“The Great Task in Life”

In California, the Realty Interests Are in Charge

To misquote Iris Murdoch, “We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find realty.” After all, if you have enough money to start with, it’s not terribly difficult to become a millionaire, requires minimal brains. Just invest in real estate. It worked for Trump (if you really believe he’s a billionaire). It can work for you. All it requires is a lack of moral compass: You too can live in a McMansion at the edge of a golf course. Isn’t that what life is all about?

Right now, California politicians are highly disturbed about the increasing rate of homelessness. Of course, they think that the solution is to find housing for all the homeless. Never mind that most L.A. homeless would prefer to live in a tent set up under a bridge, where they can enjoy their heroine and crystal meth without being hassled by John Law. And that doesn’t include the 25-50% who are just plain out of their heads and wouldn’t understand what you are talking about.

The word is out that there are not enough housing units. Then there was an interesting front page article in the Los Angeles Times a couple days ago to the effect that there are approximately 110,000 housing units that are theoretically up for rent, but not really.

The reason is the convenience to landowners of the law governing taxation of housing units. One is taxed not on the gross amount one makes, but on the profit one makes. If too many units are being profitably rented, the best way to lower your taxes is to net the rented units with units that are being deliberately kept off the market. That way, the profit is minimized—or even wiped out—and the NOL (Net Operating Loss) is subtracted from the total income.

From my years in accounting, I have seen dozens of filthy rich landowners living the life of Riley while paying zero taxes. That also is a trick employed by our Presidente.

 

Talking About Homelessness

Most Discussions About Homelessness Are Too Vague

As an independent (no party) voter, I am dismayed by the way most liberals view the homeless. For one thing, I refuse to take a bleeding heart view of the hobo encampments that are spreading across American cities, particularly in the West. When I think of the homeless, I have three populations in mind, with a lot of overlap among the categories:

  1. People who, for various reasons, are homeless
  2. People who are addicted to various drugs such as alcohol, heroine, cocaine, and crystal meth.
  3. People who are mentally ill.

The Venn Diagram above shows that there are many overlaps. Some of the homeless have some hope and expectation of finding a place to live. These are mostly homeless who are not addicted to drugs or mentally ill. These constitute the majority of homeless who are living in organized shelters.

Wherever drug addiction and mental illness are involved, it is much more difficult to find shelter. These shelters have rules regarding drugs, alcohol, theft, and violence. Many of the bums in Los Angeles would not be likely to live in a shelter, if only because they have no intention of following the rules.

If you have about an hour to spare, I recommend you watch this video by news station KOMO entitled “Seattle is Dying,” which takes a no-holds-barred view of the dire homeless situation in Seattle:

 

Talking About the Homeless

Homeless Encampment in Los Angeles

There are several ways of talking about the homeless. For one thing, I do not think they can be all lumped into one category. Therefore, I rarely speak about “the homeless” as a whole. Some are temporarily without an address and have some reasonable hope of finding one, especially if they are a family. One does not usually encounter these transient homeless on the streets. More likely, one runs into a mostly male population of homeless that fit into one or more of the following categories:

  • The mentally ill, estimated by the City of Los Angeles to comprise some 40% of the total.
  • Veterans of the armed forces who were unable to make the transition to civilian life. As I live within a couple miles of a large Veterans Administration hospital, I see quite a few of these.
  • Hardcore bums who like living on the street and are unwilling to have any of their perceived rights and privileges abridged. Some of these are involved in drug dealing and theft.

There is a tent encampment right across the street from my apartment consisting of some ten hardcore bums. They usually do not bother the street residents unless to steal a bicycle or small grill, or to beg for cash. Since there are a number of charities that provide meals, I almost never give cash to a street person. Cash received by the hardcore homeless usually falls in the category of CBD money: in other words, for cigarettes, booze, and drugs.

I have seen a few hardcore female bums, mostly on the bus, and usually find them to be sad cases, frequently mentally ill and fiercely unapproachable. Martine saw one of them defecate on the sidewalk of our street in the open. Seeing Martine’s facial reaction, she called her a racist.

Given the variety of motives that moves this population, I shake my head in despair when journalists persist in talking about “the homeless” as if there were a single solution for all. There just isn’t.

