I can’t believe it’s only day 12. I feel like I’ve been here much longer than what constitutes less than two and a half work weeks.
Today was by far the busiest day of my shelter cleaning career. I kept myself busy doing laundry again and tried to see how many sheets I could fold to match the first one I folded. All the sheets are donated so they are not typically the same size as the last. Some are twin, some are long twin, some are full sized. So, it can actually become quite a challenge to make them look like my mother’s closet with all the folded edges out, matching perfectly, stacked edge to edge. When I was done the closet looked like a hospital’s from 1920. Everything even, bleached white and neat.
Of course, unlike the nurses in 1920, I was wearing gloves.
Everything gets stolen in the shelter. I walked from the laundry room to the closet and back and the pen I was using was already swiped by a client. The shiny handles off of the water faucets in the mens bathroom have all been broken off since I’ve been there. I brought 12 cleaning rags to use because there was only one when I started working and there is now only one left again. The bleach and toilet paper are under lock and key.
Who steals dirty cleaning rags?
There is a madness and an anger that is the push and pull, the tide that ebbs and flows within the four walls of the courtyard. One moment someone is grinning at you like the cheshire cat and the next moment someone is so angry you’re afraid they might stab someone with the fork they are eating their lunch with. But how is this different from working with birth?
And then there is always Eric’s constant, unshifting watch whenever he is not counseling a vet. He always stands on the sidelines somewhere, staring into the crowd as if he is waiting for someone. Or perhaps prepared for something we know nothing about and will hopefully never see. Whatever he’s looking for, it feels like he would never miss it even in his sleep.
I asked Wendy what branch of the military he served in before he started serving the vets. She didn’t know. We both guessed the army. We have biases from working here about the different branches and it was funny to see that our biases line up. The marines are a little silly at times. The coast guard gets fat and lazy. The navy always looks like it belongs on the beach. The air force is eyeing the ladies. But the army never comes home from war.
As I was leaving there was a girl fight in the street. There was hair pulling and cussing and pushing and clawing. A few of the staff came to the gate to watch and comment that the skinny girl didn’t know what she was doing. I followed the two women down the street as they continued to try and punch each other senseless for a half a block toward where my car was parked. The skinny girl who didn’t know how to fight won and the chubby girl dabbed at her bloody nose and bruised face as 15 or so homeless men encouraged her to give up. She spit at one of them and told them she would never give up.
I’ve come to conclude that there is nothing different on these streets than I could see any day at South Coast Plaza or Beverly Hills. The people are ill, physically, mentally and spiritually. The only difference between skid row and the rest of the world, is the people here show it all on the outside.