Le paradis n'est pas artificiel …

June 28, 2004


I noticed Omer right off. He's a zebra-striped, tea-faced, long haired busker-cowboy. He dances bowlegged as he cycles through a few chords on his guitar and belts out weird old pop tunes. He's homeless and loud. I didn't talk to him until today, the third time I walked past him on Valencia Street.

I decided to say hello, as he's pretty much the most familiar face in the Mission for me at this point. He wasn't playing his guitar was his carapace, and the strap was bound to his chest protectively, like a tattered bat's wings but he asked me if I'd like to hear a song; What would you like? Anything pop-bubblegum.

I told him I'm into old blues and jazz, and he decided the bluest song he knows is a Patsy Kline song that made him cry in Arizona: "I Go Out Walking." It really was the bluest pop bubblegum song I've ever heard sung blue, and I got to singing along for a few more songs after that: "She's Got the Whole World in Her Hands" (with gender reversal unexplained) harmonized with "The Good Ship Lollipop" (the acid-trip rendition); a political song he wrote last year; a Spanish love song.

He talked about the way that simple pop songs burrow into the memory in their simplicity, in their expression of simple human things. He talked about the way one person's love song can tunnel along the generations in its intensity. He talked about rhyming Hendrix with slave soul, the aesthetics of whistling, and the original lounge-lizard version of "Spiderman". He talked about art, politics, and getting by. Then he talked about Spectacular Opticals.

Some art guy had heard Omer play "Mama's Li'l Baby", and decided to expose him to the world as the Mission's last busker. He made a documentary and recorded a CD, then rigged the whole thing up to his dot com. Omer was really enthusiastic about the project and I checked it out when I came home.

I may have only seen a trailer for the documentary at this point, but if it is actually a representation of the film, the art guy grossly caricaturizes Omer. He's portrayed as some kind of stupid, drug hazed, white trash charity case. The only sympathy the trailer hints at is bleeding-heart class supremacy: Omer only made $7 today. Poor, fucked up victim Omer. We'd better all vote Democrat so someone will eventually take care of him, before we lose our very last busker!

I want to kill Spectacular Opticals, or maybe just give Omer a hug. The Mission is being gentrified at an alarming rate, and predictably, the social driving force behind that is the horde of hipster brats who think they can "ironically" feel humoured pity for the poor and mentally ill and still be on their side.

"It is great ego not to love, and suicide not to hate." (canto xvii.)

Posted by Delire at June 28, 2004 01:39 AM

Spectacular Opticals responds:
I'm the "art guy". I did not decide to expose Omer to the world. Omer mentioned he had a cd that someone had recorded for him. I did not record the cd. What I DID was offer to replicate it for him, design a cover which he approved, all at my own expense. 100 copies. I gave them to him for free so he could sell them on the street and make some money. He sold them all so I made some more. I offered to sell them via my website and again, he recieves ALL the money. Not just the profits. I cover the cost of the materials also. Apology accepted.
Re: the film...
Omer ASKED me to make a film of him. He wants to be famous. I told him I would do it but not to expect to get famous. I spent many hours with him. MANY. the film is an accurate reflection of those hours. He does all the talking, I didn't even ask him questions. He's funny and it's in the film. He's crazy and that's in there too. But the number one thing that YOU would learn if you spent the amount of time with Omer that I have (over the course of 5 or 6 years) is that the thing he talks about most is how he is a victim. How he plays his ass off and gets no money or respect. That's the stuff he wanted to put in the film.
So you want to kill Spectacular Opticals? Or hug Omer? how many hugs have you given him since you wrote this?
Omer is Lucky if he makes $7 a day, he is poor and he is fucked up.
You must be very smart to know that I'm an ironic hipster, feeling "ironically humored pity for the poor and mentally ill."
In my experience, people like you are usually projecting your own feelings with statements like that.

Posted by: Spectacular Opticals at December 14, 2004 12:20 PM

You must be very smart to know about "people like me", too.

Actually, it may have been poorly constructed, but my intent in bringing up the hipsters was to demark them as the film's likeliest audience; certainly it would not have made sense for me to suggest that the gentrifiction of the Mission is being driven by documentary artists!

