Escape from the Cult of Personality

Well, I hadn't planned on posting today, but after I read jnccarol's comments to the last post, I felt the need to defend myself. To wit:

jnccarol said...
You know,
you've gone on long enough without comment in this vein. Who made you arbiter of
morality? The sanctimonious tone of your ranting is disappointing. After all
you've been through, you still don't get it. It's not up to you to decide who's
'good' and who's not.You've maligned people unfairly here. I remember a recent
rant about Brad Pitt the day after I had read he was in Africa. I'm certainly not
gonna argue that Paris Hilton deserves regard or respect, but your tone is just

First, jnccarol, thanks for reading and commenting. Rest assured, however, that Paris isn't my usual target; just the one that I happened to read about after meeting with all those dedicated, hard-working people at Joseph's House. A target of convenience, if you will.

No, I'm not an arbiter of morality. It's not up to me who's good or bad -- the position of God is already filled by a very qualified individual. In point of fact, I ain't a saint. I'm not a Good Person. I've done and seen things that would make your hair fall out. In clumps. Things that you'll never read about here. I'm definitely not qualified to say who's Naughty or Nice. But I know self-absorbed, overindulgent, churlish behavior when I see it; the kind of behavior that always makes the headlines. The kind of behavior that makes you wonder if the perpetrators have had any positive adult influence at all. And it's a damned shame that no one will speak out against such behavior more. Or more loudly.

I just think it's sad and not a little stupid that we have millions more teachers, cops, firefighters, soldiers, clergy, builders, charitable volunteers and others of good will and clear vision that we never hear about, but a minority of vain, spoiled brats that we can't get away from.

And lest you think I'm down on all celebrities, take note: there are many that actually use their exalted status to help make the world a better place. Paul McCartney and Al Gore stump for the environment. Bruce Springsteen traditionally gives large donations to charities of the towns he plays. Johnny Carson was known as a very generous donor. There was an NBA player recently (I wish I could remember his name off the top of my head) that made the news for giving a very large sum for homelessness efforts*. Trouble is, he was only mentioned once, for doing something good. But Paris' press rolls on and on.

Meanwhile, there are teachers in Ness' school that never get any thanks of recognition for helping make my daughter so smart, unless Mama and I as parents thank them personally. Sad, that.

In a perfect world, the cult of personality would pit its power against society's ills and makes people's lives a little better, instead of sucking their adulation so dry there's nothing left for the true role models of society.

That, too, is sad.

*I wanted to blog about this guy, but I got tied up and couldn't get to a Web-capable computer.



Meanwhile, Back in Paris...

On the heels of my last post, I thought we'd take a look at the flip side of the coin.

Hear of a chick named Paris Hilton? Sure you have. Wish I hadn't. The News & Record featured a story on her Friday about her efforts to be Taken Seriously as an entrepreneur and an "artist" (her word, certainly not mine*).

Having read everything of substance and import in the paper, I took a moment to scan the article for some mention in all of that self-hype of any good this woman has done for society, particularly the poor. Hmm, mention of her expensive cars. Mention of her expensive furs. Mention of how she hasn't taken any money from her rich family (yeah, right!) But no mention of donating to charities, or volunteering any of that expanse of time to helping out, or even serving on a charitable foundation. No mention of how she hasn't even looked down long enough to notice the poor people she's walking all over every day. No mention of her even toning down the massive juggernaut of her own ego and self-promotion.

In other words, typical Paris Hilton: spoiled and selfish.

So why am I letting this get under my skin? After all, I wasn't surprised to see this creature not helping wnyone other than herself, and there are a lot of Paris Hiltons out there. Why should this bother me so?

Becuase it absolutely kills me to see people like the GIHN volunteers, the people at Mt. Zion, and the people toiling in the hot sun at a site for Habitat for Humanity breaking their backs to help others and getting no publicity for it while spoiled brats like Paris Hilton constantly pump hours and millions into inflating their own superciliousness, and the media won't shut up about them. Frankly, it makes me sick.

