January 14th, 2016
Today we were cleaning out bum camps.
This is my public work service. I’ve been doing it every Monday and Thursday. It’s never been too bad once I check-in realize they still haven’t recognized my name. We’ve done trash clean up, clearing brush, library work. I won’t say it’s not tedious, but it’s not the worst either.
Today was hard, though. We were at a park, down the hill a bit from where anyone could see where at first it seemed a landfill had erupted. Then quickly it began to make a bit of sense, there were sleeping areas, torn sweaters strewn about, places where everyone seemed to agree to defecate in the worst way possible. It seemed like an IBS-support group that had been lost in the wilderness together.
I guess during the day is the best time to go because they’re pretty empty at those times. It wasn’t empty, though. There was one guy, so strung out he may as well have been a bit of furniture. The officer literally picked him up and moved him. But there was a woman there and she was in hysterics.
She wasn’t allowed to pick anything up or take anything with her. We were told it was all trash. She was told it was all trash. It was illegal that it was there at all.
A lot of the stuff was junk, re-appropriated and turned into blankets, tools. There was a pillow made out of plastic bags stuffed in another plastic bag. It had blood stains on it. Old clothes were laid out and flattened to work as mattress. There was a twelve-pack soda box that had used tissues and toilet paper overflowing from it. Beer bottles were hung from old appliance wire around the camps perimeter so the people would wake if someone came in the middle of the night.
“You can’t do this! That’s my home,” she was shouting from the other side of the officer. “That’s my fucking home!” She was yelling and pointing at me. At the end of her sleeping area where a wadded sweater doubled as a pillow (which stung a bit because that’s exactly what I have been doing in the Bronco) she’d built a headboard with broken plywood. Pasted across it were pictures of… well, they were old pictures of her and a little boy. I don’t know who. They were crinkled, darkened and still covered in bits of paste.
“Pick it up,” the officer shouted at me. “I ain’t doing this for my health.” There was a knife under her sweater-pillow, and a curled picture of her in a hospital gown holding a baby. “You ain’t getting no credit if you don’t get to cleaning!”
Getting “credit” means it’s another day they strike off what you have to do. If you don’t do it, they abandon you on the side of the road and you make a new enemy in addition to not getting credit for the day. “Time to make a choice,” he shouted.
So I stuck the picture in my trash bag. I put the knife in there, too, even though I am required to report finding something like that. I put the headboard in the bag. I put her whole life in the bag.
Now I’m sitting in the backseat of the Bronco and the sun is setting.
I don’t know what to do.