|Skid Row, Los Angeles
I've mentioned it before, but my son Oliver has a pretty severe case of dyslexia and associated learning difficulties. While the few months we've been homeschooling have done wonders for his self-esteem, he continues to struggle with his feelings for the disorder, and while the prevailing one is shame (and very common in dyslexics), he is also impatient with it and at best, angry, as opposed to accepting. Oliver is with me much of the time as I traverse this great and diverse city, and one of our favorite sights is in the heart of Hollywood, right at the intersection of Hollywood Blvd and Highland. If we're lucky enough to catch a red light, we look at the opposite corner to see the same elderly man holding up a cardboard sign that says, FUCK YOU. I don't know why this makes us laugh -- perhaps it's the audaciousness of it, mixed as it is among the crowds of tourists, the hucksters dressed as superheroes, the equally elderly man perched on top of a U.S. mailbox with the sign YOU'RE GOING TO HELL, JESUS SAVES (who I've always thought was incredibly hopeful and ambitious, given the location). Yesterday, we were pulling out of a Chick-Fil-A (I know, we're not supposed to support a homophobic organization, but this is the Hollywood Chick-Fil-A), when we noticed a guy sitting on the curb across the street with his homemade sign that read I WOULD BE ALERT BUT I'M HOMELESS AND HUNGRY. I HAVE MORALS AND HERPES. Oh good Lord, I thought, steeling myself for Oliver's questions. Sure enough, he asked me what it all meant, so I told him. He thought for a few seconds and then said, Well, anyone who can spell those words is probably fine. That made me laugh out loud and then think in my mind about just how hard it is for Oliver to be dyslexic -- so hard that a man with apparently no possessions other than a dirty, weird sign would seem, to Oliver, to be in a better position. Then I worried that Oliver might need a little more perspective, so I lectured a bit, as I am wont, on compassion and perspective, and he tolerated it. Later on in the day, when I heard for the gazillionth time about the asshole basketball team owner and his sordid mistress and the outcome of his racist conversation being his swift dismissal and ban from the NBA, I wondered why some wrongs get such quick and relatively easy responses from the Powers That Be. Privacy issues aside, and trust me, I don't give a flying foo-foo about sports in general, much less the business of sports, what about that particular story warranted the enormous outcry that something like the growing number of homeless people living on our streets doesn't -- or children being denied medication like medical marijuana -- or women not making the same amount of money as men in similar jobs -- or people getting laid off when the CEOs of their companies pull in tens of millions of dollars in salary alone? Or, let's face it -- the growing number of citizens here who live in poverty alongside people who buy and drive $150,000 cars, or send their children to elementary schools that cost $40,000 a year?
Is it all relative?
One of my Facebook acquaintances (let's face it, not all of our Facebook peeps are friends) posted something about how awful it is that Obama had something to say about that basketball owner but, so far, hasn't said anything about removing marijuana from the Schedule 1 class of drugs. He was pretty angry about that as were most of his "friends," and if it weren't for the many racist comments on that string (not from him), I would have agreed with his frustration. I'm not a moral relativist and actually hate the expression it's all relative, but I have to wonder what, exactly, drives people other than money. I'm curious why, exactly, this particular instance got this particular enormous response. I guess it's a good thing, but it does make me wonder. Oliver's anguish over dyslexia seems to trump the homelessness of that man in his mind. Obama not taking a stand on medical marijuana trumps his taking a stand against racism for some. Freely using the word retarded which basically dehumanizes and denigrates millions of people is not nearly as bad, apparently, as denigrating millions of black people.
I don't know what to think, but I'm thinking. And it makes me think the guy with the FUCK YOU sign might have the answer.