 

Bumlandia

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Calcutta

Whether you call them by the term bums or the more forgiving “the homeless,” the streets of Southern California are filling up with raggedy men (and some women) who are living off the streets, They like to position themselves near markets and convenience stores and ask for the inevitable “spare change.” Across the street from where I live, there are several more-or-less permanent tents where several bums (yeah, these guys are properly called bums) spend the night, howling at the moon.

There are food distribution programs that cater to L.A.’s street people, but they still beg for spare change. My theory is that the money they get is strictly for CBD—cigarettes, booze, and drugs. At least one of the bums across the street is a drug dealer: He has two cars parked on the curb and is frequently seen talking on a burn cellphone.

I am somewhat torn. I like the idea of helping the true homeless—those who have some chance of getting out of their present dire situation—but I absolutely refuse to help bums. It’s like putting out a cockroach feeder. I support the Salvation Army and several other charities that help the homeless, but I would prefer that the bums move on elsewhere. I can hear them all night swearing loudly at each other and sometimes fighting in he street. Every once in a while, the LAPD stops and asks them to move on, but they cannot force them unless there is a clear violation of the law.

In nearby Santa Monica, bums are not allowed to set up tents and sleep on the pavement; but Los Angeles has always been a bit more forgiving. In the meantime, there are breakins to the apartment laundry rooms where the perpetrators are searching for quarters. A neighbor’s bicycle was stolen; and other small crimes of the typr that did not happen until the bum encampment was set up.

Pilgrims

Homeless in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park

Homeless in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park

The title of this post comes from Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness:

I went to work the next day, turning, so to speak, my back on that station. In that way only it seemed to me I could keep my hold on the redeeming facts of life. Still, one must look about sometimes; and then I saw this station, these men strolling aimlessly about in the sunshine of the yard. I asked myself sometimes what it all meant. They wandered here and there with their absurd long staves in their hands, like a lot of faithless pilgrims bewitched inside a rotten fence.

Except, the pilgrims of whom I speak are not European ivory traders in the Congo, but either the homeless or people who do not wish to be labelled “homeless,” so they merely appear to be “in transit” with multiple bags.

Now that I work only two days a week, I like to spend more time in libraries, specifically downtown L.A.’s Central Library or Santa Monica’s Main Library. Curiously I see more pilgrims in Santa Monica, which comic Harry Shearer has dubbed “the Home of the Homeless.” Most are young, approximately half are black, and they travel with a lot of “stuff.” Usually, they just drop into a chair and doze off. Some use the Internet to try to find a way out of their present circumstances.

The library discourages homeless that smell very bad or have too many bags with them, as they inhibit families and students from using the books and computers. That tends to discriminate against elderly bums who have lived on the streets for years and and who have accumulated a vast store of “stuff.” (I have seen some with regular choo-choo trains of multiple supermarket carts.)

At night, Palisades Park along the bluffs overlooking the Coast Highway turns into a large encampment full of tents, shopping carts, plastic bags full of rags and food scraps, and whatnot.

There are Salvation Army and other accommodations in Santa Monica for the homeless, but I suspect not enough. And many of the homeless, as I hinted, are “in transit” and do not consider themselves to be homeless. A goodly number are stark raving mad, and a couple are probably homicides or arsons waiting to happen.

 

A City That Is Set On A Hill

Homeless Man on the Street

Homeless Man on the Street

It all started in the 1980s, during the Presidency of Saint Ronald Reagan. Almost overnight, the homeless began appearing in the streets. Over the last thirty years, their numbers have increased to the point that I cannot step out for lunch without getting at least three solicitations for spare change. When I drive home on Ohio Avenue, the bridge under the I-405 is full of tents and cardboard “forts” covered with tarpaulins.

In Matthew 5:14, Christ says, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Reagan and other Republicans have been fond of seeing the United States in this light. Sometimes I wonder what foreign tourists think when they see raggedy men and women sprawled on the sidewalks and living under bridges. In my travels, I did not see such sights, not even in supposedly Third World countries such as Peru, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile.

