Blue Pup Tent

Reagan, Trump and the Cruelty of Indifference

There may be triggers in this post.

How do we trust our government when the President is a pathological liar?

For people over 60, every interaction is fraught with death.

When the #COVID-19 shutdown began five months ago, my partner was with his elderly Mother in San Bruno, where he remains.

A few weeks ago, I started meeting with my therapist in Dolores Park. On my walks to the park, I noticed more homeless people in new tents.

Yesterday I saw a collection of freshly laundered business suits draped in plastic over a bright blue tent.

Blue Pup Tent
A Memory of Market Street

The sight of It broke my heart.

When I can’t take any more Trumpian abuse, I switch and log into VR, where my alternates recreated the homeless encampments of the 1980s.

Trump’s intentional mismanagement of COVID-19 is reminiscent of Reagan’s indifference to mental illness and the outbreak of AIDS.

The consequences of Reagan’s policies were as traumatic as the treacheries of my childhood.

A Memory of market Street
A Memory of Market Street

I spent most of the 1980s preparing to die from AIDS. 

I asked myself what I wanted to do with the last days of the rest of my life and chose writing.

I had wanted to be a poet as a youth, but I took my Grandmother’s advice to make poetry an avocation, something to do in old age, which was suddenly 29.

In August of 1984, I befriended a poet best known in the gay community for his homoerotic poetry. I was ballsy enough to ask him to teach me to write poetry, and he said yes.

He offered me a room in his rented cottage on Albion Street in San Francisco’s Mission District.

I took the room and began the painful work of becoming literate.

By day I absorbed centuries of writing and literary criticism.

By night, I wrote as much as possible,  desperate to leave a legacy as my community sickened and died.

I also worked full time as a fitness trainer at the local YMCA.

Four years of Reagan’s budget cuts culminated in a permanent population of  disabled people living on and in the gutters.

It started with the mentally ill.

The mentally ill were soon joined by gay teens who came from all over the country, many from abusive communities and families.

Some of these kids formed an alliance with AIDS activists and built a sprawling encampment at San Francisco’s Civic Center.

I wonder where they're going with that Bat-2
I wonder where they’re going with those Bats

As AIDS took my friends, I began to compulsively check my arms and legs for KS lesions and had a crisis over every blemish.

In 1985, an alternate, inspired by the Nathaniel West short story, ‘Miss Lonelyhearts’ emerged.

Like Miss Lonelyhearts, the alternate had a Christ complex.

He took dangerous all-night walks into the homeless encampments at Civic Center and around the adult cinemas and arcades on Market Street and in the Tenderloin.

He returned to the cottage at 6 AM to write a paragraph and sleep.

He called himself Loleeta Morales of Los Portales.

The name, Loleeta, is a regrettable pun.  Morales was the name of one of my many shrinks, and Los Portales was the name of a popular gay dance bar in San Francisco’s Mission District.

‘Loleeta’ became more emotionally unstable with every walk, and I sometimes ‘woke up’ in a crisis clinic or on a locked psychiatric unit with no memory of why I was there.  Still, I always found a story in Loleeta’s notebook.

““A locked psychiatric unit stinks.

A janitor arrives in the morning to stir the floor with his mop.

A Nurse patrols the day room with a can of Lysol spritzing above
her head.

Dr. Christopher Morales is a German from Brazil.

He is like a frog becoming a prince, frozen in transition.

Dr. Morales watches me eat breakfast with a look of calculated concern.

“You like your breakfast?” He asks.

I nod and nibble the tip of a sausage.

“You are feeling suicidal today?”

I nod and swallow.

“How long do you do you intend to feel this way?”

“Until the day I die!” I say sweetly,  so Doctor Morales hops
off in pursuit of a fly.””

Excerpt from Los Portales, 1987

Psychiatrists thought Xanax was a treatment for depression, so mine had me on eight milligrams a day.

Loleeta frightened me because I didn’t know why ‘he’ existed, and I worried he would get us killed.

When I expressed these concerns to my psychiatrist, he upped the Xanax.

By 1986,  I was sick enough to meet Reagan’s definition of total disability.

“The law defines disability as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”

Disability Evaluation Under Social Security

My psychiatrist said I had a potentially lethal mood disorder so the government reluctantly gave me a grant of 700 dollars a month.

By 1987 I was on the brink of homelessness and wondered why I was still alive

I was sickened by Reagan’s government and felt betrayed by my thirtysomething peers, whose political activism became an empty rebellion of style.

