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Soup Kitchen Santa

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Today, a fictional short story based on a non-fictional person…

soup kitchen santa

If they had a chimney on this building, I could sneak in and bring us all out some warm cookies!”

John stood in line with the other early-comers in front of the plate-glass doors to the Soupateria. A few wispy snowflakes swirled and played in the morning’s light breeze.

His deep voice and laughter rang out over the quiet chatter of the others.

Looking at him, listening to him, you could become convinced in your ears and in your head – at least in the month of December – that Santa Claus himself had found his way south and joined the crowd waiting for some hot soup on a chilly Okanagan day, supping with those he had delivered special gifts to over many decades in their youth.

John hadn’t the stereotypical physique of Santa, he was fit and rode a bedraggled bicycle, no reindeer in the lead, on the chilliest of days.

He didn’t sport a rosy nose or chubby cheeks beneath the faded Santa hat that he wore today for the first time this year, instead of his usual Toronto Maple Leaf toque.

“You like cookies Betty Ann?”, he chuckledShe smiled a toothless grin and nodded.

What he did have was a fluffy grey-white beard, wire-rimmed glasses, a winsome, devilish smile and a charm in his speech that brought smiles to the faces of adults and children alike. You couldn’t be faulted for calling him jolly.

The tenor of his deep voice rang out loudly – like a low, rumbling avalanche in the distant hillside – as if he had a microphone hidden away in his woollen sweater or his old ski jacket.

John hadn’t worked a day in years even though he was probably 15 years short of normal retirement age.

His last job as a gardener ended with a soulless whimper one balmy day after lunch; he snuck in a nap while leaned against the tire of the boss’s work truck, and then just declined to get back up to mow the customer’s backyard lawn.

John was sweet and warm and jolly… and slightly deluded.

It wasn’t only you or I that might be fooled by his similarities to Saint Nick. Nope.

When John looked at himself in the mirror each day, the man staring back, he was convinced, was Saint Nicholas.

John believed in Santa Claus – John believed in himself. John is a current day Miracle on 34th Street.

After filing through the long lineup at the soup serving window, mischievously and with one eyebrow raised, he searched the dessert counter for a prized chocolate chip muffin.

Every day he prayed for chocolate chip muffins.

He’d chuckle when the serving person at the counter handed him his prize, then, solitary, he’d sit quietly at a far end table and munch away at his soup and sandwich with headphones wrapped over his toque and ears.

When he sipped the last dribs of hot chocolate and swallowed the final bite of his muffin, he turned his attention to the others lined up at the long tables and worked his way through the group, chatting in animation and laughter.

I don’t know John well other than our regular friendly small talk conversations outside the soup kitchen as he patiently waited for “door opening”.

A soup kitchen volunteer once told me that John had an older autistic brother that lived with him in a small basement apartment a block away from the beach.

For a long time, a couple of years at least, I’ve observed John and his gentle calm demeanour as he jabbered with the heavily tattooed; the itinerant fruit pickers from Quebec, Mexico, or France; those with pockmarked faces from meth abuse; and others indistinguishable from anyone else you know.

Last week, near the end of my dishwashing shift, a clatter arose in the dining hall behind me. No biggee. Just usual squabbling.

I finished off rinsing a bowl in the deep stainless-steel sink, popped it into the dish rack, then turned slowly to see what the din was about.

Often a minor kerfuffle breaks out amongst the Soupateria denizens over a toe clumsily stepped on or when someone gets deeply offended by a sandwich uneaten. Most arguments are worked out within seconds and calm settles back in like a duvet shaken over a bed.

This time was different. I looked out into the big room as a sizeable throng rushed out the front door as a smaller throng rushed back in. Hmmmm, that’s not typical.

The ones rushing in were signalling to us volunteers with crazed looks on their faces.

Man down!“, one woman yelled. The surreal scene began to take on the sheen of a movie set, I almost expected to hear another voice cry out… “CUT!

I had an immediate jolt of “this was happening“. For months, I had thought about this moment each time I came in to help out.

