New Orleans has an all-men homeless shelter on Camp Street. Today my cousin and I stepped inside to take a look.
photo credit: Ozanam Inn
Spontaneously, while walking on Camp street heading for the D-day museum, We crept behind a gate. Ozanam Inn sprung into view as if metastasized right there on Camp street, replete with a line of men, waiting in line for a room to sleep. But he didn't know what was behind the gate. I didn't tell him; he was horrified, ripped from a pleasant view into a darker corner, social inequality thrust upon a privileged. It was rudeness on my part; I had said, "Come here. I want to show you something," as if I knew what a good lesson was. To me, they were readers, workers, sinners, saints -- reading a newspaper, one, another a novel, and another dragging on a cigarette. Another protecting his bicycle leaning against the dump. For him, just a boy at my side, they were strangers, monsters in his sleep, the stay-away-from-them folks momma told you about, not the needy in want of bread, shelter -- not the Samaritan on the block. It was my fault; I deserved his "Don't ever do that to me again without telling me first" accusation. In my rush to enlighten, I revealed reality too quickly, shed the gauze from his eyes too swiftly as if I went to amputate his legs without warning. We walked to the museum and I could tell I had frightened him. He was skittish and uncomfortable, gazing into the plexiglass displays of bombers and beach ballasts, authentic uniforms; and my words, a mismatch of history and mentorship. An old veteran's wife approached us while I was trying to explain axis and allies; "Listen to him boy; you can't get a better lesson than this". You indeed can't get a better lesson that.