Saturday, February 4, 2012

Breathing, as a Ninety-Nine Percenter

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?"

My response:
"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?


  1. How does he do it?

    He has powerful friends in high places.

    We have brilliant friends in low places. We help each other, by caring first, and any other way we can.

    But this is what 1% can't encompass in their consciousness: as they don't give a single god-damn about anybody who isn't them, they can't conceive all of us nobodies can care about each other either.

    Like an idiot kept howling at me during the Elian Gonzalez era of the Clintonian years: "Cubans don't love their children! They don't care about their children. Their children are only political pawns of the state and the parents don't care."

    How more stupid than that can you get? But he believed it with every fiber of his beings despite all the straight up facts and personal experience that says JUST THE FREAKIN' OPPOSITE of his belief that Cuban parents don't love their kids. He NEEDS to believe it. Because if he thought Cubans loved children they'd be human beings, like him, instead of godless monster commies that need to be shot dead in the street wherever found like the dogs they are.

    Love, C.

    Love, C.

  2. You can't even make that shit up. Awesome. I wonder when it happens in a lifetime -- when the split happens and one loses a sense of reality.

  3. You really captured it, T.! It was a weird night.

  4. I have nothing against people being wealthy; it's them telling me about it that I HATE.

  5. Don't ever argue with a drunk or a Republican (actually they are the same). They are full of antidotes and such.
    Ima Sicodem

  6. How do we do it?
    Coupons, blind luck and Hamburger Helper.

  7. slice o' life story, from the streets of NYC. terrific, T. i wish i had been a fly on that wall.
    but, i can't help but wonder: at what price this obtuseness? i can almost see the dice-rolling gods.

  8. wish I could say I've never heard this kind of talk before from some of my friends, but, gulp, I have. People who have so much money and they cannot conceive how people make it on less. They are in another world, and have lost their compassion and their empathy for others. They just don't get it -- what would happen if they did? They'd have to stop bragging about their good life and all that their money could buy. Then what would happen to their fragile self-esteem? Horrors!

  9. When who we are is enough, what we have is enough. I hope the poor man figures it out someday.

  10. You can't make this up. Astonishing.