The mind tires, the spirit droops, the sun withers. Such is life when journeying through the valley of night, where the day feels longer than time and beating against the heart are the steady hammer-blows of hardship and sorrow.
Living in my car since May has been challenging yet enlightening and invigorating. Today, August 22nd, it just felt old, worn, like a tattered sweater that no longer keeps you warm against winter’s bone-chilling cold.
There are 2 places where I park my car to sleep at night. One is the TA truck stop in Redding. The other is the Walmart parking lot in Anderson about 8 miles south of Redding. Walmart allows anyone – trucker, traveler, or transient – to park and sleep for the night in its parking lots. This, from what I’ve been told, is the legacy of generosity passed on by Sam Walton, a magnanimous man who would disapprove of Walmart’s current position as a corporate Pacman devouring small businesses like dots in a video game.
The TA truck stop ceased being an option for me. A truck driver was found dead, murdered, at this truck stop. He was killed sometime between his arrival at the TA at around 11:30pm and midnight on the night of August 11. This I found out upon returning from the Oregon Coast visiting my sons, Solomon and Salvador (and I WILL return to be with my boys!). Flyers were posted by law enforcement throughout the truck stop asking for any tips to help catch the murderer. The trucker is pictured on the flyer. I had seen him on a few occasions in the tv room located on the 2nd floor of the TA. Even though I spoke with him a couple of times I didn’t know his name. Cordial exchanges of names is not a big part of the trucker sub-culture where conversations tend to stay on the surface in this world of constant passing.
I decided that until they catch the murderer I will not be staying there anymore. What’s more, like I told my mother the other day, there were nights when I’d go to sleep with the car windows rolled down due to the heat…until I’d have a flashing image of someone plunging a knife into me through the open window. This happened a couple times and only at the TA by the way, not at Walmart. Then I’d close the windows, of course, making sure my doors were locked before returning to sleep. I had no way to explain, at the time, why I had these flashes but I never took them for granted but as counsel, practicing caution because of them.
The trucker’s death was a blow to me, casting a dark shadow on my awareness. And today, August 22nd, shadows poured forth from people like scalding lava flows or else erupted like volcanic blasts.
This morning I awoke very late, around 7:30am. The day was not even a minute old when Kenny, who also sleeps in his old Chevy pickup in the parking lot at Walmart, came over with one of the craziest, most delusional accounts I ever heard. It’s not worth mentioning, but, in short, he gave an account of a kidnapping in the parking lot by a team of about a dozen armed commandos, which never happened. He said they rounded up a bunch of the folks sleeping in their car and strapped bombs to them. As he related his delusion his eyes would widen and he’d thrust his hands toward the sky to punctuate the drama of his story. I was massively confused as I was trying to orient myself to the day and the moment, then resistant against the energy he was conjuring. Not exactly the way I wanted to start my day.
I spent the first hour of my day organizing all the stuff in my trunk – clothes, books, bags. I really needed to do it as things were in a mess. Kenny stuck around for most of that hour to talk…or to be heard. Allowing compassion to prevail over my annoyance, I engaged him as I carried out my chore thinking that he must be lonely. I gave him my unopened box of baking soda after sharing with him some of the ways he could benefit hygienically by using it as toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant and cleanser.
Then Kenny left, finally, and just as he did a couple, a man and woman, pulled up and parked right next to me in the shade of a small tree. They drove a red compact sedan with paint peeling and bald tires like mine. They looked like they were going thru a rough time. He was tanned and thick, muscular but more puffy than defined. His hair was short and spiked, a bit slicked with some kind of hair treatment. He wore glasses and a beaded choker, a tight, blue wife-beater, denim shorts and flip-flops. At first glance I thought he was gay. Even his voice had a bit of an effeminate edge to it when he returned my good morning salutation. But he referred to the woman in the car as his wife.
They were creating signs with cardboard and different colored markers, their way to try and raise money to make it back to Montana which they immediately began explaining the moment we exchanged good mornings. I never checked their plates as I was indifferent to whether they were lying or not. I didn’t sleep much the previous night and I was still recovering from having had to deal with Kenny the Coo-Coo Bird. They came to California to seek medical care for the wife who showed me various large scars on her leg and arm, the result of surgeries to fix or replace this or that. I didn’t care much for the show-and-tell. Anyway, my first impulse, upon hearing of their plight, was to give them the last $5 I had. But something held me back from doing so. The result was an internal conflict – am I being selfish? why does something not feel quite right about this? is it me? is it them? is it their story? WHAT!!??
