Chapter 8. The Philadelphia Experience (1995)

When I learned I would be working in Philadelphia, I contacted the director of the local Teen Challenge facility and received permission to reside there, independent of the program, paying a small fee for room and board.  By doing so, I would still have the benefit of being under the protective guidance of the ministry and getting readjusted to society.  Their building was located in the Northwest section called Germantown.  As with a lot of former colonial places, this house gracefully located in an old section, tree-lined, brick surfaced street, three stories above ground.  I was given a room to share with another staff person.  I could come and go as I pleased except I did have a curfew and had to inform a staff member if I were to be out all night.  I was not given a key.  I could take my meals there or purchase my own foodstuffs.  A rather nice arrangement.  I was not required to attend chapel services or Sunday services, but expected to maintain some type of spirituality. I did not.

Teen Challenge - Philadelphia

Teen Challenge – Philadelphia

I learned the city’s public transportation system and could get anywhere comfortably.  Philadelphia’s transit system, although the most expensive I’d ever taken, I found most reliable.  Using buses, elevated rail or trains, one could just about get anywhere including various suburban locations.

Through Manpower, I landed a position as an administrative assistant to a senior vice president of Mellon Bank, 17th in Market Street.  This building, located in the heart of Center City, was used as the set in making the movie with actor Denzel Washington in 1993 aptly called “Philadelphia”.  I arrived at the time when Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt were finishing “Twelve Monkeys”.  The Center City area quickly became my favorite spot of the city, especially at night, with the lighting effects contrasting the gothic structures of City Hall against the modern Liberty Plaza.  It would be my first experience of seeing homeless people, actually living on the sidewalk, sleeping on grates to keep warm in icy cold weather, sweating on one side and icicles forming on the other when they changed positions.  It amazed me how such a situation could transform itself so quickly once the sun came up and it was business as usual.  These people seemed to disappear as the street cleaners power-hosed the streets just before the workers arrived during the warmer months.

Mellon Bank Center

Mellon Bank Center

Philadelphia is a city one could fall in love with its beauty, people and all of the many activities once good weather arrived.  Unfortunately, I was too occupied to participate because my first love, Crack, would prevent me from really getting to know those better points.

My position was basically supporting a full-time permanent administrative assistant, Trisha.  A beautiful, thin, blond young lady with a mouth full of braces helped me to become gainfully employed at $400.00 a week basically doing nothing.  That’s right!  Doing nothing!  I could never understand how they, Mellon Bank, justified having temporary personnel when I did for the most part—nothing.  I took advantage of this time to teach myself their computer software installations of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.  I was asked if I were familiar when questioned by Manpower, after I submitted my resume, knowing only WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3, and assured them, with my IBM experience, I could master the software within a week.  And I did.  In fact, as I think back, I never filled out an application with Manpower.  And this would be my experience in obtaining jobs, which proved to be my benefit, much later in my life as well as one of my most disappointing experience.

I began making friendships especially with a vice president named Ray.  With Ray, I concocted a story filling in the gap of employment lapses after IBM, never saying I was fired but took the early retirement package prior to the massive lay-offs in 1992.  Now this would be believable.  What was unbelievable, but I sold it anyway, was that I spent several years living among the homeless and addicted, writing about my experience in a book entitled, “Back From Crack”.  It started out true because I did begin writing my experiences that year, believing I had a story to tell.  The problem was I was continuing to add chapters because I could never “get back” from Crack!  I wrote more than 250 pages but was destroyed accidentally the following year. In truth, I contacted the people responsible for publishing “Message Magazine”, Review and Herald Publishers the previous year sharing with them my finding a copy of their magazine in Reading, PA and how seeing it brought me back to my roots.  The lady I’d spoken to was so moved by my idea and suggested I speak with one of their book editors, who insisted, too, I write a book of my experience.  I would begin writing, nine years later with a different title you now have before you.  So, yes, Ray, this is the result, and “I did” make it back from Crack!

One of the more pleasant experiences of working at Mellon Bank would occur Thursdays during lunchtime.  Ray, myself and two other guys would go to Reading Terminal Street Market to enjoy an excellent chicken dinner made by the Amish people from Lancaster, PA.  Why would I mention it?  Because like a thermometer gauging the temperature, my addiction could be gauged by the excuses I would create to miss our Thursday lunches because I had no money!  There would be quite a few missing lunches for me and everyone else.  I’ll explain this later.

