Awakened once again by the sunrise I headed immediately for Mickey D's and purchased a cup of coffee. The server charged me only 48 cents for the java and since the normal price was 99 cents I didn't argue about it. As I later discovered, he thought I was a senior citizen (age 55 qualifies you for all manner of little discounts at various establishments around town) so being only 52 at the time, I was a little disconcerted by this but nevertheless kept my mouth shut -- after all a bargain is a bargain. I proceeded to the bus stop and had a few smokes and savored my coffee.
Ever mindful of meeting up with Jay on the opposite corner at 10 AM to meet the dude who dropped off the papers I just relaxed on the bench. Pretty soon Ricky came by, recognized me, and sat down beside me. As we chatted I became aware of a rather strong scent of body odor and wasn't sure from whence it emanated. So, I figured since I hadn't had a shower in a couple of days I asked Ricky if he knew of someplace where I could get one. His answer was a little church building right around the corner. He informed me that not only could I get a shower but some free clothes and a bit of food as well -- all gratis!!!!! Hell, yeah!!!!
I followed his directions and came to a small building across the street from a rather imposing and architecturally beautiful Lutheran church, with a sign out front proclaiming "Southern Arizona Lutheran Services." A few people were milling about in front waiting for the place to open. At 9 AM a rather slight gentleman opened the doors and we all streamed in. I was greeted by a rather shabby interior, with some broken down furniture and a few drab decorations on the walls. Behind a desk was seated a woman of indeterminate age whose job it was to check in the people in line and assign them to the various services they were seeking. Some needed clothing, some needed food, and still others were seeking a shower.
When I came to the head of the line I informed her I wanted to take a shower and she handed me a form to fill out. Standard stuff: name, age, SS number, address, phone, employment status, etc. Filling out such a form is a snap when you don't have half the stuff they want to know so I returned it in seconds and she told me I was third on the shower list. I was directed to sit in the waiting area until she called my name.
I took a seat and let my gaze wander about the room taking in not only my surroundings but the people using the service as well. There was an assortment of people of both sexes with ages ranging from infancy to the very old. All were dressed in rather shabby clothes and were quite thin with a very defeated look on their faces and in their eyes. Light banter amongst them led me to believe they were acquainted with one another at least on a casual basis. Since I knew no one, I kind of kept to myself. I picked up a Reader's Digest from a table in the center of the room, noticing it was an issue from somewhere around 1985!! Obviously, like doctor's offices, they were hardly current in their reading material. Also I noticed no issues of Gentlemen's Quarterly or Glamour Magazine lying around!
Time passed and the lady called my name. I was directed to a box of towels on the floor, told to pick one up, and led to a small bathroom containing a shower, toilet and sink and not much else. The room was relatively clean but the fixtures were ancient. The lady warned me not to take too long and left me to my own devices. As I stepped into the shower I noticed some bars of soap and bottles of shampoo in a rack so I grabbed one of each and proceeded to shower. The water pressure was rather low but the water was hot so in a matter of minutes I felt much better. The wonders a shower can do!!!!
When I dried off and got dressed I gazed at my visage in the mirror and noticed I needed a shave but a quick search revealed no shaving equipment so I blew the shave off and decided right then and there to grow a beard. I already had a mustache, so I figured -- no big deal. One nice thing about being a guy -- as long as you keep clean -- you don't really HAVE to shave or get a haircut. Lucky me!!!
When I exited the bathroom and returned to the main room the lady asked me if I needed any clothes and I figured what the hell -- go for it!! She led me to a storage area at the rear of the building and told me I was allowed one change of clothes per month and that she needed to see what I was taking in order to verify this. Once again she left me alone and I kind of picked through what clothes they had. Among the used clothes I found a T-shirt that would fit me, a pair of well faded jeans and some socks and underwear. I dutifully showed her my selections and she nodded approvingly as she made a notation in some kind of ledger.
As I prepared to leave she asked me if I was hungry (silly question to ask a homeless person!) and I told her that I was. She disappeared into another storage area and returned in a few moments with a brown paper bag. I thanked her for everything and made my way past an ever growing line of people out to the street.
Once outside I sat down on a ledge surrounding the building and examined my new possessions. I carefully folded the clothes and put them in my backpack and proceeded to open the paper bag. Inside was a can of tomato juice, a peanut butter sandwich, some wrapped cheese and crackers and a Rice Krispies (chocolate -- YUM) treat. To assuage my ravenous hunger I devoured everything in the bag in a matter of minutes. Until you have gone a while without eating, you have no idea how good such stuff can taste. Believe this!!!!
I headed off toward the corner where I was to meet Jay and upon my arrival was greeted not only by Jay but by an assortment of other people -- all waiting for the paper dude to come by. Jay treated me like an old friend, performing a rather convoluted handshake with additional back slapping which was repeated each time he introduced me to the others. Jay informed the group that I was "good people" ( a term which means an awful lot to a homeless person as I was later to find out)! He told me that in order to sell papers I would need $3 for the product and an additional $5 to buy the required orange vest. When I informed him that I didn't have that much he told me not to worry because the paper dude would "front" (allow me to get the stuff I needed on the promise of repayment the next day) the required goods to me.
