By Lancelot Schaubert
We had just learned we failed to secure government approval, so we would not receive a grant in time to start a project and program one of our neighbors—an artist—had been counting on. I had worked painstakingly on the grant for months, haggling with four state governments. After all of this, our artist friend came to our house with his bulldog, refused to sit and eat, and told us he was pulling the plug. I don’t blame him; he couldn’t afford to wait it out. What was most upsetting, however, was he ignored everything we’d done to try to help him. He pulled the plug on the project, the relationship, and every relationship through which he and I were connected. I’ve seen him once since then . . . to deliver legal documents that showed my eight months of hard work.
I felt betrayed. I cried. The next day, I called up one of our coaching team members—an elder—who told us to take stock, look around, and “don’t do anything rash.”
Keep with our rhythm, he advised. “Don’t grow weary in well doing.”
Instead of leaving town for the holiday, we hosted a 12-hour marathon Thanksgiving brunch. That seems rash, but it’s our monthly rhythm. These marathon open houses are for makers . . . a gathering for artists and neighbors out of which collaboration and culture is born and begotten. We kept our commitment to go and see a film producer we love out on Long Island. We doubled down on our commitment to host 15 baking nights during Advent. We refer to these as green nights, as we shade those dates green on the hand-sketched monthly calendar we text to everyone.
At green nights, anywhere from 2 to 30 people show up and play games or paint or make things. One evening, a high-needs person showed up alone. His gray hair was frizzy, hands were blacked from too much subway and not enough soap. His fragrance: expired aftershave.
Wyeth used to live downstairs on crates. Used to. City hasn’t been so great to him, at least in terms of its systems (he’s found $2,000 in uncashed lotto tickets on the streets this year). Wyeth had an injury that caused brain damage; he has deeply ingrained habits and ignorances that, when compounded with systemic injustices and lack of connections, kept him on those crates hoarding free clothes and crockpots.
Landlords found out. Kicked him out, even though he was paying rent to the bodega. Now Wyeth is experiencing homelessness. He sleeps on the bus because he knows most of the drivers at the Jackie Gleason Depot. He sleeps for eight hours in a 170-degree sauna at the YMCA because it’s warm and he’s already sweated through most of his clothes. He may well die in there, a dehydrated mummy memorializing New York’s housing problem that I, for now, will refrain from ranting about (suffice to say it starts in Wall Street and ends everywhere).
Wyeth came to our fourth-floor walkup often during green days. Before the artist backed out of our big project, Tara discovered that Wyeth liked pork chops. She, in her wisdom, bought some just for him. I, in my foolishness, brooded over the friend I’d lost to the failed project and failed program. A friend who knew we’d been helping Wyeth had also grown up in the neighborhood; he said, “Yeah that guy? Same story, never changes.”
No one else showed that night. Just Wyeth at our dinner table.
I said, “Wyeth, we have a surprise for you tonight.”
“Tara bought pork chops.”
“Ooooooh, nom nom nom nom nom.” He smacked his gums. He has no teeth left. His 60-year-old face was bright. Whelpish. He giggled, quoted Beavis and Butthead.
I laughed often in spite of my brooding.
Then we cooked the pork chops. And we savored them with coffee. And we all had second helpings while Wyeth told us a friend upstate had been murdered by a neighbor who burned down the other house he lives in. I listened. I wept.
Wish I knew where we got those pork chops. Can’t quite duplicate the flavor. . . .
Lancelot Schaubert is a writer and producer living in New York City.