Archive for category Monocolous
Put Your Right Leg In and Shake It All About. Put your Left Leg In- Err- I Mean Your Right Leg, Again. And Shake It All About. Sorry. This is Awkward. And Do the Hokey Pokey. That’s What It’s All About.
There’s a guy who panhandles outside of my building. He’s missing a leg, and has a prosthetic leg, but when he panhandles, he unscrews it like a light bulb and sets it by my front door with the rest of his possessions: a bike, a duffel bag, dozens of plastic bags, a broom handle, an extra heavy coat, three large paintings (watercolor), a sleeping bag, and a bucket. Inside the bucket he puts his leg while he shuffles out on the street in between cars on crutches while they wait for the light to change. First time I saw the leg I thought it was a lamp and thought how useless it is for a homeless man to possess an electric lamp that he can’t plug in anywhere. But it was a leg. Leg or a lamp- reminds me of the leg-lamp from ‘A Christmas Story’. But I guess what’s more useless than a lamp is a leg when your goal is to make people feel guilty so they give you money. That’s his angle. His con. Some might call him a fraud, a sham, an imposter, a charlatan, unveracious, or just plain humbug. Like Scrooge in ‘A Christmas Carol’. Scrooge, if he was driving down the street and saw the one legged man approaching, he’d be haughty enough to roll down his window and say, Humbug! I wonder what would happen if I said to the guy, hey, I know you have a leg, and you take it off when you beg. He’d probably say, So what. Try walking a mile in my shoe. Singular. But it’s not like he’s deceiving people. He’s just embellishing his handicap. He’s emphasizing his weakness, which in the context of pan handling is a strength. It all depends on context. If I’m in a job interview and I am asked what my greatest weakness is and I say that I’m a Perfectionist. I’m not necessarily lying, but I’m leaving out how the perfectionism is grounded in a fear of failure and sloth and a deep-rooted aversion to exerting myself and a history of self-loathing and self-sabotage and self-effacement, and that my ideal of Perfection is impossible to obtain and that’s exactly why I have it, to protect me from actualization of anything real or worthy. But I don’t say that. I say, I’m a Perfectionist, which I harness and temper with a keen sense of efficiency. Or some bullshit like that. It’s not that I’m lying… I’m just expressing in strong terms how capable I am. But that’s the context: being capable in a job interview is a good thing. When you’re pan handling, you’re not convincing an employer you’re capable, but the public that you’re incapable. The best assets one can have are: blindness, paraplegicism, and deformity. The more incapable you are the more capable. There’s a Daoist parable about Crippled Shu who is “a man with his chin lost in his navel, his shoulders higher than the top of his head and his chin pointing to Heaven, his five vital organs all crushed into the top of his body and his two thighs pressing into his ribs”. Basically, this guy’s a mess. People give him enough, out of sympathy, so that he may feed himself. He’s never asked to work. When the militia comes into town rounding up all the able-bodied men to go fight in a war, he’s spared because he is unable. In the end, Crippled Shu lives to be older than everyone in town, because he never has to strain himself or go into danger and nobody gives him a hard time and he always has enough to eat. From this perspective, you can see how missing a leg in the Homeless world is equivalent to having an M.B.A. in the working world. Of course, you can’t see this if you’re blind. And, while I don’t want to suggest that just because you’re blind you’re handicapped, you gotta admit that if you were blind and if you were homeless you would play it up, too. You’d don the sunglasses and look extra incapable. Because the spirit of the season is Sympathy. That’s why Scrooge’s foil is Tiny Tim. You have this helpless, little boy. Horrifically broken and enfeebled and hungry and cold and cute. And Scrooge says- Humbug. What is humbug is that in every performance of ‘A Christmas Carol’ this season, I’m willing to bet, Tiny Tim is being played by an able-bodied person. Maybe this guy could have some work and not resort to street theater if he were offered a position as Tiny Tim. We could tell him to break a leg. No, that’s too real, you need an actor. Like how they had Jake Gylenhall and Heathe Ledger play gay men in ‘Broke Back Mountain’. You can’t have actual gay men play gay men. In a sense, the way the guy brandishes his lack of a leg is like coming out without letting others ask or guess. He forces the fact upon the public with no shame. By placing his leg in a bucket, he takes his leglessness out of the closet. But I guess what leaves a sour taste in my