Bonnie and Patty were playing rummy when I arrived at Pathways. Bonnie ate a plate of tuna casserole and played cards at the same time. Patty’s boyfriend Hank told Patty what cards she had. Patty’s visually impaired. Bonnie held her cards close to her.
A man shrouded by a white sheet was sleeping on three of the dining room chairs. Another man slept with a comforter in an armchair. With the TV room gone, this is the only way Pathways’ homeless clients can rest. Normally they would rest in the TV room.
“Call the landlord and have him thrown out,” a man across from me said into Patty’s cell phone. Patty shares the phone a lot. I wondered if they’re taking advantage of her.
“Didn’t I tell you he takes advantage of everyone? After he screwed me, he moved on to you,” Bonnie told him as soon as he hung up and gave the phone back to Patty.
They finished the game. Bonnie won.
“What’s going on?” I asked Bonnie.
“He took advantage of me. He wanted to move in with me. I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ I gave him a buck to pay for a night at the Coalition and bought him cigarettes. Then he moved on to John here. He’s a manipulator. I want nothing to do with him.”
They left the table to go outside to smoke. Everyone smokes here. It’s very common among seriously mentally ill people.
A multiracial man with a wispy voice asked, “Can I read a National Geographic?”
“Sure.” He had a stoma. He could barely talk. “Do you want to make a collage?” I asked. He showed me his right hand. His right hand fingers curled into his wrist. I wondered what happened to him. I was too afraid to ask.
A man whose name I forgot – a woman named Maria’s’s husband – gave me a note.
“She’s been banned for 90 days for hate speech. She was only repeating what someone else said,” he told me.
The note said, “I need to talk to you” then her name and number. I’m not calling. Maria is psychotic half the time I see her. When I ran a beading workshop at Pathways eight years ago she told a woman she was going to hell because the woman mentioned that she was Catholic. She was banned for that then so I have doubts about her husband’s story. But a ban has serious consequences. Many seriously mentally ill members aren’t welcome at other soup kitchens because their disruptive behavior wore out their welcome. Their SSI runs out by the second week of the month and they resort to panhandling and getting food out of dumpsters. During the 1980s when I was involved with the punk scene dumpster diving became hip, but we would look thru dumpsters in the back of office supply stores for cassettes and notebooks and stuff like that. We never went to grocery or restaurant dumpsters. We were wannabes. For banned members, that’s their only recourse.
Bonnie, Patty and Hank returned from their smoke break. Patty asked, “Why aren’t you eating?”
“I ate before coming here so someone can have my plate.”
“We’ll take it and split it between us.”
Patty and I walked up to the kitchen. The cook said as soon as she got done making the PBJs that members take with them when they leave for the day, she would give Patty my plate.
“Where do you live?” Patty asked as we returned to the dining room.
“Hank and I live out there. Can we have a ride?”
“My car is packed full w/ stuff for the Goodwill,” I lied.
“What do you have?”
“Mostly clothes, some housewares.”
“What size are the clothes?”
“The stuff in there is tens and twelve’s’. They won’t fit you.”
I said this because Sam is at most a medium.
“What’s your size? I’ve kept all my clothes as I lost weight.”
“Medium or sometimes small top. I wear a 7 to 7 ½ shoe. Size 7 pants.”
“I only have misses sizes. Do you know what size that would be?”
“Maybe a zero.”
No way. I figured she’d fit a 6 or an 8. She’s petit like me though so I knew I had jeans that would fit her.
“I have some clothes at home that might fit you. I’ll bring them in next week.”
“Do you have any shoes?”
“I wear the same size as you. I’ll look and see,” I promised.
“Can I have a ruler and white cardboard instead of a neon one? She grabbed a fine tip black marker and started tracing around the ruler at 35 degree angles. Then she rotated the poster board 90 degrees and started doing the same thing.
“Don’t you think this is cool, baby?” she asked Hank. Hank was absorbed shuffling the cards and didn’t answer.
She took colored pencils out and used teal between where she first traced the ruler. She grabbed red next.
Bonnie emptied her whole purse on the table. “I’m looking for my lighter,” she explained. She found it. It had an enameled brass holder.
“My nephew tried to steal this. He said he found it on the driveway but I knew it was in my purse. My lighter was missing when I found it on the driveway, but I had my case.” She held it out for me to see. “I’ve had this 20 years. I don’t like people who lie and steal. I work. I’m not on the trail selling myself. I work.”
“Where do you work?” I asked.
“The paper. Saturday Nights.”
I gave Patty a sample of conditioner I got in Sunday’s paper.
“My boss gave me 20 of these to take home,” Bonnie said.
“I think I’ll finish this next week. I’m hungry,” Patty told me. I had hoped that she would finish it. It was an original idea. It shows how creative Patty is. We walked over to the kitchen and fetched Patty’s meal.
The man that slept on the dining room chairs got up and wandered off. He left his sheet and backpack. It’s amazing how much trust there is between Pathways’ clients. I took that as my cue to leave for the day.