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Body movin'. Mind runnin'. Spirit soarin'. Gonna make this one easy. Just go. Just flow. Don't stop.
He spent eight hours rolling big donation tubs from the front of the store to the sorting area, his body screaming "Feed me!" or "Water!"
In his first few weeks on the job he had a few accidents. Manoeuvering those big bins through the aisles and the shoppers was a challenge. He ran into an old woman, squished her between the bin and a rack of Activewear Tops. He knocked over a toddler the next day after piling a cd tower too high.
"PUT IT ON THE
" she screams at overworked me. She is Wanda. She's been here, rapidly unpacking boxes off of carts in the dusty back warehouse of Thrifty Town for over twenty years - "...when the store opened..." she likes to proudly remind people in the staff room when she's not in beast mode.
Why is she so mean?! What did I do to her?! Why is she helping to ruin my ideal notions of Thrifty Town?! I want to cry.
She stabs a finger at a milk crate on the floor.
I'd just finished stacking a bin of donations and as I was rolling it back to the donation room across the store I noticed these green crystals looped together on wire at the bottom of the bin.
"They must be missing from that lamp!" I thought.
I took the raindrop pendant over to Wanda, thinking I might earn her friendship with my conscientiousness and respect for the donations. She still had the beautiful lamp sitting on her workstation, but it was close to 5:00 and she was busy sweeping.
She tore it from me and threw it in frustration.
There are a bunch of bags that have been slaving away in the back of Thrifty Town for years and years and I have the deepest respect for all of them, them with all their wrinkly crabapple cigarette faces. They are alchemists of a grand order.
A woman folds a pale blue paisley sheet over a thick metal hanger.
A woman wipes the crayon scribblings from a small plastic picnic table.
A woman painstakingly pulls pairs from a cardboard box of shoes.
A woman decides which VHS tapes might sell and tells me to throw the rest in the compactor.
Big, strong guys who clunk around it boots, operating forklifts and pallet jacks, driving trucks, moving 1,200 lb carts here and there, using all their strength to tie wire tightly around bales of clothes and linens that will make their way through the order over oceans to support modest economies. A couple of women do the same.
A man rolls out a long hose that is fastened to a bell.
A woman stretches steel as she wraps wire around a bale of cloth.
A man hoists a box of pots and pans on top of bales stacked two-high.
could you make a desk out of vcr's
revive a dead dancer's dress
in the local bars
be the motor for a stapled bag of cars
maybe one day you'll be bored
and you'll gander at your
fix and clean what could be restored
could you then separate clothes from stuff
to make the sorting fast enough
and make this simple task less tough
and have the wisdom and the presence
to consider careful obsolescence
you can buy and revamp and buy
but there's no t-town
in the sky
One day he was expected to empty a big gray garbage can full of donated books into the compactor. Were they too heavy to ship? On top of the pile there were good books - Life of Pi, House of Spirits...
He immediately approached his supervisor and was told that sometimes the books sit there on the floor unsold for weeks and months... They weren't recyclable because of the glue in their bindings.
His mind raced for a solution. Would the library take them? Should he engineer a device to chop off the spines? Were e-readers the answer? Paper insulation?
Sometimes the employees of Thrifty Town are burdened with the task of letting things go, taking objects that haven't seen love for years - decades, even - and finally sending them on their way to their dump-heaven. Sure, a well-meaning, environmentally conscious donor thought somebody might want to buy and restore their old cargo-style trunk with the rusted hinges and moldy satin interior, but alas, experience has proven that nobody will buy such an item, at least not at Thrifty Town. So, into the compactor it goes.
Could we make restoring a game? Everyone, everything. Donations. Garage sales. Rejuvenation.
I'm getting used to it, desensitized, as they said I would. A few months ago I would have palpitations when I saw my coworkers throwing donations of all sorts into the pit, silently raging at Wanda for rejecting a perfectly good set of stemware, for example. I've learned that my negative emotions aren't helping the situation any. This is not my karma. I'm just doing my job patiently with the hope that one day I will be in a leadership role and can deal with things with more care.
Glasses break down to sand.
Dressers rot to soil.
