The Strange Fruit of Our Cultural Existence

Another lonely man dies of exposure while the world around him shops

Amazing how crass this culture is. I know, the whole slavery DNA and before, expropriation of not just the land and culture, but the body whole of Original Peoples, and all the massacres, the lynchings, the endless firing squads against strikers, workers, the murders by the law, and worse, structural homicide of this land, granted, all pretty disgusting. With these yahoos in office (Obama-to-Trump), who have always been in office, pink donkey or yellow elephant, it’s 24/7 “we beat ’em fair and square, so why not take it all, these effing reservations, all those goddamned countries in the world, stopping our white Christo-Zio kleptomaniacs and Marquis de Sade aficionados in leadership from taking it all away for God’s Chosen Country?”

No matter how many ways you want to cut this big fat lie, chicken fried steak of a high calorie super poly-saturated McChicken, there is a certain exceptionalism displayed in liberal-conservative alike. The gravy of America, of the capitalism lite or capitalism hardcore. I can’t even slip in a few alternatives to this Long Journey into Night collective family dysfunction. What other system in the world is better? Money talks everywhere. If not us, then it would be China or Russia taking it all. Our borders are our only sanctity, and the hoards will come at us like cockroaches.

Latte liberals or survivalist conservatives, the entire shooting match of my fellow American is a bit daft, off center and now, 2017, entering the year of the Rooster, well, discombobulated, disoriented and despoiled. We are seeing more and more $10 an hour jobs going to grown men and women, 50 year olds and up. More and more $14 an hour jobs going to college degree holding young Americans. The idea we have this meritocracy, that this country is all about helping hands up, well, that storied story has been unraveling since day one, and now, as the billionaires and millionaire hacks and generals, as those perverted rich ones, mostly white mean, lip-less men, as weak as the weakest link in the human species, but powerful with the Peter Principle hard right these days, as they are taking the pilot’s joystick and nuclear arsenal red button, we know deep down that we have been frauds too, following, sheep-people, sheeple.

I argue daily with people whining about how under Trump, the sky is falling. Under them all, the climate has been climbing. Under them all, the pollution in the air, water, reefs, forests, food, minds, hearts, all of it intensified. Under them all, taxes rise for the masses and wane for the elite. Under them all, arsenals and military might and threats of nuclear winter and Monsanto in every corpuscle, and the black soot of human stain, increase. Under them all, we are now fighting like mad dogs over scraps of rancid meat. Under them all, we are dancers in their cliff jumping orchestration. Under them, we are the mutts and mongrels ready for evisceration, euthanizing, eugenics.

Simple stuff – walking to my job as social worker for the homeless, the drug addicted, just out of 15 years in prison, mentally broken, trauma, PTSD, a million dollars owed to the courts collectively just on my case load, fines, child support, and endless parade of repo men and women in their lives: failed teachers, failed mothers, failed fathers, failed communities, failed villages, failed states, failed elites, failed drivers of all this capital madness.

Walking and stepping around those not lucky to have found some sense to stop the humility of drugging, drinking and rolling from alley to alley. Imagine, this Hollywood-lusting country, lovers of the lamest celebrities and now lovers of the Apprentice, as commander in shit chief, we are collectively shopping till we drop America, hitting the quadruple credit card balance, more and more junk, babbles and just the right pillow to go with the gazelle-shaped mirror hanging over the triple-wide lazy boy recliner. Presidents’ sale, Black Friday, Xmas in July, Hanukkah everyday for the ungifted and vaunted but chosen few.

It’s a daily bile drip for me, the constant reminder of the complete lack of funds, the complete disdain for my work, for the people for whom I work. People on the streets of Portland, Oregon, a cool 10 degrees, sleet and ice and snow, and these fellows and women huddled under church quilts, plastic bags and sheets of painter’s drop cloth for covering.

