Rev. Austin Miles, a chaplain in Northern California is a writer and historian. He is the author of Santa's Surprising Origins, a story that received worldwide circulation and resulted in him being cast in the 2004 Hallmark Christmas Movie titled, Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus. He played the mall Santa who magically received the gift of sign language.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Society • “A Bum Deal” Fascinating and Disturbing Look at Homeless Life—Book Review

Many automatically avert their gaze to avoid making eye contact when they see a homeless person on the street, since it is better, they feel, to not recognize through their own eyes, that homelessness exists. Those who look away are fighting a fear that they too could wind up on the street. As the philosopher, George Berkeley, reasoned, “What one perceives exists. What one does not perceive does not exist.” So what is playing out is fear, denial and perception defense. To the homeless person, the turning of a head away from them signifies total rejection, because, they think, they are disgusting and less than human, a self-hatred perception which cause them even greater pain. They have been thrown away, rejected and treated as trash, being caught in a trap that seems inescapable..

A high percentage of those who recognize homelessness as a malfunction of society have no idea what the life of a homeless person is like behind the scenes. Maybe 50% have an idea. but less than 20% of those have knowledge of a particular form of violence in this mysterious, secret world (that is too familiar with violence in general), where the goal each day and night is simply to exist, to stay alive..
 
Being acquainted with the homeless as a minister/chaplain, and having full knowledge about the violence young punk “thrill seekers” manufacture against these vulnerable people,  I was totally unaware of a cruel staged sport called,  Bum Fighting,  where homeless people are video-taped viciously fighting one another or doing frightening stunts that costs lots of blood and results in serious injuries.

What do they get out of this? A few bucks and lots of booze, a small investment for the film makers who rake in millions in DVD sales and distribution. This book spotlights the unconscionable jerks who make fortunes out of exploiting these powerless people, and making them so dependant on them to satisfy their cravings for alcohol that the victims literally become their cash cow slaves.

A Bum Deal, published by Source Books is the true story of Rufus Hannah, a rather peculiar film star who was seen in the Bum Fight videos and cheered on by a sick public that would been right at home watching a fight to the death in the Roman Coliseum. When Hannah put his fists together, the tattooed lettering on his knuckles spelled out, B U M F I G H T. These instigated fights produced cuts, bloody noses and broken bones along with some yelling and screaming in pain.  Hannah also became known as the Stunt Bum since he was cajoled into running headlong into a concrete pillar or ride a shopping cart off a ledge landing on concrete among other outrageous injury producing stunts that audiences paid to see.  All of this for a six pack of beer, some cigarettes and a couple of dollars.

Barry M. Soper, a businessman who met Hannah under less than favorable circumstances, later bonded with him, listened to the story as Rufas related it to him, and then put it in book form. And what an incredible book it is. Indeed, I encourage all involved to turn this book into a movie. It is a story that everybody in the world should hear and see on the screen including sociologists and mental health professionals. This book provides a classic study.

The opening of the story shows a pouring rain in Sacramento and a man arriving at a hotel and going inside to a ballroom. He is dressed well, and could blend in with the many people going into the room, exept there could be detected about him an intensity of purpose most people do not possess.  He was not like the others going into the ballroom as the heavy rain splashed against the windows. He takes a seat. It is a cleaned up Hannah who is there to give a talk about the homeless problem and to receive a humanitarian award.  He checks the program to see the speaker line-up and how much time he will be allotted to speak. How on earth could he pack his life into the very limited number of minutes granted to him?  As the attendees arrive, Hannah begins to think back on his life.

And what a life it was. The alcohol addiction that developed from the time he was a baby and his parents put beer in his baby bottle, becoming a full fledged alcoholic by the time he was 14, the destruction his drinking caused including several failed marriages, friendships destroyed, and his experience in the army which left him with even more problems.

The day to day living for the homeless is detailed, how when they traveled they knew exactly where to go in each town or city, like the Salvation Army or certain churches, to get a meal and possibly some money. Seeing such degradation to human lives is deeply disturbing. If there was any book to dissuade people from drinking, this one is it. It shows dependance on alcohol which became so severe that everything else in life was dismissed, including relationships, giving way to the first priority in his life….booze.


While literally imprisoned by the punks profiting from the Bum Fights during a time in Las Vegas with his friend Donnie, Rufas contacts Barry Soper who immediately flies there to execute a daring rescue of the two. It was risky since the DVD distribution had been sold to the mafia. 


We are taken on a fascinating journey through this incredible book, from the lowest possible form of life through the haze of a 40 year existence as an out-of-control alcoholic, to a difficult but successful rehabilitation and success. It was a tough journey all the way but he made it. So can anybody reading this book. Among his humanitarian activities today is his participation in one of the Military Stand Downs, where many homeless vets come to be helped and counseled.

A Bum Deal is a page-turner, with action that will not let go of the reader. It is a story that provokes every range of emotion; fascination, frustration, disgust, intrigue, outrage, empathy, shock, tears and then cheers. You go through it all. This reviewer read it straight through. There were a couple of minor flaws in the writing, such as suddenly going into a flashback without realizing it was a flashback. And, there is language in the work that could have been tempored considerably, even though it is understandable that those vulgarities and swear words would be spoken by street people and used for realism. Even so, I could have done without having to wade thorugh that and a sex scene that really wasn’t needed.  But the story itself is so well told, completely captivating the reader’s interest from the first page, that I continued to read on, wondering what was going to happen next. That of course is the mark of a good book.

This chaplain lives by the philosophy that there is a seed of greatness in every human being, no matter what kind of life they are living at the moment. The only reason that it has not developed in some is because it has not been watered or nourished. A Bum Deal perfectly exhibits that philosophy. In this case the one who watered that seed and nourished it was Barry Soper.  Because of Soper, Rufas Hannah’s seed of greatness rose out of the rubbish.  And what a compelling story that resulted and ended where it began, in a hotel ballroom in Sacramento during a pounding rain storm as Rufas is presented the humanitarian award and gives his acceptance speech.

This story needs to be told and the world needs to hear it. Homelessness is a social issue that must be addressed. Everyone should read this book to learn about the struggles of other people and why one should NOT even START drinking alcohol. And for God’s Sake parents, don’t put beer in the baby’s bottle.  A Bum Deal is highly recommended by this reviewer who gives it a triple A+.
——————

Rev. Austin Miles,  worked with a homeless ministry for 2 years,and has taken part in a Military Stand Down with several other chaplains. He is on the pastoral staff of Mountain View Christian Center in Oakley, California and moonlights as a free-lance journalist who’s stories, commentaries and reviews of books, art shows,and classical concerts are published world wide.


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