Learning the city better I soon found where the best drugs could be purchased.  I began getting home late and have to toss stones at a friend’s window at Teen Challenge of Philadelphia, for him to get up to let me in.  But one night I did not make it back, not until morning, still dressed in the same suit from yesterday.  I quickly passed through the dining room where the students were having breakfast to get to the office where I knew I would be questioned. When it happened, I knew not to try and lie, but in tears confessed I had fallen.  They had already figured out what happened and I was told I would have to make other living arrangements within a month.  Not a problem.  I was just glad it wasn’t immediate expulsion.  I didn’t have a place to go.

The last month I still arrived late, sometimes sleeping in a chair on the front porch or a car in their parking lot, thankfully left unlocked and careful not to be discovered.  There was a time when I just boldly lit a stem and smoked in my room nearly being caught!  Now that would have been an immediate expulsion, if not arrested.

My new home located in the Northeast section called “Tioga” on a small street called “Orthodox”.  It was a small house, divided into five apartments with one bathroom and the manager occupying an apartment on the first floor.  For $70 a week it was ideal.  Five minutes walking from either the Blue Line El or bus stop and another ten minutes from the rail service, worked fine for me.

My room consisted of just a carpeted room and a bed and I had to furnish my own bedding.  I had plans to really make this living arrangement work. I was making more than enough to live comfortably and would purchase a television, a little desk and chair, and perhaps a nightstand.  Those items never appeared.  The whole nine months I lived there, those items just never appeared.

With the freedom to come and go as I pleased, I began to walk the streets not caring about time in relation to work, only to either look for and to do drugs, and when my money was low, to find opportunities to expose myself to pass the time.  In the beginning, I always arranged to have enough money for commuting.  At $1.60, one-way, and about ten miles away from work, I couldn’t afford not to.

The warmer weather had an adverse affect on me enabling me to spend complete nights roaming the streets, arriving home just in time to shower and shave, then hop on the el to get to work.  The commute time about fifteen minutes, walking a short ways either underground or above and I would be there.  Stopping first to get my morning bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, cup of coffee, a Philadelphia Enquirer, I was ready for work.  In Spring, the vendors would offer excellent fruit cups.  One could live good here, and I did, again, for the most part.  My check arrived on Wednesday, in the mail, and I cashed it at a check cashing facility not too far away and I’d treat myself to a nice chicken dinner from a nearby KFC, after paying my rent.  I apportioned my money as one normally would for various expenses, for example purchasing tokens for commuting so I would not have to worry about getting to and from work, with a major portion of the money going for drugs, when I left work on Friday.  As a further treat, I would take the Blue Line to the end of the stop in the West part of Philly, noticed the soup-line for the homeless, continuing up the street to find a movie theater and treat myself to a nice movie.  That, to me, was a typical good Wednesday, but this would change.

Then my thermometer started going downward again!  I can now equate my sexual proclivity along with my drug problem.  I was becoming more aggressive in my exposure methods, often completely undressing and appearing nude in parks and other semi-isolated areas, even walking down residential streets.  Philly is known for their annual nude race, in the Spring at one of the local colleges, except I would be the only participant, and I didn’t run unless it was to avoid the police.  One night, a young lady saw me and invited me to talk with her, requesting me to stay the way I was. Eventually when the blue appeared in the sky, I had to leave her to hurry home to prepare for work.  She was terribly distraught and lonely, couldn’t go home and needed someone to talk to.  I was her choice, and I tried my best to reassure her that no matter what her problems were, one could always go home to where others truly loved her.  Even in my most shameful moments, I still felt the need to share and dispense hope and the love of God.

My act of aggression, sexually, would also evolve in wanting to see others.  Prostitutes would expose themselves to me as I did them, but this was to be expected.  I wanted “normal” people.  A woman, quite attractive moved into our building and once while showering, I noticed the bathroom door ajar, although locked by a hook, the door would open slightly because of the air pressure in the hallway.  I developed a way of seeing her showering since my first idea of drilling a hole through my wall opposite the bathroom, was blocked by cinderblock. Instead, I screwed the hook out a bit attached to the door, allowing for more of an opening and soaped the door-jam to make for less resistance, so when I heard her showering, quietly approached the door, gave it a little shove and could observe her.  After awhile, she caught on, moved across the street and giving me knowing glances when we’d see each other.

My drug addiction was beginning to burn up my reserves and my best efforts to keep money for food and commuting.  While it was still late summer, I walked from work on a Wednesday night because I had no money.  It took me three and a half hours to get home and my check was waiting for me.  I again treated myself to a nice dinner but unable to see a movie having thrown my schedule off.  As the addiction became worse, I would steal a laptop from my boss’s office and pawn it to get money for food, commuting and drugs; but I would get it back when I got paid.  This process would repeat itself several times.

