There was a long railroad track / He’s goin’ someplace and there’s no turning back|
Today was my cousin’s birthday party. He lives right next to Disneyland…damn that place. My cousin is in this country illegally. He came here to chase after the American dream and has found nothing but a nightmare. He left his wife and infant son in Mexico in hopes of reuniting with them here in the United States after earning enough money to bring them over and support them. This is the story of many people in this country, the story you are not allowed to hear. This is the story you don’t see on television programs or read about in the newspaper. It’s easy to ignore the New Depression.
The highway patrol chopper comin’ up over the ridge / Man sleeps by the campfire under the bridge
It was a rather warm day here in southern California. The winds were kicking up some dust at the park where we had set up the surprise party for my cousin. In the background, you could hear Hawaiian drum beats as hula dancers practiced their routines at the adjacent school. Kids were rolling by on their skateboards and scooters, mothers were calling after their kids and fathers slept in the shade of an old tree. I was sitting at the end of the picnic bench after having moved a propane stove, 80 lbs. of beef, 10-2 liter bottles of sodas and various condiments. I decided that while the meat simmered on the stove and while we waited for the guest of honor to arrive, I would watch people. I was watching two fat boys and their father play a game of catch. The boys kept complaining about not being able to play with their Gameboys while the father looked as if he was wishing for more athletic sons. Then, the winds really began to stir wild. The air was broken by the sounds of propellers. Here they came, two military choppers, right over Disneyland and toward the park. Apparently they were practicing maneuvers because they were weaving around quite a bit. Why? Suddenly, they were gone and a man comes up to us and asks for help. I turned around and noticed that he was quite dirty, disheveled and beaten. The man was homeless. He asked us for some water. That’s all…just some water to soothe his thirst.
The shelter line stretchin’ around the corner / Welcome to the New World Order
The shelters around this area are notorious for being terrible to people. We had 80 lbs of beef for Christ’s sake and all he’d asked for was a glass of water. We invited him to join in the festivities. Number one, he’s a member of our human family. Number two; he’s a fellow national who came to this country just as my cousins did. Unfortunately for this fellow, he did not fare as well as they. That’s not to say my cousins are well off, but they do have a place to sleep and they can afford to throw a party like this on occasion. I offered him my seat and brought him some water. The food was still cooking but he dined on some tortilla chips in the meantime.
Families sleepin’ in their cars out in the southwest / No job, no home, no peace, no rest, no rest
I took another seat and watched the kids at play begin to tire quickly. We were near a street and I saw a car pull up. I thought it was my mother. See, I had gotten there at 1:30 and she was supposed to be there at around the same time. It was already 3 p.m. As I took a closer look, I saw that it was not my mom. It was a mom. And a dad, and two kids. Upon closer inspection, it appeared as though all of their belongings were in that small two door sedan. I thought that, perhaps, they were guests for the party. I didn’t know everyone who was coming. They began walking towards us but then took a sudden turn to another picnic area. The two children looked at me and I saw their eyes.
And the highway’s alive tonight / Nobody’s foolin’ nobody as to where it goes
Those eyes told me everything. The dirt ring underneath those two sets of eyes, the years gone by too quickly for those eyes, all that those eyes had to see but couldn’t comprehend. It was all there. I had to look away. I don’t know how they could handle it. They brought their own lunches, though if they would have asked, they certainly were welcome with us.
I’m sitting down here in the campfire light / Searching for the ghost of Tom Joad
I resumed my people-watching. For some reason, everyone was lagging today. My mother finally showed up at 4 p.m. My cousin, the birthday boy, was still missing. The party had been set to end at around 4. Obviously, it didn’t since people were still arriving. So I sat. I sat and watched, searching out the stories people have to tell without any words whatsoever.
