The line was already building up for a free meal by the time I reached the Light Of Life Rescue Mission. The stink of cheap wine, and roll your own cigarettes permeated the air.
Chris buzzed me in like usual. The greeting was cordial, warm hearted. After years of drugged out, alleged friends, only out for themselves, I was amongst noble, altruistic people out to make a difference. I’ve come to prefer them over the self-obsessed human beings of the past. I even accept their tight-ass proclivities. Shit, I almost feel like a Christian.
The volunteers sign-in sheet was within reach. After signing in, I realized how many Christians screwed up this week. They must’ve been sinning their biblical asses off to the point of decadence. There’s almost never more than three volunteers for dinner. This particular day, there were six, including myself.
I met one in the hallway on the way to the kitchen. She stared at my tee shirt which simply displayed the word OFF like it was some type of mystical symbol.
Usually I wear my Black Flag tee shirt. It says Slip It In, and has a picture of a promiscuous nun on her knees with her arms wrapped around a pair of naked, hairy legs. It’s my weekly attempt at being ironic.
Anyway, after a few seconds I said to the woman, “Hey, what’s up?”
“Um…not much”, she replied. “I don’t mean to stare, but I’m enchanted by your shirt. What’s the word OFF eluding to?”
I told her it’s something I’m trying to get.
Her I love Jesus eyeballs pierced my lost soul as she said, “Yeah….are you a Christian?”
I beat her to the punch by saying, “I’ll pray for you” as I made my way up the hall.
See what I mean? Another tight-ass. Nothing was learned by the final judgement.
I had fifteen minutes to kill before the feeding began, so I wrapped a white apron around my Caucasian body. Unfortunately, my white-privilege was nowhere to be found. After that I made my way through the side door for a cigarette.
A few residents were out there puffing away on bottom shelf tobacco, conversing back and forth over conspiracy theories that were outdated, and down right boring. One of them asked for my opinion. I told him I’m nothing but an ignorant Trump supporter. Don’t waste your time on me, bro. Instead of sticking around for the inevitability of this debate, I made my way for the door. That’s when I ran into Sal. The man in charge.
“Sal, what’s going on? I’m here to help. Exploit me.”
He laughed as he said, “That’ll work, Mario. We’re gonna be feeding a hundred men tonight. I need all the help I can get. Follow me.”
We walked together through the hall. Provisions were lined up on the walls from charitable organizations like Trader Moe’s. Residents were coming and going, trying their best to move on, free of addiction, Christ in their hearts. There’s a success story here once a week of someone who graduated from the program, attained a job, and managed to keep it together. Jesus does save, don’t let the philosophers mislead you.
The dining area was crammed, packed with volunteers. The feeling of solidarity I’ve come to crave, was now undermined by competition.
We all held hands in a circle, as Sal gave the daily thank you Jesus prayer to start off the feast. The monologue was fluent, strong and direct. Amen.
This is the point where confusion prevailed. All these volunteers were destined for collision. Far too many people in a tight space.
What was I to do? I didn’t travel from the South Hills area of Pittsburgh for nothing. Altruism for me is euphoric. I needed my fix.
Nobody was at the entrance door. I asked Sal if I could have that position today, since we’re over-staffed. The job was mine. This is when my good intentions took a turn for the worst.
It was a motley, almost formidable scene at first sight. Homeless men were sleeping on the concrete floor, a few were sleeping on what little room was left on the bench. They were arguing, bickering and fighting over discarded cigarette butts. A little pushing an shoving was going on in the back. Serenity must’ve taken the day off.
I felt apprehension begin to creep its way into my fragile soul, so I did something about it.
“Hello,” I said. “I’m your main man, Mario. How ya doing?”
Nobody replied. They gave me dirty looks instead. How ironic.
“Gentlemen, the food will be served in five minutes. What I need you all to do right now, is please get in a line.”
This simple task turned out to be a calamity. A few guys allegedly hopped in front of other people when I turned around for a split second to handle some sign language with the other volunteers.
