I KNEW I WAS IN THE RIGHT PLACE
Because I Didn’t Fit In.
But, I belonged here. On the other side. Convincing myself was another thing.
Doing nothing wasn’t an option any longer, and excuses, lamer than my tired puns.
This is where Apathy and Me decided to part ways. I left him stewing at the curb and skedaddled through the rain like a sodden fat cat on its way to a feline root canal.
I Wanted To Love The Daily Bread Food Bank.
All of it. Beyond the brackish brick and chalky mortar of the nondescript building – its plain façade maligned in the industrial scrubland of Toronto’s lower west end. I’d forgotten this sketchy scratch existed.
The monolithic lump did nothing to dispel what awaited inside. Hell, the weather wasn’t helping with its clichéd mess of dreary gray interrupted by miserable cold rain. Post-Christmas Apocalyptic Vista.
Norman Rockwell was never here. And, Elvis? He’d left the building and was nowhere to be found.
The Exterior Was The Pretty Side.
Entering the Visitor Welcome Center my senses went straight to shit. Literally. Washrooms anchored the right wall. Sour. Dank. Sewage. I’m being polite. I’d figure it out later.
I’ve never been to prison. Though I’m being matter-of-factly when claiming this place hired the same interior designer. Painted cinder block walls – Pea Soup washed with undertones of Key Lime – Institutional Minimalistic Chic.
The dulled vinyl floor pulled it all together.
I’m A Judgmental Asshole.
I remind myself. Everyday. I refuse to argue about it. Not today. Not here.
I’ll deal with Me when I get home.
The car ride back is going to be uncomfortable.
There’s A Buzz.
A hurriedness, chaotic, but purposeful energy.
People moving about. Doing things. Moving things. Clanking. Clunking. Busy-ness of manual labor not far off behind the reception area, back into the warehouse.
Life is here … Voices. Movement. Synergy.
That Damn Stench.
I’m part Wolf. Canis lupus. I pick up odors. And, its not Prada L’homme – or – Versace Eros I’m swallowing. Not even close.
Urinal deodorizing pucks aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do. It’s beyond feces stewing. It’s the rancidity of rotting food and the malodor of the homeless. Inescapable.
It gets to me, thumps me in the forehead. It’s the reason I’m here. I accept it. Strangely, I’m compelled to be near it. In it.
Kindness Isn’t Serendipitous.
It doesn’t happen by chance. It Was Born Here. Goodwill resides in this cavernous joint. It’s deep and it’s real. I’m greeted by it. I feel welcome.
And, out-of-place like the new kid at school. The staff are joyful, sincere. The regular volunteers are greeted by name. Pleasantries. Extended Holiday Wishes exchanged.
“There’s hugging. Lots of hugging. I didn’t get hugged. I wanted to get hugged. Too soon? Next time. I’ll be a hugger. I am a hugger. In a good way.”
I Look Exactly Like The New Guy. Lost in an unfamiliar space. Fidgety.
Its been 9 minutes and Dubya Pea misses me. I’ve been given a small lanyard to hang around my neck from the nice coat check person. They’re all Nice People.
The same lanyard – death string – on three occasions later in the day gets stuck on plastic food crates and metal racking. I almost died. Right.
So, I was an exaggeration close to a blatant fib … of decapitating my head from my neck, which would’ve been an improvement as I wasn’t using it much to make sense that morning.
I Should’ve Avoided The Mirror In The Men’s Room, And Also, The Men’s Room In General.
I was parading around with a “Look Who Just Got A Holiday Haircut” haircut.
Fun Fact Confession Digression: The neophyte Do looks, not coincidently, like two different, but equally shitty haircuts on one extra medium-sized melon. My regular stylist Cathy was booked, so I Plan B’d it. And, I ended up with Annie Wilkes and the Misery cut.
Point being, I really didn’t need to feel any more self conscious. So, what gives?
I’m Labelled. Literally. Michael.
Black Sharpie. On a Neo-Orange peel n’ stick name tag. Inconspicuous New Guy. No more.
Orange is code for Rookie. Code for He/Him.
Code for “Give Ragazzo with The Bad Haircut” the grunt work. The heavier, the dirtier, the better.
Smart Phones. Yep. Actually, No.
It’s not like there’s a sign posted. Maybe I missed it. There’s signs everywhere.
… Skip ahead 6-1/2 hours: I’d only seen two: Mine. And, one from a client. No one’s checking their phones. Volunteers. Staff.
I’m warming up. Liking it here. It’s been 18 minutes. WP doesn’t need me … Step 4.
Where’re you hiding. I see some, but not many, the numbers are slim. About 20%.
In my group meeting, I count heads – 16 – three are men (*).
Which is a clever segue to this …
We’re Asked How We’d Like To Be Identified? As in, What The Frangipane? Also, Ex-Squeeze-Me?
Alright, I’m 100% Eff-Free about Gender Identity – Sorry – God chose mine. I could care less what anyone identifies as. Be it a Lima Bean. The color Chartreuse. Or, Peanut Brittle. You’re Human. That’s the only hint I need.
