A Dickensian World

Somewhere today, probably in an editorial on the New York Times, I found the adjective Dickensian applied to today’s world, especially in the United States. Anyone who has read the works of Charles Dickens will know immediately what the editorial’s author was referring to: A world in which there is an ever greater difference between the haves and the have nots, and the number of the later is growing and becoming increasingly miserable.

The London in Dickens novels is a city where the underclass struggles to survive and scrambles to obtain the most basic necessities and pleasures such as food to eat, a safe place to sleep, and perhaps a cigarette butt to smoke.

Almost every morning I get up before 4 am, and shortly after 4 I appear in a local McDonald’s restaurant, where I buy a senior coffee for 60 cents, which comes with free refills and enables me to sit for an hour or more reading, writing, and sipping coffee.

As I was about to enter yesterday, a man who sleeps in the street and frequents McDonald’s in the morning came rushing out the door and picked up a whole cigarette that was lying in a puddle of water in the parking lot. He then went back to his table inside the restaurant and set the cigarette down to dry, probably with the intention of smoking it later. That’s a scene that could go into a Dickens novel.

A number of the people who go to the restaurant in the morning to avoid the morning cold are people with obvious mental problems that keep them from holding a job. Some talk to themselves, or if they talk to another person, much of what they say makes no sense. Some have strange twitches or roll their eyes in strange ways as they talk. When I was young, such people were locked up in mental institutions where they were often mistreated. Now they are left to fend for themselves. Which is crueler? I don’t know.

However, these men (mostly) and women (occasionally) are human beings, even if modern society doesn’t treat them as such. A few are military veterans who I assume were mentally fit when they entered military service but who now no longer are. Surely they are owed a better existence.

Some mornings I find one of the young women, in her mid to late teens by her appearance, crouched down beside the restaurant door where she has apparently been waiting for the door to be unlocked. I wonder how she survives. A woman, a girl really, of her age must be very vulnerable living outside. How does she get money to eat? Does she beg, or does she….no! I don’t even want to think about that.

What type of society leaves ever greater numbers of its outcasts to sleep in the streets and obtain food any way they can? While the Trumps and Koch brothers of the world fly around in private jets and brag about how many billions of dollars they have, there are people who survive by asking strangers for loose change and who pick up waterlogged cigarettes from parking lots for a few moments of pleasure.