Saturday, January 31, 2009

Discussion prompts

Two things I've been mulling over for a few hours now.

First, Republican tokenism and cynicism. Is the new chair of the Republican National Committee just the next Sarah Palin? By that, of course, I mean is he a clumsy attempt by the shadowy figures who run the party machine to tap into the enthusiasm generated by a successful Democratic contender whose only salient feature (in their beady eyes) is hir departure from the Dead White Male model? Or is he actually some sort of beacon for conservatives in these dark times? I'm leaning heavily toward the former, though I admit my knowledge of Michael Steele is limited to...nothing. He's a politician from Maryland, right? Nevertheless, I am perfectly willing to believe that the RNC sees African American men as a hot fad in politics right now that they want to take advantage of. Just look at David Paterson in NY; as my favorite person revealed, he's a sure sign that the black men are taking over.

Second, the homeless. I participated in the 2009 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count on Thursday night. Thousands of volunteers scoured the entire area (except, oddly, Pasadena, Glendale, and Long Beach, which all have separate counts), counting the homeless people who were visible on the streets. Two years ago, the total came to 73,000. That is a fucking mind-blowingly huge number. Seventy. Three. Thousand. Every night, that many people sleep on the street, in boxes, in abandoned cars or RVs, under tarps, in makeshift tents. Just in LA. After counting my area with my partners (1 inhabited encampment, 2 abandoned encampments that didn't count), I trudged to the nearest bus stop to head home. At the bus stop, I became involved in a rather intricate conversation with a homeless man. Usually, I avoid eye contact with crazies at bus stops. That night, I couldn't justify doing so. Not after spending a few hours determinedly searching for the people whom I (we) so often would rather ignore. So I let him catch my eye, saw his weather-beaten face light up when he realized someone would acknowledge him.

He was very drunk and somewhat mad. He smelled awful, and explained the reason behind each aroma in uncomfortably honest detail. He was taking the bus to a liquor store for more booze, though he had no money for bus fare. Despite all of that, despite the fact that he occasionally patted my shoulder in a too-familiar way, we had a fascinating conversation about Rod Serling and our favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone. Mine is Mirror Image, by the way; his is either Long Live Walter Jameson or The Night of the Meek. He knew who starred in his favorite episodes, what years the series was a half-hour show and what years it was a full hour, and a great deal more. He acted out scenes from his favorites in the rightmost lane of Sunset Boulevard. His excitement was incredible; I would have believed him if he told me that nobody had ever been willing to listen to him talk about his favorite show before. He broke my heart.

I can smugly pat myself on the back for volunteering, for giving $30.00 a month to a homeless youth shelter, for taking time to really listen to this man whose name I still don't know. But at the end of every day, there are still 73,000 people sleeping on the streets of this sprawling city while I lie in my comfortable bed and blog, listening to my hedgehog run on his wheel. I don't know how to deal with that.

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