Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Faces Of Hunger (Take Four): This Time We Didn't Wait In Line...


If you ever make it to Britain, you may hear somebody pooh-pooh or dismiss an idea by exclaiming, "F#ck this for a game of soldiers!" (More polite souls may opt for: "Sod this for a game of soldiers!") In a nation adept at coining colorful phrases, this one probably ranks near the top...but what does it mean, exactly?

I'll let our friends at the Urban Dictionary provide the honor of an explanation:

<Historically soldiers were notorious for becoming engaged in silly and most times (e.g. the game of the "bisquit") non-sense games to kill the time, practice that over time gave them a poorly credible connotation and stereotype. Hence this old fashioned colloquialism (the original version was Sod this for a game of soldiers) compares the foolishness of a certain action/thing with that of "a game of soldiers".>

That phrase practically rolled off my lips this week, when the Squawker and I decided to pay our Friendly Neighborhood Mobile Food Truck a visit. As usual, I was waiting for somebody-or-other for my latest scrap of contract editorial light of that issue...we decided it might be wise to augment our latest dwindling nutritional stockpile.

The truck happens to be the project of a local Lutheran church that also provides a free monthly community dinner to all comers. You just basically sign your name, address and household size, and that's're good to go. It's a pretty straightforward affair, unlike other gatherings of this type that we have attended. I've interviewed the woman who runs these programs, and she seems passionate about what she does. The staff and volunteers are also generally kind and responsive.

So, on this particular Thursday afternoon, I'm not sure what happened...because when Squawker and I pulled near the parking lot, we saw a line that snaked all the way from the church's HQ (which occupies a separate building across the street from the chapel itself), to the edge of the road, and further down the sidewalk.

We did a quick headcount -- there must have been 100-plus people standing there at 1:30 p.m., waiting for the doors to finally yawn open, so they could sign up, and receive a paper ticket to claim their place in line for the truck. it goes without saying that you want to show up as early as possible, since the people with the lowest numbers (generally, from 0-50) get the best stuff first. If you've got a higher get what's left, but the result isn't pretty.

The Squawker and I glanced at each other uneasily.

Thursday's temperature allegedly stood at around 30 degrees...but the windchill felt much, much colder. And there was a good chilly breeze knocking about, as well.

"I'm not sure if I can stand here this long..."

I surveyed the line more intently. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" I wondered. Just how long have these folks been standing out here, anyway? Looks like it's been awhile...

"Yeah, maybe we should go home," Squawker agreed. "Our number will probably be somewhere in the lower 100s...and the good stuff'll be gone by the time they finally get to us."

"You'd think, though, that they wouldn't force people to stand outside for so long, on such a rotten weather day..." I sighed. This is getting complicated, I told myself. I've got conference calls to transcribe in a couple hours...but if we stay here that long, we'll both turn to icicles.

However, when you lack resources, such ritualized waiting games are par for the course. You can hear the unspoken dialogue bouncing around in your head, and the blanks you fill don't feel terribly comforting: Why are you standing here doing this? Because we can make you, that's why...even if we say "ask you," which sounds so much better on the record. 
The unspoken punchline isn't far from your mind, either: why do you stand here, freezing with your hands crammed in your pockets? Because you must. Otherwise, you don't get the help. Take what we give you, simple as that. 

"Yeah, it's bullshit...what do you wanna do?" Squaker asked.

And that's when the magic phrase spilled out of my lips: 

A Game...Of Soldiers!"

<cut 'n' paste for future reference...>

And then, under my breath, I said: "Tell you what...let's spend twenty of thirty bucks on food to get through the weekend. I've got better things to do today, and so do you."

On that note, we left. 

But I'll see what happened, because -- unlike a lot of other churches that Squawker and I have patronized -- you don't get the usual snotty vibe that makes you feel like something that crawled off a bent coat rack ("Oh, you poor thing, it's you again? Let's show our community how wonderful we are for helping you to macaroni 'n' cheese and never-ending cans of tuna...ah, no need to thank us, dear. Pshaw, pshaw, it was nothing, really.")

If I get a straight answer, I'll let you know. I hesitate to pass judgment on people whom I know fairly well -- maybe it comes down to some overly officious volunteer who hadn't seen the weather forecast (ergo, keep the door locked until somebody says otherwise).

But there's an easy way to remedy the situation...if you're not ready to take people's info, that's fine. However, at least find another entrance door that you can open in the building, and give people a chance to get warm (however briefly). That's called Common Sense 101, which can go out the wnidow these occasions.

Then again, it could be least I had $30-odd to drop on food this weekend. We'll see what Monday brings. --The Reckoner

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