“Oh my god, I’m dying”. Jill was a large girl which didn’t help, but she was right.
It was very hot in Aurora, one hundred five degrees and high humidity. The shelter had not opened as a cooling center despite the notice which proclaimed it would at ninety five degrees. There was no water to drink because someone had put their hand in the ice water container and the staff had decided to penalize all the homeless for one person’s self-centered actions by removing it. Flies were biting everyone and one person had suffered heat stroke. An ambulance had been called to take him off to the hospital. In the city of Aurora, IL, many people were inside air-conditioned homes or businesses, drinking cold drinks, eating ice cream, perhaps at a water park. The homeless could not afford homes, water parks, or often even the cost of a soda at a business so they had an excuse for being there for the cool air. So, a few dozen sat on the grass or at a few picnic tables, trying to ignore the heat and flies or how much they were smelling thanks to their own sweat. In the weeks long heat wave the US was suffering, the homeless were at risk of their health now with little help. No citizens came up the hill to the shelter offering relief to the homeless from the horrendous heat.
“Isn’t the shelter required to open for us? I mean, in order to be an official ‘cooling center’, don’t they have to do that now?” said Cowboy Bill as he removed his stetson and wiped his forehead with a bandanna. Admiral Nano had no idea if he was a real cowboy, but he doubted it since they man was a native Chicagoan. He just liked the hat and accoutrements of that lifestyle.
Frowning cynically, Peter, know otherwise as ‘Fisherman’, replied to the question. “Nah, they don’t got to do nothing if they don’t want to. What staff will be doing is sitting inside where it’s cool, drinking and eating and pretending not to hear us beat on the door. They’re a bunch of lazy assholes. They don’t care if we bake out here.”
Nano considered this bit of news. To him the word shelter meant a place of safety and respite from the environment and dangers. It didn’t mean home, a place one could claim belonged to them and in which they felt comfortable and had some authority. In this homeless shelter, one didn’t have any authority, even over one’s own actions. To be here was to agree to give up almost all of your ‘normal’ human rights, or at least what Americans thought of as their rights. Here, staff could order you to do anything at anytime or penalize a person according to the unwritten rules of just whatever they decided was an appropriate penalty for not doing what you were told. Respectfully, Nano knew some rules had to be in place, but it seemed highly dictatorial to him so far during his brief stay at this shelter. Now it seemed that the shelter didn’t provide shelter either.
The sound of a heated exchange came to those around Nano and as one they looked towards its source. Up under the metal roofed, outdoor structure under which were a few more picnic tables, dirty and near the source of the flies and the woods on the other side of a chain length fence, a group of blacks were sitting. One of them was a tall, loudmouthed, egocentric male named Fancy Pants, yelling at a black female.
“Shut up bitch!” Fancy Pants yelled, “I don wan hear no mo mouth from you. Yo wan money, go gets it yerself.”
To which the female, Angry Mary angrily shouted. “I lents you money yesterday. You better gib me sum now. And don be calling me bitch. Ima lady an I get ups from dis table and kick yer ass.”
“I ain’t gibin you any money and dat money you gab me you done owed me girl. Remember I gib you dat ten dollars for drinks da other day. Now I wants back what you got left. Gib it to me bitch.”
“I toll you not call me bitch”, Mary said, rising to her feet and pointing her finger into the man’s chest, fully enraged now. “And you’d better call an ambuance, cause I’m gonna kick your ass if you don’t get away from me. Dat money mine and Ima keepin it.”
Fancy Pants saw he couldn’t force Angry Mary to give him his money back. He looked around at his friends who were smiling ruefully, knowing it was a lost cause, but were tactfully not getting in between him and his crazy girlfriend. She’d probably spent the rest of the dollars on buying a cigarette or two from someone rolling them on the hill. Fancy Pants sat down at the adjacent table, mumbling loudly while his girl stared at him like she was planning his funeral.
“Nice”, said Fisherman. “Wonder how long till the next yelling contest up there?”
Cowboy Bill looked at his watch. “I give them a few minutes then someone else will get angry over nothing and threaten to kick someone’s butt.”
Nano frowned. This shelter had strange priorities.