Reread 20 July 2020
Tommy walked through the door and up to the counter of the crowded optical center. Dressed in a well fitted suit and tie, shoes highly polished and looking very important. Not the usual customer!
“Can I help you”.
“Yes, Please, I need my glasses repaired and if you don’t mind, I would like to deal with Sally.”
“Sir, we have several qualified technicians and Sally is quite busy right now ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,”
“That’s fine, I am not in a hurry and I can wait”.
Most of the chairs were taken but Tommy was able to find one near the back of the room. Picking up a few magazines he settled in for a long wait and it turned out to be, a pretty long wait. People came in and left and more than once, he was reminded,
“We do have other tech’s who are not as busy as Sally right now. If you would like ,,,,,,,,,,,.”
“No,” he would wait.
Eventually he was called,
“Mr. Thomas Rinker”.
Up to the counter and Sally, directing him to a chair, near the back of the examining area,
“What can I do for you today? They tell me your glasses are in need of repair. Your glasses look in pretty good shape but if you will take them off for me, I can take a look at them”.
Looking at him there was something, well something. She almost excused herself to bring in a different person to do this exam.
Throwing the thought off, she said,
“before you do that, just for the records let’s check your current vison with and without your glasses.”
Looking through the Ophthalmoscope and deep into his eyes she could see nothing too unusual and yet something still bothered her.
“I’m sorry sir but I must ,,,,,,,,,”
“I am sorry too, but these aren’t the glasses I am talking about.”
“Well than, if I may, what do you want us to do for you?”
Reaching in his vest pocket he pulled out a wrinkled old package and opened it to an old glass case and opening that, taking out a pair of rather beat up glasses. He handed the glasses to Sally.
awkwardly taking the glasses She started, “these are a mess I’m not sure we can ,,,,,,,,,,,.”
Almost dropping them, she looked at him for a long time, tears welling and freely falling.
Whispering out, “Oh my dear God” was all she was able to do.
On a late fall day, many years before, Tommy had landed in front of a building. Which building, didn’t matter, as he was coming from nowhere and going nowhere. He had drunk enough to get him to the place where he felt people didn’t see him or if they did, he, just like them, didn’t care. The cement was very wet and cold but he didn’t care about that either. Tommy was drunk, that much he knew and soon he would fall asleep, clutching the bag of returnable cans he needed to start his next day’s mission and another drunk.
People passing by seeing him sitting, half laying there, would shake their heads in disgust. A few might throw a dime or a quarter in his direction but for the most part, avoid eye contact and some even crossed the street to avoid walking past him. Inside the building people were reporting his presence and advising that he could be bad for business, as if that needed to be reported.
Several times the owner had gone out, trying to encourage Tommie to move on, even offering to call a restaurant so he might have a good meal on her. Calling the police didn’t seem like an option as what could they do anyway. Put him in jail at the taxpayer’s expense and they were already too busy to be involved in one more of the many marginalized people.
On her fourth of fifth trip out to talk with him, she noticed he had broken his glasses and they were held on to his head with string and wire and what ever else must have worked for the moment.
“Sir, I run a vision center and we repair glasses. If you will come in for a few minutes I believe I can fix your glasses up a bit.”
Tommy wasn’t all that interested but his glasses were one thing he valued, at least enough to want to hang on to them. While she went on about their service somewhere in his glassy state he pulled him self up and followed her in to the building.
As customers looked on, she led him in to a back room and a chair out of sight of the others. Near the back of the building, was a rear entrance, to a room which had become a storage area with an inner door separating it from the rest of the building. This rear door was only used by the employees and the room for things “too good to throw away or not in use right now”. She set one of the chairs up for him, coaxed him in and told him she would be back soon.
At her desk, she started to examine the glasses and was sorry she had volunteered for such a hopeless project. The glasses were bent, broke, miss aligned, scratched and just about worthless.
She scrubbed them up and slowly started to put her skills to work. Finding some temples from and pair of display glasses with the right hinges and screws that would fit was maybe the hardest part. What she came up with, was a pair of large partly yellow partly turtle shell temples, that looked out of place but more or less, fit. Nose pads were gone and she managed to repair them with an oversized pair.