Fentanyl.

Linda, kitchen supervisor for the day, and I looked at each other with trepidation. We knew where the kit was located that we had hoped to never need to locate.  We also both knew that we were the only ones trained on site.

We were slightly stunned but our glances turned into reflex action; we both scurried towards the noise and activity.

Weaving through the crowded group, we exited the building onto the cement walkway out front where a human circle had formed like the ones kids make around a schoolyard fight.

There was no surprise in seeing a man’s body splayed on the hard ground, a few snowflakes resting on his dark blue ski jacket. Motionless and quiet. Still, with no breath.

The surprise arose when I saw the Santa hat on the victim’s head.

John.

Grey, lifeless, unsmiling John; his skin and beard colour not differing by many tonal shades.

The next few minutes – it might have been 5, maybe 10, maybe an hour, who knows –  were a blur as Linda and I went throughout the steps of administering naloxone as best we could remember.

Because of my previous lab experience in needle use, I did the injections into John while Linda made some attempts at artificial respiration. I drew up a cc of the drug into the syringe and plunged it into his now-exposed shoulder.

We waited and watched. One go round and we could see that John wasn’t responding. No movement, no breathing, no less grey.

There were sirens in the distant background. Linda said, “it’s been 3 minutes now, I think you should give him another shot.

I had the next needle deep beneath his skin when, oblivious to anything more than 12 inches away, I felt a tap on my shoulder. The EMT’s had arrived.

…………….

John… Santa… still ashen-grey, was whisked away with sirens blaring.

The crowd dispersed quietly as Linda and I gathered the detritus left on the sidewalk, the  plastic containers and latex gloves, the bits of paper and empty naloxone vials.

The last thing I picked up was John’s weathered Santa hat.

I carefully folded it and placed it into my apron pocket. I’d give it back to John after he recovered, next time I saw him riding his bike or at the soup kitchen window.

Later that evening, I received a phone call from Linda.

Quietly, haltingly, she said that John hadn’t made it. Street Santa was gone.

I hung up the phone and reflected. Our streets are replete with those who appear normal – well-adjusted – on the surface. And yet World War III has been waging all along in the background.

I guess I’ll track down John’s brother and return his Santa hat now.

Santa hat

 

 

 

 

Primal Scream

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Get out… NOW!!”

man yelling

WTH!… where is all this screaming coming from?

In reaction and haste, I try to slot the hot water sprayer back in its “holster” but miss the target and shoot a spray of steaming water onto the back of the trousers of Barb, one of the other volunteers.

She jumps in surprise but doesn’t seem scalded. She even smiles. Hallelujah!

I’m the soup kitchen dishwasher today – and turn around to see what the rowdy kerfuffle’s about in the dining hall.

Joe, one of the scruffy diners in the main eating area of the Soupateria is carrying a tattered plastic Value Village bag filled with 6 small canisters of propane.

I don’t know his why. Maybe he has a small Coleman stove he cooks his supper on in a cramped culvert pipe down by Okanagan Lake.

He’s worked himself into an infuriated lather.

Brawny Liv, the security lady that resembles Lucille Ball, is yelling at Joe to get the hell out of the building with the flammable/explosive material.

Instantly, they’re both lit, flammable and explosive.

Ear-piercing F*-Bombs are flying back and forth like shuttlecocks in a badminton match.

Other wide-eyed diners around the noisy display show a mixture of adrenalinized excitement, some fear. The anti-anxiety drugs may not be enough.

It’s just another round in a daily lunchtime set of mostly minor squabbles amongst folks who’ve lived and felt small, maybe excluded, maybe bullied. I don’t know anything except it’s loud and angry.

Volunteering a few days a month in a soup kitchen has probably been one of the more rewarding things I’ve ever done … partly it’s because of the internal stroking I get helping to relieve the discomfort in others’ lives, but more so because of the greater perspective others – different others – out there have given me in my world.

soup kitchen2.jpg

In many ways, the sights and sounds of this foreign world are surreal to my life’s experiences.

