What is your only comfort?

Urban God-talk for the church-o-phobic.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Lessons from the Greenpoint Hotel


Sunday's New York Times had this story on the Greenpoint Hotel plastered on the front of the Metro Section. It opens with this paragraph:


The Greenpoint Hotel is still listed in a few tourist guides, which promise cheap rooms and warn of the brusque if efficient staff. But few map-carrying bargain-hunters stay there these days. The hallways stink of marijuana and urine; the bathrooms - one per floor - are caked in dirt, and hot water is rare. The front desk is barricaded shut with sheets of plywood. Theft and violence are a constant threat.
The Greenpoint Hotel isn't too far away from the church. It's a pretty skanky place, to say the least. If you've seen the latest version of the Manchurian Candidate, perhaps you remember Danzel Washington going into a really scary cheap hotel? Well, they filmed it at the Greenpoint Hotel (no kidding, they really did). This place is pretty notorious for drugs, sex offenders, just about anything that wouldn't be welcome in a neighborhood.

It was also home to the mentally ill fellow who stopped by the church dressed in a clerical collar and an old Chicago Cubs jacket telling me that he was hearing voices and asking for help. Some of you may remember the story because it ended up being used on the radio as an ad for the Mayor's 311 program. I've wanted to post a clip of it on my blog, but haven't figured out how to post audio.

Anyway, the fellow who showed up at church wasn't a bad guy, he was just off his meds (and quite unstable). Long story short, we called 311 and the City actually sent a mobile crisis unit out to meet him at -- you guessed it -- the Greenpoint Hotel. I was shocked that they would go to such a place. I was even more surprised that they found him, convinced him to go with them to the hospital, and actually managed to get him the help he needed.

When explaining his situation to the hotline operator, I mentioned the collar as an indication that he was mentally ill. She asked "how does his wearing such clothes indicate that he is mentally ill?" I tried to explain that the collar and Cubs jacket combo sort of gave it away, but then she asked "And what are you wearing right now?" I replied that at least I didn't have on a Cubs jacket.

The Greenpoint Hotel is definitely a haven for all sorts of illegal things. But it was also home to the man who taught me that life can deal anyone some pretty hard blows. The guy kept on repeating "see, I'm just like you. See I'm just like you." He was right; he was just like me. At one point in his life, he was doing just fine. He insisted that he had even been a preacher, and perhaps he had.

For weeks I feared that something might happen that would put me over the edge or that I could develop some horrible illness. He had held a mirror up, reminding me of the phrase "easy come, easy go." I found out later that at one time, this guy had been doing pretty well; he had a wife and held a decent job.

He was closer to having been "just like" me than I really wanted to know. It's easier to think of the folks who live in places like the Greenpoint Hotel as having always been down and out. It's easier to classify them as "addicts" or as "mentally ill" and safely put them on the outside looking in so as to reaffirm one's own position of being "healthy" or "normal."

Sadly, though, the folks at the hotel are closer to the rest of us that we think. They are our brothers, our sons, our mothers and our cousins. Each one is a person, just like we are. Each one is someone special to someone else. Sometimes they need a little help from a pastor, but more often than not, they have something to teach a rookie pastor like myself. I just need to be prepared to listen.

1 Comments:

At 8:47 AM, Blogger Abby said...

Good post, Ann. He isn't just someone who may have been a preacher at one time...he is a preacher now. Taught us something, anyhow.

 

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