Sunday, October 23, 2005

Aaron vs. Barnes and Noble

I have found Hell. It is not, as previously recorded, located somewhere between here and digging to China. Nor, as hypothezied by deconstructionalists, is it located in our celestial orbit to counterbalance the fraudulent notion of heaven. Furthermore, Hell is most definately not merely a state of mind, as the Freudulent would have you believe. No. Hell exists. Right here, on Earth (but not, as pessimists assert, Earth itself): at any of your local Barnes and Noble/Borders/Local Booksellers.

I refer, of course, to the Young Adult Fiction section. I recently journied through the munificent tiers of books in search of a GRE review book, having decided that such a course of action might be the inevitable conclusion to my job search. After frightening myself initially by picking up the specialized "English" GRE review book (which trains one to recognize classical authors by style alone), I started to flee the ominous and omnipresent stacks, only to collide with this self-made Hell.

First off, I never realized there were so many Chicken Soups for the Soul. Apparently we're all very sick people (we would be, to write these books to begin with), and more so, we can be segregated into extremist factions, from the Christian Right to the Libertarian Right to the hardcore street toughs (who I'm sure have better things to do than read... this, at least). I'm still waiting for Chicken Soup for the Chicken Soup Reader's Soul, or Chicken Soup for the Illterate Soul, or, as my good friend Zack pointed out, Chicken Soup for the Fetal Soul. These, I'd like to affirm, were the best of the section. To the left: illustrated diet books for young teenagers. The kind of glitsy girl-talk pink and posh covered journals that assert, in glam-speak, with like every other word, exactly what it's like, like, to be a girl, like, trying to have, like, a body... and junk. Frightening. Almost as frightening as, to its right (to it's FAR right): The O'Reilly Factor for Kids. Did I mention the brainwashing children's version of the Left Behind series, forty books long and growing? (That's more than Animorphs, and only slightly less than Goosebumps.)

And on the opposite side: popular television show serial novels, set in the Buffyverse or thereabouts (not that there's anything wrong with that) and the modern day Hardy Boy/Nancy Drew equivalents. Yes, I'm talking about the pulp teen spy novel. But they used to have more tact: now they come right out and say "These are ordinary kids. Like you. They dress... like you. But then they go and do dangerous things." Wow. Way to make me feel, even more, like I wasted an integral part of my childhood. Good thing that section's not nearly as long as the wall-to-wall collection of Manga (Japanese comics, read back to front). I remember when these were merely a novelty item: hard-to-find and harder-to-sell, we were assured of only getting the best Japan had to offer. But then we got the culture shock of Tamogotchi and the Fad Market, and all of a sudden, every single pisspoor comic was ported over here. No more Ranma 1/2: instead, we get comics that are a sixteen of that, in other words, Ranma 1/32. For those who don't know, Manga, like most Teen novels, work in decompression: rather than telling a story concisely, they span out simple sentences over multiple pages to convey exaggerated shock and recycle the same sight-gags over and over again. It's much like reading a children's book, but again, we were in the Young Adult/Teen Fiction section. No wonder nobody likes to read any more. Look at the choices we're offering them.

No, this was a horrific example of what the market has been driven to; the same place that The New Yorker informs me many newspapers have been driven to. Despite the writer's general intelligence, they are forced to cater to their audience, in other words, to write not for themselves, but for those who might actually buy the paper. This has resulted in a lot of dumbing down, in other words, the creation of Hell in every bookstore. If we stop writing for the smart, we cease to give people the ability to read anything smart. Stupid becomes the new median, and I hestiate to think what lies beneath being retarded and stunted.

Save us, oh Jesus-for-Kids. We need your almighty miracles, as depicted in at least half a dozen Manga, to rectify the brand new sins of a greedy and intolerable market. For we, or at least I, are surely in hell now.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Aaron and the Homeless

Every other street, or neighborhood, ought to have one. I say this in response to the approach I’ve seen taken down on Houston by a more compassionate and understanding neighborhood. There’s a homeless man who lives – yes, resides – in a chair that sits outside a local Ray’s Pizza. He sleeps there, sheltered by the pizzerias’ awning, reclining against the wall and with this feet stretched out, back supported by a rickety chair. He has a large aluminum can hung around his neck, like a pasta sauce container, stripped of all recognition, and, for all purposes, is no more scruffy or banged up than the can itself. The community allows him to reside there, without calling on the police to catch him for loitering, even allows him to use the bathroom during operating hours to stay somewhat clean, and in return, he helps out around the neighborhood with small tasks. I have seen him, occasionally, sweeping the streets or delivering for the pizzeria. He seems sweet, not at all belligerent, and contributes to the neighborhood, becoming a staple rather than an eyesore, actually serving to give the place some LITERAL character.

Now, as a long time resident of Manhattan, I recognize that there’s a homeless problem. It’s one that seems insurmountable, and no long-standing solution has ever been offered. But how about something like this as a start? This neighborhood has not offered him a place to live, not welcomed him in with open arms: but they haven’t repelled him with pitchforks and fire either. Instead, they tolerate his presence – in fact, they, in cooperation with him, have found a way for both to benefit. I don’t mean to imply that the homeless are lesser creatures than the residentially-endowed or that they are a situation to be “tolerated” or “dealt with,” but merely that, in a city where being homeless is very much a social stigma, this seems to be a mutually beneficial fit. One that other neighborhoods with a charitable streak might want to consider.

We have all these people sleeping, unprotected and alone on the street. I’m not suggesting that we correct that overnight, but why not invite these people to sleep – one to a block – in our neighborhood? Find people who, due to circumstances are reduced to living on the street, and give them a halfway street on which they can rest a little easier. In a charitable cooperation, this person might be assured of three square a day, and a somewhat sheltered place to sleep, in return for which he/she might protect the premises (a living alarm) or help out with minor reconstruction/chores around the area. It costs us very little to help those who are suffering, but at the same time, it’s no surprise that we are more compelled by the intimate than the anonymous. Having a familiar face, a sort of outdoors doorman, might encourage the mutual relationship to grow: the homeless might be able to eventually better their situation through cooperation with local businesses (e.g. finding work) and hopefully, with legal employment and good relations with the surroundings, move up.

This is a serious topic, I understand, and I know that I don’t have quite the eloquent words to describe this. I also know that not all homeless people would take kindly to a relationship like this, one which, to some, would seem degrading and demeaning. And this is not a case of beggars not being choosers, because the moment a beggar loses the right to choose is the moment they lose their self-respect, the last ounce of their essence and self. What I’m saying is that it is difficult to find the appropriate methodology, and rather than having the current parasitic and defiling relationship, a more symbiotic approach, one cleaned up more than mine, seems like a good solution to an honest problem.

I post this here just because of the raw amount of homeless people I have seen recently, and the gentle way with which I have seen certain people treat them. People who have called them by their first name, or given sandwiches directly rather than money, as if they were children going off to school. Giving up a little curb seems a small sacrifice to enter into an overall more empowering relationship with the world and our community: and maybe I’m just in a naively inspired mood (for what is inspiration but na├»ve?), but couldn’t the residents of the Houston area have hit on something crucial and key?