Fate and Life II

The Tree of Wisdom

Fate, then, is a name for facts not yet passed under the fire of thought; for causes which are unpenetrated.

Ralph Waldo Emerson – “Fate,” The Conduct of Life (1860).

Life is what makes existence possible. Fate is what gives direction to life. Wisdom is what gives life meaning. Intelligence is what makes the gathering of wisdom efficient.

Admiral Nano of Omicron IV – Admiral Nano’s Journal

Cowboy Bill and Fisherman Peter cleaned up the remains of the eaten bass, mostly bones and heads. They dumped them into the lake to which a small river flowed. In that river had been good fishing, but now the meal of bass was done and they were happy. It was mid afternoon and the shade under trees was a cool respite from the warm sun and glare. Nearby the small cook fire still burned, lowly now towards embers, the smell of smoke pleasant and keeping insects at bay. Nano had enjoyed the fish. It was not something he’d eaten before and it had been tasty, though the two friends with him said with butter and pepper it would have been better.

Not through with the conversation that had been taking place before the bass munching had started, Cowboy Bill restarted it, having used the meal as time to think. “Nano, I’ve been thinking about what you said about Life and Fate being two forces in the universe and how they are needed for anything else to exist. It’s a big topic. I’d have to think about it a long time to make as much sense of it as you seem to think it has. But let me ask you a few questions about it now.”

Fisherman Peter listened as Cowboy prepared his questions. He was satisfied to let Cowboy take the lead for a bit. He picked up a small thin stick and lighting the end of it, got a cigarette started then handed the stick to Cowboy, who just held it for the time being.

“First, if Fate is a force that guides Life, well, why does Life need Fate to do that? What is Fate actually doing that’s important to us or Life? How do we know how Fate affects us?” Cowboy scratched his chin thoughtfully.

Nano responded. “Let me first restate better some important relationships between several things that philosophers have debated for all history. Life is what makes existence possible. Fate is what gives direction to Life. Wisdom is what gives Life meaning. Intelligence is what makes the gathering of wisdom efficient.”

He waited a bit, then continued, “Look out at the lake. On a still day it’s like glass, quiet and unmoving. A great body of potential energy with no where to go and nothing to accomplish. It fills the bowl and depressions it is in uniformly in that there are no places it can go that it hasn’t. There are no holes, gaps, voids or empty places within the water of the lake. It is all encompassing, filling everything it can reach like air fills valleys and mountain passes. Life is like the water of the lake, it fills the reality of this universe uniformly and completely, leaving no voids or empty places. It is omnipresent. It is there to be used, a basic building block of reality and existence, but it cannot by itself do anything. It is a patient force without direction. So, in answer to your first question about ‘why does Life need Fate to do that’, Life needs Fate the same way potential energy needs kinetic energy. Life needs an impetus to be useful.”

“Fate is what Life needs for direction, the impetus. Fate can be likened to a kinetic force. It’s not kinetic, but for our example of water, think of Fate having a kinetic energy. Fate gives Life a movement. Also, when Fate is added to Life, the direction Fate gives Life makes the two of them stronger than the sum of the parts. Without Life, Fate has nothing to work with. Without Fate, Life is unmoving and still, not able to provide for the accomplishment of Life. And what is Life for? The point of Life is gaining wisdom. Wisdom is what Life is for. Wisdom gives Life meaning. Wisdom requires Intelligence and Experience, but I’m leaving experience out for now. Intelligence accelerates the acquisition of Wisdom. Intelligence is not wisdom nor does it guarantee Wisdom. Intelligence is merely a very good way to gain wisdom quicker than having less Intelligence. The uneducated can gain Wisdom, but on the whole, more slowly. Intelligence is like a tool to pry open a clam and look inside for a pearl. You can use brute force to gain a pearl, but with a good tool you’d do so faster. The greater the intelligence, especially if you are open-minded and have good imagination, the faster you tend to gain wisdom from your experiences.”

“So, now reconsider the lake and watch this carefully.” Nano picked up a small stone and with a heave launched it out past the shore where it fell into the water with a splash. He turned to Fisherman who needed an introduction to this conversation and ask, “What did you see Fisherman?”

A philosophical question, so Fisherman paused for a few moments, then said, “I see a sudden splash, then ripples going out from there in larger and larger circles until they hit the shore. I heard a sound also and some birds reacted to it all. You probably scared a few bass too we didn’t see.” He smiled at Nano who grinned and laughed. There was always time for the humor of a friend in a conversation, though tangents could spring from them and divert focus from a subject.

“You saw well” said Nano. “Now, the lake is Life, quiet, deep and still, till Fate, the stone, entered into it. At that point you heard the forces reacting and saw semi-intelligent birds make a decision based on wisdom, intelligence and past experiences that have become instinct. Cowboy?”

“Well, if Fate gives direction to Life, the stone gave the surface of the water direction by spreading it away from the impact in a pattern of ripples.”

“Correct” agreed Nano. “Now I present this idea of Fate and Life working together for the two of you to think about. It’s up to each of you what you do with it, how much time you spend thinking about it. An old saying suggests that the more important something is, the more work it takes to get it. Or if something comes easy, there is less value in it than something that takes longer to achieve.”

Nano watched as Cowboy lighted his own cigarette with the almost forgotten brand he received from Fisherman. Nano summarized a bit now.

“So, the water of the lake is Life, which moves thanks to the force and impetus of Fate, the stone. Fate gave Life a pattern of directions that Life needed, sending ripples outwards. Life went from potential energy to kinetic energy, sending ripples out into the reality it occupies. Those chaotic first moments of the event became organized. They distributed themselves over a much large area than the initial area. They changed the reality of the lake. That event and the forces working together can be the start of other events, like intelligent species. As an intelligent species, you have had the experience of observing this event. Combining your experience of it with intelligence and previous wisdom, plus some imagination, you have a chance to become wiser. That is the the point of Life, to learn, to grow, to become wiser. The status quo, the unchanging mind, the lack of a habitually introspective and questioning mind will not progress a person or a species. Evolution does not abide that which stands still and changes not. Such species arrive at extinction. Successful existence requires change, some physical, but mostly mental. Mental evolution drives physical evolution. It all starts with the basic building blocks, Fate and Life. Without them nothing is possible.

