Thursday, February 24, 2011

Is that a pound of halite in your pocket, or are you just happy to watch me starve to death*?

"I have put graham crackers and peanut butter into the cafeteria!" said V, who I think had come to find me watching The Shawshank Redemption alone in the movie room specifically because I'd made a big stink out of not getting any the last time. Bless her Russian immigrant heart. It's that kind of thoughtfulness that almost made you forgive her deliberate pairing of silver patent leather tennis shoes with purple stirrup pants. (Two days in a row).

Here's the thing about the graham crackers: what the fuck? Because I've never seen adults behave this way about a snack in my life, or at least not since the first regional Krispy Kreme opened near my work in 2003. What's worse, in the end, I was starting to behave exactly the same way.

Here's how it went down - Once every two days or so at an unpredictable time, a tub of graham cracker packets would appear in the cafeteria next to a tub of single-serving peanut butter packets. A symphony of excited whispers would soon erupt in the dormitory. Minutes later, the unmistakable din of crackling, crushing graham crackers would fill the room as men aged 21-65 would emerge, pockets bulging in odd angular ways, from the cafeteria. Each man was holding a single packet of crackers and a single container of peanut butter as if to suggest, "Who, me? I'm not the one hoarding the graham crackers. I just have this one packet and two pockets full of, like, Legos." Eight minutes- that's the longest I ever saw those tubs retain their product.

I didn't even realize I cared about crackers until I couldn't get any, and I suspect the same could be said for most of my roomies. They assumed the role of currency in this place, the way cigarettes do in prison movies. The worst offender was a very hot, felonious smack addict named S. Owing to his towering height, his giant meatball hands, and his adorably oafish demeanor (and also his willingness to share with a select few, me included), S was forgiven.

I'm not sure how I got on his good side, as we couldn't have had less in common. We were addicted to different things, we came from different backgrounds, and there was a 12 year age gap. Still though, we ended up hanging out a lot and discussing strategies for snagging hoardable grahams.

He got word that he was entering an inpatient facility; he'd waited long after he was "medically stable" for the opportunity. It wasn't until he told me this that I'd learned he'd been homeless for years. He was extremely excited. "They help you get your license back, they help you find a place to live, everything! It's not just drug treatment, they actually help get you back into the real world!".

The day he left, I took a nap. When I woke up his bed was made, and he was gone. I didn't get to say goodbye. When I rolled back over the other way, though, an avalanche of graham crackers and peanut butter containers fell all around me. It was the most touching cracker-related experience I'd ever had.

Many days later, I learned that the program I was being shipped off to was the same one that S had gone to. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to say thanks to the hot, huggable smack junkie. When I first spoke to my program mentor, C, I said "Hey! I understand that this is the same program S went to a couple of weeks ago. How is he?"

"Let's just say S is no longer a part of this program".

Turns out, shortly after arriving, S had learned that there was a warrant for his arrest. Rather than have the program members hold his hand through the legal process, he snuck out of the house before anyone could stop him.

*you couldn't actually starve to death in this place if you tried. I gained 1.013 pounds for each day I was there.

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