Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Saddest People In The World

Tallest Man In The World--"Burden of Tomorrow" (mp3)

The saddest people in the world spend their days waving, smiling, jumping, shouting, strutting, prancing, rocking, cajoling, pleading, enticing. All while the world passes them by.

The saddest people in the world adorn themselves in costume, the same costume, whether they be man or woman, as Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, with her torch and tablet.

Maybe there is music in their heads or a cigarette in their mouths or a hidden bite of a stashed sandwich. Maybe an internal dialogue loops endlessly, one part of the brain feeding senseless words and noises to the mouth, another part screening images, behind the eyes, of better lives or even better oblivion later in the day when, cash in hand, a bottle beckons. Maybe they are better served by blankness of mind.

You've seen them. Probably, you see them everyday at this time of year, up until April 15th, when income taxes are due, standing in front of the cut-rate tax joints, the bottom feeders employing the sad. Out there on the sidewalks as you race by, with your windows rolled up to keep out the cold, they are Sirens without voices trying to lure you to the shores, the rocky hope of a refund.

Does it work? I guess it does, or else why would these roadsiders hawk everything from tax refunds to cheesesteaks, going-out-of-business sales to open houses. I've even seen families of them out there putting the Christ back in Christmas.

But those are not our sad people. Our sad people must be so desperate for a job that they will dress up as the Statue of Liberty and stand in front of a business that files tax returns. My God.

What does the job pay? What is in its description? What is the training involved? What are the "do's and don't's" of standing there in drag as the Statue of Liberty? What are the "cans and can'ts" of what they wear beneath their costumes? If a car stops, are they allowed to talk? What if the Statue gets tired and wants to sit down, has a pain and needs to bend over, or worse, just can't dredge up a smile anymore? If a car hits a puddle at the right time and douses Ms. Liberty, can she send a finger down the road after it? Is it cash under the table? Is there some kind of commission?

Of course, they are not the saddest people in the world. You and I can think of times when we think we have been sadder. And, out there are levels of sadness we cannot begin to comprehend. But how many carry the burden of this many layers of irony along with their other struggles?

OK, just for the heck of it, I'll throw you one ironic scenario: the poorest of the poor dress up as the symbol of our liberty to remind us of our need to pay taxes, which for some of our citizens is not liberty at all, but bondage to a government which then squanders those funds, all while our symbol, out there on the street, is in some ways the embodiment of the failure of the promise of that statue and the opportunities that it represents or once did.

"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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Yeah, it's got to be a real kick in the nuts to put on that costume and then stand out there and wave at cars you don't own or even drive but who have the power to at least let you know that you exist, if they would just wave back or honk their horns or, better yet, slam to a halt and grab all those tax papers that people carry around with them in their cars and march right in and get those dadgummed taxes done, don't you think?


Sara C said...

Bob, you've nailed this one for me; it is something that bothers me every year, perhaps more each year. The clincher, the time when it hit me the hardest, was when I drove past the neighborhood location and saw one of these liberty belles, a young man, wearing the costume, but his back was pressed against the wall of the establishment, and he was holding the sign in front of his face. I can't imagine he held the job very long. I also can't imagine he had many other options. And you wonder why so many people turn to selling drugs or other unsavory activities if this is the kind of humiliation they can expect from earning an "honest" wage.

Billy said...

Capitalism is masochistic. I'm not even sure its biggest fans would argue otherwise.

There are so many levels of irony and poignancy present in these Statues of Below Min-Wage Liberty, it should be obvious why they are multiplying like bunnies in heat. They have the ability to tap into something troubling in all of our minds. It begs rubbernecking just like a car wreck, and witnessing it somehow feels violent and troubling.