The whole thing became a kind of challenging Project with Sally putting in a lot more time than she had planned. Buffing lenses after removing them from the dirt encrusted frames and replacing them. Buffing any rough corners of the oversized parts she had installed.
By now the appointments had all been taken care of and customers off the street had come and gone. Three of her employees had ended their shift and the last was informing her that he would see her in the morning.
They had all been asked to use the front door tonight and assured that she felt safe enough as this guy couldn’t hardly walk, much less do any harm.
Finally, she was finished and quite proud of the results. Strictly by accident, what she had come up with could easily be considered “Art Deco” and been sold at a high price to the right person.
She went to the back room, knocking and getting no response, opened the door. Tommy was sleeping on the floor using some chair cushions for a bed and obviously not likely to wake up soon no matter what she did.
Now what to do? She went around collecting snacks and restaurant leftovers from the fridge, a couple bottles of water and most of three packs of cigarettes left behind by customers. There was a nice nylon jacket that had been there for more than a year and this might be a chance for it to get a good home. All of this she packed in a carrying bag also left behind by a customer and put it with a note informing Tommy to exit out the back door and to take the bag with him. There would be no charge and wished him well. The inner door had the facility to be locked from the inside and so she did, leaving her charge to his own means.
She didn’t sleep a lot that night and arrived at the office early the next morning, happy to find that her guest had not only left but even made some attempt to put things back in some kind of order.
It didn’t take very long for the word to get out, about the good deed and over the years it played a big part in how her business grew, opening two more offices. She became Sister Sally to the street people. Making small repairs for those who couldn’t afford it became part of the business and without advertising, people from all over heard about it bringing in their old glasses to be used for parts or to be sent to some place where they would be needed and at the same time making appointments for their own glasses and more than happy to spend a little more on that better pair.
Tommy had woken up that morning, like so many mornings looking for something to take off the edge and, in his bag, he found he had left the least amount of a drink. Downing that seemed to give him a little life if one calls it that. The bag of snacks and leftovers were there with his glasses in a nice case. A note said to let himself out the back way and so he did grabbing his things as he went. Stopping behind a large dumpster provided some early morning relief. Soon he was off as usual, wanting to be as far away as he could from where he had spent the night. Who knew what he had done or didn’t do in the area and he would be prime target as a suspect for any foul play which might have happened in the night.
He walked for more than a mile, picking up cigarette buts and smoking them as he went. Eventually he came to a city park and moving to the center of the park where people were less likely to come, found a bench and plunked himself down. It was nice to be here early in the morning, all alone, quiet except for birds and distant vehicles. The city hadn’t woken up yet and this was his time.
Unless you were a street person, you just didn’t get it. There were things here most people would never see. Some good and plenty of bad but it was real and made a lot more since than a lot of what was going on in the coffee shops and drive throughs. In the daylight, people were worried to the point of seeing therapists and taking pills, because they couldn’t keep up with their neighbor or what was going to impress the most or what if I can’t get this or that. People talking on their phones about some person stealing and at the same time bragging about what they stole, time and product from their employer.
Sitting there was about the only thing he had to enjoy any more, he started to think about the past twenty-four hours. Than he remembered the bag he was carrying.
Pulling out of the bag, leftovers, snacks, a couple bottles of water he turned his nose up at, some open packs of cigarettes, and even a cigarette lighter.
A lit cigarette in one hand and savoring the mixed snacks, to him was like his own little party. He imagined himself in the company of friends, talking and sharing bits of expensive food, talking about politics, the weather, and their families, their wonderful families. Oh, how he would have loved a family. Just the presence of another caring person. What must it be like, having even one-person care, or even know you are alive.
Voices interrupted his thoughts and he could hear people starting to come into the park. Joggers, dog walkers, people with kids, and a few loners, like himself. Getting up and pulling his things together, he thought, “at least they have a place to return to, a coffee pot, maybe, a few magazines on an old table, a soft chair and a phone for people to call them on.” “Maybe they have a little dog or a cat”. Shaking himself out of his thoughts, he pulled on the jacket he found in the bag. Rather light for most people but he was used to the cold and this would block out the wind. Also, it was long and covered up a lot off his rather ragged clothes.
