I have always been concerned about civil rights and justice. Having served in the military, I was sensitized to problems of homeless vets. Currently, I assist at a writers’ group in a center for the homeless in Maryland. Experiences there birthed both this short play and essay. I was excited when our editor, Roxana Nastase, said she’d consider a script for the theater. Earlier, I was a professor of ‘behavioral economics,’ a mathematical and experimental sort of social science and philosophy, mainly at the University of Maryland. I retired to invent worlds and put them on paper. I mainly write stories and poems. I have submitted a few and published some.
Much is on my website:http://gvptsites.umd.edu/oppenheimer/id43.htm.
What would you say is beautiful about a man, call him Tommy: a man once so wildly high on crack that he neither could bury his own father nor give his mother and family support in their time of grief? Rather, he hid in the bushes and waited till all had left, and the night crept on him. Going to the grave site, he finally wept. For his father? No. For himself.
What would you say is beautiful about the arc Tommy takes on January Fourteenth? He passes an old woman in a wheelchair on his early morning walk to work. She is waiting on the slightly sheltering patio of a soup kitchen he knows well. It would open soon. He asks if she is cold. She answers, “Yes.” So he enters and tells the people there, who are setting up for breakfast. They respond with a “This and that.” and he leaves, walking through the large county parking lot that abutted the patio. At the far end of the lot, with one last thought about the cold woman, he turns and spots her now out in the middle of the unsheltered parking lot.
Tommy turns around, and returns to the soup kitchen. He asks what happened.
“We aren’t open yet,” says the director. “She isn’t allowed to be on our property until we open. It’s trespassing.”
Tommy sees a pile of blankets. He takes two and brings them to the old lady, and goes on to work. Breakfast time turns to lunch time at the small restaurant where Tommy works in the kitchen. The middle afternoon is slow, and although it is not very cold, he decides to make sure the old lady isn’t outside again. Walking to the parking lot he sees her, without blankets.
He wheels her to the sheltering patio and goes inside. They tell him he’s trespassing. He asks about the blankets. They say they aren’t hers. He says she needs to be inside. They say, “That is impossible.”
Tommy is a big man. And when he explodes the frightened staff doesn’t know what to do. He again grabs two blankets. He spreads them on the old woman. They call the police. He is served a citation. He has to go to court. The complainants don’t show up. The charges are dropped.
These days, Tommy comes to the soup kitchen’s writers’ group and talks about the importance of helping others as a way of building a foundation for one’s soul.