Homeless by Justin Sulivan / Getty
It is kind of strange living here in this undisclosed location and in many ways it reminds me of my childhood home in the south suburbs of Chicago. It is reminiscent but still different and unique; my thirty five years of living in the South have trained my eyes not to accept dark green or dark gray painted houses. These are the periphery issues as my mind wanders because while I live in a home now I still feel homeless. It is a home but it is not my home and I've begun to question whether I will ever feel at home ever again.
These things, these events leave scars and marks that Tide won't wash off. Like a death or a divorce, you carry them with you internally from then on. With upwards of ten million home foreclosures and maybe as many evictions it means that nearly of a third of our population has been displaced and scarred. A huge army of men, women and children whose lives have been disrupted and destabilized, who fear answering the telephone or the arrival of a stranger's car. The mail makes them queasy and the end of the month makes them nervous and jumpy.
A population in hiding, a population wounded. A Kindergarten class in California which lost so many children that the school district investigated their loss, only to discover empty boarded up homes. More of an education for a six year old than a public school building can hold. A recent study discovered that many high school age children now question the wisdom of going on to college. They feel themselves squeezed out and priced out of the market. Even with financial aid, what are the careers of the future?
Soldier? Policeman or TSA Gestapo airport greeter? Why go in debt to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, only to be the best educated employee at the dollar store? These children of trauma no longer have any illusions of an American dream. They've witnessed the carnage of being forced from a home or seeing the family car towed away by the repo man. The have become the war child who has witnessed the blitz first hand and have limited expectations for the future. They write for their teachers "What I want to be if I grow up."
This place where I am is so strange and alien to me, it's" nice. It's too nice, the people are too nice and too white and too comfortable. I'm glad for them that they can sing a happy tune in sun filled streets but at the same time I feel almost pity for them. They live in unreality not so much denial as much as a bubble. They have money but almost no soul; they live a life of quiet comfort. Many live as if they have never been kicked and vote Republican because of it. Yet even here I've seen the sheriff's messages tacked to their doors and the mortgage company stickers stuck on their windows.
In Atlanta, I was living in a single room of a dirty garage; I washed in a bucket and washed my clothes in the same bucket. Here, in this undisclosed location I sleep in a bed each night and wash in a shower each day. In Atlanta, I awoke to the sound of Dumpster trucks and my neighbors were asphalt. In this place I wake up to birds singing each morning, it is a place where kids ride their bicycles and grown ups walk their dogs. It is all so idyllic that sometimes it upsets me because despite all the pretty surroundings I am still homeless.
By the official Government statistics over thirteen million Americans are unemployed. Eight million more work part time jobs for economic reasons, meaning that they can't find full time jobs. No one knows how many of that eight million are working more than one of those low paying, no benefits, part time jobs. They live on the cusp of the American life filling in a chuck hole and waiting nervously for whatever comes next. How many are homeless? Your government doesn't track such statistics. How many children are homeless? Ditto, but it is estimated that one million school children are homeless on any given night in America. It begs the question, who is lost here, them or us?
I myself, however, am in another class which the government officially labels as discouraged worker. It is however a cloak which does not fit me for I am not discouraged so much as ejected. You look for work like looking for rainbows or unicorns and when you see something that appears real you immediately become suspicious because it is probably not real. After tornadoes ripped through Alabama, I went to the Montgomery Advertiser web site to check on the damage. I had once lived in Montgomery and like most of the young people there our chief aim in life was in getting out of Montgomery.
But Montgomery is a more real version of America than where I am now. We knew the schools sucked, we knew that the horizons were limited and we knew that the only possible salvation was in getting out of there. There was a story of a violent crime on the front page of the Montgomery newspaper, a robbery at knife point, and most of the comments on the story referenced those too lazy to get a job. You don't have to stay around Montgomery long before you'll hear that refrain; all social problems are directed at someone else's laziness. So I checked the want ads just to see why these criminals were too lazy to just to go out and get a job. The want ads in this county of 223,000 souls listed just two jobs for 86,000 households. One job was working for a food service company at the prison and the other was selling cell phones at the mall.
All things being equal, it means that statistically the odds of landing a job were one in 111,000. Yet all things are not equal, the prison is outside of town and requires a dependable car and the mall job requires decent clothes. Montgomery's long and checkered past still haunts. The first Capital of the Confederacy, it has battled for and against segregation, but we always thought that one day America would drag Alabama in to the twentieth, now twenty-first century. But alas, it seems that the opposite is true. Montgomery has dragged America back into the past; where even here in this white collar enclave they vote as blue collar Alabamians. Don't need no public schools soaking up my tax money! Don't need no union boss trying to run my life.
I write about the experiences of homelessness as one man but I know well that we are many. That this story is not just about me but about millions, we are one together. I do not feel at home and you probably don't feel at home wherever you are traveling either. I have completed a book about my experience of being homeless and the response by the publishing industry has been, "Why would you write about that?"
Why not write about celebrities or true crime dramas where someone cuts somebody's head off? Just another symptom of our sick society, a society that idolizes a woman wearing meat and excoriates those without any to eat. One agent suggested that I rewrite the book as narrative nonfiction. "You don't understand," I explained, "these stories are snapshots taken in real time. To rewrite them would be ghosting their images."
My friend who has taken me in said the other day, "You and your sailboats." You see, that is my dream and my fantasy--to live on a sailboat, a home that I can take with me. A home where I can move when it suits me. A shell, a cocoon, and all of it fantasy. Yet when you think about it, it is a noble fantasy and a good address, for when you have nothing, fantasy is a nice place. No one can harm me there nor take anything from me and when I close my eyes to sleep I'm free to sail anywhere that I might wish to go. If you like you can come with me.