By Dan Valentine
SUCH GOES LIFE, PART THREE
In Houston, in the days before I left, I used to pass a homeless black man in his twenties or thirties on the street. I’d go to say, “Hi,” and he would lower his head, wouldn’t make eye contact. You tend to do that when you’re homeless. You feel you’re to blame, that something is wrong with you. He would spend his afternoons at the Clear Lake Library, as I often did. He’d sit at one of the computers for an hour or so and play poker. Soon after, the entire second floor stank to high heaven. But no librarian, not a one, told him to leave. Good for them! It was his only sanctuary in a world of daily/nightly hell on Earth.
The day the Danes departed for parts down the hall, I picked up their empty glasses and coffee mugs–set here, set here, all around the dorm – and put them in the kitchen sink. A sign reads: “Por favor lave sus trastes” (Please wash your dishes after use).
Salzador was standing by the counter. I turned to go and he said, pointing to the sign, “Don’t forget to wash them!”
“They’re not mine,” I told him. “And I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to wash ‘em.” And I walked out.
I believe in helping out. I believe in treating people like you’d like to be treated. As I once wrote before, my bestest friend gave me my present moral compass: If this is all there is (and that could very well be), we have to help one another get through it, best we can.
I told this to a wanna-be singer-songwriter in Nashville one night, and he was aghast. Without fear of punishment from above, humans would rape, plunder, and pillage beyond belief. (As if they don’t already.) Without the incentive of some sort of reward after death, why bother doing what’s right? I guess that says it all. We all see the world through different eyes. We all sniff the scents of the world through different noses.
If the Danes had just said something. I would have gladly taken a shower, right then and there; slept somewhere else; removed my soiled clothes from the room. They were in a plastic bag in the corner by my bunk. Whatever. But they were having a grand ol’ time at a fellow-traveler’s expense, a stranger down-on-his luck somewhat. If they hadn’t been drunk, they may have even read the sign above the toilet and put two-and-two together, but they were too busy turning around, male members in hand, and shouting to their fellow mates, waiting in line, to “Suck on this!” “Eat me!”
But back to Salzador and the “don’t forget-to-wash-them” episode.
To be fair to him, perhaps he is unaccustomed to seeing a guest return the cups and glasses of others back to the kitchen. And, later that night, after he’d left, I did wash the glasses and mugs. Plus a small saucer half-filled with cooked rice, another coffee cup, a soup ladle, a steak knife, a frying pan, and a spatula with dried egg on it. Oh, and two other glasses on the counter. Hell, why not? Least I could do. Nobody else was going to that night. Not the Danes. They were out drinking again with Salzador, buying him rounds, I’d guess. He’d let them use his washer and dryer.
Visitors to hostels very rarely read the signs or carry out what’s said on them. At the hostel in Nashville, guests after a night on the town in Music City would wake up hung-over, make themselves waffles, whatever, and leave a mess. The people who worked there – I was one – would clean up after them without a word said. It was our job.
Another afternoon here, shortly after, I’m telling a single mom from Knoxville, early twenties, on the verge of homelessness, with a baby, about my Danish experience. She, in turn, told me she had been playing with her little girl out on the veranda, splashing sprinkles of water on her from the hose, the baby giggling happily, when a young male guest said, “At least the ‘baby’ is getting a shower.” It hurt her. “He was probably referring to me,” I said. No, she replied, he was speaking of her. (“I smell a rat in Denmark”–Shakespeare.)
This afternoon, I walked into the hostel after a walk, and Salzador was behind the front desk. He smiled and gave me the two-finger Peace sign. All is forgiven. (Valentine, I told myself, don’t take things so personally.) I stopped to chat. I told him I’m seriously thinking of walking across the United States in the fall. San Diego to Manhattan. He said he’d like to join me. He’s always wanted to see Salt Lake City.
Then he said, “Dani’el, do you want a burrito? I bought three.” And he handed me one, for the second time since I’ve been here.
Such goes life, ever-so-often.
But anyway, my present-fellow dorm mate – a retired firefighter from the Bronx – just walked in, after taking in some of the local sites, and said, “Y’know, there’s a big Turkish bathhouse just down the block.”
“Yeah, you should check it out. It’s just down the block.”
A not-so-subtle hint-hint? Pardon me while I go take another shower.
But wait! I hear cars honking on the street outside. Mexico just defeated France in the World Cup! Two-zip! Priscilla told me earlier: Many had sworn their souls on the Good Book that if Mexico won, they would swim nude on the beach. Yes, you can swim naked on the beach here. Salzador says, “You can do many things naked on the beach here.” So, instead of yet another shower, perhaps I’ll simply stroll down to the beach and skinny-dip with the many beautiful senoritas in their victory celebration.
Vendor on the beach in Ensenada, Mexico