What you have to understand is, I’m all alone outside of the dining room, in a long homeless tunnel, separated by a locked door on my right, and a Plexiglas window located directly behind me. We use this window to communicate via sign language. When someone is finished eating, and the next warm plate of food is served, they flash a finger or fingers to let me know how many men I should allow in. It’s literally me verses them. The odds are horrendous when compared to how many volunteers are working inside.
“What the fuck are you doing?” screamed some bitter bum I’ve never met before. “This motherfucker hopped in front of me! Aren’t you gonna do something about it? Do your fucking job, man!”
“Yeah. This is fucking bullshit!”
“You ain’t shit, Motherfucker! You ain’t shit!”
All of this was directed at me. My first day on the job.
“Fuck this guy!” screamed another hungry, homeless citizen. “He don’t care. He’s just another God damn resident!”
“Listen up!” I demanded. “I’m not another resident. I happen to be a volunteer. You guys need to stop screaming at me. It’s my first time working out here. Gimme a break. I live to learn. This is a learning experience.”
“Fuck that!” screamed another hungry man with a charming personality. “If you’re fucking scared, just admit it!”
I looked him dead in the eyes, and said, “Scared of what? Who? You guys? The gentlemen I’ve traveled to help out? No, I don’t think so. Calm it down.”
That’s when some other guy tried to push through me to get to the door. I stood my ground, and pushed him back.
He screamed in my face, “I gotta use the damn bathroom!”
“It’s gonna have to wait,” I said. “Get back in line!”
He continued to swear at me until he went back to his original spot.
I was pissed off, frightened and working up an appetite. This reminded me of my gang warfare days, many moons ago. It’s been a while since I’ve placed myself in a volatile situation, and I must say I’ve missed the action. This is when my balls dropped, completely. Monologue followed.
“Listen up!” I said. “I’m not the Gestapo. If there’s a problem in the line, you gentlemen need to work it out amongst yourselves. My job is merely to open this door, and supply you with a free warm meal. Stick up for yourself!”
It felt great to say that. And the power trip was invigorating! I understood at this point, how cops tend to go in with good intentions, and end up abusing their powers. Control is like a drug.
Sal came over to unlock the door. I called the first twenty in line to begin the feast. The same bitter men who were screaming at me a few minutes before, were now enjoying a hearty meal on the house.
Sign language persisted, but it wasn’t fast enough for some. The complaints were endless, totally unnecessary. All I kept hearing was, “Man, I’m fucking hungry! What’s taking so damn long?” My patience, which was mostly depleted already from wasting away in country jail, about seven years back got the best of me. I ended up telling the guy who wouldn’t relent to calm the fuck down.
“You’re getting a free meal, bro! What the fuck else do you want?”
This only exasperated the situation. He fired back, “Man, who the fuck you talking to like that? I will fuck your ass up, bitch!”
This guy was a total ingrate, plus a pain in the dick. Just another typical American citizen with entitlement issues. The nerve of this bastard infuriated me. I ended up making an example out of him.
“Congratulations, asshole! You’re banned! You’ve been awarded a garbage can dinner for one! Now take a walk!”
“Motherfucker, you can’t do that!” screamed the man who just lost his meal ticket.
“I just fucking did! Leave now or there’s gonna be a problem!”
“Damn right there is, if you don’t fucking feed me!”
“Alright, fuck this!” I said. “You’re going down!”
That prick grabbed his plastic bags, and made his escape before I could put my fists to good use.
“Anyone else?” I asked, like an evil dictator from eastern Europe. “Well? Is that all, nobody else wants to fucking try me?”
It was like I hit the stop button in that moment. Control was available, waiting to be seized. I seized it like Fidel Castro. The only thing missing was a Cuban cigar.
There wasn’t a single disturbance after that. The finger action kept up for another half an hour or so, until the last hungry man was served a warm meal. I honestly believe we all left that day with a feeling of fulfillment.
Michael Marrotti is an author from Pittsburgh, equipped with a chemical imbalance and lack of patience. His writing has propagated the small press like chlamydia in Beechview. He’s out to make a difference through writing and philanthropy. A faithful volunteer at the Light Of Life Rescue Mission going on three years now, he believes in action. Michael Marrotti writes books that sell no more than five copies, but get 5 star reviews, like F.D.A. Approved Poetry, available on Amazon. You can reach him at [email protected]