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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Thursday, November 17, 2005

outside my front door

I stepped outside tonight for a quick ten 'o clock run to the market.

Tonight is garbage and recycling night, and that means that folks are scavenging the recycling barrels for cans and bottles.

Across the street a woman of indeterminate age shone a flashlight deep into my neighbor's barrel. She moved quickly and didn't pay attention to me. As I crossed the street to my car I saw a figure searching through the barrel in front of my house.

It was a young boy. Probably ten years old. He was wearing a coat over a plaid baggy shirt and slacks. He had on a knit cap. He had a flashlight too.

He looked up at me. And I guess I must have looked at him long enough that he thought he had to say something.

He said, "Hello."

And his voice sounded like every other ten year old boy in the Bay Area. It was a boy's voice.

He said it once..."Hello"...and looked at me.

I didn't say anything back. I figured that it was his mom across the street. And as much I hated the entire situation; there was nothing to say at that time of night to either of them. Nothing that would do any good, at any rate. I did nothing.

People in our society like to blame the victims. As a matter of brutal urban reality...it's not a wise idea for that mom to take her son out like that. It's not safe. And the police, or a social worker, would not look kindly on it. It's simply unfair to do that to a child.

But don't tell me you can blame a boy...a ten year old...for being put in that situation. And don't tell me that any parent wants that for their kid.

Don't tell me that this situation has nothing to do with this story...because it does.

Those at the top are greedy, those at the bottom are destitute...and those in the middle are anxious and in debt and don't dare offend the fewer and fewer big companies that control our lives.

You maybe think I'm full of it. I ask you...have you looked out your front door lately?



  • Now that's the kind of blog post worth reading.

    Good job, buddy

    By Blogger Tom Joad, at 11:53 PM  

  • kid oakland,

    I have been reading and loving you since before your departure at kos. I liked you there and I like you here.

    Your writing is marvelous but lots of young men on the net can write well. What I admire about you is your stubborn and persistant defense of low income people and people of color. That is hard to find on the web--especially the political pages that I frequent.

    I also really appreciate how open and honest you are about your own feelings (i loved the piece about possibly seeing your ex in a car)and how kind you are--that's a gift and I appreciate you sharing it.

    I am a little older than you and a mom, but I think we had some similar experiences when we were young. For me it created a world view that requires me always to walk in the shoes of others--esp folks who are struggling with poverty, racism, oppression.

    I know from personal experience that class differences are much more stark and seemingly impossible to bridge when you are looking up from the bottom then when you are looking down from the middle or the top.

    I am amazed at how hard it is for liberal activists to really identify with lower income folks. The 'us and them' mentalitiy is alive and well in both parties.

    Anyway thanks for doing what you do. I think you are making a big difference.

    By Anonymous aiko, at 6:16 AM  

  • Street Meeting

    He confronts me
    Smiling shyly, head down
    Embarrassed at the charade
    I see by your jacket that you was in Nam
    I was there too
    Shows me the scar to prove it
    How ‘bout a quarter for a fellow vet
    To get some wine
    He shuffles
    Wincing at the expected blows of righteousness
    I give him a dollar and say nothing
    You see
    We both have come
    To the same

    By Blogger leftvet, at 7:56 AM  

  • Like you, I usually say hello to folks who are working.

    By Blogger janinsanfran, at 8:12 AM  

  • Corporate tax shifting is part of the story. Another big part of the story is that local assistance programs are paid for, at least in part, out of state taxes -- taxes which aren't exactly what I'd call progressive. In the case of California, the bottom 20% of the population pays 11.3% of their income in state and local taxes, while the top 1% pays only 7.2%.

    By Anonymous silence, at 10:12 AM  

  • Dear Outside,
    Shame on you for not returning the greeting from the boy. He's human too, you know.
    Less to Port

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:46 AM  

  • Kid Oakland,

    Your article touched my heart. We also live in Oakland and I have seen the old people and the children looking through the recycling. It breaks my heart. And it really pisses me off because I know full well that we could easily solve this problem and help these people. We can put a man on the moon and we can waste billions on wars of choice, but we can't help these people - I say bullshit. I am no longer sure that I am "proud to be an American."
    The measure of a society is how it cares for it's weakest and most needy (I don't recall who's quote this is). Anyway, enough with the rant, for now. Keep up the great work.

    By Anonymous Fellow Oaklander, at 12:06 PM  

  • People like to blame the victim because it's comforting. If you blame the victim you don't have to realize how close any of us are to being "victims" at any time. The great majority of us are one illness, accident or job loss away from becoming one of "them." The flawed thinking goes like this, "they did something wrong and I did not or will not make that same mistake, so I'll be okay. If only they were smarter, they would not
    have done 'that' and thus become victims - It was their own fault."

    By Anonymous Fellow Oaklander, at 12:22 PM  

  • should have said hello and asked if they would like a coffee or tea

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:15 AM  

  • Re: not acknowledging the child's greeting.

    The message conveyed is one of judgment. By ignoring him, does he not feel judged as unworthy. I do not believe this was your intention, but I do think it was most likely how it occurred to the boy.

    Years ago I came accross an interview in Studs Terkel's book "Race" that discussed "affirmative civiltiy." I can't remember the detail in which it was described, but I took it to mean an active attempt to aknowledge the existance of others. To not avert my eyes when they meet those of a stranger or not cross the street when approaching youngsters with darker skin than mine. It is amazing what a simple nod of the head, smile or "what's up" brings back to you when walking the streets, riding the trains and busses of a city like Chicago.

    By Anonymous Chicago John, at 10:34 AM  

  • With all due respect to those judging my lack of "engaging" this kid and his mom...I wrote this piece to convey an honest story, not to make myself look good.

    Regardless, while I agree that saying "hello" back could have been just fine...there were real reasons I didn't.

    First, his mom was there...and was watching over him, and me. In the communities I've lived in, you don't engage other people's kids unbidden if a parent is there. It's an unspoken thing...but very true. I took my cue from the mom.

    Second, it is NOT safe for a kid to be out that late in Oakland. It is especially not safe for him to be saying "hello" to people he doesn't know. Pretending otherwise is wrong.

    Third, I didn't have anything "positive" to say. Maybe those who are judging me are social workers. I'm not. But that child should not have been out collecting cans at 10:30 on a school night. To be honest, the only thing I had to say was, "You shouldn't be out here collecting cans after dark."

    I'm sorry if that dissappoints. But that is what was on my mind.

    I HAVE engaged...worked in soup kitchens, with social workers, with the Big Brother, Big Sisters Program...and in my years in cities I've bought many meals, given money, time, an ear, a kind word and charity to those in need.

    But children don't belong on the streets of a dangerous American city at night. A mother who is taking her son out like that MIGHT be in a stable situation and just temporarily looking for extra money working collecting cans but, in all likelihood, the situation is much more complex than that. In reality, the outcomes and realities for families in that situation is very bleak.

    I'm not proud of that story; I told it so that you, too, might have a chance to experience it.

    PS. Chicago John, I hear very much what you are saying. I agree that a "hello" might have been just fine...hell, I say hello to all my neighbors, and look them in the eye. My job here, however, is be honest, not to "look good".

    I did not ignore that child, or his mother. Not at the time, or in writing this piece, or now.

    I know that. I was there.

    By Blogger kid oakland, at 12:35 PM  

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