He pulls his prayer book out of a sleeping bag / The preacher lights up a bud and takes a drag
The food was ready, had been for about an hour now. Nothing smells better than freshly cooked carne asada. We were making tacos. Funny thing is that even though this was the beaner party, we had no beans at all. The tortillas were warming on the pan and the people lined up for their share. There was some cilantro, onions, salsa, limes, and radishes to add to the tacos. On top of the carne asada, my cousin’s (not the birthday one, his brother) wife made some chorizo. That spicy pork was a bit too much for me. The homeless man was having a good time with us, and we were enjoying his company as well. He was the first in line to make his tacos. He sat down at the table quickly. I expected him to devour the food and then jump back for some more. He looked at the food longingly but paused to savor it first. He took a deep breath, smelling the warm ingredients filling the air. Then he dropped his head and said a prayer. Some things still take precedence, it seems.
He’s waiting for a time when the last shall be first and the first shall be last / In a cardboard box sleeping underpass
I wonder just when the time will come. I wonder when it will be that people who cry about me and mine will realize that there is more. I wonder what will happen when the market collapses and people will find themselves like this man. I wish it upon no one really. I wish that people would just realize that they share the earth with people and that commodities are the least of their worries. They say, “The people who are better equipped to handle this will.” What will happen when they realize that people who are best equipped to handle it are in short supply? What will happen when they realize that people who are just like them are turning away from them? What?
With a one-way ticket to the Promised Land / With a hole in your belly and a gun in your hand
As I said before, my cousins live right next to Disneyland. You may already know that the company is expanding the park, adding a new one called “California Adventure.” Basically, the new park is supposed to be all of the state of California in a small little area. People are complaining about how crowded it is. It has a little over twenty rides that are all stolen from other amusement parks in California. Why do I mention this? They’re going to need a new parking lot so that they can take even more money from the people who come to shell out hundreds for a single visit. Guess who’s getting evicted to make this parking lot happen? My cousins are receiving little compensation for this eviction. They get barely enough to pay a month’s rent at a place that must be cheaper than where they’re staying now. Lots of gangbangers live in that apartment complex. Think the gangs are happy about losing their homes? Think the low-income families are happy? But Disney is happy and so are those who have no idea what is going on.
Looking for a pillow of solid rock / Bathing in the city’s aqueducts
As the festivities continued, I noticed the absence of our homeless guest. I had to use the facilities as I had had about 5 cups of Cola. When I entered the men’s restroom, I saw the man with his shirt off. He was washing himself in the sink of the bathroom there in the park. He said hello to me somewhat shamefully. I’m not the type who enjoys using a public restroom and the one in the park is, by far, one of the worst ever. Yet, here was this man, using the cold water to bathe himself. I wondered where he went to sleep every night. I wondered if he was able to do this sort of thing often. Given his introductory appearance at our party, it seemed as though he didn’t. I guess he could get away with it because he could say he was with us if it was necessary.
And the highway is alive tonight / Nobody’s foolin’ nobody as to where it goes / I’m sitting down here in the campfire light / With the ghost of Ol’ Tom Joad
I went back to my people-watching, realizing so much about myself and the world around me. I can see me in the eyes of the children. They can’t see themselves in mine. They can’t see a bright tomorrow; they can’t see anything other than the hatred shown to them. Why are they hated? Because they are poor. It’s not because we're Mexicans. It’s not a race thing. Well, okay, to a certain extent it may be. But the main form of prejudice in this nation is the prejudice against and hatred for the poor.
And Tom says, / “Ma, wherever you see a cop beating a guy, / Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries, / Wherever there’s a fight against the blood and hatred in the air, / Look for me Ma, I’ll be there”
Where’s it going to end? When will we finally not need a Tom Joad? Who will lead us down the right path? What will the future hold if we cannot end the hatred? How will we survive when we can’t stop hating?
“Wherever you see someone struggling for a place to stand / For a decent job or a helping hand / Wherever someone’s struggling to be free, / Look in their eyes Ma, / You’ll see me”
P.S. The song lyrics are from "The Ghost of Tom Joad" written by Bruce Springsteen.