Kevin Hoover, editor of the Mad River Union, shared a sad story on KHSU this past Thursday. He told us about a homeless Arcatan, whose name escapes me, who has had a series of dogs, all named “Mr. Nobody.” Horrified observers spotted this person leading a very unhappy Mr. Nobody around the Arcata Plaza. According to Mr. Hoover’s account, Mr. Nobody had been outfitted with a large, heavy pack, and the rather small dog struggled visibly, and eventually collapsed under the weight of it.
Police arrested the man, who has a history of animal abuse in Humboldt County. Apparently none of his dogs have fared much better than his most recent Mr. Nobody. This time, many hope, the man will be forbidden from ever having a dog again. Sad story, right?
Of course everyone sympathizes with the poor overburdened dog. “How could anyone abuse a poor defenseless animal like that?” you might ask. Some might even suggest that the man be subjected to the same kind of cruelty that he inflicted on the poor dog. They would publicly parade him around the Plaza carrying an impossibly heavy load, until he collapses under the weight of it, all the while enduring the jeers of disgusted townspeople. Personally, I suspect the man has already been punished enough.
I certainly don’t condone the man’s behavior. No one should ever treat an animal like that, but I’ve seen how we treat homeless people here in Humboldt County, and it’s sickening. How many times has this guy been asked to “move along,” reminding him that he’s not welcome anywhere. How many times have people called him a “bum,” a “scumbag,” a “plazoid” or worse? How many times have the cops harassed him, woken him up, or forcibly evicted him from his camp? How many times has he been cuffed, booked and locked in a jail cell? If it’s never happened to you, I can assure you that it is a thoroughly humiliating, degrading and wrenching experience. How many times has he heard himself and his community talked about as objects, in the third person, to be removed, or disposed of, or as a blight to be excised and cauterized?
That’s just the abuse that we heap on all homeless people, institutionally, just for trying to survive. We know that all of those things have happened to him, but we can also assume that he learned abusive behavior early, at the hands of a parent, step-parent, older sibling, neighborhood bully or in an institution. Abuse is probably all he knows, and clearly he knows it well. In one sense, I kind of admire the visual poetry of the image he created. As a work of art, it was brilliant.
I mean, how did he make that pack heavy enough that passersby couldn’t help but notice the dog’s distress, but not so heavy that the dog couldn’t make it to the Plaza without collapsing before being seen. And the dog’s name, Mr. Nobody — how perfect, civilized dehumanization, simple, direct, elegant. That doesn’t happen by accident.
I can only imagine the scene. This guy, pulling on a leash, attached by the neck to the beleaguered, wobbly, overburdened Mr. Nobody. I see him coaxing the animal along, just to see how far he can go. Then, when the poor pooped pooch finally collapses from exhaustion on the sidewalk, he scolds it, calls it lazy, commands it to get up and move along, and physically drags it along the sidewalk by the neck. What a poignant metaphor for our whole economy.
There’s a lot of Mr. and Ms. Nobody out there, aren’t there? How ironic that we condemn the perpetrator of the metaphor, while we struggle beneath the weight of our own workload, with dogged obedience, only to join in the scolding, berating, and persecution of our peers who have already buckled under the weight of their burden. It’s a terrible thing to witness, so terrible, in fact, that even staging a poetic metaphor of it will likely disgust passersby and get you arrested for animal cruelty. Yet we live with the reality of it day after day.
That’s why I love cats. A cat would never put up with that shit.