Monday, August 1, 2011

Guest Essay: One Lousy Trash Bag

Vic sits with John by the Kalamazoo River


by John Mann

Every day I walk several miles with our dog, Vic, early in the morning when it's hot, as it is now.  Generally we traipse the paved trail alongside the Kalamazoo River, downtown.  It's mostly green with a lot of trees even though it's situated in the city.  The path we use meanders through parks and a par-three golf course.

In the past ten years a lot of work has been done reclaiming the river from its past as an industrial sewer.  Much has been accomplished, though the scars of heavy industry past and current environmental abuse remain evident everywhere.  There's a stretch of the trail between Michigan Ave. and Gull Rd. that's been worked on a lot the past few years.  River overlooks have been built, along with a shelter and an outdoor barbecue pit.

Kalamazoo Veterans War Memorial
  At the west end of the Michigan Ave. bridge is the War Memorial.  It has graceful shade trees, a lot of well-tended flowers and grass, multiple flags and gleaming slabs of granite engraved with language stating "This We'll Defend."  That and a lot of other lofty sentiments appealing to the 'God Bless America' in all of us. Thus it's quite fitting that many of the homeless living within a few hundred yards of the War Memorial are veterans.  It's a regular Obamaburg down there.  In Kalamazoo, as elsewhere, we "Support Our Troops" by building fancy edifices to the unskilled (dead) ones.  National notions of rectitude insist those left alive, however shattered emotionally, be on their own, builds character.

A bed of rocks under a railroad tresle
They sleep under the railroad trestle that's visible from the bridge.  They camp just across the river from the War Memorial, back in the trees by the tracks, unseen from the busy street.  During good weather they throw their bedrolls down on the boards of the new river overlooks.  They stay and hide their meager belongings in riverbank raspberry thickets in Verberg Park.  In bad weather they shelter under the Paterson St. bridges and they're absolutely invisible to 99.9% of my fellow Kalamazooans.

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Scene of the crime.
I won't bore you with any of the searing personal experiences I've had with some of these people, my fellow human beings.  I will tell you they struggle endlessly to exist where Ruling Class minions have shat them out - discarded them as useless, then employed media and selfish politicians with deadened souls to color them as dangerous parasites, completely irresponsible and totally deserving of their fates.  Most of my fellow Americans, of both Parties, seem to have bought into this snake oil.

This morning Vic and I were walking toward Gull Rd.  Close by the new, slickly architected park shelter we happened upon a homeless woman's plastic trash bag.  She'd used it to carry everything she had left in the world, except what was on her back.  What we found showed her few remaining belongings had been looted and thoroughly trashed by a human predator.   

It's impossible to know whether the thief simply grabbed it away from her and fled, or whether he'd discovered the place by the river where she stashed it, while searching out food or work.  You might be surprised at how many homeless have menial jobs.  The thing is, they can't carry their possessions with them anywhere business-related.  It's an instant brand, an unforgivable one subjecting them to immediate harassment, discharge, even arrest.


Have you ever had a stranger's personal life ripped open for you to poke around in?  I have, this morning, and I never even laid eyes on her.  Her thief/persecutor was either in a hurry or just plain malicious.  Her belongings were strewn over an area of several feet:  Some clothes, including a once-nice blouse, two pairs of worn out tennis shoes and some socks, a makeup compact, a few old cassette tapes (though no player - it was probably taken), a couple of ruined books, a half eaten jar of peanut butter.  She was highly literate; there was a notebook with pages of homeless/street slang, the words and definitions written in a very neat script.  Whether the purpose of her notebook was survival or scholastic couldn't be determined.  The morning dew had soaked it completely - her composition a total loss.  There was an Easton softball player's batting glove, a reminder of better times - or perhaps simply a hope for a better future.  There was a white teddy bear.

Just typing these words brings tears to my eyes again.  It may have been the saddest single thing I've ever laid my eyes on.  Such a glimpse made her misery more than personal for me.  It was intimate.

Homeless and utterly dispossessed, where does she go now?  If she's young and fit enough she may be able to join the military and go overseas, helping the rulers expand military empire and kill brownish Muslims that simply don't pose a threat to Dubuque or anywhere else stateside.

Folks, it's time to stop believing in Red, White and Blue, 'we're #1' fairy tales and take a look at the stark realities.  Our freedoms and futures are just as ravaged as my homeless woman's belongings were and it's damn near too late to do anything to stop the destruction.

At the link here is an essay written by a US citizen, Mr Lance Freeman, who resides abroad.  It's a hard, hard read.  The truth usually is and America desperately needs the perspective that citizen Freeman has to offer.  It's not a perspective that's often allowed here, surely not in mainstream media, and it's almost never received well.

I've been abroad several times.  In my experiences what Freeman says is right on the money.

It doesn't have to be that way.  The river is rebounding because we are willing to make it rebound.

Last January, in the heart of a very cold winter, Vic and I saw a juvenile bald eagle flying a few feet above the river's surface, winging strongly toward the Mills St. bridge.  It was the first baldy I'd ever seen in flight in Michigan.  The sighting was downtown, on a river being brought back from biological death, a river that in my living memory once ran pure white with paper industry effluent.  For me that eagle represented nothing less than the mythical Phoenix springing out of its own ashes - brand new LIFE.

Like the owners of the paper mills fouling my river, the owners of the country have fouled my nation and they're fouling the world.  I look and I clearly see that we are dirty.  We have to be willing to cleanse ourselves.  And though we are running out of time I still have hope that we will.

"A patriot must always be willing to defend his country against his government."  -- Eugene Debs 
Pillow of a homeless person left behind


I took a walk with John to see the area he talks about in his essay.  It is an area I was unfamiliar with  but walking the trails was a beautiful and enjoyable experience.  The city is to be commended for its re-taking of these old industrial lands along the riverfront. However, there were no traces of homeless people, as John had reported.  He believes they may have been cleared out by police, which may have occurred with this essay.  No one wants its city parks filled with homeless people, and yet where will they go as the economy continues to decline.  The presence of the homeless in our community should call attention to either our humanity or our religious belief that we take care of the least of God's children. 

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