Love in the time of Covid

June 14, 2020

A family is playing basketball in their front yard. Someone reports this to the police. The police break up the game and send them inside.
A couple in New York are sitting outside enjoying fresh air, or as fresh as one can find in a big city. The police make them sit six feet apart. Never mind that they live together.
In Texas, a woman was fined and arrested for opening the doors of her beauty salon.
In New Jersey, a man was arrested for going to the gym.
The government has implemented a new category for discrimination. Essential vs. non-essential employees. Tell the family that can’t pay its bills that they are not essential. Better yet, don’t. The government has already told them. No sense rubbing it in.

I am out running errands and my daughter calls. It’s about 8:30PM on a Wednesday. She tells me there’s something happening at Joe’s house. Cops, fire rescue, chaos. Joe is our neighbor. Joe is a sick man. He is a hoarder. His yard is entirely filled with all sorts of junk. Old sheets of plywood, rusted metal, broken machinery. None of it has any real value, except maybe as scrap. The city has cleared his front yard twice in the last year. Both times, he has restored the mess within two weeks and then built upon it. Joe has even liberated things that weren’t junk, only to let them become junk in his yard. I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to cause him any trouble, but I know that what he has done is essentially theft. I also know he didn’t do it with bad intentions. No one steals something valuable to let it rot in their backyard. At least, no one who is not sick.

I haven’t seen Joe since that Wednesday over a month ago. I assume he is in the hospital. He was physically sick, too. A neighbor managed to wedge his front door shut. There is still a light on inside. No one will go inside the house to turn it off. It’s a dangerous place. Let the light burn until it burns no more. The sculpture garden of refuse is still outside. I see it when I go into my yard or out the front door. I see it when I drive home from the west or the east.

The city emptied the man’s front yard twice in the last year. They haven’t been back and they never bothered to deal with the issue. There was a sick man living there. They didn’t care about helping him. They didn’t care about fixing the problem. They only care about fining him. There is no revenue in helping people. Liens, on the other hand, pay well. Sooner or later, they always pay.

I wonder if Joe would be deemed essential. No. He wouldn’t. I produce revenue, so I am essential. I get special rights. I get special treatment. I’m not going to give them up. I will not be a martyr to this particular cause as it would serve no purpose. Someone once told me to choose which hill I’m going to die on. I’m not ready to die, and this ain’t my hill.

Joe has a brother whom I met recently. He tells me Joe was “two shots of morphine away from death.” Hospice was about to be called in. Joe’s brother begged them off and now Joe has begun to recover. His brother has been coming by and clearing the yard. It’s getting better, but there is a lot to do. I’ve offered help and he’s refused. This is a hard thing for a proud man. I don’t press the issue.

The city of Hollywood, Florida has been aware of Joe’s situation for at least the 17 years I’ve lived here. I started my neighborhood’s civic association eleven years ago. Candidates for the city commission and mayoralty have knocked on my door. There is no way they didn’t see what was happening next door. They were all happy to come ask for my vote, my time, my money, and my help, but none of them bothered to ask Joe if he needed help.

The city issued me a warning a couple of years ago for letting my grass get too long. It was during a particularly rainy season and a busy time for me. I cut the lawn the following weekend. I didn’t cut it because someone from the city told me to. I cut it because it’s something I do. The grass was not too high. It was not a problem or an eyesore. The city was hoping to squeeze money out of me.

The difference between citing me and ignoring Joe is a simple matter of revenue. They can get money out of me while helping Joe will cost money. The man needed psychological and physical help. My wife and I offered to help him, but he never acknowledged the offer. He too, in his own way, is a proud man.

This is the one place the city could have been of service and they failed. Joe’s behavior was not criminal, but it was a screaming indication of a psychological problem. It turns out he was not a danger to anyone other than himself, but how could we have known that? Do we know it now? The first priority, some may say the only responsibility, of governments from city to federal, is to keep its citizens safe. The city of Hollywood failed to protect this man, even as he molded his yard into a heartbreaking eyesore of a cry for help.

The views expressed by the author are his alone and do not necessarily reflect
the opinions of anyone anywhere.