Finding a Pay Phone that Works [A Short Story]

Power knows without doubt that it can always get

half of the poor to beat the shit out of the rest of the poor.

I

Now that street thugs have cell phones, they are not going to destroy the new terminals for charging cell phones.

What!? They did not have quarters when the cost of a pay phone was twenty-five cents? Destroying cell phone terminals will become a right of passage in cities. We have had the kind of rhetoric in our discourse on poverty that has lead us to rationalize and even justify certain behavior to the point where the behavior becomes a mandate. It’s almost proof positive of poverty. Of course any fear of the dregs of our city destroying community property is not to deter the city from offering this service to communities across town, but I am sure that most of the ones that will continue to work will not be in poor neighborhoods. I’m sorry.

I know you do not like the word ‘dregs,’ but I suit word to action and action to word, word to state of being and state of being to word . . . diction is always something I consider carefully when I write when I speak when I say what I say when I am telling anything that needs to be told . . . word after word on lines in notebooks I keep with me wherever I go time in and time out. I now have over twelve to fifteen thousand pages of journals and blog entries that comprise a good deal of the story drafts, the poetry drafts and the essay drafts, along with simple daily or weekly entries we used to call journal entries, but now most of us keep a blog, that is, a web log, blog, blog, blog the new blah, blah, blah. Surfing the net inferring a kind of oceanic experience, no, some metaphoric oceanic experience blogging is not. The blog, like the log of a ship’s captain? I put pen to paper–I want to keep a journal at home in one of those rather oversized books that I can keep with my pen and nib and ink wells dipped to write in them the way Shelley and Keats would have written in a journal, some oversized bound book of pages either blank or lined, who needs lines, we need them the way we do upper and lower case letters but the Romans did not who were literate in their language all capital and no spacing as we have between words and sentences because anyone who was literate knew where words began and ended . . . does anyone remember trying to find a pay phone in New York, especially in poorer neighborhoods? It was nearly impossible with how many were broken or trashed. I am not maligning poor people, but saying simply that community property suffers greater damage from the public in poor neighborhoods than community property does in more affluent neighborhoods. People with greater livelihoods feel more invested in their community, it seems; but then this is not news, is it? Are we really only about money? It might seem this way. This is one way to understand this conundrum in our society. But then I am still a little puzzled by the disregard for the convenience of other people like themselves that poor people seem to indulge, even if it is only some poor people in poor neighborhoods, and I do know that it is not all or most or even many–

Do poor people in poor neighborhoods have less respect for what is communal? It does seem so, doesn’t it? At least to an outside eye–but then eyes outside do not see inside? They do, though, have a savage, nearly reptilian response to any affront to their own property, personal belongings . . . more materialistic than people with money? People with money know they can replace what they are about to lose? I really do not know where this is going, so let’s just follow the course.

What are we saying half the time about poor people, how we have to understand their reality–and how many times do you here some stupid trash talking asshole on the subway shouting his convictions to a friend who has to sit six seats away from him about how people don’t know reality or how other people, meaning people with intelligence and/or education or some semblance of civility or civilization, don’t understand him and his, do not know the special knowledge he has about what human nature is–or is it homo-sapiens nature because human is a choice if and only if humane.

Of course, no one has reality or knows reality or experiences reality but this dumb mother fucker who can only beat his girlfriend because his manhood is caught somewhere between the mind of a seven year old and that of thirteen year old, and I’m talking abuse by abuse by and for abuse.

I just don’t get poor people trashing their neighborhoods the way some of them do–and it’s true . . . they do trash their neighborhoods, some of them, not all of them, but enough of them to make shitty for everybody. They do shit where they eat and sleep. They are jackals, some of them. If you were to examine the amount of waste and refuse left in the gutter, on the sidewalks, in the halls and vestibules of their apartment buildings–what? It can’t just be the few that some poor people want you to think it is, as if it were only a handful.

You do not see that poor people litter their neighborhoods not only with paper but refuse that leads to more rats and roaches. Look at the buses and the trains that move though these neighborhoods. What gives with poor people taking privilege with what they can do to community property and public spaces? Poor people do piss in the streets more often than rich people, but let’s say that rich people always have access to bathrooms that poor people do not except by the grudging kindness of fast food managers who are just a little less poor than the people who would fuck up his bathroom as a right of urban passage.

And it is a sense of privilege–unless they feel so inferior to rich people that this is the only license they can come up with indulging in the matter of their liberty. It is a privilege they take when they think they can leave their food refuse on the busses and the trains and in the hallways of their buildings and rationalize it with poverty, or because the motherfucker is so poor he now has a special space for him to indulge his stupid ass resentment on the public spaces he shares with other poor people.

And you do understand that privileges are reserved for the repressed, not the elite–you are getting it wrong.

I have members of the poorer communities moving into my rent stabilized building and I am seeing chicken bones in the vestibule, sneaker boxes in front of the door, coffee cups half full on the stairs–the front door lock is repeatedly broken. There isn’t even the good sense enough to understand that they make themselves and their loved ones less secure by breaking the door lock when they insist on remaining too stupid to remember to take their key or too cheap to spend the dollar seventy-five to make a copy of the key to take along or give to someone–no! Let’s break the lock so I can spend my dollar seventy-five on what, I would like to know, maybe pooling it with his other moron friends so they can spit a forty while they split a spliff. Unless they do it to vent steam as I have heard since the seventies, but fuck that shit because most poor people do not do it, except there are enough poor people who do to make their neighborhoods shit holes. No, let’s stop making excuses for the too many asholes who live in shit and heap more shit on top of the shit so everyone else can be buried by the shit.

