It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of crystal high rises. It was the age of decrepit cold water flats. It was the dining of abundance. It was the dining of food scarcity. It was the have-nots appreciating. It was the haves depreciating. And to think I witnessed both on New Year's eve.
My New Year's resolution was to do more tikkun olem. In furtherance of this, I decided I wanted to work in a soup kitchen. My first action--contact various shuls in the area. Not one returned my call. So, I had to start calling churches. My first preference in a church would be the Unitarian's, because they are the least proseltyzing. Fortunately, the Unitarian church in my area does conduct activities in furtherance of social justice. And---they actually called me back. Imagine returning phone calls. Such a rarity in these socially inept times. This church runs a soup kitchen on Monday nights. So I volunteered. And I spent the first part of my New Year's eve there, in a church basement on this rainiest of New Year's eve. By the way, do you know reader, which NYE is the anniversary of? If, you believe Jesus was born on 12/25--then, 1/1 is the anniversary of his bris. Of course, if you believe that 12/24 was Winter Solstice and the apostles deemed it expedient it to claim it as the birth of You-Know-who--then 1/1 is just an expedient reminder of the bris. Hahahah. And all those who proclaim him as their Lord and Savior shun the ritual snip. And do not do what Jesus did-obey the kosher laws and study Torah.
What would Jesus do indeed!
But I digress. This church only serve dinners on Monday's because there are other places that serve meals on other nights. There is security, who doesn't let in known troublemakers. These receive a plated to go meal, consisting of a generous dollop of chili, macaroni, and steamed veg.
The diners who are permitted in this windowless church basement are a grateful lot. Mostly men. The men looked like what you would expect to see in the Bellevue Patient cafeteria. Many look like they are on extremely sedating psychotropics. Others--you see the tardive. Some of the men have very poor dentition. They were all very calm and serene. It might have been a high school cafeteria. Some of them are old acquaintances and sit by each other regularly, conversing. Others are obviously loners, but they sit nicely and eat politely. They are all very mannerly and grateful.
The women are fewer in number and harder to categorize. Some are ancient. Some, in their 30's. None seem obviously medicated: either on prescribed or non-prescribed drugs. I guess they truly were down on their luck.
The room was divided into "express' and non-express tables. Apparently, the express tables all go back to the homeless shelter and have to catch a van back relatively soon after dinner is served. All tables are clothed. They all have baskets of bread, packets of sweeteners. All diners eat with real utensils--not plastic sporks. They all dine on plates--not plastic. They drink from real glassware and real mugs. The walls are decorated with pictures of the grandees of this church. They have meal choices. Most took the main chicken meal. But they could also have vegetarian chili. Or a vegan meal, donated from the local vegan restaurant.
Even the non-express tables are soon served and soon gone. Dinner was pea soup, chicken, rice, veg. Then salad. Then dessert--cookies, cakes, scones. Coffee and tea were served, alongside punch and water. It started around 6:15 and most were out by 7:15.
As I said, everyone was appreciative. There was abundance. Anyone who wanted could have seconds of the soup and/or dinner. And could take home plated to go meals as well. And there was no prosyletizing. No one was forced to say grace and thank a deity they may or may not believe in. No one was even forced to wash their hands (although as someone with a touch of OCD, that would have been nice).
The servers themselves are sanitary and hygienic. We wore plastic gloves and I changed into fresh pairs several times. Plastic gloves are no longer sanitary when they touch certain surfaces. I think I may have won the prize for the most frequent change of gloves. I really don't want to lose that "gloving" feeling. All you need are gloves. Gloves are all you need. I think the Beatles were the first to arrive at that wisdom.
Then, I went home to change for my posh New Year's eve party. I was invited to an acquaintance's "black tie" party. I changed into my best cocktail dress and my shiniest pumps. I put on pantyhose. Ugh--is there anything worse? I'd rather wear a cummerbund. I feel for the English princesses, for whom wearing pantyhose is a BFOQ!
This party was given by rich Jews. Mostly rich Jews in attendance. Doctors, dentists, real estate developers. All comfortable and all pro-T-rumpians. Why not? He has made their lives immeasurably better--but at what price? They are not curious. They are ladder puller-uppers. They got theirs. No one else need apply. No grey cells need cogitate. I could see why most men in my life, and all psychologists, consider me a pain in the ass. I make people think. No wonder everyone hates me.
There was no meal served. Just posh snacks. Candy, cake, chips, dips. And champagne cocktails. And champagne toasts. I drank ardent spirits for the first time in three years. A champagne cocktail. A glass of champagne later to watch the ball drop. I have missed nothing. One of the guests was a perky dentist. Her idea of small talk: "Remember, its brush, then floss, then Listerine. She distributed toothbrushes to her special friends.
But my resolution endures. I will do more tikkun olem this year. I will reserve to serve again next Monday. The never-to-be Jewish mother in me cannot bear that people are walking around hungry, lacking a nutritious meal. Even if no one at their party gives out free toothbrushes.
Happy 2019 dear readers. May you never know want.