The other night I was running an errand in downtown Los Angeles and on my way home, just northeast of the downtown core of the city, I passed an area heavily populated with sidewalk tents of the homeless. Now, this is not new to me as I have been living in the area for the past 11 years, and my reaction to seeing this has not changed over time: These people need to be helped in so many ways, but that is not going to happen anytime soon for always the same reasons: Money and politics. And it’s not just Los Angeles, as the unfortunate aspect of this type of the urban landscape is repeated all across this country. So, why am I choosing to write about this now? Well, as they say, “timing is everything!”
On this particular evening, after getting home, I happened to start flipping through the latest Vanity Fair magazine (April 2022) and came across a story that looked intriguing: “In Search Of Lost Time,” with a wonderful photo of Paul Newman. It wasn’t until I looked closer that I realized that this was not about the actor per se, but about the watch he is wearing in the photo. The small print in the top right corner of the photo page informed me that the watch is a Rolex Cosmograph, with current prices of this model ranging between $14,000-$46,000. (Newman’s wife bought this particular one for him at Tiffany’s in 1969 for $300)! The print then proceeds to inform us that the watch sold at auction in 2017 for 17.8 million dollars! Let that sink in for a moment, because it gets worse.
In December of 2021, there was a watch auction held in midtown Manhattan. Hosted by Phillips and featuring the celebrity auctioneer, Aurel Bacs, the first lot up for bid was the Patek Phillipe 5711 Nautilus pictured above. The watch’s retail price is $52,635. The people attending this auction wouldn’t even blink an eye spending this much on a watch, but ask them for $48,000 to house and feed four homeless people for a year. . .well, who knows how their eyes might twitch. The bidding for this particular watch started at $20,000, less than half the original retail, and when the gavel hit the desk with Bacs yelling sold, the winning bid was $5,350,000! (Actual price after fees etc. $6.2 million, or just over 100 times the original retail). If you had to read that multiple times you’re not alone. If you use the figure I mentioned above ($12,000 per annum to house and feed one homeless person), then for that ridiculous winning bid you’ve just housed and fed 446 people for a year!
The Timex watch pictured above to the right (one of the more expensive ones of this brand) retails for $279.00, or 0.005% the cost of the Nautilus. While I am sure there is a vast difference between the two in terms of materials, inner workings, and aesthetics, ask two people wearing one or the other the time or the date and you will get the same answer!
One of the main reasons politicians cannot appear to get their heads around finding solutions to the growing problem of homelessness in this country is that it does not have the same voting appeal as building a shiny new bridge, shopping centre, or any other symbolic bauble that can be pointed to — “I did that, vote for me.” In much the same vein, a person with $6.2 million to spend on a watch — the shiny new bauble — will get more cachet from the watch than taking care of the needy.
While the following sentiment (s) have been around for quite some time, they are worth repeating here. “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” This quote is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, although there are some that suggest he never did say this in so many words. Two others have weighed in on this sentiment: Pearl S. Buck, who wrote: “Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way it cares for its helpless members.” And the last words belong to Hubert Humphrey, who in a 1977 speech stated: “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” It would appear, given the current homelessness crisis in American cities, that those in a position to affect change need to revisit these sentiments.
Los Angeles 2022