The month of August was my best month.  During this time I prayed for help and found relief.  For a total of three weeks, I did no drugs nor exposed myself.  I enjoyed getting paid and treating myself to those things other addicts and I took for granted.  I ate good every day resuming my breakfast sandwiches, Thursday lunch dates and even inviting a young lady I shared the same last name to a restaurant for lunch on a Sunday afternoon.  I think in those three weeks, I began to look good, gained some weight and just overall felt great; but, it would not last.

My addiction would flare up with a vengeance.  I found myself selling the tokens and stealing lunches my friends would store in the refrigerator at work.  Whatever someone did not eat because they purchased lunch instead or ate partially, I would make a sweep of the room before most of them left for the day, stuffing the food in a gym bag I started carrying instead of my briefcase, which was not unusual, since a lot of executive types did so for that exercise period during lunch time, except my bag did not contain sneakers or towels.

I began to walk home, every night, not arriving home until about eight-thirty, tired, sweaty and often hurt because of stepping on a rock or other hard substance with holes in the sole of my shoes, which had a terrible odor because of the sweat and dirty socks.  I no longer could afford to wash my clothes or clean my suits, often deciding which shirt was less dirty and ironing it.  Getting food from a Salvation Army, in cans I couldn’t open because I could not afford an opener.  With meat I had to eat all at one time because of no refrigeration.  Making do with rice made with a small aluminum pan on a hot iron, never ever quite reaching the boiling point but it was the best I could do.

One Wednesday, my check was not there!  I was alarmed because I needed my money.  The next day it wasn’t there either!  I needed to pay rent and buy whatever little food I would buy before I used the rest for drugs.  The check never came!  Instead, one of my neighbors, battling his own demons of addiction stole it to support his heroin addiction, moved out immediately to avoid arrest when I reported it stolen to the U.S. Postal Inspector at the local post office.  Manpower determined he had stolen it when they received the canceled check, but I had to wait an additional week for a replacement.  My landlord understanding regarding a late rent payment but this meant another week of suffering, not having any savings or relief.  I became so distraught and after three days over a weekend of no food and not feeling I could make the return three and a half-hour trip home after doing it already that morning, I called my Pastor Mike McCabe, Lebanon SDA Church, who told me he’d be outside my office building at the end of the day.  He was and I was so grateful to see him.  He had personal knowledge of cocaine addiction and surprised when I took him, by car, the whole distance I would walk to get back and forth from work.  He took me to a restaurant and I feasted.  Afterwards he took me to a grocery store and purchased foodstuffs and gave me a week’s rent.  After prayer, I thanked him, feeling much better and when I saw his car turn the corner to head back the more than sixty miles home, I went inside, changed and with the money bought drugs, this time keeping enough money for commuting the next day!

Pastor Mike and I developed a nice relationship while I was at Teen Challenge and attended his church when I was a staff member.  Our relationship progressed and I loved this very friendly church and often requested to speak.  There was a time when Pastor Mike called me to let me know he had to go out of town and asked would I speak in his place.  I agreed to do so.  This would be about two weeks away.  I fell backwards in a hard way and felt unable to keep my commitment to preach the next Sabbath.  So, I had to call and let him know I would not be able to preach.  There was a quiet period on the phone.  I knew he hadn’t hung up on me but he didn’t say a word for a few moments.  When he spoke, I was amazed with what he asked,

“Bro. Roy, when I asked you speak do you think God knew you would have this relapse?

“Yes, of course He knew this.” I answered.

“Now, let me ask you another question, Bro. Roy.  Was it you or the Holy Spirit who was going to do the speaking?” He paused giving me time to give my answer.

“It would have been the Holy Spirit.”

“Great!  Then the church will expect you.”  He hung up the phone!

Once after receiving a paycheck, I took the rest of the week off calling in sick, which technically I was, and burned my money, the entire check in drugs!  I figured I could always walk and steal lunches until the next paycheck.  Instead, I watched people and noticed where they’d leave wallets and purses and when I could would relieve them of several dollars, never taking it all, just enough to get by, the both of us.  Hence, another confession to my buddy, Ray,

“Yes, I took $40 from your wallet when you kept it in your desk.  And, yes, Mary Ann, I took some money from you also, when your purse was lying on the floor under your desk.”  Both persons I worked for, but in ways they never knew.  Or, maybe they did!

My returning to work the following Monday, after my four day binge, more than one person commented on my very visible, immediate weight loss.  When I walked by a large pane of reflective glass, it was then I saw what others saw.  I couldn’t believe how bad I looked.  I made some excuse of a new diet I was trying.  In my mind, I called it “Stemfast”.  If they could market it with instructions on how to control it, someone could make a fortune.

