Tuesday, March 15, 2011

tuesday afternoon reading

"there were times it was annoying to smell urine when I came outside on a hot morning. indeed the most powerful quotidian argument against tolerating the proximity of the unsheltered must be an olfactory one. I quote a neighbor: 'there's a distinct smell that you're talking about in the winter; there's this musty, moist smell of earth that's not necessarily an offensive smell like a fart; it's a sort of musty smell that pervades the room when a homeless person who's been camping in the rain and using the same sleeping bag for a month walks in.' other times the smell is simply excrement. in my parking lot, one such human calling card will continue to make itself known throughout an entire rainless sacramento summer. sheer necessity excuses some of these productions, and since the exterior of my building cultivates an abandoned look, I cannot blame those defecators who believe what they see. but my property offers considerable square footage in which to relieve one's bowels; and with greater frequency than the law of averages would predict, the spot of choice, which incidentally offers no advantage of shelter or modesty, lies immediately in front of my door. when I have had a bad day, I chalk this up to simple meanness. year after year, I take up my hose and my humility, such as it is, and ask myself why. a convenient answer is that there is no why, that my guest intended nothing in particular and thought of me no more than he will when he dies and his corpse stinks.
"how one characterizes this unpleasant topic is the best indicator of one's 'homeless politics.' some citizens dwell on it with a disgust sufficiently obsessive to border on relish. they see their homeless brothers and sisters as, in essence, walking (or shambling) filth factories. from such a presupposition, logic demands the isolation, or better yet the elimination, of the contagion. how far would they wish authority to go to make the homeless disappear I've never asked them, fearing that the answer would make me sad. as for the more militant advocates of homeless rights, they belittle the stinking actuality, and sometimes accuse those who point it out of belonging to the other camp.

"from this ideological division follow all others. if I set up and maintained a portable toilet in my parking lot (never mind that this experiment would be illegal), would the immediate neighborhood get cleaner or dirtier? in other words, if a local human need gets satisfied, is the result to attract people in need from other localities? people can disagree in good faith on this question...when I give a panhandler a beer on christmas because that is what he wants, do you approve or disapprove? now for another question: who should take care of people in need? should it be 'the government,' or charitable organizations, or 'the neighborhood'? and if these entities decline to accept the obligations you have defined for them, what then? and while you and I are disagreeing in good faith, what's happening to the woman the police carried off from my parking lot in a squad car who now has returned to spend the night in a wet blanket on the asphalt between my fence and my billboard because she can't find a better place? and whether she moves her bowels considerately in a bag of kitty litter, as do some of my homeless acquaintances, or makes a mess on my doorstep, how relevant should that be to whichever 'homeless policy' gets applied to her?"

--from "homeless in sacramento: welcome to the new tent cities" by william vollman in the march 2011 issue of harper's magazine

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