I suppose it's just as well. It ensures that there are always normal people like myself**, Cara Michele and Kevin Barbieux ready to stick a pin in the zeppelin of such overinflated self-importance.

*I oughta know; I am one.

** Well, relatively speaking...


Joseph's House

In East Greensboro, a section of town sadly long used to being bereft of attention and hope, some of each landed here today in spades.

Joseph's House, a faith-based organization dedicated to helping homeless young men, opened up a house under the auspices of Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Mama and I went to the grand opening, where the house directors and other officials from the church gave tours and discussed how Joseph's House would fit into the overall efforts against homelessness in the Triad.

As I looked around the house, which is an older style brick home set in a neighborhood that still showed some of it's 1950s-1960s pedigree, I marveled at how nice everything looked. The renovations, decorations and setup were all very well done. The kitchen was spectacular, and made me envy having one like it*. According to one of the program directors, the initial capacity is 8 youths, with possibility for expansion later. The church plans to open a like setup for young women later on in another house.

A look through the brochure I got gives a good overview of the services Joseph's House plans to provide: not just shelter and food, but life skills training, counseling and case management, job training and substance abuse treatment and counseling referrals, and other such services intended to keep these young men from falling back into the hell of homelessness. I asked the directors if they had linked to community services, and of course they have, with close communication with such entities as Guilford JobLink and GTCC.

But obviously, Joseph's House (I never did discover the source of the name) provides something more. Hope, yes it provides that. Shelter and a hot meal too. But the real provision came to me as I was wandering about the house: dignity. It's tragic that any youth in America has to be homeless at all, but if it is to be, then at least there are places like Joseph's House that aren't one of the homeless-shelter-horror-stories we always hear about, but clean, safe, decent and able to help. Places that treat you like a human being who's going through a tough time instead of a lower life form that dared to slither in the back door. Places that treat you with dignity.

More importantly, it's one more front in the fight against homelessness, and a gap that has long needed to be filled. There is a pressing need not only in the Triad, but all over America for temporary housing for homeless singles. While lots of attention is being paid to homeless families -- as well it should -- we should not forget the young men and women who find themselves also fallen through the weave of the American tapestry onto the cold, hard pavement of homelessness and who subsequently have to sometimes do the unspeakable to survive.

As Martha Stewart is wont to say: It's a Good Thing.

Suffice it to say, not only did Mt. Zion Baptist step up to the plate, it swung and connected. Hard.

*I still wouldn't like cooking, but at least I'd be in a nice setup...



Requiem for Pluto

Very tired today (on my feet -- literally -- for over seven hours) so just a real short post. Kinda bummed, too: read in the paper this morning that Pluto is no longer a planet.*

I know, it has nothing to do with poverty in the Triad. But for a space buff from way back, it kinda hurts, y'know. I followed the debate on whether or not to demote the little guy; I was pulling for him.

*By the by, that's not me being quoted in the article, although seeing the moon, Saturn and Jupiter through a telescope still gives me goosebumps. Best show in the universe, and it's free.



Situation Normal

Over the past few months, we’ve been slowly putting our lives back together, and with that has come my grappling of the concept of the benchmark for “normal” is. In other words, when could we consider things as having gotten back to normal?

I’ve discovered, to some dismay, that the line between normal and abnormal keeps shifting in response to our circumstances. I suppose in a way, that’s a Good Thing because it keeps me from being too strict, but I’m a creature of boundaries. I like to know what is and what is not.

When we were homeless, what I deemed would be “normal” was when we got our own living space and a TV to watch. When we got those things, “normal” became when I would get the car back and we’d be able to conduct business, look for work and shop like everybody else. Now that I have my Trusty Steed back, “normal” has shifted again, to securing a better job and maybe having the cable turned back on*. No doubt once I get those things, “normal” will redefine itself yet again.

Maybe it’s just a manifestation of my own greed. I hope not. If losing my home has taught me anything it’s to be thankful for what you have; it could all go away in an instant.

Still, I’d like to hit some semblance of normal, so I can finally know when to say “Okay, that’s enough; I’m done chasing. I just want to maintain what we have.”

