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Monday, February 01, 2010

Down on his Luck


I was not a regular watcher of the popular Western TV series Bonanza, but recently, while surfing TV, I stopped to watch a portion of an episode. I was curious as an adult to see the quality of the writing and acting. In this particular episode, the father, Ben Cartwright, was admonishing a son for being critical of a man who was "down on his luck."

Growing up in a family where excuses were rarely tolerated and in a society where taking responsibility for your own life and avoiding victim and entitlement mentality are mantras and truisms, the admonition in that show gave me pause for reflection and has precipitated a rethinking of human misfortune. Certainly many individuals can do more for themselves, and cheaters exist. But sometimes, there are mitigating circumstances, and there is such a thing as bad luck. Without really knowing the details behind an individual's descent into the streets, it is unfair to make blanket condemnations.

In New York City, with frequent exposure to the homeless and disadvantaged, it is easy to become inured with their plight. If you read stories of the homeless, some of the life circumstances that led to where they are do give reason for thought. I have become more acutely aware of my good fortune.
The can collection center in the photo is located in Harlem at 144th Street and 8th Avenue (Frederick Douglass Boulevard) at the rear of a Pathmark supermarket. This was a no-nonsense group of men working in frigid 14 degree weather with focus and fervor.

I was never drawn into the survival reality TV shows - no matter what "hardships" are meted out, there are no real serious consequences. For a real glimpse of survival, try the can redemption center, where there is no helicopter waiting to deliver a pizza as a reward for the winner. Surely there must be at least one man there who is down on his luck...

12 comments:

Jarart said...

Well said, Brian.

Brian Dubé said...

Jarart - Thanks. I know Bonanza is perhaps not the place to learn life's lessons, but somehow that phrase and reprimand just stuck in my head.

NYfan said...

I live in Berlin and we do have too very, very much homeless. Collecting cans, bottles and so on just to collect money bringing it to the supermarkets, is a well known phainomen for me. And there are not only the "badluckpeople" but even a lot of people (mostly teenagers) who have "choosen to be homeless" by confidence...

Andrea (ace1028) said...

Great post and great picture.

Winnie M said...

When my son first moved to Vancouver, he lived across from "Pigeon Park", in the downtown eastside - the notorious part of Vancouver. He learned two things there: 1) many of the people wandering aroung in a daze were not drug addicts. The government had closed the institutions that housed mental patients years before and sent them back to their communities. Not all had support and many ended up on skid row, off their meds and wandering around in a daze. 2) There was a man who was about my age who lived in Pigeon Park who got to recognise my son and always asked him "you have a job?" "you still have your job"? In conversation he learned that this man, who was an unskilled labourer, had been injured long enough to be off work for a year in his 40s and when he went looking for work no one wanted someone his age who hadn't worked for a year. He told my son you always have a job, you can always get a better one. Lessons learned: the people on the street are just people and until you know their stories you cannot judge.
For info on United We Can, a Vancouver street charity based on just what your picture shows, see www.unitedwecan.ca.

BrooksNYC said...

"But there are mitigating circumstances often and there is such a thing as bad luck...."

Gee, ya think?

".....we are under such constant assault by the homeless and disadvantaged, it is easy to become inured with their plight."

Easy for some, perhaps. And what do you mean by "constant assault"?

brian said...

Brooks - There is a sense amongst many that people in the streets are there because of their own doing.
By assault I mean aggressively solicited for money. And by inured, I mean sitting in the subway and seeing virtually no one look at a homeless person or giving them any money. Or people being completely uninterested in a person's condition on the streets. I have people nearly dead on the streets being ignored.

BrooksNYC said...

"There is a sense amongst many that people in the streets are there because of their own doing."

I'm willing to bet that a good many people who hold that opinion are, by dint of privilege, removed from the hard realities on the ground. The gulf between our "haves" and "have nots" is huge and growing, Brian, as I'm sure you know.

"By assault I mean aggressively solicited for money."

We may have different ideas as to what constitutes aggression. In my 40 years in NYC, I've been asked for money often enough, but don't recall many instances of aggressive solicitation.

You're very right that the less fortunate among us are often ignored. We write them off as "the homeless" or "panhandlers" or "bums", thereby saving ourselves the discomfort of having to deal with their humanity. In that way, our hearts become hard.

Brian Dubé said...

Brooks -"I'm willing to bet that a good many people who hold that opinion are, by dint of privilege, removed from the hard realities on the ground." Exactly my point. Although my family grew up poor, over time, even a moderately comfortable lifestyle is enough to be removed from the reality of struggling for basic survival.

Karen said...

I have just disovered your blog, love this post! So often I hear such derogatory remarks about the homeless. This just makes me sad. My feeling is that there are very few who would choose a life on the streets, mostly they are there due to circumstances, such as hard luck, mental illness etc...my heart goes out to them. Sometimes when I am in Toronto I will stop and chat with someone who is neady...there is always a story to tell.

Caity said...

By collecting these bottles and making money off of it, they are actually doing the city a service. Recycling! It would be really cool if there was some sort of recycling program the city could create for the homeless as a way for them to make money. They collect bottles, they could be in charge of recycling reciprocals all over the city. Just an idea. Great shot, and brave of you to take it.

Anonymous said...

the "reality show" Keeping up with the Kim's is such a shame too compared with the hardships gone tru u've just mentioned. may god bless the good souls