I held back from giving, submitting myself to the guilt that beat against my mind, the price of withholding I would just have to pay. The deciding factor was when I suggested they go to the Mission in Redding, that they could get help there.
“Oooo, nooo,” protested the wife, “that place is bad. A bad place. We been there before and there’s no way we’ll go back.”
“Really??? There are beautiful Humans there; beautiful Humans of all kinds that get help there and work there,” I replied in my own gentle defense of the Mission.
“Are you a Christian?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, clear on what I mean when I answer ‘yes’ to that question.
“We’re Christians,” he asserted, as if to distinguish themselves from what they viewed of the Mission.
“The Mission is a good place, I mean, it’s not perfect or anything but they do good work.”
“No,” she countered,”it’s a bad place. We went there two times and they acted like they didn’t want to help us. They just wanted to pass us off to someone else to deal with our problems. They sent us to other agencies and…I don’t know. They’re not right.”
The husband chimed in, “Yeah, that place. We had all our stuff stolen out of our car – clothes, food, everything.”
“What??? Really???” I was genuinely surprised, and maybe quite naive.
“Yeah, we eventually found all of our stuff in front of a Safeway. Can you believe it?? At Safeway!”
Given their account of their experience I couldn’t fault them for feeling the way they did about the Mission. I thought of the mechanics and dynamics of life, its rhythms and alterations, the way it interweaves with our choices, intentions, and attitudes. I wondered why it happened as it did for them and why the Mission occurred to me so differently. I refrained from any judgment regarding their experience, trying to remain instead in the space of detached listening.
“All we wanna do,” he continued, “is get back to Montana, get her clothes and some things, get all her paperwork that we need so she can get the medical treatment she needs. We came all the way out to get her help and it’s been hell for us. My tires are bald, this car is not in the best shape. But hey, we gotta do what we gotta do, right?”
Again, intuitively something wasn’t right. It’s like I say when things don’t quite feel right, nothin’ ain’t wrong, but something ain’t right.
“Hey man, my tires are bald, too,” I said, seeking some kind of common ground, connection, heart.
He inspected my tires. “Damn, your tires are worse than mine! What you can do is, before you drive anywhere, pour water on them. I know it sounds crazy but it works. I drove these tires thirty-five hundred miles and I poured water every time we stopped. And they’re still here. Do that with yours. I know it sounds crazy but it helps.”
“Thank you, Brother!” I returned, thankful for to hear what I was after, heaven expressing through him.
“Are you worried your tires might blow?”
“Yeah, I am, but….but….well, no, actually, Bro. I know Creator is keeping everything together for me. Every time I get into this car I bless it and pray to Creator to keep it going and to keep me going. And Creator keeps everything together, Bro,” I explained, feeling a bit ashamed for at first expressing doubt and fear.
“Hey, are you eating?” he asked. I wondered why he asked – did I look underfed or something??
“No, Brother, I eat. I mean, I’ve gone a couple days here and there without food but I’m used to fasting so it’s no big deal.”
“Well, hey, down the road from here is a little church where they give bags of food everyday. I think it’s only for an hour each day though….twelve to one, or one to two….something like that. If you hurry you can get some now.”
I asked for directions even though I had no intention of going. I don’t want to get too caught up as a beneficiary on the charity circuit. Again, I was thankful for his expression of heaven, of community and neighborliness in these badlands of the dispossessed.
“Hey, blessings to you both as you continue your journey. I hope all goes well for you. I’m gonna keep going now.”
“Thank you….take care….God bless you…” they replied.
I went to the Mission for lunch. But I wanted a shower more than food. My last shower was nine days ago. Although I didn’t smell, I needed a shower to feel water, to feel flow, to feel clean. My skin felt a bit sticky, grimy. I avoid refined sugars as much as possible, except when I’m hungry enough that the hunger overrules any concern about odor. Anyway, I’ve discovered that baking soda wipes out any and all body odor. I spread it over my armpits, and genitals, and any odor is eliminated instantly. It’s a blessing to have discovered this, especially when washing up in a bathroom gets is not possible, as it sometimes can be.