Maybe I should just consider the Big Three -- home, car and job -- the benchmark and consider everything else gravy. But then there are school supplies, emergency savings, replacement costs, repair costs, and the like. And we’ll need an Internet connection at some point to more efficiently carry job searches and research. And Mike’s preparing for college, meaning he’ll need financial aid and a laptop. Ness is growing at a prodigious rate, so clothing is a factor. And I’d like to start setting aside money to buy my own house one day. And so forth and so on…

And I admit to a little gadget envy; I’d like to lay my hands on an MP3 player. Maybe LCD monitors for the computers.

And all of the above takes foldin’ money.

Well, at least there is a line, now. I guess I’ll just watch it shift awhile longer and trust that I’ll know that I’ve crossed over into Normal when I see Abnormal back over my shoulder. Whenever that is.

*That needs to happen before Battlestar Galactica airs its season premiere, or I’m gonna be real upset…



Alright, I ran out of ideas for catchy post titles. Don't have a cow...

• Avolokitesvara submitted an excellent essay in the Comments section of "An Earnest Young Man". I happen to agree with most of it, but even if you don't, check it out. It's a good read, and there might be food for thought in there.

• Over the past few days, the News & Record has published some articles dealing with the homeless here in the Triad. I have to give them their props; they're all over this homeless thing (including giving Your Author his 15 minutes...) I haven't been able to link to them , but check them out. One ran yesterday, 8/20; the other ran last week and includes the latest homeless count for summer (742 here in Guilford County; a low number, but people move around more in warm weather, neh? So they're harder to count).

• I want to take a moment and mention the friends I made long before we were homeless and/or poor. they're the most excellent bunch. You've all had the privilege of meeting Jay -- who years ago put up with my attempts to kill his role-playing characters every week (hee, hee!) -- but there are many others I can't name due to lack of time and permission. They say that no man is an island, and my longtime bunch made sure that I was always fimrly a peninsula. Thanks, guys! (And I haven't forgotten those loans; I promise.)


To See Time Fly

Holy Moley! Has it really been a week and a half already?!

At least this time I know where the time's gone. Since I got my Trusty Steed back, I've been running around getting all the things done that would've been impossible to get done on the bus. yes, gas prices are through the roof (actually, over the past few days they've dropped considerably -- I hope it's not the calm before the storm) but it's such a rapturous feeling knowing that the distance between points A and B is only a matter of a press of the gas pedal.

Still, I do feel guilty sometimes. I'm only contributing to the traffic and pollution around here; and the Steed uses the type of fuel that makes al-Qaeda's accountants rub their bloodstained hands together with glee. Wish I could put an electric or multifuel engine into it, but that's a notion that'll have to live on Fantasy Island awhile longer.



An Earnest Young Man

I met another homeless person the other day in Wal-Mart. Ken's* personal downfall came as a result of drugs and a subsequent prison term. He is now out and clean, but his problem is one faced by many ex-offenders: one look at the fact that he's been to prison, and potential employers run in the opposite direction.

Still, he's trying to stay positive. He seems to have earnestly sworn off drugs, and is trying very hard to put his life back together with the help of his church and many friends. I tried to point him in the direction of programs that would help him find work, even as an ex-offender. One thing I did make sure to point out to him, however: while we were talking, he kept seeing people that he knew. I let him know that that was a sign right there; he's got a built-in network for help and information, he just needed to tap into it. He has a wife and child who are staying with friends; right now, he himself is staying with friends. He's tried the homeless shelter route, but -- like many others -- have found the rules to be...flexible, depending on who's asked to follow them.

The one worry he admitted to having what not knowing what to do if he couldn't find work soon. I told him to keep at it and to start asking organizations or employers that turn him down to point him in the direction of others that could help. Ken remindes me of Tim, the man I met under the bridge. They both have in common a will to keep going even when the deck is quite stacked against them. Of course, that can be the greatest weapon against their circumstances that they've got.

*He gave me his full name, but I told him I'd only be using his first name, since this'll be on the Web.


Mobilis in Mobili

I now have my Trusty Steed back. Callou! Callay!

