Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The least of these.

There’s a woman here in college town, there are probably women like her in college towns everywhere, but then again there is no one else quite like her, we’ve known each other for years. For a long time I was involved as a coleader with a bible study at the community center downtown.

I think the intention (in having it at the community center)was to get all the little punk and goth teenagers to come. This didn’t much happen but we did attract Linda, or at least the food did, such as it was. (I remember a meal that consisted of plain potatoes in a crock pot and a box on dunkin donut munchkins). Often times she would squeeze us in between one free food event and another, an indigenous art opening and a bisexual vegan potluck. One of the great mysteries to this was that she clearly wasn’t poor. Yes, she dressed in cast-offs from the local clothing shelf, yes she lived in odd low rental living situations but when she wanted to she could treat herself to a really nice meal, (she is particular to salmon) and as I later discovered she could have afforded to own her own home if she really wanted too.

To sit with Linda in the small windowless room allotted to us by the community center was it must be said an assault on many of the senses. Its not that she had no standards in hygiene or fashion but they weren’t standard standards, that’s for sure, even for College town where they are looser then nearly anywhere else. When she was full of whatever cheap starch we had provided her she would often sigh contentedly and prop her pungent stocking feet up on the table. One could almost imagine the smell visibly pouring forth into room with little squiggly lines

Love is not a feeling it’s a choice, or so I’ve heard. With that in mind I set out, quite grimly, to love Linda, to do my Christian duty by her, to provide her with potatoes, to try and interest her in the bible study part of bible study (I had some success there and for my sins got to answer lots of weird questions about reincarnation).

Somewhere else in the Christian self help section of Borders I learned of the importance of boundaries. So along with the potatoes I administered boundaries. No she could not use my cell phone, no she could not have a ride, no she could not stay a few nights on our couch, all of which she asked for on a regular basis, if not all that expectantly.

So it may well have remained, another notch on my good Christian belt, like winning the ‘fear factor’ of Christian ministry had I not happened to be on the same bus with her coming back from Northampton the day that I received some bad news concerning church and a grant I was told was a sure thing. For various reasons I was quite distraught and I ended up crying in front of her and ultimately both telling her the story and being consoled. So much for boundaries! But by the end of the bus ride I think we both seemed more human to each other I got to escape my kind of kind but definitely distant persona and she got to escape her role as the God appointed thorn in my flesh.

There were at least two lasting results to this. One was that occasionally Linda will bring something to contribute. Once she even bought the entire bible study Mexican food. I still think of that evening as the miracle of the burritos. Another was that sometimes, not often, but sometimes I am actually genuinely able to like her. Since I’ve had my son this has been even a bit easier. She does seem genuinely to care for him and she makes him laugh. Not in the knowing way I have tried to make you laugh in writing this but with simplicity I can envy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Conduct unbecoming

Hanging out in the library of a nearby town, the same place where we hand out pizza on Friday night. Been trying, unsuccessfully, to hunt down a woman who is on the verge of eviction. Bit of an ongoing drama. Hope it resolves itself soon. This is my second public library today, the first being in the town where I live. I took the baby to something I call Dan the stoned out music man after prying the maracas out of J;s hand I headed to the restroom. The librarian powers that be has posted intimidating notices everywhere forbidding eating, leaving things in aisles and misusing the bathroom, the first two of which crimes and misdemeanors I commit on a pretty regular basis. The Summa of the notice is thus: those committing acts unbecoming of public library may be asked to leave.

I think the library has confused itself with Barnes and Noble. But the Barnes and Noble is actually pretty tolerant of homeless people, the group that this notice is obviously meant to intimidate. I think of all the ‘acts unbecoming of a library” I have committed over the years. The lemonheads I consumed with the Girl Scout dues my leader never remembered to collect, the games of Dungeons and Dragons or Risk that the geeky boys I hung out with would play and in which I would feign interest, while at the same time trying to look impressive by reading the wasteland. (I was a teenager whose pretension truly was unlimited). There was an old green velvet couch on which I would often take long naps after school (now also apparently forbidden). Of course some of my conduct was “becoming of a public library” I read, a lot.

But as said I don’t think the library was talking about me, or the candy sneaking Ts Eliot reading young thing I once was. I think its more about keeping people who make us uncomfortable out of public spaces so that we can read The Progressive and the New Yorker in peace. Cynical much?

Thursday, March 18, 2010


As I was walking back from helping my brother install J in the car seat (he’s going to visit his Grandmother for the day) I saw a flyer in the bus stop with the word Solidarity on it. In this instance it was for a fundraiser for the earthquake in Chile but it reminded me of my adolescence spent scouring bus stop kiosks and lampposts for flyers for “something to do.” I was a strange (or at least atypical kid) and I was mostly interested in Social Justice gatherings of various types. In my middle school years these largely took the form of Central American solidarity events. Lots of beans and rice consumed while listening to people recount various atrocities for which my government was more or less responsible. Lots of pretending my middle school Spanish was better then it was. Lots of guatamelen skirts worn by Quaker women in tennis shoes.

I poke fun at all this but there was a richness to this, even to the awfulness of the atrocities, a couple of hours spent cross legged on the floor of a church basement connected me to people who were fighting for things like Libertad, Paz, Justicia. (Abstract concepts always sound better in Spanish, I think) I was also intrigued by how often they did this in the name Jesus. School was this confusing illogically constructed box built in the 70’s with the specific purpose of keeping people from jumping out the windows, Church was this immaculately plain building with all the human warmth of a bank (describing the architecture, not the people who were generally kind) but in these gatherings there were colors other then institutional green or congregational white, tastes other then wonder bread and peanut butter cornflake cookies, there was something to die for other then having your name listed in the Amherst Bulletin as an honor role*
student (and I knew people who were dying for exactly that).

*that was an intentional typo