Please Don’t #FitchTheHomeless
I’m sure by now you’ve seen that video that Los Angeles-based writer Greg Karber made where he hands out a buch of Abercrombie gear to homeless people. It’s embedded above if you haven’t.
Karber made the video in response to that stuff that Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries said about their “no women’s clothing above a size 10” policy. Essentially, Jefferies only wants “thin and beautiful people” shopping at his stores, because he doesn’t want the “cool kids” to have to endure the horror of seeing a fat person wearing the same outfit as them. I think we can all agree that the most shocking part of Mike’s statements is that they reveal there’s a person out there who thinks that the cool kids are wearing Abercrombie.
Karber handed out A&F clothing to, as far as I can tell from the video, a fairly bewildered homeless population on Los Angeles’s Skid Row. His goal was to “rebrand” Abercrombie & Fitch by putting their clothing not on the cool kids that Mike Jeffries so loves, but on the homeless, who, I guess, are the opposite of cool.
Now, if you only think about it for a few seconds, it would appear that this is a great campaign. Karber wanted to make a point about Abercrombie & Fitch and to “clothe the homeless,” in his words, while doing it. Unfortunately, “Fitch the Homeless,” as Karber dubbed his campaign, is fucking stupid. For one thing, Karber doesn’t appear to ask these people if they want Abercrombie & Fitch clothing, or if he did ask them, he cut those parts from the video for some reason. He just sort of dumps polo shirts and A&F brand tees onto the residents of Skid Row, as if they were pack mules and he were a sherpa venturing into the mountains to deliver striped rugby shirts to a monastery.
America’s Worst Housing Project Is Being Gentrified
Have you ever simultaneously regretted that the poor had been pushed out of a neighborhood, but wished you could have gotten in when rents were still cheap? Have you ever admired the pluck and ingenuity of the first few nonpoor bastards to move into a poor area? I have.
The Los Angeles City Council just unanimously voted to tear down Jordan Downs, nearly the oldest housing project in America and probably the title holder for ugliest. Jordan Downs is comprised of 103 spookily identical buildings in the low-income, violence-ridden neighborhood of Watts. While notorious for its gangs, its racially tinged police brutality, and its intractable poverty, Watts is also noteworthy for its cultural vibrancy and the palpable neighborhood pride of its residents. I wrote that last sentence by the way, not the Watts Chamber of Commerce, but they can have it for free.
They’re not just tearing down Jordan Downs, they’re turning this Orwellian nightmare-scape into an “urban village,” including four story townhomes, condos, retail restaurants, and a farmer’s market. Residents have been hearing about this pie-in-the-sky renovation for years, or even decades, but about ten months ago, a developer was chosen, and the City Council’s decision on Wednesday, April 17 marked a big step forward. But optimism on the part of lifelong residents might not be the most practical emotion.
Horse Racing: The Sport of America’s Lower Class
“If you wait until 4:08, you can get in for free,” the blatantly disinterested clerk at the entrance to Hollywood Park Racetrack and Casino informed me as I desperately tried to give her the $10 entry fee. It was 3:55 and I had already started to feel the effects of the weed chocolate I had eaten earlier, so I happily accepted her terms. I avoided making small talk with the clerk by feigning interest in my phone for 13 minutes. It’s surprising how little you can accomplish on a cell phone in 13 minutes. Finally, as the clock struck the “magic hour,” I sauntered through the gate with an extra $10 in my pocket, just ready to gamble it all away forever. There’s no such thing as a free ride, unless you’re high… or talking about the moribund sport of horse racing.
Much like the United States itself, horse racing culture can be divided into the camps of “have” and “have not.” The disparity between the gilded excesses of the Kentucky Derby and the barren wasteland of Hollywood Park is stark. Step-repeat lines, funny hats, and copious amounts of rich people materialize at Churchill Downs every year to see and be seen at what is an absurdly anachronistic, passé sport. The everyday reality of horse racing is that the stands are not even a third full, and instead of expensive suits and strange headgear, people wear varsity jackets with cougars embroidered on the back. Horse racing was and still is a pastime of our grandparents.
I Tattooed Porn Sites on My Face So My Kids Wouldn’t Starve
In 1990, Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, dreaming of a future in which all barriers to communication were torn down and people everywhere could bask in the glory of an interconnected global world. Two decades later, a man had the URLs of multiple porn websites tattooed on his face. It seems as if the internet has reached its logical conclusion.
