Friday, March 28, 2014

Confronting The Gentry

The other day, as I was walking home from the library, I passed by a rich guy making bogus claims to the police about a harmless old man, and decided to give him some shit about it. As you might expect, he didn't take it very well. 

The neighborhood I live in a ditch on the outskirts of is expensive and upscale. On the plus side, this gives me a lot of promising garbage cans to root through on my way home at night, but on the down side, one can feel the animosity of the carpetbaggers in their mansions as though it were a lite, but steady, rain.

The upper class of any city tends to bare some hatred for the downtrodden, and in Austin, this feeling is especially pronounced. The sense of loathing is palpable; almost a physical thing. This constant, never ending, stream of disdain has shattered the self-image of many homeless people to the extent that they never recover. Relatively normal folks, who have simply fallen on hard times, find themselves crippled and demoralized by the callous disregard of their fellows, and begin to slip into a morass of self-hatred. They learn to accept society's judgement of their value, and as such, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Egomaniac though I am, I, too, must fight constantly to maintain my sense of self-worth in the face of this onslaught. (Thanks for the help.)

On this particular day I was in a rush to get to camp, because I knew they were having a high school soccer game that night at the stadium that borders my ditch. I wanted to get there before everyone arrived so it would be easier to sneak down without being detected. While passing through an especially booshie section of the neighborhood, I saw I guy I knew walking from the opposite direction.

Christopher is a peaceful old man who sits on the same bench every day at the corner of Wooldridge Square Park. He's there right now. The park used to be a hangout for every derelict in town until the city closed it for "renovations" that took the better part of a year. They did plant some bushes and paint the gazebo, but the real reason for the closing was that it was getting embarrassing having an open air drug market that close to the courthouse. After the park finally opened up again, the drug trade had moved across town to the homeless shelter, where it remains still.

Through all the changes, from drug bazaar, to fenced off ghost town, to it's current state as an open park that no one visits, Christopher sat stoically on his bench in the corner, seemingly oblivious to the contrast. I asked him one day if he liked it better before the people left, or after, and he said, "Doesn't make any difference to me, really. I guess there was more food around when the people were here." A quiet man with a gentle nature, I have never seen Christopher get drunk or cause trouble of any kind.

Which is why I was taken aback when, after passing him and crossing the street, I ran across another old man who I overheard making a phone call to the police.

The guy was short with white hair and had a giant gut sticking out the front of his, way too small, Polo shirt. He looked like he could have been sixty, but I got the feeling that he was maybe fifty five, and only looked older because of his affiliation with The Dark Side. He had a grizzled, red face and wore a baseball cap, along with the obligatory aviator sunglasses. Which is all to say, he looked like a real asshole.

And he was. As I passed him I heard him making scurrilous claims to his phone about the monk-like Christopher, "Yeah, this guy's obviously drunk. He keeps falling over and he just threw up on someone's lawn. He's like an animal, ranting and raving at the sky....Yeah?....Yeah?....He's got long hair and a beard. He's probably wearing everything he owns. OK, no problem."

Now, what he was saying, and the truth of the situation, bore no resemblance. I've already described to you Christopher's tranquil demeanor, and verily, I had just seen the man myself: as reserved and non-threatening as ever. He was bedraggled, yes. He would never be mistaken for a member of the neighborhood association. But does a person deserve to be jacked up by the cops just because they wear dirty clothes and practice questionable hygiene? If you live in the downtown area of a major city, does it make sense to call the police on every homebum who walks down your street? Don't the police have more important things to do?

Of course they do, which is why I knew they would be unlikely to follow up on this concerned citizen's helpful tip. Even if the police did show up, the second they saw Christopher, they would realize they were wasting their time. The man sits, statue-like, seven days a week, a block away from the police station. He probably knows every cop in town, or, more importantly, they all know him. There would be no baloney sandwiches for Christopher that night.

But I was pissed. Oh, the anointed gentry and their sense of entitlement. What misguided concept of social responsibility could lead one to believe that visiting undeserved hardship on random strangers is a charge of the virtuous? How easy it must be, to live is their insulated little world, summoning mercenaries to deal with anything that makes them uncomfortable.

But the thing that really got me angry was the way he said, "He's probably wearing everything he owns," as if the poverty of another man was the most distasteful thing he had ever considered. Also, I detected a subtle hint of laughter in his voice.

