Thursday, October 9, 2014

Rev. Rick Cole's Travels

“There’s a lot of suffering in this world that ordinary people don’t know
anything about.” – Sullivan in Sullivan’s Travels. Script by Preston Sturges
#revonthestreets
A front-page article on homelessness by Bee writer Cynthia Hubert had an interesting word in the first sentence: impersonating. “On his fourth day of impersonating a homeless man, the Rev. Rick Cole was starting to look the part.”

Front-page article in the Oct. 3 Bee. One thing to
quickly note is that Cole (as pictured) isn't getting a chest
 Xray like REAL homeless guys to get a first-time TB card.
 He's just getting the simple "scratch test." 
Don't you understand? People like him are special.
Funny thing, I have long thought of Hubert “impersonating” a reporter with her bathetic and cartoonish portrayals of homeless people over the years.

But she does have a point when she writes that Cole is playing a part. Indeed. He is Joel McCrea playing the part of John Lloyd Sullivan in the 1941 Preston Sturges comedy/satire Sullivan’s Travels.

In the movie from 73 years ago, Sullivan [often called “Sully” in the film] is a film director who grew up wealthy having had everything handed to him by his father. He’s had a vapid life of trivial pursuits [His biggest movie was titled Ants in your Pants.] when he gets the notion that he should leave his luxurious Beverly Hills home and find out what "trouble" is like so he might be able to make an important film he's planning about poverty, called O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

Sully decides to get raggedy clothes from the wardrobe department at the studio and “put ten cents in his pocket.” [Cole, contrariwise, brings $60 with him and buys a new backpack.] Sullivan tells the studio bosses he may be gone for maybe a week; maybe a month; maybe a year. [Betting is Cole’ll be back in his fine home with his fine wife, living fine after a couple weeks.]

Butler Burrows and Sully.
In an important early scene, Sully's butler, Burrows, warns the director to abandon his quest. Burrow would later reveal that he had "quite unwillingly" been homeless, himself, as a young man, thirty years ago.:
Sully: Good morning, Burrows. How do you like it? [Referring to the raggedy clothes he's wearing.]
Burrows: I don't like it at all, sir. Fancy dress, I take it?
Sully: What's the matter with it?
Burrows: I have never been sympathetic to the caricaturing of the poor and needy, sir.
Sully: Who's caricaturing? I'm going out on the road to find out what it's like to be poor and needy and then I'm going to make a picture about it.
Burrows: If you'll permit me to say so, sir, the subject is not an interesting one. The poor know all about poverty and only the morbid rich would find the topic glamorous.
Sully: But I'm doing it for the poor. Don't you understand?
Burrows: I doubt if they would appreciate it, sir. They rather resent the invasion of their privacy, I believe quite properly, sir. Also, such excursions can be extremely dangerous, sir. I worked for a gentleman once who likewise, with two friends, accoutered themselves as you have, sir, and then went out for a lark. They have not been heard from since. You see, sir, rich people and theorists - who are usually rich people - think of poverty in the negative, as the lack of riches - as disease might be called the lack of health. But it isn't, sir. Poverty is not the lack of anything, but a positive plague, virulent in itself, contagious as cholera, with filth, criminality, vice and despair as only a few of its symptoms. It is to be stayed away from, even for purposes of study. It is to be shunned.
I wouldn't go as far as Burrows. Homelessness isn't as vice-ridden as, say, many homeless-help charities and Wall Street and politics and the banking industry. And, certainly, homeless people shouldn't be shunned. But Burrows is right that homelessness isn't only a lack of money; but it is in significant part a lack of money. It is, too, a lack of meaning and purpose and, most often a lack of employment -- which can make a person productive and part of a team as well as a recipient of pay. Being homeless can come as a result of an addiction and, as woowoo as this may sound to some, trauma from a terrible childhood. Mental illness is also a factor that can bring on homelessness for many. And a bad economy is a big factor, too. Homelessness IS a plague.