“I get it” said Fisherman. “That’s a lot to think about, but it makes sense to me. I like the way it sounds. It’s smooth and answers a lot of other questions too.”

“Yeah, it’s sensible, but I never heard anyone say stuff like that. Are you a Christian Nano? Do you believe in god?” Nano grinned and that question went unanswered for another time.

Posted in Homelessness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fate And LIfe

Underneath an elm Admiral Nano drowsed. He listened to life around him. The whispering breeze made small ripples on the blue plain of a small lake. Ships of white clouds slipped across the ocean of sky. Leaves called to each other in hushed tones. Birds sang to one another in tall trees. Insects hummed a chorus. The occasional smack of a trout or bass on the water heralded another dragonfly snatched for a meal. These were the sounds of life. Part of life were two people not far away from Nano, ‘Cowboy’ Bill and ‘Fisherman’ Peter’.

On the ground near Nano was a large bass. Fisherman had caught it from the small river they had gone to not far from Aurora IL where the homeless shelter the three of them lived was located.

“I guess fate was kind to us today”, said Cowboy.

“If fate was kind, we’d be able to grill this fish. We have no grill or charcoal.” Peter Fisherman looked at the plump fish sadly. “They’ll probably be serving sloppy-joes for dinner this evening. Here we sit with a beautiful fish we can’t cook. We should have let it go.”

Nano opened his eyes and looked at the fish. It did look nice. Fish wasn’t something he had tasted yet as that kind of fare was beyond the purses of churches feeding homeless people. In fact, often the shelter guests got only the barest of meals. It was just two days since their supper had been the equivalent of a ball park bowl of cheese covered nachos. True, there was a smattering of beef and onions, but the bowl had been small and it was a snack, not a meal. There had been no seconds, no desert, no bread, no fruit, no vegetables and only water to drink. It had been disgustingly pathetic. Many had commented that night that the volunteers that had showed up might as well had stayed home than come to a shelter with several hundred hungry people and serve them nearly nothing. Then again, it had tasted good, there was just very little of it. That kind of thing happened all the time at the shelter, assuming there was any meal to eat.

“Maybe we can collect some wood and cook it” said Cowboy.

“What are we gonna use for a grill then”, ask Fisherman.

“We can cook it on a stick” Cowboy replied, then reconsidering the size of the fish, “or a branch.”

They went off to find a good stout branch and some loose deadwood to burn. The two fishermen had invited Nano to come with them, but had no third rod or reel for him to use. Nano had accepted anyway, pleased to be away from the nasty warehouse with it’s black, unhealthy soot covered filth, the loudmouths, drunks and abusive folks at the shelter. A quiet day with two friendly people appealed to him and he wanted some relative peace to think about all he had observed so far in his brief stay at the Aurora, IL shelter. The river had been a short drive into the country in Cowboy’s pickup truck. Most homeless had no vehicles, especially legally licensed ones. They’d stopped for some worms to use as bait, but when they say the fish jumping out of the water to snatch dragonfly, they made the switch. Catching a small supply of dragonflies stuck in spider webs in trees around the area, Nano had watched Fisherman and Cowboy hook the small creatures and cast them on delicate mono-filament lines. The bass had enjoyed them and all that had been caught had been returned promptly to the water except this one nice large bass they wanted to eat.

It took little time to arrange the dead wood and light it with a cigarette lighter. Having properly dressed the fish it was soon cooking quickly over the small bright fire on a good pointed stick. There was no potato or coleslaw or tartar sauce, but it promised to be a good meal if it wasn’t burned. As the three sat around watching it cook, each contemplating the meal to come, Cowboy picked up a thought he’d mentioned earlier.

“I sometimes wonder about fate. If you would have ask me when I was a young man if I’d end up in a homeless shelter in Aurora or anywhere else, I would have said no. I worked a long time for the railroad to earn a pension and retire. It’s hard to believe my pension is gone and I’ve got nearly nothing now. Is that fate? I’m not really sure what fate is. Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to have my best interests in mind.”

Cowboy looked over at Fisherman. The two of them often had these kind of conversations to pass the time. That didn’t mean they always arrived at real understanding or consensus, but it was like them to consider the peculiarities of subjects like this. Nano recalled them having a few talks like this, usually off a bit by themselves where they were not being interrupted by the other guests of the shelter who had no such interest in cerebral subjects. They’d invited Nano to join them anytime he’d felt like it, determining somehow that his presence wouldn’t be destructive, that he’d listen and if he had some comment, it would be serious or at least poignantly humorous in a connected way.

Fisherman fiddled with a bright ember with a poking stick. Finally he offered his bit. “I don’t know what fate is. Fate always seems to have something else in mind other than what I want. It surely doesn’t seem kind. I don’t even know if there is fate. If there is, I wish it would leave me alone so I can do what I want to do.”

“What do you think Fate is Nano”, said Cowboy, politely trying to involve him in conversation even though normally Nano just listened. Some people had come to the habit of saying things to Nano to tease him for his rumored statement that he was an admiral of a space fleet, treating him with a combination of small ridicule and the desire to hear him say something else they could use against him because he was crazy. Cowboy wasn’t doing that, but neither did he expect Nano to comment, usually he just shrugged, but every once in a while, depending on company, he said some peculiar things, which Cowboy found interesting.

“Cowboy, your statement about Fate is similar to what is often called Destiny. That ordering of life into inevitable linear consequences which are unavoidable and often attributed to gods and other divine beings for purposes only they know. Fisherman, your view of Fate is more like it is a being with intelligent intent which serves its’ own needs and interests, meddling into your life but with no wisdom or concern for your happiness.” He paused a bit to let the two consider that, then he continued.

