Sunday, November 23, 2008

Taking A Stand Against Greyhounding To Mardi Gras

(click pic)
Floccubaucinihilipilification: establishing something worthless.

Learn to . . . be what you are, and learn to resign with a good grace all that you are not.---Henri Frédéric Amiel

When we are trying to make others perceive us the way we want to be perceived, we have lost touch with ourselves.

---some psyche book or another

I live in a veterans’ transitional residence shelter in Inglewood, California. When a homeless veteran is accepted in to this place, he is given a top bunk in a small three-man dormitory-style room and an ultimatum: get a job and start paying $200 a month in “program fees” or get the hell out.

The place has the feel of a prison without bars, as it SHOULD have, because during those first 90 days the veteran is still technically homeless and we all know that homeless people are, by definition; scum, lowlifes, bottom-dwellers, criminals.

These veterans are technically, legally, according to federal definition, STILL homeless after moving in here because they are subject to be kicked back out onto the street at a moment’s notice if they raise their voice to a counselor or some resident assistant doesn’t like their breath.

After a couple of months of paying program fees, the veteran is screened for transfer up to General Population, where he is given the opportunity to pay four to five hundred a month rent for half of a small two-man college dorm room, sharing a communal bathroom with six to eight other vets, or five to six hundred a month rent for a tiny single-man room, sharing a communal bathroom with six to eight other vets.

There ARE a few floorplans where a suitably employed and well-connected veteran can apply to shower and poddy alone, but you gotta pay through the nose for that kind of luxury, baby.

My (ex) roommate Anthony and I thought we were being sharp when we applied together for a low rent, unremodelled ( and unrepaired -since- the- Bush- One- administration ) two-man room back in October. Anthony worked days as a taxi stand starter. I worked nights as a security guard. We would each have the tiny room all to ourselves at least eight hours a day. It worked out fine until Anthony got fired the first week of January.

Anthony’s termination was a setup. He was a Taxi Stand Starter at LAX. All he had to do was call in taxicabs on his handheld computer gizmo when travelers showed up at the stand.

The company he worked for, the company in charge of all taxis arriving and leaving Los Angeles Airport, is, of course, owned and operated by Bazranians. In this era of heightened airport security, we wouldn’t want Americans in charge of all the Arabs driving taxis in and out of LAX, but Anthony was doing well at the company and was steadily moved from the novice stations to harder and harder locations because he proved he could handle the work.

On a Friday afternoon, a Medittereanean man walked up to Anthony and out of the blue said in thick middle eastern accent:

You! You not know what you be doing! I am thinking not!

What?” Anthony asked.

Are you not understanding!?

Uh, no.” Anthony said, “What exactly do you mean?

You are not working here!” the man bellowed and stormed off. The supervisor was obviously frustrated that he’d had to reprimand Anthony in the difficult English language and not in his own native tongue.

Half an hour later, Anthony was called off his post to the main office and told that if he apologized for talking back to the supervisor, he might be able to keep his job.

Anthony was confused. In the Air Force (ours), if a supervisor had a problem with some aspect of one’s work performance, that supervisor corrected the problem on the spot, told the worker how he wanted things done. Here at the Bazranian Taxi Stand Starting franchise, workers are expected to just apologize without being insolent enough to ask what is wrong.

It was a setup, Anthony and I think. They were going to fire Anthony that Friday afternoon no matter what was said or not said. That’s obvious to us. Somebody’s cousin or uncle had just got off the plane from Bazra and needed a job and Anthony, being an Afro-American Air Force veteran, was just the wrong bloodline to keep his job. That’s the truth. Take it or leave it.

Anthony’s goal when he came to Los Angeles was to break his pattern of quitting jobs every six months. Come hell or high water, he was going to stick out any job, no matter how egregious the working conditions, for a minimum of one year. One year. Then he would know that he could break the nomadic lifestyle cycles he’d learned from the military.

When the Bazranians fired him for no apparent reason after four months, Anthony decided it was all just floccubaucinihilipilification and began packing his mental bags for his next big city migration.

We had jumped through a lot of hoops to qualify for G.P. residence in this veterans’ shelter, Anthony and I. The Veterans In Progress program is no walk through the homeless park. A lot of veterans didn’t make it through their first time around. Or their second. Or their third.

There’s bedtime curfews and morning roll calls and mandatory activities of all kinds, room inspections and activity inspections and you’d better be able to account for your time and periodic drug tests and the casemanagers aren’t in much of a mood to listen to bullshit so you’d better get up or get out and we traded a lot of our freedoms for this little bit of comfort here . . . so passing the screening to move up to General population is an achievement AND a capitulation and Anthony decided to throw all that work and self effacement out the window just to catch a bus to Seattle and . . .

Seattle?” I asked, envious of Anthony’s New Freedom, the kind of freedom us street nomads secretly all hanker for, “Seattle? You’ve already seen Seattle. It’s Mardi Gras season, Ant. Mardi Gras!

I miss my ex-roommate Anthony. I sit up here in my half empty veterans’ shelter dorm room, my half of the 15 x 10 foot room, and envy him his current New Orleans adventure, even if I am sleeping on a comfortable bunk bed in a warm room and he might be napping on a park bench in Jackson Square.

I almost chucked everything myself to go with him. Freedom, baby. No responsibility. No paper trail. No going to work even when it rains. I almost went with him, but that little small voice in my head said no; no, I’ve taken a stand here. Here is where all that street freedom ends. Here is where I clean up my disorganized life. Here is where I resign with good grace the idea that I can still be a hobo or a pirate or an old western outlaw. Here is where I establish what I am, even if it is just feral floccubaucinihilipilification.

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