Among the Garbage and the Flowers…

Posted: March 25, 2008 in Art, creative nonfiction, homeless, Morgantown, Sarah Einstein
Tags: , , , , ,

My daily walk takes me past the encampment of homeless folk who live under the bridge toward the trail-head on Decker’s Creek.  I know their names , or most of them, from my job at the day shelter and am not afraid of them.  The people who are a threat to me, the ones who are still angry at my because I called the cops or kicked them out of Friendship Room for selling drugs or starting fights, live in a bigger camp along the river.  The creek camp is for the older, gentler, quieter folk.  It’s smaller, and has been there longer.  The people who live there are more likely to have a bottle than a pipe, and that seems to make all the difference in the world.

Without a Flower Pot to Piss In

This weekend, as I was walking by, I saw the first daffodils of this spring on the embankment across the trail from where they pitch their tents during the night.  (During the day, when those of us privelaged with houses — and likely to be bothered by those who aren’t –are out walking the trail to work off our over-abundant diets, the tents are broken down and hidden.  I know where, but I won’t tell.)

It was a moment before I noticed the joke of this… the broken piece of drainage pipe laid up against the daffodils like a flowerpot.  I think I know who did it.  There is a man who lives down here who doesn’t speak, and rarely came to Friendship Room.  But when he did come, he often left behind little tableaus of found objects near his seat. A dollar-store bracelette with a broken clasp, the head of a Barbie doll, and used-up lipstick once.  Another time, a pile of sticks arranged artfully into a miniature bonfire, two toy soldiers covered in grime, and the most recent body-count headline from the local paper.

I don’t know why he doesn’t speak.  He nods, and points to things he wants, but he isn’t mute.  I’ve heard him talking to the people who enhabit his own universe, but he will not talk to those of us in this one.

I see his hand in this joke.  It’s been cold, and no matter how many blankets and sleeping bags he’s given, he can’t seem to hold on to any of them and he won’t live indoors.   I’m happy to see he’s made it to another spring.

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Comments
  1. Kat Nove says:

    Sarah,

    You live in an interesting world, not shared by most of the rest of us, which is a pity. Thanks for posting the photo of the daffodils in their unique flower pot. It was a good joke and one you were lucky to be witness to.

    Kat

  2. Ellie O'Leary says:

    When I saw the picture, I thought that the daffodils grew out of the pipe. Thanks for posting this. It’s am image that will stick with me.

    Are you liking wordpress over blogspot?

  3. Nadine says:

    What a lovely little springtime reflection. Reminds me of walking down my road where wild things grow as well as tossed cans and bottles. Nadine

  4. Gavin Pelham says:

    Sarah,
    Since meeting you I have had to broaden my world to see the homeless around me as more than labels – Tweaker – psycho – crackhead. I work in a bad part of town near a railroad track and the homeless use it as a thoroughfare. There have been a lot more of them going by lately.

    Oddly, I have a salesman who works with me who has spent thousands of dollars creating a cat shelter on some vacant land near the track. He takes care of more than 30 cats every day, religously, coming in at five in the morning and staying late to feed them warm milk and clean their poop. Yet he is constantly at war with the homeless people who shelter nearby. He has no sympathy for them.

    This human condition is a strange one indeed that can weigh the value life so differently.

  5. John says:

    Sarah,

    Just found your blog today via Kathy’s blog. I really like this post and wanted to let you know that. It’s beautiful and poignant.

    John

  6. mike mondo says:

    I too have a homeless problem in my area. They ofen inhabit the parks were my child sometimes plays, drinking from bottles masked by brown paper. There is one couple of elderly people I feel empathy for. I often see the elderly black woman rooting through the thrash for bottles and cans. I am thankful that there has not been a large spike due to the housing market situation. Hopefully every one will fall on better times once this economic downturn recovers.

  7. Bogi says:

    I feel so dull. I wouldn’t have noticed the pot, until you pointed it out. I don’t really see too many homeless, though in Arizona you’d think there’d be a lot since the weather is nicer. I remember a homeless guy in Ft. Lauderdale I’d met. He complained of having his shoes stolen while asleep on a bench. I thought,”Why would anyone steal some homeless guy’s shoes?” Jeeze. Some people are pathetic.

  8. sarahemc2 says:

    Mike,

    Trends in homelessness have almost nothing to do with the economic health of the country. They do have to do with cuts in spending for Section 8 housing (housing for persons with disabilities and the poor) by HUD, but sadly, those cuts are rarely undone during better times.

    Homelessness is our new word for poverty. Twenty years ago, most street people would have been housed. Dramatic cuts in mental health services and federally funded housing are the real culprits, not the economy. When I worked at the shelter, it was more common for someone with a HUD voucher to lose elligibility because they couldn’t find housing in either private or public buildings than it was for them to become housed… and they voucher gives them up to six months (with renewal) to look!

    We have some pretty misguided priorities in this country.

  9. Kathy says:

    Sarah,

    I am warmed by the portrayal of this clever, creative creek camp man, who has his own rules for living and communicating, and who obviously knows pain, as well as beauty.

  10. Greg says:

    Thirty million looming foreclosures. Should be a booming market for both the usurers and the newly designated homeless. Like the name given to the flower picture nearly as much as the picture itself.

  11. sarahemc2 says:

    LOL Greg… I was wondering if anyone would notice that!

  12. Sherry says:

    This photo brings such a strong image to your reflection about people who are homeless, but usually overlooked as individuals. What touches me most is that you were paying attention, and got the joke.

  13. sarahemc2 says:

    Thanks, Sherry, what a lovely thing to say. And next time my physical therapist/personal trainer gives me guff about the meandering pace I take on my walks, I’ll quote you. I would never have seen it at all, going along at the fast clip he insists upon!

  14. Derone L. Rankin says:

    Hey Sarah. I’ve never seen daffodils in the ‘wild’ before, but I know from pictures that they’re beautiful–evidence of God’s existence, if you ask me. I’m sure if the speechless guy ever had someone more interesting to speak to than the people in his head, he’d say lots. Sometimes I get the urge to retreat into my own personal universe, but then I realize that I learn more from other folks than from the ones I make up! Oh the ironies of life. I hope you had a happy Easter and will give another shout out soon!

  15. Ivey Banks says:

    Thanks for sharing this. The photo made me smile. The story really touched me. Actions speak louder than words, they say; it seems your wordless friend has a lot to say.

  16. Claude Dumont says:

    Hey Sarah, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. Looking at the daffodils in your picture, I noticed they were growing up toward the sun, despite the vase imposed on them. They’re struggling to survive, much like the homeless folk who live in the campers, and the voice-ful mute man making a point and creating art. You have a unique perspective that is both refreshing and enlightening. Thank you.

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