The crowd was restless. The Halloween party was supposed to start at seven, but it was now almost eight and the staff was still trying to get the old speakers to work. They hired a DJ but told him not to worry about bringing his equipment. They could save some money by using their own. But in the end, all three speakers were a bust. They tried to call in a few favors, but nobody was answering their phones.
The staff was assembled in non-festive employee shirts. About ten of them gathered around the two men who attempted to get the sound system functional.
How many shelter workers does it take to fix some speakers? All of them, apparently.
The majority of the crowd outside was also not dressed up. I was suprised to see an acquaintance there with a star trek uniform on. Strange and misfitting in this gathering of street clothing. There was also a Michael Jackson and a Freddy Kruger without the blades.
And then, shining like stars in a pitch black sky, there was the handful of transgender masks and wigs and makeup and glitter and fluff. Which gave the festive feeling an attempt of sorts. There was talk of going to Hollywood later by hips that swayed and said “girlfriend” a lot.
“If they don’t get this show on the road, I’m leaving. I have curfew.” Complained one angry patron.
A young, slender female, who smelled of alcohol, stood in front of the lineup and hollared to the crowd, “If you have not taken a bath today. Do not come inside. I will kick yo ass right back out!”
I’m not exactly sure how I ended up working as a bouncer at a skid row Halloween dance party. Actually, come to think of it, the whole thing was pretty surreal. I’m sure I’m the last thing someone would expect at the door. You don’t get whiter than me. Or less festive. I think if I said “boo” I could actually scare someone.
One client, who I refer to as the “creative thinker” asked to go in even after I told him nobody was allowed entrance. He looked at me a little puzzled. Five minutes later I saw him bouncing around inside. He obviously found another door. Types like him should be running things. If he can ever put the drugs down he might someday.
Eventually there was bass coming from a speaker and then some crackling treble. The mic was fixed and the party began about an hour and a half late.
I brought some candy, thinking I would contribute. The candy I brought was the only candy there was. I still am having a hard time gripping the poverty we are talking about, not just for the homeless clients, but the amazing lack encountered by the staff and shelter as well. Most foreign outposts I’ve been to have more material things with which to serve. I try not to think about the strain that puts on the staff. It is hard to care for people’s needs when your own hands are tied.
Then again, it’s a balance. Give too much and some people stay homeless. Give too little and some people suffer needlessly.
I’m a single mother. I get that. And here is the place where those outside of skid row have an opportunity to partner with those who are caring for the needs on a daily basis. The staff knows that intricate balance and they need a bit more power to supply it so they can do their job with the heart they have committed.
The party was in full swing a whole ten minutes before the candy ran out. About thirty or forty people stood around and watched the brave few who danced to the blown speakers, strobe lights flashing on their wild and crazy grooves. The organge and black balloons taped to the walls vibrated with the bass. I could barely recognize the songs above the extraneous noise.
Eric was leaving. I hurried to walk with him to my car, afraid to walk unescorted on Halloween evening on these streets. I rarely am frightened anymore, but I get scared walking alone on Halloween night in any neighborhood. However, with someone like Eric by my side, I feel safe. Unfestive, but safe none the less.