“Loleeta Morales reclines to read her favorite leftish magazine.

She offers this excerpt from an Utne article entitled, ‘The Place of the Poor in our Cities:

Poor people have taught us so much about how to move rhythmically and melodically down the street, about how to use color and ornamentation to say new things about ourselves, about how to bring out the rhetorical and theatrical powers of the English language in our every day talk.”

Loleeta writes: “I can teach them how to walk, talk, and dress.”

She decides to prepare herself for the task. First, she needs a hit of speed to kill the hunger. Next, she needs an especially well-swept section of The City: where is the color and ornamentation of her poverty needed most? Does the Castro want some rhetoric? And what shall she wear? Her wardrobe expands with possibilities. She settles on an avant-garde pair of shit-stained chinos topped with fading looks and tie.

Loleeta writes:

I never thought I would have a special place in the life of a city. For this, I am grateful.”

She crosses herself and enters traffic.

Lights change on her command.

Loleeta Morales looms over San Francisco like a Godzilla in search of King Kong. Her jaw flops open, and she roars: “How many bores wanna be like Loleeta Morales!”

Dozens she decides.

As if the hills are alive with the theatrical joy of Loleeta, she storms 18th Street like a mob with convictions. There was money in her mailbox today, her payday for going crazy

With that thought in mind, she clamors into the Bank of America.

“Cash my check!” she demands.

“Gladly!” the teller answers.

And Loleeta takes her place in the scheme of things.”

Excerpt from Los Portales, 1987

In late 1987 I tested negative for AIDS, and Loleeta and my bi-polar illness went away.

“Loleeta Morales” ran my life for over two years.

In the end, Loleeta committed suicide and left me with 200 pages of a story that frightened and confused me.

“Loleeta  Morales decides to die from compassion instead of lust and self-loathing.

She is the New Puritan who brings a message of cleanliness: yesterday’s stud is today’s carrier, so Loleeta gets carried away.

She writes: “Now is the time when I, Loleeta Morales, will deliver my eulogy — because no one else can possibly know how nice I am.

I was a good girl. I respected science. I felt the Constitution of the United States was worth reading. I also felt that food was something I had a right to because the anguish of hunger us cruel.

Let it be said at my funeral that I was always one of the others.”

Excerpt from Los Portales, 1987

It is 2020.

Our president is a racist who persecutes migrant children. He extorts our allies and invites tyrants to help him rig our elections.

He is using a deadly virus to kill off the poor and disabled as he spreads enemy propaganda designed to distract and confuse our people.

Reagan’s 80s proved that average Americans will not only normalize a disgusting abuse of political power, they will also happily condescend to and blame the victims, if the consequences don’t directly affect them.

Can we undo the mistakes in collective judgment that got us here?  Can we face up to and atone for over 40 years of our complicit abuse of the poor and disabled?

During the shutdown, I built a virtual replica of the homeless encampments on Market Street in the 1980s.

I log in to remember and bear witness.

“Young girls are coming to the Canyon.

They make their way up Polk Street; hustle the arcade on
Turk and Ellis.

Young girls are coming: in the all-night cinema on Jones Street.

Where the homeless sleep in the aisles.

Where the pushers hustle the john.

Loleeta sees them and loves them.

She is the queer Jesus, come in the true spirit of Christianity.

She witnesses to the sick and needy,

She does it with the patience of a god.”

