Every month or so, a pantomime plays out at our neighbor’s house. Their estranged adult son, in his late 30’s, marches up to the front door and knocks, or in certain cases demands, to be let in. His parents refuse him entry. He persists. They ask him to leave. He loiters, arguing with them through the screen door. Following an established pattern, they call 911. “He’s drinking again,” they say. Dispatch sends the EMT’s, though there is no pressing emergency. A firetruck and an ambulance arrive, lights flashing, but sirens off. After a brief conclave in the front yard the EMT’s strap the failed son to a gurney, wheel him into an ambulance, drive him to a local hospital where he is pronounced sane and healthy and then released back into the wilds of the San Fernando Valley. Meaning, a motel on Sepulveda where he lives week to week at taxpayer expense. It’s not a police matter because he is neither breaking and entering, nor making threats.
I have no idea how much this costs the city per episode, but it ain’t cheap, and it has gone on, cyclically, for years. They no longer want him in the house. He either needs their attention or enjoys the drama of confrontation. “I’ll just be back tomorrow,” is his frequent line.
Sometimes when I’m walking the dogs, I encounter him sitting by himself in a parked car, staring balefully at passerby, a pile of beer cans on the sidewalk just below the window. I’m never quite at ease as I offer an obligatory nod of recognition.
A single Failed Son, unemployed and aimless, by mid-life can rack up a considerable bill for a family, and then the city. The People of the Favela, with their improvised tarp housing, panhandling and salvage work are strivers by comparison.
In the battle between indolence and virtue, the baleful tooth of indolence wins in a first-round TKO.
Boys are like border collies. They need purpose. They need the call of chivalry. Without meaning there is crisis.
We have reached a civilizational tipping point in which both our needs and wants are met by the labor of a fraction of the population. What then, will become of the millions who are nonessential to the economy? A monthly stipend will buy but a limited peace.
Sooner or later, the Failed Sons will find their purpose.