Thursday, May 27, 2004

The Paquette Column and My Response To It, Part 1

'K' had his say--and beautifully put it was, too--but I haven't had mine, so off we go.

Why should I apologize for making lots of money?

Who asked you to? This is a standard misstatement of the problem, Larry. Nobody wants you to apologize, we just want you to accept some of your responsibility to society. What's so hard to understand about that?

By Larry Paquette, 1/13/2003

I AM A MEMBER of a small, elite group widely vilified by the press and in letters to the editor. I am an easy target.

Oh come on, Larry, quit whining. Since your mother obviously never explained it to you, I will. It is unseemly, impolite, rude, and downright arrogant for the rich (which, if you only make $100K, you aren't, so lay off the wishful thinking and bonk your head against reality occasionally; pretend it's a wake-up call) to go crying in their beer in public about how badly treated they are. Especially since you're probably not the one being vilified, so why all the whimpering?

And let's try to be just a tad honest here, OK? You went after the money because you desperately wanted 'security' (which, by the way, makes you a weenie without the guts to face the uncertainty we live with every day) and all the goodies (don't bother to deny it), including the undeniable fact that people in this society are treated a whole lot better when they have money than when they don't. In other words, you chased the bucks because you didn't want other people with more of it than you treating you the way you're treating us. That's about right, isn't it?

I've known a ton of you so-called 'self-made' assholes in my life and you're all--or mostly all--the same. You want the power and the privileges that money brings with it: you want to buy cars most of us can't afford and park them where we aren't allowed to park because you think this makes you 'special'; you want to buy a bigger house than most of us can afford--preferably on a hill so you can look down on us--and waste a ton of electricity with floodlights and sound alarms and a dozen lamps lining your walk so you don't get a few drops of evening dew on your $500 Oscar Rudolpho loafers because you think this makes you 'better'. So let's not pretend you were busily following some noble calling all that time. You were making money, period, and you let your family hang while you did it. That doesn't make you the devil but it sure as hell don't make you a saint.

And while we're about it, let's have no more sniveling about what an 'easy target' you are. You haven't seen 'easy targets' until you've seen a rich man verbally abusing his maid because she put out the wrong shirt or a passel of right-wing Congressmen descending on 'welfare moms' because they can't feed their kids on $100 a month.

My sin is that I am in the financial top 10 percent of the country - those making $100,000 or more - the 35 percent tax bracket, a member of the so-called rich. So it is much easier to paint a picture of me with black heart and ice in my veins, cake crumbs all about, as I grow fat on the backs of the downtrodden.

Yeah, especially easy after a letter like this. You went a long way toward proving what a loving, tolerant heart you have with this thing, kid. Maybe you're so po'd at the description because it hit too close to home, hmmm?

However, I feel no need to defend my position.

No? Then why did you write this column? Sure sounds defensive to me.

Over the years I have worked hard and earned every dollar of the obscene wealth I am accused of hoarding.

Right. All by yourself. Nobody helped you? Then how the hell did you manage college on only two minimum-wage jobs? Can't be done, pal. Pell Grant pick up some of the slack, did it? You know, the govt program you 'rich' think is a waste of money and are trying to eliminate? Get a little financial aid? Housing allowance, book allowance, that sort of thing? Maybe a break on your tuition? So who do you think paid all that money for you, Larry? Think it appeared out of thin air, do yah? It was taxes, Larry, those monetary paybacks that one generation offers the next. But you got yours, so screw everybody who comes after you?

Larry, babe, I'm tryin' not to see you as an ogre but you're makin' it awful hard.

What is different about my life and how I came to be here compared with those liberals so willing and anxious to separate me from my compensation?