“Instead of thinking of Fate as destiny or as an intelligent but dispassionate entity, try a third perspective, if only for the sake of comparison. Try thinking of Fate as a cosmic influence along the lines of a force, as in physics. Think of it as neither an entity with intelligence or a step by step plan of destiny. Think instead of Fate as a fundamental reality of existence which for the lack of it there would be chaos. Think of it as the ‘light’ of life that gives meaning to being. If it is so, then you come to other possible ways of dealing with it. What would they be?”

Admiral Nano had spoken slowly, not because they would not understand what he said, but Cowboy and Fisherman would not understand what he was implying. As he spoke, with purpose and emphasis carefully, making small gestures which gave more subtle importance to his phrases, he looked at them carefully, using his body language and demeanor to help them focus on the ideas he was proposing they think about. Only in the second, fourth and fifth sentence was the meat of what he proposed, so it had been brief and condensed.

When ask after a few moments, he repeated those very lines. They had it then and for a while there was only the snapping of embers and the hiss of fish dripping fat into the fire, a most delicious smell.

Finally, Fisherman stirred from his thoughts. “That is a lot to think about. It’s pretty strange idea. I’m not sure what that implies, ‘a force fundamental to the existence of reality’. I can see how if that’s true the lack of it might be chaos.”

Cowboy was looking at Fisherman, then turned to continue at Nano. “I’d like to say that is some sort of fancy nonsense, but I can’t look at you and say that. You obviously have some well thought out ideas there, whether they’re true or not. That part about ‘light of life giving meaning to being’ is weird. I don’t know what that means. It sounds good, but I’ll have to think about it.”

Nano smiled. “That’s understandable. Normally how life came to be is explained on Earth one of two ways. The first is the ‘will of God’, an omnipotent and omniscient being. The second, Darwinian evolution based on mutation of DNA, or what is the study of genetics. Let me add an idea. There are two concepts about existence typically left out of those two explanations of how things came to be. They are Life and Fate. Neither can exist alone, only together. Consider them fundamental twin cosmic forces that in any reality or dimension are always necessary. They have to exist before there can be anything or any entity. If you start there as an assumption for the sake of discussion, laying aside any doubts and treating those points as given, then you can make decent progress on what Fate actually might be and why it is connected to Life. Be forewarned though, that while I can help you focus on this possibility, it will require you to spend some time seriously contemplating and temporarily ridding yourself of the propaganda and brainwashing that inhibits such unusual ideas. If you can’t do that, you’ll gain nothing.”

“I see how that goes with the other thing you said before, sorta.” Fisherman replied as he and Cowboy nodded at each and what Nano was implying sank in. It was a lot to think over, but at least they had a starting point if they wanted to follow it.

Cowboy interjected, “Hey, the fish is ready to eat”. All three looked at the roasted fish which smelled wonderful. As they ate, Fisherman and Cowboy contemplated Nano’s point of view. Nano let his mind return to nature, the great abundant diversity of life which surrounded the threesome.

Life, that mysterious unknown force that drives all things in all planes of existence. Fate, that which gives Life meaning, guides it and makes it meaningful. Taking many forms in many realities, these two forces were the requirements to all else.

Posted in Homelessness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Benefaction of Churches


“Would you look at that?”, said ‘Christian’ Dave. “King of the Ant Pile” Berney is back in line for his second plate even though they just told us no seconds yet till everyone has had a chance to eat. That guy really thinks he’s special and rules don’t apply to him.”

NASA Henry nodded, “I guess when you’re spending your whole life here you think you can do whatever you want. You’ve made it your home, so why should you listen to what others in charge tell you? He’s been here for ten years or more everyone says.”

‘NASA’ Henry sat beside Christian Dave and across from Admiral Nano at a dirty table inside the warehouse, a terrible place. They watched as Berney was given more by the church volunteers even as others in line complained about it. The commotion drew the attention of the staff that ran the shelter and soon the King of the Ant Pile was back out of line, without a plate of food, which he didn’t like. In the process, three others were removed for the same reason. Things settled down, which would probably last a minute till the next trouble started somewhere else for some other reason.

“I’m getting sick of bums like that”, said Christian. “He thinks he’s immune to consequences.”

“He pretty much is. He’s been here so long, the staff doesn’t even discipline him anymore. I’ve never seen him kicked out for three days or more and he causes trouble all the time.” NASA shook his head as he looked at his own empty plate. The burger that had been served was made of a small bun, a slice of cheese and a small beef patty. A handful of chips and a glass of water added to it constituted todays’ supper. NASA was much hungrier than that.

“If they’d bring in more food”, said Christian, as if reading NASA’s mind, “people would be less aggressive about getting in line for seconds before others had their first plate of food.”

NASA reminded Christian and Nano, “Ah, but remember, we’re lucky to get anything. That’s what staff tells us right? If it weren’t for the churches, we starve. We should be grateful to be fed.”

“Right”, said Christian Dave. “if it weren’t for the churches we’d be in real trouble. Too bad they can’t help us get out of here. I’d like a real job, not one from a temp service at minimum wage. If I had a decent job, I’d be able to have my own place and eat what I wanted. Too bad they can’t help us find a job.”

NASA, “Well, if they did that, then there would be less homeless people. If there were less people at the shelter, they couldn’t ask for as much federal grant money for the programs they say they have here to help us, which of course is BS.”

As NASA Henry, Christian Dave and Admiral Nano watched the line, more homeless came in to eat for their first time. Not so far away, King of the Ant Pile Berney looked unhappy. He was a late middle-aged man with shabby clothes. His main claim to fame was having been here a long time. He thought of himself as knowing everything about anything and in particular anything about the shelter, how it worked and each and every member of the regular staff. He made like he was everyone’s friend, but that was while he was hustling cigarettes, drugs, playing loan shark, and other cons and cheats. He was in fact an egomaniac with delusions of grandeur. King of the Ant Pile thought of himself as indispensable to the successful running and management of the shelter while the truth was he was just one of many residents. He often bragged about how much he knew and how without him, the staff wouldn’t know what to do or be able to do many of it’s chores to take care of the homeless.

