Leave Wayne Alone

Last night Wayne, a homeless guy in the Western Suburbs of Chicago, was once again tried and found guilty of being annoying and weird. And so, as punishment, someone took all his stuff and threw it in a dumpster.

I have a good idea who did it, but I have no idea what to do about it. For whatever reason, the guy I suspect--who's among the friendlier folks at the shelter, and who has had my back more than once when things got a little weird--has it in for Wayne. He delights in frustrating Wayne; he takes unprovoked pot shots at Wayne, he looks for opportunities to make Wayne's life a little more miserable.

I'm sure there's a backstory I'm not aware of. Maybe Wayne did something accidental but nevertheless unforgivable somewhere along the way. Maybe Wayne's more nefarious than I give him credit for; maybe he's provoking the other guy during the 166 hours a week I don't see either of them. Maybe Wayne is a master of playing the victim when there are proto-authority figures around, but outside the shelter all bets are off.

I'm also sure that Wayne is weird; some of what he fished out of the dumpster could reasonably be assumed to be trash, and yet he stopped me when I made a move to throw it back in. Every week he asks me and anyone else close at hand, "Is today Wednesday?" over and over and over again. He's pretty unkempt and I've not observed him practicing any personal grooming in all the time I've known him. He wore a leg brace for more than fifty-two weeks straight.

I can also imagine how annoying Wayne could get, given more than two hours a week together. I've played the victim myself every now and then, and I've seen how annoyed my friends get; imagine being my poor brother as I systematically complained to my parents about him without merit, to gain sympathy or strategic advantage. Victims--especially people who relish their victimhood--are annoying. Sometimes you want to punish them for it.

There was another victim this morning. His cell phone went missing, and he went on a rant that for a while there made me fear for my safety. I tried to help him; so did several of the other volunteers. But he didn't want to be helped; he wanted to rant and rage. The guy who I think is torturing Wayne noticed that I was a little freaked out by this other guy and got in his face for me. I'm grateful for that. But neither ranting and raging, nor getting in his face, nor trying to play peacemaker, nor throwing Wayne's stuff in the trash, nor even fishing his stuff out of the trash--none of that made anything better. This morning, frankly, sucked.

Here are my new house rules for the two hours a week I allow myself to be in the company of the homeless:

* Don't steal people's stuff. There's never been a civilization in the history of the world where this was OK, and the shelter is no exception.

* Don't lash out at people who are trying to help. It's OK to be frustrated, but it's not OK to take it out on the innocent.

* Don't cuss or make threats of physical harm in front of kids. I don't care that we're in a church basement, honestly. I've been in plenty of church basements that have made me want to cuss. But kids who don't have a bed of their own don't need to wake up to something additional that's awful.

* Leave Wayne alone. I know he's weird, and I imagine he gets annoying. But so do I, and so do you. Grow up, for God's sake.


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