The place I work out is located on the top floor of a commercial building that is built into the side of a hill. The top floor is the gym and a medical office. The bottom floor is a restaurant and some kind of office. This information will be relevant later.
My trainer is a guy named Grant. He couldn't make it Thursday so we rescheduled for Saturday morning. I got to the gym around 9. I unlocked the door and let myself in. According to the log book, I was the first person there which is odd. Generally there are a bunch of women in there working out whenever I am there. I am one of the few guys that belong.
I consider it to be a perk.
Grant was running late and so I decided to go to take a "comfort break"as they say at Wimbledon. The restrooms are located in an interior hallway outside the gym . I went out the back door of the gym and down the hall. I opened the door. It hit something. I put my shoulder against the door and reached for the light with my left hand.
A man was lying on the floor. His boots were off. The room smelled of cigarettes and alcohol. He looked up at me and blinked as the light hit his eyes.
" I'm sorry," he said. " I apologize."
I pointed down the hall. " You need to get OUT!" I yelled. I then went back into the gym and locked the door.
My cell phone rang. Grant.
" I'll be there in a minute," he said.
" Grant, you better hurry. I found a man sleeping in the bathroom."
" Yeah. I think I ran him off but I'm not sure."
" Where are you?"
" I'm in the gym. The door is locked."
" Anybody else there?"
" No. Just me."
" Good. Don't go back in there until I get there."
" Hey, don't worry. You're the black belt, not me."
After he arrived we went back into the hallway. The bathroom was locked.
"I want you behind me," Grant said.
He banged on the door. " Sir, I need you to come out and I need you to do it now," he said.
The door opened. The man came out.
He held out his hand. " My name's George Jackson," he said.
Grant shook his hand. " Grant Roberts. I'm a trainer here at the gym and this is my client."
George Jackson was a dishevelled black man wearing jeans and a blue hoodie. He was maybe 5'10" and 150 pounds. He reeked of booze and cigarettes as he did before. And he was terrified. Grant is built like a running back with a set of arms that Popeye would envy. George must have thought that he was fixing to get his ass kicked.
He produced an ID and showed it to Grant with a trembling hand. Even from my coward's perspective 6 feet away I recognized it as a welfare ID.
" I used to work at the Faded Rose but I lost my job. I needed someplace safe to sleep last night. I want y'all to know that this is just temporary. I am looking for another job but I didn't have no place else to go last night. You got to believe me. This is temporary."
Grant held his hands up palms out. "OK," he said. " Ok."
" I really appreciate y'all being cool. I really appreciate y'all not calling the police. Like I said, this is just temporary till I can find me some work."
He grew silent. His eyes found mine.
" And you, Sir," he said. " Thank you for not gettin' crazy on me when you found me in there."
" You have to go," I said softly. " You have to go."
" I'm going," he said. " I'm going right now out this here door. And remember, this is temporary."
And with that, George Jackson took his leave.
"What the hell," I said. " He might have been telling the truth."
" Might have been," Grant replied. " Most guys that are up to no good wouldn't have produced an ID. Anyway, it was clear that you put the fear of God in him."
" Me? That's ridiculous. You could knock him into the next county."
" Yeah, but he didn't have that door locked because of me, my friend," he said, slapping me on the back. " Good job."
We walked through out the building. Somebody forgot to lock not only the front entrance down at street level but the entryway to the second floor. That's how George Jackson found his lodging for the night. Grant called the owner of the gym who called the landlord who said he was on his way. Ridiculous.
Grant and I sparred afterwards. I could barely get through it because of nausea. Grant said that was my body's reaction to all the chemicals that got dumped into my system when I discovered the stowaway.
Maybe. I also think that it was a reaction to all the ways this could have jumped ugly. Sure, George Jackson seemed harmless enough. Pitiful really. But what if he had been armed? What if he had been psychotic and tried to attack me? What if one of the women had discovered him instead of me? This could have turned out far worse than it did. Far worse.
But it didn't. He was even more scared of me than I was of him. And like I said. What the hell. Maybe he was telling the truth.
A friend of mine works in an office not far from the Salvation Army shelter. She says the homeless population has changed in just the last 6 months. She said it used to consist mainly of young black guys and older white women. Now she sees more white guys that appear to be about my age.
" The Salvation Army and Rescue Mission can't take them all," she said. " How many of these churches have gyms and shower facilities? If they were really about helping the poor maybe they could take some of them in."
That will never happen for the same reason that Frank Zappa said that WWIII would never start in LA: There's too much real estate involved.
But this morning a homeless person looked me in the eye and thanked me before he returned to the streets. And while he didn't have any business in that bathroom and he had to go, his story had the ring of truth. And I felt sorry for him.
And I wondered just how many George Jacksons will be wandering the streets tonight looking for a safe place to sleep. I wondered whether his ranks will get bigger the longer the economy remains in the dumper.
We take for granted the roof over our heads and the food on our tables. I think of that man seeking shelter in a bathroom and what few problems I think I have came into perspective rather quickly.