King of the Ant Hill was a womanizer, in addition to being a liar and rogue. No one could count how many women he attempted to charm or was willing to kiss on the mouth or lie to for them to hear what they wanted to hear. It was pretty clear since he never left the hill, rarely that is, that he planned to live and die at the shelter, his home. Here, he had no responsibility despite his claims otherwise. If there had of been any permanent responsibility given him, it would only be a short time till he chose not to fulfill it. Rumor had it he knew something about martial arts. But it wasn’t likely. That was based on was his own hype. That he was a drunk and a drug user was obvious, though he vehemently refuted still doing drugs. People continued to come in to eat. Berney was thoroughly disgusted with not having been able to bull his way into a line to cheat a second meal before others had any. He gave up and went to his cot to bed down.

Nano thought about what he had heard Henry and Dave say. He’d been here at the shelter in Aurora, IL for some time now and while he couldn’t say he had seen it all, he’d seen a lot. He had observed a catch-22 between the aid the churches gave and the result of them giving aid to so many. This dichotomy was unfortunate, especially since the churches it involved seemed totally unaware of it. The nature of it revolved largely around the resources that were consumed by the shelter in order to take care of the homeless ‘guests’. It was the churches without which the shelter would not be able to operate or be funded adequately. The churches had teams of volunteers who would come to the shelter during the day, evening and at night to a lesser degree, in order to help run the shelter and provide the man power it took to keep it going. Additionally, they spent a part of the churches budget doing support for the shelter, mostly centered around the cost of food. But no doubt, some was donated to be used as the shelter saw fit. They also gathered clothes, helped sponsor fund raisers, collect clothes to give the poor and all manner of things. For this Nano thought highly of them.

What was interesting is that for all those thousands of hours spent collectively by the churches and most likely tens of thousands of dollars per month, the churches were in many ways their own worst enemies. The more help they gave out, the larger the shelter had become over time. With more money, beds, food, clothing, etc, came more homeless to take advantage of it. Did the churches consider that the basic foundational philosophy of the shelter which was to provide help to any and all who came here was a largely self-defeating philosophy? Most of the people at the shelter had created their own problems which led directly to them being here. For many like King of the Ant Hill, he had no intention of moving on in life or being productive. He was happy to live off the generosity of the church, ducking responsibility for himself the rest of his somewhat unnatural life. While it was within the shelters’ founding church philosophy to feed, house and cloth this full grown, well aged, physically able man, it was also ridiculous to do so. Every resource he consumed could have gone to someone else wanting to move out of the shelter and become ‘normal’ again.

It was a waste of money, time and resources to not be solving homeless, but be promoting it. It takes a well designed system to help a man who comes to the shelter find his way back out into society. That is a good use of resources. Helping someone regain his life, return to self-dependence, self-esteem, become a taxpaying supporter of the country, was a good thing for the nation. Indefinitely supporting lazy people who had no ambitions or desires to move but intent on selfishly using as many resources as they could made no sense to Nano. There was not enough money to help people back into society and let people live indefinitely at the Aurora shelter.

The churches were good at feeding the poor and homeless, but they were bad at helping people leave the shelter. The shelter had become an easy place to come to, but a very hard place to leave. The shelter actually enabled dependencies like alcoholism and drug use. If you needed a bus pass for a job interview, it was hard to get and sometimes not available. If you wanted transportation to go look for a job, it wasn’t available. If you wanted to be on the Internet at the shelter to look for a job online, it was unavailable. If you needed a bike to go look for a job, it was for others who had jobs. Then again, most of the ‘guests’ with bikes weren’t looking for jobs or had them. They had lied to get a bike, or quit the job they’d had to get them. Or stolen the bike from someone else. If you wanted to leverage your own time spent looking for work with someone at the shelter who had connections with companies needing employees, well, there was no one on the shelters’ staff who was doing that. The closest to that was a woman showing people how to create simple resumes.

If you were looking for a job while a guest of the shelter, you were in a quandary. It either needed to be a job along a bus route or in walking distance. If not then you weren’t realistically going to be able to go to work there. If you were willing to work second or third shift, you were out of opportunity to do so, since there was an early curfew at the shelter. Even if you got permission to come in late from work, you’d be missing a meal. More importantly, you’d be missing your only opportunity to sleep a decent length of time. You’d find yourself sleep deprived and suffering it at work to the consternation of your employer. The churches provided no transportation in a van for those who might find work away from such a bus route or farther than one could walk. Many of the ‘guests’ were antisocial, untrustworthy, abusive, anti-authoritative types who would scheme to abuse such well-intended help. That doesn’t logically excuse a charity or their supporters from trying to provide job help or support. It means that any such system has to be well monitored for abuse, preferable with someone or group that knows most of the homeless individually and can make common sense decisions based on good guidelines so that the resources are not being wasted, but used as intended by those that have proven they are serious about moving on and getting out of the shelter back to real life.

Nano found his mind going down many paths that had to do with this kind of thinking. It was a complex problem. Was it that it had been thought of before by the churches or the shelter, but rejected as not worth the trouble? Was it not worth trouble to help people get out of the shelter successfully? It seemed to Nano that for every one person who made it out, it would be worth it to put up with ten people abusing it like King of the Ant Hill. Church volunteers were selectively blind. Whatever the answer, it was strange to Nano to see so many wanting work, but with no way to find it, no help in finding it, no way to get to work if you found it inconveniently placed, or many other worthy points like helping those with mental disorders, learning disabilities, etc. Merely keeping the status quo of homelessness instead of trying to be rid of it to some degree was itself a kind of insanity of the staff and churches. Mankind had strange priorities for the poor and downtrodden.


Posted in Homelessness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Soup Nazi

Over the headphones Nano listened to Cats In The Cradle, a Harry Chapin song. Part of studying human culture was being involved in what they did, aside from his chosen homelessness. A song about a man to busy working for his family to be a part of it. A man heavily involved in the delusion of taking care of family, while not giving them what they most needed, his presence and love. The father was going through the motions, but not really involved with the family.

“Now, everyone bow their heads for prayer” ordered Soup Nazi Beatrice. Having read a passage of scripture to over a hundred people at lunch time that she adamantly demanded be respectful with silence while reading the bible, now was the mandatory bowing of the head. Beatrice was going through the motions of caring, but not really involved with the homeless, giving love and respect.

“Dear Lord” she started. “Remind us of your love and affection in our times of need. Even though we may not have all we want we are blessed to have people take care of us, see to our needs, tell us what to do and help us with our responsibilities which we cannot do ourselves. Bless the churches whom without their help we’d be lost. Though we have nothing, we are grateful they decide to come here and we are honored by their faith, presence and above all, their example of how to live which we the homeless need to see.”

Someone mumbled lowly, “God bless Beatrice so that when she heels over, hopefully she won’t fall in the soup that we are blessed enough to receive from our morally superior fellow citizens.” There were a few chuckles and more smiles and Beatrice paused briefly, then continued.

“Dear Lord, please remind us that we need everything we get and to not acknowledge you is a sin. We know that those who are lost and helpless are often condemned, but with encouragement can be saved from their own folly. Amen.”

The forced head-bowing was over. ‘Guests’ could look up now without fear of being scolded for not being respectful to the church volunteers who had showed up to serve a Sloppy Joe lunch for the third day in a row. Nano didn’t like this meal, so after waiting patiently for his table to be called according to a random pulling of names on cups on various tables, he decided to only have salad. Salad consisted of nothing more than lettuce without dressing. Not much of a meal, but the homeless were constantly told to be thankful for having anything to eat, thanks to the blessed folk from local churches. If you weren’t properly humble and appreciative, you could easily be dismissed from supper and go hungry. It was like being a rebellious child at family dinner and being sent up to your room. Except of course, the homeless here were mostly full grown adults being treated as children. It surely had no positive bearing on the naturally low self-esteem of people have lost their homes, possessions, jobs, families and pride.

Returning to his table, Nano forked some lettuce from his small foam bowl into his mouth. Beatrice approached and stopped behind the man who’d made the comment earlier during prayer, though it was hard to believe she’d actually made sense of the lowly spoken humor offered.

“I heard what you said”, she told Dennis ‘The Roller’. That was his nickname because he was often found rolling squares (cigarettes) late at night in the warehouse with Lawyer Joe. “If you can’t be respectful and bow your head, you are free to go outside and wait till supper is over.”

Dennis wasn’t about to take a direct challenge lightly, though maybe it would cost him. “I believe I have a constitutional right to practice religion as I see it, or to practice a lack of religion. Forcing us to bow our heads isn’t right. We might do it to be nice, but being forced on threat of being put out is unfair and religions bullying.”

Soup Nazi Beatrice stared at The Roller like Satan had just risen up out of the floor and plopped down to eat her sacred bread. “You’ll bow your head Dennis or I’ll make an example out of your disrespect for those who come here to feed you. You’re lucky they give time to the homeless. The least you can do is bow your head even if you don’t believe.”

The irony and hypocrisy of that made Nano frown. He did a mental head shake. This was the nature of religions, cults, zealots and believers. Whatever they wanted or ask was right and everyone else was wrong. You can’t discuss logically such things with them, only bear it and move on. At least The Roller wasn’t going to be burned at a stake, drawn and quartered. or some other gruesome torture. He could only be punished relatively lightly for being disrespectful by not faking belief at the supper table.

“Hey Beatrice”, ask Lawyer Joe. He was a bit miffed that his friend The Roller had been dressed down and that anyone who didn’t want to participate in a religious ceremony was not entitled to just sit quietly and look around patiently for it all to be over. “If you were in Tibet at a supper and you were asked to recite a prayer to Buddha, would you do so out of respect for those feeding you, or would you show them disrespect by refusing them and thus insulting the hosts who were being kind enough to not only feed you, but bed you and show you around?”

“Okay that is enough” Soup Nazi stiffened. “You and Dennis leave now and stay out till supper is over. I don’t have to put up with your sinful, disrespectful ways during mandatory listening and prayer. Get out!”

Lawyer Joe, The Roller Dennis and Admiral Nano got up to leave, gathering their backpacks and heavy coats, for it was ten below zero outside and a stiff winter wind awaited them in the dark night.

“I didn’t say you had to go Nano” Soup Nazi said. “You can stay.”

“No thanks. I’m not hungry enough to swallow your religion. I’ll wait for breakfast tomorrow.” Nano smiled politely while several others around the table nearby laughed. A few hours was going to be a long time to sit and freeze like ice before they were let in again.

Posted in Homelessness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Insanity Is Crazy

A black man mumbled to himself constantly, a conversation with no one but his alter ego. He was a schizophrenic. Not far away, another young man simply stood and stared at the staff member at the check-in desk. He was mentally retarded and a kleptomaniac. There was no way to tell what he was thinking, he spoke no words, standing like an immobile statue and unblinkingly staring for over an hour now. In the back of the stinking, hot and nasty warehouse two black men, a Mexican and a caucasian were arguing with each other in loud threatening voices. Two of those men suffered from Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), an ongoing pattern of anger guided disobedience, hostilely defiant behavior toward authority figures.

The most common ailment at Aurora’s shelter was an almost unanimous and over-whelming self-centeredness. It was common to hear a person’s initial reply to a request be, “Fuck you and everyone else here” as they refused to behave themselves in preference to doing whatever suited them alone. So, perhaps the most prevalent mental disorder was Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), a personality disorder characterized by a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others.

Many tried to sleep, starting as early as 8pm, right after supper. Perhaps they were tired, so retiring early, but for many, sleeping was better than facing their miserable existence. They managed with various success to ignore the reverberating noise coming off of brick walls and the soot covered metal roof above them. Scores of people talking, shouting, laughing, arguing, moving, opening lockers, eating, snoring, or even pissing near their bunks made it nearly impossible to sleep. Most of the shelter’s ‘guests’ waited patiently in the sweltering building or outside for lights out. It wouldn’t be until 9pm when the female population of the shelter had to leave the supper area that men had a chance to go to bed or relax. When they did so they’d strip to their briefs or boxers nearly naked in an effort to stay cool in the oven like building in which they were being housed.