For whatever reason, our “city that is set on a hill” has become a festering garbage dump. Even in rural America, crystal meth, opiates, and alcohol have stranded untold thousands wandering the streets in search of a meal or a place to crash. Across the street from where I live, people appearing to be homeless have their own cigarettes and cell phones and are, I suspect, dealing in drugs—especially when they make an appearance at their “corner” only intermittently.

As much as I want to help them, I know that my best bet is to help the Salvation Army and the local rescue missions. They can weed out the clearly unworthy more readily than I can. But what of the mentally ill? It seems that they form more than half of the local homeless population. I get this feeling of hopelessness whenever I think of them.

The Long Exhale

Yes, It’s All About My Nose

Yes, It’s All About My Nose

No, that’s not my nose: It looks too young. The picture is of a hijacked schnozzola. Today I’m channeling the great Eighteenth Century Scottish novelist Tobias Smollett. “Smelfungus” is the nickname that Laurence Sterne gave to Smollett after his grumbling descriptions in Travels Through France and Italy. Even more memorable, to my mind, are some of his descriptions in The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. Here, hero Matt Bramble describes a discussion about the health-giving waters at Bath:

I was t’other day much diverted with a conversation that passed in the Pump-room, betwixt him and the famous Dr L—n, who is come to ply at the Well for patients. My uncle was complaining of the stink, occasioned by the vast quantity of mud and slime which the river leaves at low ebb under the windows of the Pumproom. He observed, that the exhalations arising from such a nuisance, could not but be prejudicial to the weak lungs of many consumptive patients, who came to drink the water. The Doctor overhearing this remark, made up to him, and assured him he was mistaken. He said, people in general were so misled by vulgar prejudices that philosophy was hardly sufficient to undeceive them. Then humming thrice, he assumed a most ridiculous solemnity of aspect, and entered into a learned investigation of the nature of stink. He observed, that stink, or stench, meant no more than a strong impression on the olfactory nerves; and might be applied to substances of the most opposite qualities; that in the Dutch language, stinken signifies the most agreeable perfume, as well as the most fetid odour, as appears in Van Vloudel’s translation of Horace, in that beautiful ode, Quis multa gracilis, &c.—The words fiquidis perfusus odoribus, he translates van civet & moschata gestinken: that individuals differed toto coelo in their opinion of smells, which, indeed, was altogether as arbitrary as the opinion of beauty; that the French were pleased with the putrid effluvia of animal food; and so were the Hottentots in Africa, and the Savages in Greenland; and that the Negroes on the coast of Senegal would not touch fish till it was rotten; strong presumptions in favour of what is generally called stink, as those nations are in a state of nature, undebauched by luxury, unseduced by whim and caprice: that he had reason to believe the stercoraceous flavour, condemned by prejudice as a stink, was, in fact, most agreeable to the organs of smelling; for, that every person who pretended to nauseate the smell of another’s excretions, snuffed up his own with particular complacency; for the truth of which he appealed to all the ladies and gentlemen then present: he said, the inhabitants of Madrid and Edinburgh found particular satisfaction in breathing their own atmosphere, which was always impregnated with stercoraceous effluvia: that the learned Dr B—, in his treatise on the Four Digestions, explains in what manner the volatile effluvia from the intestines stimulate and promote the operations of the animal economy: he affirmed, the last Grand Duke of Tuscany, of the Medicis family, who refined upon sensuality with the spirit of a philosopher, was so delighted with that odour, that he caused the essence of ordure to be extracted, and used it as the most delicious perfume: that he himself (the doctor) when he happened to be low-spirited, or fatigued with business, found immediate relief and uncommon satisfaction from hanging over the stale contents of a close-stool, while his servant stirred it about under his nose; nor was this effect to be wondered at, when we consider that this substance abounds with the self-same volatile salts that are so greedily smelled to by the most delicate invalids, after they have been extracted and sublimed by the chemists.