Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sunday Memories: Let There Be Light

When morning chased the bums back into cardboard bedrooms propped against alleyways and chain link fences or for the richer ones, the many dark fleabag hotels that lined the Bowery, the light from these stores took their place and filled our fantasies with glamor only found in fairy tales and movies.


Anonymous said...

Ah yes, back in the days when you didn't have to be politically correct and you could call a thing what it was. A bum indeed. Back when most shopkeepers arranged their own window displays because they knew their audience. You might only want a lightbulb but it made you feel special to go into a store with a fancy chandelier in the window. When you met people in the street and they smiled and spoke to you instead of hurrying along head bent bluetooth in place.
No "time" is perfect but sometimes I do look back on this simpler era with nostalgia. Maybe we did without a lot but in some ways we had a lot more.

c.o. moed said...

Thank you, mybabyjohn, for your thoughts on this. Yes, we all need to slow down and say hello to one another (even in New York!). And yes there is something wonderful about going into a store where pride is taken in service and display. (And once again you've given me yet another idea for a post!)

However, with apologies to anyone I may have offended, I just wanted to clarify the use of the word "bum". In this case it does not describe any moral or otherwise attribute. It specifies the location - The infamous New York City Bowery near where I grew up - and the time - before gentrification (pre 1990s/2000).

The men who lined the streets both prone and vertical were more often than not veterans, some old enough to have fought in World War I and many young enough to have been in Vietnam. Only recently has post-traumatic-stress stemming from survival of horrific violence been recognized as a core component in addiction and other self-destructive activities.

Regardless of how they got there, the men on the Bowery that I saw growing up were most probably attempting to numb and banish pain I couldn't to this day imagine. We may have used quaint monikers such as the Bowery Bums to dismiss or explain, but in fact, that level of despair, homelessness and addiction was an indicator of something much more heartbreaking and much, much more complex.

The United States military response to its veterans in crisis clearly needs improvement, but at least in this day in age these men and women now have opportunity to be properly honored, diagnosed and helped. And those struggling with addiction now have access to treatment that reflects the complexity of the disease.

What I saw in my childhood was the sharp contrast of brutal poverty of these men and the extreme glamor of the chandelier/light stores. It was "normal" for both to share the same sidewalk and a contrast I continuously explore in this blog and in my other work.

Again, my apologies to anyone offended by my use of the word "bum". As I said earlier, I used it to connote a time and a place that barely (for better and for worse) exists any longer.