It was not a quiet week in Lake Wobegon. As anyone who reads Laurie's blog knows, we have been having experiences which I will relate in brief and then discuss some unexpected side effects. Warning: this may be way more interesting to me than it is to you. Or perhaps you will get something out of this, a few moments diversion, and possibly a lesson in what to do and what not to do should you find yourself in similar circumstances.
Also, this will most likely prove to be a very long post.
We live behind a motel and across the street from us is their back wall. In the past several months, slowly and steadily, homeless people who own vehicles have parked across from our house for days, weeks, and in one case around 2 months. These are not those forced from work through massive layoff. These are not the victims of the tanking economy. These are people who have lived their entire adult life in pursuit of methamphetamines and other intoxicants. You may think it unkind for me to practice what sounds like casting aspersions on their character, but I assure you there is a point coming in this story where all of the characters involved (except for me, of course) smoke speed or possibly crack directly in front of me. To put it in Biblical terms, this is not "The Poor" that I am talking about. This is "the slothful man."
Mainly these people seem to have the last vestiges of wisdom to at least A) not bother the people who live here legitimately and B) not do and/or sell their drugs in full view of the people who live here legitimately. Or, at least, that was the case at first.
There are about 5-8 vehicles that alternate and on a few rather stifling occasions all end up here at once.
So, early on Laurie and I decided that, property values aside, they are not directly hurting us and we would rather save our "cry wolf" card with the police for when wolves are at the door.
There were two vehicles in particular that started to scream "problem" to us. One was a brown van that showed up for one day and, in essence, threw a party of tweakers directly across the street from our house. They shouted things at my family when family members were in the yard. They left within 24 hours and have yet to return.
The second red flag of a vehicle was a truck with a camper. This is the one where, about a month ago, I was walking Gina (that is my step-daughter for the newbies on this blog) out to her car after dark and someone wolf whistled at her. I went around the front of the house. Dude was sitting in the shadows across the street by the truck and camper and started cussing me out loudly. I called the police. The police came by. The truck remained and returned often although no more profanities or threats greeted us for the time being.
Over the past few weeks the man in the truck had grown far more bold in selling drugs from the back of his camper. Or, rather, we had observed people who had every physical feature associated with advanced methamphetamine abusers entering the back of his camper and leaving a few minutes later or simply knocking on the door, giving the man folded up paper, receiving small baggies which they stuff in their pocket as they leave. We naturally took this to mean that illegal drugs were being exchanged for cash, goods or services and I still see no reason to think we were mistaken in that conclusion.
Finally as we were planting our new magnolia tree (more on that in other posts very soon) I saw a car pull up to the camper full of tweakers and I watched them. In fact I did not break focus once and they grew more and more nervous as they talked. They kept looking over at me and looking away quickly. Finally they all entered the back of the camper.
The next morning Laurie called the police station's non-emergency number asking for increased patrols. When I came home... I should probably break for a moment here and add that when I came home Laurie told me that our tax return was deposited and now we had the few thousand we need to pay our property tax. Meanwhile, directly across the street...
I went out on the porch to read and the tweakers were out on the curb directly across the street on lawn chairs. They were passing around a joint. The guy with the truck left to walk to the liquor store. He brought back two forty ounce bottles of malt liquor which he gave to two of the men there. But before he did he turned, looked directly at me, and yelled out a profane suggestion (or command I suppose) for me to lay lips upon a portion of his anatomy interspersed with a word used for scatological emphasis which describes the act of copulation and rendered all the more profane being coupled with reference to maternity. And then he flipped me off. And they drank without bags. And then the pipe fashioned from aluminum foil came out and was passed. All of this on the curb of the street, all of this as I sat on my front porch, all of this directly in front of me. So I stayed there for a long time and watched allowing them to get good and intoxicated in their brazen scoff-lawery.
Then I came inside and had a good old fashioned freak out. I called my parents and my brother. My brother offered very good suggestions on how to deal with them as my brother, some of you may know, worked with indigents for many years as the director of a local soup kitchen before he was ordained. My parents offered the very good admonition that in the future one ought to avoid staring down drug dealers. Which, on one hand I took to heart and shall endeavor to follow all the days of my life that remain, on the other hand struck me with the realization that I had not handled the drug dealer well nor wisely. My brother suggested 2 things, one of which I did immediately, the other I shall do Monday on normal business hours. The first was to call the police, tell them everything I just told you, sprinkle in the phrase "I'm a home owner," and others like "I just want peace in my home and to be able to sit on my porch of a pleasant Spring evening without being sworn at and watching people smoke crack" and "I work early and my wife is here alone" and "I'm afraid for the safety of my family" and "threatened" and so on. And be very polite and well spoken to the dispatcher. Pat said along with the benefits of the police running these people off immediately, there would be the added benefit that word would get around in homeless circles that people in this area will call the police on you. The other thing he suggested strongly was calling the local soup kitchen, describing these people, telling the kitchen that if they are serving these people they are in code violation (the kitchen operated with the code that they employ a private patrol to keep their clients from camping in the surrounding neighborhoods and that they may not provide services for anyone who is camping in said neighborhoods.) In other words, cut off their food supply and they will move on.
