Mountain Xpress publisher Jeff Fobes recently asked me if I really think the world is going to hell, or if that’s just part of the Argus premise. Actually, he used the word “schtick,” but I’ll say premise. It was an interesting question that caught me off guard, and I’m still not sure I have an answer.
I’ve said very clearly that I do, in fact, believe we’re doomed. Not only has it never occurred to me that someone might question my veracity, it’s never occurred to me that there is anyone who doesn’t believe we’re doomed. I’ve been operating on the assumption that any modern American who’s not a slack-jawed moron can plainly see we’re driving full-bore toward the edge of the cliff.
But then there’s Christmas, that blended-whiskey holiday that speaks to the greedy and pious alike. It’s a fine time to be a cynic. The Vance Monument is strung up with lights and artificial wreathes hang from all the LED streetlamps. Bums wear Santa hats in classic Ashevillian irony. Even Star the Occupier admitted to me that he loves Christmas in spite of its wastefulness. And if you listen real hard on Christmas Eve, you might even hear the hum of Councilman Bothwell delivering lumps of coal to all the downtown banks in a red Prius.
See, even cynics love Christmas because it presents such a rich opportunity for sarcasm. All year long we’ve been training for the eye rolling marathon called The Holidays. It’s the time of year when the easiest targets for our acerbic wit foolishly come out of hiding. I’m talking, of course, about Do-Gooders.
Don’t get nervous; you won’t hear any holiday moralizing from the Argus. The truth is, standing up in the world and acting on what you believe is a great way to gather scorn. So that begs the question: What makes these people try to change the world when it is clearly going to hell?
In an effort to find a cover shot for the Xpress issue on giving, I photographed a lot of Do-Gooders. There is only room for one shot on the cover. So here are some B-sides, photos that might not make it onto the front page because they are too . . . well . . . Argusish.
The folks at Diamond Thieves Piercing and Tattoo, who organized the Psycho Santa toy run for Eliada Home:
Congregants at the Central Methodist Church on the morning of their Christmas offering:
A Salvation Army bell ringer in front of Wal-Mart:
Volunteers at Foster Church serving a free breakfast:
Asheville is a landscape populated by strange people. Some of them protest topless, some blow giant air horns, some scream from the rooftops. It’s not the job of the Argus to decide that the Do-Gooders represented here are more valid or noble than the other folks. But I will say that they are just as strange, if only in the mathematical sense.
Consider that bell ringer. I was with him for about an hour, and probably 200 people passed us. He represented maybe half a percent of the population of that scene. In the face of those numbers, where does he get the conviction to believe he can do good in the world? I mean, doesn’t he have any decency?
Are the Do-Gooders crazy, or are the crazies doing good? If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that a single set of data can suggest such wildly varied conclusions that it seems futile to conclude anything. With that in mind, I took my camera downtown last week to get photos of the city at night.
I was standing there in front of the Merrill Lynch building, which everybody says is so ugly and whose windows the Occupiers washed to highlight their attempt to clean up corrupt banks. I noticed a long time ago that the extended glass facade is meant to reflect the Jackson building to viewers standing at the Vance Monument. When the light is good, you can spot tourists and photograph students shooting pictures of the reflection.
But because the Monument was strung up with lights, I saw for the first time that it works the other way as well. If you’re standing at the right angle, there between the fountain and the Jackson building, you can see the needle jutting its way into Pack Square.
I never would have noticed if it hadn’t been Christmas.
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Other dispatches from the Asheville Argus: