People living in poverty have the least access to power to shape policies - to shape their future. But they have the right to a voice.- Nelson Mandela
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (ZP) -- There he sits, this wretch of a rogue, this public menace so foul that the local city council was forced to ban sitting on public benches for periods longer than an hour, to pass anti-loitering laws.
The wily beast grunts to himself, his natural odor fills the air with an animal's stench. He's mumbling to some invisible friend named Danny, laughing about some ethereal joke.
And he's smoking - DEAR GOD! THE CHILDREN! - a half-charred butt, leaning against his army surplus knapsack, and strumming a guitar with four out of six strings unbroken. He's got a coffee cup full of those other smokers' leftovers, half-used menthols and lights.
Mothers pull their children nearer as they pass him. A few local frat boy types walk behind him, mock his muttering. One suit-clad automaton makes a point of walking a half-moon around the unwashed, whiskered creature as he babbles into his Bluetooth earpiece theories about how the local real estate bubble is crashing like a wet paper airplane.
And in San Luis Obispo Fucking California, they're debating another round of smoking bans, too - bans on smoking on sidewalks, on those same One-Hour-Or-Less park benches, even in parks. For the children, of course. Community health and well-being, too.
These things are IMPORTANT, you know - not only does it make the health nuts happy, it veils yet more excuses to chase the idle homeless from their benches, their parks, from their very sight.
Wouldn't want to pick up any bad habits from creatures like that wild beast of a man sitting on that park bench. I mean, his simple pleasure in the open air home the world has dealt him surely harms all...
* * * *
It's not like homeboy has anywhere else to go, really.
In a county of almost 250,000 people, there are 2,500-4,000 homeless residents (San Fransisco County, by comparison, has an estimated 4500-6,000 homeless amongst its 800,000 residents) spread out in communities like Paso Robles and Nipomo, in Morro Bay and Pismo Beach.
And there's only two volunteer-run shelters, providing about 125 beds to sleep in, for all of those folks throughout the county without anywhere else to sleep, one day center for thousands spread out across a county twice the size of Rhode Island.
Yessir, they sure have their priorities straight here in SLO.
* * * *
"You must miss living here," the old man said. "I can't imagine living anywhere else."
I sipped my coffee and tried to go back to reading my graphic novel in peace. But, well, he wouldn't let up. His gray ponytail probably too tight, his bong at home to full of fucking pixie dust. An armful of progressive magazines, the NO MORE WAR! and OBAMA/BIDEN 2008 pin on the jam band tee, the token sandals and socks and patchouli stench of your everyday, Overgrown California Baby Boomer Hippie variety.
Welcome to San Luis Obispo. Mother Jones meets Dot Com venture capitalist, Emma Goldman meets the corporate raider Democrat, New Deal meets the Soccer Moms and $1,000-a-month slumlords.
"It's sad, you know. We have all these vagrants and not one of them ever seems to get the idea to move to a more... accommodating place... like to San Diego."
"I dunno. Maybe they like it here, too. Or maybe they can't afford to move, maybe they're stuck here."
Silence. Thank you all that is fucking hol-
"Not to be rude, I know you're trying to read, but they could hitchhike."
"Yeah, well... maybe they're all too fucking tired because they can't catch a few FUCKING winks in this town!"
"Sir, you don't have to use such language. It's bad for your health, man. And there's children-"
I look out the bookstore's window. The homeless dude's still sitting there, mumbling to himself. Completely oblivious.
"You think words are worse than what ya'll let happen to guys like that? Yeah, fucking regular utopia here, sure. Regular Orwell-Meets-Jerry-Garcia."
The freest of animals, an honorable, innocent beast, while I sit trapped behind glass with his self-absorbed, blind shepherds.
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