Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Chinese Line

The line extended to the end of the block and halfway up Jones Street. Orange cones, spaced in intervals, ran parallel to line, delineating where people stand and where the general public walks. It was a regular occurrence to the neighborhood so people knew the drill and very few complained, even though there was good reason to.

Dressed in shades of grey and black - some homeless, most transient – they stood, referred by Social Workers, friends or given a Free Eats Chart with instructions of how to get there. They were mostly black and white: high, crazy and fucked. With a hot meal and a seat guaranteed, the line was relatively drama free.

Large men in yellow jackets with the word SECURITY in block letters across the back policed the line. With a light hand, they roamed the area. Mostly, they stood out front and accepted food donations. Their presence was mandated by nearby businesses and neighbors. It was the least they could do for permanently fucking up a block.

The yellow jackets used to be participants in the line. It’s assumed that at some point they accepted help and switched sides. With their lives back on track, they got their AA in drug counseling at City College and eventually move inside the building, into a small room where they counseled people on drug addiction. This is a generalization.

Across the street is another line. This line is much shorter and everybody is holding some sort of shopping bag. And they’re Chinese. I don’t know much about the line, except they there’s a storefront that appears to be giving out groceries. The people in the line are much older, but have the same expression on their faces. I would bet most aren’t on drugs.

Never will the two lines meet.

I’m about 30 yards east of the Chinese line. I have no affiliation to the Chinese – I don’t prefer it over the black and white line – I just happen to have business on that side.

I’m training a new driver. Wearing Red Wings from the 70s, these boots have a Tom Mcan vibe that says the wearer has reached a level of working class status that requires him to hold a clipboard rather than drive a forklift. That’s what I imagine. I liked to be called a Foreman.

I tell the new driver this: “They don’t like me, that’s good.” I talk in short, abbreviated bursts. “The more they don’t like me, the more they’ll like you. Feel free to talk shit about me; it will bond you with them. Feel free to tell me if they talk shit about me. Stand by the door until someone lets you in. Alert the person that you’re here. He’ll come out with a cart and stand by the vehicle. He’s very particular about the way you give him the food. Work something out with him. I don’t care, whatever works but don’t let him abuse you. If he’s a dick, let me know and I’ll deal with him.”

The driver stands next to the door. They let him in and he comes out a minute later. I’m in the back of the vehicle staging the food.

“How did it go,” I ask.

“Fine, I think I gave it to the right guy.”

The new driver joins me in the back of the vehicle.

A young, dour, Goth woman in black rags appears at the side door and reaches into the vehicle. I immediately spring into action: “Get out, get out, GET THE FUCK OUT.” It was the verbal equivalent of poking her with a stick. She wandered off behind the vehicle.
I told him that people in the neighborhood may try to steal food.

Walking to the curb with a pan full of Tilapia, the Goth woman was standing next to the man next to the cart. I immediately thought: Volunteer! Fuck! I mistook the Goth woman for a homeless person.

I lowered my head and put the pan on the cart. I looked at her and said, “Sorry.” I wanted to explain that I thought she was homeless or a junkie but that would’ve made things worse.

The new driver had already picked up on my mistake. I stayed in the vehicle and let him pack out the rest of the food.

On the road, the new driver said, “That woman was pissed at you.” Having already overcome the embarrassment of making an ass out of myself, I replied, “She’ll get over it. People always assume I’m homeless or a bike messenger.”

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