Excerpt: "The Ragged King" (Modus Dialogukung Et Monologukung)
In their quest to find Margaret, Lark and his son (Leander) arrive in New York City. Leander has never been to a city, so that's interesting.
“Dad, who’s that?”
“How should I know? I’ve never seen him before.”
“No, but why’s he sitting there on the road with that other man.”
“Ah, I forget. You’re not used to city life. We call them the homeless.”
“They don’t have homes?”
“No, son. He’s a vagabond taken to the street. But they’re all individuals. Just look at them. Hmmm, especially the one sitting. What a story he’d tell. He’s ragged old, like bitter winter dressed as a beggar. Alms go without price, some alms without poor, and no truer for him, sitting, wild-eyed like a lunatic, gray hair caught by the torrent taking the air. But he has a sinister regality to him. He’s unholy. A madman king, the pavement his throne, cardboard his scepter, heaven his madness, his only recourse to throw up his hands and beg the world for pennies, beg the gods for mercy.”
“The gods? What do you mean?”
“Us. Them,” I said pointing around. “The carefree drivers of the street. They drive on, down the streets of Bank and Muenster, all the way from Little Tokyo to New Amsterdam, and carry on like waves on waves of unhuman men, women too, with faces of stone, without a wave without a gesture, looking straight on, toward the goal, the upward call of skyscrapers and ladders, beckoning them, onward forever.”
“But why is no one helping them?”
“That’s not what’s happening. Plenty of people are ‘helping’ them. Dropping quarters, dollars, twenties and fifties. That’s their help. Compassion is cheap in a society built on the concrete hard and stone cold foundation of cash. Both the loiterers and busybodies, both cheapskates and entrepreneurs, brigands and cops, executives and laborers, all alike down to the last one, regardless of gender, each and every one can spare a dollar - or even ten - for the madman that dies in his unfolding.”
As they got closer, they heard him.
“Do you hear him? The red moustache coming down over his cracked lips muffles his words, like a bad microphone with a dull broadcast, sound waves drowned in the throng. And look, his brother-in-adversity - bare-faced, smooth-skinned, acne-covered - darts his eyes around at it all, bewildered.”
“Can we help them?”
We slowed the pace.
“Help them? Hmmm, if only it were that simple - to ‘help them.’ Imagine if you could! Give a man a hundred dollars, and suddenly he has a chance! Then hope maybe someday he’ll be fixed of his core problems. But I don’t think it’s that simple. See, these men are fixed, but not like machinery after its bad - no, more like a dog made nutless.”
“It’s true! What is there to say, most are hooked on angel dust or special K. You don’t know these men. Now, let’s turn and keep keep pace with the throng.”
But he didn’t.
“Or you don’t.”
“Maybe you don’t know them. Maybe you’re wrong, and you could actually be the one person to make a difference in their lives. But you’re too blind to see it because you’re so worried what they’ll do with whatever you give them. Dad, you told me it doesn’t matter what other people do, it only matters what I do. So why does it matter if they go abuse drugs? Aren’t we supposed to do the right thing anyway?”
“Well, I think that’s out of context.”
“No it’s not, and you know it.”
“If we’re going to help them, this isn’t the way to do it. This isn’t sustainable. It’s just going to keep them on the streets, begging, on drugs.”
“Then what are you going to do about it? Do something about it!”
I looked at the men, sitting and standing, blank stares as they on-looked, our struggle visible to them and everyone else on the street, including a particular man of scrawny disposition, embroidered with tattoos of webbing and skulls.
“Oh, and now look. Like most people who see something interesting going on, this hipster’s pulling out his iPhone to start recording our conversation. As if that’s the meaning of everything - only to be recorded by a $500 phone and posted on YouTube for every person to speak their thoughts on it, to share with their friends to hear what they think about it, as if this one conversation with my son and every other event that ever took place were a cumulative discussion to be had by the world. Take a hint and turn the phone off, blight!”
“I don’t think you can legally tell me to stop recording. This is public property. I'm just recording life on the street here.”