We all live in a rarified, kind of ignorant strata of life, don’t we?

It’s like taking a shovel and pushing into the soft earth. We lift the blade and see the layers, the various types of minerals and tiny pebbles that make up that microcosm of soil.

Then we dig in again and scoop down further and lift another strata of soil sub-structure. Now we notice that the types of minerals and composition of clay vs. sand vs. silt has changed from the first shovelful.

The world beneath us has changed in just one quarrying of the shovel.

Most of us never dig and bore in on the second or third shovelsful of humanity surrounding us. We believe that all of our world is made of the same soil because that’s all we’ve been exposed to.

We live and breathe within our own strata of life.

Growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, I believed everyone lived a similar life to my own. Didn’t every town and city have a mix of British-heritaged and Eastern-European and Italian families that loosely amalgamated as one group to work in factories that produced steel and cars and appliances with an abundance of smoke pumping out of their chimneys?

It wasn’t until I reached my twenties that I learned differently.

Thank God I had a fortuitous phone call with a job offer from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories that flung open the doors and windows inside my head. That clear chill Arctic air changed my life forever as surely as Dorothy and Toto experienced plowing down into Oz post-tornado.

It shocks me that there are so many out there who are unwilling to accept the differences that make our world a special place.

differences.jpg

This year… today… I’m living in this surreal space north of an unguarded, supposedly friendly border where the seemingly unbelievable is bizarre reality.

The usually amiable country to my south is like the soup kitchen, filled with a confused mixture of folks who’ve lived and felt small, maybe excluded, maybe bullied. I don’t know anything except it’s loud and angry.

There are canisters of fiery propane exploding daily with every tweet.

The fetid anger and stink is blowing across the globe like a cloud emanating from a volcanic eruption. There is one mouth, one volcanic spew that’s precipitating a sensation of global chill.

I’m disturbed and gobsmacked by the “Ice Age” that’s descended so quickly.

All of this blah blah blah above really comes down to my need for some self-soothing.

It’s childlike and its primal. My thumb is getting way too wrinkled from spending so much time suckled inside my mouth.

More soothing? Reading through some course materials in the Screenwriting course I’m just beginning brought me this short monologue spoken by the character Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) in the movie, The American President:

……………

You want free speech?

Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.

You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest.

Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms.

Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free.” 

I wrap myself in a warm blanket of comfort when I spot intellectually rational, yet emotional memes and speeches that exude hope and positivity to push back against the rage and fear and ignorance.

It keeps my primal scream in check.

……………

It’s hard for me to put myself in the shoes of others and truly feel their pain.

That old Scout’s song, The Quartermaster’s Store called it right…

My eyes are dim I cannot see, I have not brought my specs with me…

But when I visit the soup kitchen, I pop on my specs and see that I’ve been “segregated” from parts of my own world that are difficult to understand.

When I travel to other countries and grasp the way others live and survive, I grow out of my ignorance.

Like any stressful period in human history, we all need to hold on and know that this moment, this challenging epoch… yes, This Too Shall Pass.

Brrrr… It’s a chilly autumn day here as I scan the grey, clouded Okanagan hillsides.

Chris, today’s chef du jour, has made 3 deliciously amazing soups for the folks in the Soupateria today: Tomato Vegetable, Bean and Bacon, and Seafood Chowder.

Why don’t we sit down together, and share a calming bowl of hot soup?

eyeglass of ignorance

 

 

 

How to Make Trump Soup

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I have nothing to put in my soup, you see,
Not a bone or a bean or a black-eyed pea,
So I’ll just climb in the pot to see
If I can make a soup out of me.
I’ll put in some pepper and salt and I’ll sit
In the bubbling water–I won’t scream a bit.
I’ll sing while I simmer, I’ll smile while I’m stewing,
I’ll taste myself often to see how I’m doing.
I’ll stir me around with this big wooden spoon
And serve myself up at a quarter to noon.
So bring out your soup bowls,
You gobblers and snackers.
Farewell–and I hope you enjoy me with crackers!

