Friday, February 13, 2009

So I am in Las Vegas for work...

and I am in a cab going from one early appointment to the next. I am at a stop light. I look over to my right, where this enormous patch of land is cordoned off by chain-link fence, ready for Steve Wynn or somebody to build the next $2 billion-dollar hotel complex and I see this rustling on the corner, right next to this fence.

A guy pushes back some blankets and gets up and it hits me that he slept there. He was maybe 50, with grey hair, kind of wiry build. And he moves his backpack out from under the blanket, where I presume he was keeping it maybe wrapped around his ankle for safekeeping. And then what did he do? He made his bed.

Something about the sight of that was the loneliest feeling in the whole world. Safety is a chain-link fence on one side of you. And dignity is taking the time to smooth out and fold up the blankets that keep you warm during a wintery desert night.

27 comments:

Creme de la Mode said...

It reminds me of that little Indian kid in the monastery in "Eat Pray Love" that only had one thing to wear, but he washed it every single night...

...I'm an ungrateful wretch who is going to make her bed now.

Kathryn said...

You're breaking my heart.
I'm not being sarcastic, in case that wasn't clear.

my favorite and my best said...

how was the decor of his "place"?

Northern Westchester Home said...

Taking care of where we live and what we have, no matter how minimal, is the easiest and most satisfying way for us keep control of our lives. And kudos to the homeless man for having the wisdom to stay or move to a warm place.

*moggit girls said...

How sad. What a contrast Vegas can be...

Anonymous said...

I fear this is what we are coming to as a nation.

That is not right.

No one should have to live in such a way.

I thought we were the richest nation in the world.

Why do we do this to our own people?

Anonymous said...

I was homeless for several months in my early twenties. Lived in my car. It didn't happen because of drugs or alcohol, just a few idiotic financial decisions and the fact that I didn't have parents I could run home to when I screwed up.

My belongings became so important to me. I clung to them because it was all I had in my life that was normal. I was able to work hard and turn things around - with a huge thanks to a few people that gave me some critical breaks. They did not know I was homeless. I was ashamed. So very ashamed. My friends and acquaintances did not know. It was amazingly easy to hide.

I stole for the first and last time in my life. I stole food from a large grocery store. I was hungry and I needed to save the few dollars I had for gas money - it kept me safe and warm and got me to that new minimum wage job.

Homeless priorities and home owner priorities are vastly different and strangely the same. #1) Safety #2) Shelter #3) Food #4) Cash Flow #5) Cleanliness / Appearances

Musette said...

Sad in so many obvious ways. But beautiful in how he manages to maintain his dignity in the face of such adversity.

I was just griping about how I cannot afford a bespoke coverlet for my new bedroom. Think I will shut up.

Kara said...

That epitomizes the contrast of Vegas entirely. So very sad and what Northern Westchester Home stated "Taking care of where we live - no matter how minimal" resonated with me. My current living situation is less than idyllic (living with my mom at 36 years old after my husband of 9 years has decided he no longer wants to be married) and I have somehow crammed *only my important shit* into a very small room. When I start feeling pissy about walking away from the home I remember two things:

A)I have a roof over my head
B) We purchased the home from the rat bastards folks and I always HATED it.

Then I usually go and have a glass of wine.

K.Line said...

Way to put things in perspective...

rerun said...

just reminds me to close my eyes, click my heels three times, and say "there's no place like home, there's no place like home..." be it ever so humble. safe travels.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you share experiences like this too -- thank you, this has impacted my day and much more

Decorina said...

LV is about contrasts. And now it is everywhere. I really feel for the homeless here in Denver - it is so cold. And so many families.

Lovely post, thanks.

muranogirl said...

what a contrast indeed.
Having spent the last 22 years traveling to Italy to visit family, I am impressed with their lack of homeless and mentally ill on the streets. In keeping with their pride, and perhaps general compassion and Catholic guilt in general, they take care of their own.
While I was in Safeway two weeks ago I witnessed a young man stealing food. Our eyes met and I just looked the other way.