“I’m tempted to say, ‘Thanks, shit face,’ but I’m trying to not curse in front of my son.”
“So instead I’ll roll my eyes at you. Hope that gives you the message. Alright fine, son, here's a fifty, let them split it.”
He took the bill.
“Look at him smiling, walking over. Well, I needn’t tell you, keeping your camera on him. But don’t miss out on the real focal point -- the ragged king, meditating on his asphalt throne foregrounding the brick wall, the other youth keeping court with a sterilized look on his face.”
Walking up to the two, he smiled and offered the fifty. The mad one slowly looked up, then smiled.
“Aye, you're a kind one, eh? A little elven boy bearing gifts, like an angel on the streets. From whence you come? And be ye sent by God, or gods?”
“My mom always told me ‘angel’ meant messenger. And she did say I was a messenger of God.”
“Really? Quite a coincidence, wouldn't you say? You really are then. And your mother’s a prophetess. So, God sent me this fifty, huh?”
“I guess so.”
“That's a bit strange. You'd think God would've sent me a denomination I could've split with my compatriot.”
He looked at the pubescent hobo beside him.
“Oh, uh, I guess you’re right. Hey dad! Do you have another fifty?”
“You must be joking.”
The camera turned to me to capture my reaction, but I pretended not to notice.
“I've only got a twenty. Hey camera boy, you got any money?”
“‘Course you don’t.”
The homeless man responded this time, “That's alright, we don't need another fifty. It'd be nice to have equal bills, but -- as I’m sure you know little angle -- sometimes God doesn't give you what's convenient. He gives you what you're supposed to work with. Here you go, Tim, you need it more than I do.”
The young man put it in his coat pocket, remained silent as the stone upon which he walked.
“You know, boy, your father's not all wrong about us. Some of us just sit on street corners and rake in a couple hundred bucks in a few hours, then spend it on drugs, booze or women -- I won't lie to you.”
“Do you do that?”
“I said ‘some of us.’ No, not me or Tim here. Though he has tripped up time to time, right Timmy? But listen, kid, you'd do well to listen to your father. Just because you gave us a fifty doesn't mean Tim’s life is changed. I mean what's he going to do with his money? I know it's going to help him pay for another month of rent, but what about the next month? And the one after that? He needs something that'll help him his whole life.”
I walked over. “Thanks for saying that.”
“And you. Listen to what your son’s saying.”
“He may be an idealist, but it's better than being a sour crout. Combine your old guy wisdom with his young ideals and build something nice together.”
“Old guy wisdom? That’s kind of funny coming from an old guy.”
“Well, one old guy to another - you’ve got the know how, but you won’t do anything worth getting done, not until you start thinking like a child again.”
“You say ‘again’ like I used to.”
“You did used to, I’m sure of it.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Yes I do. I can see it in the softness of your eyes. And you’d be as mad as me to deny it.”
“You don’t seem all that mad.”
“Well, I pooped my pants this morning. Does that count?”
“Well there you have it! Do you want to be like a pants-pooping lunatic or do you want to make a difference?”
“I think we’ll just leave.”
“Alright, leave. But don’t forget, you’ve a decision to make. Make a difference, or poop your pants the rest of your life.”
“Thanks for that. We’ll be going now.”
The two walk out of earshot.
“Your next lesson in Homeless People 101: Besides being stereotypically drug addicts, homeless people are also stereotypically crazy.”
“Dad, that man needed help just as much as anybody.”
“You’re not wrong.”
“I’m not just ‘not wrong,’ I’m right.”
“It’s always right or wrong with the youth.”
“I’m either right or I’m wrong.”
“Kierkegaard would take difference to that statement. And Derrida would take differance to that! Ha-ha! Well, I definitely make myself laugh.”
“What are you even talking about?”
“Nevermind that, you’re right. But what’s the best way to help them? That’s what you have to figure out. And, I’m too busy to think about that right now, so let’s just desensitize our minds by walking in this numbing cold for a while. Join the throng, huh?”
You need to be logged in to comment