You can’t imagine I would not want to beat any one of these dregs of humanity with a stick–maybe a bat–I have used bats before–but then wanting in imagination is not the wanting that transcribes itself as will. What I write and what I do are often not the same; what I allow myself for instance in my journals . . . I do not expect too many to understand what I say when I do, or how it is said, but then Satyrs we are not . . . nonetheless, we cannot use poverty as an excuse or a rationalization or justification for trashing a neighborhood. I’m sure, for instance, that there are too many people in America like myself who do not want to hear how poverty is the reason why some places in inner city neighborhoods are trashed. No fucking excuse. Poverty may be a variable, but poverty is not the reason.

It is the same everywhere. It is the same in London, in Naples, in Berlin, in Tokyo, in Shanghai, in Bogota, in Santiago, in Cairo, in Beirut, in Paris, in Moscow, in Kiev, in Tashkent, in Bombay . . . no? Where is it different? It isn’t different anywhere, Jakarta, Hanoi, Bangkok; Chicago, Miami, Toronto; it does not matter the city. If there is not a universal human nature, there is a universal poor nature–and fuck you if you don’t live with these assholes and imagine you have some sociological explanation for why they do what they do–and I say you do not understand what you are talking about . . . power is power is power, money is money is money, and poverty is poverty is crime–and the fucking poor are just as snobbish as the rich. I had a friend who had told me about an alleged friend who had an African-American classmate once tell this friend  that the one thing black people repeatedly fail to get about niggers is just how snobbish about being poor and stupid niggers really are . . . I suspected one or the other—either my friend or the alleged friend of my friend—was full of shit.

Violence, vice, trash, litter, garbage, waste, everywhere there are people who are poor, poor white people, poor black people, poor Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Chinese, Russians, Africans, Latinos, Chicanos, Canadians, atheists, illiterates and people who stick their thumbs up their ass because they have too much time on their hands waiting for a Social Security check because being poor is now a mental illness . . . I wish it were different. Where poor people in America are only white, there is nothing but trash everywhere to be seen. Human depression knows no bottom. What else is it, though, among poor people, that raises the issue of refuse? What then must we do? You know what the elite say. You know what the fascists are going to say–and the next revolution in America is going to be a fascist one, one where we will get half the poor to beat the fuck out of the other half of the poor.

II

What now about Jim. Who is Jim? What is Jim? Why is Jim, Jim, is Jim poor? Jim is poor. Jim is violent. Jim is stupid. Jim is stupid because everyone in his life is stupid. Jim is also uneducated, which probably would not make him intelligent, but might give him some way of mediating his stupidity.

There must be a genetic predisposition to his stupidity, I would love to think. He can only be stupid; he will never be anything else but stupid. He can only breed stupid children. He should have a state forced vasectomy to keep him from breeding, but we won’t do that because we cannot do that and maintain the illusion we are a free and democratic society which we know we are not. We have to believe he has certain unalienable rights otherwise we could not believe that we do–but then there is something to this about him having unalienable rights. I mean, if I am we the people–and you have to understand this is true–then he has to be we the people too. Liberty, democracy and civil rights are a big pain in the ass, though, aren’t they? Looking around everywhere I go, travel . . . I know what I have seen. I do not know if poor people should have the same rights as I do being as fucked up as they are more often than most others who are not poor.

We have to offer him, though, what he could never understand and will denigrate and abuse left and right because it makes us feel superior to do this, although I understand that we do have to love Jim as I recall the nuns in Catechism class teaching us before First Holy Communion and then Confirmation into the One True Holy Roman Apostolic Church. Even at the moment when his simian mind conceives that I deserve to be the recipient of one of his violent outbursts because he has the reading level at 25 of a second grader and he lives with a night light on in his head, although I too have no fear of violence and would use any blunt object in my grasp to defend myself and split his fucking troglodytic head open like a cantaloupe–where was I?

No question coming from here, someone who would not hesitate in putting some piece of poor white trash shit in the sewer where he belongs. Kill the mother fucker if he wants to do violence to me . . . I do not know if I can get to the point where I say exterminate all pieces of shit like this. Reactionary power will here will not have to kill all of the poor–they will kill enough of themselves, and in the final analysis, you can always get half of the poor to beat the other half of the poor with truncheons.

Jesus I will never be; Saint Francis I can never become. Mea Culpa, mea culpa . . .there is no more to say. I know you want more to be said. I cannot say anymore. I will not try, no essaying the topic. Let it rest where it is. It is what it is, how it is. No more; no less. I wish it were different. It will not be. I know I am often less than I should be, less than I am sometimes, more than just some, the times I am more than myself, more than my nature–nature has nothing to do with civilization. Civilization and nature are separate realities. We always have to be careful when we try to make our lives more natural–me splitting Jim’s fucking head open is nature, is natural; is that what we really want?

Jim has no tools to build a humane character. The role he plays on the stage of our world is the one determined by his nature, wholly and exclusively. He is Homo-sapiens at best and always at worst. Human humane is not a question in his to be or not. As I know I should beat him with a stick, the only thing he will ever understand, I do know I have to have compassion, that I have to patience, that I have to have tolerance, that I have to extend respect, that I have to protect his rights as I want mine protected too. So, what now Jim? What then must the rest of us do about you, for you, to you? I am in a quandary about what to do with Jim, to Jim.

Jim will never have a clue and anyone like Jim who does have a clue won’t help him, does not want to help him, wants Jim never to have clue, hopes Jim will always be as he is what he is wherever and whenever he is. And the world turns.

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