April 09, 2010

"What drove him underground was red tape."

J.C.'s Community
"We descend through Grand Central Station, which is spread over forty-eight acres, making it the largest train station in the world. It also goes down six levels beneath the subway tracks. There is no complete blueprint of the tunnels and tracks under the station. Many tunnels were begun but abandoned. Some were built but forgotten. Some were sealed off, but underground homeless people have broken through, either directly by hacking a hole through the wall or by circuitous routes, to inhabit them now." (p. 192)

"It was to explain all this, he says, that he invited me to visit his community despite the opposition of his advisers like J.C. He wanted someone "from the outside" to tell the world that he and his community are "better off" than those aboveground, those who are sick. The mayor may see himself as Brown's "Manchild," but he is much more the "underground man" in Irving Howe's "Celine."
"A creature of the city, he has no fixed place among the social classes; he lives in holes and crevices, burrowing beneath the visible structure of society ... Even while tormenting himself with reflections upon his own insignificance, the underground man hates still more -- hates more than his own hateful self -- the world aboveground." (p. 202)

"City of Friends"
"What drove him underground, he explains, was "red tape. All that fucking red tape," he begins, with voice rising and face reddening. "How can you help anyone when there's that red tape? Kids would get abused to death in foster care and you couldn't get them out without that red tape. Two of them were killed before I got through the red tape. How can you live with that?" he demands, angrily waving his arms.
"How can you live in a society like that? he asks, more quietly now. "The rules don't make sense. They're not based on human needs or caring. The laws and the rules, and what they call morals, are logical and warped. They are based on money, not right or wrong. They might as well have come from a computer. No one really cares up there. Down here this is basic survival. We make our own laws. Our laws are based on what we feel, not preconceived notions of morality. We call it the 'human morality.' That's what we live by." (p. 209)

I think one of the most surprising things I learned while reading this book is that, many of the homeless people were perfectly happy living in the tunnels. They didn't consider themselves homeless, per se. They bonded over a shared animosity of the world aboveground.

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