Waterproof and Green ~ 5
And now I’m standing between a wrinkled church volunteer named Pat, who is nice, and an unwrinkled church volunteer named Edna, who is not, serving quivering mounds of glistening pink Jello onto mismatched plastic plates, using a dented soup ladle. Pat is serving mixed vegetables on the other side of me. Pat is a little too enthusiastic about making sure everyone gets their complex carbohydrates. She keeps spattering corn and beans and tiny bits of broccoli, into my Jello. I do not know what to do about this. On one hand, broccoli-flavored watermelon Jello is not exactly appetizing, but on the other, I’ve been warned on pain of death against touching or interfering in any way with Harry’s cookery. So I decide to do nothing. I just let people decide for themselves if they want my Jello or not.
“A spoonful of Jello makes the lima beans go down,” I sing, off-key, and Pat smiles at me, but Edna just glowers.
On the other side of the counter, Deena is arguing with a woman in a dirty pink ball gown, about whether or not it’s unsanitary to scoop baked apples and tuna casserole, using the same soup ladle. If this woman could see the back of the kitchen, where the apples are stored amid the occasional dead cockroach, she’d know unsanitary, but I don’t say anything. It isn’t that we don’t try to keep the pests out, but cockroaches are very sneaky creatures. On the other side of me, Edna thwacks a piece of thickly frosted, slightly stale cake onto the tray of a timid man with glasses. Edna does not ask people if they want cake; she just gives it to them. The room is filling up with people pushing blue plastic trays: weirdoes, prostitutes, the genuinely insane, and lots of people who are just down on their luck. Two guys in gray sweatshirts nod at me, and I nod back when Deena is not looking.
Right in the center of it all, high above the brown plastic cafeteria tables and the mismatched plastic chairs, an enormous oil painting of Jesus and the Apostles, eating the Last Supper hangs, intimidating us all. It strikes me that a painting of the Last Supper is a slightly ominous thing to put in a roomful of people eating a supper that they hope will not be their last, though most of them can’t say for sure. Also, in this particular painting, the color scheme is not cheerful, and a number of the Apostles look as if their food is disagreeing with them. (Which in my opinion is not the kind of message we want to be sending.) But juvenile delinquents are very rarely consulted about the decorating scheme. The walls behind the Last Supper are painted dark brown, like the tables, and there are no windows. So the soup kitchen has an eerie, cave-like quality, and the painting blossoms out of the darkness like some kind of dire apparition that you’d think would put even the most ravenous pothead off his lunch. But you get used to it after awhile, and in the end, we should all be grateful that the church workers chose that painting for the cafeteria, and not the one they hung in the pantry, which shows Jesus bleeding to death on the Cross.
People feel very strongly about Jesus here. This includes the priests, who believe Jesus is our savior, and the atheists, who believe he is not, and Neddy the Homeless Guy, who strongly believes that he is Jesus, sent here by his father (God) to warn us about our sins, which according to his lists are numerous and extreme. Once, I asked Neddy if he could walk on water, and he started a whole, separate list, specifically for my sins.
People have differing opinions about Heaven, too. Pat thinks we’ll all go to Heaven in the end, but Edna strongly disagrees. Whenever Pat expresses something along these lines, Edna sucks in her cheeks and makes disapproving, wobbling motions with her chin. Edna seems to believe that if everyone’s going to Heaven, it is a total waste of time being a Christian, and she for one is highly offended by the idea of how much time she’s wasted forcing cake down the throats of ungrateful barbarians, many of whom don’t even have the manners to say thank you. Pat says that for her part, she just doesn’t see how the God she believes in (who is kind, and beautiful) could be mean enough to send someone to Hell.
“Pat,” snaps Edna, “You don’t have to question it. It says in the Bible He’s mean enough. It’s printed right there under your nose!”
But Pat refuses to agree, and for my part, Pat’s God seems a whole lot more appealing than Edna’s, who sounds like some kind of genderless combination of a doomsday prophet, and Edna herself, which is frankly terrifying.
Deena wanders over, red in the face from arguing with the ball gown lady.
“Here,” she snaps, thrusting a fresh tray of Jello into my arms. This batch is almost exactly the same color as my convict vest, flecked with tiny white marshmallows like foam on an orange ocean. Deena storms away, muttering under her breath the things she would have liked to say to the ball gown lady, except she can’t because she’s not a delinquent anymore.
I spoon a round mound of orange Jello onto the plate of a grizzled man with long black fingernails, and stare at a single pea, caught in the center of it.
Thanks for reading, guys! I mentioned in this week’s intro that I’m debating whether to continue with Waterproof and Green or to start a different story next week. Your answers to the polls below will help me decide. Thank you!