As he walked across the park in the direction of who knew where, a young boy said “cool glasses mister” with the father smiling and giving an affirmative head nod. Walking on and out of sight of the boy and his father he pulled off his glasses. Rather surprised that he hadn’t noticed earlier. Wow! Who could not notice these glasses? Rather silly he thought but at least they were not falling off. Through the day, he encountered other people who seemed to notice or gave comment on his glasses. A few were disagreeable but most found them to be to their liking. Several asked for the address of the optical center where he had purchased them and he would just say that it was somewhere a long way off and he didn’t remember the address.
Somewhere later in the day he came to a coffee shop and remembering some change that had been thrust into his bag he stopped at one of the outside tables. Carefully counting out the correct amount, went in and bought a coffee, brought it back out and sat amongst the cold, empty tables drinking, letting thoughts pass and just staring into space.
“Excuse me, do you mind if I sit here?”
It was too cold for most people to sit outside and so the voice surprised Tommie.
Sitting down across from him was a well-groomed man and obviously not the kind of people who usually approached him. I see you and immediately figured you as someone who needed a job.
Tommy started to protest but was cut off.
“I think I know your story or most of it and I am not interested in your history. I work in a place where many of us, make a pretty good living. Some would say, we make more than we should. One of the things we do, which is kind of outside of our regular work, is try to get people back on their feet. Not a free ride but a job and at least for a while, we do our best to get you what you need to hold on to the job. If you are successful you can move up or go somewhere else. No strings. We do it as teams with a team or small group of people picking an individual and trying to rebuild them. We don’t do it for gain other than knowledge of what we might be doing wrong or right. You have to make all the decisions and we do our best to treat you fairly, without giving you a lot you couldn’t acquire on your own. In other words, we try to help but by no means, spoil you”.
“By the way, my name is Tim. You don’t have to make a decision right now, but I know the value of what I am offering you. I’m going inside to get a Coffee. I will give you five minutes to make up your mind. If you are not interested, that is fine. You probably will never see me again.”
With that the guy got up and went inside. Tommy sat there. Who was this person who, like so many others, were going to do some great thing for his own ego? Take care of the poor homeless drunk and tell your friends how great you are. Was he serious? This was all too much to think about. Tommy needed a drink. By now the traffic was busy, people were coming and going on the street. Noises and voices everywhere, lights, doors opening and closing. “Run away,” Tommy told himself, but it seemed like he was glued to the seat.
In what seemed like a lot less than five minutes, Tim was back, coffee in hand and looking at Tommie.
“What’s it going to be?”
Tommie heard himself choke out “OK” and they were off.
Tommie followed him for a couple of blocks to a parking lot and a pretty nice car. Tommy nodded off a couple of times while they drove to an industrial park, somewhere on the outskirts of town. There, they pulled up to the front door of a building and got out. A lady came over, got in the car and drove it away.
Tim said, “that was our parking attendant. She like you was in need and now has a job. We decided long ago, that we would create jobs but they had to be jobs that made sense. She will take my car and park it saving me time but also keep records of things like oil changes, fluids, wash and clean the car when needed and we have a hoist, so that some of the minor repairs can be done. She makes out a bill, reflecting current prices. I will pay for what is done and the money will go into an employment fund. She in turn receives a fair hourly wage and given the opportunity to move into something else, when an opportunity comes along.” ‘
“I get a good job because she is not pressured by time or needed business costs. If she has to keep the car for a repair or take it somewhere, there will be a loaner car for me.”
“If you look closely, you won’t see too many new cars here but because they are so well maintained, they look and feel like almost new. Over there”, pointing to a large garage looking building, “Is where we keep the hoist and the landscaping equipment. We do most of the landscaping in this industrial park. One day our grounds keeper asked in he could do some needed repairs on the mower. Of course, not everyone is the repairman he thinks he is but we gave him a chance. Well, that turned into employees and their friends and family’s bringing in mowers to repair and pretty soon we were seeing everything from vacuum cleaners to four wheelers. There are times when the work backs up and we bring in people from other areas to help. For instance, the mail clerk or even one of us might need a break from our daily routine. No one is too good to roll up their sleeves and it could be just to keep records, while the person doing the repair can go on and not have to stop and wash up, in order to record what is needed.”