It was that subtle hint of laughter that stopped me in my tracks. I turned and walked up to the guy, stopping maybe ten feet away from him, "Hey buddy, were you just talking to the police there?"

Stammering, surprised by my sudden interest, "Wh...What? Uh...that guy fell down just a minute ago. He's a drunk."

"I know that guy, dude. He doesn't drink. He has trouble walking because his feet are messed up. I heard you telling the police that he was ranting and raving at the sky. He seemed completely lucid to me."

The guys started to recover his wits at being confronted and began to take umbrage, "Look, you just walked up here. That guy fell over. What business is it of yours? I own property in this neighborhood."

"I heard you telling them he was throwing up on people's lawns and ranting at the sky. That's bullshit. You're trying to get that man arrested because you don't like the way he looks."

At this point the guy started to buck up and advance towards me in an aggressive manner. For a split second, it felt like he was going to hit me. If he had, I would have knocked him to the ground, stomped his cell phone, and snapped his glasses in half, before sprinting to the woods just a few blocks away. But of course, all he had was bluster, "So are you trying to start an altercation with me, huh?!? Are you trying to get in my face? Are you trying to start something?!"

"No, I heard you LYING TO THE POLICE and I'm confronting you about it, VERBALLY."

Now, it was a subtle thing, but when I said the words, "Lying to the police," I saw a faint, but unmistakable, glimmer of fear in his eyes. He dropped his aggressive stance and backed up a few feet, going back into his, "Concientious Property Owner," routine, "I own several properties in this neighborhood. (Could tell he was exaggerating. Probably owns one.) Do you own any property in this neighborhood?"

"What, do we live under the fucking Magna Carta? Who gives a shit if you own property? By that logic, if I did own property in this neighborhood, would that validate my opinion of you MAKING FALSE STATEMENTS TO THE POLICE?"

Lamely, "I saw him fall down."

"You saw an old man fall down in your neighborhood and you called the police on him? You think you're a good citizen? You have NO CONSCIENCE and NO CLASS."

I could see having a vagrant call him out on his lack of class was hard for him to take. He turned and walked down the street, presumably towards the property he owns, and started to say something over his shoulder, "That's your o..."


He kept walking. His demeanor was utterly defeated. I watched him 'till he turned the corner before continuing home. I felt like a good citizen.

As I lay in my tent that night, I imagined him telling the story to his wife, "Yeah, I called the police on a drunk animal who was throwing up in people's yards, and some homeless guy came up and tried to start an altercation with me. He backed off when I threatened to call the police on him. I told him he was white trash with no class."

But however he's dealing with it, I'll bet he's still thinking about it. I'll bet he's still thinking about the guy in the tattered, dirty clothes who called him "Unsophisticated." Deep down, he knows the truth. And now, so do you.

(By the way, if you are reading this and are not friends with me on Facebook, I would encourage you to send me a request. I write many short pieces over there, and it is, by far, the best way to keep up with what I'm doing.



  1. We have a younger homeless man who hangs around my work place, he has some sort of mental illness, but never bothers anyone. He is just one of those poor souls that slipped through the cracks of our fantastic mental healthcare system. Anyway, one day he was talking to a wall, no biggie, but a couple of blonde sorority girls made a point to laugh at him, then crinkle their nose in disgust and ask, "why don't they put people like him somewhere?" It is attitudes like that, that makes me want to scream at people, "why can't you f*cking see, open your f*cking eyes and get off your high horse!" You held your temper much better than I, but kudos to you for doing the right thing.

    1. Right on Heather. I like where you're coming from there. I've felt the same way many times.

  2. All these "Christians" would have shunned Christ himself for his humble clothing and earthy appearance, dirty feet, raggedly beautiful carpenter hands. The "gentrified" would have shunned the newly Enlightened Buddha when he first emerged from the wilderness, tattered and emaciated. Many thought John the Baptist was a drunken bufoon, raving of the coming of the Messiah. He was clearly a Conduit of the Great Spirit when he touched people and baptized them, Christ included. Often the most earthy, downtrodden, seemingly mad, rejected, and impoverished are the most blessed by and in tune with The Divine, the Other Side. In prehistoric cultures, these sorts of people were revered as prophets and oracles! Now we lock them away in nuthouses and cells! We should be ashamed. I like what you said about "The Dark Side." The evil energy of wealth, obsessions with the opulence of fine things of great price, the act of constant narcissism, lying, deceit, cheating, hatred, racism...these energies are "The Devil."