Sunday, August 1, 1999

The Cheap Alcohol Theory


© Dr. Wes Browning

Your head, an orange,

a pencil up my nose.

A lost weekend,

found in my pants.

Chocolate cake,

vanilla snake.

The passing fancy,

the staying plain.

X marks the spot.

Anybody got an eraser?

Speaking of lost weekends, the North American Street Newspaper Association had its annual conference in Cleveland two weeks ago, and Real Change was there. Four of us, anyway.

I bet a lot of you wonder what we homeless and formerly homeless representatives of street newspapers do at these long weekend conferences. Do we exchange train hopping techniques? Do we share pigeon recipes? Do we drink gallons of coffee? Do we use these conferences as an excuse to have loads of wild anonymous casual sex?

Sure, we're only human, but there's more to it than that. That other stuff only takes so long and then you find yourself in the odd workshop listening to an ACLU lawyer or a labor pool organizer, and then Anitra "on whose kitchen floor I have sometimes slept" Freeman suddenly gets up and foments revolution.

That's right. Our Anitra, urging us all to help establish an alternative economy. Down with capitalism! Up with some other thing!

All right, I'm exaggerating. The closest we all came to fomenting revolution was when, in one workshop, after trading horror stories about the treatment of the homeless in our respective cities, we all agreed that "it's bad everywhere" and "we should make a list of common demands."

So now the street newspaper movement has a list of demands and principles, which includes such things as "people have a right not to be homeless."

Some other things we decided included "people should not have to accept illegal work (like prostitution, running drugs, transporting illegal immigrants) in order to survive," and people should not have to breathe asbestos in order to get a paycheck."

Radical stuff, huh?

OK, it was as boring as a Republican caucus in Peoria. The high point, for me, of the whole conference came when one of the organizers told us that our conference site (Case Western Reserve University) was the cultural center of Ohio, prompting me to ask, "If this is such a hot-shot cultural center where are all the 7-11's?"

You see I have this theory, that poor people are so essential to every economy that everywhere you go in the US and Canada it must be possible to find cheap alcohol. Somebody has to do the grunt work. Somebody has to clean the toilets, mop the floors, wash the dishes. And there have to be affordable drugs to make that all possible.

I go so far as to say that in every city there must be, within walking distance from city center, 40-ouncers of beer or the equivalent for two dollars or less.

So far I've always been proved right. I never found the 7-11 I was looking for near the campus in Cleveland, but found instead, right in the middle of the school, a drugstore selling 40-ouncers of Schlitz Malt Liquor for $1.60 including tax – score!

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against the poor drinking cheap booze.

On the contrary! My point is that the alcohol industry knows what it is doing. They know that poor people are a market. So they don't just sell expensive aged wine, they sell Thunderbird and Night Train.

So why can't we have the housing equivalent of Thunderbird? Why can't real estate developers see the market that is so plain and evident to Schlitz, and move in on it?

Your answers are anxiously awaited.