I’m definitely a morning person. I’m just not sure I want to get on my knees and give it up for Jesus before I’ve had a fag in the morning.
My current job isn’t exactly stretching, so with all this extra time on my hands I volunteer in the kitchen of a shelter for the homeless. I serve breakfast, help prepare lunch and clean up. The kitchen radio is set to Jesus Wept FM. It’s an aggressive version of ‘Thought For The Day’.
On my first day, I got talking to one of the chaps doing the washing up. A mailman in his pre-crack days, he’s called Postal.
Postal: Who knew? Man, we get everywhere.
In common with many other major cities, DC has a problem with homelessness. Apparently there are 16,000 homeless on the streets, including women and children. Some have serious mental health problems. It’s much more visible than in London. People live in public parks and by metro stations. Whiskery, muttering old men with newspaper for shoes shuffle along the streets, hauling shopping trolleys full of junk. I had a brief encounter with one such bloke who jumped me from behind and whacked me in the face with his piss-stained, crusty old blanket. Once I’d scrubbed my face twenty times and stopped fretting about pink-eye, I felt awful for him. What kind of life does he have? What was his life before?
My only previous experience of being assaulted in the street was in Buenos Aires where it was not uncommon for the odd jogger to accidentally skim one’s bottom with his hand whilst whizzing past at speed. My response then was generally a mixture of outrage and gratitude.
Shelters like the one I work in rely on public donations to provide the basics. The men there are a mix of ages. They are inquisitive, but guarded. It’s like being in a Harold Pinter play that has been rewritten by Terry Gilliam. John, for example, asked me if Robin of Loxley really existed and then told me that Jesus loves me, which was nice. Other things I have been asked:
- Does the Queen just rule London or England too?
- Do you know Prince Charles?
- You must love Tony Blair, he a good president?
- Man, you know how to party! (after the riots)
- Can you see, with all that fog?
After I’d been there a few weeks, Dave asked me “So what did you do anyways?” Sorry? He pressed on “What nasty thing you do to end up in the kitchen? You court?” I was completely puzzled and it was clear he thought I may be deaf. “I SAID, YOU COURT?” he yelled. Finally the dime dropped. Apparently the majority of the volunteers are on community service. I had no idea. He was astonished when I said I’m there by choice. I felt pretty cool that he thought I was a bad-ass criminal. I need a gang name. Any suggestions?
There is much interest in my marital status. One morning I prepared over a hundred beef burgers. I told the chef that I was a pretty awful cook. “Well that’s why you ain’t married” he said flatly. Another chap asked if I’d moved to DC to find a husband. He actually looked confused when I burst out laughing and then I was worried I had hurt his feelings, like I should have a husband.
“You got kids?” is another favourite question. “Nope!” I say brightly, trying to stem the sad looks before they begin. “Sorry ’bout that” they almost always reply. That’s ok, I have alcohol and casual sex and Barnes & Noble instead. Always want to say that, but never do. Probably a bit inappropriate. Especially the alcohol bit. And the sex bit.
Anyway, even if I wanted a husband it would be fairly difficult to find one here. They don’t call DC the ‘hollywood for ugly people’ for nothing. Plus I live in a gaybourhood, which is great when men stop you on the street to compliment you on your frock or your perfume (“omigod your cologne is uh-MAY-zing, i LOVE it!!”), but not so good for identifying a life partner.
Maybe I should take cooking lessons.