On Mondays he works in the donation room, answering the door when donors come by with their goods, sorting and bagging toys in the down time. He tries to make people feel good about their act of donating because the store does make local charities money - over a $1,000,000 last year. Then there's the incentive of reusing great stuff, of course. Smiles.
Sometimes on these days Wanda will send him a toybox massacre and he'll waste an hour separating Lite Brite from Lego from candy wrappers from cat hair from disassembled whothehellknowswhat garbage. Questionable parenting and donating. Frowns.
I've structured my life in a way that allows me to walk wherever I need to go on daily basis. The half hour hike to Thrifty Town can be a challenge when it's -50°C with the wind chill.
Some days I'm up to the challenge and I feel so awesome with my Ned Flanderovskis crystal moustache catching the nuances of a sunrise over train tracks. What's my secret, snowy daymoon? Well, Moondoodlydoodle! Why, it's as simple as wearing warm clothes and accessories!
Some lantern mornings I feel old and dusty-dry. Then I cab it and drink more water.
I feel like I've been trapped inside Thrifty Town for weeks.
Can you imagine being locked in there overnight? What would you do in the darkness with all of those treasures glowing, red laced in the laser beam security system? Would you slip over, and through, and around, and behind over to the lady ninja robes?
Would you read a book in the sleepy red glow of the Exit sign?
Would you open a free bag of candles and light one ceremoniously? Yellow glow.
Free to a good home.
Free to be you and me.
I was in the break room the other day and my manager came in and started talking to two supervisors and apparently the store is going to be more diligent about rerouting goods that won't sell or things that won't fit on our already deliciously packed salesfloor.
"The John Howard Society is going to take our excess cups and glasses," she said.
"Maybe the books can go to the libraries?" said one supervisor.
"I've already called the library," I chimed in. "They have the same issue when weeding their collection. I definitely want to be on this new rerouting committee."
And the category was: Executive Realness. She may have been a new hire making next to minimum doing the gruntiest of gruntwork but she looked around at his little slice of the business as if she were the CEO, as if she had as much invested in this as the clueless white collars in all the grand operation's boardrooms. She loved this second-hand symphony with all his Valentine's Day heart and she wanted to see its song go on, on forever, louder, with more precision and enthusiasm. More joy. More love. More style.
Like they do in France.
vegetables and free education and wines and meats and cheeses and fruit and mustards and chocolate and chess and bridges and statues and gardens and puppets and trickling dungeon basements and lavender and coffee and bakeries and free education and galleries and love and churches children floating wooden boats in ponds and bicycles and graveyards and cobblestones and sunshine and accents and mosques and accordions and windmills and and snails and long holidays and blue gingham and soccer and shy'm and anchors and stromae and la mer qu'on voit danser and sweaters and perfume and free education and please help
No one was as cool as Mother Teresa. She dedicated her life to helping the poor through God. She believed that poor people were God itself and that through easing their suffering her own existential suffering would be eased. Sure, she had some strange views on abortion, but that's how much she loved humanity, and she was willing to take care of those kids. Nowadays very few religious zealots are willing to help the poor children of the world yet they judge women for having abortions. Show me the collection plate orphanages and I'll start listening to your abortion views.
The other day at the Mission shelter she was assigning chores when she overheard one of the guests saying to another guest:
"I was born on the right side of the tracks and I was taught that a man should never share a bed with another man."
"You mean you guys don't share beds when I leave at night?" she asked calmly.
"Of course not!"
"Oh, I see," she continued. "You share beds but not at the same time."
She laughed and went back to the list.
Later, she slipped a Koran among the Bibles. One God, many, many prophets.
oh i got the blues
i got the blues
someone said someone
went and stole my shoes
i got the blues
oh i got the blues
and my baby left me thursday
and i ain't got no place to stay
and i'm drinking stolen purell
and fightin' in the food court everyday
oh i'm a poor man
oh oh oh i'm a poor man
don't wanna talk about it
so give me an easy chore
i can't read i can't write
i don't know how to type
i ran away from home
i ran for good reason
i got nothin'
I read this essay by the painter Norval Morrisseau a while back and in it he was talking about his artistic process. He said he uses bright colours in his works because colours heal and that he drew the way that came natural to him. He admitted to using a pencil on the canvas before applying any paint. And he said to get his ideas for paintings he would pray to Saint Kateri for the inspiration or he would sit still for a while and travel to a special place beyond this realm that he called the House of Invention.