… with apologies to Shel Silverstein

Trump Soup.jpg

Donald Trump stood in line at the Penticton Soup Kitchen (Soupateria) one morning – I think it was Thursday – this week.

It’s true. I saw him with my own eyes.

Of course, I could be mildly confused but that’s a different story for another day.

It was a sunny (-less) day without a cloud in the sky, but no obvious sun either… a fog of forest-fire grey smoke still hung throughout the Okanagan Valley like damp laundry on the line in a “No Campfires Allowed” provincial campground …

But not only is there 50 Shades of Grey haze hanging out, but there’s also a ubiquitous orange-scoured miasma that’s been persistently hanging on and blanketing the entire planet since, well, I’d have to say mid-January.

Scan the news, pick up a paper, open your ears, the stinky cloud is everywhere.

The bouquet of excrement is strong.

Anyway, I saw him standing there in the lazy, disorganized line that was gradually forming by the glass-fronted doors of the soup kitchen. There were little pockets of quiet chatter amidst the shaggy group. One or two were talking to themselves.

The Donald caught my eye with a hostile gaze as I passed by, taking a few empty cardboard potato boxes to the recycling dumpster that sits like a quiet blue elephant nearby the front entrance.

donald t.jpg

Before I could turn away or pretend we hadn’t had a “moment”, he latched onto me and began bellowing through his rectal-pursed lips.

“Look… I’m coming into the kitchen and getting you guys organized.

It will be so simple. We’re gonna make a huge pot of my new recipe… Trump Soup.

It’s gonna be fantastic. Best ever. Everyone loves it and they haven’t even tried it yet.”

I tried to pull away and sneak in the back door but he was on me before I could close and bar the door.

There we both were, Trump vs Billy Bush-style, in the narrow back hallway, jammed between trays of day-old bread and boxes of freshly picked Sunrise apples.

Nervously, I melted away from his toxic breath. I felt afraid that he might grab me by the pussy (hmmmm, something doesn’t add up here!).

Fine!

In resignation, I lead him through the door into the main dining area set up with about 2 dozen long, blue-grey tables. Bread crumbs littered the beige vinyl floor where the sandwich makers had just finished their task.

We veered to the right and into the production kitchen. Delicious smells sifted quickly into my nose.

I reluctantly prepared to introduce him around the industrious, knife-wielding group of volunteers attired in purple and navy blue aprons.

Donald didn’t lose a step, brushing me aside with a shove of his arm, while totally ignoring all of the volunteer staff busily chopping carrots and onions.

He headed straight to the huge 35 L. soup cauldron simmering over a gas flame. A delicate vegetable broth scent rose up to meet his gaze, his interrogation of the soup.

Listening closely I heard him mumble under his breath… “Natural Gas stove, hmmmmpf… no jobs there… we’ll change it to coal.

A quick dismissive sniff and he decisively turned on his heels.

Then, raising both of his little hands and making zeros with his thumb and forefinger, he addressed the group.

People, this soup is terrible, it’s a disaster.” Sneer.

Five or six confused helpers raised their eyebrows, checking each other out for reactions.

“We are gonna repeal and replace this soup…

… this stuff is worse than the Holocaust… and one other thing!”. 

Ceiling fans spun furiously overhead to dispel the rising heat wave sweeping the stainless steel laden kitchen. Localized global warming?

He lifted an eyebrow and angrily spat: “It’s those fruit-picking “Kweebeckoys” Frenchy kids outside with their long braids and hippie clothes. They’ve gotta go back to where they came from. And the Mexicano guys too.”

quebecois kids.jpg

“Before we open the door for lunch, we’re gonna build a wall to keep them outta here. And dammit, they’ll pay for it to be built with the money they stole from OUR local farmers.”

“Let’s put the good folks in the lineup out there to work – the ones who were born right here and not in Kenya like that other wacko President – we’ll get them back to work so fast, it will be a beautiful beautiful thing.”

“Back to good-paying jobs in the orchards picking and packing. They’ll love us. I guarantee it.”