Many of those at the shelter were drunks, drug-users and heavy smokers. As a result, some suffered from Acute Organic Brain Syndrome, a state of mental impairment resulting from intoxication, drug overdose, infection, pain, and many other physical problems. Some were epileptics, suffering seizures on a regular basis. Others were diabetics. Some had pacemakers in them as a result of bad heart problems. Others had broken bones from fights and falls, usually from drunkenness but sometimes foolish activity. A good number were diagnosed having Bipolar Disorder, swaying daily from hyperactive and manic behavior to sulking depression that sometimes ended in suicide attempts. Nearby a fat young boy, homeless at eighteen, who was known to be an ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) was present a good handful of cases and reared it’s ugly head.

In short, most of the insanities that human kind suffered were present in this shelter in a condensed microcosm of humanity. What they all had in common ‘Normal’ people spent little time addressing such problems as mental disorders for homeless or poor people, since that would require too many resources and costs. Aunt Martha’s, a charitable health program, offered limited medical help with its’ small staff, but no mental help. The usual result of a visit to Aunt Martha’s services was a prescription of pills. Homeless, maladjusted folk found themselves crowded into each other in a mentally and physically unhealthy, stressful environment which accentuated their ailments and gave them new problems.

Admiral Nano observed it all in detail, analytically considering what it implied about human society. This nation of the United States declared itself the most successful, richest country in human history to this date. Some citizens were critical of this claim in the face of the poor economy, corporate scandals, political bias, joblessness and homelessness. But nearly all Americans were treating this lowest echelon of society as something worthless, to be ignored as if it had no bearing on their own welfare and well-being. Despite their taxes being used in greater amounts yearly to keep their fellow citizens from starving to death in large numbers, they pretended it wasn’t important or related to their own everyday lives. The truth is that homelessness was growing and driving many problems to become worse. People from all sectors of society were finding themselves homeless now. Laid off, homes foreclosed, ripped off by poor banking practices, socialistic politics subtly creating a larger lower class so the government can put people on the dole to control them, wall street abuse, etc., many were falling out of the middle class into poverty in historic numbers.

This was the kind of activity that Nano knew preceded the death of nations, societies, cultures and sometimes even resulted in the extinction of a species. He’d seen it many times in many places. It had happened on Earth uncounted times already, but history was never appreciated and learned from except by a few whom the masses ignored or misjudged or mistrusted because knowledge by a few intimidates the ignorant majority. From the Sumerians to the Egyptians to Romans to Napoleon, from pagans to the Catholic church to Protestants, humankind consistently ignored history. So, what did this have to do with homelessness? A society was as strong as the weakest link and when that link was too weak, empires and cultures broke apart, crumbled. Perhaps something would jolt the attitudes of mankind, wake them up to the impending failure of taking their fellow human beings for granted or squabbling over issues which stalled their species’ progress into the future.

Today, sitting with the homeless, it didn’t seem likely.

Posted in Homelessness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TB Nurses

“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.

Posted in Homelessness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Warehouse

The metal bunk beds, three tall, with Nano on the middle, Lawyer Joe on bottom and the top bunk used for storage, shook as Lawyer moved below. Then a blue light popped on and Nano knew Lawyer was unable to sleep in the steaming, oppressive heat of the warehouse. As the computer screen came up Nano tried to not think of the sweat rolling off his body onto his soaked sheets. For a homeless man he’d been relatively clean when he went to bed, but by morning he’d smell like he’d slept in a tub of sweat. Sighing unhappily, he looked at his wet t-shirt hanging on the bed trying to dry in the breeze created by a nearby fan. It was over a hundred degrees inside the warehouse, very humid and it would take all night for the shirt to dry. In the morning he’d put the shirt on for the fourth day along with the drying denim pants. He would be leaving the shelter as the sun crested the horizon, already looking for someplace to go inside and escape the coming heat. The sooner Admiral Nano found a cool place for the rest of the day the less sweating he’d do. Life for the homeless was a matter of sweat management, avoiding heat stroke and dehydration. A quick ‘bird bath’ somewhere Nano wouldn’t be discovered would be a luxury. It was a ridiculous, sad lifestyle Nano had chosen.

“Lawyer”, Nano ask leaning out from his bunk to see the man. “What time is it?”

“About 2:30am” was the response. “I can’t sleep in this heat. I’m gonna use my computer a bit and hope it cools down a couple degrees. Maybe it’ll drop below a hundred in here.” Lawyer returned to staring at the screen where numbers on a spreadsheet highlighted the Wall Street data he studied.

Aurora is the second largest city in Illinois, with the second largest homeless shelter, usually about 150 people, not counting another facility where families lived. Sometimes over two hundred could be found at the shelter. The warehouse was not where ‘guests’ were normally found sleeping or eating. Guests was the term given to the homeless by the church driven charity this shelter was based on. The main facility where homeless would normally eat and sleep was under repair, long over due. It’s ventilation system was being fixed so that a hundred men sleeping side by side on the third floor on thin, filthy pads laid on a dirty floor might have it a bit better there than had been the case for quite a while. Unfortunately, instead of scheduling the work for late winter, perhaps April, when the coldest of winter had passed and the heat of summer had yet to arrive, the work was now taking place in high summer, when the highest temperatures could be expected. During the winter the homeless are exposed to below freezing temperatures by being outside all day long. Protection involves adding layers of clothing. Getting inside a McDonalds or the library when the shelter wasn’t providing shelter for hours a day is also crucial. Strange that it should fall to businesses to do what the shelter sometimes won’t do. It is easy enough to add layers of clothing to counter being cold, but in the current heat wave around the Chicago area, one could only take off so much clothing. The men lay in their underwear at night getting little sleep, enduring till morning and commanded to get up. Then they’d eat whatever cold breakfast was available before leaving to find more shelter some where cool like a McDonalds or the Aurora Library.