Commuting to work one day, I read one of the overhead advertisements about plasma donors.  I did not find it difficult to locate the facility, but hardly what I would have thought a service apparently so needed would actually appear to be.  The place was filthy only to be exceeded by the plasma donors who were sitting in makeshift rows.  Not knowing any of them personally, having looked at them, I knew in my addiction our paths had to cross.  Due of my upbringing, I would never thought to visit any place of business especially medically-oriented without being properly dressed in at least a suit and tie.  I was definitely over-dressed for this place.  Surely most of the participants were there having landed upon hard times, which was my reason for being there.  To be stuck in the arm to receive twenty-five dollars for body fluid my body makes freely and to receive another fifty dollars, if I returned after three days, was an offer I could not refuse.

I was given material to read providing information about blood plasma, how it is extracted and its many uses and determined it was a good thing to do.  I passed the drug-screen since I did not use drugs intravenously or opiates.  I certainly looked healthy, still around 175 pounds.  My grooming superb next to their present client-base and after being seen by their physician and a pricked finger, the process I hated the most, I was on my way to making money.  I’d rather take a needle any day in the arm than to have my finger stuck!  Waited for their pre-testing conclusion and then ushered into a room, which by size alone, was amazing as it contained rows and rows of candidates lying on blue-vinyl covered recliners, next to a machine making popping and pumping noises, with the constant chatter of friends talking, and the mostly white-jacket staff going from station to station, later to learn they were of Russian descent.

I was shown my station and prepped for the needle when I must have registered total shock and fear of being stuck.  My first attendant was a middle-aged gentleman, thin with graying hair who gently guided me in a method, my pain minimized and his job easier, than having me squirm all over the seat while trying to leave my arm in place.  Eventually the needle went in, I was at rest and the process started.  To see my blood being drawn and separated from its plasma content and returned was fascinating.  What was even more fascinating was after about ninety minutes later, saline solution being transferred into my body produced an interesting feeling in my stomach and neck, as this chilled substance was now in my bloodstream.

After being disconnected, bandied and standing in line to retrieve my money, pocketed and exited the building, I was surprised how easy the whole process was.  I had $25 to catch the el back home, get a sandwich and soda and at least twenty dollars for a nice rock of Crack cocaine.  And in three days, on Saturday, I’ll do it again and pick up fifty dollars for my efforts.  And I did!

As I continued to walk to work and my addiction continued affecting me physically and being weighed every time I would go to give plasma, it was interesting to see how much weight I was loosing.  I would be denied an opportunity to donate because one of the tests they performed indicated my blood was low in something or other.  I learned to drink water before attempting to give plasma and take an aspirin to make my blood thin.  More than several times, the machine would block for some reason and would have to use the other arm and my donation time was moving toward an hour more than most persons.  Giving plasma began to become a half-day event for me.

(Note:  Today is April 10, 2005.  As I typed this chapter, I relived the feelings which caused me to have an anxiety attack.  Today is about ten years from the period I’m writing about.  Today, I again experienced the power of addiction and made a choice to go back to the place I used to procure the drug and tried to get it!  I failed and yet I succeeded.  Jesus promises a way of escape and He provided one for me and I return to my room victorious.  I am able to continue finishing the writing of this chapter with my testimony intact.  Praise God.)

After being refused, because my weight dropped too drastically, I learned how to counter this problem.  Being a computer aficionado, I received very thick operator manuals, so I strapped some onto my back easily adding the additional pounds I would need to pass the weight requirement.  One of the young ladies who worked in the lobby area liked me when I first started and began showing visible signs of concern for my health.  Certainly, I could not have been any worse than most of their clients.  I, at least, had a job, could eat healthfully, so why was I being scrutinized so much?  In my later months in Philadelphia being so desperate, tried get them to overlook the boundaries of my testing violations, just to get the IV started so I could get my fewer dollars since now considered a regular.  Although now it would be ten dollars for the first “stuck” (what the process was called), followed by fifteen dollars for the second stuck for a week.  After a month if I got stuck and gave six times, I would get a bonus ten dollars for a payment of twenty-five dollars!  Drained of my natural and needed body fluids, I walked the nine miles home just to prevent paying the commuting cost.  Many times I had to stop walking, catch my breath, stopping the dizziness.  I had a great motivator.  I was going to have a nice rock of Crack waiting for me.  Forget the food!

