17 February 2008

Do Not Stare Into Beam

There's a tractor trailer rig, a leased job without much in the way of markings beyond the DOT information, parked on this narrow cobblestone street in Over-The-Rhine. A ragged line of people, some housed, some homeless, all poor, forms behind the truck. The line stretches onto the sidewalk and on for thirty meters. Nobody seems to know who organized this give-away. Men are inside the open door of the trailer, handing down boxes to a man and a woman who are in turn handing the boxes out to the people in line. Occasionally somebody says thank you. Most of the recipients nod by way of expressing gratitude. It takes me ten minutes to get to the front of the line. A lady in an XU sweatshirt, her breath steaming, hands me my cardboard box, I nod and say thanks. Her smile lights up and she tells me I am very welcome. I try to smile back. I am not a morning person. The word is that these are care packages. Believed to contain personal hygeine products, maybe a towel or blanket, maybe snack foods. I get mine back to my room and tear through the packing tape. The items are pretty much what the rumors indicated: soap and toothpaste, shampoo and Tylenol. There are peanut butter crackers and bags of what looks like trail mix. None of the brands are familiar. Also, the bottom of the box is lined with a tightly folded bath towel. No blanket, but my room, courtesy of TenderMercies Inc., has steam heat. One of the products, what at first I took to be after shave or cologne, now looks odd to me. It says "Avon," but when I look at the back of the little blue box, there are some odd admonitions in English and French. Niveau au Laser. Ne pas fixer le faisceau du regard. Do not stare directly into the beam. Further reading reveals that this product was manufactured in China, but distributed by Avon Canada, Inc., Montreal H9R 4R3 PQ. It's a laser level. Powered by two AAA batteries, not included, of course. There is also a bubble level mounted on it, should you find your batteries have been depleted. There were dozens of people lined up to receive these care packages, from a business or non-profit agency or maybe some altruistic drug kingpin. Am I the only one who received a laser level? Did the donor believe this to be a personal hygiene product because it says "Avon?" Are there now a hundred people in Over-The-Rhine in possession of laser levels? Batteries not included? Maybe our benefactor is trying to tell us something. Maybe he or she believes that the poor and homeless should build there way out of poverty. And this laser level is only the first step. Soon there will be semis dropping off circular saws and nail guns! Cinder blocks for the foundation, plastic flamingos for the front lawn --- we have always depended on the kindness of strangers! But some kindness is stranger than others.

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All original text (C) 2007, 2008 David J. Carney. All rights reserved.

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