A glow of White Nationalist pride lit his chubby face – JOB accomplished – while pink-tinged embarrassed looks shrouded my and my co-volunteers’ faces.

“Ok everyone… I’m heading back to Air Force One… I’m leaving you to make this new Trump soup… lots of stinky garlic and onions, you decide, I don’t do details… doesn’t matter … what matters is that we repeal and replace that other soup.

“I don’t care how good it is or how much people have enjoyed it for years here. Doesn’t matter.”

“And you, over there…”

He pointed and glared at John, an elderly stooped gentleman born in Poland 80 years earlier.

Good John, who has diligently helped out in the kitchen twice each week since his retirement 17 years ago.

“I like you, but I don’t think you’re contributing enough. You’re fired.”

“Thank you for your service.”

“Let’s make this soup kitchen great again!… Look I have baseball caps with that emblazoned on them for you to wear.

Course, you’ll have to pay for them.”

……………….

Hands

Friends, we’re all in this soup pot together on this beautiful blue planet.

We can cry. We can stew. We can fester. And we can laugh.

But we can’t ignore forever.

History has already written that story.

………..

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love. (1958)

Martin Luther King

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemoller

 

Mary and Joseph…

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drone

… toodle quietly down early morning Martin Street of Penticton.

To an overhead drone, they would appear as small ants searching out scraps of food to return to the nest.

Mary is well in front, treading swiftly in her motorized scooter chair; a pair of worn teddy bears bob like crazy marionettes attached to the back of her seat as she breaks her mother’s back running over sidewalk cracks.

Her beady grey eyes are focussed on the walkway and the direction of travel.

White tangles of unkempt hair, untouched by a brush or comb this morning, catch errant whiffs of air movement like little fireworks going off in all directions. The studied concentration on her face leaves you with an impression of a pilgrimage.

They enter and emerge from long, dark shadows pasted across the quiet road by Ponderosa Pine and Norway Maple scattered along their route, doors opening and closing.

The air is fresh and applesauce delicious this early in the day before the dry Okanagan heat settles into town by 10 am. Light chirps of flickers and chickadees sift downwards from the branches above.

Rotund Joe slowly plods, like a proud Clydesdale workhorse, well behind Mary. His right hand behind his back grasps the handle of a child’s plastic wagon filled with sundry items that are incongruous with daily life … thrift store ingredients that may or not make it to the shelves.

Mary and Joe are no Okanagan Casabella Princess and Prince. Almost comic book-like, standing next to each other they look like the fruit-shaped salt and pepper shakers gift we received many years ago.

apple salt

Joe – the salt – is a round, red apple with a warm but mischievous grin… plump and elf’ish jolly.

Mary is the matching pepper shaker, not narrow or small on the top but definitely fanning out pear-like below her waist. She sports a narrow pinched mouth that accordions wide open when she smiles; a smile that comes often and readily.

I shudder when I see the state of their clothing, the ripped track pants, untucked stained shirts and polyester jackets that the Salvation Army wouldn’t deem acceptable to sell. Ketchup stains on two year-olds are kind of cute but on 70 year-olds it’s just kinda sad.

I don’t know where they live, this sweet couple.

I don’t know where their morning journey began.

I don’t know where or when they met.

Children? I suspect not, but I haven’t a clue.

I’ve seen their daily show played out on many many occasions as I’ve driven to my volunteer job at the local soup kitchen, and even at other times while just going about some chore of my own in town.

They arrive early to the front entryway of the Soupateria and sit on the wooden benches outside, chatting to themselves and other regular stragglers whose main social appointment of the day begins and ends right here.

soupateria

There are so many troubled souls that come through the doors of the soup kitchen – all ages, all shapes and colours, all genders – it can be heartbreaking to observe and think of the stories that led to the moment at hand.

Lately, I’m finding the crop of soup kitchen users are a strangely crabby lot compared to those of the past 2 years I’ve worked there. I’ve been checking the night sky more than usual for full moon phenomenon but to no avail.