Call me a prude, but it’s always been a general rule of mine to not tattoo pornographic websites on to my face. But for Hostgator Dotcom—née Billy Gibby—it didn’t take a second thought. Faced with unemployment and a pending eviction, he did what any good father would do: Sold his body, face, and legal name as advertising space to over 40 companies. In that sense, it’s a pretty sad story, and one that’s indicative of how few options America’s poor are faced with these days.
Anyway, when I heard about Hostgator, I thought I should get in touch because, a) I wanted to give him some more coverage to help him make more money to feed his kids, and b) I wanted to know what it feels like to have “Pornhub.com” tattooed on your face. Turns out it doesn’t feel that great.
VICE: Why, Hostgator? Why?
Hostgator Dotcom: Well, I used to just sell tattooed advertising space on my body, but no one was really buying it. I was laid off at the job I had, my family and I were gonna be evicted, and I needed a way for us to survive financially. I didn’t want to do anything illegal and I didn’t have any friends I could borrow money from. I looked for jobs but couldn’t get one, and I couldn’t allow my wife and children to be homeless, so I thought I’d sacrifice my face so that they could have a place to live. I didn’t want to do it—I really didn’t—but I also didn’t want my kids to be homeless.
That’s very noble of you. How many people are you supporting?
Five kids and my wife.
And I’m guessing Hostgator isn’t your given name?
No, I sold my name to Hostgator.com for $15,000 (£9,966).
Wow, I might have to sell my name if you make that kind of money.
I’m actually trying to sell my name again right now. I’m trying to get in The Guinness Book of World Recordsfor the world’s longest name. So if Golden Palace buys my name, then I’ll be Goldenpalacedotcom Hostgatordotcom.
And it flows so nicely off the tongue. Doesn’t that breach your contract with Hostgator, though?
No, because I still have Hostgator.com in my name.
True. What are some of the websites you have on your face?
What do your wife and kids think about that?
My kids are still young and they accept me for me. My wife is OK with it, but she wants me to get the ones on the face removed, so that’s what I’m working towards now.
So you regret getting the porn sites tattooed on your face now?
Yeah. I did it for a good reason, but I wasn’t thinking rationally at the time. I have bipolar disorder, which I’m not trying to use as an excuse, but I wasn’t thinking as rationally as I am today. I take medication now and I’m more rational.
DISASTERS MADE IN BANGLADESH -
WHY POOR PEOPLE ARE STILL DYING FOR OUR CHEAP T-SHIRTS
We still don’t know exactly how many of Swapna’s coworkers were killed at the Tazreen Fashions factory on November 24, 2012. She was sewing shorts—“half-pants,” they’re called in Bangladesh—when on the ground, floor piles of yarn and acrylic fabric began to burn. She had just become pregnant by her husband, Mominul, who worked in the factory with her as a quality inspector. When the fire alarm went off, the floor managers told the hundreds of workers to sit back down, yelling that there was nothing wrong. Minutes later, when the alarm went off again, it was too late. Smoke snaked up the three staircases; the lights went out. There was no fire escape. She thought it would be better to jump than to be burned alive, but all the windows were blocked by steel security grates.
Mominul had given up looking for his wife shortly after the lights went out, instead running to a corner of his floor where men had managed to tear the grate from one of the windows. By chance, construction workers had left a flimsy grid of bamboo scaffolding leaning on an outside wall, and scores of workers were able to shinny out of the window and down onto the roof of a nearby shed. He stood on the shed roof and watched as the fire climbed up the eight-story factory. Several workers tore exhaust fans from the windows and jumped, about a hundred feet, to their deaths. Suddenly, a charred, shrieking figure scrambled down the scaffolding and onto the shed roof. The figure grabbed him, screaming wildly. Mominul didn’t realize, until she calmed down, that it was his wife.
Workers at the Tazreen factory, in the Ashulia industrial zone outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, had been sewing T-shirts, jeans, and shorts for, among others, Walmart’s in-house Faded Glory line, Sears, and M.J. Soffe, a seller of apparel licensed by the US Marines. The factory was capable of producing huge volumes of clothing—about a million T-shirts a month. The business of making and exporting ready-made garments—referred to by consultants, Western businessmen, and government types as “RMG” and by everyone in Bangladesh simply as “garments” (as in “before garments, all of these people were farmers”)—began in the 1980s as a tiny industry captained by a class of ambitious small businessmen profiting from, among other local advantages, child labor and an extremely low minimum wage.