“Cleaning and organizing is something always needed everywhere, from our offices to the work shop and you will be expected to figure that out as you move along.”
“Now, let’s go inside.”
Going up the walk to the massive front doors made Tommy a bit nervous. Tim seemed to notice and said, “If ever you need to leave and it all seems too much, just come out these doors. Someone will eventually see you and take you to where ever you need to go. Although I will tell you, we run a pretty tight ship. You won’t want to make a habit of it.”
Inside was a spacious lobby with a person at an information desk, working away at a computer. Beyond that and through a door, down a short hallway they came to a very large area of offices, cubicles, people getting up and sitting down, moving from place to place almost like being inside some kind giant clock.
Some HI’s and a hand shake or two, a couple of “like your glasses” but other than that not the stares Tommy was expecting. Tommie followed Tim through the large building to the back of the building to a row of doors. Opening one, Tim said, “this can be your room for a while if you need it.”
Tommie thought, “who ever said I needed a room and for all he knows, I might have a house better than his”.
Tim seemed to read his mind and said, “Just in case you chose to stay, instead of going home some night”.
It was a small room, with a little refrigerator, sink three burner range, a bed, large window and not much more. A sign said “monitors in place for safety and security”.
“Restrooms, a couple of Tubs, showers and laundry facilities, are down the hall and you will be sharing them with other employees. We have a cafeteria with most of what you might want and there is a charge but pretty small to employees. By the way, there is a charge for most everything here but rates are based on the wholesale costs plus labor and of whatever it is, is based on your rank. If you stay and move up, you will pay more but only enough to defray the cost of providing the service. Part of our business here is non-profit and because of the service we provide, we receive many donations of many different items. Weather it is food, an old car, someone’s laundry equipment, art, dishes, clothes, or a lawn mower, rather than just pass it on, or throw it away, we do our best to reuse what we get. Great chiefs have been developed here and are able to put together incredible meals from good food that others were ready to throw away, because they didn’t have the need or the room for it. Waste is a bad word here and everything that can be recycled, is recycled for use or cash. Sometimes a load of cardboard barley pays for the driver and vehicle but we make sure it pays for at least that. We feel good about recycling and someone has a job.
Out back, you will find beautiful gardens, started because a contractor needed a place to get rid of some dirt. A person just like you asked if they could plant a few things. They were given a chance and now employees are glad to stop pick a couple things out of the garden, save time stopping at the market and donate maybe less than they would pay at the market, and know the origin of the food”
“I think that is enough for now. Someone will be by to help you go from here. They will set you up with some clean clothes until you can wash yours and good luck. Oh, they will be here in ten minutes so whatever you do, don’t take too long at it.”
Away he went, leaving Tommy looking after him and wondering “what the??” It was all going to fast and he hadn’t had time to even think. Turning into the room a large sign read,
“Be respectful, be on time, and Be open to wisdom. You owe it to yourself”.
He took off his jacket and thought about the bed but thought, for a change I am going to wash my hands. A small thing but in his own private room, no one looking on, bobbly soap, warm water and then a loud knock at the door. It couldn’t be ten minutes yet. Quickly drying his hands on his pants, he went to the door and opened it.
“Hi, my name is Robert and I would like you to come with me. No don’t worry about your things, everything is safe here.”
Down the hall in the direction of the bathrooms and laundry equipment.
“I got a picture of you on the monitor, when you came in and guessing, I found some clothes that should work for now. You have thirty minutes. There is a clock you can see from the shower. Take twenty minutes of that time in the shower. Not a minute less. When you come out pick out the clothes you want and leave the rest. Get dressed and put all your things in the washer across from the showers. Don’t worry about turning it on for now. The first-time laundry, is on us. Sox and slip on shoes of a couple sizes are with the clothes. You might not be ready for a presidential wedding but you’ll be alright for today. Don’t waste time, someone will be by in a half hour”, and with that, he too was gone. It had been a long time since Tommie had seen a shower and some might think he would be looking forward to it but that is usually not the case for street people.