What I really love about Mary and Joe is that no matter the traumas or tragedies they’ve lived – I’m certain there have been many breakages – they treat me and everyone they encounter like a long lost friend.

A friendly, gentle warmth exudes from their inner souls.

Any exchange with these two and you’re almost certain to walk away with a smile in your heart. Kindness sloughs from them like the dust off Charlie Brown’s buddy Pig Pen.

Each day when they reach the front of the line at the serving window of the Soupateria, through his stubbly grey beard, the first question Joe asks of the volunteer behind the counter is,

And how are you today?

I’ll look over and it’s like bright sunshine emerging from foreboding clouds.

It’s not an empty courtesy to hear him say this.

He enunciates the word YOU like no one else matters in the whole world. Then he listens carefully for the response.

After the friendly exchange, he chirps, “I’ll have egg salad on brown today please!”

A few minutes later without fail, Mary, at the end of her soup and sandwich lunch, always shuffles gingerly to the serving window and in her muffled, child-like voice, calls out a cheery thanks to the volunteers behind the counter.

I smile thinking of the holy irony of their names and then seeing Mary in deep focus, mounted on a small scooter on her diurnal sacred journey to Bethlehem.

Mary and Joe are pitifully stunted and incomplete by most of our societal measurements and yet… I see them as superheroes.

I don’t like the Silver Screen superheroes so much, the Batmans, the Supermans, the Wonder Womans and so on. Give me Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan and a Rom-Com any day.

The superheroes I prefer, the ones I truly admire, quietly walk the backstreets of our world, not striving to save humanity but somehow, in their inimitable way, giving others an uplift without even trying.

They’re the ones in anonymous costumes, no flowing capes, no stretch lycra bodysuits: the Marys and Joes on the street, the Chris and Lauraines in the soup kitchen, the Davids and Patricks in the Greek Restaurants, the Ricardos and Arturos who patiently, humorously teach me Spanish… all those who give freely without expectation of wealth or fame or even a pat on the back.

Because we spend so much time living in the illusions and challenges of our own lives we forget, often not noticing the beauty and strength of others we encounter day-to-day.

Mary and Joseph? Simple, plain folk.

They’re out there with gentle smiles, filling the loneliness of their’s and other’s lives… one another’s peaceful, green oasis in the desert where the horizon is limitless and sometimes painful.

Always with a smile…

superhero pee

SUPERHEROES really ARE just like the rest of us…

Soup Crackers … How Close Are You To Being A Walking Wounded?

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Zodiac killer

“Hey!”

A grey, grizzled guy in a Kal Tire baseball cap got shoved backwards into the lineup of folks clad in their worn Salvation Army winter coats in front of the serving window.

I’m a naive kind of guy.

I looked up and directly over the 35’ish year-old woman’s shoulder that I had just handed a wax-paper bag containing an egg salad sandwich on multigrain bread.

At first I thought it was just a friendly greeting… a – “Hi, how are ya!”, until they began angrily shouting at each other.

I zipped out from behind the counter and stepped between the two “combatants”. I wasn’t going to be a hero or anything. “C’mon you guys, this isn’t the place or time.”  Did I look tough and menacing or what? NOT!!

The heated tension diffused quickly – more likely because they were afraid they’d be ejected before filling their empty bellies than because of my calming presence. My magic just ain’t that strong.

This is Lunch Time at my local soup kitchen.

Soup kitchen

11:30 to 12:30…. 365 days a year… Two or 3 soup choices, 4-6 sandwich varieties, sometimes a tossed green or potato salad, a wide choice of “stale-dated” desserts (cookies, pies, cake, muffins, jello), and lots of milk, juice and coffee to wash it all down.

And the price is right.

No charge, no questions asked. You wanna come for lunch, you’re welcome.

I wander in 2 or 3 mornings each month to chop all the vegetables needed for a “mirepoix”, the flavour base for most stews and soups: two parts onions, one part carrots, and one part celery.

And, depending on what’s been donated, sometimes we chop rutabagas or peppers or parsnips or cabbage or mushrooms to toss in the soup pots.

