A Threat and a Call to Action

If you are reading this post and recalling whether there was a post with a similar title to this, you are absolutely right. This post is a continuation of my previous post, which happened to be my first post on this blog. Like the fractals, the figure of the homeless person returns in full force to the pages of Big Machine, and this permutation of the homeless person rears its head in a unique way.

Ricky Rice and Adele Henry, the Gray Lady, land in Garland, California to look for Solomon Clay. They stand in Stone Mason Square waiting in a big crowd for the Mayor to appear and make a speech. Adele Henry mentions to Ricky that “I was so surprised when we got here because Stone Mason Square is usually pretty empty. Most days, it’s just bums, passed out everywhere.” (LaValle, 120) In this case, Ricky doesn’t directly witness the homeless people, but hears about them. This is an important distinction from when Ricky first encountered the homeless man on the bus (Lavalle, 12). Ricky could see, hear, smell the homeless man’s presence, and it’s hard to overlook a homeless man or deny their agency. Adele states to Ricky that “Solomon Clay is recruiting them.” (LaValle, 120). The recruitment of homeless people, especially for some unknown agenda, is terrifying to a lot of people. Homeless people represent the outcasts of our society, those who have a complicated relationship with bureaucracy because it has failed them in the past. Ricky, an outcast himself, understands this, but because he has only heard about the homeless people and Solomon Clay, they are amorphous to any sinister agenda.

Mayors are very important in the history of homeless people, especially in major cities like New York City. In 1979, the court case Callahan (a homeless man v. Carey (the New York State Governor at the time) ensured that in New York City, no homeless shelter could deny a person a bed. (Callahan v. Carey decision) Ed Koch, the mayor of New York City at the time, was instrumental in enforcing this rule, but also was very limited in resources, so there was, and continues to be, an overwhelming demand on the shelter system, and that turns away some homeless people. This rule is also a reason (out of many) why many homeless people will go to New York City, instead of heading to a warmer climate. I learned this because I did a research paper on modern homelessness in New York City in high school, and I find it particularly useful in understanding the role of homeless people in these next few chapters.

There are two stories told of the homeless people in Garland, especially when relating to Stone Mason Square. Adele Henry represents one side of this story. She relates to Ricky, “People used to call this Panhandler Plaza. You could barely park your car before ten guys were at your window asking for change…People despised them. And eventually people came to despise Stone Mason Square.” (122) An “us vs. them” mentality is created in this statement, and the presence of the homeless people is seen as a pestilence and not a symptom of a broader social problem, or a class of people that should be treated with empathy. Stone Mason Square reminds me of places like Times Square, Washington Square Park, and Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan, public squares where there were high populations of homeless people. Mayor Bill Dinkins had a major conflict with the homeowners around Tompkins Square Park due to the high population of homeless people, and the homeowners contended that the homeless people were dangerous and made walking in the park unsafe. (Vitale, 148) The main activists fighting against Dinkins were cleverly called BASTA (Before Another Shelter Tears Us Apart). The complaint by the Mayor of Garland, “We surrendered Stone Mason Square long ago. Surrendered the land to people who used it as a toilet!” (LaValle, 123) is remarkably similar to the complaints made by BASTA and by other people opposed to homeless people’s presence in their neighborhoods. This led to Dinkins shutting down the park in 1991. He eventually re-opened the park, but the park has a curfew to this day.

After an explosion at Stone Mason Square, and Ricky’s poisoning, Ricky and Adele head to a protest at Laguna Lake, just outside of Garland. The preacher leading the protest tells a completely different story: “When our mayor made plans to rejuvenate Stone Mason Square, he faced one big problem. All of those folks sleeping on sidewalks. Where do they go?…Our mayor treated the square like an anthill…Mayor Brady plans to do the same here. To resurrect Laguna Lake. Which sounds fine, but will everybody be welcome in that paradise?” (LaValle, 169) This approach treats the homeless people with empathy, and casts the Mayor and those who support him as the real enemy. In that homelessness research paper, I concluded that above all, there needs to be a radical transformation of people’s attitudes towards homelessness. If I knew about this quote from Big Machine, I would have certainly quoted it in my research paper. In Ricky’s feverish state, he remembers this: “…I felt a powerful guilt and remembered my trip to the Library months before. We sent that man off our bus. Drove away and left him in a snowstorm. The preacher and his congregation might as well have been protesting me.” (LaValle, 169-170) Ricky may have been an outcast, but he wasn’t homeless. He experiences the same guilt that many of us feel when the topic of homeless people comes up in conversation, and unfortunately Ricky’s action of running away from the protest is similar to many of ours.

I plan to cover the homeless people’s final permutation in my next blog post, since this one is especially lengthy. I believe that LaValle included the motif of homeless people in Big Machine for many reasons. However, one of the most critical reasons is that homeless people represent one of the fractal, recursive, self-organizing, permutation principle’s worst examples: homelessness is an example of when evolutionary such as education, religion, government, and the economy, among others, repeatedly ignore or deflect the issue. Homelessness disrupts the social order and any illusions of progression, which is why homeless people, to the people in power, are ultimately so ideologically threatening.

Thank you for reading this (very lengthy) post, and I hope you will read Part III!

Bibliography

  • Vitale, Alex S. City of Disorder. New York, US: NYU Press, 2008. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 14 April 2016.
  • Callahan v. Carey. Supreme Court of The State of New York. N.d. Coalition for the Homeless. Coalition for the Homeless, n.d. Web. 13 May 2016.

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