Monday, August 17, 2009

Shelter

Big Dog's a strange one. He can sound totally heartless when talking about "people." ("There're too many of us in this world, no one's going to end poverty or hunger until they do something about the population!" "I don't care if they're from Mexico or Minnesota, go home. California's got too many people already!") He can sound like he only cares about the animals and trees. And yet he's got a mysterious soft spot for his low-life friends.

These are the kinds of people everyone's already given up on. People who have seemingly let their lives turn into shambles through their own laziness, bad decisions (the obviously bad ones,) lack of discipline or fiscal responsibility. When they are friends of Big Dog, they will anger him to no end ("How can they be so stupid!" "Don't they care about themselves?!") but in the end, he will be there to help them out. When no one they know gives a crap anymore.

And thus, we welcomed Harley into our home.

Fact. Harley (not his real name) is five feet nothing and looked like a troll (until he no longer even had money for food.) He's been a bachelor all his life.
Fact. In what could be a scene from a movie, Harley's good-looking and popular older brother entrusts him with his '55 Chevy and goes off to Vietnam. The brother never comes back. The Chevy sits exactly where the brother left it -- for decades -- until earlier this year when Harley finally sells it for food money.
Fact. Harley's mother died in the late 70's or early 80's. Nothing in Harley's house has moved since then. Things come in, but nothing ever goes out. And when I say "hasn't moved" I mean it, literally. No vacuum has sucked up any dust, no broom has swept out any grub. Magazines and books grew like columns of trees in his living room. I've seen his couch slowly disintegrate.
Fact. When things break down, they stay broken. Harley's toilet started leaking one year. He stopped using the toilet. (Don't make me imagine what he used instead!!) Then he had to shut off water to the house entirely when something went wrong in the kitchen. (Now I really don't want to imagine what's going on -- or not!) He never took up Big Dog's offer to help him fix the problem.
Fact. Harley got fired a few years ago and never really bothered to find a new job (and back then he probably could have.) Earlier this year, his car got repo'd. Then they shut off his electricity. In the last few months, he has really struggled to scrounge up enough cash to feed himself, has lost so much weight he's as small as I am, but he still refuses to sell any of the books, CDs, records or unopened gifts stuffing his house.

"I'll start getting my pension at the end of September, so if I can just hang on til then..." Harley mentioned a while back, so Big Dog sent him an email telling him he was welcome to stay with us and maybe help with the ranch work. As soon as he was able to borrow money from another friend, Harley took the train and bus to San Luis Obispo.

"OK, Harley, I want you to shove all your clothes into the washer," Big Dog insisted when we got home. "The clothes you are wearing, too. You stink."
"Really? You know, I'm blessed with a really dull sense of smell," he laughed.
Big Dog and I looked at each other.
"I wouldn't call it a blessing," quipped BD.
"I wonder if that's why I couldn't find anyone to talk to on the way over."
I had to run from the laundry room. It seemed the odor coming out of Harley's duffle bag had an evil mind of its own.

Big Dog washed Harley's clothes three times. Then, the seat covers in our truck. Then he sprayed Fabreze into the truck and left the windows open.

"It still smells," we grimaced four days later.
"I don't know what else to do!" BD was exasperated.
"It's like that episode in Seinfeld!!"

After a week of twice daily showers, a working toilet and wholesome ranch food, Harley's smelling alright but friends and family still can't believe BD has brought him into our home. It's always easier to help out the poor and needy when they are far away.

A few of my friends are very involved with Tibetan refugees and make visits to refugee camps, have audiences with the Dalai Lama, etc. Others help build homes in El Salvador. One is with a group of middle aged tech guys, doing whatever they do, in Nigeria. I would much rather be there with them -- it's so glamorous, like jet-setting with Bono or something. But until I can learn about real compassion, joining them would be as hypocritical as spending a few dollars on a "stop poverty/hunger/infant mortality/etc." bracelet and walking by the old man with the "Homeless and Hungry" sign. Instead, we have taken him home. Here, he will be treated like the Dalai Lama. Even while we ask him to shovel a few piles of mulch around the ranch.

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