Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Disciples and their "Guests"

The Disciples are the unpaid staff who run, organise, supervise the Mission and do the grunt work that keeps the whole thing going.  Most of them are convicted felons, heavily tattooed, often sporting sets of outdoor gym muscles that looked stuffed and worried into place .  Many are deeply resentful that they are now "Disciples for Christ," following orders from paid staff at the downtown offices, under the hanging anvil of a return to prison, some in line for a California third strike.   The Disciples, identified by bright yellow name tags, sweep, scour and wax the chapel floor, corridors, and the dormitory where most of the overnight "guests" stay.  They cook and serve food, patrol the aisles of the chapel with baleful raptor eyes, and have a weirdly ambivalent relationship with the guests.  For many of them, this is the first responsible job they've ever had, and they're clearly uncomfortable with their dual role as flop house hosts and playhouse prison guards.

One of the conceits behind the guest concept is that you are ideally sleeping in the Mission for a mere night or two; thus, there are no lockers available and each day you take all your possession with you--a home on your back--and go out into the world to seek your fortune.  Many guests, however, stay for months or even years.  You can stay as long as you want as long as you don't mess with anyone or rack up too many black marks with the Disciples.  

 Unruly or intoxicated  guests are usually surrounded immediately and escorted out or occasionally thumped or pounded as needed.  Lately, as a transitional or herding device, Disciples have been shouting "Reverence!  Reverence!"--before prayer, before introducing a guest pastor, etc.   The other night, when a chapel crowd--people who have lower than average impulse control--began snickering and nudging each other over some piece of perceived smuttiness-- a new disciple bellowed "Reverence, you bastards!"  Two of his fellows grabbed him by the elbows and led him off.

Today my sub teaching gig was an AP high school calculus class. "I took calculus 30 years ago so I can't help you," I said.  "I'm really an English teacher."  For some reason they found this hilarious, giggling and drumming their desks.   The "teaching" I did consisted of having the kids correct test problems in assigned groups.   Then we had an hour to fill.  Noticing a old piano at the back of the room (high school classrooms often have strange items stored inside like ancient refrigerators, 1970s Hi-Fi rigs, stacks of  hygiene pamphlets from the 1950s) I asked the class if anyone played.  To my delight and relief--I hadn't planned on dead time today--three students began banging out tunes ranging from classical and jazz piano to show tunes and TV themes.   Then the students worked on me to let them go early, and I caved.

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