COLUMN THIRTY-EIGHT, OCTOBER 1, 1998
(Copyright © 1998 Al Aronowitz)
NEEDED: THE PERFECT GIULIE
Approximately 100,000 homeless people pass through the streets of New York City every day, maybe not so many as you would be forced (or care) to notice. Not just yet. Now, I have no quick fix for the poor nor do I plan to become one. But I do have a suggestion that might help them. And help me as well as you.
As an anthropologist and a scientist, I do not know why the establishment has ignored this problem for so long. But, I do not believe it can be ignored for much longer without New York's already suspect atmosphere smelling much like sections of Marseille. (Perhaps you should continue reading this only after a sensible period of time has elapsed since your last meal.)
A street informant explains that there are only four bathrooms available to all homeless persons in New York City between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
"There certainly aren't more than a few hundred homeless persons who can be accommodated in those rare facilities," this informant tells me.
The homeless are not soon about to disappear. They and their bodies continue to function. Some squat in quiet dark corners on newspapers or in old supermarket bags and then carefully deposit their detritus in a litter basket. But it is getting more noticeable that most do not.
We need a solution, a fact, if it is not already blatantly obvious, which can be underscored by the experience of the average middle class person in this great city. The average everyman or everywoman can dump at home, at work or in some (ugh!) "public toilet" (if he or she is a customer in a restaurant or looks like a customer in a department store or at a---double ugh!---gas station). Even the rich, walking down Fifth Avenue, have few places to park their tushies. But the homeless have neither home nor office; neither can they afford to spend money in your average restaurant. Nor can they be reasonably passed off as customers in department stores, gas stations or anywhere!
But the homeless have not stopped relieving themselves and before we step in it, I propose the following solution: Port-a-potties for the homeless.
We have addressed this problem for our dogs; how can we ignore it for our however distant and however alienated fellow humans, the homeless? What I propose is that the city sponsor a design contest in order to discover the best, the least expensive, the easiest to operate and the most portable port-a-potty for distribution to the poor. A whole new bureaucracy could be established at the Department for Human Resources. Wouldn't a city bureaucracy that thrives on bakshish (as New York's does) just love the idea.
Such a plan should not only guarantee the support of the civil service employees, but
has got to go
at least once in a while
bakshish-loving politicians can be expected to revel instantly in the plan's plum-ability. And because our Mayor has already demonstrated his fervor for improving the quality of life in the city, I think we should call the winning design, "The Giulie," in His Honor's honor. Not only would "Giulies" improve the quality of life of the homeless, but also the quality of life of the Mayor and of all of us who frequent this Big decomposing Apple. After all, our mayor, who would rather put $600 trash cans at street corners and a multi-billion-dollar baseball stadium on the West Side than rebuild the city's crumbling, slum-like schools, must surely appreciate this civilizing, tourist-friendly idea. Only misguided pinkos think His Honor has so cheap, simplistic and puerile a vision of our great city that they've taken to calling it "New Omaha-on-the-Hudson."
I suggest that all who have ideas for the design of the Giulie should send them to the Mayor at City Hall. Not only will Giulies help the homeless, but, in the hands of the homeless, Giulies can come in handy for all of us. How often have you wished you had a Giulie? Or will wish you had one in the future?
And wouldn't a homeless person be more than happy to rent you his or hers?
I visualize a collapsible design which, when assembled, would form a narrow, three-legged teepee wrapped in semi-opaque shower curtains. There would be a pull-down metal seat to which a burst-proof plastic bag would attach. After use, the bag would be tied shut. Then, presumably, some still more penniless homeless person could be tipped to drop the bag in especially lined brown waste baskets which could be placed next to the $600 litter baskets on designated city streets in so-called "purple" areas. Use of Giulies would be permitted in these areas only.
Giulies would save the city's new $600 litter baskets the indignity of having to be stunk up by homeless detritus wrapped in newspapers. Giulies could do for New York City what its many public bathrooms that were so long ago padlocked no longer do. Just as the homeless have turned to recycling soda pop cans to earn the nickel deposits, a new cottageless industry could be born to support these cottageless people. Instead of collecting cans to claim nickel deposits, the homeless can collect the methane-producing deposits in the burst-proof bags to sell to recycling plants for use in generating electricity.
That would help give us all a jolt. ##
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