Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, June 25, 2021

Part of the fun during my Florida visit this weekend is hitting a couple of garage/yard sales. (Not my idea, I was just tagging along.)

At one such residential bazzar, I spied a certain book title on one table: “How to Survive an Alcoholic Marriage”. At the same house, a few tables over, I spied another volume for sale: “Poems for Perseverance: Because Sometimes, It Takes More than Love to Stay Together!”.

I’m thinking I’ve already learned far more than I wanted to about this household and how it (dis)functions.

I did buy a kitschy wooden toy snake for myself at this particular house. It’s just about the proper thing to pick up for fifty cents at a yard sale.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 06/25/2006 11:26:58 AM
Category: Florida Livin', Society | Permalink | Feedback (3)

A frequent subject of musing by many folks — in particular, white-collar wage-slaves who make a decent living but essentially live from paycheck to paycheck — is how the homeless people they encounter every day manage to persist on their staked-out street corners or intersections.

Specifically, that musing turns to severe skepticism about those homeless and their motives. We’ve all heard the speculation from co-workers:

“You know that homeless guy on the corner of such-and-such? I just saw him at an ATM machine taking out money!”

“That homeless lady we see on the drive in? Can you believe she was talking on a cellphone this morning?”

“I saw that bum from the park walking around in brand-new sneakers!”

The implication is that these observations somehow “out” the alleged bums and expose their panhandling as a scam. If they’re walking around with ATM cards and cellphones, they can’t be on the level, and their begging for handouts must be some kind of money-making scam.

Which is just a convenient justification for washing away any guilt felt from not giving Mr. or Ms. Bum any spare change that week, or even acknowledging their existence. If you convince yourself that those people don’t really need the money to survive, that they’re just engaging in a ruse to fool you, then you win by not falling for it. It goes even further than that: It turns a defensive posture — reconciling a not-so-nice act of snubbing a person in desperate need — into an aggressive stance — foiling scam artists and putting them out of business!

All of which is nonsensical. Fact is, homeless people may be down, but they don’t have to be out, in the sense that they’re deprived of everything but rags that they wear. In the hypothetical examples cited above, for instance:

- It is possible to maintain a bank account without a residence.

- Pay-as-you-go wireless phone plans make it relatively easy for someone without regular income or residence to stay connected.

- Lots of barely-use, looks-like-new clothing items wind up at Goodwill and the Salvation Army. It’s not like they’re going to scuff them up before giving them to someone to wear.

And I’m not going to bother to point out the fallacy in thinking that someone can somehow make a killing by spending untold hours on a sidewalk, hoping to cull a few quarters from passerbys.

The reality is that a lot of people slip through the cracks by losing their apartments or houses, but they don’t lose everything at once. Often, they don’t even lose their jobs when they lose their homes. The accoutrements of everyday life are not that hard to maintain — a $50 cellphone bill is a lot easier to pay than the rent is. Electronic interfaces for bill payments, along with free Web access at libraries and other places, make it entirely possible to hang onto something of a life infrastructure even when some bigger-picture essentials become impossible to maintain. Whether or not this represents misaligned priorities — should someone without a roof over their heads fritter away any time or money on notebook computers and blogs, even if they represent potential lifelines? — is a different debate.

At root, the reaction against seeming incongruities in homeless lifestyles stems from one thing: Fear. They’ll never articulate it, not even in their thoughts, but in the back of their minds, it’s there. Someone working 40, 50, 60 hours a week and still just barely making the mortgage payment and monthly bills looks at the unkempt guy with the “Please Help Me” sign in his hand, and some accessory item that doesn’t seem to fit with that look. And subconsciously, they take stock:

Gee, I have an ATM card too; and a cellphone that looks sorta like that, and I just bought the same kind of sneakers last week.

And suddenly, the assured separation between normal member of society and dreg of society blurs. And the fear is that it probably won’t take much — a layoff, a medical emergency — to fall off the normal rung down to the dreg. Those visual cues set that off. Thus, the hostile rationalization, to reassure that the precipice isn’t really that close, and that the everyday weltanschauung that gets one through another cubicle-contexted day is functional.

So, the next time you think you’ve cracked the case when it comes to homeless people, stop for a second and think about what you’re really focusing on. You don’t have to dig into your pocket for spare change, but you also don’t have to develop a mental armor just to safeguard your own self-image.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 06/25/2006 10:15:58 AM
Category: Internet, Tech, Society | Permalink | Feedback (4)