Thunderheart, a good Brother, introduced me to Stacey who oversees the dispensing of services to those at the Mission. She had a tatoo that wrapped around her right wrist. It was a band with a cross and maybe some flowers or something. I told her I just wanted to shower and shave, that I had no desire to sleep at the Mission. From my tone, maybe my look, she could see I was embarrassed (damn pride! damn shame!). She counseled me to open up and allow myself to receive. She said she could tell that I ‘m a good soul and that I had served others in the past (can she really see this? maybe the better question is, can I see this?? ). I started to tear up, dropping my eyes to the floor so she wouldn’t see.
“It’s ok, honey. It’s all gonna be okay.”
I nodded in agreement, unable to speak. I took a couple of deep breaths to gather myself (breathe free!).
“I work,” I said, wanting her to know that I wasn’t looking for handouts. “I work. I’m self-employed. I do small business consulting where I help small businesses make money, save money, and find money through different services and loan options. My business is called Business Funding Express. I have some active accounts here in Redding and in Siskiyou County. I do this because I want to get back to my sons, Solomon and Salvador. They’re beautiful boys and I need them and they need me. And I’m also working to resurrect my t-shirt business, Thoughtwear Global….and to self-publish some books I’ve written and that I continue to work on. Thoughtwear Global and my writing and speaking are all part of my mission, my ministry. I just need help right now. I’ve screwed up my life. I alone screwed it up. Me. And I’m re-building my life right now, so I sleep in my car at night, I work in the day, and I write in between, whenever I can.”
“Are you a Christian?”
“Yes, I am.”
“The Lord will bless you. He will give you the life you seek. Jesus said, ‘Come to me all you who labor and I will give you rest.”
“Yes, yes. Thank you for that. Stacy, I just need a little help right now. I have a small commission check coming next week so I’ll be able to do a bit more. But right now….can the mission help me with my business at all?”
“Like what…what do you mean?”
“Well, I don’t know. I use the library as my office right now. I go there to print and scan stuff and to make appointments when it’s too hot outside to go prospecting for business. So…I don’t know. Well, actually, right now my tires are so bald they’re ready to blow. Can you help with that?”
She gave me a phone number to Bethel Church where they offer benevolent services to those in need. She mentioned that they have rooms where I could sleep instead of sleeping in my car. I imagined the smells and…..well, I’ll check it out anyway. Who knows (accept all things!).
She gave me a voucher for the shower. She said that only those staying at the Mission could shave with electric razors. I told her I had my own and she told me there was an electrical outlet on the outside of the building and I could shave there. Others do it, she mentioned.
I thanked her and blessed her and left her office after receiving a clean towel and turning down there offer of soap since I had my own. I went outside and found the outlet. At first I thought there was no way I’d shave my head outside – too embarrassing, I thought. But then, oh well, what the heck (accept all things!). I needed to shave my head. So I plugged in my clippers, removed my shirt, and proceeded to shave my head without the aid of a mirror, using the touch of my fingers to guide me. The sun was hot but it felt good on my bare torso. I kept wiping the sweat beading on my head. Sweat makes it difficult to get a good shave; and, I don’t want to get electrocuted. Thunderheart kept me company as I shaved. He kept things light and funny which I appreciated.
After finishing the shave I walked about 40 feet to the adjacent building that housed the showers. I waited outside as there were a couple of others ahead of me. When my turn came I opened the bathroom door which had no lock on it. The stench insider the bathroom overwhelmed me. The bathroom was filthy, the floor wet, and strewn over the floor was hair, empty mini-bottles of shampoo, and bits and pieces of soap cartons. I paused to look around while holding my breath. But I could hold it for only so long before having to breathe again and the stench flooded my nostrils. I wanted to get the hell out of there. But to where? I needed a shower. Where else could I go? I closed my eyes, taking a moment to go within, and I reminded myself that this overpowering stench is also Creator. I felt settled now, re-centered, and proceeded with the shower. I looked for a square foot of clean, dry surface on which to place my towel and clean clothes. I finally settled them on the lid of the garbage can. How ironic, I thought, the garbage is the cleanest thing in here! I hung my toiletry bag on the door handle after removing my soap bar and washcloth. I stripped naked, keeping my sandals on because there was no way I was stepping onto that floor barefoot.
