In the Desert

New Year's Day Was Just Another Day

I call them desert experiences because they leave me feeling so barren.

New Year’s Day at Campus , where I work, was the saddest day I’ve spent there. That day a frigid rain fell and none of the participants had much joy or happiness to offer, which they usually do, at least more than a person might expect.

I saw too many new faces, including an exhausted prostitute who, after napping for a couple of hours, head nestled in arms and bent over an old desk, was escorted outside by a man. She wore only a small skirt that barely covered her thighs and a thin leather coat—not enough to keep her warm.

Since the Monday before Christmas, the tables and chairs and structure of the day room had been replaced with rows of chairs that faced a constantly blaring television set playing terrible movies, violent TV shows, or an occasional football game. There is no humanity in pacifying a group of adults with a television set.

Because I played security guard in this room for eight hours a day instead of teaching classes, handing out mail, or exchanging points in the store, I got scanned up and down too many times by too many pairs of eyes. One guy in particular stared at me all day long until I had to threaten him with a suspension, a ticket out into the cold, to make him stop.

Sometime in the afternoon, Pete came inside to tell me a kid was high and staggering around our parking lot from sniffing varnish. By myself, I quickly went outside to deal with the situation, when I was confronted with the alley drug dealer. He had harassed me before, following me around the Nashville Farmer’s Market a couple of weeks ago, when I was there by myself. Here he was again.

I know enough Spanish to understand that he told me I was beautiful and, with a sleazy twinkle in his eyes, stuck out his hand for me to touch it. I quickly pulled my hand away in protest of his disrespect. “So you don’t like Mexicans,” he snarled in Spanish. “No . . .,” I wanted to explain but my Spanish is not good enough and he didn’t care anyway. At this moment, I felt all of my energy drain out onto the oil-stained asphalt.

I didn’t want to be afraid of this man, but I was. I didn’t want to be objectified in the day room by a sea of bored, listless eyes, but it happened anyway. I wanted the participants to celebrate the new year, but this day was just the same as any other day.