Wednesday, June 8, 2011

American Dignity

Living in a trailer park makes you acutely aware of the differences between
“the who’s who” of the “in crowd” and the discarded, forgotten throw-aways that are barely surviving on government assistance and a song.
On the 5th of each month, Mary pays her space rent,
her utilities (which are at a discounted rate because of her income),
and buys all her groceries from the clearance bin at Grocery Outlet.
The items are perfectly fine but they are also a glaring reminder for Mary that she is poor. Mary wears this label like she wears her linen blouse. It is her skin.
It’s her identity and the fact that she and her deceased husband worked their entire life, him for the government, accounts for very little now.
There at the clearance bin, she chooses cereal in torn boxes and peeled off labels, beans and Folgers’s coffee in dinted cans and day old bread.
After the essentials have been paid, she has less than 200 bucks a month
for living the American Dream. Which brings me to the all-important question:
How does one live it with American Dignity?

I passed Arnie this morning and he was cleaning the grime from under his fingernails with a dollar bill. That same dollar bill he had to ask a stranger for just minutes before. He was set-up in “his corner” near Peet’s under an over-hang.
The rain was coming down hard and his flannel sleeping bag, frayed on all edges, was getting wet.
“Got any change this morning, lady?” he asked all the while continuing to clean his nails.
“I don’t, but I’m heading for coffee. Would you like a cup?”

“Sure would. Black.”

I noted something in his eyes that I hadn’t noticed before and I walked on.
When I returned with a large black cup of steaming coffee and a lemon poppy seed muffin, he looked at me for a moment…
“You’re the real deal, aren’t you?”
He said.

You know what?
I am. And so is Arnie.
And what I noticed in his eyes that morning was his deeply buried hunger for dignity. He once told me he got kicked out of The Hotel
when he stopped in late one night to use the bathroom to shave.
I guess that makes total sense to the upper crust. I mean, what would that look like if The Hotel guests saw him shaving there once a month?
Appalling, I ‘m sure.
Perhaps they’d lose business.

Imagine, though, if hotels, restaurants, public places actually allowed Arnie,
just once a month, to shave his face?
Better yet, imagine if all American towns actually had public restrooms equipped with toilets, hand soap, towels, warm water and then Arnie wouldn’t even need to choke on his pride and ask to shave in a hotel bathroom.
Imagine American Dignity.

Arnie’s the real deal like Mr. Anaya from space 10 because he served his country in the Vietnam War. They both did their patriotic duty. They both watched their friends die. Children too. They both saw blood and guts at an early age.
They both got messed up from doing so. Mr. Anaya ended up in a trailer park, drinking past, present and future pain away, and Arnie ended up on the streets of Monterey. Both are outcasts of a society that blames them for their plights and misfortunes.

Okay, I’m just a girl from the park, but I think there’s something inherently wrong with this picture.


1 comment:

  1. from Nina- sorry it is not taking my comment so i have to do it as "anonymous".

    Makes me think of a time in our history, not long ago, when we didn't all have plumbing and there were public bath houses that charged 5c for a bar of soap, use of a towel, and a shower. We take it all for granted now. At least, some of us do. Homeless Vets are America's heartbreak. thanks for taking care of Arnie, Val.