At the bar of the four-star hotel where we stayed in Manhattan (special rate for Gift Fair exhibitors), we sat down beside a man who, within minutes, announced that he was a one-percenter. Not knowing quite how to respond to him (other than vomiting, but hey -- how can you begrudge a guy his $3million dollar home, for which he paid cash?), I mentioned the economic reality of living at the bottom of the food chain. It didn't take long for the conversation to veer into politics, and for Mr. One-Percenter to complain that he had to pay a half-million dollars in taxes last year. I brought out my tiny violin and intoned a dirge. The poor fella!
And he really said this:
"Say you make $250,000 a year, have a house payment and a couple of kids, and you want to send both those kids to college. How are you gonna do it?"
"Say you make $30,000 a year, have a house payment and a couple of kids, and you want to send both those kids to college. How are you gonna do that?
He looked pensive for a moment, obviously pondering the question with great thought. And honest to god, he looked at me, considerably perplexed, and asked:
"Why are salaries so low in Seattle?"
I nearly spit my drink out.
Need I say anything more?
Further conversation brought to light the fact of his son's autism, for which he is not capable of purchasing the cure. If I was not so kind, I would have pointed out the thousands of dollars he'll save not sending this son to college. As it turned out, a conversation with a poet and an artist about his sense of helplessness in dealing with his son's health brought him to his knees: his eyes welled up. He cried.
This, of course, was after he told us about the 12,000 square foot house he's renting for a vacation in Puerto Vallarta. And the food & drink "budget", for five days, is $7500.
As he slid further and further down into his cups, his use of language diminished into half-words and slurs, and he said,
"I have an amusing antidote."
Holy crap. I began to laugh before he even began to tell his "antidote". I don't know why I attempted to suppress a growing out-of-control giggle-fit -- good manners, maybe? He didn't deserve it. (The giggles were erupting from me in powerful bursts, which I tried to hide by coughing. He was too drunk to notice.)
But the poor fella, indeed. All that cash, all those taxes handed over to a president he despises, and he doesn't know an antidote from an anecdote.
It occurred to me that nothing I said, nothing Melinda said, was going to sink into this guy's brain. He had the wherewithal to hire an entire string section of violinists to accompany his over-taxation lamention. He was one of the Bad Guys, a bond trader, a target of the Occupy Movement, on a bar stool in New York. In the flesh. (Alcohol-marinated flesh, but flesh nonethless.)
The next day I flew three thousand miles back to my real life, where one son (with health issues of his own) is unemployed and living with me, and the other son is "doing it" -- going to college, on loans and a part-time job loading and unloading UPS planes at the airport in the middle of the night.
I work for an artist -- for, well, um, considerably less than $250,000 a year.
According to Mr. One-Percenter's standards, I shouldn't be able to survive at all on anything less than $250k, much less even breathe.
How do we do it?