Waterproof and Green ~ 6
I’m sleeping out in the rain. This is by choice: no pity necessary. Moses, my bunkmate at St. Magdalene’s Homeless Shelter, smells of old Ketchup, and if there is one thing I cannot stand while I’m sleeping, it’s when the room smells like Ketchup. Frankie with the dreadlocks, Alvin with boils all over his face, Joey who wets the bed; most of those guys I’m pretty unprejudiced about bunking with, but stale condiment smells are where I draw the line. Our room is an old, concrete-floored cube in the crazy ward of St. Magdalene’s Jerome Street center, a big Colonial house that used to be a barracks. The window pushes up, once you chip the rotten paint gunk out of the cracks, and you can climb out onto the sidewalk. Moses does not notice when I leave. Moses has a long beard, like the actual Moses, but unlike the actual Moses he also takes fits, and carries a bottle of Ketchup in the inner pocket of his overcoat, like a security blanket. At the soup kitchen, he takes the Ketchup out and pours it indiscriminately all over his food: cake, milk, anything. It you see a tray at St. Magdalene’s with an empty Ketchup bottle on it, pulpy with stale chunks that overflowed the brim, you know that that tray belongs to Moses. The Ketchup bottle makes the other people at Moses’s table feel special and luxurious, like we’re eating in a restaurant. Because of that feeling, and because Moses is generous about sharing his Ketchup, most of us like eating next to him, and would like it more if he didn’t sometimes have fits in the middle of the meal, and throw milk on people. But bunking with Moses in an enclosed room on a stuffy night is a different matter. I don’t mind sleeping in the rain at all; in warm weather, it’s nice.
Once I’ve eased out the window I lie on the sidewalk with my same old, loyal green sleeping bag around me, waterproof, and zipped up over my head. I am warm and have two pillows (because Moses always throws his on the floor) and I watch the traffic lights shine through the green Nylon, making it glow. At dawn I unzip my sleeping bag, stick my head out, and watch the morning. A mailman chugs past, his white truck speckled with patterns of tiny dewdrops like Braille. A stray dog comes and sniffs me. Deena comes out and yells at me that I’m not supposed to sleep on the sidewalk.
“How does it look,” she wants to know, “when the Center to Keep the Homeless off the Street has people sleeping in front of it, on the street?”
I tell her that if she wants me to sleep inside the Center, to put Moses in a different room. She says she’ll put Moses in a different room when I pull my act together and get a different lifestyle, with a job. She’s not going to hurt Moses’s feelings by asking him to switch rooms unless he throws milk on me. She says it in an okay, joking kind of way, and then she gets preachy and starts going over the importance of working hard to find a job. I tell her I have a job; I work in the food line. I scoop Jello. She says Jello is not a long term, economically sound vocational plan, and that if I sneak out of my bunk again, she’s going to nail down my window.
I lie on my bunk that night, breathing Ketchup and thinking: Dad, Dad, Dad.