This is how it smells when you're poor.
Musk. Dust. Dried sweat. Wood smoke. Tobacco smoke. Bad breath. Body lotion. Spanish rice. Cooking oil.
The last two odors rise from supper just cooked in the kitchen of the Merced Rescue Mission. All the other smells rise off the bodies of the 11 men spending the night on wooden bunk beds in two rooms on the second floor one Sunday night.
Men who stay here are at or near the end of the line. Ronny, on a bottom bunk, just got out of the slammer at Susanville for possession and sale. "I used my gate money to buy a package of crystal," he says, "and my parole officer didn't like that much. So here I am." He's been at the shelter two weeks and hopes to soon achieve "disciple" status, which means he'll live there for a full year, trying to straighten out. "This place ain't nothin' like the joint," he allows. "Nothin'."
Gino, who after chow scored an olive-green trench coat from the shelter's clothing window, is trying to kick booze and grass by attending four meetings a week. Now in his early 20s, he was evicted from the house he was sharing with three other guys when nobody paid the rent. "Just 'cause I ain't from Texas don't mean I can't be a 'Boys fan," the lifelong Merced resident declares. He sleeps with the trench coat over his No. 84 Dallas Cowboys "Galloway" jersey.
Before lights out at 10, they both rub some of the shelter's free lotion on their skin -- Ronny on the Asian symbol tats on his chest and back; Gino on his withered right foot. Eight other men next door -- black, white, brown and yellow -- have been asleep for two or three hours.
These are Merced's invisible poor
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