Thursday, November 06, 2003
Diary Of A Rag And Bone Man
by Jack Rafter
Am I reduced to poverty?
Am I reduced to penury?
Then let me sift through the leavings
And see what I can see.
October 30. Dear Mr. Mowgli. Vincent and I spent our last night in the hedgerow of the art museum. We bedded down there most of the summer. People strolling along the sidewalks or driving by in their Hummers have no idea what’s just out of sight in those nicely manicured hedges. There were at least a dozen homeless folk tucked away in there that I know of.
Now, the weather is starting to get chilly, and everybody’s looking for a warmer place. I hate the thought of going to the shelters. A bum I know, who goes by the name of Brownie, says he's got a tent. He says there’s a nice big wooded area over by the freight yards and he's going to stake out a place down there. He said there was plenty of room for me and Vincent, if we wanted to join him. I don’t know where he got the tent or how good it is. I asked him if he thought it would keep the rain out. He shrugged and said, “Guess we’ll find out, eh Jack?” Well, that doesn’t sound too good, somehow. I don’t like the idea of sharing a place with some stranger. What if he has a lot of bad habits? They almost always do. Maybe something better will turn up.
I read in the paper that a lot of city councils are passing more laws against homeless folks. They’re starting to arrest more panhandlers. Easier, I guess, than pursuing real criminals, like Ken Lay or Dick Cheney. They haven’t started in my town, yet, but it’s coming, I imagine. Everybody follows the herd, like sheep.
Yes, we’re all just a bunch of bums, too lazy to go out and get a job. That’s the answer to everything—jobs, even when those who actually have gotten decent ones are being laid off by the thousands, while their CEO’s go on enriching themselves. Those same CEO’s drive down the street in their Mercedes and complain about the panhandlers, and put pressure on their city councils to do something about this blight. They’re the same ones who back the politicians who are cutting back or eliminating any assistance or health care for the poor. Let them get jobs, they say. I’m sure Burger King and McDonalds are just dying for the chance to hire someone who is filthy, dressed in ragged clothes, has no car to get to work in, who is schizophrenic or had a mental breakdown, or is diseased or has no work history for months or years, or some combination of these things. Yes, I run across people like this holding down good jobs every day.
And now they want to start putting the bums in jail. Well, I hope it teaches them a lesson.
Vincent and I have been doing a lot of walking around, lately. I found a Sunbeam toaster the other day in a trash bin behind this huge house. The house was in one of those newer developments, full of big houses that all look alike. McMansions. The driveways are pebbly concrete and the mailboxes are built out of solid brick, lined up along the curb like soldiers. I've seen people whose houses were less substantial than these little mail mansions.
So, I took this toaster over to the downtown YMCA to check it out. They have an outside plug at the back of the building. I discovered it one day on my rounds and remembered it, just in case. I doubt if the Y people know it’s there. Up until now, I haven’t had a reason to use it, myself.
So, I plugged in the toaster, and by golly, it worked! I couldn’t believe it. I thought sure I’d have to tinker with it some. Figured it for a broke spring or a faulty cord or something. But I put in two slices of cast off Roman Meal that I snagged out back of Luby’s, and a minute later, up they popped, a perfect golden brown—on both sides!
And I didn’t have to eat dry toast, either! I had some of those little packets of butter and gourmet strawberry preserves in my pocket, found them in the trash behind Clarke’s Deli. Restaurants and diners throw them away by the ton, you know. And the little catsup packets, too. I don’t know a bum living that doesn’t have catsup on his person. Ask any of them. Hundreds of years from now when the archeologists are digging us out of the rubble, they’ll discover—along with all the other stuff we’ve thrown away—thousands and thousands of those little plastic packets. I wonder what they’ll think about that. Maybe they’ll sit down in the rubble and have some toast.
So, I made out all right, there behind the Y. Needless to say, I’ll be returning to the neighborhood where I found that toaster. I may even go back to the same McMansion. No telling what those people are throwing away over there.
Poor Vincent has fleas. Must get him some medicine, somehow. They’ve cut health care for humans. I guess the next thing to go will be the Humane Society. By golly, these lazy, no account stray dogs will just have to do better. Maybe they’ll start putting them in jail.
I’ve been studying people lately. Been watching them on the streets, as they scurry here and there, looking very serious in their nice clothes, with their brief cases made out of genu-wine cowhide, always talking on their cell phones, telling someone or other where they are and where they’re going. As if it actually mattered. I see them sitting in the Starbucks coffee shops with their lattes and computers and little cell phones. I see them running in the park in their slick running costumes, with wires plugged in their ears, and cell phones on their waste bands. Sometimes they stop right in the middle of running and have a conversation on their phones. I look through the windows of fancy restaurants and see them eating big piles of food that costs fifteen or twenty or thirty dollars a plate. Sometimes they’re talking on their little phones and eating at the same time. I see them in the bookstores, wandering in the aisles, talking and laughing on their cell phones while people try to look quietly for something to read. I see them driving around in their SUV’s, their big bright Hummers. I see them jabbering on their little phones, an incessant buzzing, like swarms of mosquitoes.
And everything is so dreamlike and unreal. And people are just going around looking like contented cows.