Also, homeless people aren't "dangerous," though there is a risk for rough sleeping homeless folk in being violently accosted by teenagers. Too, women sleeping alone outside are at considerable risk. Plus if you are asleep outside there is risk somebody can tiptoe alongside you and kipe your backpack or other things of yours. Fights between homeless men occur when both men get their back up due to some trivial dispute, but as a matter of chivalry must fight to the death. Staying out of such fights is easy for any even-tempered man.

I also must add that, today, though maybe not in 1941, homelessness is worthy of study, including by serious and objective journalists. Sadly, the Bee and SN&R, despite laudable effort, have been greatly lacking in this regard. Both the Bee and SN&R talk to homeless-charity leaders and not homeless people enough such to get a valid understanding of Homeless World. It can also be to the good if compassionate citizens "plunge" by going into Homeless World as anonymous nobodies to learn of it firsthand. Because of the poor, misinformative reporting in Sacramento's publications and on local TV, near everything you might read or see about homelessness (outside of this blog, of course) is of little value.

Now, back to the movie: Because his friends want to look out for him, an entourage is created of, perhaps, ten people following Sully in his adventures, using a big bus that is outfitted like a house, and includes a black cook (in a racist characterization, sadly) and a doctor.

Gang showers at the mission
 in Sullivan's Travels.
Because Preston Sturges, the director and screenwriter of Sullivan's Travels, is a serious genius, he is able to "get away with" a slow beginning to the movie, where Sully takes three forays into Homeless World, but by happenstance and odd coincidences he is removed from homelessness, conveniently falling into the care of his entourage or ends up in his luxurious Beverly Hills mansion. He gets sick, but needn't endure discomfort; a soft bed and attentive doctor make him comfortable. So, for Sully, not having enough money to buy coffee and a donut simply means he waves his arms or pushes the right button or makes the quick phone call to allow the rescue option to take effect. Likewise, Rev. Cole is never for an instant really inconvenienced. He has an entourage with him. According to the Bee, A "martial arts specialist," "a former police officer" and a rock-band singer are accompanying him. Oh, and he has plenty of money in his pocket for a Starbucks latte (or for twenty of them), which he loves.

A hellfire preacher, rubbing his hands
 together in Sullivan's Travels. He's
much like the UGM preacher, Hector.
Kel Munger, a journalism professor at ARC, in an excellent essay in the October 9 issue of the Sacramento News & Review, referred to Cole's adventure as "a stunt." Precisely.

Finally, mid-movie, Sully and "the girl" he's met [she's never named; cited as "the girl" in the movie's end credits; played by the ever-interesting and -alluring Veronica Lake] head out and REALLY SEE Homeless World as it is. They go to a mission, which is very very much like Sacramento's Union Gospel Mission. Interesting difference between the mission in Sullivan's Travels and the one Rick Cole spent a night in in Rick Cole's Travels is the order in which things take place. In Sacramento's UGM, things take place in this order: (1) SERMON (2) MEAL (3) GANG SHOWER (4) SLEEP ON A BUNKBED, In the mission of 1941, the events are in this order (1) GANG SHOWER (2) SERMON (3) MEAL (4) SLEEP ON THE FLOOR. [People must've smelled worse in 1941 vis-à-vis nowadays; the gang shower isn't the first thing anymore.]

Eating at the mission.

In Rick Cole's experience, he wakes up at 2am in his UGM bunkbed and can't get back to sleep because of the snoring. Indeed, I've heard A LOT of snoring in my over-a-thousand-nights experience sleeping at UGM, but real homeless guys are so worn out by walking long distances, sleep comes easy. Of course, too, the mostly regular UGM-sheltered guys have had time to acclimate to the conditions, which Cole hadn't. After a couple years, when I was no longer dirt poor, I could afford earplugs and sleeping pills and less walking, which helped. But by that time *I* was snoring and was gently awakened by a kind comrade or deservedly got slapped in the head by an unkind one.
Sully and "the girl" sleeping on
 the floor. Similar to, but not exactly,
 like what goes on at Winter Sanctuary.