You conservatives just don't get it, do you? Everything is about you. We're trying to save lives here and all you can think about is that one of those lives may cost you a few pennies of your precious 'compensation', like we deliberately starved these people just to give us an excuse to take your money. Well, I hate to break it to you, kid, but everything isn't always about you. Sometimes it's about *gasp!* somebody else. I know, I know, how dare we? As everyone should know by now, you are the center of the universe and everything revolves around you. The 'social contract' is no business of yours, except of course when it provides you with something you want. Otherwise, it's an albatross around your neck. That extra $1000 you might have to pay every year as your share of fixing leaky roofs of schools so kids don't have to try to learn while they're up to their knees in cold water could be going for something really important, like a new gold shift knob for your Mercedes.

I worked two jobs to put myself through college.

Only two? You got off easy. How many years did it take?

While many my age were off to sporting events or dating or cooling off at swim parties on muggy August nights, I was working in a sweltering factory, assembling bicycles until 2 in the morning.

Poor baby! You actually had to work for a couple of years. Terrible. So now you want us to pay for the indignity you suffered, is that it? Excuse me, but if you were working on an assembly line, you weren't working alone. Did you happen to notice any of the people (yes, I said 'people', not 'welfare bums' or 'lazy animals') working next to you? The people who did that awful job day-in and day-out, year after year, not just summers but winters and springs and falls? Did they dent your self-protective shell at all? I mean, they weren't 'cooling off at swim parties', Larry, they were right there with you, sweating as much as you were, night after night. What did they ever do to you to earn such contempt except work alongside you without the benefit of being able to go to college?

And those kids who went to the 'swim parties' you're so jealous of. You apparently think they were low-income loafers, just goofing off because they were too lazy to go to work, like you. But the chances are a lot better that they were from families richer than yours who could afford to send their kids to college without those kids having to work their way through like you did, so why are you taking out on us your sense of how unfair it all was to you? Because most of us went to work after high school, not so we could pay tuition but so we could survive. We had one summer of 'swim parties'. ONE--the one after we graduated. We took it because we knew it would be the last time it would ever happen.

See, Larry, the kinds of places we work don't do 'vacation time' much any more. I've had one 'vacation' in the past 6 years--5 weeks of paid leave when I accidentally put a nail through my hand with an air gun and broke some bones so I couldn't work. That was it. That was my 'vacation'. Unless you count being unemployed, of course, when employers in search of better stock prices laid us all off so they could prove how 'lean and mean' they were to investors. And if you think being unemployed is a 'vacation', you ain't never been there when you had to live on half-pay while you went trudging through snow and freezing rain to apply for one of the six jobs available to you--and the other 500 laid-off workers in town--because the rest had been outsourced to Indonesia where guys like you could pay 11 cents an hour and pretend it was a 'living wage'. That ain't no 'vacation', pal.

I can't say for sure where the bleeding hearts were then, but they were not standing next to me night after night, sweating over that endless assembly line.

Sure they were. You just didn't see them. Or you saw them and didn't recognize them, which amounts to the same thing. Because it was those 'bleeding hearts' who got you the grants that meant you could go to college in the first place--and only have to work two jobs to get through. Without those 'bleeding hearts' you loathe so much, you'd still be on that 'endless assembly line', only it would be endless for real--you'd never get off it, except to go somewhere else just like it. If it had been up to conservatives like you, that assembly line would have been your life. Forever. 'Bleeding hearts' got you off it and into school with programs conservatives like you fought tooth-and-nail to kill because those programs were 'separating them from their compensation'.

One thing about you, Larry, I can see right now--you got a short and highly selective memory.

I look back over the years of struggle and sacrifice and can't count the number of birthday parties, special events, and family gatherings missed because I had to work or finish a special project. I can't begin to tally the number of empty nights or lonely weekends when, instead of spending time with family and friends, I was on a business trip halfway around the world.

Everybody's got their priorities, and it's obvious that yours didn't include your family when they got in the way of you making money. Screw 'em, huh, Larry? First things first. But wait...I thought you conservatives were big on taking 'personal responsibility'? Well, take some then. You dumped your obligations to your family so you could get rich. That was your choice. I didn't make it for you, and neither did those 'welfare bums' you despise. So don't go laying it on our doorstep. Whatever you did to your family, you chose to do when you picked making money over being with them. If we weren't willing to make the same choice, does that make us evil?

