THE PATHOLOGY of POVERTY
Re-reading that last post I’m realizing that novels are just a trick that smart people use to deliver long-winded arguments. Because I have SO much more to say but if I can’t figure out an interesting way to say it I know I shouldn’t even bother.
And I’ve already burned through 52 words of my quota today. Fifty-eight. Fifty-nine. Sixty.
These first posts are more to set the pace anyways. This is the pre-season, no one pays attention until the finals anyways. Wait until there’s blood in the streets America, then you’ll tune in to what Shazz is saying. And Shazz…he’ll be out doing something heroic or chilling on a beach somewhere, I’m not sure if he’s decided yet.
So I start off this morning not in McDonalds but in an apt on Staten Island. I’m on a couch taking pictures of old notes with a borrowed iphone to upload them into my prettiest of pink laptops before I have to return the illicit good. I was in the process of taking a census of Zuccotti back in early November and had drawn some interesting maps, before I realized that full scale detailed versions were being used by the upper echelons of organizing. That was probably my first hint that we were still in Kansas, the fact that Zuccotti had layers of people planning housing and logistics and maps, while most of the park had no clue.
Back then the ”problem” of the rabble in the park, the occupiers, was already surfacing. You see, good ideas take good people to draft them. Populism is when this per-ordained draft is then taken to the public for ”buy-in.” The technocrats decide. We purchase their decision. People who disagree are narcs. And the world makes sense. I think they call this back on the block putting lipstick on the pig. I should know, I’ve got a nice pink little piggy I’m typing on right now that I can’t make up enough to turn her pretty.
This apt is leased by a couple with Occupy Farms who happen to be up at Woodstock right now. We call it the barn because we’re young and we think we’re clever. A bunch of us from the working group crash here occasionally, and last night a half dozen happened to wander in. In the interests of full disclosure, I informed the group of my ingenious borrowed laptop scheme with J&R. In the interest of my bodily health, they informed me that I was to return it immediately. But I have 2 weeks to return it – NO. But otherwise the money’d just be sitting there – NO. But it’s pink – NO.
Anyone have any lipstick?
Now this is something that I’ve come across often in this movement, the pathology of poverty. In fact, I’ve come across it often in life in general. My family at one time accepted food stamps, and my folks never had much more than their chin above water as far back as I can remember. There was a time when I was an infant and there was a house purchased on the outskirts of Las Vegas to pay for my future education. I guess that could have been considered an inner tube of sorts, or maybe one of those fancy floating chaise lounges with the beer cozies and the pockets all over that held water that would turn warm in the sun.
But this college fund floaty went the way of the Savings & Loan scandal. Or maybe it was just a crooked realtor. Either way, I wasn’t raised with much of a financial safety net. But I dealt with it. I realized that things are just things, and that some people have access to more. Maybe some people don’t deserve as much as they have. Maybe others shouldn’t be so envious. But in the end it’s just stuff. I went and spent a couple hundred bucks on just a couple pieces of wardrobe when I had a decent job, just to see how it felt. I frequented the Republic of Banana before I could appreciate the irony. Never was I rich by any means. But for me a $75 t-shirt was like a golden toilet seat, I just wanted to see how luxury (or at least my idea of it) felt against my skin.
I think it’s important for people to see how the other side lives. Not just the rich observing the poor, but the other way around. And not in the reality TV rags to riches style that we see played out ad nausea on our televisions. Not the “I’ve finally made it” Horatio Alger story (really milking that young blogger demographic with the Alger reference I’m sure). No, just a small little luxury to show that you’re worth it too, to demystify wealth.
It’s just stuff. Yes, those jeans fit better. Men have asses too. Yes, things taste better. Although for some reason Starbucks burnt ass coffee bucks this trend. Yes, there is such a thing as money hair and money teeth and a monied complexion. But then, it’s just one way to live. And usually if not always there’s a better, simpler way.
When I was living in Puerto Rico last year I paid $300 a month for a house on an acre of land and wild horses running through my yard. I could make my rent in a good day of playing with tourists on the beach. So when I wanted to join a gym, I didn’t just go to the local municipal building where they had thrown a couple weights into a musty closet. I went to the W and dropped $150 for a month of luxury. To put it in perspective, their gym bathroom was fancier than any house I’d been in on the island. They didn’t loose electricity when Irene hit, they had their own power supply.
They didn’t even have mosquitoes within the walls of their compound. Bugs are so third world after all, and when you drop at least $300+ a night you want a hassle free vacation experience. And there I was, dirty feet and dirtier mustache taking it all in. That’s the nice part about buying your way into privilege sometimes; you get to keep it real among the stuffed shirts. No Ma’am, I don’t own any shoes. I shouldn’t even be in here really. But I’m all paid up for the month so you can go get me a glass of ice water, thanks. Oh, and get that good stuff, the water with the orange peels. Yeah, I pay good money to have orange peels in my water, you can’t expect me to hydrate myself without the subtle compliment of citrus.
Just how do the poor do it?
Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, the pathology of poverty. Margaret Atwood wrote an interesting book about the story lines of debt: sin, memory, redemption, guilt, about debt being a cultural issue.
Whatever debt is, and whatever this means for our debt-based monetary system, I could tell this morning that we were talking about more than a shiny pink Vaio laptop. People accused me of stealing, although I don’t know many thefts that come with a two week return policy. Relax, I promised, let me get my blog online and throw up a donation button, it’s an investment I promise.
But then the conversation turned funny. It doesn’t matter, it’s the principle. It’s wrong. It’s money. I ran into this type of thinking later that day when trying to deal with finance to cash out some of our working group receipts under the $100 daily allowance. A guy I know was having a ‘principled argument’ over $1.40. Is this what money does? It makes us stand up for principles? Huh. Maybe we should put a price tag on social justice. I’m sure a democratic society is worth more than $1.40.
I’m not saying that this kid doesn’t value real democracy, or that anyone I’ve met since coming to this movement doesn’t share my own values and hopes for a better world. It’s just that, usually in my experience when someone’s making a big deal about a non-issue, we’re uncovering just the tip of a personal baggage iceberg. And one of my pet peeves being people who’d rather be right than effective, usually I chart an opposite course when these floating ship-sinkers drift onto my radar.
Can he stretch the nautical theme?
In the turbulent waters of American democracy, the seas were stormy and all hope was lost. We were a nation set adrift, 300+ million people in a life raft no bigger than an Ikea pullout only less comfortable, durable or affordable (how DO they do it?). With the dark clouds of global terror, financial crisis and a presidential election roiling on the horizon, from the other direction a mysterious force swelled up from the abyss. A populist movement, a tidal force, the cresting majesty of people power began to lift rudderless America on that fateful August day and ferry her through the storms of her destiny. Faster and faster, through the distractions, through the political fog, through the corporate sharks. Onward towards her inheritance as a land of liberty and justice for all, the powerful wave bore America forward…
Before eventually smashing her upon the rocks.
I think of these things, and think about the Statue of Liberty across from me as I ride the Staten Island ferry back and let Manhattan recede into the distance, the perfect size, no bigger than a postcard, something to write home about. The guy to my right, same guy who this morning accused me of stealing, is now explaining the difference between liberty and freedom in maritime law. He says that we’re all governed by maritime law, because technically we were in water in the womb, or we came out wet, or you piss the bed until you learn to use the toilet, there’s a good case for it somewhere in there.
But I’m not listening. I’m looking forward to another night with my privileged laptop. You see, I (wink wink) forgot the case on Staten Island and so couldn’t return it today. Aw shucks.
I really shouldn’t be our working group’s financial point person.