This is a strange world we live in where a person can get arrested for having a beard. I don’t have a beard, and I wasn’t arrested, but a relative was. Or maybe it wasn’t his beard that got him arrested. It could be that because of his sciatica, he was walking with a lurch, and that’s what attracted attention.
He was walking down a non-residential street about a block from where I am staying, and the cops stopped him. He told them he was on his way here and to call me and I would vouch for him. Instead, they took him to jail way out in a part of town I would never want to visit in the day, let alone at 10:00 at night. (I had to go back again at 12:30am because they wouldn’t release him.) The arrest report lists his crime as being intoxicated in a public place, and he might have had something to drink, I don’t know — but he wasn’t unruly or doing anything but lurching down the street, his white beard like a beacon.
He’d also been arrested a couple of weeks before that for jaywalking.
Cripes. I jaywalk all the time — the crosswalks around here are about a mile apart, and so if I am on foot, generally I have to go way out of my way to get anywhere. And there is one intersection with a crosswalk that doesn’t have a walk signal. There are four different roads that converge on that spot, and considering turning cars and such, I take my life in my hands every time I step off a curb. Since that crosswalk is way out of my way, I generally jaywalk in the middle of the block where there is no traffic. I’ve been lucky so far about not getting a jaywalking ticket, but since I can’t afford a sheaf of $186 tickets, I’ve been doing the dangerous thing and using the crosswalk.
These and other episodes have made me wonder about people who don’t fit in our homogenized world. If you have a few drinks in a bar, and then go outside, you are breaking the law because you are intoxicated in a public place. But of course, the cops don’t hang around outside bars waiting for customers to emerge and arrest these lawbreakers. Instead, they arrest those who don’t fit in with the bar crowd, such as the intoxicated homeless. So basically, it’s being homeless that is the real crime.
What are people supposed to do who don’t fit? Our world is getting narrower and narrower, where we don’t want to deal with anything or anyone who is a nuisance or who doesn’t add glamour to our plastic world. In fact, there is a law currently being considered in the UK that could criminalize behavior deemed capable of causing a “nuisance or annoyance.” We don’t need such laws in the US — we have plenty of annoying laws on the books that can be used to criminalize the nuisances.
But it’s not just the armies of derelicts twho don’t fit in our world. A woman with two masters degrees was crying to me the other day because she doesn’t fit. She can’t find a job to fit her, doesn’t have the energy to work forty hours a week even if she did, has maxed out her credit cards, and has no place to stay but couches in friends’ houses.
In the larger sense, no matter who or what we are, we fit in with the world because we are all part of the whole. But in a more localized cultural context, not everyone fits. (Everyone thinks they are misfits because they might not be comfortable with their fit or they wish to do something else, but still, they are a cog in machinery of society. But there are some people who lack the ability to make the necessary compromises or to hold their tongue when it is politic to be silent, and so the machinery grinds them to dust.)
I don’t fit in the cultural world at large, either, and neither did my now deceased life mate/soul mate, but we did fit with each other. Currently, I have a place looking after my father. And then . . . I’ll have to figure out how to fit into the world (or figure out a way to make the world fit me), because a misfit in the twenty-first century is a precarious thing to be.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.