While driving to a party early last evening (it was still twilight), I’m stopped in traffic at SE Powell and 84th when I see something that saddened me.
For non-Portlanders, we’re talking about a two-lane boulevard (Powell) with a center turn lane, just two blocks from a state highway (Hwy 213, or 82nd), with very heavy traffic.
There, winding slowly through the cars on Powell backed up for the stoplight on 82nd was a strange-looking shirtless caucasian man wearing a pair of sweatpants that were just barely hanging onto his wiry, tanned body.
His hair was a disheveled, matted mess. He wore no shoes. Most strikingly, he had no left arm – entirely, like, all the way to the shoulder and no shoulder blade.
Every few steps he would stop. His knees would knock together and he’d twitch. I can only compare it to what it looks like when you are really, really, going to shit yourself in about six seconds and you’re exerting every muscle trying not to.
Now the traffic is beginning to move. Cars on the oncoming side of Powell are slowly trying to maneuver around him. He makes it almost to the sidewalk, then collapses into the gutter near it.
“This guy is going to get killed,” I said. I had Lori Nelson Duckworth, who was with me, get on the phone and call 911. There was a bit of time on hold – it is Halloween weekend, but, still, 911 puts you on hold? – and finally we got a 911 operator.
Lori describes the scene above, but, oddly, in her description of the man she leaves out the part about his missing arm. The operator (I can hear her on speakerphone) says she’s gotten a few calls already about the incident.
Lori’s emphasizing that he collapsed and is dangerously close to traffic. The operator’s asking follow-up questions to determine if she should just send police or add an ambulance.
I can’t take it anymore. “THE GUY’S ONLY GOT ONE ARM!” I interject into the conversation.
Then, the operator floored me. “Oh, yes,” she said, with a hint of recognition in her tone. “He’s a local transient in the area. He’s a regular.”
A regular. She said it like I heard bartenders in my playing days talk about the drunk falling off the barstool at 3pm as me and the band were setting up for the night’s gig.
There was nothing regular about that man. There should be nothing regular about first responders knowing someone as a “regular.”
I don’t know the poor man’s story, but clearly, he’s not just going to “go out and get a job” or “pull himself up by his bootstraps.” You gotta have boots first and I don’t see him acing any job interviews.
I think of all the dumb shit our tax money gets spent on – from little things like paying some state inspector to come out to my back yard to make sure I’m only cultivating twelve total cannabis plants for the three patients who collectively paid the state about a thousand bucks for the privilege, to the big things like spending billions on an F-35 fighter plane program that even the Pentagon doesn’t want – and I marvel how within that spectrum of spending there’s not a dump truck full of money to, you know, promote the general welfare?
I know for a fact there are many young people with social work degrees who are driving Lyft or working Starbucks because there are no jobs for them. I know for a fact there are homes everywhere sitting empty and owners who’d take a government check to house people.
Can we cancel just one F-35 and shovel that money toward helping the least among us? I was told we are a Christian nation; isn’t that like the whole Jesus Prime Directive?
My theory is that those in power consciously don’t want to help them. They need there to be a hell on earth to act as the stick when the carrots of a paycheck and health care lose their pull on the wage slaves. “Man, my job and boss and commute really sucks… but I don’t want to end up collapsed homeless in the street!”
If you had a sexual predator or a bully for a boss, or worked in unsafe or unsanitary conditions, or were being cheated of hours and overworked, but you knew you could quit and have a safety net that would cover your health care, housing, and food for as long as you needed to find a new job, you would.
With such a safety net, a sort of competitive workplace evolution would occur. Wages would have to increase, benefits become more attractive, in order to lure people out of the safety net. Bosses would have to be nicer and workplaces more inclusive and welcoming. Most of all, CEOs and execs would have to make far less money.
And we can’t have that. We’re a Christian nation, all right, but it’s that Joel Osteen / Creflo Dollar style “prosperity gospel” Christianity. That’s why the one-armed man is a “regular.”