Threnody for a Dispensable Man


July 30, 2017

I am fond of aphorisms. Short comments often embrace the whole; as a close friend of mine would say (perhaps he would) they anticipate the process of actualizing a potential. He is a philosopher. I'll use a short quote from Aldous Huxley, an influence for me since college: "There's only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self."

I try that, of course with one eye one the potential of influencing others, even grandiosely, the world. The last part is my secret corner; and like the Prometheus of Aeschylus, it is the hope I received on his visit.* And, in spite of my feeling of superfluity in a time in history witnessing the tricky election of a nitwit buffoon as our president and the unfortunate, potentially disastrous plebiscite leading to England's abandonment of the European Union, I do what I am able to do--mainly talk and write. Perhaps no one listens, no one reads, and yet I feel I must.

My personal nurturing came from my grandparents and father, who raised me. They were friends of the Wisconsin Lafollets, who were champions of the Progressive political party and social agenda; my uncle ran for Congress on the ticket. Before there were "social workers," my grandmother did work for social causes. In 1940, when the president of a Southern Negro college and his wife visited Milwaukee, they could not obtain a hotel room! They stayed with us. You probably do not remember that the Progressive Party was then a wing of the Republican party--so much has changed.

Another motto that I remember' important to my Grandfather' came from Carlysle: "Get your happiness out of your work, or you'll never know what happiness is." I was very happy as a physician--the work of it, for as I improved myself, there was always the potential of helping someone else. In an essay I wrote about my experiences in the politics of medicine: Memoir of a Prom King, I confessed my dismay at the medical community's willingness to be led by others--I then (1974) suggested they leave the local, state and national organizations, which seemed almost wholly concerned with money. That is not a reason to enter medicine. There has been no leadership emerging from organized medicine concerned with righting the shame associated with the lack of adequate medical care for all. Shame on them.

Just over a year ago, my neighbor began renovating his house in preparation for selling it. I noticed a young man, perhaps in his forties, working with the construction crew from time to time. I also noticed that he was homeless; he made his bed on the sidewalk next to my building. I found him to be an intelligent and thoughtful man who became homeless and divorced as a result of heart surgery that he underwent in Hawaii, where he lived. Of course he had no insurance and could not pay his medical bills. The common story of bankruptcies these days, I am told. I have a small space behind my building that is secure, so I gave him a key and told him he could stay there. He is and was well-liked by the neighbors; perhaps because he used neither drugs nor alcohol, he kept the area free of unsavory persons. He kept the street swept and cleaned things up around the building--he would not take any money for this exchange.

There is a dysfunctional homeowner in the area who complains regularly to the City and did so concerning this man. A representative of the Code Enforcement department visited last November and found nothing to complain of. During our rainy winter, the young man erected a shelter from the rains simply using canvas; this kept him dry and safe. A few weeks ago, I discussed with him the possibility that I might erect a storage shed in the space and he could occupy it. However, the plan was halted when I received a letter from the City alleging building code violations. None of the assertions was true, for there was nothing attached to my building. I responded by letter with copies to the Mayor and the City Manager. I received a reply from the Mayor but none from the City. Time passed and I assumed my letter (which still remains unanswered) had squelched the City's attack. I was wrong. after about two months an even more threatening letter warned me that the "City" would begin fining me up to $500.00 per day for the assertions made--which were completely untrue.

I share coffee and comments with friends each morning. The friends are builders, engineers and City employees or spouses thereof. They were in agreement that the City was in the wrong and two of them visited the head of the Code Enforcement department, who visited the site. She admitted there was no basis for the attack, but also admitted that this is the way the City operates. If they have it in mind that they wish something changed to their point-of-view, they have the arbitrary power to do it.

This awakening to my City's agenda brought forth another aphorism: "It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong." Voltaire.

I found myself despondent and self-deprecating thereafter--I was seriously depressed and wondered how I might inform this young man that he would have to vacate. In the end, I simply gave him copies of the City's letters and some money.

I am ashamed of the City's position and embarrassed by how useless I am.

Jack Leissring, Santa Rosa, CA

*"Prometheus (Aeschylus)

Chorus: Did you perhaps go further than you have told us?
Prometheus: I caused mortals to cease foreseeing doom.
Chorus: What cure did you provide them with against that sickness?

Prometheus: I placed in them blind hopes."
Prometheus: I placed in them blind hopes."