I notice it in every medium, every aspect of society: advertising touts it, of course, on TV, on the internet, on posters and placards, in brochures and pamphlets and magazines; films and books present it in the subtleties of the hero/adversary/secondary characters interactions; when you apply for a job or try to rent a house or take out a loan you are expected to be it; formal education constantly pounds it into you. What is it? The perfect person, the perfect citizen. When you walk out your door and encounter any formal aspect of society there is something expected of you, something that you are being molded, consciously or unconsciously, to become.
What is this perfect person? How do I become it? countless millions ask. Ah, but there’s the rub. If you seek for a simple solution, a 1 2 3 step to success you can’t find it. There are only hints, like on a treasure map. First you go here and do this. If all goes well you next go there and do that. If something goes wrong you must backtrack and start the level again, but face penalties. On and on it goes, complicated as a maze. Some people, such as politicians and preachers and celebrities, claim to have found the answer and try to guide others into a mold they have devised from their own imagination. Inevitably it ends in disillusionment. There are always hidden secrets, bugs under the rug, maggots in the pantry. No perfect citizen exists, and if someone says that they are the example which must be followed, they are most likely more tarnished than most.
What to do then? We seek answers. We want to do right, be right. Our role models collapse one by one; we cannot trust them.
A similar situation exists with the young. They want to be cool, be hip, be whatever the current slang says you should be. So they dress a certain way, walk a certain way, talk a certain way, hang out at the right places with the right people. Does it do the trick? Temporarily, perhaps. But what happens when youth passes, when all the illusions fade away, when health and strength and looks begin to fail?
To find the answer I invite you to join me in the Pacific Beach branch of the San Diego Public Library. Thence I have gone day after day recently, as we have not had internet yet at our new house. Urgent business, including job hunting, has dictated that I check my mail and do a lot of other work online. So I have walked a mile there and a mile back each day to plug in my machine and get my work done.
I have found that there I am never alone. Thither go the homeless of the area with their laptops and cell phones and I-Pads. Those who don’t have computers use the complementary ones. I don’t know what they do there for hour after hour, but they are intent at the task: they mumble to themselves, gesture at the screen, type like pros, occasionally give each other advice. It would seem little different than a batch of white-collar workers on the job at their cubicles, if it were not for the fact that they are dressed in filthy clothes, they look like they haven’t bathed in a long time, and they smell really rank. They use the computers and the free internet and also the bathrooms; when I go to take a piss the commode is almost always busy with someone sitting and dropping a load.
These are our fellow citizens. How they came to such a predicament I wouldn’t venture to guess. I would imagine that there are as many reasons as there are people. But there are many, many homeless here in the USA. You see them almost everywhere, especially in a place like Pacific Beach where there are a lot of travelers going to and fro. But the homeless too have entered the age of technology. They know how to use computers; they send e-mail. I don’t know what else they do as they sit at the library, but they are as connected as we all are. I like that. I like the fact that they can plug in and communicate on the Web, just as we can.
But the point is that there are no perfect people, no perfect citizens. It is all a farce. People are idiosyncratic. Molds and cookie-cutters don’t work with people. You have to take each one where they are at. That’s why I have been so pleased that the librarians have treated the homeless who come to use the facilities with kindness, with courtesy, as they would any other library patrons. They do insist everyone wear shirts and shoes, though, which seems a reasonable enough request.
So whatever society is trying to make of us, I think it should back off. Nobody is perfect or ever will be. We are all just folks. The sooner we realize this the sooner we can just get on with living.