Iowa Writes

DEAN GRONDO
Homelessness


The woman behind the desk at the welfare office is frowning. She asks me my name in a nasal voice full of contempt. I tell her who I am and why I'm there and she stops me in the middle, saying, "Mr. Lamar, do you have a picture ID?"

She can see I'm wearing dirty rags and she can smell the filth of my body and it's plain that I probably never had twenty dollars in my whole life, but she wants to know if I have a shiny laminated photograph of myself squirreled away somewhere for her to look at. I don't. "No," I say, dully.

"We'll need some proof of identification before I can go any further." Her eyes gleam triumphantly. She's found a way to get me out of there quick—she thinks—and her stubby fingers hover over the delete button on her computer.

"I have this." I pull out the faded document that testifies that I was born in Minnesota in 1968.

Her button nose twitches with distaste and she takes the worn piece of paper from my hand like a grocer picking a maggot out of a lettuce head. It unfolds unevenly on her desk, leaving a dark smear of dust around it. There's a box of tissues on a side table. She takes one and spends several minutes cleaning up the mess. Her eyes shimmy back and forth behind her glasses, studying the document, and then she tells me, "I'm sorry, this doesn't help at all. I can't read this." She drops the birth certificate on my side of the desk. "Do you have anything else?" She's smiling now, glad that she'll soon be rid of me.

The woman behind the desk at the welfare office is frowning. She asks me my name in a nasal voice full of contempt. I tell her who I am and why I'm there and she stops me in the middle, saying, "Mr. Lamar, do you have a picture ID?"

She can see I'm wearing dirty rags and she can smell the filth of my body and it's plain that I probably never had twenty dollars in my whole life, but she wants to know if I have a shiny laminated photograph of myself squirreled away somewhere for her to look at. I don't. "No," I say, dully.

"We'll need some proof of identification before I can go any further." Her eyes gleam triumphantly. She's found a way to get me out of there quick—she thinks—and her stubby fingers hover over the delete button on her computer.

"I have this." I pull out the faded document that testifies that I was born in Minnesota in 1968.

Her button nose twitches with distaste and she takes the worn piece of paper from my hand like a grocer picking a maggot out of a lettuce head. It unfolds unevenly on her desk, leaving a dark smear of dust around it. There's a box of tissues on a side table. She takes one and spends several minutes cleaning up the mess. Her eyes shimmy back and forth behind her glasses, studying the document, and then she tells me, "I'm sorry, this doesn't help at all. I can't read this." She drops the birth certificate on my side of the desk. "Do you have anything else?" She's smiling now, glad that she'll soon be rid of me.

"No."

"Then you'll have to come back when you have proper identification. We can't process your application…."

I look at the window. It's freezing outside and the frost has left an opaque stain over the glass. I rub my hands together. I've been there for an hour, but they're still cold from the outdoors. My eyes burn with tears that threaten to burst past the dam of my dignity, but I force the pain to remain inside.

"Mr. Lamar? Is there anything else?"

Unable to speak, I shake my head no. Folding up the proof of my existence, I shove it back in my pocket and leave.

The wind assaults me immediately on the street. I turn and stumble away from its fury, wandering aimlessly through the cold. I'm shivering and weak and my feet move in clumsy choppy steps.

A sudden dizziness invades my brain and the world spins wildly. I haven't eaten all day and my body wants to quit. Hard concrete smacks against my knee and I hover above its icy surface for a few moments, unable to rise.

Wheezing with the effort, I push myself up again. I stagger in place while the wind and the cold of the world rushes over me. One lone tear sticks to my frozen cheek as I limp away.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


DEAN GRONDO

Dean Grondo spent years traveling throughout the great American Southwest, first as a performer, then as a country western music concert promoter. He has no serious aspirations as a writer. He hopes all our Iowan servicemen and women overseas come home safe.

This page was first displayed
on January 19, 2009

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