's Parmesan

January 20, 2010
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“Is that cheese!?” the man said as he shuffled up to the table. I gazed at the man while he smiled with every other tooth. “Yes sir”, I responded with joy. My friend Jasmine and I endured “Burrito Night” at Andre House, a ministry for the homeless. I had never experienced such personal contact with a homeless individual before. It was the state fair in my eyes, amazing. It became the day that my stereotypical views of someone without a home vanished.
Putting on my gloves, I expected the room to fill with a nose-tingling musk and cacophony as people filed in. This was my first interaction with the ‘less fortunate’, and I became nervous questioning their behavior in my mind. The cheese line, at which I was working, began gaining attention. I had never seen someone so burnt out in life reignite over a simple item such as cheese. As I served handfuls, the line began to grow with dancing eyes like children awaiting Santa. The cold cheese fell like snow plate by plate to haggard toothless men and women. I came across a variety of people categorized as “homeless”. Some were the average ones you see sulking outside Wal-Mart; while others had slick, cow-licked hair, straight porcelain teeth, and fresh clothes. I was then reminded that these people were not always in this situation. Many questioned me, “Is that parmesan”, to my surprise. I admit this persona exceeded my bummy expectations. I was shocked, but continued to smile and serve. Women, some young and some old, began to join the line. Majority of them were alone, but there was one teenage girl in particular that was accompanied by a Doberman-type male that caught my eye. I leaned over to Jasmine to gain her attention.
We subtly stared at the girl, but she would not lift her head. We asked if they wanted cheese, and the man answered for her and himself. I felt sorry for her, but then again I don’t know her struggles. I turned my attention to the next person in line. There were more teenagers. Besides that one girl, all I had seen that night were middle age and elderly individuals. Most of them looked liked high school students, so I assumed they would be a bit more talkative. I was wrong. I received a mere nod. I asked how old one boy was, he quickly said eighteen, and walked away. I moved on.
Few seemed surprised that I attempted to hold a conversation. I was disappointed at first, but realized how much a smile can brightens someone’s lonely day. Although these women and men had developed diamond-shielded exteriors, the simple sight of cheese “on my beans and potatoes” not only cracked, but shattered their rough stature.
The night continued, hundreds dragged in, chuckled out, and made their way back to the bitter cement of downtown Phoenix. Time escaped me. I stood with Jasmine awaiting more to serve. I was told the doors had been closed, no more in, only out. Never so eager to give, especially cheese, I removed my gloves as I twisted my mouth in disappointment.
Many teens are fortunate to have free housing, food, and utilities, but complain about parents not giving them unlimited text. Indeed, I am part of this group, but this experience revealed that life could be worse. I failed to learn the struggles of the individuals that night, but my mind became bustling with ideas of how they got into this predicament. Luxuries are important whether given or earned. These are probably one of society’s greatest weaknesses. It blinds many from the difference of wants and needs. In a common needy man’s eyes, parmesan cheese can bring a smile just as green “cheese” can in your wallet.

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