The Five-Dot Eagle
by Nic Olson
The new year has already had me clean up several kinds of faeces, including human, off of the snow-covered ground. It has had me see the reproductive organs of two single, middle-aged, grey-haired males, both dropping their pants in places that would not be deemed appropriate by a court of law. The new year has seen me drag a half-conscious man from a snowbank into a building to escape from a -40 degree Celsius Saskatchewan windchill. Two thousand fifteen can’t come soon enough.
Seeing penises does not make me a better person. I have a rewarding job, people often tell me. If this is the reward, then you must have an odd sense of payoffs. Nice to be able to make a difference, others claim. If the difference is that I get paid to ensure people don’t freeze to death on the street, then I claim that every citizen should somehow participate in this difference.
Later in the same day that I dragged Leon into the coffee room, I was walking to the library in the early evening darkness. A plastic bag was fluttering in the wind, but caught under the packed snow of the street. I bent down to grab the bag to put it in the proper receptacle, and had a flash of my action earlier in the day; dragging a man, foaming from the mouth, into his proper receptacle, that being Carmichael, and shortly after that, a police cruiser. I fleetingly feel shame in comparing Leon to a plastic bag stuck under road snow, but then again, this is how the man is treated. His proper receptacle is one of three locations with a span of three blocks, Carmichael, detox, or cells. The system has made his proper receptacle sanitized State-run facilities of oppression. An extermination hidden behind poor State-run social programs. I despise dragging a man, normally on crutches, grabbing him from under his armpits, as though I am hauling a piece of meat in a slaughterhouse (I couldn’t decide if this or leaving him lay in a snowbank was more dehumanizing). I despise calling the the undertaker, his hearse a police cruiser, but it is, through much experience, the only thing I can do in the current system of care to make sure Leon doesn’t freeze to death in the outdoor cooler. Passed around from under the armpit until he eventually dies and the program of cultural genocide continues.
Heartbreaking. Tragic. After calling in on a single person fifteen times, after two penises, after several species of shit, it isn’t heartbreaking or tragic. It ensues rage. It ensues rage for the reason that those who dictate these people’s lives through policy, through programming the state and public mentalities, are uninformed. Those of them who are informed are often purposefully-distant, economically- and socially-conservative tools of the State. Leon, they see as an inevitability, a ‘well-we’ve-come-this-far’ colonial stepping-stone, as a financial burden. And only when Leon can be seen as less of a financial burden, by proving to them that their system of oppressive police systems, court systems, correctional systems costs more than treating Leon as if he weren’t a bag caught in a snowbank, but as a human, only then will they listen. Only then will they consider his humanity. And when he becomes a taxpayer and not a leech off of the system, then will he be truly rehabilitated, and the program of forced assimilation continues.
Those are the two outcomes, deliberate and purposeful.
But Leon will never rehabilitate. He will likely never sober up. He will likely die in a snowbank, as he told me he wanted to, while he laid in a snowbank. And at his funeral, if the State were to attend, they would eulogize him by absolving their responsibility to help such a person and say that they offered him supports but he just couldn’t sober up. Because his addiction was the reason he was homeless and unable to rehabilitate—not the fact that he was the victim of a multi-generational genocide planned and carried out by several levels of government, and assisted in the apathy of the general populace. No, he was always fond of drink, they’d say.
Conservatives are not heartless, and progressives aren’t flawless. But conservative politics are heartless, based on and committed to a market-driven capitalist system that leaves people who cannot help themselves out in the snow, whether their supporters know it or not. If they do know it, and feel that it is neither the role of government, nor their role as citizens is to bring justice to the marginalized, then, well, they are as selfish as their politics. An ideology where an accountability to the market trumps an accountability to a human being is frightening when one looks into the already dimming future. And progressive politics are utopian, equally as damaging when they are bred in a bleeding-heart ignorance. Selfishness and ignorance, we are bound by thee.
I’m tired of penises and I’m tired of calling the police on people whose only crime is nearly dying outside. I’m tired of participating in a system of oppression. I’m also tired of my ignorance that leaves me helpless in offering change to a system so badly flawed. And if I got an education, I would be tired of dealing with politicians with track-blinders on, and a Social Services system designed for the likeable, sober, employable, white homeless man you saw as a kid in the PeeWee Herman movie—designed for the eradication of a culture that represents the opposite of a consumption-based existence. And if I got an education and participated in the reform of the system, I’d likely be tired of something else. Probably tired of living in the dregs of socialism.
The next day, over a bowl of chilli, Leon and I compared tattoos. He stuck his hand up my t-shirt sleeve to get a better look at mine, then he pulled up his leather jacket sleeve to show me his—four of five dots on his forearm that he did himself before the tattoo gun broke and he couldn’t continue. It was an eagle, he said, flying free in the sky. He gave a toothless grin, took his chilli and crutched his way to the north coffee room of his community-run receptacle.