Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Last Safety Patrol Summary

8:35 AM: I arrive late, which is the first of a number of firsts today.  I'm on the block today to meet my successor as Safety Patrol.  I'm down here to introduce him around --- to the clients who he'll be caring for, tending to as I have for the past two years. They are such remarkable people that live down here on the Block; so resilient, so soulful, even if that soul has been hatefully curtailed by years of addiction and its attendant neglect. They are utterly honest, even as they trade fictions without care or distinction.  They have been my flock, and an unruly one at that. But I have loved them with my entire heart, and I will miss them so much.  Whatever I may have told any of them, I'm probably not coming back here; if I do, the circumstances --- and my role --- will undoubtedly be very different.
But I've been plenty surprised before.

9:00: I can't find the new guy anywhere. I am unconcerned about this, as I've been spotted by a few key loudmouths in the Mo, and a handful of my resident fans arrive for hugs and where-ya-beens. It is a beautiful morning and this is delightful.
Soon, I take a scornful look up and down my block: It has not been swept since I was last here, weeks ago.  It is filthy, and I set about sweeping it end to end, as I have each dry day for a year or more.

A word or two on sweeping.
I have literally heard the exact same phrase every day I've swept for the entire duration  of that work. Even today, this does not change.  I may not be wearing my red hat (a first), but someone says it:  If you speak the words, "You missed a spot," directly into my ear, I will not respond --- I will hardly even hear it.  I've heard them so many times I've almost completely filtered out the syllables. Why do people make this lame joke over and over? To show their appreciation.

If I could reconstitute the tobacco I've swept up and sold it at market rates, I'd be prosperous.

If you want to truly meditate, you must engage your body in subtle, repetitious activity and think as little as possible. Sweeping ranks highly on both counts, and its been a balm.

If you want to show people you give a fuck about somewhere, if you really want to honor those that live in a tough place, you can do something humble for them. For illustrating your devotion, there are few endeavors better than sweeping.

One pragmatic reason to explain why you should give a fuck about a place and its denizens: If you must manage them, it will be easier.

To sum up: Sweeping makes it easier to manage challenging people --- or any people, really --- by illustrating to them that you care about them enough to do something they will not do for themselves, yet still enjoy on many levels. This will encourage respect from them.

10:00: The new guy emerges from computer training.  He's a big guy, not as tall as me but thicker. Thinning dark hair brushed back stylishly, full dark goatee. Mixed race, which will be useful out here --- race being the one wild card I've always dreaded, because you're never quite on the same page,  a white man telling a black man what he may or may not do on the Block.  Too much baggage and history; I like to be on the same page when the tension is high, as it often is down here.  I've tried to mitigate as much racial tension as possible with sheer force of personality, theatricality if you will. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. New guy will have no problems.  He has the right Don't-Fuck-With-Me smirk when it's appropriate; and I watch as he listens patiently to a resident as she informs him of her many astounding, delusional accomplishments and past horrors, engaging her in a dignified manner. He'll be fine.

10:30 K. has apparently made a big commotion down at 216, demanding her money and threatening someone with a whiteboard. We spend a few confused minutes trying to determine whether 911 had or had not been called.  They had, but the call had been cancelled when K. took off out the door.  Five minutes later I'm walking beside her, trying to engage. While this happens, CSS John calls 911. On my end, K. is resistant to engagement, tells me to get the fuck away from her. I comply. K. disappears; SPD arrives five hours later.

