Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In Watermelon Syrup - Tent City 3: Days 1, 2 and 3

in bed

the waters are creeping in they are 1/4 way cross the floor the sky is crackling a distant jack hammer is coughing i am on the floor i can see my breath i am more weathered than yesterday but the water is closing in there is nowhere to retreat there is only a growing dampness his cough is a plank falling his cough is a shipping container shifting the pattering sky is working my gorgeous desert ger we are in tarps after two days we are wrapped up in blue it is after midnight a man has come in tonight with one less tooth a woman has come in on crutches a woman has disappeared into a hospital what can happen to 100 people in 3 days in 30 days in 3 months what can happen to me my nose is cold i put on a second hat i hear no shuffling feet tonight only coughing somebody said hey i like antibiotics the nutella's too cold to spread she gave up the day old sandwiches smell wrong a slice of orange cheese and processed ham aren't worth it but there is fruit and there are mountains of carbs and coffee and cocoa the ship runs on the tall silver pot leaks coffee into an aluminum drip pan so many things have become impossible improbable making journals writing standing around you need heat and light and shelter and electricity and dry flat surfaces to work i must concentrate on staying dry and forget the library my headlamp flickers in a steady strobe the rain is damaging the village is sliding we are tethered to the church a mountain of mud is piling up and will encase us we gain no credit for attending this church and kris fed me and i picked up simon and jake and they were pliable and warm i washed my underwear in the sink but if i lie down now i will be just as cold and prone it is 1am there is no reason to want this there are no freedoms here there is no joy

In Watermelon Sugar
I have taken to carrying an old paperback edition (1968) of Richard Brautigan's novella In Watermelon Sugar in my right cowboy boot. I was planning to use the extra space for a second pair of socks and a book and spare change. And so I am. I got them used at the The Goodwill last week. They are my Tent City boots. They cost $7.99. I exchanged the pair I had on and walked out in them. They make me feel like a movie star and a hobo. The book is an added barrier to the cold and offers solace when I recall it and pull it out to read. If Brautigan were here, he'd see it was all syrup. "All of us have a place in history. Mine is clouds." (Brautigan) And the clouds are full and relieving themselves on us now. It has been raining for two days.

My raft is on sloped ground. The rain hits the square edges of my pallet raft and slides into my ger (yurt). It seeps up into the cotton liner. My first night out (Sunday 28 November 2010), the bottom edges of my ger covering were frozen around. It was a clear, cold night with a frost. "My life lived in watermelon sugar. (There must be worse lives)." (Brautigan) There are worse lives.. indeed.. in watermelon syrup.

Forget About Dry
I got a piece of advice this morning, "Forget about dry. Once you accept rain, the sun will come out." Good advice, but I'm in denial. And I'm cold. And I slept with two hats on. It's not that I'm colder than I've been or that I've never slept outside. I've been a commercial fisherman and been out on 7-day openers. I've sailed across the Pacific and been 11 days without a shower. I've lived at 10,000 feet and been stuck in a rock hut. But this is different. I've got a month of this looking me in the eye and there's no drying it out. This one is persistent.

Everyone wheezes and coughs. It must be the constant smoking and the sickness. Three people have gone to the hospital since I arrived and one hasn't come back. There are no community tents just yet. The movie tent is being used as overflow and the community tent somehow became a donations tent. So people stand out in the rain and gather near the front desk and the kitchen. Just stand there getting wet, smoking. They are wearing cotton. When I ask how they stay warm, they all say the same thing. Layers. You're right, whoever you are. I'm going back. I'm going in, to get warm, come January. Whatever it takes. Whatever I have to do. I'm going in. I couldn't stay out here for 3 months. I wouldn't survive it. It's miserable and cold.

Earning Credits
I checked in on Sunday night. I showed my ID and was read the Code of Conduct. I signed in agreement. Then the complex system of credits was explained to me. Each week I need to earn security and community credits. Here is how. To earn a security credit, I must serve a 3-hour shift as security officer in camp. I need 3-5 of those a week. It changes with the population. Sign up for security shifts happens the day before. To earn a community credit, I must go to a church service and prove it by bringing back a paper program, but you can't just go to any church. You have to go to a church on the list, a past sponsor. And you can't just go to a church on the list. You have to sign up for one of the few slots on the list of churches. The line for this forms at 3pm on Saturday. Sign-up starts at 4. If there are no slots when you get to the desk, tough luck. You should have gotten your community credits sooner. Another way to earn community credits is to attend a meeting at the SHARE offices downtown. Those too have limited slots though. At first it seemed like a hindrance to getting real work, but then the bookkeeper told me if you work more than 20 hours, fewer shifts are required of you.

Security Shift
I served my first security shift from 9-midnight. I did a camp walk-through. I removed a spider from a tent. I helped someone cover a tent doorway into which rain was falling. I helped someone else get a ration of blankets. I received a bowl of cold pasta salad from The Little Lamp of Jesus. I witnessed a bar, someone being barred from camp. I saw a relationship end. I made cocoa for Del and Rickey. I met two visual artists. I listened to Lantz, the camp sage, for a long while talk about life. As soon as I was able, I took off my yellow vest and went to bed. It is dark and cold. The camp is asleep and snoring.

There is a video camera on a very tall wooden pole just the other side of the fence. It is pointed at Tent City. Lantz said there are three cameras pointed at us. So who's behind them? It's the Meadowbrook Neighbors (more suitably subtitled: Neighbors Opposed to Tent City) watching and waiting, signing petitions, raising funds for unforeseen legal matters and, in a sense, creating their own prison, for when Tent City goes, on 27 February 2011, one wonders, in which direction will the cameras then turn? Who's next? Fears this big don't just disappear. Places like Tent City only expose them.

1 comment:

  1. "in bed" - yes. imagine this life. this life with no warm, dry home to return to. let us all imagine. then let's put compassion to use.