One weekend, after having spent all my money and not having eaten for two days, I began counting pennies.  I learned a long time ago never to discard any money, no matter how small.  When I was employed at IBM, I used to throw pennies out the car window with the statement, “they make holes in your pockets”.  Well, I’d welcome those pennies now, always stooping to pick one up when I’d see one on the street.  I often thought about how many dollars I threw away.  I collected pennies from my peer’s desks at work when they left for the day or lunch.  No one’s work area was safe around me.

Part of treating myself, when I could, was to get a chicken dinner at a nearby KFC, getting to know the manager and several members of his staff.  I was so hungry this particular day, I pulled all my pennies out and started counting.  I had enough pennies and rolls and rolled enough to have a three piece original dinner, with a sixteen ounce soda, but, I couldn’t bring myself to walk through the door, for shame of handling all these pennies when they were accustomed to seeing me with dollars.  So, I decided to call and ask for him, and my friend was there.  I told him I was having a difficult time and was hungry but only had rolled coin and I did not want to be embarrassed to come there and be denied a meal if they wouldn’t take them, because of some unwritten rule.  I knew places that did not accept a lot of pennies, even if they were rolled because they’d needed to count the change and did not want to take the time to do so, unless from the bank and marked.  I was so grateful to hear him tell me not to worry but come on in.

I will never forget the shame, guilt and humiliation of opening the door and him seeing me.  The weight of those pennies, in a bag, got heavier than the emotional stress I was experiencing.  He pulled me to the side and told me he was, too, a Christian, and saw me there almost weekly, and because I was so good a patron, would give me his dinner allowance.  He added an extra piece, extra sides and a thirty-two ounce soda, and I thanked him profusely.  He would not accept my coins and gave me the assurance everything was going to be all right.

I carried my now lighter bundles home, placed them on the floor, where I normally ate, not having a table or chair still, and I prayed giving thanks for a meal which I knew was definitely a blessing.  It had to come from God.  I ate slowly, enjoying every morsel and welcomed the soon feeling of diarrhea which normally accompanied after having a real meal and so much, on either an empty stomach or a stomach like mine, which reacted normally this way to food after doing drugs.  It would be the one time I would go the bathroom pleased.   Later, I took those rolls of pennies and traded them with local merchants for dollars to go to the drug dealers for drugs.

My assignment with Mellon Bank ended when they decided to hire a full-time person to replace me.  I was offered to participate in the interviewing process; however, they were looking for someone with an MBA preferably with banking experience.  I had neither.  Manpower found work for me at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange just two blocks from where I had been.  I welcomed the change.  The money was about the same and the assignment was to go for about two to three months.  What I was requested to do was work for the Exchange’s president who was implementing electronic buying/selling.  They needed someone to input the data describing the new technology which would spread to the other stock exchanges.  If you remember how the market would originally move hundreds of millions of shares daily to now several billion, that was my work involvement!  Because of my typing skills and editing abilities, what would have been months originally turned into weeks.  However, there would be another reason for so short an assignment.  Yes, my drug addiction.

In the office I worked, I assisted a key employee of the project who noticed a particular peculiar trait of mine the first day.  I would not take a lunch or have a need to use the bathroom!  I heard her comment to someone in the hallway on my second day how I did not leave the office from start to finish.  There was a completely legitimate explanation.  One, I didn’t have any money for lunch and two, the weekend before I took this assignment, I used whatever money I had for drugs, so my body did not have any waste to expel—literally!  She was just so impressed with my dedication not to mention my typing ability.  I just knew, if I wanted a job working here, just keep up the good impression, I would be here a lot longer than a couple of months.  But something did happen.

In her office was a safe.  She was responsible for petty cash.  I had seen her dole out money to many of the employees and I knew she didn’t lock it unless she was going to lunch.  When she saw lunch was not a part of my work experience, she would go leaving it unlocked, and of course I would help myself.

So, within two weeks of this assignment, when entering the building, I was stopped by Security, who requested my badge in exchange for my personal belongings and instructed not to enter the building again.  I was taken totally by surprise as well as shocked I was not discussing the matter with the Philadelphia police department.  Instead of going across the street to my contractor’s office, I took the el home and called Manpower on a payphone and was told I would no longer receive any job placements by their office.  This was getting to become a habit, too!

I began looking for work and found it difficult to find anything.  As large as Philadelphia is, all the major players were shutting their doors and I was not finding work as easily as I believed I should have.  It seemed as though I was being “blackballed” from any type of office work, and I attributed it to just being paranoid.  It was the beginning of November, so I decided to try seasonal holiday work.  I knew, or heard, it is the normal time where finding work at a department store could be found and went to the largest one in the city, Hecht’s, in the John Wanamaker’s old location.