—By this time the company began to hold their noses; but the doctor, without taking the least notice of this signal, proceeded to shew, that many fetid substances were not only agreeable but salutary; such as assa foetida, and other medicinal gums, resins, roots, and vegetables, over and above burnt feathers, tan-pits, candle-snuffs, &c. In short, he used many learned arguments to persuade his audience out of their senses; and from stench made a transition to filth, which he affirmed was also a mistaken idea, in as much as objects so called, were no other than certain modifications of matter, consisting of the same principles that enter into the composition of all created essences, whatever they may be: that in the filthiest production of nature, a philosopher considered nothing but the earth, water, salt and air, of which it was compounded; that, for his own part, he had no more objections to drinking the dirtiest ditch-water, than he had to a glass of water from the Hot Well, provided he was assured there was nothing poisonous in the concrete. Then addressing himself to my uncle, ‘Sir (said he) you seem to be of a dropsical habit, and probably will soon have a confirmed ascites: if I should be present when you are tapped, I will give you a convincing proof of what I assert, by drinking without hesitation the water that comes out of your abdomen.’—The ladies made wry faces at this declaration, and my uncle, changing colour, told him he did not desire any such proof of his philosophy: ‘But I should be glad to know (said he) what makes you think I am of a dropsical habit?’ ‘Sir, I beg pardon (replied the Doctor) I perceive your ancles are swelled, and you seem to have the facies leucophlegmatica. Perhaps, indeed, your disorder may be oedematous, or gouty, or it may be the lues venerea: If you have any reason to flatter yourself it is this last, sir, I will undertake to cure you with three small pills, even if the disease should have attained its utmost inveteracy. Sir, it is an arcanum, which I have discovered, and prepared with infinite labour.—Sir, I have lately cured a woman in Bristol—a common prostitute, sir, who had got all the worst symptoms of the disorder; such as nodi, tophi, and gummata, verruca, cristoe Galli, and a serpiginous eruption, or rather a pocky itch all over her body. By the time she had taken the second pill, sir, by Heaven! she was as smooth as my hand, and the third made her sound and as fresh as a new born infant.’ ‘Sir (cried my uncle peevishly) I have no reason to flatter myself that my disorder comes within the efficacy of your nostrum. But this patient you talk of may not be so sound at bottom as you imagine.’ ‘I can’t possibly be mistaken (rejoined the philosopher) for I have had communication with her three times—I always ascertain my cures in that manner.’ At this remark, all the ladies retired to another corner of the room, and some of them began to spit.—As to my uncle, though he was ruffled at first by the doctor’s saying he was dropsical, he could not help smiling at this ridiculous confession and, I suppose, with a view to punish this original, told him there was a wart upon his nose, that looked a little suspicious. ‘I don’t pretend to be a judge of those matters (said he) but I understand that warts are often produced by the distemper; and that one upon your nose seems to have taken possession of the very keystone of the bridge, which I hope is in no danger of falling.’ L—n seemed a little confounded at this remark, and assured him it was nothing but a common excrescence of the cuticula, but that the bones were all sound below; for the truth of this assertion he appealed to the touch, desiring he would feel the part. My uncle said it was a matter of such delicacy to meddle with a gentleman’s nose, that he declined the office—upon which, the Doctor turning to me, intreated me to do him that favour. I complied with his request, and handled it so roughly, that he sneezed, and the tears ran down his cheeks, to the no small entertainment of the company, and particularly of my uncle, who burst out a-laughing for the first time since I have been with him; and took notice, that the part seemed to be very tender. ‘Sir (cried the Doctor) it is naturally a tender part; but to remove all possibility of doubt, I will take off the wart this very night.’

There is no chance that I can outdo Smollett on this score, but I’ll do my best. Ever since Ronald Reagan’s “Mo[u]rning in America,” the streets of Los Angeles have become crowded with mentally unbalanced homeless. There’s one such of indeterminate age who occupies a bus bench on Westwood Boulevard and builds a fort around himself consisting of silverfish-laden old cushions and shopping carts filled with various items of detritus. As he has not bathed since the 1980s, he is surrounded by a pungent cloud of indeterminate size. Usually, I can avoid inhaling within thirty feet of him; but today I got a whiff of him after I ended a long exhale while passing him. Fifty-sixty feet! Yechhh! Yes, I feel sorry for him: I just don’t particularly feel like breathing in his vicinity.

I don’t know if there is any cause/effect relationship, but I got a nosebleed after lunch while blowing my nose. The onset of winter weather in Los Angeles means that the air is getting much drier. That, plus possibly the bum-effluvia, made me blow a capillary.

With luck, there will be no more nose news this week, except perhaps for the smell of turkey and all the fixings tomorrow.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!