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  • Illus: Sassoon Kosian

    "Get a fucking job!" As a protester at Occupy Wall Street, you'll hear that all the time. It's normal. But to have old friends tell you that, or to have relatively new friends just deny the fact that you're out of work AND out of home is quite the other thing. Yet that's what I'm hearing and dealing with every day. And before anyone says to me again, "Why doesn't your family help you?" let me tell you another feature of going homeless or going poor: Your family denies it. Your family won't talk to you. Truly. I have sister in Iowa who felt ballsy enough to fire back at me through a comment on a YouTube video of me, but won't write me a personal letter. And yes, she has my mail. People hate being inconvenienced by friends and relatives who are not doing as well as they are. It makes them look bad. It shames them. "Is that your brother I saw in the Wall Street Journal protesting with this Occupy thing?" - they don't want to hear at the mall. It let's them know just how close they might be to the same. They hate your situation even more than when you are doing better than they - and yes, I've experienced that as well - doing so well that it engenders jealousy and malcontent from those who you mistakenly believe are your closest supporters. People. They're just hard to figure sometimes.

    Just this week I received a mail from an old friend in another city who was acting under the premise of "tough love". She pretty much chewed me a new one, said she wouldn't help me at all with getting a phone (something I've asked for help with) and advised that I get a factory job to make money, fully not remembering or realising that I would be going in as unskilled labour (a fifty-five year old, 140lb man trying to compete with 18 year olds to unload trucks or sweep the floor, or do whatever other unskilled jobs they might have) or having a full grasp of the economic meltdown that America is currently going through. I know she means well, but meaning well and doing well or being constructive are not always mutually arrived at.

    A few weeks ago another friend of mine asked me to make a photo for her of her art at an exhibit. And this to me, whether there was any money in it or not, was considered a job - something that I could do that was of value and put me in a position of being professional and needed and not homeless or jobless or what those two things equal to the world at large: worthless. But at the last minute she had a shuffling of organisation and got someone else to do it - without telling me of course, until I showed up at our agreed time. So when I arrived there was no job. No nothing. Just me being given the bum's rush. And of course, I was not happy. But she had no idea that what I had lost was just some moment of self respect - some satisfaction of being valued. To her it really was just work. But to me it was more.

    And nothing makes you any more unhappy than people thinking that you don't care about work, or have lost your mind, or don't know how to solve your problem, or worse, are somehow the cause of your problem. I heard this recently described at a class at Columbia University on Occupy I was a guest panelist at as "blaming the victim" in relation to homelessness, but the concept is more historically related to racism or crimes of sexual abuse. "He (the black man) didn't obey the rules", or "She (the slut) made him do it". That the concept itself has now grown legs is scary enough - that people can justify abhorrent behaviour towards me because, I myself, they believe am just such a complete fuck-up.

    I'm currently reading a book on the contemporary history and proliferation of homelessness in America written by Kim Hopper, a medical anthropologist at Columbia University. And I am not reading it quickly - not because the academic concepts or jargon are beyond my grasp, but because the situations described in it are just way to close to home for me. 'Close to home', that's certainly a pun unintended. Nobody wants to be in this situation and nobody, for sure, thinks they ever will be. My point being that even from a medical anthropologist's standpoint, or especially from that standpoint - the true feelings I experience are masked by statistics, or more jargon, or more simply, denial. Standing so far away you can't see the trees for the forest. So if people, my friends, or even academic professionals, can't understand how I feel or what to do about it, I need to understand that. How could they? No matter how much one views or opines or studies a subject, that does not make them an expert or an authority on it. Only being there can do that. It's one of those "you had to be there" things.
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