Adventures in Volunteering, Part II. Meals on Wheels.

After retiring, I wanted an activity that would keep me on the streets. Since the Covid plague coincided with my departure from the workplace, a lot of volunteer activities shut down. Retired people are a big part of the volunteer workforce, and many of them (us?) were scared off by the plague, so Meals on Wheels was saying “We need drivers.” So there I went. After a spate of filling in as a driver here and there, they offered me a regular route every Wednesday morning on the east side of Portland.  Portland has a stark income separation along one of its major arteries, 82d avenue.  If the city was divided along 82d and made into two different states, the west side of that divide would have the 2d highest per capita income of any state- surpassed only by Connecticut.  The east side would have the 49th lowest per capita income, surpassing only Mississippi and West Virginia (which have lower costs of living, especially in rent.)

So my delivery route is on the east side.  Meals on Wheels primarily delivers to seniors but also serves people with some sort of health disability. What I didn’t know was that its clients are almost entirely poor people. One of those is Anne, who lives in an unkempt apartment in a run-down complex.  She is about 60, and has had some sort of ailment that began when she was in her 20s.  It is pulling one of her hands into a claw, has wasted her body to skin and bones, and makes it difficult for her to walk.  Her hobby is smoking. She is something of a sparkplug, which makes her fun to talk to. I usually go into her apartment and put the meals in the freezer compartment of her refrigerator, talk a bit, and then take out her trash. A few weeks ago she said to me, “Well, I’m checking out tonight.” Since it didn’t look like she was packing to move, it didn’t take me long to realize she was talking about suicide. 

As we talked, she told me her life was “shit,” and I couldn’t really argue with her.  We talked awhile longer, and I told her I’d miss her if she died. Anne seemed pretty determined.  I eventually left to complete my route, but as soon as I got back in the car I called the Meals on Wheels Office and the Suicide Hotline.  The hotline people said they would send someone out, although they sounded pretty casual about it.  The Meals on Wheels people I work with were new to the system, and mostly said “Oh my! I don’t know what to do…I need to check with my supervisor.”

Later in the week I got a message through some sort of game of telephone that Anne had made suicidal talk before, but she was okay now and “on their radar.”  That next Wednesday I knocked on the door and she let me in. I didn’t say anything about suicide, nor did she.   Instead, she told me about how her no-good sister, an addict, had come into her apartment earlier that week and stole some things to sell for drugs. Anne had told her to stop, but her sister replied “What are you going to do about it?” This is not the first time this has happened.

Anne was so angry: “I just hate her!” Then she calmed down for a bit, looked me in the eye, and said, “Do you know a bad ass?”  “Uh…” “I want to hire someone to teach her a lesson!”  “Uh…no, I don’t know anyone who does that type of work.” While I said this, I was thinking that if she went out in the parking lot and talked to some of her neighbors with facial tattoos, she probably would find what she wanted.

To the best of my knowledge, no bad ass has been contracted. Yet.


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