“Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor…’ Or Perhaps Not.
I recently read an article about Erin Moran, the former actress who played Joanie on the 1970′s iconic American tv show Happy Days. She had now, to the glee of the free world, become homeless. Pictures were posted of Moran walking around a parking lot seemingly worst for wear at age 51 because she no longer looked as young and perky as the persona she portrayed.
I read the posts on the various media tattles about her state: people blaming and not blaming; sympathetic and non-sympathetic and wondered very briefly about her real story –and then my own when I became suddenly homeless right after obtaining my college degree. I suppose it was partly my fault—I proudly boasted my accomplishment among my working class friends. I was a working class guy and preferred to hang with what the Brits call ‘my mates.’ Although Americans claimed to be classless in the façade of the ‘American Dream’, the rich always thought they were better than the rest by the fact they were clever enough (‘by hook or crook’ as they say) to have wealth, whether stolen, earned or won.
I wasn’t sure how it happened. I was looking forward, optimistic about the future when I suddenly found myself out of a job and sleeping in my van. What really surprised me was that those who I thought of as my friends actually helped facilitate my state by making promises that they never intended to keep for reasons of pride, jealousy or maybe they just didn’t care. Certainly at their level of meager wealth, maybe they thought I thought what they had spent their lives building without a bachelors degree was better than my current state as college graduate. Maybe the real message was that they didn’t really believe it.
Some of my so called ‘friends’ even offered me work when I needed it and then withdrew the offer when the ‘need’ came to pass. One so called friend offered me a full time job for his company after I just gotten a temporary gig; but then decided after half a week to send me home with the excuse that there wasn’t enough work to keep me busy.
I suppose this is okay as long as no one took it seriously—and why should they when they had a place to live and food or the means to get it. As always, it isn’t a problem when it isn’t your problem.
I think the offer was probably for show— since I had a job, he could safely make a meaningless gesture. I suppose it wasn’t his fault I believed him.
I wasn’t expecting charity but people (I have found in my travels) may talk a lot about God and the goodness in the world; but they really see the world as Godless populated by Godless people and really believe that those who think otherwise are fools. Although I never had consistent proof of it, I held on to the notion that somewhere down in the heartless landscape of America’s bottom-line, there were people that still believed that it was still cool to do the right thing. Just because I hadn’t run into them yet didn’t mean that they didn’t exist. In college, they call that humanism; at Wharton Business School they called it being immature.
I suppose this was another manifestation of ‘the trickle-down effect’ we all thought Bush Senior just made up to drown out the cries of the newly and ever growing population of the poor in the era of downsizing. The rich are right and the poor are wrong.
I remembered, as I huddled under a pile of dirty laundry; wrapped like a burrito in a polyester summer sleeping bag the night before a real friend (the last to come to mind) found me and gave me a place out of the wind, a Malaysian cook once told me:
“The worst thing you can do to a man (worse than killing him) is to not care about him.” As I tried to sleep that cold fall night outside the Masjid in Philadelphia, it was the chill of that thought that crept into my bones and my heart. Since it was plain I no longer belonged, I decided to find out who I was and be that.
Looking at the recent pictures of her, being on the down side of fame didn’t seem to bother Moran. She wasn’t a refined Hollywood society dame going silver as a permanent quest on Hollywood Squares Game Show to joy of baby boomers everywhere. Maybe she knew what the world didn’t, that the values of the mob in the myth of TV screen lives weren’t real values and it was okay to do’ her’.
The point is to be happy; not match someone’s image of what that is.
Now that you had more than the population of Saudi Arabia evicted from their homes in the US by their social superiors, is the offer chiseled on the tablet held by Lady Liberty still true or is the carved in stone guarantee of happiness the US offers its citizens (and the world) just another example of the old ‘bait and switch’:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
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by Abu Muhammed
Abu Muhammed is an American Muslim in Exile. He has a B.A.in English; a M.A. in Education.