Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The mood swings are incredible, almost debilitating.

The day was Friday, probably a month ago. We call Friday "intern day." Since our volunteers are homeless themselves Fridays are reserved for our homeless staff who, besides working four hours a day four days a week for free, also have basic needs. What this is also supposed to mean is an easier day for the staff and the management--the only people using our facility are those with whom we've built a strong level of trust.

But Friday's have morphed. In an incessant drive to implement as many helpful ideas into every nook and cranny of this facility's possibilities, we now have a Free Medical Clinic every other Friday as well as rehearsals for the Seldom Seen Acting Company every single Friday. So, our doors are not open, but our doors are always open.

The day was Friday and in order to avoid constant distraction for the actors on account of the aforementioned door policy we obtained a different venue. But before we could obtain the venue I had to go through the right people in the Dining Room in order to obtain the keys. I went directly to my friend, the world's friendliest janitor. I was forced, however, to debate with him the merits of performing a play by homeless people about homeless people in a room traditionally dedicated to prayer. You see, the Dining Room has a small chapel that is never used except for every Wednesday morning when some of our homeless staff participate in a meditation session put on by an Irish, former Catholic priest. Needless to say the conversation stretched relations with the janitor--even the best of past human relations cannot challenge the bond many L:atins share with God. While this passion is one of the reasons I fell in love with the Latin culture, it happened to be in the way of Sleeping: It's a Wakeup Call which was my top priority on this morning. Fortunately, the janitor relented pending clearance from the boss.

Unfortunately, "the boss" aka the Dining Room Manager was out picking up food. I went to the second-in-command who immediately approved, being less inclined toward religiosity. This was not quite good enough for my friend the janitor, who made a phone call to "the boss" who did not answer his cellphone. He finally gave in and I delt with the guilt of violating his beliefs, decided I would write him a letter about how I respected his beliefs and how I thought the play was not mutually exclusive from those believes, and went to spread the good news.

The practice commenced but was missing one of its star performers who was also our new "Helpdesk Coordinator." The Helpdesk Coordinator is a former guest, turned intern, turned volunteer, who has proven his desire to help himself. The position is paid and is intentionally designed to be a transitional period--in other words after six months he is asked to leave--a circumstance he is made aware of in advance of his hiring. The Coordintator is charged with the day-to-day operations of the center, including managing the volunteer staff, fielding requests for referrals, receiving and documenting donations, writing clothing vouchers, cleaning up the center, issuing bus passes, rearranging furniture for special activities such as the Homeless Court, Free Medical Clinic, HIV awareness and testing, running AA meetings every Tuesday and NA meetings every Thursday, managing external volunteers, welcoming and touring visitors, enforcing all the rules of the center, and--what happened to be the most important aspect of his duties on this particular day--diffusing explosive situations.

Everybody take a deep breath.

As mentioned, the missing actor was a new Coordinator. You see, the center goes through transition anytime its Helpdesk Coordinator position changes and, analogous to the "13 zones" of the center, one Coordinator's tenure blends into the next--in other words, the ex-Coordinator was still lingering around. This gentleman, as opposed to moving "up and out," was, in fact, in moving down and out. Recidivism was in full swing as evidence of his return to drug use, violence both domestic and non, and theft began emerging. So, between me and the actor's new venue which, you might recall, I just so recently struggled to obtain, were standing the new Coordinator/star performer, the ex-Coordinator oozing resentment, and a mysterious beefy friend of the ex-Coordinator whom I had never before seen. They were staring me down as I moved from the rehearsal to the center, having in mind a sales pitch for the star performer. I could see hurt, fear, anger, and hostility seething from their eyes. To let them understand I knew their purpose but wasn't going to fight, I acknowledged their presence: "We got a big ole crew for the car wash today I see!"

I moved inside to commence my sales pitch. I came to find out while the ex-Coordinator was threatening violence on the Center and its management, the new Coordinator was trying to talk him out of it and into a rehabiliation center based on previously established prison gang bonds.


The desperate hope for conflict avoidance (of a middle-class white kid who never saw his parents fight, was never beaten as a child, has never been in a physical confrontation, shot a gun only once at a farm and felt naughty, cries at the ending of Homeward Bound every single time, and was labelled "soft" by his best friend) pinned on prison gang bonds. Unable to trust myself I immediately called my supervisor who, having left the premises and unable to answer his cellphone, had unknowingly left the situation up to the private school nerd.

Suddenly, a power lunch of sushi and sashimi with white-toothed public accountants discussing a defense contractor's treasury stock didn't seem so bad afterall.

Like any good conflict avoider I decided to let my salespitch fail. I let the new Coordinator "handle" the situation, the ex-Coordinator left the building without a peep, and the beefy friend disappeared as mysteriously as he arrived. Who am I to question the validity of prison bonds?

It was just after 10:00AM and I was exhausted. Emotionally, I was toast. So naturally I headed over to the rehearsal room where homeless men were struggling through the creation and rehearsal of a piece of drama. It was not, however, sanctity that I experienced in the dramatic chapel, but joy. A Nigerian friend and homeless volunteer performed--no, emobodied--his piece. Having fully memorized his lines during what must have been a dozen sessions in the park or in the soft light of homeless shelters, this large Nigerian man with a thick African accent spoke clearly and slowly, deftly painting a picture described by another man as if it was his own:
"By the age of 11 I smoked my first joint, at the age of 13 I sold my first joint; at the age of 14 I owned my first gun, at the age of 15 I sold my first rock at the age of 16 I smoked my first cigarette and drank my first beer.

"Society slaps a label on me, on my culture, and my lifestyle: subculture.
Fortunately, I do not let my history hinder me, I'm blessed to have the ability to not let the stereotypes hold my back, I am liberated from societal judgment.

"Living in a society where I am looked at as being black before human I must maintain the wisdom, knowledge, and understanding that is within me to manifest the power that has been granted to me from above.

"I have a home without a house, I am house less, not homeless."

This was an excerpt from"Robert's Story," written by a homeless man who returned to LA to visit sick relatives, performed by a homeless man wondering if he'll ever return home to see his family.

Like I said: the mood swings are incredible, almost debilitating.


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You are amazing (in endless ways...)

5:10 PM  
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