Everyone and no one
The candy lady stood outside near Pathways’ entrance on my way in, swearing at someone only she could hear.
“Goddamn motherfucker…” I didn’t stick around to hear the rest.
Bonnie and the others who sat around the patio table helped me carry four yard bags full of my husband’s unwanted clothes into the building. We set the bags on top of the pool table.
They were excited. It was Tuesday – donation day.
“Are we doing beads today?” Bonnie asked.
“No. I can only do it once a month so it will last for the rest of the year. We can do it every second Tuesday of the month. Plus it doesn’t make good blogging material.”
They get so absorbed in the beadwork they don’t say much and it only takes about 40 minutes for them to make the eight stretchy cord bracelets that I allow them to make. Now that Fire Mountain Gems and Beads, my favorite jewelry supply company, has graciously donated enough beads and findings to allow beading classes once each month, I feel certain I have enough supplies to last a year. I can offer a necklace and earring workshop once a quarter too.
I gave Pathways’ manager a red crystal and black faceted bead bracelet. She has bright red hair, like she uses the intense colors you get from the product Manic Panic. She seemed to really like what I gave her as she took it out of the plastic zip lock bag.
“That’s so sweet. It’s wonderful.” She put it on. The manager seems wary of me sometimes and I wanted to let her know that I appreciate her working there and keeping things running smoothly. She can be gruff towards Pathways’ clients, but I understand from when I worked there that if you’re not firm they will take advantage of you.
I spread out the art supplies on the dining room table. Magazines, markers, scissors, glue, neon poster board and a fat folder of pictures to color. No one came over while about six people picked through the donations. Two men sat indifferently at computers, which are in the same room as the pool table. When Pathways originally purchased computers with internet access ten years ago, everyone wanted to use them. There was a sign-up sheet and a time limit. There are seven computers and I rarely see more than two people use them while I’m at Pathways these days. It may be because fewer clients have been coming to Pathways since the TV room burned down. Many of the participants in my workshop don’t know how to use computers. They got left behind.
A man held up a pair of my husband’s khakis eyeing the size. The others slung the clothes they wanted over their shoulders.
The candy lady came in. She didn’t say anything. She had a hot pink bandana on her head. The candy lady makes me wary. The others seem to feel the same way. She’s at least 5’10” and two hundred pounds and always seems agitated.
Vonda came over. I’ve known her the whole twelve years of my involvement with Pathways.
“Did they hire you back?”
“No. I just volunteer. Here’s two new National Geographic’s.” That’s the magazine they like most. She wasn’t interested. She left through the side door that leads to the front patio.
Trisha sat down next to me. She looked through the animal pictures I had printed off the internet the night before.
The candy lady came over jabbering incoherently. She usually asks me for candy, but that day she ignored me.
Trisha said, “Can you please be quiet.”
The candy lady left the room without saying anything.
Trisha pointed to a picture of a deer. “Bambi,” she said.
I looked at the book shelf. It was nearly empty.
Trisha said, “Do you know who can really draw? Grace.”
“I know. I have one of her drawings and have taken pictures of her other drawings. She’s sweet too. I haven’t seen her in a while. Do you know where she’s been?”
“She’s at Florida South.”
“For her COPD?”
“I’m not sure. She’s in ICU.”
A pall went through me. I was going to ask Trisha for Grace’s last name, but felt like I might cry in front of her and decided to say nothing. Trisha seemed unfazed. I don’t think she was callous. So many bad things happen to Pathways’ homeless clients that they’ve come to expect it. Grace continues to smoke even though she’s been in and out of the hospital for her COPD.
Trisha picked up a piece of green construction paper and a silver Crayola pencil. She chose two pictures. A kitten running in the grass and a dolphin jumping out of the water. She picked up the colored pencils then put them down. Then she took a National Geographic. I was afraid of asking Trisha if she had visited Grace.
The apathy there was palpable. Most had already spent their Social Security and didn’t have any cigarettes left. It was the third week of the month.
Trisha wrote in cursive on the kitten picture, “Looks playful.” I never know what they’re going to do with my supplies.
I noticed she had a digital watch and its face was blank. Why would she wear a broken watch? “As soon as she finishes I’ll leave,” I thought. She gave up on the pencils because they didn’t show up and picked up a gray fine line marker.
Jesus, the guy who made up games on scraps of cardboard the week before, sat down. I have a few notes about some of what we talked about, but I stopped taking notes in order to listen to him.
“Did you put my game on your computer?” he asked.
“Yes, but I haven’t posted it on my blog yet. I’m way behind. Do you want me to? You seemed unsure the last time I saw you.”
“Go right ahead. Use my name.”
“I can’t. I have to use a pseudonym.”
He pulled out some of the butterfly pictures he took the last time I saw him. He had colored one picture of two butterflies pink and blue. He left the flower in the picture uncolored.
I offered him neon poster board. “Could you use this for one of your games?”
“No, not unless you have white. Can you bring some next week?”
“I can’t come next week and I never show up the first week of the month. There’s no one here then so I don’t bother. The second Tuesday of the month I offer beading classes. The following two weeks of the month I offer what I have today.”
He wrinkled his nose. “I don’t want to bead.”
“You should try it. Even the guys do it. You get to keep what you make. If you do a good enough job, you can sell it. So think about it. I’ll be here the second Tuesday of next month. I hope I see you.”
“Maybe,” he said, staring at the book shelf.
Trisha wrote, “I Love dolphins.” on the picture of a leaping dolphin.
I heard the piano that’s in the foyer when you walk in the main entrance. I heard laughter.
Jesus showed me a book of sheet music. “I play guitar. I try to sing too. I love hymns. They used to pick us up for church but they don’t anymore. Now I have nothing.”
The candy lady returned, swearing incessantly.
“Stop, you fat motherfucker! Motherfucker stop!”
”Hey, hey, hey!” the manager said to make her stop. She did. The staff at Pathways is pretty tolerant. Some of the clients are like that and as long as they don’t directly threaten anyone they can stay.
“Talking to everyone and no one that’s how she is,” Jesus said.