Saturday, January 05, 2008

wet and shiny and full of illusion

I've been busier than a one legged girl in an ass kicking contest. See, it's raining and it's raining a lot. California doesn't quite know how to handle an actual storm so there are flash floods and power outages, downed trees and accidents everywhere. It's our genetics to fail at weather. You northerners and easterners, you can laugh all you want. But I wear flip flops year round, so mock me, I can take it. But I digress.

A storm like this is hard on folks with no place to sleep so we started working overtime to open projects for additional hours and larger numbers. Processes that require getting government types here to plead our case to government types farther up the food chain hoping it will eventually trickle back down to us. These good people went the distance for us over the past 48 hours and amidst middle of the night calls and incredible feats of teamwork we ended up successfully offering additional safety nets for folks opened on a dime. Feeling victorious last night I headed over to a church where more good people opened their doors for our makeshift operations. I arrived right before mealtime where several church members were preparing to open the food line, a line with maybe fifty or more already at attention between the piles of bedding on the floor. A woman holding a spatula was calling for attention to bless the meal. Immediately our folks, hungry and probably tired of that line started that hushed yet really loud sort of whispering shut up, shut up. they are saying grace, shut the fuck up I heard one guy say and head bowed I couldn't help laughing. The meal was blessed to a resounding AMEN and a round of applause and in no time at all everyone had a hot meal.

It's easy to delude oneself in those moments, spirits are high and the mood is good. It's easy to overlook the tragedy, that each of these people have no place to go and all the food in the world doesn't change that for a minute. I spot a little girl, maybe three or four, her plate piled high. Her hair is a mess and I am temporarily broken. She looks up and smiles. I crack a bit on the inside but also know it's the best she'll do tonight. An old timer, a guy I haven't seen all season comes up. girl, look at you. where you been? where have you been, old man, I haven't seen you all year. He looks at me then away. I think I know. Ah, what for this time around? A fight. I can't seem to help it. It was only for a few months. He has a few less teeth than I remember but a bit more weight, three hots and a cot have some benefits. He stands close, eavesdropping as I am meeting with a couple of folks strategizing how to transport folks in the morning to our new spot, one they can stay in all day and out of the cold. He's smiling when I am done. You a big shot now, girl? Sitting at the big table? I smile and shrug. But you are still here. You can take the girl outta the shelter but you can't take the shelter outta the girl. Something like that, I say, I like this guy and I've liked him for a long time, his bullshit included. He asks for a hug and I give him one, hard and look him in the eyes. Anytime you want to change things, J, you let me know. Too many years of this shit will kill you. I know, he replies. But it's all I know. You still married? I smile at him again, some things never change no matter how much hard living comes in between.

28 comments:

hypoglycemiagirl said...

Funny how we get surprised over and over by weather. Over here in Scandinavia we're currently surprised by lots of snow...

Oh, The Joys said...

I think you have to take your small victories each day, jen. Otherwise it gets really hard to sustain yourself, you know?

kristen said...

friend, the fact that your heart is still intact amazes me each time i come visiting. love to you.

ps. i saw the call for front-line workers and meant to email you...yes, please do write something, shit included. xo

Family Adventure said...

It seems to be that the weather in California is getting more and more extreme each year...or maybe just the reporting?

And still, each time, stories of heroism emerge. Like this one. How great that people are able to step up the plate. It's not a permanent solution, but it's something!

Heidi

Binky said...

It's good and it's bad, this fact that some things never change. But it's always good the way you share these stories.

Jenn said...

It's the small moments and pieces of beauty that make up the masterpiece.

Z said...

Next time I'm at a church lunch and the Rector bows her head, how am I to resist saying "shut up, shut up. they are saying grace, shut the fuck up"?.

Dammit, you're good, dear heart

Mrs. Chicken said...

I can't bear it when you talk about the little children. I cannot bear it.

thailandchani said...

I can't even begin to imagine what it must have been like for them. And to think... at least around here.. we were griping about the power being out and our internet access being down.

cce said...

Thanks for the reality check...I was so busy celebrating the fact that the temperature broke thirty here today to even realize there is a weather incident happening somewhere else in the states. Good luck to you and the good people for whom you toil.

The Expatriate Chef said...

You're a saint and a goddess.

nyjlm said...

I must echo Kristen's awe and amazement at your heart remaining intact. I'm not sure I would have your fortitude to keep going, working towards making a difference- and yet a positive thought seeped in to this pessimist's brain. Instead of seeing you as one person working hard against the seemingly impossible, what if you and your blog simply represent one woman's story. Yes, there are more stories like yours, more men and women doing this work all over our country. I may not read their stories, but they are out there.
Thank you, Jen, and thanks to the unknown others.

Joker The Lurcher said...

what matters more than the food and the warm is that you hug people, even if they haven't had a bath in a while...

Redneck Mommy said...

I always tell the kids to shut the fuck up when someone is saying grace. LOL.

Okay, so I don't. But I know I've thought it a time or two.

You continually never cease to amaze me with your big heart my friend.

xo

Suz said...

I saw a little girl like that, once, and it tore me up inside, too. They were gone before I could empty my wallet.

meno said...

"they are saying grace, shut the fuck up"

You are to be commended for not laughing out loud.

Beck said...

It's been bitterly cold this week - -20c at night - and many of the local shelters are closed. It's a hard time of year for people.

KC said...

Your stories feed us.

Amy Y said...

You sure get hit on a lot, Mama! ;)

Hope everyone dries out there very very soon...

bgirl said...

hard hugs, the best, simply the best thing for the spirit.

sending one to you jen.

Karen said...

thinking of you - waiting for more news and praying a bit, if that's okay.

flutter said...

and the smile still gets to creep in. Grace is funny that way.

painted maypole said...

jen, as always, I adore you. for so, so many reasons, but chief among them that you would, without hesitation, hug a homeless man who is missing teeth and just got out of jail.

Lawyer Mama said...

I love how you share these little pieces of people's lives with us. Those connections are what it's all about.

Omaha Mama said...

This one made me cry. Breathe in those high spirits, those moments of applause. Those moments can fuel a person for months. More than any "prestige" of sitting at the big table. You made me laugh and cry in one post, well done!

wheelsonthebus said...

Your posts are a big part of a change in my life recently (I'll be posting on it over the next few days). You remind me of all I have to be grateful for.

deb said...

It's sad how the government agencies can only get their shit together when there is a crisis. Although Katrina kind of blows that theory out of the water.

patches said...

Mock you? What the Hell? Dude, I'm jealous. The temp here has ranged from the thirty degrees to seventy degrees in five days.

You see the soul behind the face. So few do anymore.