Sunday, March 25, 2012

Breakfast with the Scribe

At 5:30 AM the lights in the Fresno Rescue Mission dormitory switch on and the Disciple charged with wake- up duty starts his routine, a verbal and occasionally physical procedure that varies widely.  Most use a blunt military approach: "Wake up!  Now! Move it!  Breakfast won't wait!  Make your bunks!  Bunks gotta be neat and tight or we'll A-22 your ass! (This refers to a write-up form; 3 bed violations and you lose your bunk and spend one night outside) This ain't the Hilton!"

This morning we are greeted by Disciple Ron who, I feel sure, could easily have a career as children's show host or make decent money voicing characters in preschooler cartoons.  "Time to wake up, everybody!  Mr. Sun is getting ready to show his face, so get ready to show him yours!  Wakey, Wakey, Eggs and Baky!"  It's hard to tell how much of this is a put-on, so consistent is the performance.  For "Sleepy Slugs" Ron bends over and sings a familiar kindergarten song in their ears: "Good mooooorning, Good mooooorning, Good Morning to you!  The day is beginning, there's so much to do!" I worry sometimes about Ron getting stabbed.

At breakfast (It really is eggs and bacon today, to every one's delight.  And plenty of orange juice and cartons unspoiled milk.  Yesterday there was a near riot when everyone got an individual kid's pack of Frosted Flakes and a splash of milk) I find myself sitting across from a guy I think of as the Scribe.  He's a silent, hulking black man in his late 20s who spends most days at the downtown branch of the Fresno Public Library, working diligently on a project either awesomely ambitious or deeply sad, depending on how you look at it.  I've been trying to figure him out for months now.  He monopolizes the same table each day, covering it with papers, reference works, notebooks and binders.  He spends most of his time either Xeroxing pages from books or painstakingly copying huge swatches of prose into his notebooks in minute, tightly ornate script, razor straight and faintly archaic.  I can only glance at his project as I pass his table; to ask him what he's doing would be more than rude--it would violate an aura of monkish devotion I sense.  His project is bound by no scheme I can determine from my glimpses.  The material he cuts and tapes together (he's constantly in minor trouble with library staff for the massive amounts of library tape he uses) ranges over everything.  Sometimes I think aviation dominates, then arcane medical stuff, then pages from graphic superhero novels. 

Perhaps the unusually good breakfast or the campy wake-up from Disciple Ron  ignites a fleeting wish that his project really has an over-arching plan, that its a work of vaulting genius in the making.  More likely, though, it's an interesting manifestation of the twitchy, often maddening obsessive compulsive behavior rampant at the mission.  Last night in chapel, for instance, I guy behind me kept repeating,  "I want a loaf of bread and a fish, Jesus.  Not sliced bread.  A loaf.  And bone the fish for me, will you?  You wouldn't want me to get a bone stuck in my throat would you, Lord?  I want a loaf of bread and a fish, Jesus. . . "

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