Thursday, August 5, 2010


Yesterday at work Gavroche died singing while his little brothers stole their breakfast from a swan. Remember that Jean Valjean, encountering him the night before on the Rue l'Homme Arme when Gavroche delivered Marius' letter, exclaimed--comprehending--He's hungry! And of course he was hungry, always; and there had been no food inside the barricade for hours: everyone inside the barricade was hungry. Gavroche was a great spirit, a hero, a Phenomenon, everyone can see this and it's true. But Jean Valjean sees more clearly, most truly, the starving child raving in its hunger, too near death.

This morning I looked all around me at the people on the Q train who by Church Avenue or so are like one or two of everyone on earth--Tibetans, cowboys, headhunters, unmarried gay people, every rarity represented--and I felt glad or momentarily glad that my tax dollars help pay other people's way out of ignorance and poverty. Then I felt glad at being able to feel glad about that because it meant I wasn't yet as bad a person as I often sound in conversation, for instance when the topic is disability fraud or teachers' unions or obesity or why some black women read such pornographic novels on the train. On this sunny bright-colored morning I felt glad to do my part towards springing a few more grossly fat malingerers and rude sex fiends from the prisons of their lonely rooms so that here they could be, here we could all be, equally free to ride into Manhattan together.

But then I thought: We're only the lucky ones. Others remain housed, and have no freedom. Others go unseen, outside the reach of care. I can pay all the disproportionately high taxes I occasionally won't mind paying and still people mostly children in Brooklyn will lack food. We who can get up, put on clothes and walk out our front doors into public--where it is really so much more interesting to be and very often safer--for all that we complain about the work load or the lines are engaged in taking pleasures. I had to stop off in downtown Brooklyn to visit the Social Security office. The guards downstairs caught the lady in front of me bringing her breakfast along--buttered rolls in foil--and let it pass. Public offices, cool, carpeted, with rows of seats and some other guards to chat with as familiar faces drift among the novelties: for those of us who can get there, the lucky ones, another Luxembourg garden.

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