David is regularly first in the shower at the Day Center on Wednesdays, but today he comes in a little later.
"You're late," I say. Consistent behavior — especially first thing in the morning — is not all that usual around the place, and I want to let him know I notice.
Sometimes noticing is all it takes to open the floodgates.
He'd been having stomach trouble, he says, and he begins to tell me about its cause. For three weeks, he's been expecting a certified letter concerning his father's estate, which was probated years ago in Florida. David has tried for years to resolve whether he has some kind of bequest coming from his father or grandmother.
"I'm getting worked up again now just thinking about it," he says. "A little money would change my life. I could get a roof over my head, get my teeth fixed" (he has about three teeth visible) "and start teaching skiing again."
He's been getting the runaround because the Florida court has a private administrator that processes payments and collects fees. The letter has supposedly been sent, but David didn't get it and is not getting any help tracking it down.
The court says, talk to the contractor, and the contractor says, talk to the court.
After weeks of the runaround, he's become completely stressed out.
I don't know what the real situation is with a possible inheritance, but his difficulties dealing with it are real. He lives in shelter, doesn't have a telephone, collects his mail at the day center and misses the $7.50 he paid to get the document sent. He's nobody to the Florida court, the payment processing service, his father's former lawyer and his estranged family.
Being nobody can be a full-time job.
An elderly woman slumps in, heavily layered for the cold. I do a veiled doubletake because she has pronounced grey whiskers on both sides of her chin. Not just a few stragglers, but solid, Paul-Krugman-worthy patches. She finds a chair against the wall and sits staring straight ahead. She exchanges words with no one, doesn't even take coffee.
The place is busy, noisier than usual. Tempers flash as elbows jostle coffee cups and harsh words traded at camp last night are re-examined in daylight. The woman is asleep now, bent over, face in her lap.
Sometime later, I notice she's gone.
With Lee, I don't know which came first — the drinking, the missing fingertip or the amputation of his right arm just below the elbow — but now it doesn't matter. He's here, blotting a tiny cut under his lip that won't stop bleeding. The paper towel he's pulled from a roll on the wall is stippled with red b-b-sized dots.
"I hate these damn cuts," he says.
I go looking for a styptic pencil but the best I can do are a couple alcohol swabs. I start to hand him the packets and realize it will be difficult for him to tear one open and extract the pad, so I do it for him.
One of the volunteers walks past us. Her eyes widen and later she tells me about the overpowering whiff she got from his coat.
Working here must have affected my sense of smell, because I didn't notice any odor.
Working here has affected all my senses. Mostly, for the better.