That’s a lot of chopped veggies when making enough soup to feed between 100 and 200, depending on the season, the time of the month, the temperature outdoors.

The angry “shover” in the “schoolyard” altercation – Paul – looks like a roly-poly grownup version of Charlie Brown – round head with a reflective sheen to his baldness, tiny pee-hole-in-the-snow-eyes.

I’ve come to know this fellow Paul from short interactions over the previous few months.

I know he’s a troubled guy, despite a usually calm, almost tender voice. A voice really quite soft for a man that likely approaches 250 or so pounds.

And when he speaks it’s with a Donald Trump-like lips-forced-outwards position as if he’s trying to blow kisses while he’s talking.

trump

And like Trump, he’s a guy with dark demons inside.

Paul asked if he could help at the soup kitchen on Christmas day because he didn’t want to be alone and he doesn’t like anyone in his family.

A couple of months back, Paul buttonholed me while I was “bussing” – clearing and cleaning tables after the soup and sandwich and desserts had been consumed by the daily flock.

He – out of nowhere – asked if I had read a book about, or heard of this guy – a serial killer known as the Zodiac Killer.

Ah…. nope …“. I continued to wipe down the table nonchalantly, fearfully worried he might be making a confession.

He continued on, “The Northern California based Zodiac Killer claims he murdered 37 people in the late 1960’s, although police have only confirmed 7. Two of them survived the attacks.”

With each passing word he spoke, his level of animation and fascination grew, his eyes took on a luster of excitement in the telling of his story, his knowledge, his fascination.

For 10 minutes he had me cornered, while he outlined the details of the nasty man and his nastier deeds, how the police had mismanaged the case and had never found the culprit.

I listened as my mind raced in circles to determine if talking about the serial killer was just an academic fascination, or … was there an internal excitement for him, maybe a sexual arousal, almost a desire to be him?

I’m not a trained therapist or student of the mind; I never know who the killer is ahead of time in TV police dramas – I’m just not that capable of reading people.

I don’t know the inner turmoils or traumas that have shaped and affected Paul’s life.

I know he has struggles, I know he feels inner pain from things that have happened.

I also know that every person, every man, every woman, passing in front of the service window where I hand out a sandwich and a bowl of steaming soup has an inner story, a personal struggle.

The folks I see at the soup kitchen are the “Walking Wounded”, the ones whose conflicts have left them too damaged to fully function in our world in a way we would describe as “normal”.

If we repaired their teeth, gave them a shower and some fresh clothing, most of those I encounter at the soup kitchen – at least those who aren’t meth addicts with pockmarked ravaged faces – outwardly, they could be “Us”, you or me.

In amongst our smiles and joys and cheerfulness, small, or sometimes large grey clouds float in and out of our days.

Humanity gives no person, no matter how rich, no matter how famous, no matter how talented, a free pass on troubles.

Really?

Yup. All of us are “Walking Wounded” …

It comes down to degrees.

It comes down to circumstances, strength, attitude and probably the resilience within our genetics.

I was lucky to be born in the 20th Century. I was lucky to be born in affluent North America. I was lucky to be raised within a loving family.

It’s a sunny day in my mind knowing that I’m the one standing on the serving side of the soup kitchen counter.

And it’s REALLY sunny if, after a morning of peeling, dicing and chopping big bags of carrots and onions and celery, I can walk out the Soupateria door … and … because I’m a numbers guy, still count to 8 … oops, sorry … 10 on my fingers.

finger-slice

 

How I Found My Sixth Sense …

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Wake Up!

I must have a SIXTH SENSE.

Dead people

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I see famous people (… not dead people) …

A few years back I remember sitting in a shaded outdoor cafe in central Barcelona before our Spanish language class.

Each early morning weekday we sat next to the narrow, bustling street across from the Babylon-Idioma language school and sipped cups of cafe con leche that sported a small sweet biscuit on the side.

Salman Rushdie (Satanic Verses author) would stroll past us each day as we drank our strong coffees and practiced verb conjugations before class. He looked calm and relaxed, not fearful at all of being assassinated by some swarthy Iranian bounty hunter.

