Friday, May 30, 2003

Well, it's a lovely day in Barcelona, nice and warm...My geraniums are blooming...The cats are all stretched out on the bed in the front room, undoubtedly dreaming of mice...Or lizards...We don't have mice, and we don't have cockroaches either, or pigeon poo on the balcony. Pigeon poo on the balcony is a problem for catless houses in Barcelona...I actually rather like pigeons; I also rather like city squirrels, which we don't have here. We do have these weird green birds that were imported from Latin America that are called "cotorros"...Most of the trees around here are plane trees (sycamores), and there's a strange Spanish belief that every few years you have to prune them way back. They just did that to the beautiful, shady sycamores down in the plaza, which are now nude trunks with a few green branches sprouting out...In some places they wire plane trees, like grapevines, into growing into particular shapes. I especially have seen that up north, like in Navarra and Burgos...People complain about the sycamores because they say they produce a lot of pollen, which I guess they do; the air in Barcelona isn't too clean and I do find myself sneezing a lot more here than in clean Kansas (or clean Vallfogona). I think it's the dust particles from all the damned lead-gas-burning old beaters still on the road...Wait, I own a lead-gas-burning 1988 Renault 5, which supposedly produces 100 times as much air pollution crap as a new car...On the other hand we only use it to drive out to the pueblo and back, and that's only like a hundred miles each way...Nobody has air-conditioning at home around here, well, at least not too many people, and you do become a little laid-back when the temperature's 80ºF; you conserve motion...Or is that just an excuse for being lazy? People around here really aren't lazy, they work pretty hard...Obtrusive government regulation causes a great deal of inefficiency, swallowing up various quantities of time and effort whose loss to the economy is pretty substantial...On the other hand, you gotta give the Spaniards credit, they're good-hearted people, and it's pretty hard to fall completely through the cracks of the social system around here, some bureaucrat actually doing his job is eventually going to see what needs done and do it...You gotta try really hard to be a bum in Spain...

Spanish Bums (Strummer / Chappell)

Spanish bums in Andalucía
Begging you money for a bus to their hometow-ow-ow-ow-ns
Oh, please give me seven euros
Been drinking tinto and hanging out downtow-ow-ow-ow-n
Vomit stains on the drunk tank walls, the night bus of the Guardia Civil
Spanish bums pee in the doorways, then pass out in the Rambla toni-i-i-ght

Spanish bums, hey you wanna buy some kleenex?
Buy some kleenex for la volunt-a-a-a-d
Spanish bums, hey I'm gonna wipe your windshield
You better pay me 'cause I'll get psychotic ma-a-a-a-d

The Rambla rings with "¡Hijos de puta!"
Oh, that's just Old Pepe, he's fouled himself agai-i-i-i-n
One day he's gonna kill somebody
All we don't know is who or where or whe-e-e-enn
Spanish bums lie on the sidewalk, clutching boxes of Don García wi-i-ine
Spanish bums waylay the tourists, I'm passing out behind the Boquería ton-i-i-ight

Spanish bums shout in the subway, isn't it a pity that
I have to beg so that I don't have to ste-e-e-eal
Gimme some money, I just got out of prison
Go to Can Tunis to make another de-e-e-al
Spanish bums bother the shopkeepers, the taxi drivers won't stop for them
Spanish bums on the freeway, another one just got run over again

There are too damn many bums in this town and the city government tries to do a reasonable job taking care of them. If you're a bum and you want three hots, a cot, and a penicillin shot, and a bath and some clean clothes, they'll take care of you. And if they won't, for some reason, the Church, or some other nonprofit organization, will. Let's face it. Bums are anti-social. The system here is organized to help people out, and if you don't take advantage of what it will do for you--and it will get you psychiatric help, which is what you probably need if you're a bum--then we can't blame the system for your problems. Nobody but a psycho, whose family won't take care of him and who has no friends and has rejected the intervention of the government and the Church, has to be a bum. And is it the psycho's fault he's a psycho? No. Absolutely not. But he is a public menace, and he needs to be institutionalized until he's back on his feet. They're not tough enough around here about institutionalizing people for their own and everybody else's good.

I know the slippery-slope argument, who draws the line, who decides who's a psycho? I dunno, but I hold that if you're wearing clothes you haven't changed for two months and you're sleeping in a Caixa Catalunya bank branch and you're up over four liters of Don García a day, you're a psycho.

I once, at three o'clock in the morning on the Rambla, noted a bum in front of the Generalitat bookstore who was leaning on a pillar of the arcade and pissing all over himself. The guy could barely stand. I alerted a cop and he said, yeah, yeah, that's the usual, look, I gotta go break up a fight in the Plaza Real, (burble burble from the radio) he'll be OK, they'll sweep him off the street when dawn rolls around if he doesn't get run over first. Or, I suppose, if he does.

It must suck to be a cop. I bet at least three-quarters of a cop's job is preventing stupid assholes from getting themselves hurt, and that cop had higher priorities than the bum at that particular moment. I can see his point of view, the immediate danger is the fight.

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