by Larry Ciptak
I came home from my homeless schtick tonight and put my knife on top of something on the kitchen table. I thought the table was clean. When I turned the lights on, the knife was sitting on top of a New Testament, the only object on the table.
A flood of thoughts engulfed me as I stood motionless, juxtaposing the knife and the second half of the Bible. I was transfixed. Lots of knives and other assorted weapons in the Old Testament–not so much in the New.
The Old Testament was about kicking some ass. Perhaps if modern Christianity threw in some guns and other tools of destruction in the New Testament they could attract the younger demographic, and brainwash them while they play with video games and hand-held devices. This will be the new age of religion and I’ll likely live to see it, perhaps in the not-so-distant future either.
All I know is my Creator compels me to reach out to people in creative and effective ways, and camping with the homeless guys on Monday nights somehow factors into the equation. I don’t question it. It is what it is. Call it a spiritual itch that needs scratched.
I don’t need a book to explain to me what to do and don’t do, or question why I do what I do. The spiritual and philosophical books I read so voraciously from the fall through the spring are now collecting dust. The good ones pointed me in the right direction. These were classic Christian, Taoist, Buddhist and other religious texts. Though they were magnificently written and full of language that lit the senses and strongly encouraged self-reflection at deep levels, all recognized the same basic spiritual truths while encouraging the development of a personal relationship with God while treating people right and with compassion. Same soup, different noodle. Simple.
Anyway, we grilled chicken tonight. Ate very well. Just hung out and bullshitted about nothing in particular. I got to know a 44 year old woman who has been on her own since 16. It shows. She grew up in a very tough section of New York. We talked about a bunch of stuff. She only had the money for a couple beers so she was relatively lucid tonight, compared to how I’m used to seeing her. It was a nice change, I finally got to really talk to her. There’s always a person behind the facade, be it financial success and all the socially expected trimmings to living under a bridge and sleeping on cold concrete.
Everyone assumes a persona that they show to the masses, and the smart ones are careful about who they let into their circle and show their real selves. And some just plain stop caring what other people think about them–they’re too involved cultivating their inner lives instead. Let someone in your thoughts and you become their prisoner, the Chinese say.
The gang thanks you, Kevin, for the hoodies, long johns and socks. The items were fairly distributed and very needed as well as appreciated.
Then out of nowhere an SUV comes screaming over the curb and onto the underpass, skidding to a halt. A large, well-rounded, tough-looking and thoroughly pissed off Sister comes out of the vehicle, screaming at a skinny little guy who is running away from her. She’s way too big to try to catch up with this fast bastard. She’s screaming every name in the book at him–kind of like Aunt Ester did on Sanford and Son–with a few added choice expletives. She comes strutting past us to go up toward the tracks, but this dude is way gone. She knows it. She turns around and cusses to herself and whoever else will listen as she heads back to her vehicle. We go back to eating chicken.
Night time is around 9:30-10:30 under the bridge. It gets very quiet. A stillness develops. It’s time to go.
Lately I’ve been coming home and writing about my experiences with the homeless. I’m not sure I’m going to continue doing this. What I have going on down there is developing into something much more personal and I’m actually feeling a little protective of the guys. It’s starting to not feel right to write about them. They’re human beings and deserve their dignity. This may well be my last post about the homeless, except if I’m putting the pinch on you for donations.
Those who know me well understand that every blue moon, I conjure up some variety of social experiment where I basically light a fuse then sit back and watch it go boom. Like playing “Bad Santa” at the 17th Street Cafe. It’s part of my nature. Actually it’s a Ciptak trait. Sometimes we mess with people a little, just because we can. But this is not a social experiment. My interaction with the homeless guys and gals has no form or agenda. We have our shared tribal rituals but other than that, I’m not certain why I’m really there and it apparently doesn’t matter to anyone anyway.
There’s a lot of beauty underneath that underpass. I don’t need to explain it, just to experience it. I could endeavor to describe it but could never adequately explain what actually transpires there. I am being fed well on numerous significant levels and am coming to new heights of understanding concerning a multitude of things that gnaw at me, in one of the grittiest parts of the city. But that’s my valued environment one or two nights a week, the Church of the Underpass. God bless them all.