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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Siouxland Sleep-Out

It's Getting Closer...

"Can I help you, Ma'am?" came the voice from behind me. I turned around reflexively. "Um, Sir," amended the lad, noticing my beard and mustache. (That happens to me fairly often when I forget to put my hair back. It makes me laugh.)

"Yeah," I said, scratching my head in befuzzlement, gazing absently at the boy's bright orange Home Depot vest, wondering if it was made by the same people that make the pretty blue Wal-Mart vests. "I'm looking for some little tent stake thingies to hold down that fabric stuff that lives under the bark in my yard."

The "sales associate" looked at me like I grew horns. "I'm sorry, sir, but this is the plumbing section... Camping supplies are over that way." Thus started my foray into Home Improvement. Not at all an auspicious start...

"No, no, no... I don't really need tent stakes. I have some of that fabric stuff in the garden in my front yard," I explain, "with bark chips on it. The fabric is supposed to keep weeds from growing, but it keeps blowing away. I need something to hold it down." I scratched my whiskers.

"Um," said the boy in the Home Depot vest, "I don't think we have that here in the plumbing section. You might want to try looking in the maybe the garden section, maybe?" He gestured vaguely westward.

I nodded wisely. "Oh. Okay then." I didn't want to explain to the lad that if I had known where the garden section was, I wouldn't be in plumbing in the first place. I wandered vaguely westward.

I did eventually find what I needed (do you believe, they actually MAKE fabric stakes?) and made my way home again, purchases in hand. Twenty minutes later I was standing ankle-deep in bark mulch, hammering away at a little green plastic stake with a hammer (handle wrapped in duct tape, of course). I was wondering if the woodchuck that lives under my front porch had finally moved out (quietest neighbor we've had in years, that woodchuck) and if I should find a way to fill in the holes he'd chewed through the latticework that skirts our porch, when I noticed some movement about half a block down the alley.

I stopped pounding at the little green plastic stake and peered. (I used to be more discreet about peering, but it doesn't bother me much any more to peer - I just gaze away at whatever or whomever catches my interest. It maybe bothers some people, probably.) Anyway, whilst involved in my favorite hobby of slack-jawed gawking, I watched a couple homeless guys crawl out from between my neighbor's garage and that abandoned shed. As I watched, they gathered their belongings, a couple bundles of rags and some empty cans, dusted themselves off, tugged their hats down around their ears and wandered off down the alley towards the Gospel Mission. I had mixed emotions, as I always do when confronted by homeless people wandering around the neighborhood - awe that they can survive Iowa winters outdoors, admiration at their ingenuity to find such a cozy place to snooze, pity that they have to do these things, and shame that I don't rush over to them and hand them money.

I know, I know... They don't want my pity.

About the time they turned the corner at the far end of the alley, I heard a thump-bumping down the street the other way. I turned to see another homeless guy going through our neighbor's garbage, looking for cans. He was dressed in layers - but I couldn't really identify what the layers were... A grocery cart half-full of empty pop cans was in the sidewalk behind him. He looked up and saw me staring at him. Before I could look away, he gave me a cheerful smile and waved, then resumed rooting through the garbage.

Not quite knowing how to react, or what to do, I resumed pounding little green plastic stakes into the ground. I paid ten bucks for those little green plastic stakes so I could whack 'em with a hammer. What would this guy do with ten bucks? "He'd probably spend it on booze," I thought to myself. "These people are hard people - they've lost their humanity." About that time the guy pushed his cart past me. He paused in front of my house, gazing into my porch. "Oh no," I thought. "He's going to try to steal something, or maybe ask me if he can have something in my porch..."

He stood there, stock still for about fifteen seconds. Then he broke into a big grin, laughed a little, and tapped on the window. He looked back at me. "What a beautiful cat!" he said, big smile on his face. He turned back to the window and tapped at my cat for a few more seconds, then made his way down the street, whistling the "Stray Cat Strut."

Yep, he's hardened all right.

It startled me that in the space of five minutes I'd see three homeless people within half a block of my house. Three human beings with no place to go. Three men with no prospects. It makes me sad.

Last November Dagmar participated in the First Annual Siouxland Sleep-Out; she took pledges and then went to sleep outside for a night. I was so proud of her! All the money went towards programs to help keep people from becoming homeless in the first place. Being an annual event, it's really no surprise that they're having it again this year... So, both Dagmar and I are going to go sleep outside this Friday (though we're gonna sleep in a tent, not a box like this hearty soul did last year). If anyone would like to make a pledge, just let us know! You can mail us a check (made out to Siouxland Sleep-Out), or you can even PayPal a donation to me if you want at chris at radloffs.net (using the "@" of course - I'm afraid if I write my e-mail out properly I'll get even more junk mail).

If you'd like more information on exactly where the money goes or how to donate, just drop us a line, or you can go to this nifty web site to learn more. It's a good thing. Every little bit helps!

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