So You Want a New Cultural Story…

Right here at The Global Conversation and even across the globe, teens and adults are calling for a new world order. We’ve started to apply this in many aspects of our own personal lives, but what we have yet to do is to apply this in our cultural lives.

We want a New Cultural Story, and Muhammad Yunus  seems to have the right idea on where to start. In a June 5th, 2013 article of The Christian Science Monitor, the recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize stated that the world is in need of ‘social fiction’ – that is, media that envisions better societies. If we create novels, television, movies, and the myriad amount of other mediums started telling of a better world (sounds like our New Cultural Story), then these ‘new patterns of thought’ and ‘new ways of living’ can reach the heart and soul of the people. Through time, as ‘science fiction’ seems to become more and more of a reality, it is also contested that such ‘social fiction’ (and so our New Cultural Story) can just as easily become our reality as well.

In an interlude of all the political and religious chaos of the past few weeks, I decided to post my shot at this ‘social fiction’. With some focus, awareness, and massive creative outpouring, what I ended up with was a piece of (hopefully) our New Cultural Story called “Spare Some Change, Mister?” in its unabridged form:            

The final rays of a forsaken October sun grazed the top of the distributed roofs along the full stretch of Ashland Avenue. In their fading light, the rays smoldered themselves into the small cardboard signs scribbled in untidy sharpie and into the glaring neon machined to an untold perfection a few blocks ahead. For there was lower Ashland Avenue, and there was upper Ashland Avenue, and there was not a middle.

But there was a subway. A subway needed by the furious progress in upper Ashland, but not by the fatigued stench of the lower Ashlanders, which, though only the blatant disregard of the city developers to demographics, had owned the stop for the vital hub of transportation. The desire for cars was strong, but the desire of the City and the monopoly of the City on travel restrictions, were even stronger. And so every day the upper Ashlanders came marching through, day after day of strutting, swaggering, and vaunting their haves over their lowly conterparts. In response, the lower Ashlanders could do only one thing; sit there, but stay still, look dumb, but hopeful, have your cup out, but keep your head down, and NEVER ask for more. NEVER ask for more. And so was the interaction of Upper and Lower Ashland, of the Alpha and the Omega, of fortitude and destitute.

And then came that forsaken sun, whose warmth could not reach lower Ashland Avenue even as it extended its remaining heat. The streetlights flickered, on and off, on and off, giving a man squatting below just enough light to steal a glance at the luxurious passerbyers strut home once again. Within the flickering light, another Upper Ashlander strutted past, but this man was exceptional. The finest furs, the sharpest suit, the crispest manner in his walk.  Perhaps his address was 320, 250, or even in 110, if he was that exceptional. But as that man, more than a man some might say, an empire, walked by the decrypted block of 6670. Without even raising a muscle in his eye, the squatting man began to speak.

       “Spare some change mister?”

“Begging for change again? Is that all you miscreants of lower Ashland do? Day after day all I see is your huddled masses, your wretched refuse, bugging us pitying Upper Ashlanders for our money, so that you may squander it on streetwalkers and meth. It’s pathetic, and I simply cannot stand another sight of it. If it were up to me, I would blot Lower Ashland right off the map, and rid ourselves of your miserable destitute. Lower Ashlanders have nothing, do nothing, and are nothing.”

The squatting man looked up. He stared directly into the face of this man, this penguin of a man, clumsily waddling, pecking, and trying to fly.

“Don’t mind me sayin’ this, mister, but that’s not who I’s am.”

“Oh Really? Then, pray tell, who is that self you speak so highly of? But wait, you don’t even have to answer that one, because it is just so painfully obvious. You’re just another one of them, lost in the system of bad birth, genes, and location, aren’t you? And so, every day, you use your pity to use people. Isn’t that so, blaming the world for your problems, and yet you know that you’re just stuck in the desperate cycle that every reprehensible Lower Ashlander lives.”

“It’s deeper than that, mister. Who I’s am is more than what yo’se a seein’. Lookie deeper, mister, and tell me what yer sperit is a sayin’. ‘Cuz I ain’t seen anyone so lost as you, mister.”

“By God, I see it now. You’re one of those curbside prophets, spewing out verse after verse for the desperate, because they have nothing else. ‘The meek shall inherit the earth’, that’s a nice little lie you give them, a nice little radical idea. It gives them hope, and it gives you a spare dime. I give you credit, sire, capitalizing on righteousness to do the ‘Good Father’s work’. You probably don’t even have to beg for change, do you?”

