Wednesday, August 10, 2005
DIARY OF A RAG AND BONE MAN
By Jack Rafter
Dear Mr. Mogli,
Since the warm weather came in, Vincent and I have been staying in the tent in our little strip of woods near the freight yards. For some reason, the tramps down there have taken to calling it “Sherwood Forest,” though it’s just a ribbon of scrub oak and brush caught between the bike path on one side and the track line on the other. Beyond the freight yards is a two-lane black top. I haven’t seen any Robin Hoods or “Merry Men” running around in those woods. No Maid Marions, either. Folks down there are pretty shabby looking, for the most part, including. . .yours, truly.
Still, it’s a thriving little community we have here, though we’re all but invisible to the Outsiders. (And I use the term "thriving" somewhat loosely, of course.) Outsiders, by the way, are people who still live in houses and have jobs and cars and TV’s and cell phones, and so on. I used to have all those things. I was once an Outsider. Then, my job got moved out of the country. Now, a Chinaman does my job for about a tenth of the pay. In the language of NAFTA, this is progress. Three cheers for progress!
Early in the morning and late in the evening, the joggers and the bikers streak by on the bike path. We can see them through the trees as they flash by in a blur, a swish of white Nike running shoe, a blinding beam from a red or blue bike helmet. But they do not see us. We are just shadows in the trees, sparrows rooting around in the leaves. And on the other side of Sherwood Forest, the trains rumble by all day.
Lately, we’ve noticed an increase in the number of people trying to move into the “forest.” None of us who live here are surprised at the increase. Sure, some of us are crazy, I guess, but a lot of us are perfectly sane and aware of what’s going on. We read the papers. We keep up with current events. We hold meetings in our woods. We have little “round table” discussions in our campsites, like the knights of old.
Yes, we're a tattered tribe of knights. But we can still see and hear and think. We read how all the jobs are leaving the country, how the government and the corporations are one and the same. We notice that more and more people can’t afford to run air conditioners in the summer or gas heaters in the winter, they can’t pay their utility bills or their childrens’ dental bills, they let their house insurance lapse, they miss a mortgage payment, they fail to pay their property tax; and finally, the banks gobble up their homes. That, in brief, is what happened to me.
There are some in Sherwood Forest who believe that virtually everyone in America, except the rich, will be homeless one day. Sounds crazy, I know, but it’s true, they really believe it. The question then will be whether or not the poor will still be blamed for being poor.
Of course, for years, it has been the middle class, as much as the rich, who has blamed them. They spent years buying into the false morality that Welfare or anything that remotely smacked of “Socialism” was somehow evil. Even to the point where many of them would actually support a president who would disgorge all the money from their Social Security retirement plans and hand it over to Wall Street brokers.
They were a people who didn’t read, who had no awareness of history. In that way, their president was just like them. He was them. He could tell them anything and they would believe it. It was like spoon-feeding little children. They didn’t know that Social Security was a visionary program brought into being long ago by a president named Roosevelt.
Franklin Roosevelt was a man who thought that everyone— especially the poor—should have some form of income when they reached old age. Franklin Roosevelt thought that “promoting the general welfare”—or “well-being”--of the citizenry, was a perfectly sound, honorable, thing to do.
That is in stark contrast to those who are in power today. Now—perhaps too late—the Middle Class is just beginning to learn what this could mean—that increasingly, they. . .are. . .Them—the Poor. The Shit Upon.
What will they have to say about that, I wonder? Who is left to blame?