Anonymous said...

it's not just vegas. sf has long attracted a large homeless populations but our current mix includes a lot of newly homeless. last week 1 saw a 70 year old woman and her 5oish son sitting atop their belongings under the division street overpass. they looked stunning and weary.

Anonymous said...

i am a huge fan of your blog--and today's post sealed it.
thanks

susie q said...

Thank you for being real. It's fun to eat, sleep, drink decor. But, this is real life.

Kwana said...

Thanks for keeping it real. It's these moments that humble us and keep us grateful and human.

Iheartfashion said...

I saw similar in Boston this week, where it was 30 degrees. Makes one grateful, to say the least.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it always in noticing the details that the big picture somehow comes into focus.

Anonymous said...

You should read Peter Singer on morality. He makes the case that all surplus income after we take care of our most basic needs should be given to the poor. One can make a comment about the political economy implications of this, but he's a ethics philosopher, and the point he's making is about ethics. This story isn't about "putting things in perspective" - it's about how do we reconcile our conspicuous consumption with our sympathy for people who have nothing and are living in misery.

I'm actually curious to hear how people in this community react. I can recommend some Peter Singer articles if you'd like.

-Chase

Anonymous said...

Sorry, one more thing.

For the sake of constructive comments that isn't just about philosophical ethics [though such a discussion is much more real and tangible than the first word, "philosophical," is colloquially believed to be], I suggest checking out kiva.org. I don't put all my surplus income into projects for the poor, even though I agree with Singer's position, but I do put a fair amount of money into Kiva. They allow individuals to get involved in microfinancing, which is a great way to help people in other countries get their own businesses going.

-Chase

Anonymous said...

I worry when the reaction to learning about a 50 year-old homeless man is:

"Thanks for the info! That makes me grateful for what I have (and I'm going to cling to it tighter)."

Maybe we should consider the fundamental problems in our society that make such a situation possible.

No one should ever get to that point.

It is one thing to be a young 20-something who makes some mistakes, but it is heartbreaking for a 50 year old to be living on the street.

That is not supposed to happen, and the fact that it does tells us there is a fundamental problem in our society.

And our best reaction isn't "okay, I'm grateful that's not me," but rather, how the hell can we change this, and make damn sure it stops happening--now. Because I'm sick of it.

s. said...

Multi-millionaire friend has a brother who's schyzophrenic (sp?). He often runs away from his care facility, pan handles for drinking money and sleeps on the street for a week or two before returning to his beautiful care facility.

Each homeless case is individual and needs to be treated as such. Financial issues, addiction, mental issues... each requires a different approach.

My response is to donate to a few little, effective organizations that work with a small number of folk to address the root causes of homelessness, and then also few that provide the much-needed stop-gaps.

Joann said...

My husband has been the director of a homeless shelter for over 20 years. 60% of the men in the shelter are working...they hang flyers on your doors, they sell soda and peanuts at your sporting events, they work part time at fast food joints...they get in line at day job places at 4 AM, they go through dumpsters while you sleep collecting your soda and beer cans and trek miles and miles to sell them for pennies. They also carry everything they own on this earth with them everywhere they go...and if that sounds bad, imagine a woman with one or more children...or how about menstruating and no supplies let alone a bathroom. Homeless people are the hardest working people on earth.

Meagan said...

You should see the homeless in Washington DC. I worked there for a short period and will always remember how many people were with out in out nation's capitol.

Also I was in Vegas this weekend and when my friends and I went to park the car in the underground parking, we looked to our left and saw a man that had made a bed in a dark corner. Is was really sad to see, but at least he found shelter.

Thanks for the post. I think this whole down turn in the economy is a way of making us humble and to notice those in need around us.

melissa said...

Kiva.org is a fantastic answer to anyone
looking for a way to help, without their contributions
being swallowed by the costs of running a bricks and mortar kind of charitable corporation. Fantastic idea
along the lines of micro loans made by the Grameen
Bank which gives power to the people to effect a really
tangible change for themselves and more broadly their own communities.