What Europeans did to Indigenous cultures the world over was atrocious. Slavery, internment camps, residential schools, mass murder... All in the name of the Bible.
She placed a braid of sweetgrass on the shelf that held the "holy" books, along with a few of her favourite poetry collections. A feather. A pinecone. A rock. A maple key.
She was clearly white, but inside she felt like a First Nations warrior goddess, and she knew that professing Jesus as the one true saviour today was just an ugly echo of a very, very damaging history.
She was a sad yogurt raisin.
I really believe that one day humanity will live in a perfect world of our own creation. There will be food and housing and water for everyone, work for everyone. People will value things like family and community. There will be no murder or rape or war or pollution - no violence of any kind. Everyone will be taken care of in his or her community - no one slipping through the cracks. Enabling one another to live in any kind of poverty will no longer exist as a phenomenon. Every person will grow to be a skilled, gentle, loving, unabashed communicator.
On these weekend mornings she would sit in the office waiting to do the wake up call and she would be visited by little mice.
"Oh, little mice!" she would whisper. "You must be hungry! I see you've chewed holes in all the bread bags. Look at all these crumbs!"
Then they would laugh and hold hands and skip around silently so not to rouse any of the sweet dreamers.
She remembered the time a guest snuck up behind a mouse and WHACK!ed it with a broom.
Once she found two live mice mysteriously trapped inside the sharps container.
I set them free. No bother to me, I set them free.
I picked up the container and the mice grew even more desperate, their tiny claws scratching loudly against the translucent yellow plastic, their tails rattling the glass of the syringes.
I carried them downstairs, out into the early fall evening air. Cloudy but calm. Not yet cool.
I stooped among the brown, brittle leaves, carefully tilted the container to one side, and used a stick to hold open the trap-lid while the mice scurried off to the exposed foundation of the building nextdoor.
Still calm. A coolness.
There's a community garden next door to Harmony House that's run by another organization in the neighbourhood that does whatever it can to help the poor. When I started there last fall, I caught the end of the growing season and the soil was grey and full of leftover yellowed pea tumbles. I hope to help out there this year. I want to help start another garden, too, this spring. I can't even describe the joy of growing vegetables, only a longing to be outside in the sunshine, discovering, working with the elements, nurturing plants to take one's breath away.
God, let us be thankful for what we're about to receive and may it nourish our bodies and minds and souls.
And God, today we forgive those who trespass against us as you forgive us when we trespass against others and ourselves.
And God, thank you to the cook and her assistants and all the soup kitchen volunteers out today.
Thank you for family sponsorship. Hugs. Food. Clothing. Advice. Love.
We are just so thankful to you, God. We are so blessed and so joyful and we pray that this joy spread to every living creature on the planet.
All of the staff of the Harmony House Mission shelters were gathered at a long table in the soup kitchen for a staff meeting. The boss had provided beverages and sandwiches, a veggie tray, and cupcakes, and everyone had had their fill already. All of the points of the meeting had been covered and everyone was just settling into the self-satisfaction that comes with a communication meeting.
"Does anyone have anything else to add?"
"I have something," he said. "I think we're all tired of this ungodly Arizona/Uganda bigotry."
"I second that," said someone else.
"God loves fags."
I understand the appeal of driving. It's fast, it's convenient, it's comfortable, it's fun, it's stylish, it's sexy... Believe me, if there was such a thing as a solar-powered Lamborghini Lotus - metallic green - you'd see me cruising around in it all the time with a smile on my face. I'd love to be able to drive to and from Thrifty Town, or to give guests of Harmony House rides to view apartments or to job interviews, but I can't do that with a clean conscious while burning up fossil fuels. Until change comes, these legs will have to suffice.
It's been an interesting experience writing on this site for two months. I'm glad I gave it a go. Not sure if I'm going to keep doing it. I find that writing takes up a lot of my time and energy these days and I just need to rest and relax and plan my spring garden.
It's been a very cold winter here and not acknowledging it is impossible. Even if you don't hear about it in the media, everyone you meet has something to say about it as they shuffle, hugging themselves, letting out empathetic, horse-like brrr's.
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