To be sure, there are still a few things that have to be worked on (for one thing, the mechanics didn't change out the plugs and wires like I asked. See if I ever go back there again...) but at least we're mobile. The daily games of hurry-up-and-wait are over. And I no longer have to suffer 1) taxi drivers who think they know better than me where I live, despite the fact they weren't born in this country; 2) nutcases who get on the bus and either ramble on about nothing and everything despite my being obviously buried in a newspaper, or muttering dangerously to themselves while asserting that they're being stalked; and 3) young punks with more hormones than intelligence who only really ride the bus to see how dispruptive they can be, knowing that no one will seriously challenge them.

Yes, all these have happened.

But no more. Now, if I can just remember where I saw that bookshelf being thrown out...



Attack of the Little Darlings

Despite my appalling ineptitude at retail, I have to admit, working in it is a golden opportunity to observe human behavior. It's like going out with a crew from Wild Kingdom; you watch certain behavior for awhile, and you come to expect those behaviors in a goodly sample of the shopping population.

Wonder what Jane Goodall would think?

Sometimes it's actually kind of fun watching the older ladies come in and stroll around, gabbing with their friends, then almost in unison stop, regard something on the shelf and intone "Oh, that's pretty!"

Or watching some suburban wife go through the store on a decorating/spending tear, while her husband (who apparently is the one actually footing the bill for the trip), trails behind her with his hands jammed into his pockets and a sheepish look on his face. Yeah, buddy; I see you [cue whiplash sound].

But there is one behavior I'll never understand. Worse, it sets my teeth on edge every time I see it. It usually involves a mother, one or more kids, and the mom's friend(s). While the women shop, at least one of the kids -- usually the youngest -- will start crying or screaming or perpetrating some action that should fall somewhere east of What Mom Considers Proper Behavior. But do the women in charge stop to take care of the situation? Nooooo! They tra-la-la along, completely tuning out the child in question, who might actually be in some sort of trouble, or disobeying rules.

Excuse me, but since when does a shower curtain pattern take precedence over taking care of your kid? If you're just going to ignore him, why did you bother going through all that morning sickness and labor pain to have him in the first place?

Understand, I'm not talking about a situation where Mom is dealing with something equally urgent or important (like another of the kids), so the squeaky wheel has to wait his turn for the grease. I'm talking about situations where Mom is so absorbed in that blouse that the kid's needs have fallen completely off the radar.

And it's even worse when the kids are willingly acting like complete savages and tearing through the store as though it were their own personal playground and making enough noise to hear them on the opposite side of the place, but golly-gee, aren't these throw rugs just too darling?

It. Drives. Me. Crazy.

And yes, I do have room to talk. From an early age, Ness has been taught that there is acceptable public behavior, and there is unacceptable public behavior. The latter always draws a swift and harsh response from Daddy. Therefore, she conducts herself properly in public, and even looks sideways at kids that don't.

Just as my mother and mother-in-law did for us. And their mothers did for them. I still remember as a kid the rare occasions when I would act up in a store. My grandmother (God rest that dear woman's soul) was a large woman, but as I discovered the hard way, she could move like lightning, using a switch the same way Toshiro Mifune used a samurai sword. I quickly learned that there were things I wasn't allowed to do in public.

But kids today* don't seem to have been taught those lessons. they go racing through the store, or screaming, or having tantrums, and generally acting like little barbarians while Mom (and surprisingly, sometimes Dad) tra-la-la's through a wonderland of savings. And there's nothing I can do except smile vacantly and fight down the urge to show the little hellions another use for all those belts on that rack over there.

Then again, what good would that do? It's not entirely their fault. I blame the parents. Mom and Dad should be teaching the kids the difference between right and wrong public behavior. But they're not. And that's a damnably sad commentary on our modern society**.

*God, I sound like some old curmudgeon in a rocking chair, don't I? I also catch myself increasingly going, "I can remember when..."

**Oh, there I go again...



I think one of the worst thingsd about being poor is the loss of independence. When you have little means of your own, you're always depending on somebody else to help you through your own existence. Sometimes, those somebody elses let you down utterly. And at other times, they have agendas, experiences and levels of intelligence that are at loggerheads with yours.

