Gandalf the Grey’s Eviction from Susquehanna Riverfest Homeless camp*

I have concerns about the homeless camps cleared out along the Susquehanna River near Riverfront Park, Wilkes-Barre, in time for Riverfest 2014… the stigmatization of the homeless as dangerous has resulted in an act of discrimination, and to clear the homeless camps for creating a family-friendly (and fun) environment is not OK.

Jaime Colman, Washington, D.C.;
A letter to Scranton Times-Tribune editor, written July 3, 2014

A cloudless July 1979 morning,
along Susquehanna River western
embankment, BEHOLD –
Homeless, Gandalf the Grey.
He sat beneath Pittston concrete bridge,
ate day old salami sandwich and Tastykake.
Dressed in ragged gray robe and hemp belt,
Pittsburgh Pirates T-shirt, worn sandals,
a pointy straw hat covered long white hair.
Neither a wizard nor 11 o’clock “news geek,”
and unknown to Gandalf,
subsurface and beneath his swollen feet,
carelessly dumped oil and fuels silently ran
through an underground mine labyrinth,
sought point-of-least-resistance,
millions of gallons discharged into the river.
Can you see Gandalf wipe mustard off face?
He could really use cold Budweiser
to help warm salami “go down hatch.”

Preoccupied by toothache and welcome breeze,
Gandalf forgot about 1930′s corporations
and “Mom and Pop” businesses
who, on daily basis, saved money by pouring
used motor oil and fuels into a “borehole”
located inland, alongside Pittston’s Route 315.
Gandalf helplessly watched oily waste
exit the Butler Mine Tunnel,
turn rainbow colors atop river water,
traveled sixty miles south,
challenged Danville’s drinking water supply,
11,700 residents affected,
including Bilbo Baggins’ deep well in the Shire.
Can you see Gandalf try to cast
“shutting spell” on tunnel mouth?

Gandalf liked the quiet river before dawn –
Often annoyed by Pittston Hobbit children
out of school for Summer, he secretly appreciated
how parents warned kids to “avoid
Gandalf the Grey, never talk, never look at him.”
But on this fateful day,
a curious teenage Hobbit newspaper delivery girl
stood alone on Main Street,
watched tire tube float downstream,
and Gandalf’s sudden and clumsy
descent to the rising Susquehanna River edge.
Rather bizarrely, Gandalf undressed,
tossed Winter coat upon polluted water,
grabbed a couple oily fish,
wiped them with filthy socks, scoped around,
saw Hobbit girl ominously look his way.
He ambled up embankment, tripped,
began hilarious search for clean surface water.
Can you see Gandalf try to find a puddle
where “out of water” fish could call home?

Sun shower drizzle upon Main Street,
near naked, Gandalf came face-to-face
with the awed onlooker, paper girl.
Scared, she reasoned Gandalf meant well…,
“Even homeless people must know how to act
and do good things, despite being bare ass?”
Decisively, she offered to take Gandalf’s fish,
locate a fresh water home for the oily creatures.
Slick continued to cover Susquehanna River,
and Gandalf reluctantly surrendered the fish.
Can you see eyes meet when oily fish settled
to bottom of canvas newspaper bag?

St. John the Evangelist bells, 7:00 AM, a siren –
A Pittston Police car arrived on scene,
Hobbit girl gone, maybe blocks away.
The officer watched Gandalf’s
naked flight toward bridge encampment.
Handcuffs and billy club, the police officer
pursued Gandalf, he radioed into HQ, told on-duty
dispatcher about the terrible river oil spill, cried,
“get Pittston Fire Department on scene, quick!”

Not much into “jogging,” Gandalf ran south,
tossed ½ bottle of wine into weeds,
extra weight “slowed down getaway too much.”
Can you see pointy straw hat tossed by wind?
Tackled by Officer Matt Birkbeck,
Gandalf’s jaw hit dirt,
a blurry oil sheen devoured a 12-inch Walleye.
He reached for nearby Lucky Strike butt,
a discarded wedding ring, put hands-up.
“Come along with me, Gandalf,” insisted Birkbeck,
“I’ll take you downtown to Shire’s Station,
get you pizza, Pepsi Cola, clean clothes,
then ‘book you’ for trying to do good deeds
by unacceptably naked and bad American means.”
Gandalf heaved long sigh, only sorcery could
return oily fish back to him now.

• Gandalf is J.R.R. Tolkien’s wise wizard and white bearded traveler, in “Lord of The Rings,”and by chance, happened to appear in this poem. Some background, please? In March 2003, employed as an emergency spill response worker, I was tasked with helping defend Susquehanna River water quality which, since the 1930s, was threatened by illegal but “money-saving” oil and fuel dumping, originating from a grade-level “borehole” located 3.5 miles inland from river on Route 315. After a significant July 1979 discharge (a.k.a., “burp”) of hazardous materials from the Butler Mine Tunnel and serpentine migration into the river, the site was appointed to E.P.A. “National Priorities List,” became subject to technical assembly of “harbor boom” containment, anchored by cable trot lines designed to trap surface pollution from going further downstream. Er, got that so far? Up next, mysterious appearance of riverbank inhabitant, Gandalf.

One day, Spring 2004, on scene and practicing outlay of “harbor boom” around Mine Tunnel’s perimeter discharge point, I noticed a homeless man seated beneath Pittston’s concrete bridge, eating Cheerios, no milk. During subsequent maintenance visits, the fellow continued to appear nearby Tunnel, and one of my co-workers, a clever film enthusiast, began to poke fun, called him, “Gandalf.” For the record, although literate, I did not consider the name funny at all, and I agree with letter writer, Jaime Colman (quoted above), who opined, “its not OK to clear-out homeless people for the sake of family-friendly fun at Wilkes-Barre Pa, Riverfest 2014.” Who knows? Pennsylvanians with late home mortgage payments might be next in line for Riverfest eviction.

Charles Orloski lives in Taylor, Pa. He can be reached at: orlovzek13@al.com. Read other articles by Charles.