The contrast between what I’ve been seeing on Facebook and what I’ve been seeing on the streets could hardly be starker. In addition to my parents’ two and a half weeks of vacation in Europe, which they just completed, a college acquaintance has been posting photos from his honeymoon in Bavaria and Austria and the federal probation officer with the Queensland-informed drinking problem recently got back from a vacation in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Iceland with her now-fiance, who proposed to her on the London Eye. On their own, these trips might not be all too obnoxious, but you have to realize that I’ve wandered into some really grisly shit once again. This stuff is damning of everyone who doesn’t do anything about it, myself included. The other night, on my way through Philadelphia, I watched a homeless guy, perfectly coherent, desperately beg both of the employees on duty at the 30th Street Station Dunkin’ Donuts franchise for a cup of water. Both of them refused, half smugly and half pretending that they hadn’t just seen that and, possibly, violated their own consciences.
It is no prosaic injustice for a man to go thirsty inside the main rail station of a wealthy city in a wealthy country. This isn’t the Applegate party going thirsty on its way to the Greensprings. It’s absolutely inexcusable. Ministering to this man would have cost the franchisees practically nothing, but they refused. They were Indians, as many Dunkin’ franchisees are (although not as many as a few years ago), so maybe they figured that they’d leave the Wow Much ministries Many charitable Very gospel of st. james shit to the Christians, or maybe to the Buddhists. I assumed that they considered this poor fellow, and I do mean poor, insufficiently karmalized for their taste. Thinking back on it several days later, I’m more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and concede that maybe they just didn’t want to deal with the guy. Either way, they behaved unconscionably. If that sort of haughty cruelty is acceptable by some reckonings in India, that doesn’t excuse it in the United States, where these men are immigrants. America has been very good to them, and they were very bad to their new neighbor in his time of need, when all he asked for was a cup of water. My immediate reaction was that immigrants should forfeit their residency status for being so antisocial, and I still more or less feel this way. Hell, even Center City Philadelphia, the same neighborhood that coughed up this poor homeless bastard, has been good to them. Yes, they have to deal with the homeless, some of whom are disturbed or belligerent, but they also get the upside of having a high volume of affluent travelers and commuters passing by their stand most of the day and night. If they’re going to cast their lot with this neighborhood, even temporarily, they owe it to the community to be minimally decent to the poor who call it home because they have nowhere else to go.
If this sort of shit is the wages of multiculturalism, I don’t know how to describe how screwed we are as a country. There are Americans who would be every bit as antisocial in the same circumstances, although I’d guess relatively few of them would be, and of course some of these same Americans wield undue, disproportionate influence through #TCOT and friends. Still, if these Indian guys come here and now think of MY countrymen, who are also their prospective countrymen, as dalit shitheads, they’re grafting some of the worst of Indian culture onto an existing American culture that is all too cruel to the poor in its own right. Fuck them. They should take their asses back to India if they won’t be decent to their new neighbors. No, I do not want them in my country, and I am not ashamed in the least to say this. They aren’t the first high-hats to come here from India and try to operate under some local version of their old-country caste system, either. No, I am not against Indian immigrants in general; I’m against specific Indian immigrants who synthesize new class and racial bigotries on arrival, corrupting my country, and I don’t give a shit whom I offend by speaking out against this corruption.
As I said, though, I didn’t acquit myself well that night. I could have bought that poor bastard something to drink, but I didn’t.
Whoever actually runs the station building fucked up on a structural level: I couldn’t find an accessible water fountain anywhere in the building because the one I’d used before, near the south bathrooms, was walled off for renovations. But the other thing I couldn’t put out of my mind was the thought that all these people I know who had been on vacation in Europe would surely argue that they had earned it, probably because their jobs sometimes suck. No, they didn’t earn that. Nobody at all has earned an overseas vacation, not in a country that can’t figure out how to get drinking water to its homeless downtown in one of its largest cities. No amount of work, no matter how unpleasant, can earn a person an overseas vacation, ESPECIALLY if that work is paid. No one would rather walk around Center City Philadelphia desperately thirsty and denied water all night than work a slow shift at a Dunkin’ Donuts stand. Only one of these situations comes close to the Stations of the Cross as lived experience, and it isn’t the one with the shift schedule, guys. It just fucking isn’t.