The squatting man sighed. A long, deep sigh. A sigh so full of exasperation that it resonated against the shards of the few remaining windows that dotted the lower avenue.

“I ain’t a preacher, mister. But they’s are my people. They’s a good people, if they’s a given a fightin’ chance. They’s a just needin’ some help, more help than just what I’s can give ‘em. If they’s were given some help, somethin’ good, then they’s would be proud and strong, just like you, mister.”

“Why, you leftist freak. I see the red in you now! That help you’re muttering about is a distribution, of my stuff to your stuff. That’s what you want, isn’t it? Because life should be fair. And just. And equal. But it’s not. There are the haves, there are the have nots, and that’s all there is to it.”

The squatting man closed his eyes from the artificial blaze of the haughty leer above him. He inhaled, and took in every ounce of light, love, and life from the streets knew so well. He opened his eyes.

“Mister, I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout stuff here. I’s a talkin’ ‘bout people. People who love, die, and love again. People who dream, create, and wish to be a lil’ happy in this world. Tell me, mister, are you happy? Not with ya’ stuff, not with ya’ titles, but with who you really are?

The squatting man watched him deflate, watched the helium of years upon years of galas and corporate excellence escape the man’s fragile frame and lose itself into the wind. A long pause followed.

“No. No. I have done everything, everything, for this position, to have the means to be happy. I bout the penthouse, the exclusiveness, the luxury, but I don’t feel anything. All I feel is lonely, and so the only time I do to feel something is when I devastate Lower Ashlanders, because it is just so plain mean. So…No. I’m not happy. I thought I was happy, but I’m not. I want to feel that love, that dream, that piece of myself lost so long ago, but I’m out here all alone. Separated from those feelings, I feel nothing.”

“This is what I’s see, mister. Ya’ think that you’re all alone in this here world, and ya’ try pretty hard to keep it that way. But we’s all apart of a community, a big ol’ family that’s all reachin’ to share some of those feelin’s. I ain’t so different than you, ‘cept them rags ya’ wear and them stones ya’ got weighin’ ya’ down. Ya try and deny this by callin’ me a beggar, a preacher, a commie, ‘cuz you’re afraid our differences ain’t so different afterall. When ya’ get down to it, we’s a both just people, just lookin’ for some love, some life, somethin’ that’s far more than just ourselves. So see me in ya eyes, feel my love in ya love. If we be’s it and do’s it together, we’s a lot less lonely.”

The streetlights finally had enough power to stay fully lit. From its light, the squatting man saw a face that had been stripped of its mask of arrogance; one that had finally remembered what it was like underneath the endless day of pompous isolation.

“I.…I don’t know what to say. That sounds so….good. And it feels so….good. Can I give you something? Here. 10,000 City bank notes. It should be enough for you, and four our community of Ashland Avenue, our children of Ashland Avenue.”

“Thanks mister, but you already given me ya’ change. I think our conversation was just what ya’ needed. If ya’ feelin’ the sperit move you, ya’ be somethin’ and ya’ do somethin’ about. Farewell, mister.”

The squatting man rose from the ashes and walked away. The man of industry, bewildered by every little moment and every little word, stood there for a while. Slowly, he turned around, and started to stumble forward to a new Ashland Avenue.

As these two characters, seemingly different in every way possible, were able to have some (albeit extended) open communication and conversation, they realize that they can understand and relate to each other on a level that far transcends their differences. Though this is just a mere piece of social fiction, its theme is one that is right in tune with the direction of The New Cultural Story we all wish to create. Because once it is spread, reality is not stranger, but better, than fiction.

(Lauren is a Feature Editor of The Global Conversation. She lives in Wood Dale, IL, and can be reached at Lauren@TheGlobalConversation.com)

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  • Christopher Toft

    Thanks Lauren,
    I totally agree with you about social fiction. Star trek springs to mind, as does stranger in a strange land. Yet the sad fact is that there is very little social fiction in our films & TV & it is still relatively rare in art or literature. I would love to see more inspirational media in this violent & cynical world of ours.

  • Adrian Hindes

    That was a fantastic little story Lauren! Hopefully we’ll see some similar ‘social fiction’ in the coming years. (Thumbs up)