But conditions slowly improved over the years. These changes came about, in part, because Western garment buyers like Walmart and Nike were the targets of relentless activist campaigns that vilified “sweatshop conditions.” Companies that relied on such an infrastructure responded by instituting standards meant to eliminate child and slave labor and other overt forms of abuse in factories. In 1992, Walmart began issuing a 12-point “Standards for Suppliers” document, detailing general principles they expected local factories to follow on issues like wages (“suppliers shall fairly compensate”), prison labor (“shall not be tolerated”), and freedom to form unions (suppliers are supposed to respect this right “as long as such groups are legal in their own country”). It also covers safety: “Walmart will not do business with any supplier that provides an unhealthy or hazardous work environment.”
Policies like this last stipulation from Walmart are part of the reason the Tazreen fire became such a massive global news story at the tail end of 2012, and why it has been compared to New York City’s horrific 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire by everyone from the New York Times editorial board to US labor secretary Hilda Solis: It seemed like an anachronistic tragedy that could have only happened in an earlier era, one in which there were no “supplier standards.” The only problem with this narrative, of course—and the thing many mainstream newspapers and other observers have missed—is that it is a fairy tale.
The Tazreen fire wasn’t all that exceptional. Since 2006, 500 Bangladeshi garment workers have been killed in factory fires. Workers who try to form unions are regularly beaten and arrested by government security forces. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers & Exporters Association (BGMEA) has worked with the government to form a new force called the Industrial Police, accused by human rights groups of harassing and intimidating workers. At least one activist has been abducted and murdered. Riots are common. In the month after Swapna and Mominul escaped Tazreen, at least 17 other fires broke out in garment factories in industrial zones.
A Free Show on Skid Row - Sun Araw Hangs Out with the Homeless and We All Get Happy
Above: Skid Row resident musicians Gary Brown and Marlon Polk join Cameron Stallones, Alex Gray, and Rob Magill for an improvised Sun Araw set with no “Careless Whisper” cover.
Skid Row is not just a hack 80s hair band, or a fabled place of destitution. It’s an actual neighborhood in Los Angeles where real people live. Not that most of LA would know. The Skid Row community is defined by places like Lamp Community Center, an organization that provides services for mentally ill homeless people, but the community is rarely embraced or acknowledged by the city at large except for the occasional human-interest piece in the local papers. It’s because of this lack of visibility that I arranged a meeting with Lamp’s art-project coordinator, Hayk Makhmuryan, in an attempt to help organize a free show on Skid Row featuring the experimental band Sun Araw. My goal was to cheer up some of LA’s forgotten residents, at least for a day.
When I walked up to Lamp on November 6, the day of the show, two men with blues guitars sat cross-legged on the cement, tuning by ear. More than 50 people were hanging around and chatting with friends, relaxing, or staring at the sky as they waited outside. The Lamp is next door to the sole laundromat on Skid Row—the only place for thousands of residents to get their clothes cleaned that doesn’t involve a bathroom sink and a tree branch—and many of those outside were waiting for their laundry to dry.
When I arrived, Hayk told me that it had already been an especially difficult day—fights broke out, cops had been on the scene, Mercury was in retrograde, and everyone had come to the startling realization that there are actually people in this world who voted for Mitt Romney. After I dropped my bag off in a secure location, Marlon, a Lamp Fine Arts participant who opened the show, led me to his electric-piano setup, kissing ladies’ hands as he worked his way through the crowd. His music stand was holding a printout of the lyrics to 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love.”
When the members of Sun Araw showed up, Marlon was circling the coffeemaker like a shark. He wanted to get things started; normally, when he performs at other events, he’ll just sit down and play until someone tells him to stop. And that’s just what he did. His band did a sound check, and within minutes Marlon was banging on the keys and we were in the middle of an afternoon jazz freak fest. Women holding bunches of ratty plastic grocery bags peered into the windows, while about ten residents wandered in to take a seat and a young woman picked up a tambourine. She had impeccable rhythm.
I tapped the shoulder of an older guy in front of me, who told me his name was Kenneth Severan. I asked him if this was his first time at Lamp. He said that he got here four days ago—he was transferred from a hospital, where he began to miss playing piano and guitar like he used to. He went on to say that he’d worked as a roadie for a short time, and when Hayk interrupted Marlon for a second to announce that Sun Araw would go on next, Kenneth’s eyes lit up as he reached for my arm: “Oh my God! They named their band after the guy I used to work for!” That’s right, Sun Ra’s roadie was in the audience to watch Sun Araw perform on Skid Row. I don’t think you can confidently say the situation was anything other than supremely weird.
Sun Araw soon took the stage alongside Lamp resident Gary, a painter and percussionist. Frontman Cameron Stallones waited for Gary to bang on a bongo before he turned some synthesizer knobs and the two saxophonists followed his lead. As they played, a woman in the front row with a collapsible shopping cart caught my eye. We both smiled, and she mouthed the words, “Soooo good.”