I stepped into the shower stall, careful to avoid touching the walls and avoiding the debris on the floor. The sandals on my feet helped me feel protected. I closed the shower curtain which was totally see-through anyway. I turned the shower on and set the temperature the way I liked it. The warm water running over me felt like heaven. I soaped up the washcloth, the kind that fits over your hand like a mitt. I started to wash my face…
Oh shit! I mean, literally, OH SHIT! The washcloth, which was not the one I ever use because it’s the one of the cloths used to wash Salvador’s butt when the family travels was the only one in my car (I left mine at Michael’s place in Hayfork) and it smelled like shit! I looked at it closely and saw brown stains on the light green cloth. Only when wet did the stains become much more apparent. Shit! Oh well, I needed to scrub the grime off my body so I did what I had to do and that shitty washcloth became a friend and ally in my moment of need.
There was a loud knock on the bathroom door. I didn’t respond. Another loud knock. Shit!
“Someone’s in here,” I yelled.
“How much longer you gonna be?” a man yelled back.
“I just got in here!”
I continued with the shower determined to take all the time I needed but now aware that someone was waiting. He would just have to wait right now.
I finally got done and dried off with the towel. I felt renewed, restored (rejoin your Self!), and ready for the world (show up!). I dressed quickly, going slow and deliberate only when putting on my fresh underwear and shorts to avoid sullying them with my sandals as I slipped my feet through the openings. I exited the bathroom, passing the guy who was waiting to take his shower. He was the picture of misery, filthy and forlorn. He never made eye contact with me.
I put my dirty clothes and toiletry bag in my car and crossed the street to the cafeteria. The vibe at the Mission was a stark contrast to the previous days. Tension filled the room, more so than usual. Something felt different….and it showed, too. People argued, children screamed, I saw a guy skipping ahead of others on the food line. I shook my head (careful Sariyd, don’t judge! accept all things!). I prayed silent prayers within, sending blessings into the room, blessings upon every soul in the cafeteria, praying for healing, praying for life and love to all, in all, through all, as all. I was tempted to judge, criticize, condemn, despise. I chose to accept, to bless, to love, to grace with grace. I felt re-centered (rejoin your Self!)
I was last on the food line as I had arrived late. I scanned the entire room hoping to see a friendly face, a smile. Nothing. Then I saw Andrew, sweet Andrew. He was wearing sunglasses today, a first….hmm. I tried to make eye contact with him to greet him with a brotherly wave from across the room. Nothing. Then I saw Thunderheart across the room, standing on line also, and tried for the same. Nothing. Finally, I saw Will Powell, aka Shaky Jake. He wore the same thing today as the previous day. His eyes were also scanning the room. Was he looking for me, perhaps? I waved my arms to catch his eye. Eye contact! He waved with one hand and a smile, I returned his wave with two hands and a big, goofy smile. Yes! We stayed looking at one another from across the room, smiling. It felt like a drink of cool water in a hot dessert.
When I reached within about 10 feet of the serving station Will Powell, who was already seated and eating, got up from his table and made his way slowly across the crowded cafeteria. He came to me and we embraced warmly. I felt privileged, even honored. His smile beamed into my eyes and we shared how good it was to see one another.
“I’m glad you made it, Brother. It’s always good to see you.”
“Good to see you, Brotha Will”
“I’m gonna return to eat. Let’s talk. Don’t disappear like you always do.”
“Nah, Bro, I’m here. I’m here”
With that he returned to his table, dining alone amid the throng of people and Humans.
I finally reached the food station after about 15 minutes on line. It was pasta and meat sauce and garlic bread and cookies and apple pie for dessert. I never eat the dessert no matter how tempted I get. As is my custom each time, I thanked and blessed each server. My food tray in hand I turned toward the tables, all crowded now with people and Humans. I didn’t see Shaky Jake so I looked for another familiar, brotherly soul. Andrew! I went to sit next to him.
“Sariyd! Good to see my Brother! Come sit down, let’s eat together!” His manner is so sweet, so innocent, child-like. I love this man’s spirit.
With a loving hand on his shoulder I said, “What a blessing to see you again, my beautiful Brother! How are you?”
