Literary Obsession ~ Chapter Six


The disjointed vagary of his eyes shoots fear into my heart and mind.   As a rich foreigner, one of few to visit this neighborhood, I fear being a victim of rage born of poverty and humiliation.    Thinking it wise to make friends, I ask him his name and what he thinks of the Green Life Center, where he has come for a free meal and where I am studying welfare in Argentina.   His name is Vicente and what he thinks confirms Machiavelli.   As that Italian sage would have predicted, Vicente prefers not to talk about the benefits he receives but instead about the benefits he confers:  he does maintenance work on the building, cleans up rubbish around the neighborhood, and passes out flyers to announce Center events.   Meanwhile lady volunteers from the neighborhood are slicing squash and dicing onions and carrots to throw into a single soup boiling in a single cauldron heated by a single stove-iron circle of flame fueled from a container of liquid natural gas purchased –as are the vegetables and a little meat added for flavor—with a four hundred dollar a month subsidy the Center receives from the City, which is all the cash from outside the Center gets because the Province contributes only beans, rice, lentils and other dry goods, while the Nation and the Private Sector do not contribute anything; and consequently there is no free meal served every day, but only a free meal served two days a week.   I do not want to ask Vicente whether he knows that the philosophy of the authorities of the City and the Province calls for further reducing the number of free meals per week from two to zero, because although public support for the nutrition of the poor was justified in the emergency of 2001, now that the unemployment rate is hovering around 8% according to official figures, the poor ought to go to work and earn their bread; nor do I want to ask him whether he knows that among some four hundred meal centers in the Province nearly fifty have already been shut down.   Evidently the authorities are not reading  — or  if reading not believing– John Maynard Keynes’ theory of liquidity preference; evidently they  believe that structural unemployment   is an unusual phenomenon that n