Every day, I keep seeing strange and stranger stuff here in Riga at the ill-defined but somehow "street level" of observation. Most of it points to this society continuing to slither into further disintegration and degeneracy.
Let's start with the beggars. They have been around for a while, they are a symptom of both socio-economic and personal problems. They exist, to some degree, everywhere. You get used to most of them around the central station in Riga (railroad stations attract the wacked-out and weird everywhere). The two one-legged dudes, one on crutches, the other in a wheelchair, prone to periodic bum-fights. The various dudes, so clueless about misery marketing as to wallow in one of the pedestrian tunnels with one or more dogs.
Don't get me wrong, the wretched (who are such for whatever reason) certainly deserve at least the companionship of a dog. Dogs seldom propose getting drunk or shooting heroin, so they may even be better companions than the kinds of pals one acquires by persistently being in lumpenproletarian circles. But for fuck's sake, don't bring the dog out to beg with you because it clearly says that any alms will be split with a)the seller of rotgut (krutka), for drugs (that should be decriminalized and available at maintenance clinics), for some kind of food, and for the dog??!!
But what disturbs me more is that there are able bodied beggars not showing many, sometimes even no outward signs of addiction, misery and depredation. These guys should quit begging when they have enough to buy a Ryanair ticket to the UK or Germany, where they might be able to find work.
One beggar stood out -- a young, cleanly-dressed woman (early or mid-twenties), showing none of the signs of decline of the other young women who claim to beg for their children. What is worrisome that she looks able-bodied in another sense, that is, potentially approachable by people wanting to buy sex. In other words, she is potentially one step from prostitution (which, with some qualms, should be legalized) and the risk of being trafficked. Why doesn't she simply get the hell out of here before some else arranges to have her taken to elsewhere in Europe.
Now to urban cattle. I am not talking about the urban cattle of India that one sees simply moving about cities in traffic, standing, wandering, stopping and flicking the flies with their tails (or so one sees them in TV documentaries). Maybe I am wrong, but the idea of cattle to me means --dumb. The urban cattle I see day to day in the streets of Riga are the folks blithely, cluelessly wandering into traffic, doing the most outrageous things.
Take one guy. He is standing halfway in a traffic lane. I am driving and slow down, gesture for him to cross. But what does Zork the Zombie do? Nothing. I drive around him and shout something like cross, for fuck's sake! (pises pāri! in Latvian). But there are more bizarre things ahead. I spot a guy standing on the white line in the middle of a major street (Avotu). This is a favorite grazing area for urban cattle who simply go out there and then dumbly watch the traffic, hoping to cross when the fancy strikes them. Is he one of them?
No, the dude, lets call him Meatface, is standing and talking on his mobile phone. OK... We drive on to a place nearby to look at a used office chair. This means -- park, climb five flights of stairs, talk to the seller, determine that the chair is not for us, politely say goodbye, walk back to car and drive back to the paid parking lot where we keep it passing the corner of Avots and Lācplēša and what do we see-- Meatface is still standing in the middle of the street, talking on the phone. WTF?
Then there are the more nimble cattle, the darters, who dash blindly into the path of traffic in one of those gaps in the flow of cars. Cars do slow and sometimes stop, so the darting cattle are not often removed from the gene pool.
Urban cattle, to be sure, are not a Latvian phenomenon. My "favorites" in Stockholm, on the subway system are the ones who wander up to the top or bottom of an escalator and simply stand and stare. Stå och stirrare - stand and starers, they could be called in Swedish. Simply unable to unfuck themselves and made a decision -- Down or Not Down (the strange Swedish way of labeling escalators Ned and Ej ned).
An so to the the assless anorexic. She was walking ahead of me in one of the pedestrian tunnels, like a large, ultrathin Barbie doll come to life. Instead of legs, she seemed to be walking on thin, flesh-colored stilts. No hints of any body under her skirt, where the stilts disappear. Assless.
Anorexia, like anywhere, is a problem in Latvia, little talked about with probably no medical and psychological resources to deal with it. It is a first-world ailment, Latvia is moving toward being its own version of third-world lite.