Misery Laughs

Francisco Castro

When a bus I was on today stopped at a traffic light, outside the window was an older man who looked like a bum.  He was stretched out on the sidewalk under one of the large porticos that run down Infanta Avenue.

Other passengers around me immediately began commenting on this sight.  Everyone agreed that the man was very smart because it appeared he had no concerns.  In fact the other riders were envious of his lack of responsibility.

I listened to their comments thinking that they were being made jokingly.  However, at a certain moment when I was looking at one of the people speaking, I realized that in their eyes was a glimmer of sincerity.  This made me freeze.

I can’t imagine the level of despair necessary to make one want to live the life of a dirty beggar concerned only with having a dry piece of cardboard to spend the night on or their being able to get to a restaurant dumpster ahead of the garbage truck.

What I can imagine is that the man sprawled out under portico never dreamt of leading that way of life, nor do any of those who practice panhandling.

On the other hand, it’s strange that there exist people in Cuba who can look with intrigue at people sleeping in the street and “eating” out of trash cans.  Undoubtedly there’s something that’s not working like it should.

And I’m not referring only to Havana, because I’ve had the chance to travel by truck across the country, where the landscape hadn’t changed only due to hurricanes.  I could see that the numbers of these people has increased alarmingly.

The issue is acquiring the look of a brewing tragedy in areas around churches.  Gathering in those places are the most varied forms of physical human misery.  More than pity, these images produce disgust.

It’s not deformities but the fact that they’re displayed in public, grotesquely, and that these people are demanding charity in a country that proclaims itself in all directions to be the greatest defenders of the most basic human rights.

Francisco Castro

Francisco Castro:Everything becomes simpler when one crosses the line of thirty. That does not make it easier, but rather the opposite. There I am on the other side of the line, trying to figure out, what little I know about art, politics, economy ... life, how to move without breaking oaths that seemed essential, how not to give up, how to make the years spent into a beacon to the future.

5 thoughts on “Misery Laughs

  • Don`t torment yourself Francisco trying to comprehend why these poor,poor creatures get to the stage they do, just laying down in the dirt,on a footpath,in a society like Cuba that at least provides the basic needs to their citizens,like food,a roof over their head,education,healthcare etc etc We have them here in my country too,and we have a system that also provides absolutely to everyone,with weekly payments,free accommodation,free healthcare (not because our government is generous,but because workers pay a lot of taxes)They are people with social problems, mentally disturbed almost always alcoholics,very difficult to help….many of us despise them because they themselves are the cause of their terrible demise,so is difficult for us to accept that a person who self harm himself is still deserving of kindness and respect..

  • If indeed the writer is describing an actual (non-imaginary) scene then it strikes me as rather curious. Is the accompanying photo a stock image or the actual man described? If it is not a stock image I’m taken aback that no one would check on him. He looks very frail.

    The majority of people in the neo-capitalist world who live on the streets are some combination of former prisoners, former soldiers, disturbed children from abusive backgrounds, including state institutions, and the mentally disturbed and disturbing who either had or develop some combination of drug addiction and alcohol abuse.

    Marx called these people the lumpenproletariat.

    I agree it is the duty of good people and good communities to care for these people. But many are so traumatised, so lost, so damaged, so institutionalised or so rejecting of the mainstream ideology that they really do rationally choose to live as they do, as a homeless person. So I think too – rather than imagining it is all about filth and dirt and suffering and degradation – I think these people deserve to be given some dignity in their choice and there should be some respect in our charitable and humane gestures toward them.

  • I don’t know, Grady. Perhaps it was the concessions that Cuba has made to the ‘market economy’ in the past few years that produced this kind of social exclusion. The same thing happened in China in the 80’s – while some may win, others will lose.

  • Interesting article, Francisco. I’m inspired to respond to your comment “in a country that proclaims itself in all directions to be the greatest defenders of the most basic human rights.”

    Socialism is supposed to be a bridge between capitalism and a future society without private productive property (a society that some call “full communism”). The beginning of construction of this bridge is establishment of state power led by a sincere transformational party.

    But the state monopoly concept of socialism took the far-in-the-future attribute of no-private-productive-property and brought it back to the point where the socialist state was to begin the bridge construction project. By doing this, state monopolism tried to do the same thing with society in general that the Utopian commune builders have always tried to do: abolished private property in the here and now, rather than using it cooperatively to build a long-term bridge to a more perfect shore.

    Cuba is socialist because it has state power in the hands of a sincere party, but it cannot build an authentic, workable bridge to a classless society because it has implemented prematurely a communal property principle.

    If the Cuban party could understand that private property is needed during the bridge construction project, and re-institute it using the experiences of Mondragon industrial cooperation, there would be no more beggars lying in the streets, nor other problems of bureaucratic state socialism.

  • Everytime I see a scene such as this I think to myself: (a) What is his, or her, story? What led them to such a sorry end? and (b) There but for the grace of the gods–or circumstance–go I! One morning recently, as I awaited the P-5 in Playa, across from Coney Island, one of these psychologically “walking wounded” tottered by, wearing a tattered and stained sports-coat from the 1950’s (even though it was perhaps 32 degrees C. at the time!). The world contains much unhappiness! I wonder what my story could have been if it had been changed by the death of a close loved one: a spouse, a child, a close friend, or other such tragedies? (It has, but I survived.) As time goes by, I feel less inclined to judge others, though this habit is slow to die. Without the supernatural mumbo-jumbo to awe the incredulous, nevertheless, like Jefferson, we should embrace the ethical and spiritual message of the Christ.

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