But despite it’s large size, Aurora, Illinois has a busted economy, a result of the national recession and typical of most cities and states. The citizens of Aurora are almost entirely unaware of the hardships the nearby shelter and their ‘guests’ were coping with. ‘Guests’, as if the homeless were at a hotel with showers, clean bathrooms and beds. It was an unfunny choice of word to describe those dependent on charity to keep from starving or being naked. True, the local residents had their own problems, but only the generosity of the shelter’s founding churches and others who’d come to help since that time made the shelter possible. ‘Normals’ had their own blinders on.

Nano got up to get a drink of water out of a water jug near the open truck doors that were the entrance to the warehouse. Nano wasn’t quite sure what had been stored at the warehouse. It had been unused for many years till the current dilemma forced the homeless into it. Many legal permits were rumored to have been waived by Aurora officials in order to put the homeless in the warehouse. It was a filthy, dirty, awful place to be. Despite well-meaning cleaning efforts, it was nasty. The actual main shelter had been designed to be an incinerator unit for Aurora. It looked to Nano, judging by the dark soot on every surface of the warehouse, as if the burned contents of the former incinerator unit had been transported across the street to be stored at the warehouse. Perhaps then the burned remnants were then hauled out from the concrete loading platform, or what Nano sometimes called the ‘veranda’. The homeless could not walk on the concrete floors within the warehouse without getting their feet very black with ‘soot’ left everywhere. It covered the walls and windows to the degree you could not see through them. It was pervasive and probably one of those ignored health hazards the city had waived in order to put the homeless men here for as long at it the repairs across the street took.

The warehouse had no internal bathrooms. It had no water fountains, food services, heating or air-conditioning that worked. It did have bad lighting and overall was what one would expect of a bug-laden, unused old building that had gone neglected for many years. Nano, an admirer of history, likened it more to a German internment camp of earth’s last world war. But that of course was unfair to those that had suffered such wartime locations. The water jug was empty. Nano decided to visit one of seven portable toilets that over one hundred men used regularly and located a short distance away from the warehouse near the nature trail running near the warehouse. The public hiked or biked all day past the warehouse where the homeless lived. Nano often felt like a zoo animal as the public stared down upon the denizens of the dirty warehouse. The portable toilets were emptied once per week. Infested with flies and nearly full to the brim Nano tried hard not to breath or smell and made his exit as soon as possible. He wore only boxers and some slip-on shoes and when finished relieving himself, strode the rocky, muddy dirt back to the warehouse.

 Returning to his sweaty bed he laid down once more. Nano thought about Aurora, the shelter, ‘normal’ citizens and the homeless citizens. Nano was on earth to experience how the lowest class of humankind lived in what was at this time supposed to be the most advanced nation on earth. Mankind had some strange priorities.

Posted in Homelessness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trouble At McDonalds

Although Nano prefer The River’s Edge Cafe, which he usually just called the Cafe, there were times when it wasn’t open so he had to go elsewhere. The Cafe closed at mid-afternoon. That was too soon for Nano and some others to go back to the shelter and sit for hours till supper. However, many of the homeless did just that, sit all day just waiting to get inside the main facility, or now the warehouse. Day after day like pigeons they roosted waiting to eat or sleep inside where it was cooler or warmer depending on season, or sleep at a table. Many barely ever left the shelter, would not even walk a mile into downtown Aurora. It seemed a very limited existence to Nano to be self-constrained to just the shelter, as if pretending the nearby world didn’t exist or to be threatened by it or feel uncomfortable in it amongst the ‘normal’ citizens. To merely shuffle from one spot to the other depending on the hours of breakfast, lunch, supper and bedtime was little more than being dead.

Yet, Nano was interested in learning how homeless people existed, what they thought and their habits. That was why he was here. Today he had ask Father Pope where else homeless people went to stay cool, since clearly only a few had shown up at the Cafe on the few occasions he’d gone there. Father had suggested he go to the McDonalds in south downtown Aurora. Father Pope even came with him to show the way, since Nano was unfamiliar with the area. It was a short walk of about 25 minutes, but the morning was already hot and humid and both sweating when they got there at 7am. It was cool in the restaurant and having brought their computers, they settled onto an table large enough for both to use with electrical outlets nearby.

Over the next hour more homeless came to McDonalds and they usually sat one per table. ‘Normal’ customers came and went as they headed to work, just grabbing a bit or coffee or both. Some normals came inside and sat, but left soon. The homeless were more interested in staying for a few hours or more, so it wasn’t long before a good portion of the tables were occupied with homeless people from the Aurora shelter looking to avoid the hot day and thus keep some cleanliness about them by not soaking shirts in their sweat. Being broke, they hardly ordered food, yet coffee or soda was the norm. That might not be much business income per person Nano realized, but given they came five or six times per week in numbers, it had to be the most regular group to frequent the eatery and thus, a nice steady income that amounted to more than even several sizable families eating there everyday. Unfortunately, today wasn’t going to be a good day at McDonalds for the homeless. After about an hour and with at least half the restaurant tables loaded with homeless a shelter resident came in drunk and sat down by a patron with paint splattered pants and a shirt.

The drunk, Jose ‘Cuervo’, confronted the man loudly, “When you gonna pay me fer the work I did? You said youse gonna pay me. Give me my money!”

“Hey pal, sit down. No need to shout here in public”, said the patron, an self-employed, part-time painter named Henry Diddle.

Cuervo grunted and sat down clumsily. His clothes were dirty from laying last night in some woodsy spot to sleep. He smelled bad and he had several days of beard growth on his sallow cheeks. “I just want my money. You owe it to me fer that paintin job I done.”

“I’m gonna pay you, but I have to go to the bank to get it”, replied Diddle. “You going to be around this afternoon? I can pay you then.”

“No, I’m not falling for that agin”, said Cuervo. “You said that yesterday and last week on Friday. You don’t wanna pay me. You better pay me or I’ll call the police you sonofabitch. Pay me!”

By now the restaurant was all listening to this exchange including the morning manager with an unpleasant look you couldn’t blame her for. Nano thought it was all very interesting. The dynamics were complex. Patrons, both ‘normal’ and homeless, the staff, a drunk confronting a patron, a social conflict about a job done and not being paid for it. Nano thought the homeless looked both nervous and amused. The ‘normal’ people looked disgusted and upset. The staff was trying to ignore the event, but the manager didn’t have that luxury. She was staring at the two men, deciding what course to take, depending on how this event transpired over the next minute.