Of course, I was dressed appropriately for just obtaining an application.  Some people do so for interviewing but I knew enough to want to make a “first” good impression.  I was shown into an office where others were filling out applications.  When I finished, I was told their Personnel Manager wanted to meet with me, if I had time to stay.  I had nothing waiting for me so I returned to my seat.  The nicest, well-dressed, medium build, balding middle-aged gentleman came into the office, selected a few people at a time, taking them to what I assumed his office to conduct their interviews.  He noticed me and said he would see me as soon as he could and appreciated my willingness to wait.

When the room was cleared, he returned and instead of taking me anywhere conducted my interview right there.  He mentioned when he saw me what caught his attention was my suit and business demeanor, as if I were an executive.  When he reviewed my resume, he saw I had “management” experience, explained after Thanksgiving’s day, Hecht’s, in the tradition of John Wanamaker, started a production filled with music, lights and a water show, people came from everywhere to see.  Their main shopping floor at ground level, at various times of the day, turned into a theater where people sat on the floor to watch the fifteen minute show, and because of the crowds, they hired ushers who would manage them, often growing too large to just allow it to go unmanaged.  They needed me, so he said, to “manage” the ushers.  Well, I thought it was impressive enough to suit my image and if I’d take the job and did well, perhaps there could be something else in the line of “permanent” position when the season was over.  I would be responsible for managing, scheduling and firing, if necessary, of six ushers.

Formerly John Wanamaker's & Hechts

Formerly John Wanamaker’s & Hechts

Hecht’s is/was an open-end area department store which consisted of seven stories!  The ground floor was one huge area with two major shopping extensions on either side containing the entrances and exits.  The subsequent floors, accessible by escalators, would permit additional shopping with a very nice view of the bottom floor, similar to a court-yard, from three sides.  This was the layout for each floor, except floors five through seven were unused office space.  The store was massive and impressive.  My job was to have ushers on the first level conducting traffic from the bottom of the escalators. People not paying attention, because of the show, would stop at the bottom of the escalator not considering additional people are coming constantly down behind them could produce very bad accidents.  My staff’s job was to get them moving along.  Another two ushers at the top of the second level to space the people and one with me to handle the main area, basically to keep adults from stepping over children to get to the other areas of the store.

Where I would be stationed and because, I, too would wear a rose in my lapel, would be viewed as a store manager, would also act as a concierge, providing directions to shoppers looking for something specific, so I spent my first week learning the store.  I had to know women’s sleepwear was different than women’s intimate sleepwear were on different levels, and to what side of the massive building.  If you would think of a mall extended horizontally, imagine where it is constructed vertically.  Soon, I was able to answer the very specific questions about any item.  I learned every backroom, hallway and storage area.  Although not required, I, too, was responsible for watching for shoplifting.  They had a team of non-uniformed security circulating the floors as well as a very sophisticated system of cameras and monitors I was privileged to see only because I was considered management.  And, all of this for the sum of $6.50 an hour!  My staff was making $6.00.

I arrived about 10:00 a.m., an hour before the first show, they running every two hours until 8:00 p.m.  The closer to the Christmas Day holiday, they’d run every hour, with even larger crowds to control.  Dealing with people can sometimes be difficult, but when approached firmly with resoluteness, can often avert any major problems.  When they did occur, I was supported by my management who might have heard I spoke a little too harshly, but I got results.  No one was ever injured during my watch and there were no reported thefts during any of my shows.

My ushers proved to be dedicated and willing to perform their duties, sometimes requiring a little encouragement especially since we were on our feet during our shift.  There would be only one I would have to dismiss after working and pleading with him to do his job.  I saw him later at a commuter stop, him thanking me for being helpful and him finding a better job because I fired him.

I took my job seriously because it was the best I could do.  There were times when several of my friends from Mellon stopped by for their holiday needs and we’d run into each other.  I made it appear I was practically the owner of the place and my coming here was a good thing, at almost half the salary I made there!  Yeah, right.  But, it was work.

Of course, my drug addiction would play a part.  I knew enough about the security setup to know it would have been a fruitless mistake to shoplift here.  I saw too many such persons being chased down the hallways and escalators, some never making it to the exit doors, handcuffed and taken to the security office to be handed over to the police.  I’d borrow money when I was low, paying it back except once to my immediate supervisor, Al.  “Sorry Al,” but I was given the impression Al wished he could have given me more and didn’t mind helping someone who made his job a lot easier.  I never missed a day nor did I ever come in late or left early.

