We can all agree on some basic facts: Eureka is a seaside town, rundown in some places, charming in others, dotted here and there with the stately form of some impressive architecture.
There’s often fog. It rains here, though anecdotally less in recent years than in the past. There are tall trees and a genuine lack of a thriving industrial employment base. Broadway through town is ass ugly, and Old Town is sort of cute.
Beyond these superficialities, though, there’s a whole lot about this town that depends on your own experience.
In this recent spate of columns, I described several versions of Eureka I experienced through the past 28 years — from the gutter up through the shiny bullshit rigmarole of local politics — as a failed filmmaker, lonely kid, low-paid fishmonger, drug addict, journalist, husband and father.
In each of these lives, Eureka was something different. Sometimes it offered challenges and judgment, and at others it gave me opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise have had.
Yet this is just one life.
Now take a long walk in the Bayshore Mall in the coming weeks as the holidays unfold.
The obese old ladies on their sputtering Jazzies; the hollow-eyed derelicts lurking outside WalMart; the self-important security guard; the overwrought moms sprinting from one end of the mall to the other while screaming cheerlessly into their Bluetooth earphones; the guilt-ridden absentee dads trying with a gift or three to make up for lost time and a short temper.
Each of these people, so cavalierly described, is the sum of endless experience, and the day-to-day evolution of a man or woman against the world. They want to be safe. They want to be fed. They want to be loved.
It’s easy to stand back and judge them based on a few obvious facts, some odious details you find wanting. Yet what these columns were trying, and maybe failing, to point out was that unless you’ve shared their every experience — every trauma, every basic victory, every last challenge they’ve had to overcome and internalize — you’ve got no fucking clue, and no fucking right, to pass judgment.
I hear local pundits trying their cold-hearted best to lump people into the ridiculous, oversimplified categories of good people and bad people. Good people drive SUVs, work hard, choke down trauma, and mow their lawns. Bad people get addicted. They commit property crime. Bad people lose their jobs and eat at free meal. Bad people don’t have homes and end up living with the cloven-hooved spawn at Devil’s Playground.
I think people really buy into this shit.
I’m convinced that people on the fringes, forced by bad luck and circumstance to live what some would consider an unsavory life, have simply been dealt more than their fair share of hardships.
People who’ve managed to avoid calamity can be proud of their choices, certainly. But gratitude for what they’ve been given and what they’ve been spared is also in order.
Along with the humility to realize that it’s just one surgery, one abusive parent, one lost job or one chemical imbalance that in the end separates them from the people — and classes — they abhor.
No one ever intends to suffer.
(James Faulk is a writer living in Eureka. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)