Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Poor Are Still With Us

It's that time of year... our annual appeal letter. Please read.

Pictures and stories to come. In the meantime, don't forget the true purpose of this season!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

For You, Dad...

Speaking with my dad about my recent posts and activities at the LACW, he encouraged me to "write something happy." I laughed at his request, thinking to myself about the men and women I see on a regular basis who struggle and fight for their quality of life. I continued to reflect on the "happy" aspects of the work of the LACW, and suddenly (and, albeit, naively) realized that there had to be something keeping me here. What is it?

The people. Although they can be depressed, angry, annoyed, and have the ability to suck out all stores of energy I might have, the men and women at the Hippie Kitchen are one-of-a-kind. And while there is suffering on the streets surrounding the Hippie Kitchen, we laugh and share entertaining stories of ridiculousness to keep spirits high. So these are a few examples of the simple hilarity we encounter at the kitchen, the way we stay sane, the way we keep up with our work...

There is a woman who frequents our kitchen. I have never spoken to her, maybe because I do not want to ruin the story I have created for her in my mind. Each time she comes to the Hippie Kitchen, she wears a different hat. I cannot say with confidence I have seen her in the same hat twice. Once, she had a banana-yellow foam visor with what looked like a foam fighter jet sticking off of it like a unicorn's horn. Sometimes she has different varieties of cowboy hats: a sequined, sparkly pink one or a black, leopard faux fur-lined one. Whether it is a construction helmet or a delicately knitted stocking cap, she faithfully wears a hat each day.

I wonder where she stores her caps. I imagine a garage full of shelves and hooks that she enters each morning. With her hand grazing her mole-speckled face (possibly plucking one or two of those stray white hairs from her chin), she gleefully picks a hat off of the display and sets it comfortably on her head. She grabs her woven plastic bag, tosses it over her hunched shoulder and presses on for the rest of her day.

Just this week, I saw her with a new accessory that particularly excited me: her shoes. They were silver moon boots (think: Napoleon Dynamite) with an embroidered flaming skull on the back of each heel. Above the orange, red and yellow design was, in Old English font, "Punk" on the left heel and "Rock" on the right heel. This woman is crazy, for sure, but she is pretty awesome, too.
Our patrons usually have their own routines. Some come around in line exactly seven times to get exactly the amount of food they want. Some sit in the same spot every day we're open. Some bring their own condiments to put on their food. One man comes each day with his own head of garlic. Sweeping up around the garden, I will find clusters of garlic peels. I can count on them being by a certain water cooler and a specific corner of the garden. He can go through two or three garlic heads each day.

Garlic Man is an old white man with white hair highlighted with roots of grey. He wears a white shirt, cargo pants and a black vest zipped up half way. His large black backpack weighs him down and he leans forward when he walks. He always holds a look the same facial expression. I cannot tell if he is angry, frustrated, confused, or just spent too much time staring straight at the eternal California sun.

During election season, as I was cleaning up his garlic shedding, he spoke to me about a conversation with a volunteer of ours. "He said that people are getting carried away by this election," Garlic Man said with his nondescript look. I nodded in agreement. "But what does that mean?" he continued. "I mean, where are they getting carried to?" I could see this conversation was going down a road which I did not want to follow and tried to sweep in a different direction. But he pulled me into his sun-squinted musings. "I believe in alien abductions, you know. I was abducted..." and then I stopped listening.
Occasionally, I am on the receiving end of an entertaining one-liner, pick up line, or random short story. Some examples... (please note: these were all said without preceding conversation--not even a hello)

"Why did you cut your hair? Oh, Allison, it looks horrible. It exposes your jawline... and your face."

"My sister's crazy and an alcoholic. Did you know that you can go onto the bus with a water bottle full of vodka and the bus driver will still let you on?"

(while working in our clinic) "I'd like Tylenol, a vitamin and your number."

"Girl, you got a round ass!" (said by a woman)

"You know who you look like? Sarah Palin. No no! Wait, that's a compliment!"

"Oh, so it looks like for once you're working."

There you go, Dad. I hope you're smiling!