After several deep breaths, I grabbed hold of the door. It swung open easily, hitting the side rail with a loud bang. Feeling like Frodo before the tower of Minus Morgul, my entrance had been announced for one and all.
Inside all eyes were upon me, but I stood my ground. After all, it wasn’t my fault the door was so loose. With only one person ahead of me, I waited in line anxious yet relieved at the same time. Feeling playful, even mischievous, my mind began to act up, but I managed to keep a firm yet loving grip on it. With the mental voices still nattering away, I stepped up to the counter and presented the form as required.
I beamed with satisfaction. And why not? It was a job well done. The worker didn’t crack a smile. Not wanting to give into her lack of humanity I went into my cold and unemotional business mode and looked right at her. I’d show her; I’d show everyone. She read that tone alright. With everything going my way, a wave of panic arose, but I swatted it off with the slightest of ease. I felt good. I could actually see the end in sight. There was just one slight detail to take care of and I could get the hell out of there and finally go home.
With my pasted on smile getting pastier I asked about putting the landlord’s name on the rent portion of the check. She looked at me quizzically. I reinforced my smile and politely repeated the question just in case she hadn’t heard me the first time. The energy shifted matching her look of shock. Something had happened, but I didn’t know what. The other workers seemed fine – bored but fine. Not knowing how I’d offended her, my power began to fade. I felt like crying, but I had to hold on. I was almost there. In just a few minutes I could go home. She opened her mouth and spoke my doom. I needed proof I was in trouble before they could put the landlord’s name on the check.
Instead of free-falling like usual, I told her I was experiencing a ‘temporary setback in life and it was their job to help me get a place to live’. She shot me a look that would’ve got her punched in the face anywhere else. I hated it when people couldn’t just do what they were paid to do. It wasn’t her place to judge or criticize me. Yet, I could ‘feel’ her doing it to me. And if I said anything she’d deny it – that much of the game I did know. I’d be labeled a troublemaker and asked to leave. Weakness hid so well behind the arrogance of power. Sincerity made me stammer; I felt weak. Reevaluating my situation, I looked her in the eye and gave her a mouthful of truth, my truth: I was homeless, starving, sick, broke and had no bus fare back. Forcing those words out of my mouth nearly made me puke. She stood motionless, saying nothing.
Anger arose. Thinking they hadn’t seen anyone who really needed help before, I asked again more forcefully. She told me to talk to my worker. I agreed but, apparently, he/she wasn’t working that day. I asked for another worker to a contemptible ‘just-who-do-you-think-you-are-asking-for-things’ look. Turning back to my heart, I told her that having the check in the landlord’s name was because of my substance use issues. I wasn’t looking for handouts and, in fact, I wasn’t proud of being on the system, but I needed it. I intended to go to detox as soon as I got my place, but I had to make sure I had a place when I got out. And the only way that could happen was to have the check in my landlord’s name. I couldn’t trust myself with the money, at least not yet anyhow.
Visibly shaken, she took a step back as if I’d either punched or defiled her in some ‘governmental’ way. I felt sick. I knew people cheated the system, but I was only asking for the most basic of help in getting and keeping a place to live, against what I perceived was a textbook case of mental breakdown and addiction. Couldn’t she see how terrified I was? Everyone could? Did I have to fall to pieces right there in front of her to prove it? Was that what the government wanted? She explained they could only do it if I had a troubled history of paying the rent. I couldn’t believe it! I’d have to lose my place several times over in order to get a troubled history before qualifying to get the landlord’s name on the check. What kind of person with no real world experience thought up that backwards-assed piece of preventative legislation? Yet I knew better than to quibble with them and their laws.
My life literally flashed before my eyes. Looking for a home even when not homeless left me feeling unwanted, unworthy, rejected, abandoned and God only knew what else I didn’t have the strength to look at! I’d dared bare my soul against insurmountable odds and all they could do was stomp on it. I looked at them pityingly. A voice echoed within: ‘forgive them Lord; they know not what they do’. No, they’d long since lost any capability of helping anyone in real need. Trapped within the confines of their ivory towers, safe from liability, they were far too preoccupied with making themselves look needed than actually helping people in need.
I gave up. Tired of fighting, I asked for a bus ticket to go home, but I wasn’t in the system yet! Infinitely saddened, yet ever self-composed, I left. As the door banged against the side rail once more, I apologized with a smile. True to form a security guard was summoned. Even though I despised authority, I knew I was in no position to ‘fight’ the powers that be. So I looked at him down the length of my nose at a man who also fell into the trap of believing he was someone because of a uniform. As I looked into his eyes, I laughed a little contemptuously, but he deserved it – hell I deserved it after what I’d been put through. Who was he without the uniform? He was a human being just like me! Still, I found the courage to tell him I couldn’t have been the first person to bang the door. It was loose and needed fixing – just like they did! Then sarcastically, surely they had the power and money to do that, right?
Pity erupted for those jaded people who were just as lost as I was, but didn’t know it. I turned and walked all the way back downtown with my head held high, comforted in the fact that at least I knew I was messed up. I never once looked back.
© Michael J. Varma, The Gong Show, 2011 –
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