Sunday, January 15, 2012

Do clothes maketh the man?

Ben Hana 1957-2012

Blanket Man is dead. He earned his moniker from 10 years' almost daily appearances in Courtney Place, Wellington, wrapped in his grimy blanket. On warmer days, he stripped that off and lounged in his loincloth as if he were on the Riviera.
I wasn't one of those who admired his "iconic" status: it did little to disguise his miserable situation. He always seemed a profoundly sad man, reduced as he was to acting out others' romanticised perceptions of him.
Today's Dominion Post quotes Stephanie McIntyre of the Wellington Community Ministry as saying she thinks Ben Hana had begun to believe the mythology, that it gave him an identity. He had been offered housing and other support, but chosen not to accept it: "He latched on to that whole notion of a public persona and that became more important to him than being well."
Others, so the paper reports, deplored him for his brazenly dishevelled appearance and minimal clothing. But surely both reactions - glorification and contempt - had little to do with the man beneath the blanket.
Once upon a time, Ben Hana was a married father of four with a regular job. But a series of personal disasters, including killing a friend while drink-driving, took him to rock bottom. He racked up a pages-long list of convictions, the result of one being a judge's order to wear underpants at all times. 
He was last seen the day before he died, waving cheerfully to passing motorists from the steps of the hospital, clad for his last public appearance in a hospital gown.

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