This series is about working with a 27-year-old homeless man, homeless by choice, whom I hired to help me clear out my double-car, dirt-floor garage that was piled high with boxes and maintenance paraphernalia. I first met him two years ago when his pal was flying a sign — “Will work for money” — at the Wal-Mart exit. Here, I call him Heathcliff (from Bronte’s Wuthering Heights), “Heathy” when he’s having an “UP” day, or just “The Drifter” when he’s being … difficult. He does not consider himself “homeless,” but uses the term”man without a home” when he talks about himself.
Monday, October 1
It rained all weekend, and I had to redo, more than once, The Drifter’s work on all the plastic covers over all that stuff from the garage which now was in the yard. I decided it was time to just buy some new tarps, although buying anything at all when you’re riding the clear-clutter train just feels wrong.
I didn’t expect my helper, The Drifter, to show up until afternoon, at least that’s when he said he’d come. And so, I decided to tackle another issue, at least for the morning hours: mail delivery snafu. The post office had withheld all mail to this address for three weeks so far: postal mail carrier.
I had just returned from the post office and was making coffee when he arrived. At 11:30 a.m., he was quite early, so we had coffee and tea and chatted a while.
He opened up for the first time and said he had an older sister by three years who is in France now, that she had worked and made enough money to take off for six months. He also has an older brother by four years, but he gets on better with his sister.
I asked about his parents who I already knew had been, as he called them, “Moonies.”
All he could say about them was, “Mother is French and father, American.” Then he changed the subject and said, “I’ve got a court-appointed defender.”
“Well, that’s good to know.” He’s obviously not a street-person, because if he were, he would have known that would happen. He would have known he didn’t have to find his own lawyer.
Then he switched topics again and said that after high school he went to the Homestead where he earned $100 month, all bills paid, learned gardening, and got kicked out because he had grown “pot” in a shed. His brother had gone to the Homestead with him, but he only lasted six months…
He said he’d taken that girl out to dinner and then to Trimble Hot Springs … and my mind calculated how much he’d spent: everything he earned on the last day he’d worked! One daily pass is $15, and that doesn’t include the use of a locker. But it’s none of my business if the “man without a home” chooses to blow his money. I wanted to remind him of his obligation to fix the car the vet had ‘given to him,’ but it’s none of my business.
I checked my watch and asked if he was going to Manna for lunch. He said he was and would be back around 1 p.m.
When he showed up at 1:00 sharp I have to admit feeling impressed. “Ready to prime?”
I decided to help him because obviously, from the first wall he primed, he didn’t have a clue about painting, despite my showing him before he started. I had not only painted apartments but had also painted an office downtown.
And so, I showed him again how to turn the roller sideways to “trim the line” without going over it. But he continued pushing that fat, extra-fluffy roller cover up to the top where it bumped onto the mortar and left a cloud-like, messy roller line instead of the trim line I showed him how to do. I decided it was in everyone’s best interest for me to let him finish the job by himself.
When he finished painting and cleaning the tools, he said he’d check in after the court hearing on Tuesday. I paid him for hours he worked and wished him well.
Later that night, I saw the call I’d missed from The Drifter. He asked if I would write a letter stating how many days he’d worked for me and how much money he’d earned, how much more work there was and…and…and…
We’d been working together for two weeks; I’d offered several times to write a letter on his behalf, and he had refused it. Now he was calling me at night to ask me to type a letter for him? And dictating what to say?
The phone rang, but it was my friend from Florida. He shared how his job was going, gave me the family update, and asked about the homeless guy I was helping. He was the only one who knew about the rudeness and the quarrels and the inability of The Drifter to just do what I asked him to do.
“He refused when I offered to do it the first time, and now he’s asking me, after dinner, to just hop up and type his dictated letter, yadda yadda…”
He listened, as he always does, without judgment or comment. And then he told me about his experience with the homeless in his city — how they help each other, how they share. I love that man! He lets me “act out” and then gently, indirectly, points me back on my path.
After our call, I typed the letter, folded it, and put it in an envelope taped to the inside of the storm door. I also put a big piece of paper with The Drifter’s name on it so he would see it from the street. As for “future jobs” that I did not include in the letter, I simply posted his copy of the contract he signed but forgot to take with him for the October Jobs. My storm door window was so covered with crap for The Drifter, I could not see out.
I missed watching a sceduled movie doing more niceness for someone who doesn’t appreciate any of it.
The 500-word letter was a good recommendation that highlighted his positive contributions, stated how many hours he had already worked and what he’d earned. I sealed the envelope because I thought it would seem more professional. And I denied myself the habit of saving a copy of that letter because I realize I’m only encouraging his lack of responsibility if he loses it and asks for it again — just as he had done with his instruction in that phone message to “include what work is coming up…” when I had already given him the typed, professional planned schedule for the upcoming weeks. Bottom line: he already had proof of employment in the pages of typed-by-me dates and tasks to be completed on the project. Grrr.
October 2: Court Day!
I tried phoning The Drifter again this morning about the letter taped to the door; no answer, no opportunity to leave a message. His phone still “only works for outgoing calls” and his mailbox is still full.
His court hearing was scheduled for 10 AM.
No word from The Drifter.
The concrete man didn’t call or show up, either, so I shared my irritation by calling his receptionist, his wife, and asking if she knew his plans. We bonded instantly and chatted for quite a while about anger management and having people in your life who habitually, loudly, express their anger.
Would The Drifter show up tomorrow? Would concrete guy? Who knows. It is what it is.
[Want to start from the beginning? Click Here.]
Till next time–
“Please be kind to everyone you meet, for we all have our hidden sorrows.” ~Tzaddi (a.k.a., Pam Young)