Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Too Much Is Real

Beggars are back in force. Homeless sleeping on cardboard, too. People asking for spare change on the subway aren't as theatrical as they used to be (in the 80s, there was a panhandling clown with flaking greasepaint and the most depressed look I've seen on a human face), and a few need to project a bit louder, but they have returned. Problem is, there are more technological distractions than ever, so they are easily ignored. Twenty-first century begging is rough.

Expressions of poverty haven't changed, long blank stares, heads nodding, yellowed eyes and darkened teeth. Many are young; whether they're truly hurting or playing bum is hard to say. The unwashed-anarcho-vegan-ripped-clothes-holding-a-dog look is very retro, but so is everything else, so I can't fault them on style points. If you're white, early-20s, living on the street, I suppose this passes for your uniform. The only thing missing is class hatred. Back in the day, homeless anarchists would bait better-dressed pedestrians. "Spare some American Express?" they'd shout, "Yuppie scum" and "pig" part of the mix. The kids I saw this time were much too polite. Retro-living is increasingly content free.

Unlike Giuliani's regime, which tried to make the city North Korean clean, Bloomberg seems indifferent to the rise in beggars. Maybe, as with Park51, he's ceding them property rights. Maybe he doesn't give a shit. Or maybe Bloomberg considers them city mascots, identifiable characters in Manhattan's theme park. With city tourism at an all time high, street people provide some gritty color. Then again, given the national economy, destitution isn't strictly a New York phenomenon. Why travel when you can see poor people struggle at home?

Strip malls are eyesores when busy. When deserted and vacant, they are sad reminders of needless expansion. More and more Michigan strips malls are closed, For Lease signs a daily sight. Weeds grow through cracked, empty parking lots, beer cans strewn over broken glass. The one nearest me is especially depressing, an older Black man pushing a battered shopping cart filled with pop bottles across fading parking stripes. In (Nothing But) Flowers, David Byrne sings about Pizza Huts and shopping malls covered in daisies. Beautiful thought, but far from what I see around here. An economic neutron bomb went off, clearing everything save for the ugly architecture. I did spot two rabbits inside the former beautician school. Good place to hide from predators. Might prove cozy come winter.

I wonder how deep this current spate of Islamophobia runs. It's certainly vile on the surface, anti-Arab/Persian/Pashtun racism on shameless display. Yet I suspect that the majority of Americans aren't terribly disturbed by mosques and social centers. They've got enough to deal with as it is.

You really have to crank it up to get crazed about an Islamic conquest of the US. The fact that this will never happen must be dismissed, making room for bizarre concepts like Terror Babies, the demographic 9/11. Believing that Obama's a secret Muslim agent putting plans like this in action requires additional breaks from reality. Frankly, I don't see people trying to save their homes having time for this insanity. Maybe they're waiting for Mitt Romney to be elected, conserving energy for Mormon bashing. In America, everybody gets their turn.