Pretty soon a white van bearing the logo of the Tucson Citizen pulled up and the group converged on the van with Jay and I hanging back at the end of the line. If you are beginning to get a sense that standing in line for things is the norm you are exactly right -- the homeless are very adept and inured to standing in all kinds of lines. The guy driving the truck proceeded to distribute bundles of newspapers and inserts to the assembled multitude and soon it was our turn. Jay introduced me to the guy whose name was Lewis. Lewis asked me what I wanted and I told him I needed a vest and 30 papers and he told me he didn't have a vest in the van but to hop in anyway and he would get one. So in I hopped and was soon being driven all over Tucson in a manner in which I was quite unaccustomed. Stops were made periodically to drop off papers, curbs were run over, red lights were ignored, and I saw parts of Tucson I didn't know existed!!! Talk about your scenic tour!!!!!
About half an hour into this somewhat perilous journey Lewis reached into a box and pulled out an orange vest and threw it to me (so much for not having one in the van, I guess). He asked me again what I wanted to do and when I repeated my desire to get some newspapers to sell on the corner of Speedway and Campbell he kinda looked at me askance and asked me why I didn't say so before. (Damn -- I thought I had!!!) He then told me I would have to ride with him until his route was finished and that he would bring me back to the aforementioned corner when he was done. So we continued this routine for what seemed like hours and he finally dropped me off where I started!!!
Since it was nearing 2 o'clock I knew that I had to get cracking as I had already lost a good four hours of selling time. I donned my vest, put the inserts in the main paper and headed for the west median where I set up shop. I grabbed a handful of papers and proceeded to march back and forth along the median with heavy traffic zooming (they don't call this street Speedway for nothing) all around me. The lights are timed so there is a 45-second interval between changes going east and west and a 15-second interval to allow the cars stacked up in the turn lane to make left turns and proceed down Campbell Avenue to wherever they may be proceeding. As I later learned, this particular intersection was an extremely good one for traffic with the University of Arizona Medical Center located right around the corner and a vast number of UA students on their way to classes or apartments nearby. I am told that an average of 57,000 cars per day pass through this intersection, making it one of the busiest in all of Tucson. Foot traffic is also heavy due to the number of UA- related businesses in the immediate vicinity. In short, I had stumbled upon a virtual plethora of potential customers.
As I traversed my territory, drivers in the turn lane would roll down their windows and wave at me to indicate they wanted a paper. I would hustle over to their car, hand them a paper, and with a smile and a big thank u, take the pro -- offered money. Most people would hand over a dollar and cheerfully tell me to "keep the change"! Since I was paying only a dime each for the papers I was making nearly a dollar on each sale -- COOL!!!! As my pile of papers dwindled my pockets became heavy with both silver and folding money and I was actually in a daze as I knew that this money was all mine to keep with no taxes due!!!! What a deal!!!
Lest you think this occupation is all fun and games I need to digress a bit and jump to the future to explain a few things I learned over the approximately 8 months I was involved with this activity.
As in any type of direct sales business there are customers and then their are customers, if you get my drift!! But newspaper hawkers (most of whom are homeless, so this applies as well to homeless people in general) can be the target of some pretty nasty stuff. I have experienced the following: lit cigarettes being hurled at me, being spit upon, garbage thrown at me, my manhood and birth origins being questioned, and so on. Thankfully, these incidents were in the minority, but probably stick in my memory due to their scarcity and randomness. After my initial anger had subsided when an incident occurred, I just told myself that the kind of people who would commit such acts were possessed of single-digit IQ's and were more to be pitied than censured.
The vast majority
of people with whom I dealt on a daily basis were extremely nice and very
supportive of me. Keeping in mind that these encounters lasted probably
no more than 45 seconds each with a 24 hour interval between contacts consider
the following: a lady who nearly every day gave me a dollar for no
other reason than she wanted to, never even taking a paper; a man and his
dog who gave me a handful of change each and every day; a young female
college student from Kansas who gave me money and cigarettes on a daily
basis, always with the most dazzling smile and a heartfelt greeting and
wishes of good luck; a young male UA student who would give me clothes
and food on a regular basis; a lady , who upon learning I was a voracious
reader, laid an awful lot of books in my favorite genre on me; an older
gentleman who would always discuss the weather with me; another lady with
whom I would discuss politics; a myriad of people with whom I could discuss
sports, current events, and other topics; and so many others who showed
kindness in other ways such a a nice smile or a wave or just a thumbs up
as they drove by me. These are the people I will always remember
-- good, kind, loving people who knew how to make a down on their luck
person feel good about himself.
She came by the next
day again and I thanked her profusely for what she had done. I asked
her what her plans were for Christmas and she informed that she was going
to spend the day at home with her Mom and Dad. I told her to have
a wonderful Christmas and also said that I had a message I wanted her to
pass along to her parents. She looked at me quizzically for a second
and I simply told her to relay to her parents that I thought that they
had done a terrific job in raising such a fine daughter. She reddened
at this, thanked me and wished me a Merry Christmas and drove away.
I have not seen this girl since, but you damn well better believe that
I wear that little angel to this day on my hat and that I will never forget
this young lady's act of kindness to a total stranger!!!!
Anyway, back to the past. It was starting to get towards 5 PM and I was as hungry as a troll so I decided to get off the island, give the few papers I had left to another hawker and head towards McDonald's to see if Serena was as good as her word!!!!