The big man said hadn't been to the Day Center before, so I gave him an intake form and turned back to admitting the morning crush.
It was first of the month, when the various forms of government aid deposit into recipient accounts. The fresh infusion of cash into the economy of the poor stirs all kinds of reactions.
On the first, some treat themselves to a nice breakfast or celebratory beverage. Others have directed the payment to a payee who helps them manage the money. Though hardly a bounty, it's enough to attract predators.
The scent of money is in the air but people are careful not to speak numbers aloud.
The incidence of side-mouth conversations and furtive handshakes increases. Folks repay what they'd borrowed in February and those who are short know who to ask for a few bucks. Last week, the request to bum a cigarette was met with a shrug. Today, it might snag a couple.
On the sidewalk, a young man was teaching his puppy to skateboard. The dog was catching on. A guy hanging out at the corner had been charged last year with selling a non-existent trailer to a vulnerable adult. His business was outside.
The big man handed me his paperwork and I told him about our services. He rolled up his pants leg to show me a bloody, playing-card-sized scrape on his knee. He'd fallen to avoid a car that almost hit him, he said. He wanted to get it bandaged so it wouldn't become infected.
The medical people who come in twice a week were not here, so we checked our supply of bandages. Nothing large enough to cover the scrape; we gave him some neosporin ointment. He also needed some clothes. I asked if he knew about our free store.
He'd already been there, but all he found was a belt. He lifted his sweatshirt to show me the red-white-blue-and-yellow cloth belt.
I found it in the women's section, he said. It was the only one that fit.
The big man has a gentle demeanor but his slow, somewhat random speech, bulk and broad boxer's face send contrary signals. Who would pause to attend his needs if they encountered him on the street?
For a contact, he had listed a sister who lives elsewhere in the state. They had room, he said, and he had hoped to be able to stay there, but his brother-in-law wouldn't even talk to him on the phone.
I reached the bottom of the form. The last two lines were killers.
Ben, normally gentle and calm, came in agitated and confused. His EBT card had been stolen, he said, and he didn't know how to put a hold on it. He feared the funds would be drained because he'd loaned it to someone last week to buy food and she knew his PIN number.
He kept calling the account my retirement, as if it were his life savings at risk instead of enough for living one month on the poverty line. Of course, it likely was his life savings.
Jason, the same guy who was giving haircuts last week, had the number for the Human Services office. He called, explained the problem, then handed Ben his phone. The clerk told Ben before they could lock the account, he'd have to come to the office.
Ben became more anxious, envisioning how many places the card could visit while he made the hour-and-a-half walk to the office.
Our director drove him there to sign the paper. Maybe Ben arrived in time and things will work out. He's a generous man and has friends who'll pitch in a little.
About the same time, the big man departed. Now he has ointment and a belt. Maybe it's enough for one day to give him good thoughts.