Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of excerpts from Jim Gober’s book titled “Deep in the Heart of Occupy Austin.” A new excerpt will be published at OccupiedStories.com every Wednesday, so come back next week to follow Jim though the evolution of Occupy Austin.
Before I made it to the occupied plaza today, I had to wait for the bus as usual, and was entertained by an older man with a horrible limp who hobbled up to a pay phone situated between the two bus benches. It was one of those newer types that sits on a pole about 4 feet high. After he used it, he managed to make it over to my bench and sit down beside me. I looked closer at the pay phone and the price was 50 cents per call. And apparently you could call Mexico too. Although I couldn’t understand the writing on the little sun-bleached sign above the receiver, I could make out a beach scene crowned with a palm tree and a benevolent smiling sun reminiscent of Mexico’s golden days. It was scribbled over with gang graffiti.
I asked the man who sat beside me if the phone worked. He said it had a dial tone, but the number 3 was out and it took his 50 cents anyway. I mentioned how you don’t see many pay phones anymore. He said that’s what always happens before they invade-they take out all the pay phones-and he’s seen it happen plenty of times such as in Panama, Cuba, and then he started mumbling and I couldn’t get the full list. So I asked him who was going to invade and he said, “The Obamabush aliens.” He then announced they want to take over and bust your head if you don’t give them what they want, and they want your house and your money.
Now the similarity between what this poor old man, wracked with schizophrenia, was saying and what I say, when I am talking about the fascists, was not lost on me. But is it because our political situation in this country was so crazy and out of control that even the most severe of schizophrenics could smell it, or was I just another kook with something/nothing to say? All this had to be called into question. Was I crazy for believing big money from corporations and wealthy individuals had corrupted our government to the point they would take our homes and money to serve an ambitious agenda? But then again, isn’t that what they’ve been doing for years? I settled on the fact the whole country is collectively mentally ill. It’s out of control, neurotic, schizoid, over-medicated and brainwashed. Wherever I fit in, that is where I sit-in this crazy fucked-up place called the United States, still advertised as the best country in the world to live, by the fascists, of course, every time you complain about it in front of them.
It was obvious this guy, with one tooth, nowhere to go and now no way to make a phone call needed help. But that help was done away with in the 1980’s under the Father of Modern American Fascism, Ronald Reagan, and it’s never coming back. But schizophrenics, like this gentleman, have the power to see the world in its purest sense, without the numerous filters “normal” people paste over the truth to avoid pain and anger. That’s why political or social arguments coming from people like this man have a frightening ring of truth, because, although the presentation is lacking, they offer some insight into the real state of affairs without being tainted by the fascist controlled corporate propaganda machine. For example, it can be said that every sensible argument for positive change in this country made in the last 25 years has been discredited by powerful people who, through the use of the corporate media, make you believe you are crazy for going along with any solution that doesn’t include transferring more power to the fascists. Think climate change, the Iraq war and bank bailouts.
So here is this “crazy” gentleman, all alone with his thoughts of an impending invasion of the Obamabush aliens as he watches the pay phones disappear. But is he crazy? I thought of an album by singer Jeffrey Lewis entitled, “It’s the Ones Who’ve Cracked That the Light Shines Through.” Oddly, now that my bus stop brethren had brought it up, the disappearance of communication lines that cannot be switched off instantly or easily monitored by the government, the proliferation of cell phones, which hold our entire life history within them, and the increased control of one political party on all levels of government, is unsettling when looked at it as a whole. As I got on the bus and paid my fare with the last dollar in my pocket, I looked back and there he sat, ripped off for his last 50 cents, after a simple device he expected to work stole his money. The parallel with what is happening in America cannot be denied. You put your life, time, money and energy into this country expecting it to work like it always has, and the fascists steal it all. Meanwhile, the opportunities once available to everyone if you work hard and sacrifice are disappearing before our eyes. Where did they go? They were stolen by the Obamabush aliens.
