“What is that for?” ask Nano, seeing some flimsy partitions go up at the end of the warehouse ‘veranda’.
“The TB Nurses are here”. The Roller was his nickname, otherwise Dennis. Dennis and Lawyer Joe rolled cigarettes late at night in the dark, scores of them. They didn’t last long since he and Lawyer Joe smoked them up daily and sold a few on the side. Cigarettes or ‘squares’ sold for fifty cents each. It was enough to pay for the makings and something more so that one could afford a soda drink at McDonalds in Aurora, IL. The Roller and Lawyer Joe used pipe tobacco for their cigarettes. It was cheaper and had a nice mild taste. They went through bags of tobacco like gophers through a corn field. The Roller was a middle aged, former taxi driver with receding hair, glasses and the typical appearance of a smoker. Nano found him a nice, dependable man with a good sense of humor. Nano tried not to think of the death The Roller and other smokers were inflicting on themselves. In Nano’s time, no one smoked for the same reason Earth for the most part had no cannibals.
“The nurses are taking people behind that partition to treat them”, added The Roller.
“What are they treating them for?” ask Nano.
“TB”, by which The Roller meant tuberculosis. “They take them back there for privacy while they take their blood for testing.”
“I don’t see how it is private down there at the end of the veranda”, which is what Nano called the concrete loading platform which fronted the warehouse where the homeless were being housed. The warehouse was a very dirty, nasty, bug laden place with plenty of health hazards, building code violations and lack of sanitary and environmental support. “When you walk out to the street you can see in around the side to where they’re working.”
“Yeah, that’s true, not private, but then again, perhaps we aren’t supposed to look, just pretend it’s private. Nurses like patient privacy, so let them pretend they are having it.” The Roller finished building a square and set it aside to start another. It took only a half minute to make a cigarette.
“If they represent the county health department, shouldn’t they also be interested in other things like how dirty this building is we’re living in?” Nano looked at Dennis.
“Well, yeah, but they aren’t. They’re just here for TB.”
“I don’t understand” Nano shook his head. “People are freezing inside on low temperature days, sweating to dehydration on hot days, getting bitten by mosquitoes and spiders, getting contaminated by the industrial soot inside this building, have no inside sanitation, just a few nasty, mostly full portable toilets, almost no chance to shower, very limited laundry service, cold food when it’s available and often in insufficient quantity, usually poor sandwiches and you get just one of them, we’re near the river where West Nile could be, perhaps poison ivy nearby, catching colds, going insane from this treatment and the Kane County Health Department is only interested in TB?”
“Yep, you got it. Just that. Anything else they don’t care about because we are the homeless.”
“Isn’t it illegal to leave a pet or a young child unattended or in a hot car or a cold car or without food for long or to abuse a pet in any way?” Nano was trying to make it all make sense.
“Oh yeah. You could not only be given a large fine for that, but go to jail a long time too. It’s bad to abuse animals, ask PETA, People Eating Tasty Animals.” The Roller smiled at his joke.
“Yeah, PETA”. There was a pause while The Roller looked up at Nano for a moment and paused his building of the next square. “You know, PETA”, he could not think of what it stood for.
“Never heard of it”, said Nano. “But how can you have laws where you don’t allow this to animals, but do allow it and much more cruelty to your own kind.”
“My own kind?” Dennis squinted up against the slanting sun at Nano as they sat on the veranda at a dirty picnic table. Flies buzzed around thicker than a swarm of gnats ignoring nearby spider webs. “Oh, that’s right, your from outer space Admiral Nano sir.” He grinned, Nano smiled. “Well, here on Earth that is the way it happens. Doesn’t mean it’s fair or right. Just the way it is. Homeless rate less than pets to ‘normals’. You certainly don’t see a large store dedicated to the needs and wants of homeless people like you do for pets.”
A man rounded the TB nurses’ privacy screens which were aluminum tube frames stretched with cloth. He had a small bandage in the joint of his elbow where the nurses had bled him into a glass tube. Nano shuddered at the primitive nature of it all. It wasn’t just a matter of how medicine was conducted, but mankinds’ attitude about health at this time. To let people suffer, to waive or make exceptions to health concerns so a place unfit to live in could house the neediest seemed primitive and a cruel attitude. True, the staff were doing many things, but they were also largely inept and contradictory from person to person.
Each day the list of hand written rules on the large paper pad hanging near the sign-in desk changed. The rules varied from important to childish. One day something relatively important like do not defecate inside the building or on the building outside or near it constituted a good rule. Below it, could be a childish rule like do not drink near your bed clearly based on someone whining about a minor issue. It could be rules like ‘no smoking except in a designated area’ or ‘don’t sit in front of the fans’. Not that those or any other rule was well or consistently enforced. Nano’s favorite was ‘be dressed by 5:45am’, so the women from across the street at the other facility could walk in to have breakfast without seeing nearly naked men running around. Then again, women showed up much earlier than that and they’d all seen and like to see naked men.
Nano watched as another shelter ‘guest’ was smilingly shown into the medically private area for a TB screening. Nano shook his head while The Roller laid aside another cancer causing cigarette.
“You know” The Roller said to Nano. “The other day a man bought a pack of cigarettes across the street from the Galena McDonalds”. That location is one of most frequented by homeless in Aurora, IL. “He paid over seven dollars for a pack. I told him he could have bought that many from me for five dollars.” It seemed crazy to Admiral Nano to pay for something that when used caused cancer and made you sick. Mankind had some really strange priorities.