Sunday night: the soup kitchen. The church sponsors a local homeless shelter, and if you want your family can show up and pitch in. And by “pitch in” I mean everything from wiping the tables at the start to chiseling away baked-on cheese grot three hours later.
After we got everything ready we had some stand-around time, so I explored the church with my daughter. It’s at least a hundred years old, and hasn’t been upgraded or renovated. At all. Bizarre layout, with creepy passages everywhere - dark halls, high ceilings, dead-ends, so many rooms. The basement had a basketball court, now used as a doss-house for the men, and an assembly room with a small stage, complete with proscenium. Dust and musty ghosts and the sense that a century had accumulated in the bones of the building and made it weary with the weight. It was all out of joint.
A water fountain, the type of which I’ve never seen before.
One window was purchased to memorialize a congregation member . . .
. . . about whom nothing else is known.
Anyway: It was fun. You hate to say that, because that means you enjoyed yourself doing A Good Thing for people who were not having fun in the general sense; once you’ve topped off your tank of altruisim, you get to go home to a full fridge and a soft bed. But it was fun, for the most part. The parade of humanity, and all that. Everyone who stays at the place has to have a job, or be looking for one - an admittedly flexible set of criteria, but from the looks of it a third of the men were working. How do I know? They carried themselves a certain way. They stood up straight and looked you in the eye and had pride. They were middle-aged. The younger men seemed to slink past the table, slump-shouldered, dull-eyed.
One man in his early 50s gave the kid next to me the message that he might want to enlist in any of the branches of the military, but he would be most definitively wise to join the Marines, as he had. Showed him how to salute with a crispness - which would have held up the line, had the line not paused for another tray of macaroni and cheese glop.
The kid was handing out buns; I handed out brats. Went through about 200. I do not want to see any brats again for a while. At the start I was famished, not having eaten supper myself, but somewhere around Brat #147 I lost interest.
“Are these beef or pork?” asked one guy, and I said probably both and then some. “Are they turkey or chicken, I mean? I’m allergic to those.” I said I had no idea. He took one anyway and said he'd take his chances. Another lady looked at the offerings and sniffed:
“Only brats? You only have brats?” She made a face of disgust and left the line.
The next lady wanted to know what they were, and I said “Brats.” She’d never had one. Not an immigrant, either - somehow she’d just managed to avoid brats. She said she’d try one. Came back for another, eyes sparkling: “that was delicious!” she said.
“No onions?” said the next guy. “No onions?”
Yes we have no onions. Sorry. Behind him a tall thin man in his early 60s, wispy grey beard, dressed in preacher black from head to toe, singing “Ain’t No Sunshine.” When he paused to scoop up some mac I sang the next line, and we traded lines until he moved down past the ketchup.
Guy in drag; pregnant woman; young girl reading a “Dragon Tattoo” book; guy who declines a bun because “I have no teeth” then asks for a brat; man who insists that ketchup on a brat is wrong but barbeque sauce is the only true way to eat them. After 100 people we ran out of bananas and bags of potato chips. Dessert: three small chocolate eclairs on a plate.
One thing I didn’t expect to see: a guy with an iPhone. Which speaks either to recent reversals of fortune that coincided with the middle of a locked-in contract . . . or an odd choice of priorities.
When the last of the brats were away and everyone wandered into the common room to watch TV, we cleaned the dining hall and attacked the tottering piles of plates, and got out by 8:30 -
Next time we eat before.
Went to a party / concert on Friday; a fellow I mentioned a few weeks ago when talking about the nearby water tower is releasing an album, and just spent some time down in Nashville recording it. When my wife asked why, I said it was because they had Cats. You know. Cool as country water. Lots of sidemen who can sit down, hear the tune, nod, and deliver licks, imbue the piece with bounce or rue as required. The local guys had only a few days to get up to speed, but they were fine, and A Good Time Was Had By All. Met many interesting people; got into a conversation with someone who turns out to run a local gardening store - in a kitchen on the other end of the earth, as far as Minneapolis goes - and has been a long-time reader. She was unaware of the website. She collects old kitschy recipe books.
Well then, there’s this thing called the Gallery of Regrettable Food. Enjoy!
Met a fellow whose family is largest distiller in the area - makers of Sno-Shoe Grog and Root Beer Schnapps and other venerable products that kept men warm in the icehouses. They also got into the flavored vodka business with a medium-priced offering, which was later extended to a non-flavored version. In other words, vodka flavored vodka, which is to say no flavor at all. Marketing and packaging is everything in vodka, and they came up with a simple design. I keep some around for use with lemonade in the hot months. On the way out I mentioned to my host that I’d been talking with the scion of the distillery, and he noted Oh yeah! We did the branding for that. His advertising firm came up with the idea.
Not many parties like that. Small town. Anyway, I have a standing invite to tour the company’s commercial archives and see the fellow’s legendary collection of old whiskey bottles.
So that was Friday. Chewed up all my Friday time, so Friday was shifted to Saturday. Watched the end of “Boardwalk Empire” second season, a show I’ve really come to love, even thought there’s not a character in it you’re rooting for. Maybe the twisted guy with half his face gone and the horrible dead-eyed mask. And he’s probably a psychopath. But a touchingly pathetic one.
New Matchbooks! See you around.