My story is not about black or white -- it is not a matter of your either pimping out a homeless man's image, or being his benevolent brother. You have indeed helped the man economically, but my post was not about that, either. It was about the shade of gray in which you offered that help, and where you were coming from. It was about whether or not you were helping him socially.

From my perspective, your film offered a market-tailored version of Omer. You state that you feel the film was an accurate reflection of your time with him, which is well enough as much so as my belief that your experiences during that time were coloured by your perspective on life, and so correspondingly was your project, and all art. I sincerely hope you at least recognize your work to be creative non-fiction, rather than true documentary, but you wouldn't be the first person to defend armchair anthropology as steely objectivity. (I am a primarily creative writer, as my site denotes).

My intent in this particular story was to firstly describe an interesting human being, and to secondly criticize the social relationship implied by what I saw as a gross and misguided caricature. It is quite American of you to immediately defend your project as non-profit, apparently assuming that I meant you had been misguided by money, rather than your outlook on other people and how to form beneficial relationships with them. I am glad that you are helping Omer to get by, but I also have a right to criticize the method behind that, and to question the power relationship there.

I do not hug Omer daily, as I live one thousand miles away from him, but I know similarly disadvantaged people in my home city that many would call fucked up as well. I help them and they help me, as is the case amongst those I call *friends*. It is against my principles to go call them or anyone fucked up while simultaneously heralding the accuracy of my own opinion or portrayals of such.

It is clear that we have slightly different value systems, though not entirely so, and I appreciate this opportunity for discussion. I believe I tried to contact you before posting this piece but received no response at the time. Thank you for reading.

Posted by: Maureen Evans at December 14, 2004 08:38 PM

I am very smart. That's why I don't make the kinds of assumptions that you do.

My story is not about black or white -- it is not a matter of your either pimping out a homeless man's image, or being his benevolent brother. You have indeed helped the man economically, but my post was not about that, either. It was about the shade of gray in which you offered that help, and where you were coming from. It was about whether or not you were helping him socially.

It'd be interesting to hear you describe the way in which it is "gross" or "misguided", or a "caricature". It's what is known as a portrait. You must have have really bonded with this man in your minutes and learned much more about the way he is than the countless hours I've hung out with the guy. I defend the non-profit nature of our relationship, not because I'm American, which I am, but because you suggested that there was an element of exploitation by using the phrase "rigged it to his dot com." My "dot com" is no different than your "dot com".

Well, I'm most likely not the semantic prude that you are, the fact is that Omer IS fucked. He's homeless, alcoholic, and hear's voices. yes, there are other ways to phrase but the point is the same. To me, and the people I have shown the film to, at least some of them, the film captures that with respect, showing his humor, music, hardship, and manic personality without trying to hide anything.

Doesn't everybody have slightly different value systems? Does somebody have the same as you? Probably not.
I get this shit periodically from do-gooders who think they have special insight into situations they don't really understand. I've been dealing with schizophrenics, developmentally-disabled adults and kids, and homeless people, poets, artists, drunks and others since I was a kid. That's why I always make an effort to defend myself against these am kind of accusations that you make.

Posted by: Spectacular Opticals at December 14, 2004 11:22 PM

Dear David,

I am not about to engage in a multi-quote level, detail-oriented argument about this. It is clear that you don't want to engage with my impression of your work and ideas. You persist in thinking that I am accusing you of illustrating Omer in a certain way intentfully, when what I am concerned with here is the film (or to be fair, the trailer, as I clearly indicate in my original piece) as a reflection of the relationship between you and Omer, a have and a have not. I am entitled, you know, to think that relationship is fucked.

I have only a few other things to say. First, I find it remarkable that you defend your position of making no assumptions while simultaneously making assumptions. This is the first time in my life when it has been so vehemently defended that I am in any way hip.

Second, I am sincerely sorry about the implication of the dot com phrasing. I hadn't considered the venture capitalist connotation, possibly because the dot com boom didn't really happen in Canada, but it was clumsy writing and I apologize.

Third, I don't think I would react very well either if someone discussed the class relationships inherent to my work. If you still want to discuss that area, then let's keep talking; if you just want to pick at details then this will persist in being too individualistic to be useful.

Considering everyone to be on the fucked up spectrum,
~*~ Maureen

Posted by: Maureen Evans at December 14, 2004 11:36 PM
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