I invited some people from work to Josh's show last week. I try to do that from time to time so I look like a supportive girlfriend. Whether or not any of them show up, I did my part. The show was at the Farmhouse, and so in my invitation, I wanted to be sure that they knew what they were getting into before they signed up to come. Some of Josh's coworkers came to a show at the Farmhouse once and then left within ten minutes or so. It's not for everyone.
My email invitation included the following disclaimer:
WARNING: the Farmhouse is a dive. It will be crowded and full of drunk people, some of them homeless. The floor will be sticky. If you're cool with that, then come on down. The beer is bad and cheap and plentiful.
I can't imagine why they didn't show.
Some people love the Farmhouse, and I don't get it. I don't mind that it's a dive; I can enjoy a little bohemian (in other words, poor) chic. The sticky floors are gross, but that never kept me away from the $1.50 theatre. No, the Farmhouse makes me profoundly sad. Not just because there are homeless drunks in there, but because a lot of the other people seem to be on various stages of their own downward spirals. Too many regulars seem determined to drink themselves to death or die trying.
But I didn't come here today to talk about the deadened stares of the patrons sitting at the bar. I came here to tell a heartwarming story. No, really.
At the Farmhouse Friday night, I saw an old man selling Girl Scout cookies. I didn't recognize the guy exactly. He looked like a lot of Farmhouse regulars, old and weathered, aged by something other than time. Whether I'd seen him before, I couldn't say. He pulled out a huge cardboard box full of smaller, cookie-filled boxes, each brightly-colored and covered in slogans about building self-esteem and positive role models. He gave a box of thin mints to a friend of mine, who gave him $3.50. It was so surreal that I wasn't even sure that I'd seen it. I swear, I'd only had one PBR.
I asked the girl about it, and she told me about this man. He was, as she put it, "borderline homeless." I'm not sure what that means, it seems like you either have a home or you don't. Maybe that's a common misconception of the homed. I think that it means that he does not have a home, but that he knows a lot of people who will let him crash on the couch or he has a car where he can sleep. It means that he is not sleeping on the pavement. He manages to earn a little money doing odd jobs. Apparently, he is a hard worker. And a hard drinker. I suppose there is something to be said for giving everything you do your all.
Whatever his home or drinking status, he does have a family, a daughter who also has a daughter. He carries pictures of them both in his pocket and pulls them out to show around to people he meets at the Farmhouse. Personally, I admire his daughter. No one would blame her if she shielded her kids from her father. But she lets them have a relationship with him, because he is family, even if he has made (and continues to make) bad decisions. Done right, there is a strong lesson in compassion in having a homeless grandfather. A few weeks ago, about the time that one of my coworkers left a cookie sales sheet in the break room, this old guy mentioned to his friends at the bar that his granddaughter was a Girl Scout. It bothered him that he couldn't do much for his family, particularly this sweet little girl who loved him even though he was, well, a bum.
It started with one person, maybe the bartender, maybe someone sitting a few feet away. They told him they would buy a box of cookies. Maybe he even had the official Girls Scout Cookie Sales Sheet, or maybe he borrowed a sheet of notebook paper from behind the bar. Someone else signed up for two boxes of the peanut butter ones, and another asked for those stripey ones with the coconut. By the end of the evening, he had sold nearly fifty boxes of cookies for his granddaughter, and he was crying.
Isn't that the most beautiful story of a homeless guy selling Girl Scout cookies in a bar that you've ever heard?
Maybe this is the lesson of the Farmhouse. It makes people like me, who didn't even know there were shades of gray between having a home and not, have a relationship with cookie-selling drunks. Him and the other regulars, like the guy who sells wire sculptures or that other one who has a bicycle. They are not merely homeless alcoholics, but somehow they have lives. If they actually did nothing but drink on the street all the time, they'd be dead. Even if the things they do are done to raise money to buy booze, well, it's something. It's hard to see it, but somehow, there's hope in that. It's little and kind of beat-up, but hope nonetheless. And if there is hope for the old guys, then there is hope for the young ones who still have smooth faces and apartments but that same focusless gaze as they order another round. If I can see them all as just people, then the Farmhouse won't seem like a parade of horrors. They're just people.
I am not condoning uncontrolled drinking, I'm really really not. But no one has a monopoly on bad choices. Even if my flaws and weaknesses are unlikely to ever leave me on the streets, that's only my good fortune. Having a home doesn't mean you can't be miserable and alone.
Somehow, the Farmhouse, with its sticky floors and burned-out toilet seats, is teaching me compassion. It is a strange, strange world.