Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Craigslist Joe [2012]

Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing

I found the remarkable documentary Craigslist Joe (directed by Joseph Garner) by a fluke.  It was listed as playing, one remaining show only, at the Music Box Theater on Chicago's North Side this past Sunday (perhaps it had played on Saturday as well).  Reading the film's plot summary, I immediately saw that I'd be interested in seeing the film, bt the movie was playing at a time that I could not make.  However, googling it, I found that I could rent the film for $5.99 through Amazon's Instant Video Service.  So that's what I did and IMHO it was _well worth_ the effort ;-).

Craigslist Joe is the chronicle of the film's 20-something year-old director Joe Garner's experiment to see if starting with no cash/credit card, no food stock or roof over his head and without any reliance on family or existing friends, he could live an entire month on the products, services and generosity he'd find through the community of world-wide and generally free online classified ads service called Craigslist.   [Note that Craigslist has had its share of controversy in the past because for a number of years its adult and personals pages had become a de facto clearinghouse for prostitution and sex trafficking services.  Yet, I would agree with Joe Garner's premise of the film that Craigslist has always been far more than this.  As Joe points out at the beginning of his film:  "Craigslist has been a place where you could look for a job, get rid of your sofa, and even find friends"].

So armed with simply a smart phone (with a cell number that none of his friends or family knew), a laptop and a cameraman (who he had found, of course, a few days before beginning the project, on Craigslist ;-), Joe began his adventure on a bench on a street corner in Los Angeles one December 1st in the recent past, promising to return to family and friends for New Years!   What an awesome premise!  And, of course, much ensues ...

In the month that follows, he travels from Los Angeles to Portland, OR to Seattle then through Chicago to New York, down to Tallahassee, FL and New Orleans, to San Francisco (where he goes after being invited by Craigslist founder Craig Newmark to come by near the end of his experience to talk to him about it) and finally back down to Los Angeles.  Joe does all this by picking up odd jobs, taking odd rides, and finding people to crash with at various free events that he found, all through Craigslist

To Joe Garner's credit, he shows that after a number of close calls over the course of his trip, there was one night near the end when he did end-up on the streets.  There was also one night, in Chicago, no less, when he and his camera man ended-up crashing at the apartment of a woman who, well, "surprises them" ;-).  Still, when they indicate that they were "not into that sort of stuff," she _was fine with it_.  Nevertheless, these episodes help serve as a reminder that this kind of an adventure does carry with it clear dangers.  I would also like to underline for readers here that Joe had the advantage of traveling with a cameraman through his whole journey.  So (1) he wasn't really traveling alone, and (2) the various people who Joe met along the way knew that they weren't simply boarding or picking-up a random person that they met to travel with them but that they were going to be somehow part of this person's film project.  These clarifications/considerations aside, however, Joe Garner's experiment opens-up for _clear headed_ young people the possibility of entering into a "pilgrim" / Depression Era "hobo" / "poustinik" style of adventure that I honestly find both fascinating (!) and also believed was no longer possible.

I invoke the evocative words of "pilgrim" and "poustinik" purposefully because though Joe appears from the film to have probably been Jewish (He does find time to celebrate the closing of the Jewish holiday of Hannukah when he's out in New York, while spending the night of Christmas Eve on Bourbon Street in New Orleans) there's actually an ancient Christian tradition of pilgrimage (Diary of Egeria [4th Century AD (!)], Chaucer's Canterbury Tales [14th Century], the Camino de Santiago de Compostela celebrated in the recent film staring Martin Sheen called "The Way" [2011]) or even simple "wandering" (St. Brendan of Ireland, the poustinik tradition of Russia recalled in Catherine De Hueck's book "Poustinia" and the anonymous 19th century Russian spiritual text "The Way of the Pilgrim").  In all these texts and journeys, the journey itself, and often enough, the people "met along the way" were as important as the goal itself.  One should also note here the great Muslim tradition of the Hajj, where _again_ the journey to Mecca is considered to be easily as important as reaching Mecca itself.

Indeed, it was fascinating for me to note that the people who Joe meets during his one month of travels were almost always "at the margins of society" -- hippies, New Agers, an IRAQI immigrant who family puts him up one night in Seattle, a 30-something year-old African American woman who gives him a place to stay one night when he nearly ended up on the streets in New York (and in the snow) and yes there's that "woman of questionable repute" who puts him and the cameraman up in Chicago ;-).

Yet, that woman becomes actually very interesting to remember because one recalls in the Biblical tradition that it was  "Rahab the Harlot" who is remembered in the Book of Joshua (Josh 2:1-7) as having been the one who gave hospitality to the Israelite spies when they were checking-out Jericho prior to the Israelites' siege to it.  Later only she and her whole family were spared by the Israelites when they eventually sacked the city (Josh 6:17-25).  Later in Jesus' geneology (Matt 1:1-17), Rahab appears as one of the only four women named in the geneology (Matt 1:5), named because she along with the other three women who appear in the course of the geneology turned out to be KEY in the eventual arrival/incarnation of Jesus.  During the course of his own ministry, Jesus _repeatedly_ accepted the hospitality of all, and often enough from people, both men [Zaccheus (Lk 19:1-10) and Matthew (Mt 9:9-13)] and women [(Mk 14:3-9), (John 4: 4-42), et al], again "of questionable repute."  Finally, in the New Testament, in the Letter to/of the Hebrews, there's the admonition: "Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels" (Heb 13:2)

It is clear that Joe himself (as well as his parents, as he recalls his experience to them and his friends at the New Years' Party at the end of the film) becomes aware of the unexpected spiritual significance of his experience.  I'm positive that many of the readers of this blog and subsequent viewers of the film will come to see this as well.

All in all folks, especially young adults, if you find yourselves inspired by this film to try something similar, PLEASE ENTER WITH YOUR EYES OPEN and understand the obvious risks that are involved.  You DON'T have to accept the hospitality of everyone.

Nevertheless, Joe's "experiment" here seems to indicate _to me_ that entering into this kind of "wandering," "depending on God/the kindness of strangers" experience _is possible_ today.  And is that a wonderful thing!  THANK YOU JOE and you did a _wonderful_ job!

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