Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Confessions of a Retail Worker: Eight people, a pot of coffee, and a newspaper

Hello everyone!

This is a diary I originally posted over at orange, but a brief exchange here today with Chris Blask made me think of it.

Phil Berrigan was a big fan of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker. The founders of Viva House in Baltimore knew him and vice versa.

…But sometimes, bridging the gap between the lives of the comfortable and those are who are disempowered is challenging. It’s challenging because the lived realities of the two groups are very different. So, with apologies to St Thérèse of Lisieux, I’ll continue to try in a small way.

So let me talk about Sunday.

Sunday has always been a difficult day for homeless people. Church-run soup kitchens tend to be closed on Sundays, and government offices are also closed. Libraries are closed too, and the generous people who put a dollar in your hat or pass you a smoke on their way to work are still at home, snug in their beds. So what do you do?

You do the same the housed people do. You buy the Sunday paper of course!

The only difference is that there’s eight of you contributing to the cost, because Sunday newspapers are expensive. The owner of the tiny newspaper stand is a old friend. You buy Local Paper, and if he happens to be around, you also receive a gift.

A copy of the Sunday New York Times.

Elated, you head to the day shelter. It should be open now. The morning volunteer has made a large pot of coffee, and put out a bit of bread. The shelter is temperature controlled, and you are comfortable. This is one of the better day shelters, because free showers are available. (That works out nicely, because it is one less person reading the paper at any given moment.)

You walk in with the two newspapers.

And you are mobbed. Seven homeless people come up to you, their eyes bright. “What’s the news?”, “Dibs on the Book Review!” The New York Times Sunday Magazine might as well made of gold, it is handled so carefully. The morning volunteer rushes over to help us all navigate a fair distribution of all the reading material. We flip through the magazine, looking at Leona “Only Little People Pay Taxes” Helmsley’s old advertisements, and we look with amazement at the floorplans for luxury buildings with ensuites bigger than the day shelter. We laugh.

John holds back.

He’s in no rush to read the New York Times Magazine, you see.

He prefers to be last.

He does the crossword puzzle.

In pen.


The volunteer beams.

We smile.

And we scatter, ready to do it all again next Sunday.


  1. raina

    We really do take the simple things for granted.

    Went to the supermarket yesterday, and on the way there I happened to notice a long line outside the food bank. First time I’ve seen people there.  

  2. Avilyn

    It is good to read a real account of homlessness, and the humanity of homeless people, and the ways they are like those of us who aren’t homeless.  Too often I think the stereotypical image of the homeless as crazy addict is what gets shoved in our face by the media.  When we’re reminded that they’re real people like us, and not caricatures, it becomes less easy to dismiss the problems they face.

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