Excerpt from Loleeta, 1987

A Memory of Market Street
Young Girls are Coming to the Canyon

“The homeless are “homeless, you might say, by choice,” Ronald Reagan, 1984

The Mattress
The Mattress

All Images by Rob Goldstein 2020
(c) Rob Goldstein 2020

34 thoughts on “Reagan, Trump and the Cruelty of Indifference

  1. So powerful, Robert. A journey of the heart and mind through despair and disorientation. And how could it be otherwise when senseless cruelty is the norm and accepted by those few with the power to stop it. This will end. It will end and we’ll find a kinder more compassionate future. You touch the heart. Stay safe, my friend. Sending love and hugs. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, and congratulations again on your new book. I’m happy to help if I can. I discussed this post with my therapist this morning. It’s unbelievable to me that I lived through this because I have no direct memory of it. The reason I can write about such painful experiences is I am numb to the pain of that time. What I do feel is the pain of now. That over 173,000 Americans are dead because the Republican Senate was too corrupt to remove an obviously unfit president is an outrage. Each death represents a community of friends and family in pain. I see this moment as a direct result of Ronald Reagan’s dismantling of the schools and vocational programs that gave Americans the class mobility that built such a strong middle class. Politics is always a matter of life and death for people who live on the margins. The real pain is knowing that years of disinvesting in schools and infrastructure while violating our own human rights standards gave Russia the opening it needed to launch a successful attack on our government. Hypocrisy breeds cynicism. Now we are all on the margins because every self-serving shift in federal policy is an immediate blow to our health, happiness, and sensibilities. You can defund Social Security Disability and get away with it if you can convince enough people to resent a class of people they don’t know and will never meet. But more people notice when the government tries to shut down the post office in a corrupt effort to steal our votes. Americans will end this suffering when we are willing to admit that unregulated capitalism subverts democratic systems of government and that we know how to fix this: we have a template called the New Deal.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I sense some hope in your words, Robert. And I feel it too. I believe that this November will be a tidal wave that sweeps the Republicans and their corruption away. Recovery will take a giant step forward, and then we’ll all have to work hard to keep up the momentum. But our government is going to look very different – young progressive faces, more women, people who actually care about people over money. What a concept. I have to believe that change is coming. If we do nothing else this year, we have to vote. ❤ ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I do have hope. I spent the morning catching up with the news and the speeches made last night at the Democratic convention. The statement by Caroline Kennedy and her son John brought tears to my eyes, not out of nostalgia but gratitude. They remind us that we know how to fix our country if we have the vision and the will to admit our mistakes and unite to correct those mistakes. I think we can do this. I pray that we can. Here is that speech: https://youtu.be/uLlskRcr-h4

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I saw it, Robert. It was inspiring. The whole convention was such a contrast to the vile corruption, lies, and lack of empathy from Republicans. I felt like I could breathe for the first time in four years. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I’m glad that Democrats are flexible enough to take on the task of representing our principles as a constitutional republic. It seems liberals and progressives are mostly able to transcend policy issues to make space for centrist conservatives and former trump supporters. It would be nice if our press would stop framing the narrative of this election cycle as Democrats vs. Republicans, when the conflict is actually Americans vs. Corruption.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I watched the whole thing, Robert. I loved this convention. My poor husband was all choked up, the poor guy – sniffling and wiping his eyes. It was moving to see all those personal stories.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. It’s nice to see cracks in the veneer of cynicism that defined our politics these past 40 years. I was especially moved by Gabrielle Gifford and Brayden Harrington. We can do worse than elect a President with a stutter. In fact, we have. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the offer, Melinda. This shut-down just gets harder as the months drag on. I know that many people are feeling depressed and unfocused. I’m glad I was able to get this piece written. I hope you’re well and taking care of yourself. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m doing great, not leaving the house unless needed and only watch one hur of news a day. Please keep tabs on how much social media and news you watch, it will effect you a great deal. It effect me so much when I watch to much news, I get very stressed out. Now it’s no more than one hour. Take good care of yourself.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. For millions of us, the shut down began five months ago and will continue for months to come. I know what I have to do in November, so I am not particularly interested in watching our news outlets promote the dangerous idea that this election is politics as usual. What does ‘enthusiasm’ have to do with being a responsible citizen and voting? What can it mean when people are ‘enthusiastic’ about voting for a pathological liar whose negligence has killed over 173,000 Americans? Our enabling press and the cluelessness of some of the reporting is unbearable.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “The homeless are “homeless, you might say, by choice,” Ronald Reagan, 1984
    Sickening…and they call this guy “the great communicator.”
    This was a heart-tugging post, Rob. So much sadness and heartache in the world. I’ve been labeled as one who “has a great sense of injustice,” like it’s some sort of defect. Okay…call me defective.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is a great deal of injustice in our world, and correcting is the mission of our democracy. The amoral among us are at odds with systems designed to promote justice and the people who believe in them. Thanks for stopping by and reading the post. And thanks for the comment. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Rob, this is one of the most powerful pieces you’ve ever shared. You gave us an ‘inside’ look at the struggle and the after-effects. Wow! Well-done and I hope everyone reads this!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I read the whole article Robert… my insides are curdling, in sheer disgust, and I’m not sure what to say….. but within myself I see only evil and greed in trump…..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading the article, Ivor. It was difficult to write, and I’m sure I can make some improvements to it. I’m not sure I know what to say either. I think I may have said most of it in this piece. Thank you for leaving a comment.

      Like

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