Monday, December 12, 2005


Last night was a beautifully cold night and it happened to be the night my little organic "church" gathered to feed the homeless. We partnered with a teeny "real church" on the south side of town who was hosting the men and all we had to do was show up, serve the meal, eat the food ourselves, then hang out for an hour or two talking, playing games, soaking in the strange smells, etc.

So I left my warm, newly re-sided, freshly painted homestead on my five+ acre lot nestled along the blue ridge mountains of Virginia and climbed into my BMW 325i. I fired the engine and wound my way up my 600 foot, snowy, icy, slushy driveway. As an aside, the guy who invented the heated seat deserves a medal. Mine warmed the leather right up to the point I didn't even need to wear my coat. It made the trip in the passenger's seat.

Out on the road my comfort was temporarily placed in the back seat while my complaining spirit took the wheel. There's a four mile stretch of road from my house to the first stop light where you can't pass and I happened to get behind some old cottonhead just creaping along. What a pain... there's not much worse than being in a sporty vehicle that can't do what it's designed to do. If my auto-traction indicator doesn't light up the dashboard on the ice patches then somehow I feel I'm not getting my monies worth out of the vehicle.

Along the way my bored car told me she needed her tank refilled. So as soon as I got around the slow-me-down I found a place where I could complain about the price of gas. At least the folks at the major petro companies don't need to worry about becoming homeless... with what their raking in lately they ought to be set for a while.

I made the rest of the trip to the sounds of one of my favorite radio stations. The one my wife likes when they play acoustic sets in the morning, but can't stand as the day wears on and the other instruments start showing up, and the volume gets cranked, and the lyrics & guitars all get distorted into a heap that has to force its way out the speakers... it's the FM I listen to when I want to feel cool and young and hip and... you get the point. Anyway, the Foo Fighters, Radiohead, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, etc. made the drive with me.

I got the last parking space at the little church and nearly ran over three homeless guys in the process. They were standing around drinking coffee as I whipped around the corner and dove for the spot. I'm sure I probably offended them as I climbed out and locked my car door. I asked them if they had already eaten and they said they had. I asked them if it was good and they said it was. Then I probably offended them again as I told them I was glad the food was good, because I needed to get inside a get a bite myself... "who's the guy in the BMW coming here to eat our dinner?!"

I opened the door to the church and was nearly washed away in the sea of cots... literally wall to wall cots, many of them occupied, all of them marked with a handful of belongings. I had to make my way toward the kitchen, sometimes scooting sideways to get there.

The meal itself was good (our group had prepped it)... ham, green beans, rolls, jello salad, cookies, etc. I joined our group late, so I jumped right into eating and sought out a table where I was able to enter into conversation with a couple of the men. The thing that struck me right away was how it was difficult to tell the difference between some of the homeless and those serving them. The two I was speaking with could have been either, but I was either too afraid or too smart to ask, so I just let it ride.

Both of these gentlemen were black and both shocked me with their knowledge of the history of punk music. In my mind punk music has always been a white thing from my youth. Similar to the stereotypical concept that I've always had that rap was a black thing. One of these men was in his forties and the other in his late thirties and together we discussed all the groups from my youth... Black Flag, the Dead Kennedy's, the Ramone's, the Clash, the Kinks, the B-52's, the Sex Pistols, etc., etc. Then as quick as the conversation began it was over... I don't know if I got up to get more desert or what, but when I returned they were gone and it was done. It was almost like a strange dream where you think it might have really happened, but you're afraid to mention it to anyone in fear that they might point out that it was only a chimera.

I spent the rest of the evening playing cards with my eight year old son and his friends. We dealt a couple of mighty hands of "war" while a handful of the homeless guys huddled in a corner to watch the dvd of Cinderella Man. Upon retrospection, it must be an interestingly inspiring film for a homeless person to watch. In a bizarre sense, widespread poverty in the midst of the great depression could possibly be a comforting scenario to those with nothing. But then again, it's only a movie.

There was no discussion or debate over whether the film should be nominated for Best Picture at the 78th Annual Academy Awards. It was just men glued to a story, passing time, two hours closer to bed time, two hours closer to the next meal, two hours closer to...

Every year I ask a certain single friend of mine what he's doing for Thanksgiving or Christmas and year after year he gives me his standard response. He tells me he's gonna go down to the bus station to watch people who have somewhere to go. That's what last night felt like. It was as if I were at the bus station... a few men gathered around the tv in the corner, a couple people playing cards, a few others stretched out on benches or cots with their backpacks nearby... all of us waiting patiently for a bus that would never arrive.

I had a couple of other brief conversations with a couple of the guys where we exchanged courtesies, etc., while I prepped to leave. I shook a couple of hands, smiled, said goodbye and climbed back into my car... my safe, secure, foreign automobile.

I didn't witness it, but I learned later that when I was walking out another friend of mine was walking in. He went inside to give his jacket to one of the homeless men he had befriended. He went inside to be the hands and feet of Christ.

Me, I fired up my BMW, turned on the seat warmer and drove home... my jacket riding shotgun the whole way...

At least I've noticed the disconnect...