I live in the urban Northeast in a city that is the end of the line for tax money collected in other, richer communities. Oh, most of us work, but there are a lot of Section 8 certificates, and a lot of EBT cards, and a lot of senior centers serving free meals, and a lot of "programs" dealing with the violence and addiction that are the flowers on poverty's thin, weedy stalk.
And we elect local officials who beg the state for more money for more programs, and we applaud the officials when they come home with the money.
And if the welfare mothers and the homeless and the numerous people getting checks for shakily defined disabilities are addicted to government money, then so are the facilitators and coordinators and caseworkers who work in the programs that hand out the government money.
And down on the waterfront, in a small inlet, about six blocks from a housing project, and near a state-funded park that is rarely used, there is a swan. Actually, there are quite a few swans, but one has become locally famous because she is guarding a nest of eggs.
We visit her, or some of us do, and if you get there at the right time, you might encounter a television film crew from a neighboring city, fronted by a reporter in a beautiful teal green dress who tells the story of the swan babies and their mother as if she was telling the story of the baby Jesus swaddled in the manger.
The swan mom lives on a small piece of grass near a chain-link fence, about 10 feet from an overflowing trash can, getting ready to raise her babes among a litter of cigarette butts and empty liquor bottles. This is precisely what a lot of the mothers at the housing project six blocks up the hill are trying to do.
Pretty clearly, someone has failed to find the state agency charged to care for swans with soon-to-be-dependent swan babies. Both coordinators or facilitators have failed to find the taxpayer money to build the swan a straw-filled nest in which to lie, or provide the proper amount of nutritious food.
It is a damn shame, but, as people who go down to see the swan will tell you, it is endlessly cute.
In a city, the wild animals, like the homeless, live on the tiny scraps of land for which no one else has any use. The homeless sleep in the weeds by the railroad tracks because no one has any other use for that land, and there are no houses nearby, so no one will complain. The swan sleeps where she does because swans are meant to live near water, but also because no one has any use for the bit of weeds where she lives.
Working-class and poor people speak often of the great and powerful "they." They are the unseen bosses and owners and stockholders and the elected officials. "They" hire us and lay us off. "They" provide the fuel assistance in the winter, although no one knows if there will be fuel assistance this winter; "they" haven't decided yet. "They" serve summer lunch in the parks to the poor kids. "They" recharge the EBT cards and cause the lottery tickets to be printed. We hate them, we love them and we need them, all at the same time.
And the swan, a beautiful white bird living so close to the gutter, drives birth and death forward in the shadow of a housing project.
To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com. Dion's latest book, a collection of his best columns, is called "Devil's Elbow: Dancing in The Ashes of America." It is available in paperback on Amazon.com, and for Nook, Kindle, and iBooks.