When the assignment ended, after the first of the year, I was asked to stay on for an additional two weeks to help them with the inventory.  The place would be closed to the public and we’d scan each and every item, on each and every level.  I have to admit I was a little embarrassed when I was assigned to women’s intimates!  I can honestly say I’ve handled more bras and panties than most men living but they were empty!  I was given a modest increase in salary and paid overtime.  We would start at 9:00 a.m. and often work until 11:00 p.m.  I did manage to keep money since I worked weekends, too, so I didn’t have time for my drugs, but while working as the manager, when I’d got off some evenings, I went to the soup-line to get something to eat, standing there in the cold, with my suit and London Fog overcoat, waiting for a handout.  It wasn’t an easy life.

On Thanksgiving, I met a guy from the soup-line and he showed me the churches were the homeless could get a meal.  He told me to carry a gym bag so I could eat a little and put the bulk of the food in the bag, then head to the next stop to do the same.  After hitting five churches, bag filled and heavy, walking down the street I spotted a small plastic bag filled with what turned out to be marijuana.  He got excited thinking we’d smoke, but I had to disappoint him. I was headed home.  I took the bag and exchanged it for Crack, but before I would smoke, I had one more place to go and eat.  Family.

My father told me when I got to Philadelphia he had cousins there. I met Paula and her two grown daughters, Tia and Tracey, about my age. Paula has a son, Aaron, who lived in Arizona fighting his own addiction problems.  Thanksgiving was a nice time for me to have dinner with them, to get to know that side of the family better.  I had a crush on Tracey in 1980 when my grandfather died and now I had a chance to see her again.  I would often be invited to sit at my second-cousin’s table, especially during holidays, which was very nice for me.  Once, I called her to ask for a loan but she determined it to be a birthday gift when I had trouble paying it back.  I disagreed, it being a “birthday gift” and eventually repaid her for her kindness to me.  I didn’t want to create bad-blood between us.

With my belly full and a bag load of turkey, pies, cakes and other things, and no way to store it from spoiling, I rigged a way to keep the bag suspended out my window.  Now my problem became in having to defrost it by bringing portions of it inside early enough when I wanted to eat it.

The inventory job was completed at Hecht’s, a subsidiary of the May Department Co., was experiencing financial problems and like most stores, operate in the red during the major portion of the year, was not able to provide me with full-time, permanent work, much disappointment not only to me but other personnel who were watching me and noticing the extra effort I would give, but I think they knew although I had done well, they’d could never pay me for the type of money I was accustomed and it’d be just a matter of time when I would have moved on, but, I was not prepared financially to be let go.  My drugging was bad, my money was always gone to even providing commuting fare, and I was beginning to be rejected too many times from donating plasma.

While working at Teen Challenge, Merrill Smucker gave me a business card written with the request to receive “complimentary gifts” from Auntie Anne’s.  Going through my wallet one evening I discovered the card and caught the bus to a suburban mall and was able to use it to get a few pretzels and something to drink.  It wasn’t meat or could be considered dinner but it did put something in my stomach to keep the noise down.  There I was, acting like a big shot, knowing the owner of this company, having an “in” with the family!

After not eating several days, going into my fourth, I could not stand the hunger pangs.  I did not know of any food places except the one on the Westside of Philly where the el, just five minutes from my door would take me directly, about a thirty minute ride.  I knew it would take me nearly four hours to walk from my home to Center City and calculated it would take me another two, two and a half hours to walk to the complete end of the line to where they would serve food at 6:00 p.m.  Even if I got there late, about 6:30, I would still catch them and get a plate.  So, at about noon, I started walking.

I layered as much clothing as I could comfortably wear because it was absolutely cold outside.  After nearly three hours and nearing Center City, it started snowing, sometimes so thick I could not see.  With the snow already on the ground, it made the walking treacherous and slow.  I wore sneakers because I didn’t have any heavier shoes and my feet were wet and cold, but I kept walking.  I needed to eat.  Because of hunger, cold and heat build-up, I started to perspire but knew I couldn’t open anything to cool down.  I had to conserve my body heat.  I began hallucinating thinking I was at other places when I was not.  I started becoming disoriented and during moments of clarity, calculated I was running an hour behind schedule and just knew there would be no way I would be able to make it in time but blind hope will make you go forward, never mind hunger.  With my hatred for onions, all I could think about was even if that’s all they had, I’d eat one.  I was so hungry.

I worked up enough courage to look at my watch, one of the few things I would not sell in my thirst for drugs.  Time has always been so important to me, although I sold two watches before, I just could not bring myself to do it again.  When I saw the time, I knew I could not make it.  It was almost serving time and I was only in the 50’s on Market Street.  I needed to get to the 69th Street Station.  No way could I make it, but I kept walking.