mouth is the way that- after he’s made a killing- he shuffles back to his possessions, re-screws his leg back on like he’s putting together furniture from IKEA, then walks down the street, gracefully, an elegant amble that even tango dancers watch with envy. Maybe it’s a little deceptive. But in the panhandling world, you’ve got the right to put your best foot forward. Or lack thereof. I’m not so different and I’m willing to bet neither are you. We all pretend to be more sane, smarter, stronger, and less evil, clueless, and confused than we really are. In order to participate in society. It’s like a football player who tells his coach he doesn’t have a concussion in order to get back in the game. Or a crippled man in a Nazi concentration camp trying to convince the guards he’s able to work and not be shot. Or an author who (usually) spends forever editing his work and trying to come to a central, cohesive thesis rather than just flying off the handle about something he finds amusing. We try to appear better than we really are. And when it comes to begging, it’s better to be worse and worse to be better. Not having a leg is this guy getting a leg-up in the world. Can we deny him that? Scrooge can. Scrooge thinks the con is humbug. But Scrooge is also performing a masquerade. He has the workers all convinced they need him to own the factory, so they can work. But the truth is co-operatively the Workers of the World can unite and overthrow Scrooge, and take the factory into their own hands. The only thing stopping them is Scrooge’s con, that they need him and his black capitalistic heart to ford the waters of markets, competition, and scarcity. That’s something Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson didn’t talk about when they drafted the Social Contract. “We the People” didn’t include disabled people. It didn’t include women or blacks, the sick and poor. We the People meant like 5% of the population. And as baby boomers in the tens of millions begin to age and require more medical care and attention, values are going to shift and “We the People” is going to mean We the Ones Taking Care Of and We the Ones Being Taken Care Of. The adult undergarment industry is going to explode, just like the baby diaper business did back in the 50’s. We’re all dependent on each other. None of us are living in a state of nature. The world of tooth and fang and claw is way behind us. If society collapsed I would be just as fucked as the guy with one leg outside. The only ones really prepared for a civilization-crushing cataclysm are like a weird breed of rats, super wiry and subsisting on grubs, no interest in Care or Love or Beauty or anything like that. They’re swimming in subterranean wells, their white eyes glowing, ready for the collapse. Me, the guy with one leg, Scrooge, the family from A Christmas Story, the Muslim Brotherhood, animals living in zoos, Vladimir Putin and an obscure group of Nuns living in southwest Africa are all dependent on the continuation of society. On the masquerade. On trading and giving and taking and conning. This all reminds me of the story of how the flamingo learned to stand on one leg. There was a trail where elephants went to and fro during the dry season, carrying nuts and grasses with them as they went. A single flamingo was waiting by the side of the trail, waiting to die, from hunger and apathy. It tried to appeal to the elephants, for them to share their food from a distant land. But the elephants had no compassion. Then the flamingo began lifting up and hiding its one leg, so that it would look dismembered. The elephants took pity on the flamingo and threw him a bone. Other flamingos caught on and now it’s a defining feature of being a flamingo. And thus the origin from whence the jib of hiding your leg for handouts came. But are they really handouts? When I give to a pan handler I derive a sense of pleasure, a sense of power. They’re offering me a service: they make me feel good about myself. That’s an economic transaction, not a handout. There’s a benefit to detriment, a use of the useless. Which makes me think of the story from the New Testament in a different light. The one about the beggar with one leg whom Jesus offered to heal. The guy said No Thanks, and went his way. I’m not sure if it was an allegory about atheists, or what. But I wonder- how did he lose his leg? Would we think of him differently if he was a veteran? If he lost the leg serving this country with honor and valor. Or, what if he was a drunk, working the same corner as an able-bodied man on his own two legs, and then fell over in front of a car whose tire tore off his left leg right off his torso. And he returned, a broken man, to work the same corner. But- being saved by the grace of God he gave up drinking. But he’s still a scheister, willing to emphasis his (in)capability.