By the way, I’m not browsing for another complex. Isn’t it plenty obvious? If I need to state what gender I identify as, I’m slapping myself first. Then I’m backing the Bus Up and jumping under it.
But, Hey, We’re All Here Helping Out At A Food Bank … Shouldn’t We Be Focused There?
Painful As It Was … I Oblige Idiocy … Engage In The Asinine Games.
We’re asked to say our names – Yeah, we’re wearing name tags, Capitán Obvio – how we’re feeling at the moment, and Ta-Freakin’-Da: how we identify, then given a narrow choice of pronoun options: She/Her or He/Him …
I scan 15 smiling faces. Sally is female. Ditto, Doreen. Bob’s a retired guy. Kelly’s reasonably dude-ish, though I stall a bit with K-Dawg, and I come back to She/Her or He/Him, after Pat, who’s also got me tripping – and – possibly apologizing to the organizer. Then again, I’d run the circle and scored 100% … So, really?
My turn. I say, Michael – He/She – opting for a third choice of expression, and either no one’s paying attention or they’ve fully bought into my Non-Binary Proclamation. I’ve usurped Gender Fluidity. Also, I remain Eff-Free and choose to identify as the symbol ƒƒ.
The Volunteers Work Hard. Some of the more visible Vee’s have different definitions of Work and Hard. Fine. Get Your Bossanova Baby On.
Of course, a couple Elevated Types cum Alpha Donna’s prefer role playing, like we’re back on The Island, and appoint themselves – heselves/sheselves? – De Facto Leaders of The Pack, though I must’ve abstained from the voting. Did I miss the Ballots at Registration?
Despite the earlier acquiesce into Gender Identity shenanigans, the three of us identifying as “Non-Females” are assigned the heavy lifting. I like lifting. Moving stuff.
It’s what happens here. Food Donations come in. Sorter’s sort. Stocker’s Stock. Helper’s Help. Yada’s Yada. Lulu’s Lemon.
Perishable Food Rots.
We discarded bins of it. Large Organic Green Bins filled several times over.
Tomatoes. Bell Peppers. Potatoes. Bread. Beets.
To be fair, the Food Bank was closed over the Holidays, so old stock wasn’t turned over and there you go.
Perishable Food Stinks When It Rots.
Not All Visitors Are Alike.
If there’s a more eloquent way – less judgmental manner – of relaying my observation, it fails me presently. I don’t believe in profiling … says me.
I also identify as a Practitioner Of Eyes Wide Open. Staring Without Shaking My Head is what I do. It’s a bad habit I’m good at doing.
My normally adorable Resting Prick Face also got an unexpected workout. Not from engaging with the Visitors. I felt at my genuine best when interacting. Truly, the reason why I was here. However, I was advised at Orientation – uh, Gender Assignment Workshop – that not all Visitors are friendly. Found that out, too.
Many folks required assistance. Seniors. Single Mothers. New Canadians. Homeless. Filling food bags. Reaching for items on upper shelves. Replenishing stock.
I helped everywhere I was needed. Took direction until I found my groove.
And, yeah, I broke a cardinal rule of rationing, and gave an extra yellow pepper to someone who asked. What?
The work was steady, Enough to have a Warm Glow. I’m fairly delicate so I perspire gingerly. Like a Snowflake melts. Kelly, now he was sweating. I really liked him.
Hey, I’m Talking To You, Slim.
Any way you slice it, posturing up the “Don’t Hate The Player, Hate The Game” clause is a mighty shallow dive from Grace to Greed.
Perhaps, it was just me. Being me. Yep, I had a problem. Then it became someone else’s problem.
Like the Fabulous Five below … Taking advantage of a social program … a depleted Food Bank that doesn’t have enough to supply its daily visitors in critical need of the bare essentials.
THE FAB 5
If you’re reading this, we should talk. About the problem. Yours. I can help.
All Y’all On The Wrong Side Of Love listen up:
Drake Clone … Yakkety-Yakking, Bra. On A Late Model iPhone? Cool. With Fresh Air Jordans? Sweet. Muscling your way through the queue like it was Black Friday? No, This Ain’t The Place.
Diva #1 … Gettin’ All Golden Blingy, Black Leather & Furry, Thingy On … Bambi Lashes, Pretty Pedi, Gurl … But, This Ain’t The Em Eph’g Spa, Honey! (What I wanted to say …)
Diva #2 … Ditten know Special came in pairs. How sweet, you brought a Bestie. Post Up!
Rude Lady … With The Heinous Fur Hat – I Know Dead Fox Pelt, Babushka – Complaining about the onions? No Frills is down the street: 3 lbs. $0.99. Hit The Bricks, Zsa Zsa.
You Mean Sanctimonious SOB … You don’t have to be Christian to be nice. But, you also don’t have to hate if you’re not. Why Brother? I’m Only Here Because You’re Not.
THOUGHTS AFTER THE OBSERVATIONS
I went home Smelling of Rotten Tomatoes. Feeling a bit like one, too.
Another Volunteer asked if I’d come back.
“Yeah,” I answered. “I like it here.”
I Miss The Damn Smell Already.
Photo by Michael A. Kuch