There were more famous people.

John Cleese of Monty Python fame ate paella just two tables away from us at a restaurant on the Barceloneta district beaches. He wasn’t doing any silly walks or banging parrots on the table top, just eating.

Jason Alexander (George on Seinfeld) rode the metro with us each morning on our way to class. He wasn’t sleeping under his seat, hiding from George Steinbrenner.

costanza asleep

OK. You might guess that I’m not telling the complete truth. I hear the chickadees outside my window chirping, “Liar… liar”

It’s the “Doppelgänger” truth.

…………..

Back to the here and now.

Two days each month I volunteer at the local Penticton soup kitchen, called the Soupateria.

I chop onions, celery, carrots, parsnips, fingertips… wait… that last one hasn’t happened … yet.

We prepare 2 different soups – one meat-based and the other vegetarian – in big round metal pots. We throw together about 140 sandwiches of 4 or 5 varieties and we apportion 4 or 5 different dessert items onto plates and into bowls. One of the more popular desserts we serve is “nervous pudding” – jello.

By 11:30 am when the doors are opened, a mass of folks – First Nations, white, black, men, women, the occasional child – flow through the big glass doors and enter a beautifully soup-fragrant hall.

They file past the deep wood shelves containing bags of mildly stale loaves of donated bread and buns for the taking, and patiently queue up at the open kitchen window where 7 or 8 of us volunteers assist with their selections.

The great majority are wonderful, but struggling, troubled people who show gratitude with dentally-deficient smiles and heartfelt “thank-you’s”.

There are so many stories that come through these doors each day. I don’t want to pry into their lives, so I deduce what I can by watching and listening to their conversations.

  • Young francophone orchard workers with bohemian clothing and lovely accents.
  • Some heavily-tattooed young guys – head-down prayers over their soup bowl. The other day one young fellow easily spent 5 minutes head-bowed, talking over his soup.
  • Many grizzled, leather-skinned, middle-aged men wearing worn clothing picked up at the local Catholic church.
  • This week, one leather-skinned grimacing fellow held his hand to his cheek and jaw, nursing the pain from a punch he took to the face while attempting to protect a woman in the street two days before. He was so grateful when I offered him the phone number of the free dental clinic.
  • A 30’ish year old Asian woman with blonde and red streaked hair…
  • barely out-of-their-teens girls with hip-less bodies and mottled faces from crystal meth abuse.

soupateria

………….

And, just like in Barcelona’s streets, it keeps happening to me.

I see famous people.

Right in my local Soupateria line… most notably, William H. Macy.

WilliamHMacy

Yeah, William H. Macy, that amazing character actor from a ton of movies like Fargo and TV shows like ER and Shameless comes to my local soup kitchen.

Most famous people avoid their fans by wearing sunglasses and baseball caps.

My William H. goes slightly incognito by cutting his hair shorter than in the photo above. He shaves his beard closer to his face, but it’s pretty clear who he is. At least to everyone but himself.

I thought I was stating the obvious when I told him that I knew who he was. There was a look of surprise in his eyes and puzzlement too.

He pretended he didn’t know what I was talking about or who William H. even was.

So the next soup kitchen day that I worked, I printed out the photo above to show him I was onto him. I also passed the photo to the others in the lineup outside the soup kitchen and they all agreed that sure, he was William H., no question.

When he saw the picture he smiled and looked quite pleased that I had noticed the “Doppelgänger” effect. He even asked if I would take his picture with my iPhone and send it to the real William H. Macy.

I took a photo of him smiling proudly, but I didn’t send it off, because, well, he’d obviously seen it already.

………….

Some folks see dead people….. some lay on their backs in the soft green grass and see fluffy white elephants floating in the sky… some spot Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson in McDonalds’ restaurants.

My imagination is a bit more grounded.

I see famous, LIVING celebrity-type people wherever I go.

How is your sixth sense?

Do you have famous people walking through your daily life?

elvis and michael jackson