The Coastal Post - May, 1997

Why The Rich Need The Poor


"We take as much as we can get. To the winner goes the spoils. To the losers go the punishment." - John Sununu

"Religion was created to keep the poor from killing the rich." - Napoleon Bonaparte

"Enough for everyone's needs, not for one person's greed." - Mahatma Ghandi

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We're all in this together. Rich and poor are riding a fragile rock hurtling through the outer fringes of the galaxy. It's a corkscrew universe which humans think we're the center of. We have a short history with a common theme. The rich feast while the poor do all the dirty work on crumbs from the feast.

What would the rich do without the poor? They would starve with their silver spoons in their mouths. No one to serve them. They talk about the virtue of work, but their fingernails are burnished.

When I was five years old I started working with the rest of my family, carting around a cardboard box, helping my dad pick up the half-eaten pizza and empty Coke cups from the parking lot of the Lauderdale drive-in movies he cleaned as one of his janitor jobs. Sometimes I helped him clean Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Catholic School where we kids got free tuition and lunch as part of his pay. I still remember cringing in shame when the cafeteria worker loudly announced, "It's one of the Simacs, a free luncher."

I was ashamed of his jobs, but working with him was some of the most quality time we had together. Then he got a union janitor job in Miami that he held until he retired. I worked his vacation once, almost got fired for taking a long lunch.

I've been working poor in America for 40 years now, wealthy by most standards for the world's poor. America's poor are better off because K-Mart's profits depend on Third World extreme poverty. Welfare reform will remedy that global inequality of poorness, but being poor in America is more shameful than there, because here it's your fault, you're a loser.

Jubilaeum 2000, millennial fever

You could blame the Holy Roman Catholic Church for our family's poverty, since we had seven kids, but I was the fifth, so I give the Pope credit. He needs the gold now that he's declared Jubilaeum 2000, a jubilee for the millennium. It's been centuries since the last jubilee; the good new for debtors: it's in the Bible, all debts are forgiven.

My guess is that he'll have to auction off the Vatican treasures and most of their global empire to pay off all the world's debts, because there are no plans by any banks to honor the infallible papal bull.

The golden slave

Even the most economically primitive tribes often had slaves, usually from neighboring tribes, to do the harsh and dirty work. It was so nice to have other people do the drudge work that slavery grew into an intercontinental industry, but it was inherently inefficient. It relied on external coercion and shackles to gain a decidedly lackluster workforce.

The word slave comes from the Christian, German, Knights of the Holy Cross raids into pagan Slav land, killing, looting and capturing Slavs for the Turkish market with the Pope's blessing.

The economic benefits of really cheap servants who paid for their own gruel, rags and shacks, became apparent as the Industrial Revolution, spinning from technical, monetary and mercantile revolutions, increased the capabilities of meeting the desires of the wealthy. The rich still need police and jails to enforce enormous inequality, but the state pays. Mass merchandising propaganda snares more people to work willingly for glinting dreams.

Market economies need paying customers, and a skilled and educated middle class to maintain the structure of the economy and dream of being rich, but they also need a horde of poor servants to do the dirty, hard tasks which are the bedrock of all economies. The poor dream of winning the lottery, but rarely get even a sip of nectar, while the blind boars suck greedily at the breasts of Mammon, kicking the runts away with their cloven hooves. It's a corkscrew universe.

Shiny cars are a constitutional right

The market ideology, commercial values, taps into fundamental human greed and fantasies, yet for most participants it only dangles gleaming promises of bright, shiny objects. Humans are like crows, we can't resist 'em, but we can create them. All of human history can be seen as a long drive to a parking lot full of new cars in the afternoon sun. Moses was more blinded by the burning bush.

In America everyone can become rich, but the truth is only a few are and their wallets are leaking blood. Most of the rich are born into wealth, scions of pirates, some are talented and hard-working at global destruction, a few fall into it by fate. They live very well, but still aren't particularly happy.

The gap between haves and have-nots in America is already of third-world proportions, and shows no signs of narrowing. The middle class is an illusion; for most, an injury, illness, downsizing or restructuring would slide them into poverty, which terrifies them. To dull the terror, they buy on credit. The poor are terrorized and unhappy, but they're the losers, so they deserve punishment. The victorious receive the garlands, the vanquished the lash.

Dogs eat the dead

Sid, an old man the age of my father, thought I'd make a great salesman. He wanted me to sell faux furs from his factory in the garment district of New York. He'd become a millionaire through hard work and business acumen. He told me about business. "It's a dog-eat-dog world, Stevie. You got to do it to them before they do it to you." I took his advice and went into real estate.

