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In Which I Try Something Different, While Also Discussing The Plight of The Homeless and Socially Disadvantaged

May 15, 2009

The city is sunny and hot. Palm trees cast harsh shadows against the light-grey heated tarmac, while the heat radiates from the surrounding concrete buildings. Luxury yachts, fishing boats and pleasure craft cut through the turquoise water, throwing playful and carefree white splashes against a backdrop of million-dollar condominiums and luxury hotels.

Varying flavors of Mercedes, BMW, Lexus and the occasional Porsche and Aston Martin whiz through the narrow roads, their drivers and passengers cut off from the oppressive heat by tinted windows and air-conditioning.

This is the city that the tourists, whizzing by on rented mopeds with braided hair, wife-beaters and shorts, see; their pale, flabby thighs jostling as their scooter hits bumps in the road. Their eyes, protected by expensive polarized sunglasses, gaze in wonder at the luxury around them, thinking how lucky the people who live here are. It’s paradise, they must think.

But the city has another face.

This face is open to the world; yet wealthy eyes pass over it as if it doesn’t exist.

This alternate city is filled with poverty and garbage. Hard working families struggling to get by with honest labor, while gangsters and drug lords roll by in black Escalades with shiny chrome rims. The shine of the chrome, glimmering on the cracked inner-city roads, mirrors a disparity between the grunge of the streets, the honest ambitions of the lower class and the quick wealth and short life that the drug trade can give.

There are those who wander between these two worlds, those looking equally for a handout from the struggling lower class, the generous middle and upper class and those of all three classes whose apologizing faces and feeble “sorry” belies their inherent selfishness.

 A small, thin man wanders the streets, waving his arms in the air and muttering to himself. His back is hunched, his eyes earnest and wide, and while he is in this world his mind is somewhere else. He sticks his hands out at passing cars as if he expects change to be flung in the air, landing in his palm, but merely shuffles along as nothing appears, seemingly unfazed. At times he stands at the foot of a major bridge squeaking through a child’s plastic saxophone, as if busking for change. But change rarely appears.

There are similar stories to this man, hundreds even. There’s the man whose head is scarred by acid, from an accident years past. There’s a tall, muscular man, perpetually high who begs for the funds to support his heroin addiction, who is oftentimes seen shooting up with a syringe as he walks, barefoot, throughout the gritty streets. There’s another man, soft-spoken who quietly begs for change with shame in his eyes, though as the years have passed the shame has turned to sadness with a twinge of anger. There was once an old, frail man, bent almost ninety-degrees with age that shuffled around the major roads of the city, dressed in rags so dirty the original color had fled.

Some of these men walk around with an air of danger and instability. There was a pair of brothers who allegedly murdered a doctor. One brother died or disappeared. The other brother wanders the streets, his teeth rotten and yellow, eyes darting for the next passerby to accost. He has a fake friendliness, infused with an allusion of menace, while he asks for a mere “ninety cents” to get something to eat.  He has a good memory for faces, recognizing the same person on the street, in gas stations, in a mall parking lot. Those same people recognize him, but shy away for a multitude of reasons, not limited to disgust, fear and apathy.

But there are those who seem to not only enjoy their life on the street, but also have chosen that way of life.

One of these men is affectionately known as “Potcake”. He wanders the downtown street with a shopping cart filled with memories and adorned with hubcaps. Street children steal hubcaps from parked cars and sell them to Potcake. Potcake, in turn, sells them back to the original owners. He wanders shirtless, his massive gut leading the way, with sunglasses and headphones that are never plugged into anything. His cart frequently contains hand-written messages scrawled on a scrap of cardboard. These can range from “Potcake says don’t worry” to local political commentary to a photo of Obama and the word “hope” when Obama won the election.

Another more interesting and, in some ways, tragic story is a man called Andre. Andre was a schoolmate of my father in an elite, private high school. His immediate family consists of immensely wealthy Europeans. Andre got into drugs at a young age, eventually graduating to cocaine. His family shipped him off to Europe and to clinics across the United States at one time or another for rehab, but every time he would come home, work for a couple of months and fall off the wagon. He wanders the streets, arms scarred and at crooked angles from a machete incident with a local street vendor, talking to himself with a stray dog or two for company. Andre seems happy and content with his life on the street.

Happier, maybe, than many in comfortable homes and wealth-producing professions.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2009 8:36 pm

    I love your writing. This is really beautiful in a terribly sad sort of way.

  2. sleepwalkingwriter permalink*
    May 21, 2009 10:42 am

    Thanks! To be honest, your blog was my inspiration. I really love your style of writing, the narrative structure and your, seemingly, ability to remember and transcribe conversations you have. I wish I had that skill.

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