Homeless people are everywhere. No seriously, it’s like I can’t escape them. I keep seeing the man who wanders up and down University everyday with his shopping cart. That got the ball rolling. Since then, I have unintentionally had some sort of run in with homeless culture several times a week.
The book I’m reading described how the author got to know the beggars that lined his morning commute. I saw no fewer than seven straggly sign holders as I went about my day to day life. In church we discussed at length the best way we can help serve these individuals. I had a flash back to the movie The Soloist for an extended period while watching Sherlock Holmes at the dollar theater the other night.
Do you see what I’m getting at?
They. Are. Everywhere.
I think it’s an omen. Maybe it’s just me. Either way, I’m not sure what to do about these nameless neighbors.
Who knows where they come from, what their background is, and the kind of life they’ve lived? Are they are where they are because of some fault of their own or did life just…happen?
One of the many times that the course of my existence crossed with a reminder of theirs was subtle, just a song on the radio. But the lyrics were profound given my recent ponderings. They describe a cool night on a bridge. One man, perhaps someone like you or me, is considering jumping. The other, a homeless man, talks him down. He reminds him that in many ways, they are not so different.
“I’ve had my moments…/I was second to none/ Moments when I knew did what I thought I couldn’t do/…Looking at me now you might not know it, but I’ve had my moments.”
Like I said, I have no idea how to respond when I get stopped beside a person with their makeshift sign that describes the state of their current moment.
“Homeless.” “Will Work For Food.” “Vietnam Vet.” “Just a Little Bit Helps.” “Ninja’s Killed My Family…Need Tae Kwan Do Lessons.”
Behind every sign is a story. Maybe the person holding it is a scam artist or an addict. Or maybe not. Maybe my dollar will be spent on beer. Or maybe not. I don’t know. All I’m sure of is that I don’t want a starving person on my conscience. Especially when I think of the words of a friend, “I love bums. They’re so humble.”
Does this mean I always give something to the man outside my car window? No. In fact I hardly ever do. Doesn’t mean things can’t change. Perhaps I’ll keep some Mickey D’s gift cards in my wallet or something. Free food at its finest.
On a happier note let me tell you the best of my newly acquired homeless stories.
In Seattle, there is park along a place called Elliot Bay. The shoreline is protected by large, rough, unattractive granite blocks.
In the bushes sleeps a young man in a small tent. Half Mexican, half black, he refuses to be photographed. Says he’s in the witness protection program, or is afraid one of his wives will recognize him. He is proof that aliens landed and made a few mistakes. He even claimed to be the lovechild of Condoleezza Rice and the president of Mexico.
Out of these rocks he builds art. Started doing it out of boredom, but it caught on and now it’s how he makes a living. He builds something and knocks it down at the end of the day after reciting a poem to it or something.
He has something I don’t have, can’t have: The memory of his moment, when he looked at a pile of ruble and saw…art.
This story makes you wonder: what is art? We have asked why we read, and we have also asked about what we read.
Sister Steadman called out one of my favorite movies, You've Got Mail, a few weeks ago saying that it was a bad example because Meg Ryan and Greg Kinnear lived together. (To which I'd like to point out that they practically lived together...he just kept all his typewriters on her kitchen table.)
Yet most of what we revere as classical literature is oozing with lesser morals than those. For Heaven's sakes, every Shakespearean character needs some serious one on one time with Dr. Laura. Or their bishop. Maybe both. And don't even get me started with Oscar Wilde.
Here's my two cents on the subject:
Marcel Duchamp is a famous Pre-WWI artist who you may recognize as the man who brought the world the piece shown above. Yummy.
To be honest, he probably wasn't a huge fan of the work either. But it forced the art world to confront the theory that ruled his work: The only power in art is if the artist creates something, presents it to the world as art and the world chooses to accept it.
You may well look at an upside down urinal and say, "Well, whatever it is, it sure as heck ain't art." That was the point. To choose an object that was so "off" that it would be rejected immediately by all. In fact, the most liberal gallery, that had a no turn away rule, would only display Duchamp's Fountain behind a Japanese screen. It was lewd, vulgar, completely unacceptable and revolting to its viewer.
With this in mind, lets recap the difference between what is moral in movies versus what is moral in books. You there? You remember? Good.
Now allow me to make this suggestion: The only power in morality is if an individual or group presents something as moral (or immoral) and society chooses to accept it.
Duchamp's reaction to his critics was to ask what is the difference between a urinal in a gallery (where the visitors are elite selective) than in a plumbing store window where the world walks by daily?
My reaction to our discussion is the same. What is the difference between immorality in literature (where readers are elite and selective) and movies where the world sits and watches daily?