Good Morning Boss!
The Elite Homeless Class
by Tal Ariel
January 8, 2007
Shuddering from the wind and blinded by the brilliant colorless sky, I left my house this wintry morning heading towards the train station on my way to work. I began my morning commute mental Q&A exerices. What shall I have for lunch? How much will my bonus be this year? Who will be the next American Idol? Just a few of the more profound inquiries I challenged myself with as I passed several cafes, bookstores and other wage slave zombies on their way to earn their bread.
Barely dodging a wild-eyed cyclist freak, probably an anarchist, I crossed Market Street, and approached a corner of 16th Street where a few homeless people usually shack up for the night, no doubt enjoying the crisp winter breeze and gentle rain. Today, there was only one person sleeping on the sidewalk, enveloped in a dirty torn blanket, and guarded loyally by an empty shopping cart. Suddenly, I noticed a police officer park his vehicle, get out, walk towards the blanket, and yell out "Good morning boss! Time to get up…let’s go!" With a sudden violent jerk, the unidentifiable slumbering lump unfurled itself, revealing a bearded young man with a sleepy surprised look on his face. I was also surprised. How could this police officer know that it was time to wake up? Were they friends? Or maybe business partners? Did the adjacent expired parking meter apply to sidewalk sleepers in addition to cars? What a mystery!
So I continued walking, scratching my head at this strange phenomenon. It reminded of something that happened to me when I was in music school in New York City in the mid 90s. During a long break between classes on a beautiful spring day, I walked down to Washington Square Park to read, people watch, and mostly relax. The park was fairly quiet, without any of the usual religious sermons or acrobatic dance troupes. There weren’t many people there at all for that matter. So I decided to lay back and soak in the warmth of the sun, cushioning my head with my backpack (fortunately, music school did not require me to carry big hardcover books with sharp corners). After only a few minutes, I was approached by a policeman and told that I wasn’t allowed to lay down. Thinking I heard wrong, possibly due to my sun-induced intoxication, I asked him what was wrong. He repeated that I could not lay down and had to sit up. Having been younger, more naive and a college student at the time, I didn’t fully understand the true pillars of our democratic society – private property and unquestioning obedience to authority. Ever the inquisitive young lad, I asked him why. He answered firmly, "Because!". Naturally, the policeman’s response didn’t sit well with me, but I didn’t want to risk a confrontation so I grudgingly sat up straight and kept quiet like a good boy.
Still, I wondered why I wasn’t allowed to lay down and rest, but was allowed to sit and rest in the very same spot. Was it something about the angle of my back when parallel to the Earth that was particularly offensive? By laying down was I taking up more space than permitted? After all, New York is a very crowded place. Years later I figured out why I was forced to sit up. You see, laying down in a park is disrespectful to all the homeless people who sleep there at night. It would be like a stranger sleeping in my bed while I’m at work. Of course I recognize the logical nature of this law, though I still couldn’t help but feel it unfair that the homeless catch all the breaks in our society.
As a coworker of mine made it known a few weeks ago when we passed by a homeless panhandler, "I never give money to homeless people because they make so much money doing nothing and it enables them to stay homeless." Well, duh?!?! Everyone knows that homelessness is a fun, easy and lucrative occupation. Why else would anyone live on the street? If only the goddamn liberals would stop handing over all their money, maybe the homeless would finally have no choice but to get down from their thrones, buy their own homes and suffer indoors like the rest of us. Just because some of us don’t have the skill set necessary to be successful at panhandling doesn’t mean we should have to endure walls, roofs, beds and all the other soul-sucking amenities of a home. It’s unconscionable!
As my train neared my stop, I caught a glimpse of a newspaper article (I’m one of those who reads others’ newspapers while they are reading it on the train), and it finally hit me. It all made sense. The city introduced a new municipal service in 2008, whereby a police officer personally wakes you up to ensure you’re not late to your job and risk loss of income. I believe they call it Alarm Cop or Cuckoo Cop or something clever like that. Needless to say, this service is offered only to esteemed members of the elite homeless class. It even comes with a snooze option for those who prefer a little extra cuddle time on the cozy pavement.
When I arrived at the office, I navigated through the maze of grey cubicles to reach my 4X4 foot piece of corporate terra firma. I sat down, took out my notepad and pen, crinkled my eyebrows in a show of utter determination, and wrote down the following: "I will work hard. I will stay the course. I will do whatever it takes. And one day, I, Tal Ariel, shall achieve homelessness. Amen!" I put the note in my wallet and proceeded to write this article.