Sunday, April 16, 2006

I Want To Serve, But I Suck

I didn’t plan it this way, but the same day I gave blood for a second time was the same day 11:00 church went down to host Homeless Karaoke Night down at the Central City Community Outreach . It’s Servant Day All Day! I give blood, I serve the homeless, it’s all about OTHER PEOPLE! What can I do for YOU? Help me help YOU.

This time I gave blood at work, the Nameless Movie Studio (I Like My Job, I Don’t Wanna Get Fired.) The nurses were snickering at the way my head whiplashed as far away from the direction of the needle as possible, but there was no needle tissue clot, so everything was fine. I don’t even have a bruise! And I got cookies! It’s truly pathetic, the kind of hoops I will jump through to get a bag of Famous Amos cookies.

It’s about the cookies! It’s about facing my irrational fears! It’s about inflicting pain on masochistic me! It’s about learning my blood type! (O positive! Now I’m ready to be rushed into the emergency room fully knowledgeable about how to help me!) It’s about serving other people!

Incidentally the Red Cross paraphernalia tells me that only 5% of the eligible US population actually donates blood. And of that 5%, only 30% of first time donors come back to give a second time. So I encourage EVERYBODY to run out and give blood, because you really don’t have a do a damn thing except lie there, and you get COOKIES afterwards. COOKIES, PEOPLE! WHAT’S BETTER THAN COOKIES!?

Homeless Karaoke, that’s what! It sounds like a bad joke, like when you hear about those snotty rich kids paying bums to fight each other while they videotape them, but it’s real. CCCO calls it the “Karaoke Coffee Club,” and it’s been held every Wednesday night on Skid Row since 1998. And this past Wednesday night, 11:00 church was the host church.

There are something like twelve missions downtown that serve meals, or provide a place to sleep. But CCCCO is the only place that tries to provide entertainment, to have a place where they can go and have fun instead of staying on the streets. They don’t get to the movies, they don’t get to the mall. But they do get a night of karaoke each week.

And, as we learned last time with the Painting For Jesus at the CCCO day, CCCO takes a relationship approach to the homeless population they serve. So the director encourages us to strike up conversations with them, to make eye contact, to make small talk. To treat them like an actual person, as opposed to someone who we would quickly avoid eye contact with if we saw them on the street. The Director does allow that if we don’t feel comfortable with talking to them, we should simply hang back and observe. Whew.

Because let’s just get all the awful crap out of the way, okay? I’m not the greatest person in the world for doing this, because I harbor all sorts of ugly thoughts inside. I will be butt honest about them, because I suspect I’m not the only one that has these thoughts. I’m just the dumbass that’ll be the one to admit them publicly, to open myself up to all sorts of criticism about how I’m a supremely selfish bitch.

So I’ll say it first: Here’s why I’m a supremely selfish bitch: If I do get the nerve up to talk to the homeless people, do I have to make friends with them? Like those hitchhiking ghosts at the end of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, “They may follow you home!” Do I have to invite them into my life and let them crash on my couch and potentially steal things from me? Isn’t that what they want you to do when they advocate a “relationship approach?”

I’m scared the only way I’ll feel like I did anything of worth is to give all my possessions away, give all my money away, and be left with nothing and miserable, but somehow fulfilled because I don’t have anything else left to give. I am a supremely selfish bitch for thinking these things.

And I know how this story is supposed to play out, with the whole icky Hallmark Moment of Amy Has To Learn Something About Herself From The Homeless People. It’s almost like I DON’T wanna do it, because I think life isn’t supposed to be an icky Hallmark moment. But let’s see how this night plays out.

Tonight is one of the occasional nights when Sbarro has donated a lot of pizza to be served with the coffee, so I quickly make myself useful by washing pizza pans. Washing Pizza Pans for Jesus! It’s a task! I’m serving!

Some resourceful homeless guys have shuffled into the kitchen to get first dibs on the pizza coming out of the oven, and they watch me scrubbing. Remember to make eye contact. Treat them like a normal person. Smile and make eye contact. Smile and be nice. Smile and scrub pizza pans. So I do. I smile, I make eye contact, and I get my first marriage proposal in five minutes.

