There are these peculiar characters on the subway--unwashed, derelict apparitions who seem to have worn their clothes for several years without ever changing them. Often a pungent body odor shrouds them, they have long beards, leathery skin, and sometimes they sit by themselves murmuring in a low voice for hours on end. They could just be eccentrics. They could have jobs, and a family, and a home. However, it seems unlikely.
I learned to call them bums. Bums are people who I’m sure weren’t born bums. For some reason they fell out of our class-system to constitute a residual group of socially outcast. Out of my modern anxiety (fueled by a class struggle which I’m told I’ve been fighting in) I wonder: can that happen to anyone? Can anyone suddenly descend to be a bum? Even me?
There are many signs that it might happen at some point: I am being told that the rich will get richer and the poor poorer. I’m not rich, ergo, I will be poorer. Rents are increasing. My boss tells me my work is sub-par and they might have to let me go. Nothing in my education has given me the skills to do something that builds wealth. All I know about wealth is how to desire it.
Here I am, with each train ride losing a bit of the status and sense of dignity my parents released me into the world with. Everyday I’m a little more jaded, a little older, a little more tired, and a little poorer until one day I’ll be out of money and out of my apartment.
What would I do if that happened? I’d choose Canal Street station. I’d live there, read, write, feed the rats. I wouldn’t want to beg, but I’d probably have to. I wonder what my shtick would be--or maybe no shtick, maybe I’d be straight-forward. Hi, my name is Jack, I don’t sing any songs or play any types of instruments. I’m just looking for some change to pick up a sandwich at the deli.
Sometimes--probably daily--I’d go to the toilet at McDonald’s or in the public library. I’d ride the train a lot, but not during rush hour. I would wait for the off times, because I’d travel with a bulky laundry cart with all my belongings inside. Police would constantly bother me, other homeless people would probably try to steal my stuff, and the occasional self-righteous citizen would tell me to get a job.
I wonder if I’d develop conspiracy theories. If I did, it would be an outrageous one nobody ever thought of. Something that rings true but is a paranoid and complicated explanation of a societal phenomenon. Like this: the price of higher education is rising exponentially, not because its value has increased, but because more and more people have gained access to it and dilute its value. The value of an academic degree will be reestablished by raising prices and barring the lower segments of the population from it. At the root of it all: aliens.
I’d probably have a homeless girlfriend that weighs 400 lbs, sits in publicly owned places, and yells into her cell phone telling her other boyfriend how everyone at the social security agency hates her because they feel threatened by her.
Like this I would get older and older and probably deteriorate pretty quickly.
At some point I would probably get some sort of cancer; ear cancer from the subway noise or butt cancer from the subway seats--or I would get stabbed by my 400-pound girlfriend. Then, I’d be incinerated and then I’d be floating in the sky above the Tri-State-Area raining down on American roofs and into American gutters which are being cleaned by parents who work and send their children to college so one day they can have it better than them.
Now that I mention it, I’m curious. What does happen to the homeless after years and years of living outside? Usually, I simply stop seeing them. Does that mean they found a home? Did they disintegrate? Did they go to homeless heaven? A place where they can lie in the sun all day, where a lot of passersby give them money, where the police leaves them alone, and where they can BM wherever they want.
I like to believe they were able to find a place, get out of debt, and become happy. Then again, if they are not the bottom of the heap anymore, who is?