[lit-ideas] Re: Didn't I tell you so?

  • From: John Wager <john.wager1@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 28 Jun 2006 08:25:01 -0500

Eric Yost wrote:

. . .It's all very romantic to think the poor are noble, but after watching homeless drunks fight each other with lead pipes at 4 a.m., after watching the skankiest toothless hookers sizing me up for a manip or begging me for fix change, after witnessing closeup the extreme mental illness of the homeless, the sadism and brutality of the ignorant poor on a daily basis, you might sing a different song.

Maybe the noble poor image fits with some pastoral Christ dream, but in the real heart of urban darkness, the poor are just part of a vision of demons. They eat themselves and then they eat your soul.

"The rich are not like you or me, Scotty" -- They have money.

That seems to be, in my experience, the main difference. Eric's story is of the poorest of the poor; the homeless, addicted, alcoholic poor. But according to U.S. official statistics, 37,000,000 people in the U.S. live in "poverty." These people are not your addicts or hookers; they are rural families trying to make a living, or mothers trying to raise families without fathers, or veterans whose society has abandoned them. Lots of other stories in 37,000,000 lives!

So if we're telling urban stories, let me share one of mine. One summer in grad school I tried selling Encyclopedia Brittanica. I was a horrible failure, financially, but I thought it would do me good to develop the pushy, sell-something side of me, so it was the best job I ever had, personally. Anyway, I got a "lead" post-card from an address in Cabrini Green housing development in Chicago, one of the worst possible high-rise jungles. I thought "Well, I don't have anything better to do, and obviously this person wants the free paperbacks" so I arranged a meeting. When I got to the right floor, past the non-working elevators and smell of urine, I found a small apartment, tastefully decorated, with a mother and four children of various ages. She made room for me at the table and we talked for a while. The children came and went, always politely. After I left I thought "Here is a normal person, trying to make her way in life with her family." She did indeed want the free paperbacks, and obviously was not interested in buying the Brittanica, but it was a chance to talk to her about what she wanted for her children. If I hadn't gone into that apartment, the outside appearance of Cabrini Green would have given me an image of stark despair and poverty that would have clouded my judgment. Street people are just that, on the street, in your face. But what goes on behind the windows of all those decrepit buildings lining the streets is probably a complete surprise to all of us.

The fundamental problem, it seems to me, is that not only are we as a society "unzipping" politically along red/blue lines, we are "unzipping" socially along economic lines. I grew up knowing a fair number of rich and poor people. I suspect that most citizens in the U.S. today no longer have as wide a range of friends or acquaintances of differing economic status. Who we don't know can destroy us as a society.

"Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence and ignorance." -------------------------------------------------
John Wager john.wager1@xxxxxxxxxxx
Lisle, IL, USA

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