When I woke on the 4th day of my homeless life, my back was aching as I tried to roll over. In doing so I rolled on top of the open wine bottle I had fallen asleep with sometime before, all while the flicker of an outside neon light started to shine. I opened my eyes to see that I was in the parking lot of Don and Inger’s Place; a medium sized mom and pop diner that was in the process of opening up. I pulled myself up, took a deep breath, opened the door and started towards the diner. Don and Inger’s Place was known for 3 things; good food, hospitality, and generosity to the less fortunate. They were any number of men and woman, half drunken, asleep or otherwise, littering the alley in the back of the diner. They were there for one reason; food. There were always plenty of leftovers at Don and Inger’s Place and they much rather give it away than throw it away. After the daily meal most of them would migrate back across the street to High Street Park, appropriately named, or ‘home’ as they affectionately called it. But, it did attract quite an eclectic audience, and homeless people certainly fit that description. I stepped over a few lost souls I made my way to the front of the diner.           Don and Inger’s Place was an old building and more like a diner than a restaurant. While nowhere near a rail hub, it attempted to mimic one nonetheless. The interior was a long, narrow space with a counter and stools, an exposed kitchen area behind it, and a few booths across the aisle. At one end of the counter was a revolving display case of desserts, which almost always looked tastier than they were. In short it was a greasy spoon the likes of which were all American to be sure. The aroma of coffee brewing mixed with sizzling bacon was heavenly, and I smelled it even before I went in. They had one of those tiny bells attached to the front door, so every time it opened it made a tinkling sound reminiscent of reindeer.  I had a little money left over from Grandma so I decided to have coffee at sit at the counter. The waitress, who appeared to be operating entirely on shtick; mindless chatter that seemed as phony as it could be, seemed more interested in anything other then what I wanted. Not one thing that came out of her mouth sounded original, and while she did a fairly good job of serving, her dialogue seemed to be an original piece of work the likes of which could have been assembled by any aspiring novice. While I waited for her to get everything just right, I grabbed the menu – I had no intention of ordering anything, but I thought I might get my coffee quicker if she thought I was a serious buyer.  I was particularly struck by their burger menu as it included no less than twenty topping choices, among them such mouthwatering options as Fluff-a-nutter , which I as unsure what that was, Raw Clams, Tuna Fish, Squid , etc.., I felt sick As my first cup of coffee came, I was thinking about how lonely being homeless seemed to be; I’ve spent a lot of time in my head talking to myself. You kind of make plans, then review; make plans then review, and so on. Then there was the tinkling sound from the bell attached to the door. I did not bother to look up or turn around, and was indifferent to it for the most part. The lady sat down at the end of the counter just a few seats from mine. She seemed pretty pulled together, and judging from her Burger King uniform was on her way to work (either that or she just like to wear uniforms). She seemed nice enough and offered the first greeting to which I reciprocated. She tried to make small talk, but not being an exceptional morning person, my enthusiasm for conversation waned a bit. However, my demeanor changed altogether when I noticed she was crying.  Her name was Heidi and she grew up in Texas. ‘Do you know why I ended up homeless?’ she asked calmly and to my surprise. ‘It was an abusive relationship, and I just got tired of the beating.’ And as she went on to say she got on a bus to my town and found herself in High Street Park. It was there she officially began a life as a homeless person. She was taught the ‘how to’ by other homeless people, most of which hustled for anything they could, dope, alcohol; anything that could make life more bearable. She moved from park to park and eventually was able to get a job at Burger King. With her new job she was able get out of the park altogether, and began to live in a motel that offered weekly rates. One of the most devastating things Heidi claimed about being homeless was the complete lack of being noticed by passersby. She suffered from depression and a mild form of schizophrenia, but all of that was under control and long since passed with the aid of medication. It worked well, with the exception of her incessant snapless snapping (that is the motion of snapping both fingers in the air without the sound).Since then she had moved to a nearby house for the homeless where she worked helping other homeless people. Her main job was to befriend them and to try to rehabilitate, and guide them to become productive citizens. She was crying for her friend Fred, who had vanished only days earlier. She had grown fond of him and really believed that he was making serious improvements in his life. He had gone through all of the required steps to beat the drugs and alcohol, and had been sober for 3 months; longer than he’d ever been in most of his adult life. Each morning she would share coffee or tea with him, discuss the daily newspaper as they both sat around the large rectangular dining room table. (She suddenly stopped the conversation midsentence and said ‘Wait, I have an incoming e-mail…’ while holding her hand to her head. ‘Never mind, only spam. .’ and she continued …) However, on that day she came downstairs as usual and went into the kitchen to prepare coffee. Fred was already sitting at the table, and lightly grunted when she offered a cheery ‘good morning’ to him, and headed into the kitchen. She banged some dishes around in an effort to find cups, and called out to Fred asking if he wanted coffee or tea. When she got no response, she repeated herself, and at the third attempt she asked while returning to the dining room. But to her amazement his was gone; vanished. The chair he was sitting in was tipped over; the newspaper was strewn on the floor, and the large wooden front door stood open. Heidi looked high and low for Fred; inside and out. She combed the neighborhood, she went to every park, including High Street Park, where he might have hung out, but after a long day there was no sign of Fred whatsoever. She spoke to all of the other residents of the house, but except for the night before no one had seen him. He simply had vanished. His room was empty, not that he had many possessions, and it just looked like he had checked out. Finally, late in the evening she gave up and called the police to file a missing persons report. I told her that I was so sorry to hear about losing her friend that way, and that she should keep positive. I asked her if she would mind if I prayed for her and to my delight she smiled and said that would be wonderful. So, I said a small prayer, placing my hands on her shoulders, and she smiled. I made a small difference in someone’s life that day, and it had been a long time since that had happened.

Then I offered her a cup of coffee, but she declined saying she needed to get back to Somerset House to start her day, and she hurried of without a further word.

kellycake kellycake
1 Response Mar 19, 2009

what a wonderful story! I was hoping to read more about the change in circumstances that pulled you from High Park to being somewhere stable with internet access.