Down at the Minneapolis Star Tribune offices the holidays are a competitive time of year. Columnists try to out-do each other to demonstrate who cares more and who can make their readers feel more guilty. A common opening to these "how dare you feel good, when others feel bad" scoldings might be:
Yes, it's the holiday season but what about...
In the past Doug Grow has proved to be the undisputed champion in this area and has easily brushed aside all challengers. But now that Nick Coleman has crossed the river and joined the Strib staff, Grow's reign as king of caring may be in jeopardy. Coleman proved how serious he was about knocking Grow off when he penned a hysterical piece on the homeless and the Ice Palace in St. Paul. Our own Saint Paul did a fine job of riddling Coleman's travesty last Friday, going so far as to call it the "single worst newspaper column ever written in the Twin Cities".
Grow tried to counterpunch with a column yesterday on carolers raising money for people who can't afford housing, but it lacked the pathos and self-importance that have become the hallmark of Grow's past efforts.
It appeared as if it was time to pass the caring baton on to Mr. Coleman. But then a dark horse came up from the outside and has taken a lead that appears insurmountable.
Kate Stanley delivered a eulogy for a homeless man called A man outside (Powerline fittingly described it as 'requiem for a bum') in Sunday's paper. It is a breathtaking work of self-absorbed guilt mongering that had me howling with derisive laughter and pounding my fist on my basement bar as I read it last night. (Warning: if the idea of someone howling and pounding their fist when reading about the death of a homeless man is disturbing to you read no further.)
The concept of eulogizing the homeless is hardly a novelty at the Star Tribune these days. The concept of eulogizing a hard working, church going, family man unfortunately is. In fact good ol' Dougy Grow fired off a glowing memorial to a transient named Westside a few years back that left us absolutely appalled.
But Grow's effort pales in comparison with Stanley's work to make a noble lion out of a scruffy alley cat:
When I first met him at lunch with some friends, he was reading John le Carré. When I joined him at a coffee shop, he was toting Tom Friedman. When I ran into him at the Hennepin County Government Center two winters ago, Mark Twain was in his pocket -- along with a slim copy of the U.S. Constitution.
Hence begins Stanley's efforts to convince us that this man was really no different from you or me. He just happened to live in the street. And drink a lot. And he never really bathed or showered. And he did sorta smell like urine. But he read and that somehow confers legitimacy to his life. You can also see that Stanley found some delicious irony in the fact that he had a copy of the Constitution. How many of the Republican business people in the suburbs could say that?
We spent the lunch hour chatting about U.S. history, the courts, travel, books. Lowell argued that O'Connor wasn't such a bad Supreme Court justice after all. I insisted Rehnquist was irredeemable. We agreed that Raymond Carver is an overrated writer.
At the those point you could cut the pretentiousness with knife. I can imagine Kate telling her friends about the charming homeless man she had lunch with. My homeless man can not only read, but offer literary criticism as well. Do you know how hard it is to find one like that?
The building of the noble savage continues:
Here was a man you couldn't help but want to be near. He was tall and charming, teeming with dry wit. But beyond that was an almost startling dignity.
Interesting choice by Kate to go with "startling dignity". The standard cliché when lauding the homeless is "quiet dignity".
You felt that he knew something you didn't.
Yeah, such as where the best grates to sleep on in Minneapolis were at.
His way of life was mystifying to people accustomed to the world of whirlpools and white wine.
Whirlpools and white wine? Where are we? California circa 1976?
His way of life was mystifying to people who accustomed to living in a home. Accustomed to earning a living. Accustomed to contributing to society. Accustomed to not being a drunken homeless vagrant on the street!
Sometimes he'd drink -- enough that he'd end up in detox or the Hennepin emergency room. Sometimes he'd stay sober for months at a stretch and take a job as a mover to gather up a little cash. "I consider myself a social drinker," he'd say with a smile. Sometimes he was, sometimes not.
Ha ha. That's funny. An alcoholic who has ruined his life and can joke about it. Yuk it up Kate.
But his drinking habits seemed one of the least important things about him.
No. His drinking habits were the reason he was a homeless indigent and why he died at the age of fifty. It's sad but true that his drinking habits defined his life.
He was polite. Once he lost his backpack during a wild night that ended in the emergency room. He went looking for it the next day -- explaining in courteous tones at every stop that he'd become inebriated the night before and had been separated from his belongings.
"Would you be so kind as to check for them, please?" he'd ask. He seemed not to notice the sneer of the hospital security guard or the rolling eyes of the police property-room clerk, both dismissing this modest inquirer as a drunken Indian.
When I mentioned it later, Lowell shrugged. "Not everyone has been taught to be kind," he said.
I guess we have to give the guy credit. He goes on a bender, a "wild night", ends up in the emergency room, loses his most prized possession as a result, and then is courteous when he tries to find it the next day. Break out the humanitarian of the year award folks. We have a winner. By the way this "modest inquirer" was both a drunk and, as we learn later, an Indian so those who dismissed him as such were actually quite accurate in their assessments.
Kate then gets personal, bringing herself front and center into the story:
So this is how I came to love a homeless drunk. If you'd known him, you'd have loved him too.
Let's not make any rash assumptions Kate.
Several times I dared to embrace him -- and could feel the combination of hungry taking-in and stoicism in him.
The pictures of Hugh's snowmobile mishap are quite entertaining. The video of Saddam post-capture brought me much joy. From the number of e-mails I receive every day on it, I assume the Paris Hilton sex video is a must see. But I dare say that there nothing on this earth that I would want to watch more than a clip of the prim and proper, librarianish Kate Stanley hugging this smelly, disheveled bum.
She DARED embrace him! What have you done?
Kate continues her eulogy with a line that probably does more to rob the man of his dignity that anything he suffered in all those years on the street:
How eerie it was to see this good man -- half a year past his last shower, his fungus-flocked feet dangling beyond the bed -- lying so still.
Sometimes you don't need to include everything Kate. This was one of those times.
I don't know what's more outrageous. The fact that Stanley is holding this man up as if he lived some sort of noble lifestyle, when in fact he was nothing but a loser or that she has to include herself so prominently in the telling of the tale. Was it really ever about him Kate or was it always about you and your feelings of superiority over the rest of us because you deigned to spend time with him? She cares more than you do. Just ask her.