Notes from the Paterson Underclass

One of my roomies, one with an actual job (mine starts in September), left on Friday and didn’t come back on Friday night. First thought was he got lucky. Then we didn’t want to think about it. By last night it was just scary. I saw him early Sunday morning but stupidly did not pull over and drag him into my mechanical remnant. I did mention I’d seen him. And then last night he walked in, embraced a couple of us, and told some of the story.
He’s a 53-year-old peripheral member of a “connected” family in Jersey that wants nothing more to do with him. His uncle even punched him. He admits he let his mother’s grave go untended instead of maintaining it, even when he had the money. He said he has no excuse except he’s an asshole. That doesn’t excuse, but it does somewhat explain.
Then he snapped on Friday. No income from a crappy job in NYC (after a month he hasn’t been paid yet). Never enough to eat. And when he comes back to the shelter, every night, he gets the most high-sodium garbage I can imagine. My former sister-in-law put Eugene Hollander the nursing home magnate in prison for serving that kind of food to elderly patients on low-sodium diets. Kosher meat? Sure, have some kosher salami–a way to keep costs down. Hollander’s lawyer said “But Miss Katz, Mr. Hollander was in Auschwitz!” To which my former S-I-L replied in a moment of clarity: “Yes, and I can guess how he survived there!” Hollander was sent away.
Finally my roomie just lost it. He didn’t come home but first spent a night in a public park–a really thickheaded idea given he was the only white guy in 1,000 miles, and in a “hood” not known for easily absorbing the outsider; then he wandered into Greater Paterson General Hospital. He felt sick. Turns out that his BP was preposterously high from the stress and diet: something like 200 over 140. The nurse said he should be dead or have had a stroke. They kept him overnight, medicated him, ordered a follow-up (NOTE TO SELF: he’d better damn well go!) and he WALKED back to the residence in Paterson. Nothing like exercise, right? I don’t know if my ex still works at Greater Paterson GH but she used to. And I was a patient there once. Mike raves (positively) about the nurse, Jennifer, who practically throttled him into paying attention. She’s 38 and remembers him as a golf pro. He was. She plays too. “What the hell happened to you?!” she cried. He told her. It’s amazing what homelessness can do to a human being in not too long a time.
This, my children, is how we live at the bottom the sea after they’ve drained the water. Garbage-sodiumized food. Nothing to drink. It’s supposed to be “good for us.” The house claims they want to give us the tools to correct our lives, to start them over. So we get forcible lectures on religion plus cheap unhealthy food served in profusion to the point where you want to vomit. The Hebrews didn’t want more manna on top of manna so God gave them so much meat they threw it up. Many of us feel like we’re being fattened up (rice and beans and sodium-laden cheap hotdogs) for some Colosseum banquet. Or a trip into the Wilderness. And no, you can’t “organize” because every shelter in Paterson is worse than this one. We’re the fortunate and blessed ones. Ask anyone.

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