DIARY of a 99%-er: The Struggle Between Survival and Creative Expression

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October 7

“I don’t want much from it, just helping others and getting feedback that I inspired them. That’s priceless. To me, I feel more rich in my heart than anything,” Nick Kleckner, Orange County Register, Oct. 4, 2012, reported by Laylan Connelly

I have never seen a more perfect juxtaposition of the 1% and the 99% as I did on the front page of the Orange County Register today. Front and center were pictures of several men in powerful county governmental positions, who either have been or are being investigated, indicted, and in some cases convicted of criminal wrongdoing, mostly based on greed and power-mongering. Right below this article, was a story with a heartwarming picture, about a guy who gave away all his possessions, and walked from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, sleeping outside with the homeless every night.

The contrast was glaring. In the top story, entitled, “After Bustamante, a 'Culture of Suspicion' in County Government,” reported by Andrew Galvin, five men were profiled, including Robert Citron, the genius who first leveled the divide between the 1% and the 99% in OC, bringing the county to its knees in 1994, by covering up heavy financial losses based on risky derivatives that ultimately led to the county’s bankruptcy. He ended up pleading guilty to six felonies. Then, more recently there was Mike Carona, the former sheriff who was indicted on corruption charges, along with his wife and alleged mistress, and ultimately convicted of witness tampering. He is serving 66 months in federal prison. The most recent scofflaw is Carlos Bustamante, who faces felony charges over accusations of sexual abuse of female subordinates, according to the newspaper article.

Right below this story is a picture of a 26-year-old man, who looks like Jesus in a baseball cap, with arms outstretched, reveling in the glory of walking from coast to coast with little more than a backpack and sleeping bag. Nick Kleckner, as the OC Register story profiles, started his cross-country walk in Jacksonville, FL with “no food or water, just a few shirts, an iPod and a Wi-Fi device to send his mom updates.

According to the article, Kleckner would only accept help from complete strangers, and he never took help from the thousands of followers who followed him on Twitter. The only solicitation he engaged in was a cardboard sign that read "Food," which he would use if he was really hungry. But he never verbally asked anybody for anything.

“I had so much food, I couldn't carry it. I had so much money, I was worried carrying that much money around. They're just nice people," Connelly’s article quoted him saying about the homeless. "It just hit me that I needed to give back."

So, the story continued, he'd give away what he didn't use or need to other people on the streets. He started handing out little gift packages consisting of granola bars tied with rubber bands to a $5 McDonald's gift card and a $5 bill. Soon, he started hearing from people wanting to send him stuff. He'd tell them to give to the homeless in their area instead. He didn't stay in one hotel, he said, and only three times stayed in houses where strangers took him in. He only used his tent about a half-dozen times, far more often choosing to sleep outside – behind Dumpsters, under bridges, in the desert.

The entire experience inspired him to continue to work with the homeless and raise awareness about their plight, and to personalize the experience of being homeless, since a lot of judgments are made about this demographic. What an inspiration!

And, how fitting that he finished his journey in Orange County, where most of the 99% are one paycheck or one unemployment check away from being homeless themselves. And, where there is still a sharp divide between the 1% and the 99%, as the middle class continues to be squeezed out.

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