The night after their mission stay, Sully and the girl look for food out on the street and begin going through trash cans. They sniff the foul smells and (of course) decide the thing to do is summon their rescuers! Which is what happens. BUT, touched by the suffering of the homeless people he's come in contact with, Sully determines he'll take $1000 in five-dollar bills and pass the bills out to homeless people in their shantytown. While doing this, a series of events transpire and in quick succession, a groggy, confused Sully is arrested and sentenced to six years, hard labor. Meantime, a dead man is mistakenly identified as Film Director John Sullivan.

The point of the quick succession of ridiculous events is that Sully is suddenly in REAL trouble; he is in a fix that he can't just get out of with a snap of his fingers. THIS is where Rev. Rick Cole and John Sullivan part company. Rick Cole's foray into Homeless World was always a stunt, a hoax, a performance piece, a sham, a lie. Sully, in the context of a fully fictional movie is in a fix; there's REAL inescapable deprivation and he is disallowed to "call home." So, Sully is part of a chain-gang, doing hard time, when he discovers that everyone in Hollywood thinks he's dead. He has befriended a Trustee with the chain-gang who looks after him. When mentally alert, Sully tells the Trustee "Don't you understand? They don't sentence people like me to places like this."

Sully with "the girl" -- Veronica Lake! -- looking through
 garbage before quickly deciding "Uh uh, we aren't eating
 this." Call Hollywood! Let's go back to the mansion!
Yes, Sully is "himself," again. Fully the man of privilege, he sees himself wholly apart from troubles that the riffraff might have to deal with, constantly. He is clean and important; more like a Roman Centurion than, say, some damn jew peasant standing on a Mount.

Rick Cole is a Roman Centurion, too. What he isn't is someone, who in Paul's prescription, has "put on the mind of Christ"; not with the "morbid rich" manner in which he has come into Homeless World to do his stunt.

Back to the movie. Sully gets out of trouble by confessing to the murder of John Sullivan (i.e., himself). The "confession" makes all the papers, gains widespread publicity, and the money boys get him out of hard-labor prison lickity split and back to Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

There is a WONDERFUL scene near the end of the movie when the mostly-white chained prisoners are let into a Black Church and treated wonderfully by the preacher and congregation of the church. It would be nice if churches and the world was like that Black Church preacher and the good people in the pews. 'nuff said.

And, now, penultimately. More words on the Cole situation: What the hell is going on with people to give money in support of the Cole charade? Cole isn't learning anything or suffering and these donors aren't learning anything. You donors must have money falling out of your pockets and have as empty a life as any homeless guy. You donors are ridiculous; you aren't meaning to help anybody, you are merely assuaging your own guilt or giving to Rick Cole because he's cute (although quite old) and is sort of a rockstar. My prescription for you Cole Givers: STOP DOING THINGS YOU FEEL GUILTY ABOUT. Instead, become Buddhists and learn what compassion is really like such that you can be REAL people. I mean, sheesh. You people are losers; you practically DESERVE this robbery from you that is taking place.

The compassionate preacher
 at the Black Church.
Couldn't Sacramento Steps Forward Board Chairman Rick Cole just call up Vivek Randadive and get HIM to fork over a couple million from the bounty of his own ka-zillions and the city's hundreds of millions he has in his pocket and save us from all that is going on with this foolish stunt?

And finally, the word “Travels” that was used in the title of the 1941 movie, much discussed in this blog post, that is also in the title of this blog post, itself, is a reference to the 1752 Jonathan Swift satire “Gulliver’s Travels.” While Lemuel Gulliver’s visit to the island of the tiny Lilliputians is the best-known section of Swift’s book, Gulliver visited many other areas of the (fantastic) world. My favorite – and the one that best matches up with Sullivan’s and Cole’s fantastic voyages into Homeless World – is Part IV in the book: “A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms.” Houyhnhnms, you see, is how “homeless” is pronounced if you talk while your mouth is full of UGM's scrambled eggs. People who are persnickety– of whom Gulliver, Sullivan and Cole are specimens – are called yahoos by the noble Houyhnhnms.
 

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