4.09.2012

masked citizens on the march

secondhand Venetian mask, soon for sale

Over the weekend walking along Glisan in northwest Portland, a friend and I watched a homeless person rolling down the lawn of the Beth Israel synagogue, after having thrown or dropped (I didn't see that part) an empty beer bottle, shattering it onto the sidewalk in front of us. He was wearing an earflap cap, a winter jacket, and a bulky backpack, and was having trouble keeping upright, off-balance like an ant carrying a beetle. He ended up on his knees at the edge of a crosswalk, playing with gutter twigs. Maybe he was high. Maybe he was drunk and high. But he was far enough off the sidewalk and into the street that he could have been hit by a car. I asked a young couple who'd been walking their dog and who had parked themselves across the street at a bus bench, their eyes moving between the homeless man, their dog, and their phones, if they'd called for help, and they had. The bearded man joked that he was clocking the 911 response time "which [wa]sn't good" and that he'd stopped and asked the man with the backpack if he needed help, and the man said he did. Other people passing by glanced at the crouched man but kept walking or driving, or so it seemed. In search of a restroom, my friend and I crossed into Couch Park, whose small inclines hid the street scene from view. When we returned to the intersection, the homeless man and the couple with the dog were gone, as if it had all been imagined.

When should one interfere in such a situation? Isn't it every person's right to escape life in some way—whether checking out through evening television watching, all-night video gaming, temporary intoxication, or permanent suicide? And what about regular, standard denial, that which one chooses to see or ignore, selective vision? Lately I've been reflecting on social fa├žades, mine and those of people close to me. Yes, I'm happy in my marriage. Of course I can afford this lifestyle. Oh how sad is that person's addiction, but certainly I don't have any of my own.

How are so many of us still pretending we don't know the U.S. economic recovery is valid for only the 1% or that the planet is well past the tipping point for massive climate restructuring and that contrary to neoliberal economic growth policies, "the earth is full?" If 1% of a society is living on champagne and caviar, while the rest is in varying degrees struggling to pay for food, gas, mortgage/rent, and health care while maintaining the mask that everything is proceeding as normal, comme il faut, whose ultimate fault is that? Yet if the 99% had been born in the one percent's shoes, would we act as greedy and deserving, all the pie for me? Yes. We're talking about human nature, after all. That's why we regulate.


Venetian mask close-up

It's time to take off the masks, wouldn't you say? Or else put on another.

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