I have these two friends I’ll call Randy and Roger. Both of them are what I would call “rich.” Neither of them would call themselves “rich.” Most people would call them “rich.” But they live in these insular, wealthy worlds in which everybody with whom they contact would be at least considered “upper middle class.” Occasionally, they fish out a poor person and help that person out, just to assuage their guilty consciences. But neither of them will ever do the one thing that a poor person needs the most, which is to offer that person respect.
Neither Randy nor Roger ever listens to me. They both constantly lecture me. If either of them does, on rare occasion, appear to be listening, they show no confidence that the viewpoint I am espousing might be valid. Instead, they sort of look blank for a moment or two, and then go on lecturing me. I have known Randy for almost fifty years now, and Roger for twenty years. But there was a time when the three of us were all in the same boat. We were all what I would now call “rich,” and what in those days we might have referred to as “upper middle class” – or at least “middle class.” For me to be making $50,000 a year and have $13,000 saved up in an IRA and a market rate savings account definitely does not spell “poor.”
Now I’m getting around to something. A while back, when I was frustrated that I couldn’t find singers for my project who would work for free, I sent a joint email to Randy and Roger, asking them if they could help. Roger replied by suggesting I was having an “episode.” Randy did not reply, but the next time I spoke with him, he insisted I should be “taking my meds.” I am searching for my email in my Sent Folder now, among myriad other emails addressed to one or the other of these guys, and I can’t find it. I’ll be sure to show you it once I do, but I can assure you there was nothing in the email that a reasonable person would hold to be an indication of a mental health crisis.
Not to mention, taking my “meds” isn’t going to help me find the singers I need for the project.
One of the points I often stress (that neither Randy nor Roger will listen to) is that it is unfair to those of us in the poorer socio-economic classes to be told that our abject poverty is the result of, or indicative of, a “mental health condition.” Granted, we all have our mental health issues. But there have been so many times when I have had a problem that could simply have been solved by money, and that a rich friend of mine, unwilling to let go of their money on my behalf, attributed to my “mental health disorder.”
Another thing I’ve noticed about these guys is that neither of them has a “concept” of respect. I once very respectfully asked Roger to stop introducing me to people as “bipolar.” I told him that this is a personal matter, and that I had mentioned my alleged mental-health diagnosis to him, because was a trusted friend.
So – what do you think Roger did? Nothing at all, in terms of actually honoring my request. He continued the same pattern, introducing me as “bipolar” to every person with whom we mutually came into contact. One day he sent me a copy of an email he sent to a Choir director, trying to get me a job as an accompanist, which contained the words: “Andy does have bipolar disorder, but he still can be trusted.” Did I get that job? Of course not! On to the next applicant.
Similarly, when I asked Randy to kindly leave all talk about psychiatric medications I should be taking to my doctor. my therapist, and I, nothing at all changed. Instead, he ramped into high gear, and indulged such talk even more so. Why? Well, this is my point:
People in the higher socio-economic classes who feel inwardly guilty over the plight of those less privileged than they will invariably attribute functions of abject poverty to those of anything other than abject poverty in order to avoid the guilt they would have to face if they saw these factors for what they are.
The past few days, I have been so angry at both of these old friends of mine, it has really weighed me down. Because I’m a Christian, I know I have to forgive these guys. But how do you “forgive” somebody whose behavior never changes? They seem to act as though there is nothing about themselves that should ever change. Their money entitles them to all kind of behavior that, if it were me, I would certainly want to take a look at, if somebody pointed it out to me.
Something tells me that I’m supposed to just let go of the whole idea, but it irks me that they both claim to like my music so much, and yet when it comes down to my financial need to produce this demo, not only will neither of them budge an inch to help me, but they have to attribute my legitimate request for help to some kind of “mental health crisis” or “episode’ on my part. It just seems that if they were really my friends, they wouldn’t need to belittle me like that. So I’m bipolar. So what? They’re not my damned psychiatrists, for God’s sake.
Here’s the thing about my two old friends that gets me the most: Randy and Roger have never met each other. Yet they live three blocks apart. To me, that’s just insane. How can they possibly be two of my closest friends, and live so close to each other, and over a twenty year period of time never once think it a good idea to meet? It just makes me sick to think I ever lived the life I once lived. Being poor isn’t a whole lot more fun than being homeless. In fact, being homeless was a lot more fun! If things don’t get better for me financially, if I can’t find another job around here, I think I’ll just pack up and go back to Berkeley and live outdoors. Why not?
Here at Friendship Square, I am forced to hang around every felon, ex-con, tweaker and sex offender that my landlord sees fit to rent to. I’m not like that. I’m an Artist. I want to write. I want my space. But they won’t give me my space. Not anymore. In a little over a year’s time, I somehow, though all I wanted was space, wound up knowing everybody in all forty apartments.
So much for all those prayers I thought had been answered. In the eyes of this small, narrow-minded Northern Idaho community, I am no different than any of the other people hiding out on Friendship Square. If this town that calls itself the “Heart of the Arts” truly had any heart for the Arts, they’d have embraced me long ago. Instead they branded me. I’m unemployed. I’m low life. Will I ever get a job again? I should never have quit that church job! At least it gave me an identity. I could say I was working. I wasn’t just a bum.
I’m tired of it. I want to move forward with my project. Since I left my job in mid-April, I’ve spent the latter half of each month starving. Starving!! Would I be starving on the streets of Berkeley? Hell no! In Berkeley, there are thirty-five free meals a week — many of them with unlimited free refills of Pete’s coffee. And not only that – but in Berkeley, there is inspiration.
I keep trying to pretend that moving indoors was a good thing for me — but it’s not in my blood. I’m tired of not being able to move forward with my project. I’m tired of rich people dismissing my need for financial help as some kind of “mental health issue.” I’m tired of waiting. I’m tired of having to kiss up to rich guys to make money I need — either for the project — or just to go on living. I’m sixty-four years old. I brought up a daughter and a stepdaughter – halfway anyway, or at least I tried. I’m tired. I’m old. I’m tired. I’m old. Rich people have everything. I’m sick of it.
Three more days till I get my pay. I want to just hit the road. I want to be me. I’m tired of living in a box. I want to be homeless. I want to be free.
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