When the cops came the people across the street, well, most of them fled immediately. The guy in the truck and two of his guests first turned into simpering fools and then into belligerent jackasses. I told Laurie that they were falling apart and that it did not look good for them. Meanwhile the cop picked up bits off of the street where they had been smoking crack or whatever. Also the cop caught one of the guys hiding something however he did not, sadly, recover whatever the man had hidden. Another officer pulled up. One came to my door and told me that the vagrants would be leaving within a few minutes. After the cops left, the guy stayed all night, but did not make a sound all night and left the next morning. He has not returned as of my writing this although both Laurie and I have observed him walking in the neighborhood within the past 48 hours. The police patrolling has increased and we may enjoy a few months of peace in our home, Lord willing.
So, I came away from this experience with 2 personal lessons. The first was upon some self-reflection the next morning at work. I realized that I need to bridle my tongue a little better and refrain from profane utterances for my own sense of decency, for my own ability to look myself in the eye in the mirror in the morning. Not in some weird, legalistic, finger wagging sort of way. And not that God isn't gracious to those of his elect who occasionally, accidentally drop F bombs directly after dropping heavy things on their toes. Or those who occasionally burst out into a bawdy tune or delight in the occasional double entendre. But I felt conviction after seeing what kind of life lays about 400 miles down a road that I occasionally take a few steps on. Or, put another way, Laurie and I recently had a conversation about racist jokes and about how one can't shake the Devil's hand and say they're only kidding. In short, seeing depravity to the point where zero regard for law, decency, morality exist filled me with a desire to nail my sanctification to my own forehead in hopes that I can more constantly set my eyes on it.
The other thing I kept thinking about, that kept nagging at me, was what kind of a man I've become. A few years ago I would not call the police for anything short of violent crime being committed against me personally. Now I'm using words like "property values" and I am using words like "bums." And I thought about what a bourgeois, suburban sell-out Paul of 12 years ago would think of modern day Paul.
"What's the matter, man? You used to be cool!"
But I think I came to a place of peace over this last night in talking to a friend of ours from the next block over (where they do not have these sorts of problems.) We were talking about (and later I followed the thought to include) improving the community through keeping a nice yard, planting things, going on walks, using and supporting the library, supporting the local NPR station during their current pledge drive and so on. There's a concept in my spiritual walk called Apocatastatis. You can trace this concept through Christian spirituality (although it is not entirely peculiar to us and you will also find it rich in Gnosticism.) Hopefully not to put it in too poetic of terms but it means the transformation of the infernal to the celestial. Which rather strikes me as being a description of the Gospel. My namesake's story is certainly a textbook example of the concept.
I think I can say that crack is not a good force in the world. I am coming out right here and now as anti-crack cocaine and anti-methamphetamine abuse. I think I can also say that able bodied men ought to do their best to work at a job which supports them financially if possible or, if not possible, seek to find employment. I know the times in which we live. I know that jobs are scarce and that people are being laid off left and right. Believe me, I am hyper-aware that this could just as well happen to me. However, I am not talking about that or those people. I am talking about people on curbs with crack and bad beer. And don't even get me started on my hypothesis that bad people drink bad beer.
Brightening the world around you in any way you can not only expands the light (sorry to get all Quaker in my lingo) but in doing so the cockroaches tend to flee more to the darkness. We realized as we talked to my friend from around the block that had we a motion light on our garage, the graffiti (of the territorial peeing variety, not of the art variety) that appeared on the side of our neighbor's garage last week probably would not have appeared. Light drives away darkness.
I hasten to add that the Gospel is a message in words. It is that we are all depraved sinners who fall short of God but that God, in His grace, sent His Son to atone for the sins of those who believe in Him. I do not believe, nor does Laurie, in the (probably apocryphal anyway) St. Francis quote of "Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary." No, Frank, it is in words (or rather Apocryphal Frank. I think I just came up with a new band name.) Expressing the Gospel in words is necessary. Seeking to do good in the world is an expression of one in whom grace has been shown. One will not communicate the Gospel message through giving out cold bottles of water on a hot day without also communicating the Gospel, passing a tract with the bottle, or at the very least identifying yourself as being a part of a congregation where one could learn more if one were so inclined. Any number of reality tunnels can lead one to do something that ameliorates the community. This is not salvific and does not communicate the means to salvation although it can be the natural expression of one who experiences the infinite mercies of God.
So, I do want to do good and I do want to spread the gospel. Working to keep my area tidy, safe, and beautiful does make the world a better place. Did I forward the Gospel? Well, maybe not directly in the story, but the story did give an opportunity to talk about it. Did I handle the experience well? Mixed. I think it worked out well. I think I learned some valuable lessons. Hopefully you did too. I am sure I should not have stared the drug dealers down (lesson learned.) And boy oh boy you have no idea how much freaking out I did when the police were in transit. Laurie called my brother to come over and talk me down.