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Saturday, February 4, 2023

Reggie’s reality: a genuine quest to understand complex societal dilemmas

By Graham Danzer

CSMS Magazine Staff Writer

The wind bit at the back of Reggie’s neck as he trudged down the steps and out the door of his crummy basement apartment. Some of the windows were boarded up, a police helicopter was already chop-chopping overhead with search lights blaring. A homeless woman shouted menacingly at nothing in particular. Reggie shook his head as knowingly and wearily as he began his long walk to work. Through the blaring and the bustling, grateful as anyone could ever be for all that he had acquired.

Just a year ago he was lost in the inner city streets, sleeping on park benches and in abandoned warehouses. Begging, lying, stealing. An occasional night in jail or the psychiatric hospital. A more than occasional glimpse of hell on earth. But Reggie knew nothing of hell as it really was. He only had his life. A life that had been lost to drugs and crime, wondering where the last 20 years of his life had gone.

Now, 6 months sober, he could barely remember and couldn’t say he really wanted to. Having completed a recovery program in which he toiled in hard labor for 10 hours a day and spent his evenings in 12-step meetings and group counseling, he felt like a different person. Whereas he spent his entire previous life sullen and remorseful, angry and discontent, he was now overwhelmed with gratitude for how good things were and how good he never thought they could be. An overcrowded basement apartment, a minimum wage job, his relationships with family members leaping from non-existent to tenuous. He could probably complain if he felt so inclined, but what little he had was 10 fold improved from what he didn’t have his entire life before. A life he scarcely cared to remember at this point. Thanking god that he had somehow awoken. Reflecting on these things now in passing, he picked up his pace along the cracked concrete sidewalk, not wanting to be late for work.

A volley of shouts and stampedes suddenly awakened him from his awakening. Picket signs a plenty, shouts of injustice and pumping fists, white faces in fairly designer looking clothes, fresh and healthy skin that Reggie immediately noticed as suggesting a progression of clean and well-to-do living. Reggie was perplexed. Don’t they gotta go to work to?

“Occupy!” The protestors condemned, marching in determination. Hard stomps on the concrete in flip flop sandals, megaphones blaring soliloquys about government oppression. Reggie stopped briefly to listen to the stories. Not wanting to be late for work, but curious about what all the fuss was about. Gathering that there was some kind of wealth hording happening somewhere in New York which denied common people equal share. Oppressed the common man and the like.

Reggie considered these possibilities, sizing them up against reality as he saw it, reverting back to his early recovery teachings. Noticing a few protestors taking a break for breakfast from their outcries against poverty, fairly waltzing into the local organic produce market, marveling at the non-caged eggs on sale for $8 a dozen and the vegetarian poultry reduced from $10 a breast to $8. Comments with conviction in support for local markets. Again Reggie found himself perplexed. Don’t go to work on a Monday, and you could pay $8 for eggs, how bad could life be? Almost wanting to ask, but thinking better of it. Instead, he decided to ask a different question.

Nudging a man beside him, long hair, flip-flop sandals, a banner occupy t-shirt, jeans with holes, Santa Clause beard.  “Excuse me, what’s this all about?” Reggie asked curiously.

The man rose to the occasion. A mighty right hand rising to the challenge, rearing up to pontificate, as if he thought Reggie would never have asked.  “Wall Street steals all the money from us common people, the rich have everything and we the common people have nothing. They are corrupt, commit crimes, and take care of each other like good old boys. We want justice!”

Reggie nodded, agreeing. “What do you mean justice?”

“We want these institutions taken over by good, honest people and have the money distributed equally to everyone. People are starving and they are getting rich off our sweat,” the man answered.

Reggie looked confused. Agreeing that these goals were noble, but then having a better idea. “Could you guys do that by giving some money to them homeless people over there?” Pointing to people huddled over smoldering trash cans, watching the protestors eat with wide eyes, looking like they would kill for a bite. Reggie wished he had brought his lunch so he could give it away. Knowing what that was like. Turning back to his comrade in conversation, looking at the chicken breast in a bag that he gripped tightly, looking back to Santa Clause, pointing to the homeless. “They’re probably hungry.”

The man shifted uncomfortably. “I can’t do that. I’m on disability and can barely get by.”

Reggie looked up and down at this man in front of him. Picket sign, active at 8 o’clock in the morning. Don’t look that disabled to me. “You know, I work at this factory down the street,” Reggie offered. “Its’ hard work, but you seem like you could do it.” Noticing the sweat on his brow. “If you wanna help the poor people, you should come pick up a shift and buy one of these guys on the streets a meal. Then you take from the top and give to the bottom.” Looking around momentarily, noticing the protestors protesting to thin air. “I mean, the man at the top isn’t down here listening anyway.” Laughing gaily. “They don’t care about all this. That’s why you’re here and they’re up there.”

Santa Clause looked away uncomfortably. “I don’t want to work for this corrupt system. I speak out against tyranny!” He said, beginning to nudge away on his heels, back towards the volley of his supporters. Obviously caught off guard, reeling.

“But you said you’re on disa- “ Reggie insisted.

“OCCUPY! OCCUPY!” The man began to shout. Fist in the air with one hand, picket sign waving in the other.

Reggie watched him for a moment longer, laughing to himself and remembering that he better not be late or he might not have a station at the plant to occupy.

Note: Graham Danzer holds a PhD on Psychology and teaches at CSU East Bay. He is the author of several essays on minority issues, including his latest book titled My Girls: A Story of Survival and Togetherness in the Inner City.


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