One day I’ll own my own house,
but I won’t forget who I am
or where I came from.
Passing bums will ask, Can I come in?
I’ll offer them the attic, ask them to stay,
because I know how it is to be without a house.
Some days after dinner, guests and I
will sit in front of a fire.
Floorboards will squeak upstairs.
The attic grumbling.
Rats? They’ll ask.
Bums, I’ll say,
and I’ll be happy.
— Sandra Cisneros, “The House on Mango Street”
Mister Pants, a desert dweller, was editing a paper in Michigan, an oddity brought about by the Brave New World of Journalism. And there it was: a story about homeless guys struggling to survive in Lansing.
It’s an interesting, terrifying question, he thought. How do you abide by a stay-at-home order when you have no home?
Just stay at home, Salazar had told America during his daily puppet show. It sounds so easy.
Mister Pants thought of all the weary souls who live along his running course on the greenbelt, their belongings stuffed into absconded shopping carts and hello kitty backpacks. Asleep under the bridges, sitting on picnic tables, trying to get through a day that leads to getting through another day that leads to yet another one in a numbing march toward a death nobody would notice.
Their local haunts were now closed. The library’s air-conditioning, the Starbucks’ promise of a restroom, the cheap cup of coffee at McDonald’s that could stretch out across an afternoon of sitting quietly in a booth. What would they do? Where could they go?
Mister Pants suspected they knew little of the coronavirus and wouldn’t much care anyhow. COVID-19 was no match for the daily worries of malnutrition and lack of health care. The facilities in the desert, much like those in Michigan, were overwhelmed, even before the latest crisis. Any hope they might have had was falling victim to the new world order, a system in free fall that would leave them even further behind, a statistic nobody would care about.
But what can you do? Mister Pants was terrified enough just for himself and his wife. They had a cat and a 90-year-old friend they had adopted, and that was their limit. Maybe there’s a point where you stop worrying about the world and stay in your life raft. Sorry, Leonardo DiCaprio. The homeless guys did not have a chance.
Mister Pants wished he had an attic.
But he did not.