Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Breaking my Promise

I said no political stuff but given the trajectory of my thoughts most days I should have known that would ultimately be unsustainable.

My walk to work takes me through an underpass that goes under what I believe is the Kennedy Expressway.  This week is my fifth week at the new job and so every work-day for the past four weeks I've seen homeless people under the bridge.  They've set up miniature domiciles between the pillars, with sleeping bags or blankets spread out to provide some semblance of comfort and shelter.  The highway above keeps the rain out, although I don't know what the noise is like when you're trying to sleep.

There's a smell of stale urine that hits you at certain times, when the heat is high or you walk through a certain area.  I usually see pigeons hopping around on the curb, when I'm trying to tune out the homeless people on the other side of me.  I try to ignore them not out of fear but because if I let them take too much of my attention I become distracted by despair for much of the morning.  Even so, little details always seem to catch my eye.  One older man, on the south side of the road, has a couple books and a puzzle that he's been working on.  He does it on a large piece of cardboard.  He's said hello a couple of times and I'm murmured something back, trying to convey with my body language that I would help him if I could, but that after a few months of having no job right out of college I'm somewhere near the margins myself, and realizing how foolish that would sound to someone who lives his day-to-day with the constant sound of rushing cars coming from his roof.  Some days I choose to walk on the other side of the street just so I will not risk this contact, but after the first couple weeks he stopped saying hello.  I don't know which part of that makes me feel worse.

There is another bridge to go under as I draw nearer to my workplace.  Most weeks I would see some ephemera of possible street life; an abandoned shopping cart, a jacket, broken glass or new, empty bottles of alcohol.  Last week some new tenants moved in under this bridge.  At first I only saw the woman, but then I noticed that she had a boyfriend or husband, and that they had a dog.  It was warm last week and one morning I could see that he was sleeping with his shirt off, on his side, facing her.  The dog was sleeping at their feet.  Today on one of the first true days of fall we've had in the city they were under their blankets.  Their belongings are piled next to them on either side.  One stack is covered with a torn American flag.  As I walked towards them today I noticed a broken microwave in the grass to my left.  A broken picture frame lay next to it.  There is some sort of dark poetry in these images, were someone willing to distill them.  My heart is too sick and twisted by anger to do so.

Jim DeMint (R-SC) may think these people are not on the street because they were lazily suckling on the teat of entitlements.  I think he is misguided, or pandering, because the alternative is that he is either willfully or incidentally blind to human nature and reality.  You don't get a dog if you are too lazy to keep a place to live.  Perhaps DeMint's ideal, carefree existence, if only he wasn't so damned responsible and righteous, would be to live underneath a bridge doing puzzles all day.  I realize that our elected officials are not engaged with reality so much as they are with ideology and dog whistle phrases and sound bites and buzzwords, because they are addicted to the here-and-now and not actually interested in solving problems or planning for the future, but for the working poor life is a tenuous tight-rope, where one mistake or accident (health problems, being laid off because the executives who run your company wanted higher bonuses, being trapped in a bad mortgage because of greedy bankers) can send you plummeting to the bottom of a hill, where there are any number of boulders they have to push to the top before they can re-enter society.

It shouldn't be this way.  But it is.  One day walking back from work I saw a pink party limousine drive across the street parallel to the one I was walking down, where homeless men and women survive instead of live, and I wanted to burn this country to the ground and start again.  The greedy have unleashed such a wave of evil on this nation that at times it seems as if there is no point in continuing to be good.

If I think like that, they win.  If we all scramble greedily for more than our share of the pie it will be gone and our brothers and sisters will starve in the streets while we are rendered immobile, useless and heartless by our senseless gluttony.  I'd rather go hungry.

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