Around 54th Street, I lifted my head, cold and wet now because the snow turned to sleet then rain, clothing soaked, but something made me look to the left and I saw lines of people, some of whom I thought I recognized.  I crossed the street and “Praise God”, they moved the feeding place to their own, newly renovated building.  So, instead of serving hot meals to men and women who could eat only outside because the transit police would not permit us to eat in the station due to the leftover trash problem, the churches got together and fixed up a place, where we could come out of the cold, get good hot food and sit down and eat.  I was so grateful to God for lifting my head, when He did; otherwise, I would have gotten to my destination later, having passed this new place but now having arrived on time.  “Praise God.  Praise God.”

I ate and filled my bag with leftovers and gathered myself together and began the six hour journey back.  Normally, in good weather, I would have gotten home at about one in the morning.  Had I’d been at the 69th Street Station, I could have snuck into a train having watched others do it, but I started walking.  My stomach filled, new energy with every determined step, one foot ahead of the other, until my right knee gave out!  I’ve had problems with my knees since my teens but never had it just given out to the point I could not walk, except once, when trying to get to my father’s home from walking from Newburgh, because of, yes, you guessed it, drugs.  My pace slowed considerably.  There was no way I could make it now.  I would have to go to the bathroom soon, and I knew, because my stomach was empty and the food would soon cause me to have diarrhea!  Why couldn’t life be easier?

I continued plodding slowly, grimacing with pain.  I got to about 38th Street when I remembered when I first came to Philly looking at the telephone book trying to determine how close was I to any Adventist churches.  Wasn’t there one at 34th?  Sure.  I remembered, I think!  Tonight was Wednesday.  Would they have a Prayer Meeting?  Am I too late to see if I could use their bathroom?  I hurried to 34th, not sure even how far from Market Street it was since I’d never visited before.

I kept walking with renewed vigor till I saw a building, in a residential area that looked like a church, with cars still parked outside.  I didn’t care if it wasn’t one of mine, it’s a church then surely someone could help me with car-fare.  As I neared the building I recognized certain markings.  You know one of ours when you see it, and I could see it was one of mine!  I’d made it home!

Services were still going on after I found the bathroom and relieved myself.  I went inside and found a seat and listening to the speaker, I began to cry.  I was home and yet I wasn’t.  I do not remember what was being said, only that I was so far away.  I felt I was too far for help, even for God.  I cried over my situation.  How could I have placed myself so far from all I knew?  Why?

Several persons would attend me and I shared with them my day and how I walked so far to get food and now I had too far to go back, in the cold with my bad leg.  One brother who lived close to where I lived offered to take me home!  While on the way, he explained he worked for McDonald’s Headquarters and would help me find work if I wanted.  He took me to a store, got me a few things and stopped by the ATM and withdrew $20.00 for me, and took me home with the promise, between us, we’d keep in contact.  That promise lasted as long as it took for me to go inside, drop my bag and with $20.00 in my pocket to look for another nice sized rock of Crack!

By the middle of January I fell into a deep, deep depression.  I did not have the motivation to even get out of bed.  I had no money, food or drugs.  I had no energy to get out of bed to go to the bathroom. I would urinate in a peanut can.  I avoided making any sound and was quiet when the house manager knocked on my door.  Rent was due.  I knew I’d be able to go into a second week with an excuse.  I would always come up with something to get money, but not this time. I was out for the count.  The knock-out blow came and I could not see any more rounds left for me.  My telephone had been turned off and I feared being thrown out into the cold.  I was finished.  I remember Pastor Mike’s comment to me about having to keep in motion, when he helped me by coming to Philadelphia.  He said God is able to help us, even in moments of depression, but we have to keep in motion.  By staying in motion, God is able to design doors for us to go through presenting opportunities, but I could not.  No doors would ever be opened to me again.  I just physically could not move.  I would sleep, off and on, relishing when I could because it was then I found peace.  Waking was a hellish time until I could fall asleep again.

Pastor Mike would prove correct.  I had to keep moving; only this time, I had to only move to the door of the small room when I thought I heard someone shove a letter under my door.  I thought it was a note telling me about the rent, so I did not even want to turn my head to see it.  However, it sounded too large and too heavy to be simply a piece of paper.  I managed to shift myself in the bed and see a Federal Express mailer, wondering who it was from.  Getting up and retrieving it I saw it was from Mother Beth from Rehrersburg.  In it was a one-way ticket to the Reading Bus Terminal with a note:

“Have not been able to reach you.  Worried about you.  If you want to come here and stay, fine.  If not, come and we’ll pay for you to return to Philadelphia.  Please call.” –Beth

Chapter 9


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