I made it to the plaza just before sunset, and there wasn’t much going on, so I sat down to write about the scene and it wasn’t long before a very nervous woman took to the microphone and asked for supporters in the planning commission meeting being held in the city hall. She was trying to save a beautiful pecan tree from a developer who wanted to do what developers love to do to trees. You know trees-those stubborn things that keep you from dying in the Austin summer heat if you are not bathing in the luxury of a high-dollar condominium. There was some chaos as a motion had to be called by the occupiers and volunteers chosen to go. I was chosen, but since it wasn’t going to start for a while, I did other things to keep busy. I passed out food, picked up trash, straightened out some stuff and held up a sign for the passing cars until my arms got tired. I noticed Ron Paul supporters were coming into the scene. Even though Occupy Austin is a non-political movement, we needed bodies today, so nobody said anything. My favorite sign today was “TV News is FUBAR” which means, “Fucked up beyond all recognition.”
An elderly couple pulled up to the curb and hastily dropped off two boxes of fruit. There were lots of bananas and some huge apples. I carried it to the food station, took the wrapper off everything and handed a banana to a man named Bert. I made a lewd comment about the banana, which caused him to emit a nervous laugh. Then I asked Bert to tell me his story. Bert is a 64 year old homeless man sleeping every night in the plaza. He is retired and on disability. He claims the system is broken and that is why he is there. Bert gets enough disability to have money in his pocket or a home-but not both. He said he’s been homeless for a long time. Bert went on to say, “When I was younger, I was in Vietnam, I was a Navy Medic. After the service, I owned my own landscaping business but can no longer do that kind of work. I thought I had enough saved to retire but couldn’t keep health insurance. Medical bills piled up and I had to sell my home. I am on Medicaid and get $687 a month. I’m on a housing list but that is a 5 year wait. I take my showers at Barton Springs during the free swim time at 6-9 in the morning. I don’t stay in shelters because they are dirty and people are on top of each other. But I don’t think I am different than anyone else. As long as we all stick together we can make a change for the better.” I liked Bert. He was neat and clean, used a cane to walk and complained that sleeping on the plaza cement was giving his hips plenty of problems. But he was cool and happy to be with us. I had a feeling it had been a long time since he was surrounded by this much love. I offered a hug and he eagerly accepted.
Another great sign today: Real Eyes Realize Real Lies.
“Join us! Join us! Join us! Join us! Join us!” They chanted over and over in the honk-if-yer-horny line. I stood there again with my sign and watched the faces of the passers-by in their comfortable cars. The furiousness and hatred plastered across some of their faces was unsettling. How were we hurting them? I wondered. Why would they hate us so? Some didn’t even notice we were there, but most honked, waived or pumped their fist in support of Occupy Austin.
I thought about how in any war, you have your warriors and those that stay home and pray for victory, and we have our share of both. But in this war, you don’t see cheesy “pray for our troops” spam on Facebook or preachers telling their congregations to pray for us or little yellow ribbons around an oak tree, even though we are fighting for America too. And ironically, it’s the ideal America where everyone has a house, a job, 2 kids and a dog we are fighting for-the one the fascist right is always dangling in your face so you will vote for their ilk. But they never deliver. Never. The America our soldiers are fighting for overseas is an America taken over by the industrial-military complex that sucks up every penny that should be used for housing, healthcare and job creation. Those soldiers are fighting for an America that feeds on human blood, arms and legs and the suffering of others. Who in their right mind would pray for that? Well, just go to church or get on any social network and take a look. It seems like everybody is-and you thought the guy back at the bus stop was crazy. We are just fighting so Americans can live in peace.
Eventually, it was time for the meeting about the tree, so I went into the civic center and signed up to speak, but got cold feet because it wasn’t really an emotional issue as much as a technical one, and I was going to look the fool trying to talk about the technicalities of this potential building permit and a tree I never saw. But I hung around for moral support. And guess what? The planning commission denied the request for the developer to cut down the tree.
As I left the plaza and meandered through the sign-waivers and horn-honkers and animated speakers, I was happy. I looked over Austin’s lush green hills and felt all the trees were happy too because one of them had been saved from the fascist jerks that don’t give a shit about anything beautiful or kind unless they own it. I thought how happy we would all be if we worked harder to save people we will never know from the pain of losing their home, from not having affordable healthcare and from the life and soul-destroying war machine. Then I thought how mankind-now at the absolute peak of its existence, has decided the few, who are just like us, somehow have the right to more than the many, whose only mistake is they trusted the few.