Stripping off clothes that had been worn for such a long time was hard enough. Imagining someone else seeing the clothes, was humiliating to the point of tears. In the shower, to hot, too cold, gradually adjusting it to something he could tolerate. His skin was a mess. Bug bites which had festered, a bruise or two, dry scaly skin in places and the touch of the water being painful to some tender skin worn places. What he didn’t know, for the first five minutes of the shower, medicated soap came on and dribbled from the ceiling. The showers had been built with enough privacy and Soon Tommy was caught up in the comfort. Standing there in the warm water was like something somewhere in his past and he almost forgot about the time. Looking at the clock he had used up twenty-five minutes and he knew these people wouldn’t wait. Jumping out of the shower, grabbing a worn but soft and large old beach towel he dried him self like he was doing the job at the car wash, for a guy who was a big tipper. He dressed and quickly put his old clothes in the washer, before anyone could see them in the state they were in. Putting on sox and a pair of Slip-on shoes which came close enough to his size, he was ready and not a minute too soon.
A female voice from a little way away asked, “are you decent?”
Walking out, his body still stinging from all the lesions and street sores the water had re awakened.
Outside the wash area a woman waited, my name is Judy and if you will follow me.
Down the hall to an elevator and down to the basement as busy and as large as the area above.
From the elevator to an open door, and a sign saying, “Mail Room.”
“For starters, you will be working here. Brandy and Max will guide you through and have a blessed day.”
Like all the rest, she was gone in a flash down the hall, leaving him shaking hands with Brandy and Max.
“Here is what you will be doing today and don’t expect to be perfect, just be open to criticism and adjustment. This mail coming in needs to be sorted. After a while you will develop your own plan. Different kind of mail with different urgencies. If it doesn’t have a particular person mentioned, it goes to the mail reader over here. Specific names and box numbers go over here in these hundred slots. Nothing is junk-mail. It may go to the shredder or the paper collector but it is all recycled and turned into cash if only a few pennies. There is a place for coupons and some of our employees go through and take what the will use. Some are sent to places they can be best used. Child care items to child care homes, adult diapers to nursing homes. At least once a week a person sorts out coupons. Every few days anyone who has a little time will go through the mail boxes to make sure they are being emptied taking these sticks, putting the current date on them and placing one in the box they started on and the box where they finished. That way nothing gets left behind. You might think we have created a lot of small silly jobs here but it all helps the business to run better and makes for employment.
The rest of the day was rough, Tommy wanting to get to a drink so bad but at the same time, caught up in the small tasks, always more than could be finished. A week went by and soon several weeks.
One day Tommy ran into Tim. This was the first time he had seen him, even though he had delivered mail to his office more than once.
“How are you doing Tommie, do you have a little time for a coffee?”
“Well I am on a mission but”
“Your mission will wait. I knew you were coming in this direction today and made arrangements for someone to take your place for a couple hours. Let us head for the cafeteria.”
The cafeteria had a couple of semi-private rooms and in they went. Tim ordered coffee, suggesting Tommie order something.
“Could you send us one of those assortment trays with that and thank you Connie”.
Tim looked at Tommie and said, “I’m not even going to ask. I have been through this before and find it best for you to lead.”
Tommy looked at Tim kind of half smiling, “easy for you to say. I have no idea where to start. What just happened in the past month and a half? What planet am I on? How do you make any money here? How do you support all of these services? Who organizes it all? Are you the big guy and running all of this on some gold your great, great, grandfather stole from the Aztecs? How was I chosen for this job, whatever it is”?
“If you promise not to interrupt me I will do my best to explain as much as I can and you might be surprised to learn it is not as complicated as it may seem.”
“I am not the guy in charge of all of this,,,,,,,,,,.”
Two coffees came with all the cream and sugar on the side, A beautiful rather large plate came with small sandwiches, sliced fresh vegetables and some fruit. Some small chocolates came with the plate.
“See, that is what I am talking about. That must have cost a fortune, not only the food but putting it together to look that great. I am afraid to eat anything it looks so pretty.”
“Tommy, no interruptions!”
Tommy nodded and apologized. “Go for it and I am glad I am sitting down.”
Laughingly, Tim started in again. “I am not the guy in charge of all of this. Danny Worst is the top man. As you may have figured out by now, we are a Brokerage company and the better we do the more we make. Someone back there in time went to Danny with a suggestion of hiring a person down on their luck to do a little work on the building. Danny immediately said, as long as he can do as good a job as a company we would have to hire and do it reasonable enough to earn his pay I am for it. The man was hired and because we are often charged high prices for work done it was easy for every one to be satisfied. The man did a good job, staying on to do more odd jobs and pretty soon more people were coming up with people needing jobs and jobs needing people. In no time it was necessary to have a meeting to explore all that was needed to make this practice work properly and stay within the codes, laws, insurances, and so on. Much was discussed and suggested, tested, and fine-tuned. Our employees are encouraged to use some of their brake time to help other employees. Sweep a piece of floor, straighten up a desk for someone on vacation, spend twenty minutes on a lawn mower, or making a call for someone who is having a busy day and doesn’t have the time. As you can see, people bring things to be repaired, laundered, mailed and they take home fresh garden vegies, printed invitations for family events, addressed envelopes, and paying for what they take but having the advantage of personal service as well as saving a lot of time shopping around. We encourage our people to have plenty of away time and to spend as much time as possible with family. Our employees are considered some of the best and although some have been offered better positions, most chose to stay.
Not only does everything pay for it self but we have a staff of very happy people, dedicated to their work and with less stress and distractions, to keep them from getting a good job done.
The customers see it and in turn, we see it in our profits. Because we see and feel the good of helping out others, and because we are able to save more, makes us want to spend less on ourselves and save so we can help somewhere else. We don’t make a lot of noise about our place and the workings because we can only do so much at a time. If we put out a help wanted sigh we would have more people than we needed and would have to let some go. It is not the intention of our place to solve the world problems but to do what we can a little at a time. We ask that you do not advertise the helping hand part of the business for the obvious reasons.
As for choosing you, you may not be ready for my chosen by God speech so maybe it was the glasses. Yes, I couldn’t help but notice the glasses. As for the lunch, the bread for the sandwiches, supplied free from a bakery down the street. The owner once an employee here, starting out much like you. Coffee and chocolates, from employee’s desks received from clients as token gifts for a job well done. If you look at the plate, cups and flat where, like so many of the decorations throughout the building, all castoffs, donated, voted on and approved by the employees. Anything extra goes to a charity garage sale, we all have fun at.”
Tim took a minute and then, “all of you have done a terrific job”.
“I don’t believe you will find a person here willing to take credit for any of this. We are all still as much in awe as you. We have all become much wiser and realize we have much to learn. One of the things we have learned and you will see this posted around the building, and Tim pointed to a sigh,
when you touch someone, you touch the world. Touch them in a good way.
Tommy stayed on, days, weeks, months turning into years. Years rolling by, finding time and funding to go back to school and all the while moving up in the company. The knowledge gained at his job helped his schooling, putting him at the top of his classes and the schooling helped him into a much-coveted position, much sooner than most would be able to achieve. As Tommy was quick to show his appreciation and constantly thanking people, everyone celebrated when he landed his position. He had worked hard, helping many of them as well as helping the company grow and no one deserved to move up more than Tommie.
Coming back to the moment, looking at Sally, tears streaming down her face, Tommy handed her one of the tissues from the examining table. He said, “I heard you had a little trouble with an employee doing a bit of embezzling and you are having some problems with financial aid. I think I know someone who might be able to help. In the mean time I would like you to accompany me, for a cup of coffee at a cafeteria in an industrial complex on the outskirts of town. There are a few friends there I would like you to meet.”
Sally looked at him. “Somehow, and I don’t know why, I trust you and will be glad to go. My employees can take over and close. Sniffling and more tears flowing, I don’t even know why I am crying but I am sure you have quite a story to tell. Can you give me even a small part of it?
Tommy looked at her, anxious to tell the whole long story and just not knowing how to sum it all up.
“For now, let me just say this.
When you touch someone, you touch the world. Touch them in a good way.”