A Travellerspoint blog

Zen

My mom texted me in the morning as we drove to LA with a place that might be able to take our help, and they didn't start serving until 6pm (perfect!) We drove to where the GPS took us, but I didn't see anything that looked like a shelter (kinda a ghost part of LA). Joe took walked us around a corner, then through a caged door a guy told us to keep walking around the fence and we would find the shelter. We got there around 2pm, and the chief chef put us right to work. He gave us a spot in the fridge to put our food we brought, and then handed us hair nets, gloves, aprons, and cook/ sailor hats. We were put to work in the large shelter area on the men's side in the eating area. There were already a few men laying out on the cots waiting for dinner, and others siting in the common area watching a Kung Fu movie. We sat at the picnic tables and Joe cut up pumpkin pies while I took the pie slices and placed them into paper dishes on the metal trays. We made friends with Eddy and Gigi who were on cake duty, and it was kinda like we were just hanging out with our friends again, which was really nice. Eddy was a goof, and Gigi wasn't hesitant to call him on it. I think he liked it though, just like at home, everyone likes a person who can laugh at themselves as much as the person with cake all over themselves.

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(From last pic. to first: The chef who was running the place is the guy on the left, and I can't remember his name either... I'm sorry guys! (I'm writing this blog on Dec. 19th, and my name memory sucks anyhow.) Then to his right is Eddy, then on the very right is Gigi. Jasmin is the one in the pic. before that one, and then Tattoos (I'll explain the nick name in a moment) is the guy on the very left of the first pic. with me and Joe.)

After we had all the cake and pie portions cut up we got in line at the serving area and I was put on greens duty, and Joe was napkin and fork duty to my left. I can't remember his name, but I'll call him Tatoos for short (he had some really great tattos all down hi arms), would spoon out ham and stuffing, then he'd pass the plate to the next guy who would do turkey and sweet potatoes, then to me with the greens, and finally to Joe with the napkin and fork. Eddy and Gigi were on punch duty, and she and Jasmin would go around and give everyone refills. It was really kinda nice I thought. After we made the plate's Tattoo's mom would waitress the plates out to the tables with Jasmin and another kid I can't remember his name... we'll call "J" because he reminded me of James who we based our character J on in our assassin story we are writing. We had some problems with people trying to come up to the serving area like a normal cafeteria, but we didn't have glass over the food to keep a separation from the customer line, so we made the plates and then passed them out to the tables which was a little confusing and annoying because we would have all these plates ready, and the guys would just want to take one and sit down, and some of the help were really kinda rude yelling at them to sit down and we would bring the food to them.

We would also call out to the kitchen when we needed more of something, and sometimes we would over book a refill of something. We would need more ham, and then 2 people would come out with new trays of ham. This was usually not a problem, they understood the situation. We had a lot of hungry people, and alot of help that we would move around to different jobs as they were needed. But this one old woman who was kinda strange to begin with, came out with another plate of the ham after we were already refilled, and she looked at Tattoo's with one large Egor/ Wicked Witch of the West eye and said in a high pitched granny voice:
"Do you know anything?"
Tattoos just looks at her and laughs it off like she was joking and explained that someone else had already come with a refill on the ham. She, displeased with his answer to her question, asked again:
"Do- you- know- anything?"
Tattoos, now understanding that she was being absolutely serious, apologized for the mix up, and this dance continued for a little more, and then she turned and fumed away. So, for the rest of the day, I of course had to ask him every time he asked a question:
"Do you know anything?"

Then after dinner was all served, we sat down to have our own Thanksgiving dinner with some of the guys staying at the shelter and a lot of the other workers that hadn't eaten yet. After dinner Joe and I went to my car which... we couldn't get into. With 3 security guards we had to break into my car b/c Joe didn't remember where he put my keys. While we were serving Eddy told me to have Joe move the car and the bike into the parking lot of the shelter and off the street b/c he would be surprised if anything was still in my car come morning if it was on the street. After breaking into my car Joe realized that he left the keys over on the table in the kitchen, and someone had moved them into a drawer. We searched on the GPS for a camp area, and we weren't finding one, and that's when I suggested that we just spend the night at the shelter. The guys at the shelter were okay with it, so we signed in, got a blanket (you have to use their blankets) and I got into the woman's section that was just the cafeteria area in the men's room that was just sectioned off with tarps (I didn't want to be in the entirely separate side of the building from Joe just in case they closed us off from each other for the night.

I also picked this section b/c it was fairly empty since most of the women didn't want to be that close to the guys section. Joe was put in a cot that was about 10 feet away from mine, and I was pretty pleased with the situation. I also picked this spot b/c one of the women staying in the shelter caught my attestation with her conversation with the security guard. She was a smaller woman with long wavy blond/ brown hair, and he was complaining to her that she shouldn't move the cots around, and that she should let the maintenance crew do it. This kind of bull shit was going on all the time. The security (who weren't really cops, but wore cop like uniforms) were hired to keep the shelter in order, but they really were just pulling power trips on the people in the shelter, trying to prove that they were above the people staying there. She pointed out that maintenance was notified, but they never came, so she moved them herself. He argued back with her about the difference between helping out and breaking the rules, or something like that, and she replied to him:
"Semantics."
He paused, not quite knowing what that word meant, which she of course had wanted, and he just told her again, to wait for maintenance next time, and then handed me my blanket. He was pointing out a spot on the woman half of the shelter, and I immediately asked if I could stay in the sectioned off section of the mens shelter which was near her.

