Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why Homeless? Why Ignoble?

One morning the Mission cafeteria was serving some extra gluey grayish slop (they sometimes serve healthy eggs and fruit), so I decided strap on my pack, eat a protein bar I found in my jacket, head toward that day's high school science sub job, and reflect on why I and so many other people end up sleeping in doorways and shelters.   Anyone can sleep in the Mission if they can follow basic rules, put up with  imbecilic fundamentalist sermons from addled pastors, sleep on thin green plastic mats beneath  disquieting pictures of a blue-eyed Jesus--glowing blue like those of an alien child.  Many people don't want anyone telling them what to do, whether earthly tatooed ex-cons or more ethereal entities, so they sleep outdoors.

Most--at least 51%--of homeless people are in the gutters and shelters because of substance abuse.  Let's just get that out of the way right now (it's a boring, obvious observation) and list some other reasons.

Som men are homeless because they are lazy, although no one is homeless because they like freedom and adventure and the shapes they can see in the mold beneath bridges;  many are hopelessly mentally ill--bipolar, schizophrenic, or mentally deficient from birth; because their families don't have room for them after they return from prison or the military, not even couch or floor space.  Wives issue ultimatums: don't come back until you stop acting like a goat or gorilla.  Many are given a choice by judges: prison or get religion at the Mission.  Some, including me, see this as unconstitutional.  These guys are usually wearing strap-on leg monitors.   They remind me of small dogs hemmed in by shock collars and invisible force fields on fake English estates.  Many men are homeless because they simply never noticed themselves slipping through crack after crack as the decades slid by.  At least one man, somewhere, decided as a child--like novelist Malcolm Lowry, who declared his intention to grow up and be the best alcoholic he could be--that he would be the best homeless man in history.  I'll address other reasons, including the "economy," later.

Let's get this out of the way, too.  I'm homeless after nearly 25 years teaching college English because of my past use of vodka, bourbon, and prescription drugs like Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin--all those nice colorful tranquilizers.   I once tried a dilettante suicide with some Coppola Chardonay (Nice wine, Francis) and a neatly arranged assortment of multicolored pills.   Sipping wine I'd daintily select and swallow a blue Clonazopam then a yellow Diazapam and slip into a doze.  Upon waking I'd gradually figure out I was still alive and that the CD player was stuck in an annoying stutter.   When I told a friend about this, all he said was, "What a pussy."

Why Ignoble?  The word has two basic connotations.  The first is simple.   It's an act, event, or lifestyle that isn't high-born or blue blood.  Nothing fancy.  It is not bad but not noble.  Liberals and some homeless people like to imagine a basic aura of salt-of-the -earthy pride that surrounds and binds street people together. Heads lifted toward the horizon, they march toward the city of gold.  Dream on.

The second ignoble is negative and nothing but.  It always involves ignorance, depravity, anger, decrepitude, stench.   There is nothing special about it.   It is not a good state.  Homelessness  is not necessarily a sin or moral crime, but it has nothing to recommend it except farcical eccentricity.   If you want to find something good about it,  look for the laughs.   .

Like this:  One night I approached the reeking steel urinal trough and heard a voice coming from one of the toilet stalls:  "I gotta remember to tell my broker to transfer that money to my offshore account."  Edging toward the sink and the mirrors I caught a reflection of a guy in his underwear straddling a toilet and balancing a laptop on his knees.  He saw me in the same instant and resumed babbling, "What am I gonna do with all this cash, be juggling around the whole world keep the feds off me.  Damn that broker!  Heh, Heh."  I returned to my bunk, bladder relieved and my mind afire.  I didn't sleep the rest of the night, but I kept smiling and occasionally snickering.

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