Lamborghini and Land Rover and Warm Toasty Homes, a continual hunt for the perfect hop or ale. This is the ghastly reality of this country – we talk about Julian Assange on FOX News (sic) and the Putin Parables and these all-white rotten men in office, and here we are, men and women, some native and African American, but mostly god’s children from the old country, huddled, confused, out in the streets at 15 degree Fahrenheit, barefoot, eyes ablaze, men and women, once the children of someone, loved once, even by the delivery nurse, people stolen from this country’s All-American Dream of a Nightmare. These people in the middle of traffic as the neuro-normals/neurotypicals, us, find the best parking space to hit the doughnut shop or food cart emporium.

Ice in our veins, and our hearts pumping with oil, the plastic in the wallet matching the plastic in our soul, more and more of us, barely making it, turning our gaze at the stars, the supplicants, the supine, this country of molesters, teachers-social workers-the law-psychiatrists-marketers-financiers. The insanity is we’ve reached terminal velocity, and the shape of the world as we hurtle at 122 miles per hour, is squeezed, the slip of eyelids, the very small frame, forcing these fellow countrymen to think only of the very finite moment before it’s sayonara, or ripcord hell.

So, that 51 year old man, outside my office building, frozen, dead, pauper, nameless to the world, or with a name that is just another under-the-headline mix of letters, he represents in microcosm the complete failure of a rich country, rich city, a so liberal city, the one which made national news for its anti-Trump and pro-Sanders rallies. We are cogs and pigeons, followers and paycheck seekers. These people in every rotten city on the streets, in their backseats of their cars, in the alley, in parks, under overpasses, this society, each city, broken.

Think of all the stuff thrown away, all the military surplus tents, the thousands upon thousands of acres of travel trailers on those lots, think of the so-called creative class and all those jobless college degree holders, all the so called innovative Americans, the tiny homes, the empty buildings, all those people ready to help, where oh where is that CCC, Youth Corps, all that Marshall Plan for the USA, our citizens? Where oh where do those Israeli and Saudi and armament dollars go? To the people, for the people, by the people? Again, this is a country detangled from a helping core, a society that cares nothing about the public schools staying open, a country that cares little for education, now, and the rule of law, well, as long as it is draconian, as long as it is authoritarian, against the other, as long as that law is meted out to the poor, the people of color, as long as we can scoff at the other laws, as long as we can toy with the idea of never needing to follow the rule of international and humanistic law.

He’s nameless in the end, a father, maybe, a son, a brother, for sure, and he is in rigor mortis and the death shroud is capitalism, and the disease that took him was consumerism, aggravated by a society self absorbed in the “I” and yet this child of mother and father, this grandson, now, hard as steel, on the city streets, Portlandia, a town with a rep for food carts, Indian Pale Ales, a middling basketball team, and endless dark forests quickly clear-cut for the invasion of more Californians. More heartless and callous people putting their lives together like IKEA furniture, putting their heads in the game of Angry Bird, putting their hearts on the line by donating to the save the orangutan campaign.

The city walks its dogs, and the city is a slipstream of bicyclists and hardcore city runners. The city is with tourists looking for a Voodoo Doughnut. This is a city with a walled in Polluted River, a city with bridges, a city with a veneer and with a certain panache.

The man died like a baby alone, the cradle of his life no one, but side-steppers, people on a mission to get to work or the art galleries or the Saturday Market or somewhere this urbanity seems to suck people’s heart into.

Homeless, with bottle tucked under arm, or worse, the heat of meth in his lungs, or, just there, mentally in crisis, and alone, again, as he sucks his last breath with the shivers, the heart pounding to keep the 180 pounds warm.

People stepping over the last breaths, people not even noticing, people who can stare through the reality of the capitalism game of dog eat dog, and no helping voice or no helping words, not a handshake or smile or inquiry.

People die everyday, alone, buttressed with the idea that they deserved the loneliness and deserved the poverty or crib blanket as their only defense from the cold gaze and ice heart of the capitalists.

Paul Haeder's been a teacher, social worker, newspaperman, environmental activist, and marginalized muckraker, union organizer. Paul's book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years (now going on 17 years) of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his musings at LA Progressive. Read (purchase) his short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam now out, published by Cirque Journal. Here's his Amazon page with more published work Amazon. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.