I climbed into the blanket like an unzipped sleeping bag just as I got to my cot, and I tried to got to sleep (long day, and I was tired). Then I had to go to the bathroom. The woman was now having a conversation with the female security guard, and I interrupted and foolishly asked:
"Are there restrooms around here?"
... now it was my semantics.
"No," the security officer replied, "we make everyone squat over the trash bins."
I knew she was picking on me for my audacity to think that the homeless shelter might not have restrooms (hey, some campgrounds we've paid to be at didn't have restrooms, how was I to know that LA was so upscale?). So I just stared at her with my tired eyes that said I understand that I've offended you, but I'm not coming from below you or above you, I just want to pee. So then she directed me to the back of the woman's room in the shelter. Surprisingly the place had showers too! I thought about going out to my car and getting my shampoo, but I just had a shower yesterday (something I don't often get to say) and so I decided to skip. They weren't the worst showers we've been to on this trip, but they ranked up there with some of bad one's we've used.

When I came back the woman told me not to mind her friend (the security guard). Then we got to talking. She was telling me that when she saw Joe and I come into the shelter she thought we were a British couple. I had my little brown cap on, and Joe must have reminded her of a soccer player (my mom's neighbor Viv is from England, and when she saw Joe for the first time, not even knowing he was my boyfriend, entering the Boarders coffee shop, she leaned over to my mom and said, not expecting an answer, "Who is that beautiful football player?" or something to that accord. My mom replied, "Oh, that's Vanessa's boyfriend." To which she replied "Get out" or something to that effect, probably something more British. But I really digress.

Anyhow, the woman introduced herself as Joe, and I told her my name was Rain. I eventually fessed up that my real name was Vanessa so when/ if she ever read our blog, she wouldn't be confused. That's when she told me that her name was Zen, and that she had only changed it to Zen yesterday, so she didn't remember to use it. I told her that I've been through that too, but if you want to make a change, changing your name really does make you conscious of it. She told me that living in places like this for the past 7 months had made her mean and irritable, and she wanted to be called Zen so she could get back to her calm and happier ways.

We talked about our trip, and then we got to talking about physics. She turned out to be a physics enthusiast, and we discussed Space/ Time according to Einstein's Special Relativity Theory, then we got into light, and the philosophy of color. It was some really interesting stuff that forced me to admit that while I graduated in Physics, I finished in the bottom of my class, as well as the bottom 15% of the nation (grant it I got that score after taking a test at the end of my senior year I did absolutely no studying for b/c it was an entrance exam for grad school, and there was no way I was going there). She didn't mind, and we bounced ideas off each other about how to view time as not existing all the way to viewing light as reflection patterns as shown by the mathematics involved in making florescent colors. Eventually I got tired and had to go to sleep, but Zen stayed up a bit longer and talked to her security friend.

The next morning (wake up is at 5 am!) I went out to my car to get my toothbrush. This place serves breakfast and dinner every day, and everyone has to be out by 7am. I was surprised about the fact that they could afford to make 2 meals every day. Anyhow, at my car one of the new security officers told me that only workers could park where I was. I told him that I was a worker last night, and I just spent the night b/c I couldn't find a place to camp so late. Then, seeing that this answer wasn't quite satisfactory, I asked him if he wanted help serving breakfast. He told me to ask the kitchen, but before I could ask the kitchen if they needed help I ran into Zen again, and we got to taking. She was going to school for law in the f70's (her family was full of lawyers), but that was in the 70's, and the 70's happened to her, and she didn't end up graduating. Then she had a house in Arizona, but she lost that like so many American's now, ans she started living out of her car. I remember getting my car to sleep in as a blessing, but wished that my seats leaned all the way back. She said in her car she could, so it wasn't a blessing, but it wasn't that bad. But sleeping in Denny's parking lots, bad things happen. One was even with a cop who confused her with a Mexican man who had robbed a place (bank maybe? I can't remember) but he was drunk, and holding a gun in her face. So she tried to explain to him that she was white, and not a man, but he wasn't convinced b/c he said he was looking for a white Taurus, and her car was white. She pointed out that she was driving a Ford, and then the numbers began to add up for him. She tried to sue the police station for battery, but one day her lawyer said he was dropping her case. She should have pursued it, but come on, how many people win cases against the police? She was thinking her lawyer got a payoff to drop the case. Anyhow, she probably doesn't want me drying her dirty laundry all over the internet, so I'll skip to one thing led to another, and now she is sick and living between shelters, and how do you really get out of that? You can try to get a job, but your sick; you can try and ask for help from your family, but what happens when they say no?

I guess I'm going with what I've been hearing this whole trip, be greatfull for your friends and family, and never burn those bridges. Like the story of into the wild, you can burn all your money and still live off of your self and the land, and you can rid yourself of the poison of greed, but what happens to you when you eat a poison even deadlier than greed? Maybe if the guy from Into the Wild had not burned his bridge with his sister and kept her up to date with where he was going she could have sent someone out to find him, and then maybe he would still be alive. Or maybe if he didn't have to leave the people who were driving him around in their van he could have had a vagabond life with them. Sure they still used money, but they didn't need it, which seemed to be his real problem with money. Not its existence, but its relentless need. Joe and I have learned to let go of our money on this trip, and when it runs out, it runs out. Just as long as you don't stress over the cost of things, or cling to your money like you are the only one in the world who deserves it, then I think you can live free of the disease of greed.

Christopher McCandless: [written into a herb book] Happiness only real when shared.

Posted by - Rain 17:25

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I loved learning about what it's like in a shelter, and I also liked the connection with what you and Joe have learned about money, and how you related that to Chris McCandless in Into the Wild.

by Sheryl S

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