In Disregard Of…

Nicollet+Mall

(Tim Wilson/Flickr)

By Yamil. A Rodriguez

Zooooom! That is the sound resonating from my tires as I trek through the cold, wet and illuminated, city streets of Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. Saddled firmly on my twenty-one inch speed metallic blue mountain bike— I veer left, then right, as I make my way home. The Cities’ bright lights glisten on these streets. They give a mirage-like impression of total, glassy, icy, and slickness, gleaming on the streets’ black tar. Downtown Minneapolis never appeared so quiet and dismal as it does when the day-to-day business crowd shuffle in and out of these lavish buildings.

Structures ostensibly designed in the style of ancient Roman architecture altogether with its smooth, shiny, marble pillars, supporting their every fiber. Embedded within its natural design reside the swirls of moiré patterns. These edifices of grandeur must have been erected using the raw materials originating only in faraway lands.

It is late, and out of nowhere, I vaguely listen in on the distant, but distinctive and delightful reverberations of a tenor saxophone! I have always loved the saxophone and this, I thought, “Has that jazzy feel to it.” I chase the music down! Then I see him. I get ever so close— a black man in his fifties or so sitting on an empty, five-gallon paint bucket. His eyes closed— at the same his long fingers sustain the most beautiful of music notes.

The headlights from traffic reflect on his solid brass “horn”. Beside him, a black instrument case is open, with a sign reading, “Extra Change,” as the day crowd transiently clear these streets. His garments and shoes are worn and filthy. The pronunciations of the creases on his face, as well as his leather-like-skin, says it all. He is homeless! Not too far a distance, I observe an old white woman lying sideways in a partly lit alley. One of the lights above her flicker half-casting a shadow on her wrinkling face. She is resting her head for the night.

Speaking in a loud voice, I can hear she is chatting with someone. I do not see a person nearby. Sadly, she is someone’s mother, sister, or daughter. Besides she is a tattered, hoary shopping cart jam-packed with bags, clothing, and aluminum cans— her life’s possessions. On this night, the malodorous and violent prone homeless shelters, as well as many park benches and alleyways, will be filled in high occupancy, with our hungry brothers and sisters.

I ride on—and a short while later, from a distance away, they come into my line of vision—billboard ads consisting of illustrious fragrances, high definition TV’s and photoshopped personalities plastered ubiquitously. They sell the unattainable. However, it is only unattainable to the ill stricken living on the streets of Minneapolis— the lost souls. Victimization, mental illness, drug addiction, and alcoholism claimed their sanity. Were they fleeing something?

The following day, a new struggle commences.

The sun barely peeking out from behind the horizon edge as the day crowd freshly appear on the scene, alongside societies degenerate. With masked contempt, they share with these vagabonds the same sidewalks and streets of Nicollet Avenue. The unfortunate ones tear the flaps from discarded cardboard boxes. Young, old, healthy, and sick, they deliberately, in agony, wander this part of town optimistic loose change will trickle onto their hands. They sit on concrete sidewalks, stand on street corners scribbling disparaging messages, alike, “Please, help me”, and, “Will work for food”.

Alas, the true meaning of these messages does not begin to tell the tale— of the screaming thuds, and frustration resting deep beneath their outer skin— of the yearning to be rescued from their present hellish and demeaning existence.

Unwittingly, “the suits” swipe their credit cards. They inadvertently hand 20, 50, and 100 U.S. dollar bills to pay for business lunches, overpriced lattes, late night dinners, alcoholic beverages, and other extravagances. It seems like much hard work, and effort, to validate this “out of touch” existence, and maintain an unrealistic “comfy” lifestyle. Whilst creating factions with those of lesser means.

Ironically, the same people inhabiting these marvels of ingenuity, these edifices of grand proportion, are the Sunday goers of any Christian church or Synagogue. Placing 10% in the collection plate and praying to their God must vindicate them from any further responsibility. Hippocrates! It certainly isn’t illegal not to be charitable. Nonetheless, this behavior is a clear and unquestionable misrepresentation of members of our own kind, the human race.

Growing up in Florida, however, I witnessed the homeless situation to be far worse, in contrast to Minneapolis. In a “Babylon” style city like Miami, where the “Hollywood” scene and the music scene converge, and indulge in anything money can buy, unconsciously, society emulates this vein behavior of living in the moment, in cult-like fashion. Prioritizing erroneously what is truly important!

Enter Gustavo— a homeless man in his early fifties, and an immigrant of Guatemala, Gustavo immigrated to the United States in the nineteen-seventies in search of the “American Dream”. I met Gustavo one hot summer day as I walked through downtown Miami. It was nineteen-ninety-eight, and I was commencing my paralegal training. I see him. I approached him and casually asked, “What is wrong?” He did not respond right away. I pressed him further, saying, “Why are you living on the streets?” already knowing his situation. Soon after, he began to lucidly detail how he had once married, had two beautiful daughters and lived in a beautiful home, in Coral Gables, Florida— a posh part of town. However, during the 1980s, much of the manufacturing industry was outsourced to developing countries like India and China.

As a result, he was fired from his well-paid job. Deep in debt and unable to provide economically for his family, Gustavo suffered a nervous breakdown and sank deep into a depression. He was then involuntarily committed to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s mental ward for six months. Unsurprisingly, his wife later divorced him. Following his discharge from JMH, Gustavo, with no economic assistance, whatsoever, he took to the streets.

Since then he explicated, “I have encountered much social discrimination,” adding, “when I was in a favorable economic position that was never the case….I was treated like a king,” as he turned his back to me and walked away with reserve.

To understand why Americans, discriminate, flout, and blatantly neglect the homeless, simply rests within peoples’ peculiar inability to wholeheartedly empathize with others’ situational pain. Unless, of course, chaos comes knocking at THEIR door. For instance, tragedies like 9/11 and most recently the Boston Bombing. Nevertheless, this numb behavior is partly due to a gluttonous culture: Gluttony…..meaning to gulp down or swallow, means over-indulgence and over-consumption of food, drink, or wealth items to the point of extravagance or waste.

America’s sense of entitlement and indifference regarding the basic needs of the voiceless, its own countrymen and women, is indicative of a culture drunk on its own power. Demonstrating a disregard for others.

However, within its grip, of this unmistakable practice of imbalance, resides a separate entity operating clandestinely— our leaders, our elected officials, the individuals sworn to protect American citizens “Against All Enemies, Foreign and Domestic.” An ideal conferred upon us all. What travesty— such misrepresentation and ill-treatment from our elected officials perpetrated against its constituents. The Banker bailouts, trillions of dollars in missing funds, the United States housing bubble, the national debt, high unemployment rate, and misappropriated taxpayer money redirected into the pockets of the one percent, are clear models of our politicians’ dereliction of duty. As a result, societies most vulnerable groups, including children, the elderly, and the mentally ill suffer indirect-effect to this unscrupulous conduct.

Held to high-esteem our leaders are supposed to be a model for the rest of us. Instead, they have set the bar at an all-time low. With compartments such as corruption, lies, cover-ups and greed, their influence has trickled down to the masses— creating a belief system that wealth disparity is okay, and not caring for the voiceless is something acceptable.

I simply ask. What are you going to do about it?