For example, being still bereft of vehicle, I'm dependent on the buses and taxis around here to get most places. But the buses only travel specific routes at specific times. If I have business somewhere the bus doesn't travel, or at a time the bus doesn't travel, I have to make a choice of either not going to that place or doing a lot of walking. While it may seem that I have a choice (walking or not going at all), that choice is still being driven by GTA's agenda.

It's even worse with the taxis. Good luck getting one in Greensboro on a weekend night, or when it's raining. And for some reason I've yet to fathom, most of the taxi drivers are from Parts Unknown, and speak very broken English. We won't get into the cost; that's a rant for another time.

But even though there is more choice of destination with a taxi (within financial reason), there again you're riding on someone else's agenda. The taxi drivers around here are all about picking you up-getting you where you want to go-dropping you off-getting the money-going to the next pickup. All at the utmost speed they can muster without flipping the car over. Sometimes, they don't let little things like directions get in the way of that agenda.

Take, for instance, the...interesting ride I had last night. After doing some grocery shopping at Wally World, I called a cab to take me home (it's not too far a distance if I'm empty-handed or traveling lightly, but I had a big load to carry and the bus comes no closer than a mile and a half away.) One showed up inside of fifteen minutes. Good. I told him the address to go to and he actually understood. Good. Then, remembering that I only had a twenty dollar bill in my wallet*, I asked him if he could break it. The replay was no. Not Good. Okay, so we had to pull up at the nearest convenience store so I could dash in and buy something cheap enough to allow me to break the twenty while not dipping into my cab fare. Meanwhile, the driver was more than happy to wait, to the tune of .40 a minute, or something like that.

Anyway, with a two-liter bottle of Coke in hand, I soon got back in the cab and we took off. We hadn't gone more than three seconds away from the convenience store when the driver asked me, in some indeterminate accent if I was going to the north part of the road, or the south part. I told him north, whereupon he immediately proceeded to head for the south part. I told him north again, and he insisted, in that indeterminate accent, that we were on the north part.
(Sigh.) This guy drives a cab, and he doesn't know north from south. Son of a... Anyway, too tired to argue, I told him to simply turn onto the road and follow it till it ends (where my apartment is).

Of course, he immediately proceeds to drive past the proper turn. When I protested, he tried to make a U-turn to get back onto the proper road. Making a U-turn on this particular road is just plain suicide, day or night. Fighting the urge to smack him in the back of the head, I told him not to bother, just proceed up the road we were on until I told him to turn. Then I made a mental calculation as to how much extra this lackwit was costing me. Hmm, nearly ten bucks for a seven-buck cab ride. Worth getting him in trouble with his boss over? Maybe, but I'll decide tomorrow. I'm too tired now.

When he reached the proper intersection, I had him turn left, fully expecting him to turn right, but at least he was able to follow simple directions. In this manner, I reached the apartment in a few minutes. He told me only to give him eight dollars since he missed his turn. I was going to point out that cab rides from Wal-Mart to my apartment were usually only seven dollars, but why stick a needle in the bubble of his I'm-a-good-driver-delusion.

Besides, I was way too tired to argue. I'll get the buck back on payday. Don't spend it all in one place, bud.

*I'd very much like for somebody to explain why ATMs and cash-with-purchase functions do everything in increments of $20. I've seen many a time in my life where I only had $10, or even $19.95 in my checking account and therefore couldn't touch any of it. Very frustrating...




Well, I actually survived a big double whammy: the store held a night owl/early bird sale (one of our most popular ones) on the same weekend as North Carolina's Tax-Free Weekend.

It was a helluva week. 32 hours, and I took on what amounted to an extra shift. And I found out the hard way how many people are in the Triad because I swear most of them were in that store at one point or another.

However, to anyone reading this and looking for work: if you're the type that hates to leave work undone (like me), don't go into retail. the work is never finished, and you'll simply end up tearing your hair out in frustration.



The Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer

Summer began on June 21, but SUMMER began this week. I'm not talking barbeques, lounging out by the pool and catching fireflies in the evening. I'm talking heat, heat and more heat. Days so hot fire hydrants chase dogs. So hot if you spit, it evaporates before hitting the sidewalk. So hot you drink a bucket of hot coals to cool off.

I'm talking crazy heat.

And guess who's had to be out in it?

I've had a full work schedule this week: over 30 hours. And even though I've been going in in the early morning, it's still about 80 degrees* on the way to the bus stop. Monday and Wednesday were okay; I timed it so that I basically got to the stop the same time the bus did, to minimize my exposure. But Tuesday, I was treated to the sight of the bus peeling away from the stop down the road as I got to the intersection.

Okay, in order to get to work on time, there's nothing for it but to walk. Slowing to a stroll to keep from sweating and soaking my work shirt, I started on the last 2 miles to the store.

Now understand, I overheat very easily. And sweat in prodigious amounts. And I can't stop until I've been sitting under an airflow for awhile. So suffice it to say that before I'd even gotten halfway to work, I looked like I'd just been pulled out of a lake. Found out later that in the hour it took me to get there, the temperature had gone from 80 degrees to 500 degrees.

Okay, I'm exaggerating. But it sure felt like that.

And you know somewhere in this city, some guys had to have been pouring tar and rueing it.

The silver lining here was that I got to work a bit early, so I tried frantically to cool off and stop sweating enough to not drive any customers out the door. No one fled from me during the day, so I guess I was somewhat successful.

According to the Weather Channel's site, it's only been in the mid-90's each day. Sure hasn't felt like it.

I ain't complaining, though. This time last year, we were sweltering in our old place and praying either for rain or air conditioning, whichever came first. At least our apartment has central air. Please, God, don't let that A/C unit fail.

Can't help but think about Tim and the other homeless souls out there in this heat. I'm sure most of them have enough awareness to find a way to get out of the heat, and I see that some rain is on the way, but I hope the authorities are watching something other than their own navels and are prepared to help, just in case.

*About 27 degrees C, for our international friends. Sounds a lot colder than it actually is, neh?


The Fear of Becoming

Just had an excellent confab with cara michele, where we held forth on a variety of topics. She's one of the most compassionate people I've ever met, and has got to be one of the smartest people in the Triad. Why we don't have her and others like her in public office, I don't know; seems we'd be all the better for it.

She also gave me quite a bit of food for thought. We discussed how homeless people (and to a slightly lesser extent, poor people) are perceived, usually with some degree of revulsion. Such perceptions seem to come from a sense that the homeless' lowly state has somehow knocked them right off the scale of humanity; as a result, they are often shunned, ignored, sneered at, snarled at, and otherwise treated (dare I say it) as something subhuman.

And I'm no angel in that regard. Remember, before becoming homeless myself earlier this year, I avoided obviously-homeless people, too. I refused to give change to panhandlers, and shook my head at the sign-carriers on the curb. Yes, I had a hard lesson to learn, too. And despite the harshness of the lesson, it needed to be learned.

But wherefore the basic perception of subhumanity? Why do so many of us shudder when we see someone who is obviously bereft of home?

Perhaps it's not a perception born of hatred or loathing. Maybe it's from a limbic sense that if we become involved in the problem, we too will suffer from the problem. Just like some people will refuse to visit a hospital for fear of becoming sick, or not going near a cemetery or funeral parlor so as not to think about our own mortality. Or befriending/helping the homeless lest we also become homeless. We don't want to face what could happen to us.

We have a fear of becoming.

Sounds superstitious. Maybe on some level it is, but if like me you believe in "what goes around, comes around," and "if you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you," you can wrap your brain around this concept, too.

However, the fear of becoming need not hold terror for us. After all, how do you fix the problem if you don't face it? At some point, you've got to stand at the boss's desk and tell her that important report got deleted from the drive. You've got to tell the teacher the dog ate your homework. You've got to face the fact that there are poor and homeless in town that could use the help.

At some point, you've got to face the problem, without worrying about becoming. Who knows, maybe it some cases becoming isn't such a bad thing.

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