Sid's own mother and her favorite son, his older brother, had tried to screw him out of the business of dying leather to look like fur during the Depression, but he'd started a new one around the block and driven them out of business into poverty. Sid and his brother never spoke again. "I didn't realize how much I still loved him, until I was shoveling dirt down on his face," he said, and began to cry. He'd grown emotional since his heart attack.

I cried thinking of my dad, near deaf and near blind now, who'd worked as hard as Sid for as long to keep his family housed and fed. I've worked a lot of different jobs, none for long, in construction, deconstruction, hash slinging, pot scrubbing, cash registering, giving care, taking guff. I never discovered much virtue in any job, but I enjoyed moments in all of them. The only job I ever loved was massaging the young wives of wealthy, fat men at an expensive weight-loss spa in Florida. Some of those guys were so big they used sheets for towels, always working on a deal. I'd help them relax so they could pave more of paradise.

Have a happy hara kiri

Supposedly there's a new environmental capitalism coming, according to a businessman who made a fortune selling yuppie gardening tools. Another new age businessman, the Chicken Soup for the Soul author, is paid ten grand a session to read spiritual stories to corporate employees. Presumably the pink slips have smiley faces on them. These pollyannas would put bandaids on a disemboweling.

Can the victors look with compassion on the vanquished, those who have bent to their will and serve them if not faithfully, at least dutifully. Can Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods' endorsement fees and Nike CEO salaries be reduced to pay Vietnamese women more than $2.66 a day? Not if money is our only value, when the bottom line is in the winner's circle.

Can't we all just get along?

Dogs eat dogs, but they're happy with the cheapest chow, if you love them. We all want to be loved, but we don't like to beg. The rich are lonely and locked inside their mansions, the poor are crowded and don't like each other, the middle class have to drive for hours to pay banks for their homes and cars. There are enough wealthy, environmentalist sustainability experts in Marin alone to create change, but they buy a sports utility vehicle instead.

The Pope says it's a death culture, but he wants to add more people to the planet. He's got bulletproof limos and jeweled robes. The poor love him, because he speaks to them. If they can't get inside the stadium, there are loudspeakers for the throngs outside the gates. St. Peter, the first Pope, was poor, but he was the last.

Blessed are the poor because they don't eat the rich. Napoleon, the Divine Emperor, replaced the Sun King. Socialist revolutions replaced czars with commissars. The science of economy replaced the will of God. Money is like a mother's love, we can never get enough. At a certain point, we have to learn how to give something in return.

"Your psychic friend" told you to expect change by the millennium; she's always been so right on and only $3.99 a minute.

This is the end

Here's some free advice from the free Coastal Post, only in Marin, and on the Internet now. Create change for the millennium-don't wait for it to happen.

I hope I've served you well since 1990 when I jumped in the kennel of pitbulls known as Coastal Post writers. I've tried to entertain and inform you, attack the afflicted, comfort the homely and the needless, whatever a journalist in Marin county is supposed to do.

Some of you told me you love my stuff, some said it gives them a headache. If it made you laugh, I'm glad, but truthfully, if I pissed someone off, I was doing my job. When you called me vile, low and callous, it was a garland of the perverse excellence aspired to here at the Post, and thank you for sharing.

The pay didn't quite cover my writer's cramp medication, but it was good for my soul, like public scourging. Writers are like that, it's a religion. The Post is just an outlying parish where a vow of poverty is enforced; seems like celibacy is too, but no castrations. We have a web site, but we're not Heaven's Gate.

I'm at a midway point in the long apprenticeship of writing, the only work I've really loved, a job which proves that time does not equal money. I want to get to the next level, as they say. From my Coastal Post articles during the '90s, I have a body of work which is buried in the back yard right now. My best-laid plans see a collection of my most controversial pieces titled Dangerous Nonsense.

You can keep it in your bathroom, I don't care, but you'll have to buy it now because I am retiring from the Post. I figure the only way you'll marry the cow is if you can't get the milk for free, or something like that.

I'm hoping to do book tours, I hear you get laid a lot by the book nuns. If this one doesn't sell, I'll write "Chicken Pot Pie for the Soul-How to Lose Weight, Get Rich Quick and Improve Your Sex Life by Living Simply."

I wouldn't mind starting a UFO cult for the millennium, now that there's a void. The Marin mothership is different though, less applesauce and vodka, more music, wild dancing, sensual massage, great hash, kind of like a Muslim heaven. We're still Catholic, though we bought some indulgences.