11:30 New guy is back on the block after his shift up at the coffee counter in the Shelter.  He leans up against the building, lights a cigarette, and appraises me as I engage four African American teens who are dealing crack. A half-dozen of my residents are circling like hungry, hungry crocodiles.  The dealers are three males and one female; two, one short in an orange t-shirt, the other tall with bright green ball cap, look like they're the stars. Orange T is holding, but Greencap runs the show, and it's he who speaks to me as I insinuate myself in amongst them. I'm now sidled up within arm's reach --- my arm, not theirs --- and Greencap looks alarmed. "What the fuck you want."
"I'd like you to take your business elsewhere."
"Who the fuck are you?"
"I'm Sean." I always say it matter-of-factly, like I'm meeting them at a business conference or a cocktail party.
"Man, fuck you! Get the fuck away from me! I ain't doin' no fuckinb---"
"Listen, man. Just stop.  Do I look like I'm your 7th Grade teacher? I do not." I'm talking to him as if I were soliciting a vote. "We're adults here --- well, I'm an adult anyway."
Greencap's eyes blink a little, as if he is unused to being patronized or insulted.
"You can deal anywhere you want except this block. I do not give two fucks about you. Go on with your sorry lives. Just do it elsewhere." Greencap is trying to give me the evil eye, the cold stare, but I simply give him an encouraging smile.  This infuriates him; I can totally tell.
He is about to speak up again when Orange steps in, " Nah, nah... c'mon man..." he points to the SPD cruiser that has been creeping along parallel to us, watching the entire interaction. I gave him the high sign a minute ago when I first engaged.  The teens idle at the corner for a minute, make their way as slowly and petulantly as possible down to the bus shelter, and board a southbound Metro.

12 Noon: More firsts: I eat lunch at the Cajun place on James and 2nd. The Barbecued Shrimp Po' Boy is too good to be described. I also have a glass of red wine.  Today is, after all, a unique day in my life. That deserves a toast.

1:00 I've seen nearly everyone I wanted to, except two. Ahijah is out today, and Jeffrey too, which is both disappointing and relieving.  They've been a rocks for me down here, people on whose team I've been proud to play. That goes for everyone there at the Morrison, actually.  I just keep reminding myself that maybe we'll work together again.  I really hope we do.

1:30 N., who is perhaps my biggest fan, is dressed from head to toe in red velvet, a gown.  I know she's worn it for me; N. adores me, and I've tried as well as I could to get her comfortable with new guy, but she's very clingy today.  I realize that I must respect the depth of her feelings, so I indulge her, allowing her to shadow me for spells longer than I have in the past. She tells me now how L., another favorite of mine and the single greatest curmudgeon I've ever known, has been threatening her repeatedly lately.  He has refused his meds all summer long.  After I usher her inside past him, standing in the doorway of the Mo,  I turn to L. and extend a hand. He refuses it. " Get away from me. I don't talk to cops." I am speechless. I brought this man a Hostess fried apple pie when he was lying in the hospital with his heart the size of a volleyball and no one thought he'd pull through and what the hell...
"L.," I begin, "You know me. I'm not a cop. I've been your friend for two years and more..."
"Yeah, well I don't fucking care. Get away from me."
I comply with his request.

2:00 The pain in my neck and upper left back has been growing throughout the day.  I thought the wine at lunch might help, but the pressure and ache continues.  My morning sweeping has by this point in the day been washed under by a tide of human refuse.  I stretch and stretch my neck, trying to pop it into neutral. It grinds and grinds.

3:00 I'm sitting in my former supervisor's office trading thankyous with her.  In my pocket are a set of keys, made surreptitiously by a former workmate when I thought I'd had mine stolen. The originals were found, and I held onto these as a backup. I'm wondering if I will relinquish them.

3:05 I walk back into Maria's office and give her my keys.  It is the last thing I do as Safety Patrol.  I want my people to feel safe.  I must be honest if this is to be. I feel this strongly.

3:40 The bus ride home is miserable, and I hang my head as loosely as I might to try and avoid the pain.  On my walk with Rome, I stop again and gain, stretching, knowing that it's mostly somatic, but how to get to the source of my pain...
As Rome and I round the final turn to home, it dawns on me that I never wrote my log today. I have become relatively famous within the Agency for my logs.  They all read exactly in the manner that this one does.  When the thought crossed my mind, my eyes filled with tears, as they do right now.  I began to think of this post, what I would say in it, and I mostly kept it together down the driveway, in through the front door past my beautiful daughter.  I sat down and began to write, and when Justine got home I was typing and weeping, and I sobbed to her how much I would miss my beautiful, tragic, endless Block. I honor all the people who live and work there now.

I feel no pain right now.  I feel so very lucky to have made it.  I feel so hopeful about where I'm going.