Freedom’s just another word… (Round 3 : Page 2)

October 28th, 2007

“Suddenly I was in danger. I’ve never been in a fight in my life; throughout school I’d always bribed a tough kid to be my bodyguard. And as a teenager I had become a pacifist. I knew that this skinny punk could hurt me. So I gave him the four bucks or so I had in my pocket, and said, ‘Here, now you’ve got more than me.’ And I felt guilty telling that monstrous one-quarter-of-one-percent truth. While literally the case for the moment, it was a cruel mockery, for he would never have as much, no matter how hard he tried, than I had won in the lottery of birth.”

He takes a sip of vanilla triple latte. “That woke me up. I realized I wasn’t truly helping those kids; all I was doing was perpetuating their dependency. I had become a welfare state. Worse, I had probably kept kids staying on the street, where otherwise need might have evoked reality and forced them to take more responsibility for their lives.” He toys with a deck of cards on the table, building a makeshift structure which quickly tumbles apart.

“So I thought of all different ways to use my money to constructively solve the problem of homelessness. I opened a free hotel, with a hundred thirty rooms and showers and laundry and daily meals. It was a disaster. I insisted on no rules, because my intent was to free, not to enslave; but within a week all the volunteers quit on me, and I had to hire temps to staff the place, and those quit, too. The police were there every night, serving arrest warrants, finding runaways, responding to violence complaints, shutting down parties. After only a month, it burned nearly to the ground, which is good, in a way, because my insurance company was threatening to cancel my coverage. I could see their point.” He lights a handrolled cigarette.

That night, I had a revelation. The homeless were that way, generally, because they were not housebroken. Rebelling against the institutions of man, they had reverted to a wilder state, finding, like other urban animals, rest in whatever unoccupied perch they could locate, feeding on the refuse of their prosperous and wasteful neighbors. Better to set up a hotel for pigeons and squirrels.” He produces a wooden toothpick and proceeds to pick.

“So I acquired two hundred acres of prime virgin forest, a river running through it and all that. I brought them out there by the truckload, gutterpunks and street heads and humbums and every smelly, destitute lost soul that wanted to go. I named it Freedomland. I gave them each a tent, gave lumber, agricultural supplies and basic foodstuffs to the groups that wanted to start free kitchens, and drove off to my palatial mansion, satisfied that I had finally found a way to help the orphans of the street.” He munches a biscotti.

“But it didn’t work out like that. The kitchen leaders quickly gave up, watching their supplies voraciously consumed by those that had no part in producing or preparing them. I had to send weekly food trucks. Disease was rampant, though the most responsible citizens of Freedomland attempted to enforce sanitation ‘suggestions’. The river had been polluted by shit, so there was a giardia plague on, as well as a lice epidemic. Finally, the driver of a food truck was assaulted and taken hostage in a beer riot. The instigators demanded one keg per capita per week, from a microbrew, no less, they let me know no shitty Old Style would do, as well as a bottle of hard liquor of choice. The water, they claimed, was no longer potable.”

“I concluded that these failures were a result of my inability to truly understand the viewpoint of the homeless. I had partied with them, and patronized them, but never for a moment really considered what made them tick. I had thought the craving for alcohol would disappear under the trees and the birds. I thought it was part of the disease of social alienation, of fitting stereotypes unconsciously imposed on them by the judgmental robots who were secretly jealous of the liberty of the average street bum. Now, I saw, some people just like being plastered all the time.”

He takes a drink. “I called my bank and business manager and froze all my accounts, went to the thrift store, spent all the cash I had left on these ratty clothes, and took a cup out on the Row. Everyone knew who I was, of course, and I saw right away that I could never learn what I needed to here in town. So I hitchhiked to somewhere-that’s what it’s called, Somewhere, New Mexico-and drank Mad Dog and spanged with the locals. I slept on a church lawn, on rooftops, on fire escapes, in tunnels. I begged all day for change, bought the cheapest food I could find, and if I had anything left at midnight, I’d give it to another bum. Broke by midnight, that was my motto. It felt good. I was purified. I was even more popular than I had been down here, because they didn’t know I was rich. They respected me for giving, because they thought I was just like them.”

“And I started to see how someone might choose the streets; it’s like Janice said, ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.’ The struggle to accumulate, the web of obligations natural in the indoor world, the constant deference to authority-none of these had any relevance. And I saw gems of humanity from a vantage only a beggar can have. One time I woke up in a ditch staring a state trooper in the eye, and after he ran me for warrants, he actually gave me a five-dollar bill. That was one of the most mind-blowing events of my life. Why I always say, cops are people, too.”

~ )))0((( ~

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One Response to “Freedom’s just another word… (Round 3 : Page 2)”

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