone. Every nationality, every walk of life, every age. A couple that lived in their car, many from the women’s shelter, Salvation Army, tents, motels, friend’s couches. Last week, they were even picked up half-conscious in the middle of the road in front of the center. An hour into lunch, a woman collapsed into a grand mal seizure on the floor. People rushed to lay her on her side and pulled tables away, making it clear they had experienced this before with this lady. But a fellow volunteer made the cardinal sin of calling an ambulance for help. When my father realized what she was doing, he sprang at her and kept saying we didn’t need an ambulance, but they came anyway. In the homeless community, an ambulance is only for those who are suspected dead or almost dead. The last thing this woman needed was yet another bill she couldn’t pay.
I chatted a while with Robert, a toothless, mentally ill man intent on showing me his pets (a bag of stuffed animals), a prostitute “headed to a commune in San Francisco”, Fieldston, a Vietnam Vet with the voice of Barry White and a doo-rag covered in dollar bills, and Enrique…whose face lit up when he learned you could have seconds if there was enough. I’ve never seen that kind of hunger on a man’s face before. Everyone I signed in yesterday, had no clue that they silently told me to “sit down and shut up”.
I have more than I need, even without a job at the moment. I know one is coming, I’m certain of that. But yesterdays lesson was heard loud and clear. At this very moment someone is driving by my house, wondering at how someone got so lucky to have such a sweet yellow house complete with a dog, porch, and shade trees. They sigh and grumble; “Even a fucking lawn mower”.