Saturday, May 4, 2013

#ROW 80 POST 2 - HOMELESS CHRONICLES IN TAMPA – HOMELESS CHIC



Me cooking. With paper towels under my arm. What you don't see are the other 40 people trying to cook. The paper towels are mind and if I put them down, all the vultures descend on them. JC took this as he ran through the kitchen. This is one of the less chaotic moments. Note the Farmer John Ensemble.

Every now and then, JC and I will remember some odd thing or another that reminds us of living in the homeless shelter and it's usually amusing. Think of it as high school where everyone rode the short bus, even the popular and bright kids. Most of the students are either in their jammies, some with feeties, but a few of us are in the usual bag-lady or bag-man wear, flannel pants, with saggy knees, shapeless day-glo, colorful and eye-watering t-shirts, with sayings like “Go Carolina Panthers!” or “I Heart Savannah,” none of the sayings have anything to do with Tampa, or anything anyone cares about.

Our feet are generally shod in lovely Crocs in even more eye-watering and raucously hued colors; they're pretty much the pariahs of the shoe world and look, smell and feel like giant pencil erasers on your feet. An added bonus is that they don't “breathe,” so that you can smell with ease, the feet of anyone who bathes once a decade or has hydrophobia. Mine are bright pink. They look atrocious coupled with the aqua track-suit a “friend” (I say that with irony, she is a dear, dear friend) sent to me. Being homeless, I am never one to look a white elephant in the mouth.


Boy Howdy, these are some of the damn ugliest things I've ever seen and worn. They feel like a cross between bubble-gum and erasers and even if you bathe every day, they start to emanate a lovely dirty-feet smell. There was one guy at the shelter who you could smell in the NEXT room in his crocs. Plus, when they get weathered, they just fade and look vague. If you have to look ugly, stand up and be proud! Don't just be ugly-ish.

When I first was placed in the shelter, I showed up with a walker, was clad in 3 hospital gowns, and had 2 garbage bags full of castoffs from the physical therapy center I had been in for the prior 5 weeks. Which is great when you think about it. Shit that even the dotty old bats won't wear. How great can that look? After an arduous 45 minutes spent getting up 3 stairs, I rested for a while and then got settled in.

Of course, I can liken all of this to gaming and game theory, decision trees and all. No one tells you anything and you have no idea of what to do next to get out of this new situation of homeless and become unhomeless. I hear vague references about going to “Homeless Recovery,” and “applying for Disability,” but beyond that, I have not clue one. After about a month of hiding in my room, I finally ventured out and went to Homeless Recovery, to do whatever I was supposed to do; I still didn't know. I only knew I was supposed to be there by 5 am.


I have to go on this here questy-quest. On top of being all fuzzy, I don't have the user's guide or any cheats and don't know what to do. It's called "Homeless Recovery." I hate when that happens. Better get to it!

It was shortly after the New Year. I waited for a bus that never came and then walked about 6 blocks. In the dark. In the cold. In one of the worst neighborhoods in the United States. What was I thinking? I was thinking about how fucking cold it was; I didn't have a coat, just a hospital blanket purloined from the hospital where I'd had a recent 2-month stay. I actually had a whole wardrobe of hospital-related stuff. Those lovely socks with treads front and back, in colors that don't exist in nature. Several hospital gowns, with shapes. Rhomboids, triangles, squares, stars, etc. If there's ever a shape-recognition test, I'm prepared. I have several barf trays and bath buckets. Anyway, I had only taken one blanket with me. I knew I had a long way to go and I wanted to travel light; what the hell was I thinking?


The colors I have are not nearly so tasteful. They're neon, like the Crocs. I used to wear colors that deliberately clashed. No one gave a shit, or else they were too drugged to notice.

I was wearing a pair of jeans that were way too big, so like Daisy Mae Clampett, I had a piece of rope tying two of the belt loops together so the suckers would stay up, around my non-existent hips and ass. I forget what I was wearing on my upper part. Some shapeless t-shirt and many sweatshirts that had seen better eras, probably the Eisenhower years. All topped off with my charming white hospital blanket, swathed like T.E. Lawrence, on my way to the unknown.

Forty-five minutes later, huffing and puffing, having dodged the hobos (“Be Kind, Don't Set Me On Fire,” read one sign propped against a sleeping bundle of rags by the underpass) and the gangstas and hos, who don't get much in the way of penniless, disabled folk; I got more “Bless you, sisters” from them, than I would in any church, I found the fabled Homeless Recovery. It was 19F by the Bank sign. Fuck me, this is Tampa. I had had to stop and rest several times, only recently learning to walk again.

There were already 8 people ahead of me. I got my number and leaned up against the building and slowly slid over to atilt to one side, all the way to the ground. Alist, like a ship. Timberrrrr! Like a tree. I had just run out of steam. I couldn't help it; I started to giggle, the other 8 people goggled at me, and then they started to laugh. We all laughed. I laughed until the tears flowed. I knew what I looked like. Jesus. On top of my wearing my lovely ensemble, I had lost so much weight, my hair had fallen out and you could see scalp through my short 3 or 4 hairs, I seemingly had left. With my Lawrence of Arabia blanket, Ellie Mae jeans and horrible worn-out sweatshirts, I'm sure I was making the latest fashion statement in Homeless Chic.

After my appointment with my social worker who gave me a list of items and tasks to complete, I shlepped myself back to the homeless shelter. No one ever batted an eye, for the most part at anything people wore or did. One girl went to our annual Gasparilla Festival (where the Pirates take over and sack Tampa, yes, for real) in her pajamas. I can't really say much, since, she gave me a black thing with a waist tie. I wore it all over the place; the supermarket, the doctor's offices, on outings for a couple of months and then someone told me it was a bathrobe. Oops. Oh well, it was warm. I digress.


The infamous #2 Bus on Nebraska Avenue (okay, it's the Lowry Park Zoo; same difference, except the Zoo inhabitants have better manners)

On the day I went to Homeless Recovery, I had one other place to go. I had no ID, so my social worker gave me a referral to go to this place called “The Shoppe,” and I had to take the famous #2 bus, which is probably the most notorious of the HARTline buses. It runs up and down Nebraska Avenue, which is the center of the world of Homeless. You never know what is going to be on the bus, and you can either join in the mayhem or tune out. I always join in. Well, my initiation consisted of me getting to my stop and in my rush to get off, the bus driver stopped me with this: “Hey, lady! You dropped your... er, uh... cape.” Referring to my lovely hospital blanket that was laying in the aisle. No one batted an eye. I had arrived. Just one more routine bizarro, like the guy who plays golf, riding the bus in his cute little togs, with his clubs, with all the 'bangers and the hos. Oh yeah, he lived in my homeless shelter, too, and is still over there and still playing golf and riding the bus. I'm still wondering about him.
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