"I've been there. I've eaten out of garbage cans and I've slept on rooftops. When I see the homeless now, I empathize. I know there but for the grace of God go I, but i also realize how different it was. For one thing it was safer."
--- Eartha Kitt, singer and actress, on being homeless in her youth.
Gina is quite commanding presence - she holds herself like a true leader that she probably is. i first met her at the entrance gate, where she was doing the guard duty - she was very to the point and business-like: 'the soup bucket here, look at the recent donations in the kitchen, and hey, we just got some meat donated, can you use it for soup? i'll find you a food manager right now.'... and then she was off to her business of the gate-guarding, answering phone, fielding questions from others, without giving me another look. i saw her running an evening camp meeting in the same manner - very professional, using her authority to make sure people stick to the agenda and move to the next topic, without digressing.
normally i'm a bit leery of leader-types, but seeing those qualities in Gina made me think that it's good, because it somehow adds to her safety, wherever she goes. generally women probably have it much tougher being on the streets than men, but it's easy to imagine that if somebody gets into Gina's space she is probably capable to respond along the lines: 'butt off if you don't want to have your nose broken' and mean it, and act on it, if needed. quite a comforting thought.
she and i had brief, professional exchanges about the food, finding people, etc, , but i'd never ask her to come and cook with me - i suppose i was unconsciously thinking a strong personality like hers doesn't want to be in the kitchen, or other silly stereotype like this. so it surprised me, when one day she volunteered to come and help with making chili.
it surprised me even more that once off the campground she was very friendly and instantly lost her air of a commander. i read somewhere something about people public and personal behavior, and how different it could be. Gina's public persona is definitely much tougher than her soft personal one - in person she is just as soft as an innocent kitten!
while cooking she shared how busy and stressful her yesterday was: she went with her husband on the bus to harborview medical center, where he is being treated; after the doctor's visit they had to wait for medication, and back on the bus to nickelsville. somewhere thrown into all of this was stopping and helping to clean the apartment of her husband's grandmother, all day spent. and Gina's own ongoing struggle with depression. and difficulties of being married in such close quarters as nickelsville, where many people share a relatively small space - kinda 'sex in the tent-city' self-writing episode if anyone would want to turn it into tv series.
while cooking and chatting here and there she ventured back into her public persona: 'don't make the chili too spicy, some people don't like it spicy, and you have to cook it to order, you know, or it won't be eaten'.
then right back to her soft persona: 'i never knew i could make chili, and it's pretty darned good, too.' she said how proud of herself she was for learning something new while taking care of other people while at it. before taking the soup back to camp i usually pour some into the bowls for us, the cooks, to have the 'first tasting'. even more than other cooks Gina insisted on having just a little bit, and preferring to wait and have/share it with other people in the tent-city.
she mused that despite of the fact that both she and husband receive disability benefits it's nowhere enough to rent and maintain an apartment, with all the other costs involved. they once had subsidized housing, but somehow lost it, and now it's back to 2 year waiting line if they'd like to get back in the housing system.
at some point she answered her cell phone and i heard her repeating detailed info on where the person on the other side of the line was, and thanking this person profusely. then she called her husband to tell him that the bus driver called because he found her cell phone on the bus seat, the bus will be stopping a block from nickelsville in a few minutes, would the husband please go and retrieved her phone from the bus driver.
it's a spare phone, anyway, she explained, but she sure likes her blue phone, wondered where she lost it, so she will be very glad to have it back, and so nice of the bus driver to call her instead of turning it into 'lost and found' office - she would have to wait much longer or maybe never see the phone again. a spare cell phone? must cost a fortune? yes, it does - some time ago she and her husband thought that pulling resources with someone else would give them a better contract, dividing the cost between three people. but the third person disappeared somewhere and Gina and her husband are stuck with enormously expensive cell plan they have to pay till the contract ends. BUT, they have a spare.
sometime after cooking with Gina i came across 'pay as you go' cell phone arrangements. i just made a mental note of sharing the idea with people in nickelsville, in case it's useful: no plan, no credit check, just $15-25 cash for a card covering about 200 minutes for 3 months; then repeat. seems ideal for emergencies and just day-to day connecting about being late somewhere, or informing about getting stuck somewhere. i think some companies may not even force customers to re-buy the card every 3 moths, if minutes not used - so far my research shows all of them work like that in europe, a TRUE pay as you go model - but maybe there is company here in usofa which doesn't fleece customers on regular basis, just because 3 months expired.... yeah, they all promise to 'roll over' unused minutes, as if having lots of unused minutes could make anyone but the phone company rich.
to be written: Darren, Billy part 2, current monday post tomorrow (chicken/ginger soup with rice), letter to mayor Nickels, and Brian.