We related how our day was for each of us. The small talk with Andrew never feels small but big, grand, universal. It’s like we share to exchange being more than words, to share God more than stories.
We finished eating and we both got up to leave.
“Brother Sariyd, are you gonna stay tonight?”
“No, my Brotha, not tonight.”
“Come on, man! Stay! Stay one night, Bro! Don’t leave!”
I was so touched by Andrew’s plea. The Eternal Child is strong in him.
“Thank you and bless you, Andrew! But I’m gonna stay in my car.”
“Ok, well, I hope you stay at least one time before I leave.”
Andrew found an apartment and will leave the Mission in mid-September. I’m gonna miss him so much, I thought.
I stopped over to say hi to Thunderheart who was still sitting at his table. We exchanged blessings. I told him I was set to buy him some Liberte yogurt earlier when I stopped at Grocery Outlet. The had them for 2 for a dollar but when he didn’t reply to my text I left the store without them. It turned out to be the right decision as they would have gone bad in the hot car since he was nowhere to be found. Turned out he was sleeping somewhere, getting much-needed rest.
I left the building and heard a big argument flare up, a man and woman yelling and cursing at one another. I looked in the direction of the fight. It was Steve! I was in shock. This godly soul was in hell! When the woman left, cursing him and laughing at him as she did, I walked over to him.
“Steve, my Brother, good to see you, Bro!”
“Hey, Sariyd, oh Brother it’s so good to see you!”
I knelt down by him and noticed he had on new gloves which I mentioned. They were a gift to him from another man in the Mission who had promised to get him a new pair of gloves. He expressed his gratitude for them as the old ones were so tattered that the palms of his hands would burn from the excessive heat of the wheels of his wheelchair. We talked for a while. I never inquired about the fight he had with the woman. I didn’t care because it was heaven between us. I was just glad to see him smiling and cheerful again. I noticed how much he looks like Popeye the Sailor Man (Popeye must have been Irish, I thought).
We finished our talk, blessed one another and I left him. When I turned around I spotted Will Powell again. We spent some time walking and talking. We really enjoy one another’s company.
He confessed to me his one chief desire in life – to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to be AT ONE WITH GOD. I confessed to him that this is my desire, my prayer, from the age of 5. We stood as we have gotten into the habit of doing, looking one another deep into the eyes. His slate blue eyes becoming one with my brown (yes, Will Powell, son of Arawak/Taino son of Jamaica and Puerto Rico, has blue eyes). We walked together until it was time to part. Neither of us wanted to, but he and I have things to do, to complete, to explore, to discover and become and as much as we love to be in the shared heart-space we must, in our privileged individuality as singular expressions of the One, part ways.
I got into my car and drove from the Mission to no place in particular so I went and bought some garlic cloves and aspirin. I’ve never been one to take pills but my prolonged stay in the car, which involves so much sitting and, when sleeping, contorting so that my veins in my legs and my neck will throb with pain. I’ve declared to Creator that I refuse to die of a stroke or heart attack, especially now at this time and under these circumstances, and when I did that’s when I met Thunderheart, the day following the prayer/declaration in fact. Thunderheart is a medically trained nurse and has studied with shamans in South America. He advised me to take aspirin for its blood-thinning properties and has been giving me B-complex supplements and reishi mushroom supplements.
Finally, I was on the way to my sleep-spot at Walmart. A profound sadness came over me and I withered under its weight. The whole day was a struggle to keep myself in light spirits. It was a day of contention and confusion born of fatigue – fatigue from operating the whole day on only a couple hours of sleep last night; fatigue due to my struggle with my current circumstances; and most of all, fatigue at witnessing and feeling the pains of others and praying and blessing constantly to shift the energies, and at the very least to practice and experience being Creator.
Aware of the deep sorrow in my soul I spoke out loud any and every blessing I could recognize – my intimacy with Spirit, my sons Solomon and Salvador, Caroline and the part she plays in my spiritual evolution, my parents, all of my beautiful family back in the Bronx, the Mission, a car that runs, work that I am able to do, my renewed zeal for writing, Thoughtwear Global, mangoes in my car, pure drinking water, awareness. It took only moments to re-center and I my spirits felt uplifted again.
The withering sun rises again.