That homeless guy was getting punished beyond belief for being destitute, and frankly, it’s on all of us. What the fuck is mass attendance good for if we don’t minister to his kind? That’s right, Mr. Starr. Say it again. Church is worth a pot of shit if it isn’t out in the streets getting food and water to these people. If the Philadelphia Police Department were staffed by actual Catholics, the cops would have nothing but animal crackers, bottled water, and a shotgun in their cruiser trunks. Let’s not kid ourselves. Maybe one or two percent of any prominent church, to be generous, isn’t spilling its collective seed on the ground and beclowning itself by insisting that it follows Christ. The dereliction of these avowed Christians isn’t necessarily profane, but it certainly isn’t holy, either. If they can’t be stirred to genuine, substantive Christian charity by a fear of hell, can they at least be stirred to action by a desire not to look like insincere, self-satisfied assclowns who can’t be bothered to practice what their central religious texts preach because it feels better to segregate themselves from the poor and focus on trifling bourgeois concerns?
I’m afraid I can answer that in a word: no. Bougie bitching has more cred around the parish hall than going down to skid row to help Loaves and Fishes do what it can to minister to the physical needs of the desperately poor, as Jesus instructed in the Gospels. One might hope that Catholic priests, being free of family entanglements with wives and children, would transcend this shit and insist on ministering to those most in need as they become aware of them, but they seem more often to be sucked into the vortex of parochial bullshit, and to leave the most crucial ministries to the religious orders. This crowd can bellyache all it wants about premarital sex, cohabitation, and the like, but it, too, lives in sin.
As do I. Even when I have a good sense of solutions that would work, I let myself get distracted by bougie bullshit, some of which, I assume, actively exacerbates the misery of the poor. At other times, the problems seem utterly bewildering, so that even when I feel up to facing them emotionally, I have no idea of how to approach the practicalities. On the other hand, when the Knights of Columbus are portrayed as being of concern to anyone but themselves, I know that I’m not dealing with serious Christians and have to look to someone else, God alone might know who, for guidance towards something resembling genuine Christian ministry. The available pool of people who know what the fuck they’re doing in their interactions with the vulnerable and have more or less good motives can seem awfully small, and they rarely get much of the total attention devoted to people who are supposedly involved in charitable work. And I don’t feel like compiling a laundry list of bottomfeeding, opportunistic busybodies operating under the guise of charity right now, although I’ve discussed the Salvation Army before.
Of course, as far as homelessness goes, there but for the grace of God I never went, until I did. To this day, but for the grace of God I’ve only been warm homeless, but I know that it could get worse, even if it probably won’t for me. I was bothered by other people’s homelessness in a detached academic sense until I was blindsided by the realization that the theory of homelessness had just turned itself into practice in my own life. We might say that it was a culturally enriching experience. It was certainly culturally illuminating, in a way that a posh wanker’s junket to the castles of not-so-jolly old Scotland is not. Once it happened, I realized that I had to start caring about the homeless because they could include me. As sleeping in my car turned from acutely distressing to modestly annoying to more or less routine, I calmed down enough to admit that the homeless in fact did include me. At this point, I often run into warm and cold homeless alike who treat me as their equal, and about as often I run into people who have never been homeless and treat me like a freak or a shambling loser for being homeless should I insist on bringing the subject up instead of catering to their overly precious sensibilities. The former I probably would have looked down on like a real shithead myself only five or seven years ago. The latter are worth keeping around only when they’re showing some damn manners, which they do sometimes, or else materially limiting the ill effects of one’s own downward mobility. Keeping a cracker off the streets is a good start, but one can rarely count on them to do such a thing.
Are we our brothers’ keepers? Is that socialism? What is it all about? It is it good, or is it wack? This is America, the Land of Many Bootstraps, so probably wack, innit. Alternately, we could figure that we have some sort of duty, by whatever name, to respond to the desperately thirsty by trying to figure out where there’s some water nearby and make sure that they get some. We can do this because it’s what Jesus would do, or we can do it because it helps us feel like something better than filthy shitwipes when we even passingly glance at our own consciences, or we could do it in order to pay it forward in the hope that someone else will pay it back in our own time of need. I guess any of these stances would verge on Wow Much Pieties under a Randian #TCOT gloss. If rebuking behavior so antisocial that it directly causes hell on earth for other people bothers these asshats, we need to drive them out of our politics. In the United States, this is probably like saying that we must immediately begin the Millennium, because the bootstraps-for-thee crowd has controlled our politics for much of our national history, going back to early colonial times.
In any event, I’m past the point of being process-oriented enough to care about precisely what motivates people to give a shit about their neighbors and how pure their motivations are if they actually help out those in dire need. If it’s for crude feels, that might not be particularly reputable, but as long as it isn’t concern-trolling with strings attached, I’m generally for it. And if all the punishment I get for not helping the homeless out is being told to get fucked by that Samuel L. Jackson-looking punk in Inglewood, and taunted to go ahead and call the police, I can say that I have indeed been shown mercy.