Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Eating Salvation

I am riding solo (in my mom's car) to work this week, which means I'm also eating my packed lunch in silence. The folks are in Alaska doing fun things I didn't care to learn about. Bitterness?

Instead of eating at my 'desk,' which I did nearly every day at Simon & Schuster, I opt for a seat at the sole rustic picnic bench found on the Southwest corner of the property behind the wooden district marker. The marker is only a few feet tall, which leaves me with an unobstructed view of a 4-way intersection. And if I turn my head to the right I can take in the mostly empty 40-car capacity parking lot.

The real beauty comes from behind, then slowly into my peripheral, then sadly, in full view: the free hot lunch crowd leaving the Salvation Army.

I don't begrudge folks asking for help when times are tough. I am living with my parents, remember? However, the population I am now familiar with is far from coincidental, they are all too familiar with the program and each other. Lifers that yell, cuss, tease and disrupt my 15 minute break. They are impossible to tune out.

I was caught completely off guard yesterday. To get a little sun I exited the building on the Southeast side instead of walking underground to the Southwest door. At the time I didn't realize that I, in faded black slim jeans (subject to ridicule here) and a black tee-shirt, cutting across the lawn to the picnic table, probably looked to the neighbors like one of the crazies, as I apologetically refer to them.

I sat down on the far left of the bench for the shade provided by a sturdy fifty year old maple tree. I started with a red raspberry yogurt, instead of my homemade honey-turkey and parmesan sandwich, which I pulled purposefully out of my insulated red lunch bag. Plop, tear, lick foil top, swirl with plastic spoon. On my second spoonful I turned at a noise behind me.

I've been working this job for a week and a half and have met a fair share of the summer employees. I assumed the noise came from an employee exiting their car after a long lunch. I turned to be courteous and wave 'hello,' however, I turned to find an unfamiliar disheveled and very overweight woman squeezing through two parked cars right towards me.

She was yelling something indistinguishable, which was irksome because she was only three feet away from me and my lunch. There was no one else in sight so I had to assume she was just yelling at her voices or whatever. Then a minute later I see someone else peeking through the parked cars. Neither of the two women turned to look at each other, but I'm positive they were in conversation.

All who travel by foot follow this route to save the fifteen extra steps it would take to find the available sidewalk, and they walk slow, very slow. Is that because they have no where important to go to? Kind of like mill work, if you rush there is just as much to do but more quickly.

Next came another overweight woman with three children, each holding the hand of the next, and two men trying to keep their distance. It became obvious that one of the men fathered the children, or at least is now acting as some kind of adult/male figure. The other guy was walking a bmx bike and had visible acne pock-marks all over his face. Their conversation was painfully quiet. The kids seemed cheery enough and stopped to touch all of the passing bushes and flowers. The mom just barked at them to keep ahead and 'walk faster,' obviously pissed off that she had to take care of them and wasn't included to sit at the proverbial adult table.

Every single person I saw was overweight. Every one of them. How? These folks supposedly don't have enough money for food, right? Well I'll tell you a secret, there is one crazy in my family, four times removed, but still, there is a connection, anyways, he has a load of money but still goes to the SA for all of his meals. He is a total self-subscribed dirtball. Is it more greed and self-deserving attitude than hunger?

I have been completely blown away the past two days. I never knew this 'side of town' existed in Appleton. It's not like my family enjoys diving into silos of gold like Scrooge McDuck, far from it, but it's just normal for people to sustain. For the most part, it is incredibly affordable to rent here (owning is a different story, property taxes are actually pretty high) and you can literally buy a microbrew at a bar for $1.00. I understand disability can keep folks isolated and uninsured, but if everyone is walking and/or biking to the SA, they must be in decent enough shape to hold some kind of job. Is it just a rule in the US that there always has to be someone better and worse off than you? How far worse can you actually go? I can think of a few scenarios, but I don't see much point in speculating just to sound dramatic.

I read in the local paper that Obama's admin is providing $250K in funding between Univ. of WI and Univ. of MN for agricultural programs. How about sending some cash to the SA so that they can create and sustain urban gardens, which members would tend to for a couple hours each week in exchange for meals, similar to the discount opportunities provided to food coop volunteers. Those who volunteer would walk away with valuable job skills/work experience, which is super helpful here considering the political focus on this industry. Test trial in Appleton?

One surprising fact, I didn't see a single minority in the mix. Yes, Wisconsin is very white outside of Milwaukee and Madison, but there has been a growing minority population in the Fox Valley. And most of the folks migrating North are not en route due to job relocation, so I'm very curious as to how they are setting up a local support system.

So this was my fifteen minute lunch break...then back to opening boxes, static.

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