“Look”, Diddler repeated, “I promise to pay you today. Just let me get to the bank and met me back here later today.”

“No”, Cuervo yelled. He was getting really wild now in his stupor. “You’re lying. You’re a liar. You’re always late with paying people who work for you. Pay me now or I’m calling cops. Pay me goddamit!” he ended fuming, face red and his breath smelling of vodka.

The painter looked around, noticing the manager headed this way. He’d run out of options, so he took out his wallet, removed $50 and paid the drunk. “Now that was all I had, but you couldn’t wait, so now I’m broke.”

“Your broke?” shouted the drunk. “Do it look like to you I got money? I ain’t working for you agin and Ima telling everybody what a lying cheat you are.”

“Gentlemen”, said the McDonalds’ manager, a short, robust Hispanic woman, now beside them. “I’m going to ask both of you to leave now. You’re behavior is unacceptable. Yelling and cursing and being drunken isn’t allowed in here. Please leave now and next time, settle your business before you enter the restaurant.”

The two men left, but the manager turned to the rest of the homeless. The homeless looked at her like they knew what was coming and were just waiting for the bomb to drop.

“There is a thirty minute time limit policy in this McDonalds. Either buy something or leave. If you’ve been here a half-hour and most of you have been, please leave unless your going to buy something right now.”

The ‘normal’ patrons seemed to nod slightly and take relief from her words, even though a good portion of them had been here that long too and more. They knew they were exempt to this thirty minute rule, it was for the homeless. The homeless looked unhappy and upset now. They started to pick up their coffee, bags and whatever else they’d brought with them and make for the doors. There was some grumbling about the fairness of it, who was to blame, the drunk or the painter or the manager or the policy, some of those or all of those. Father and Nano exited McDonalds, but past the door while some lighted up cigarettes, Father paused and looked at Nano.

 “Now you see what happens when someone makes a problem and how things are. We all pay for one person or two’s mistakes or bad habits. It’s not fair, but it’s the way it usually is. They wouldn’t ask all the ‘normal’ people to leave if one of them made a problem, but homeless are all equally guilty by association.”

 Nano nodded, having seen it for himself. It was a lesson of sorts for him, but all he could think to say at this point was, “It’s a strange priority system.”

Posted in Homelessness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Name

Nano sat at The River’s Edge Cafe, eating his Black Bean Burger. With him was Jim ‘Father’ Pope, an older man whom Nano had met soon after checking into the shelter. Father was a very good guitar player, at least, to Nano he seemed good. Nano had never seen a guitar before and Father owned several which were different from each other. Father had tried to explain to Nano why he owned more than one guitar and what the difference was, but Nano’s ear was not used to such subtleties. When they had been joined on that day by a couple of other homeless men Father had introduced them to Nano, a kind gesture. Hospitality is a bit rare in truth at a shelter, but some still appreciated it from days when they were ‘normal’, so after a bit, the others had respectfully shown an interest in Nano’s background and ask him about it. As he sat eating his burger, he remembered back to that recent day.

“What’s your name?” ask one of the two other men who had joined Father Pope and Nano two days back.

“I don’t have a name, that is, one you can pronounce”, said Nano to the group. Pope looked at him curiously, having not ask Nano on the first occasion what his name was.

“What do you mean by that?”, said the same man who’d ask the question.

“Tell me what your name is please”, Nano replied.

“My name is Henry, but people call me NASA, cause I used to be an engineer for NASA”, said the man first man again. Nano smiled at him and nodded, then turned to look at the other man that had come in with Henry.

“My name is Dave, but I’m called Christian Dave, sometimes I talk about God. Kinda depends on who’s with me. Not everyone at the shelter likes talking about god.”

Nano spoke, “Nice to met you Dave and Henry. See, I can pronounce your names, but my name would make no sense to you and I don’t think you could pronounce it.”

“Are you from some strange country?” ask Dave. “Is that why we can’t pronounce your name, like you’re from Poland or something?”

“No, I’m not from Poland. Perhaps the three of you can help me have a good name like you have?” He looked at the Jim, Henry and Dave expectantly. They looked at him, a bit startled, but recovering.

NASA Henry started, “Okay, well, we can give you a nickname. What do you like to do? What kind of things have you done or know. Like I was an engineer at NASA, so I got the NASA thing for a nickname. What do you know about?” They all were into this now, like something unusual to do and helpful for a newcomer.

“I like nanotechnology and I’m an Admiral”, Nano answered.

There was a pause, then they all grinned and started laughing, sure that it was a joke. Christian Dave recovered first.

“Okay, then we call you Admiral Nano. I don’t think you’re an Admiral though. You sound crazy to me. But there are a lot of crazy people at the shelter and that don’t make you bad to hang with.” That was Dave’s opinion and the others nodded, not willing to add anything for reasons of politeness, after all, maybe Nano was crazy and maybe he was just inventive and imaginative.

Nano contemplated the name. “I like that name, Admiral Nano. It fits. Call me that, or just Nano perhaps.”

Father Pope nodded and the rest considered it settled, though of course, their curiosities were really going. However, Dave wasn’t quite ready to let it all rest, so he ask, “What are you an Admiral of?”

There was no easy way out of explaining it so Nano replied, “I’m Admiral of a fleet of interstellar space ships.”

“What?” Christian Dave managed. “Never mind, I heard you.”

Father Pope looked a bit red in the face and NASA Henry was at a loss. “It doesn’t matter”, said Father. “Your welcome to hang with us. Many of us have alter egos or stories we believe.” He looked from Dave to Henry pointedly. “So, from now on, your Admiral Nano, or just Nano. Works for me.” The other two glanced at each other, then at Nano and smiled. It was unlikely to really be over.

 So, that was how Nano had come by his name that day at The River’s Edge Cafe.

Posted in Homelessness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer Heat Wave

“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.

Posted in Homelessness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment