Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Day At Teen Challenge

In 2011 I retired after 19 years at Phoenix Teen Challenge. Since then, I fill in for a few weeks every summer while the director and his wife -- who replaced me at my position -- go on vacation. The ministry of Teen Challenge is dear to my heart. I started writing my memoirs of my time there, so for the next few weeks my blog will be excerpts from that memoir.

            I chuckled about Jeff’s remark regarding my boyfriend. Before I could think about it, though, I took several incoming calls. Once there was a lull, my thoughts went back to the elderly gentleman Jeff referred to as my boyfriend. I did have a boyfriend but that man definitely wasn’t him. The old fellow had come into the office several days prior. Being in the heart of downtown Phoenix, and because of the type of ministry we were, the homeless and indigent were frequent visitors. Some wanted help with their drug and alcohol addictions. Some wanted money, food or clothing. Some just wanted to cause trouble.
            This particular guy was older. I guessed he was about sixty, but life on the streets is harsh, so he could’ve been younger. He was obviously homeless. He wasn’t too dirty or smelly, but he was shabby, with unkempt hair and a day or two of growth on his face. He grinned from ear to ear, without a tooth to be seen, and said, “Good morning, sweetheart.”
            I stiffened. He looked harmless – I was sure I could beat him up if he attacked me. But I didn’t appreciate being addressed with a term of endearment, or the familiarity in his voice.
            “Can I help you?” I smiled but kept my voice aloof.
            “Yeah, beautiful lady, I need a pair of shoes. You guys got any shoes?” He then tried to raise his right foot to the window so that I could see his bare feet, but he lost his balance and almost toppled over.
            I tried not to giggle as his arms flailed around until he managed to grab the opening in front of my desk. Once he steadied himself, he looked at me, winked and cackled.
            I pushed the intercom button and summoned a staff member to the front office. Rob, a young intern, responded.
            “Hey, Rob, do we have a pair of shoes in the Blessing Room for this man?” I motioned to the still-grinning man. The Blessing Room was what we called the area where we stored extra clothing, shoes, and linens for the men who came to reside in Teen Challenge. Some men came in with not much more than the clothes on their back. Occasionally, we gave things to the homeless and indigent when we had an abundance.
            Rob left and returned with a pair of white buck shoes reminiscent of Pat Boone’s trademark shoes.
            The old gent tried them on. “Well, by golly, looky here. They fit perfect. Come on, look,” he said, motioning to me. “I look like that singer dude. Know who I mean?”
            “Pat Boone,” I replied, complimenting him on his newly acquired shoes. The younger generation would be unaware about a singer and actor named Pat Boone.
            Rob left, and I hoped the old gent would too, but he continued to talk to me while I ate an apple. “I sure am hungry,” he said, eying me like he thought I’d rush to the kitchen and whip him up a meal.
            “Uh, you want an apple? We can’t really give out food, but someone donated apples.”
            He opened his mouth, showing me his toothless gums. “Can’t eat it, darlin’.”
            So what did I do? I got an apple and peeled and sliced it for him – a Christ-like gesture, I’m sure, only he returned the next day declaring he was in love with me. “I’m gettin’ an inheritance, sweetheart. My dad left me a million bucks. I’m gonna pick you up in a limo and take you to the best restaurant in town and buy you anything you want. Anything!” He flashed his toothless grin and winked. 

            Of course, I didn’t believe he was inheriting a million dollars. Somehow I managed to turn him down without too much fuss from him. I saw him a few times after that when Teen Challenge did our regular Friday night outreach to the homeless. I tried to not make eye contact with him, but he never seemed to notice me. It did make an amusing story to tell.

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