Now, I am the type of person that attracts crazy people. No, I don’t mean bipolar boys (though I’ve had my fair share of those), I mean CRAZY crazy people. If you’re standing in line at the grocery store, or the gas station, and there’s a shuffling guy in rags who mutters unintelligibly, and the only words you understand are “goddamit” and “piece of shit,” he will invariably zero in on me. I think it’s because I’m an unaccompanied female. Let’s just say it’s that, instead of the theory that maybe on the Attractive Scale, I’m down towards the Crazy People level.

And my head is going, this is what happens when you make eye contact! It’s a much better idea not to look at them! In fact, we should put the pizza pan down and run to the Union Rescue Mission and serve dinner RIGHT NOW! I’ve heard rumors they just serve food without any sort of relationship approach! Run! Run over there right now!

But instead, I smile in what I hope is a gentle apologetic manner and say, “Sorry, I can’t.” And don’t you dare ask me “why not.” Do not make me trot out Imaginary Boyfriend! Do NOT make me lie to the homeless guy!” Since Proposal Guy doesn’t look like he’s leaving the kitchen anytime soon, I trade off Pizza Pan Duty with another gal and hightail it to the main room to watch Karaoke Fun.

There’s plenty of people that go up there to sing, homeless and not homeless alike. There are obviously some favorite songs with the crowd. “Lean On Me” has a lot of fans as well as “The Greatest Love Of All.” Jeremiah, the 11:00am church band leader, rocks the house with “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours,” while Pastor Bernard sings “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore,” but it looks like the homeless population may not be as familiar with Neil Diamond as he wanted them to be. They all want Motown. The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, those are the crowd pleasers. There’s even a guy who calls himself James Brown and dresses up in a gold lame cap and headdress and sings “I Feel Good.” He’s apparently a regular, he does the same thing every week and that’s his only song.

Proposal Guy is kept at bay by one of the senior members of 11:00 church, who hints to Proposal Guy that I’m spoken for. Ah, Imaginary Boyfriend. He’s universal. There’s a few other homeless guys that try to get me to dance with them, but I’m not keen on encouraging that. Make eye contact! Strike up a conversation! Dance with them! Bundle them into your car and take them home with you and give them all of your worldly possessions!

So I stand. I watch. I observe. I smile. I applaud and whoop for every singer that goes up there. I don’t feel like I can sit and strike up a conversation tonight, but I also recognize that this is going to be something I have to do more than once. I don’t know if 11:00 church plans on making this a regular outreach thing. I hope they do. Because it seems obvious that I’m going to have to come back, in order to muster up the courage to talk to these people. Or at the very least, do the electric slide to “Wild Wild West” with them.

Yes, I don’t want to talk to these people, so it means that’s EXACTLY what I have to do. This is going to be one of those things I have to confront in the attempts to banish the judgmental side of me, The evil part of me that assumes that whispers of drug deals might be happening in the corner, that the lady with the mad face and short skirt must be a prostitute stalking the room, looking for potential customers.

I wanted to serve. I realize that means talking, not NOT talking. Sigh. This is so gonna suck. I am a supremely selfish bitch who needs to learn to not be one.

I did give blood though. Little kids with Leukemia love me.

1 comment:

R Tatum said...

Ah, on of the great the middle class dilemmas, indeed. Lovely piece, as usual!
Amy--it's not that you're on the crazy-side of the attractive scale at all. It's that you suffer from the condition of approachability. When I was back in Philly I had a girlfriend whose sister was *incredibly* pretty...but terminably approachable in the way that she was pretty. On her worst day she could not create the personal force field so many of the rest of us normally can create--especially those of us from big cities. I saw this in action once when we went to a folk dancing event (ah, my pre-LA days) and--and I was warned this would happen--the *moment* she walked in the room, EVERY scraggily-bearded, bell-bottom/plaid-shirt/denim-with-patches jacket-wearing (this was the mid-'80s) guy in the room made a *bee line* for her. Never seen anything like it. You have that same thing: perpetually approachably pretty. Live with it. ;)