Yesterday, I left the house earlier than normal on a day off. Maybe it was the infusion of fresh air that gave me the extra spring I needed, but it was a pleasant walk either way. My main motivation was to go down to the public access station and see if I could network with someone who had already taken their classes and knew how to use the equipment and the software. It’s not that I couldn’t take the classes myself, but I learn better at my own pace. I don’t want to have to go through the hassle of taking an orientation class and then having to pay for a bunch of follow up classes so that I can find somewhere in my schedule to go down to the station, sign out the equipment ahead of the twenty or so other people who have access to it and accomplish what I need to do while trying to remember every little bell and whistle involved. It would simply be easier to find someone I can rely on who is willing to collaborate with me.
The station was closed, but that wasn’t the end of the day. I bought an iced coffee from Wendy’s and continued to explore the town I now call home. Now I’m about to get philosophical so strap the hell in because it’s going to be a long one.
When I was homeless I would leave the shelter as often as I could. Usually it was to pound pavement in the job search but the advantage of having a shelter that I can hang my hat at is that once in a while, I could just relax and be out and about in the world. This can be tricky when you don’t have a dime to your name. People simultaneously ignore and take notice of you when you are homeless, even if you do your best to blend in.
For example I would go into the shops and browse. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, everyone does now and again, but shop owners especially take notice of you because they are hoping you justify their having to stand around all day waiting for a customer. When you don’t buy something, it annoys them. If you keep going into their shop and not buying anything, they grow more and more irritated until one day you are, fairly or unfairly, labeled a mallrat. (Yes, I overheard one of the shop owners in Salem calling people by this term.) So during that year I would have a schedule. I would only stop into certain shops on certain days. Or there would a few weeks separation between visits.
When I got that first bit of money from participating in a few studies hosted by a number of the colleges in the Boston area it was like a small liberation. I bought a few small things to boost my morale and believe it or not, if it wasn’t for that cold hard cash I think I would still be homeless now
Yesterday I bought an iced coffee at Wendy’s and I took a walk. I got to thinking about the long hard struggle to maintain my individuality and how it flies in the face of my need to blend in with the general population. Coffee is the perfect way to illustrate that point.
On the one hand, I bought coffee because I wanted a refreshment and it was cheaper at Wendy’s than anywhere else. As I’m out and about, I can stop, look around and as long as I’m sipping my coffee no one thinks anything is strange about the action. If I stop and stare at construction going on down at the Salem Depot, people might think I’m odd, or they might jump to conclusions that would make the Cat in the Hat tell them to put down the bong. But if I’m stop there to put sugar in the coffee that I just ought at Dunkin Donuts and I happen to watch the earth movers and the cement mixers while I am clearly dressed as if I am on my way to catch a bus, no one blinks an eye.
Because the coffee makes me a part of civilization. I’m not just some wandering waif taking up space and not contributing to anything. I have clearly moved the economy by bringing money into the town from my legitimate job and then supporting a business by purchasing a product. The coffee cup is a status symbol of my place in the world. Nothing to see here people, I’m drinking coffee, move along.
The funny thing is I could just as easily be plotting to pour sugar down the gas tanks of all of those construction vehicles and maybe my standing there and sweetening my coffee is just a beard to avert suspicion.