Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Good Neighbor

 The first time I went to what is known (in the carnival world) as the livin' lot for Thanksgiving, Smitty was kind enough to offer me a bunkhouse room. He had a few extras at the time and fortunately I was given his old one which had been remodeled the season before. I was grateful as it would save me paying for a motel room and offer more time to actually shoot pictures instead of driving back and forth. Relieved, I also knew there were no roaches there because in his words: "My wife doesn't do roaches."

Smitty did not tell me that he was hot natured and had maintained the air conditioner in that bunkhouse to run at an even 55 degrees. Everyone who lived there was aware of this fact however, and had keenly, many of them, plugged their vents with toilet paper, t-shirts, and duct tape. 

As night fell and the bay breeze of late November passed through, it did not even occur to me that I was about to endure a night when I'd make more than one deal with God, in an effort to stay alive (or so I perceived at the time). I fell asleep quickly in a bunkhouse room and woke up thirty minutes later in a refrigerator to an argument that I thought at first was a dream. My face was numb.

A bunkhouse (for those that aren’t familiar) is a trailer that's split down the middle and then divided into what are basically closets big enough for a mattress and a foot and a half of walking space. Some rooms have one bed, some have bunk beds and others in the fifth wheel, have an elevated bunk with a little more room to move around. There is little privacy and if there is substantial movement in the bunkhouse, everyone is aware of it. 

I awoke to realize that the couple in the room next to me were practicing domestic violence. It had escalated into them hitting the paneling so hard that it buckled to the top of my pillow. I hoped then that God would spare me from the imaginary bullet I envisioned bursting through the paneling wall at any moment which, if it missed me, would no doubt make it through at least two rooms and maybe half another before landing in a pile of someone's dirty laundry. I closed my eyes and tried without success to deny an overpowering need to go to the bathroom.

There were portable toilets only a short distance away but I didn't want to let go of the covers let alone open the door. I contemplated just standing up wrapped in the blanket but somehow knew it would cause me to trip off that second step on the way out. Teeth chattering I sat up and spent the next five minutes putting on many of the clothes in my bag, trying hard not to pee my pants.

When I got back the room was colder than before. I thought of people I'd known who'd slept on concrete sidewalks and told myself to get over it but the next three hours went by slowly and at 5 am I was asking God again to spare me. A little after dawn I quietly opened the door; stiff and exhausted and sat in the doorway, lighting a cigarette like everyone does, and put my shoes on over dirty socks. 

At the livin' lot, if you want coffee in the morning you have three choices. Your own coffee pot is the preferred method with coffee and a cup to put it in. Friends that rise early and invite you to drink their coffee is another option but there's always the chance that those friends will have gone to bed only a short time ago. The third choice is a gas station that is almost half a mile away. Four lane highway, rush hour traffic, not the best way to wake up but certainly practical.
Just as I was beginning to hear my own headache, a woman I had never seen before opened the door of a trailer across the lot and waved a cup of coffee at me. My first thought was that it was a crippling hallucination of some kind. Then she said "You want this cup of coffee don't you?" I levitated off the steps and closed the door behind me, nodding hard and waving with my whole arm, like some rescued kid.  For a few minutes that morning, a woman I'd never met became my favorite person in the universe and I knew I'd be forced to like her from that moment on. 

She handed me the steaming cup, and smiled, a beautiful, wise "old soul"- kind of smile and said:
 "Hi Sue, it's great to meet you. I'm Bonnie."

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