Some of us--a lot of us--aren't willing to live the kind of life that an obsession with money requires. We don't ask you or anyone else to buy us the Jag we can't afford on minimum wage; we're only asking enough to put a roof over our heads, food on the table, clothes on our kids' backs, and a 10-year-old Honda in the garage that will get us to work and back. Is that asking too much? Yet you wail and whine about it as if we were demanding the keys to your mansion and free access to your wall-sized satellite tv.

There is no loneliness like being in a strange country for months, struggling with an unfamiliar language while losing contact with those closest to you.

Stop it. I'm gonna cry in a minute.

There is no loneliness like sitting in a hospital waiting room with a sick kid while a nurse tells you your insurance doesn't cover his condition and you don't have the money to pay it yourself and nobody else you know has it, either, and you know your child is going to have to go right on being sick because there's nothing you can do about it.

There is no loneliness like being on third shift for months at a time and never seeing those closest to you because you have to work the opposite end of the day, of going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark, never even seeing the sun.

There is no loneliness like standing at the kitchen cupboards at the end of the month and realizing you've got nothing left but beans because prices have gone up but your pay hasn't and your next check is still a week away.

There is no loneliness like sleeping in a dumpster because your minimum wage job doesn't pay enough to meet the rents that are soaring through the roof, or the loneliness of having to beg to use the YMCA showers every day, and there's nothing in the world that can beat the loneliness of watching your family move into a cardboard box because you've just been evicted from the rat-infested hellhole a slum landlord was charging $700/month for (not including heat and electricity, those are extra) because 'that's what the market will bear' and it don't matter a damn to him that he could make money if it was half that much or that your whole month's paychecks would barely add up to $700 and if you paid his insanely greedy rent your kids would have nothing to eat.

Three-quarters of the homeless in this country aren't drunks or drug addicts, Larry. They're families. Low income families of working poor that don't make enough to pay the rents that landlords charge. Ever hear of the 'affordable housing crisis'? Well, that's what it's about: forcing the market to provide shelter for the working poor at prices they can afford to pay on the ridiculously low salaries people like you offer. What a waste of your precious 'compensation', ay? Let 'em live on the street. Fuck 'em.

I wonder at how the mind-set of the country has changed, how the work ethic has been corrupted. When I was growing up, the only rule was that success and achievements resulted from, and were directly related to, hard work. You got back in proportion to the effort you put forth. That's the way it has worked for me.

You poor, dumb, blind, boneheaded sonuvabitch. You really believe that, don't you? You had a few lucky breaks--and you made the most of them, credit where credit is due--but you also had a lot of help you don't acknowledge. What? You think if you ignore it that gives you leave to say you did it all by yourself? Nobody does it all by themselves. Nobody. It hasn't worked that way for you because it doesn't work that way for anybody. There's no 'fairness doctrine' here. And you know there isn't. Christ, George W Bush is President of the United States and he got there without working a single day in his whole life. No pissant bicycle assembly lines for him. Silver-spoon all the way. My friend Andy has been working at least two jobs since he was nine years old, went to college part-time for five years until he got his degree and then couldn't get a job because he didn't have enough experience, he was too old, and anyway we're not looking for people with that skill any more. Meanwhile, he was suddenly considered 'over-qualified' for what he'd been doing and couldn't go back to any of his old jobs. That's not fair, either.

If you really believe that shit and you're not just throwing dust in the air, then that is the single stoopidest thing I ever heard a college graduate say. That is so stoopid I'd have to guess you lack the native skill to get out of bed in the morning without help or the talent to be up and around. If the mindless pursuit of money turns otherwise intelligent people into the kind of skull-deep dopes who could say a thing like that with a straight face, then I'll take poverty every time. God, who could live and be that dumb?

(to be cont)