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The American Homeless – “Still The Best”

return of the prodigal son

The Return of the Prodigal Son, the book that triggered the crazy memory

Yesterday I saw a book with a painting on it. The painting reminded me of another painting in another library in a galaxy five years back. The painting was enormous–I’d guess it was at least twelve feet wide and four feet high. It showed a group of American homeless men huddled around a barrel fire at night. I can’t remember the exact title, but I believe it included the words Last Supper. It evoked the famous scene in any case.

It was a gorgeous piece of work and nearly everyone who checked books out commented on it at least once while they faced it from their spot in line. This would result in what would be the most memorable comment I would ever hear in a library.

But before I could meet that person the painting had to fall. Literally. One morning, completely of its own accord, it fell off the wall and slapped down over the top of several book carts with a loud smack that startled us all.

The painting wasn’t damaged but we weren’t able to hang it up again without help. So in the back room it went and I forgot about it amidst the business of the work day.

Until the woman with the bright red hair approached to check out her books. She slammed her hand down on the counter and demanded to know where the painting was.

I explained.

She did not accept this explanation with good humor and jollity. Rather, she pointed her finger at me and said:

You listen to me. We’ve got to send a clear message. That even though they’re homeless, America’s homeless are still the best. Forget what you know about Calcutta. Get that painting back up.

When I said that I couldn’t replace it right then and there she tutted and clucked and then finally stomped away. I laughed all day. In this world of linguistic triteness and laziness and cliches and redundancy, there are still people who find ways to utter phrases that I’m fairly certain nobody has ever said before.

So there you have it. Whatever your position on the situation of the homeless in America, you can count on one thing: they are better than the homeless anywhere else, if one woman up on the east side of Salt Lake City  is to be believed.

The painting never got put back up.


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  • Jeff Goins June 9, 2011, 9:20 am

    You’re absolutely right. I’ve traveled the world and spent time with America’s homeless. This is true.

  • Gustavo| Frugal Science June 9, 2011, 10:50 am

    I sure hope your article doesn’t become popular down here in Ecuador. It wouldn’t be against the odds to see hordes of local politicians spending lots of money, campaigning for the awareness, trying to convince local homeless to become the best of the world.