There I was laying on a foam mat covered in vinyl that squeaked every time you moved on it. The blanket that was given me I used to cover the mat. The large room that we were in smelled like the wrestling room at my high school, body odor that they had attempted to cover by some kind of disinfectant. But this was the smell before the 130 men that were expected to sleep there that night arrived. The mats were laid on the floor in rows of about twenty or twenty five. I watched as the men filled into the room, signed the sign-in sheet and were told what mat number they would be sleeping on tonight. As the room filled it took on a different smell. The body odor increased dramatically, so much so that the smell of the disinfectant was gone. It was replaced by a different smell. It was the smell of booze. A little bit sweet, but it burns as you smell it in that quantity.
The way that they interacted was as a very dysfunctional family. One man would yell at another "Hey shut the fuck up!" that man would respond with "You shut the fuck up!" Than the first would yell back "I fucking love you!" the second man would respond like wise. Than a third man would yell "I fucking love you too!" Than the first would yell "I wasn't fucking talking to you!" There was this family bond with a underlying tone of hostility.
As the night went on people slowly got their area organized, laid down and went to sleep until eventually the lights went off. But it never got truly quiet. There was the sound of people shifting positions in their bed, the sound of people snoring, the movement of people who went out of the room every two hours for a smoke break. And then there was an interesting sound. I think that it was the sound of someone coming down off of a high. All of a sudden I heard a man say "ohh, ohh, ohh shit, ohh" and then silence. A little while later, not sure how much later because I was dozing in and out of sleep, I heard it again. "Ohh, ohh shit, ohh, ohh." This happened a couple more times through the night. I was never able to tell who was doing it. I know though that there are a lot of Vietnam vets that sleep in those shelters, I wonder if it could have been someone having flashbacks to some hell that he expierienced many years ago, but in his mind its as if it was still going on. For many of them the battle is still going on. They stepped out of the jungles of southeast asia to jungles of Minneapolis. The battle still going on in their mind. The drug addictions carried over from the battle field to streets.
Finally I slept. Only to be woken by a man saying "If you want breakfast, you gotta get up now." So I slowly crawled out of my bed. No need to get dressed because I wore everything that I was wearing the day before to bed, including my shoes. We were warned that if we took our shoes off there was a high likely hood of them being stolen. I made my way out of the large sleeping room for men named the "safebay" into the hall where they were serving grits and coffee for breakfast. I lined up and got my grits with a big spoonfull of sugar and butter in it. It was one of the best breakfasts I have ever had. In all honesty it was delicious. The sweetness of the sugar and the salty taste of the butter, made it the perfect ending the night. I came away with mixed emotions. I was relieved that the night was over. But I had this sorrow that for everyone else that night would repeat itself again and again, that it had been repeating itself for a long time now. And that they were used to it. I don't know if I ever could get used to that. I would never want to. I walked out of that room knowing that I would never spend another night there. It almost seemed unfair.