Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Medal for the Meddler

"Hi," I smile to the elderly guy holding a sign in front of a novelty shop. I see him there every time I'm back in West LA. Sometimes he's in costume -- like a Spiderman outfit -- but it never looks quite right on him. Maybe it's the fact that he's a pudgy, older Hispanic guy.

"Hi," says an old man, crashed out on the sidewalk near the local supermarket as I walk by.
"Hi," I mumble back.

I notice that the guy's pillow is a backpack. Although he reeks of alcohol, I feel sorry for him -- it's starting to get cold here, especially at night. Perhaps I can get him a fleece blanket or something in the supermarket.

The store didn't carry any blankets, but it was a good thing I didn't buy anything for the old man, because by the time I stepped out of the supermarket, canvas tote weighing me down, there was an ambulance and a fire truck near the sidewalk and they were taking the old man away on a stretcher. Someone must have called 911.

This is what I love and dislike about Life in America. I love that people are concerned enough about their fellow man to act. Sometimes, though, it's a nuisance. For example, I bruise very easily. I probably have at least one bruise somewhere on my body at any given moment. When at the ranch, in addition to the usual furniture and household appliances, I am constantly being attacked by limbs and branches, ranch equipment, hardware, etc. and I live in fear that one day, someone will assume I'm a victim of domestic violence and call the authorities.

It's so different in Japan. People think that getting involved is a Bad Thing. "Don't meddle in other people's business," we're taught. Even if it looks like they might need help. Try panhandling in Japan. People will look away in embarrassment. Or, conversely, try giving a homeless guy some money. You'll be embarrassing him. (Now, busking is a different matter.....especially if you are non-Japanese.) When a young man fell from the platform at a train station, a Korean man jumped down to try to save him (and was killed in the process.) When my mother was unintentionally pushed onto the tracks by some rowdy drunks she could have been run over if another train conductor hadn't spotted her, passed out on the train tracks. (Later, she received a bill from the railway company for causing a delay in their schedule!) Maybe it's the human density. Maybe over there, we have to live with a private mental space since we have no real space. You never let on that you heard your neighbor's loud argument last night, or that you can hear every sigh and moan of the next door couple's lovemaking.

I wish there were a happy middle ground in all of this, but today I'm glad that whoever it was called someone to help that old man. He'll be warm and safe somewhere, even if it's only for one night.

My SoCal stay keeps getting longer and longer and I am beyond withdrawal, I miss the ranch so much. Unlike the ranch, however, there's a lot of human drama here to keep me and my mind occupied.

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