Fragile

My boss leaves one dirty glass and one dirty coffee cup and one used spoon on my desk today. Yesterday it was two dirty coffee cups and a pair of headphones. The week is still young.

In between bouts of frenzied copy editing I read a blog post that Julie Sheridan wrote, which contains an interview with a Scottish homeless man in Barcelona. Julie herself is a fellow copywriter and used to be my colleague in a previous workplace and she writes like a dream, but this one post has made me sad and introspective

Because here’s a man who, you know, lives in a foreign country as an expat and has a good job and savings and an apartment with a dog, all of which applies to me except for the dog (still working on it), and then he loses his job and nobody calls him back for job interviews and his savings run out and next thing he knows, he is living on the streets of Barcelona.

I have the usual questions — why doesn’t he go back to Britain where they don’t have 21 percent unemployment, couldn’t anyone help, did none of his friends have a spare room, etc — but that’s sort of beside the point. I know myself and I know what my answers to those questions would be if I ever should find myself in that situation: because I’m proud, because I’ll never ask for help, they do but I’ll never ask for help.

I don’t know.

If you want to see the real face of homelessness in Prague, you can do no better than to come with me every morning on my walk from my home to the Hlavni Nadrazi metro station. I used to save myself five minutes by cutting across the railway tracks from Winston Churchill square like most people do, but I almost got fined twice by the police and I don’t know how long my clueless smiley expat schtick is going to last.

So now I walk all the way around the tracks, up the park and into the central station like you’re supposed to, and I pass by many, many, many homeless men and women on my way there and back.

Homeless and many clearly alcoholized and many clearly dependent on some sort of chemical I’m not even going to try to speculate on.

I try not to look too closely because I did once, when I noticed a tall, very blond, very young, extremely drunk guy trying to fight his way out of — or was it into — an alcoholic stupor, and I could find no reason why that couldn’t have possibly been me. And then I felt fragile.

Because I am not special, and I won’t be spared. I am just holding on to a civilized life by the skin of my teeth, and so are we all. One bad recession and a few lapsed paychecks away from our alcoholic stupor in the park.

3 thoughts on “Fragile”

  1. The reality of homelessness is that it can affect everyone. As you said, all it takes is a few missed paychecks and wrong turns to find yourself destitute. Building a safety cushion in the form of savings is nearly impossible with what most people make these days, so you end up having to rely on the kindness of family and friends. In my experience, fanilies in SPain are better than dealing with this sort of thing thann here in the UK.

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  2. I have battled homelessness over the past year. I think it’s probably different with everyone, but with me, the impetus was a cross between a mental health disorder and a profound conviction regarding politics and social issues. You ask why he does not return to Britain; I think it is probably for one of the two reasons I listed. Even if it ‘just’ a mental health issue, I doubt he is ‘choosing’ to be homeless.

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  3. Thank you for that — yes, I do think you’re right and now I have even more questions. I truly never thought of homelessness in terms of political convictions. If you are ever in the mood to tell, I’d love to read more.

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