the world through rainbow eyes

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Let Them Eat Cake, pt. 2

Not that long ago or far away, I worked in a bookstore. It was good work. Intellectually stimulating in spots. Physically demanding in others. Emotionally satisfying most of all. It was good to help people to books. Help them find the books that would entertain or educate. Good to work around other people that felt as strongly about books as I did.

I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I started working there, but by the third year I knew I had found my niché. The thing that makes my heart sing, you know?

What it didn’t do is pay the bills. Not even as I climbed the ladder into management did it do that.

During most of my tenure as a bookseller I shared living spaces with anywhere from 2-6 other people. Sharing bills is how you get by at minimum wage. None of my roommates had children, so we all sort of stayed above water. Barely. A few didn’t.

The homes were somewhat revolving doors of changing circumstances.

This is the kind of lifestyle that we are led to expect of our college years from the generation that has come before us, but for most of us, we were in our late 20’s and early 30’s. One of my roommates worked in the IT industry and brought home an above average salary of anywhere from 60-80k a year. Utility bills were made out in his good credit name. The rest of us were minimum wage service industry, with a few pink collar specializers floating in and out with their “good money” of 30-40k a year.

I was one of the lucky ones. The very few. In a store that employed 30 or 40 people I was one of around 6 that broke 20,000 a year in wages. Gross income. Pre-taxes. This is what climbing the ladder of management means. If I went much higher I would be salaried, and that would mean all my overtime would suddenly be gone. I would work the same grueling overtime hours, but without the perks in my paycheck. A small nod of a few extra thousand would be added to my salary, but the overtime generally meant a lot more. So I didn’t fight that hard to climb higher. My elevated position meant I was granted overtime far more often than those beneath me.

This is a sweet spot in the retail and service industry that’s rarely understood outside of it. Shift managers, assistant managers, supervisors, team leaders – all different titles that generally mean: I can’t afford to make less money, and I can’t afford to make “more.”

Again, I was one of the lucky ones. I was surrounded by coworkers who did not get by.

During my time working with books I had coworkers who lived without gas for years because no one in their house had the credit to connect that utility, nor the money to pay the extra that gas companies ask for if you don’t have it. They took cold showers in the Winter, and used space heaters well into Spring. I had coworkers who squatted in abandoned houses without water at all. I had coworkers who had teeth rotting out of their head because dental insurance was just one extra too many after paying for groceries. I had coworkers, so many, who worked 2 and even 3 jobs trying to hobble together enough to pay for a simple life. Coworkers with no cars in a city that had very limited mass transit. Coworkers who worked only for the insurance because they were cancer survivors, and insurance companies would no longer take them and their preexisting conditions. Everyone skipped meals there. Everyone.

The vast majority of those who I worked with were not teenagers. They were not bored spouses filling up their empty hours. The few teenagers I did work with were not making pocket money. They too were just trying to pay their bills. Heck, some of the people I worked with were well degreed people. Teachers, engineers and lawyers who had left their professions when times got tough. Service and retail was what could be found. So we worked shoulder to shoulder. A goodly portion of my coworkers had children to feed and clothe.

The public perception of what it means to be poor is somehow “other,” but 57% of families in the US are below the poverty line, and having lived there I can tell you: poverty is everywhere.

The cheapest new car starts at $17k. Most new cars are closer to $30k. That’s more than or almost a year’s salary for most people. For most of the US a new car is stratospherically impossible, a bizarre castle in the sky that is referred to but never seen.

I’ll tell you, the new dream of this coming generation isn’t home ownership. From their homes with roommates or the basements of their parent’s home where they still live? Simply buying a new car is the new dream. “Someday I’ll buy a car that isn’t already broken. That I don’t have to spend a quarter of every paycheck to keep running.” That’s what Lennie and George would be talking about in our brave new economy instead of their far off dreams of a small farm to own and live off of.


During one of the regular “charity drives” that our chain of bookstores had wherein customers would buy books off our shelves to donate to children who are in need (a self serving charity if there ever was one, but one that did indeed get books into the hands of children who had never had a book of their own outside of a library) I had a customer look at me in her multi-thousand dollar coat, clutching her hundreds of dollar purse and tell me of course she wouldn’t buy a book to donate to local children in need. There were no local children in need here. No one was in need in her community.
She honestly believed it. It was all she knew. She was not mean spirited, she just could not see what was beyond the doors of her own house.

People don’t walk around telling you that they are in poverty. Even when we are, we rarely say it. We make do and get by. We skip meals, and juggle bills. We don’t go to the doctor or the dentist. We share homes and stretch our dollars.

We are decimated by furnaces and cars that need repair. School loans that automatically deduct our money. Accidents and illnesses that chip away the foundations we stand on.

No one is in need in our communities. We all are.

If you don’t see that, you Paul Ryan’s of the world? It’s because you have closed the door on the rest of us.

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Recall Them All

So, if you aren’t clear are on all of this, know this: it is absolutely impossible at this point for the GOP to shut down the ACA. The Senate has refused. They will continue to refuse. This has been voted on over 40 times. While many other things have waited to be worked on the Congress, the House of Representatives has again and again voted on the ACA (aka “Obamacare”).

It will not happen. There’s no reality in which it happens. Senate GOP has even said this.

Yet they have done this. They have put over 800,000 people in peril by removing paychecks when we know that 76% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck; a move that will further gut our economy. They have closed down National Parks on the 123rd Anniversary of Yosemite National Park. They have closed down the CDC’s ability to track down and prevent diseases on the eve of Flu season during a time when we know that a world wide pandemic is simply a matter of when and not if. They have shut down WIC when there are over 9 million women, infants and children (what the program is named after: pregnant and nursing women, infants, and children) in desperate need of what small help it provides, this being a program we started not just because it is gross negligence to have children starving in a country of such plenty, but because children who starve actually suffer malnutrition and become a *deficit* to our economy from the related disabilities that then arise. They have closed down E-verify, a program that is mandatory in quite a few states to use to even *hire* a person, during a time when there are desperate millions trying very hard to be employed.

They have done all this not because it is possible for them to destroy the ACA. They can’t. They know that.

They’ve done this because they can. Simply because they can. Because they want the Senate and the President to understand that they are in control. That this is their ball, and because they are not winning in a game that they devised the rules for (remember, Congress actually *passed* the ACA) that they will simply stop playing, and damn the consequences.

This is a thing they do “for the principle of the thing.”

RECALL THEM ALL. They do not represent the American people any longer.


I Don’t Matter

I’m going to go off record here for a second and say something sort of horrible.

We are not important, geopolitically.

We just aren’t. I’m not. You’re not. The people all over the world (46 different countries* by my last count) who are reading this aren’t important geopolitically.

What we are is important, individually.

See, there was this discussion I got involved in about will we or won’t we with Syria in regards to the US doing anything strategically. It doesn’t even matter what my position is. It really doesn’t. A million people, ten million, could march on Washington tomorrow… and it isn’t going to matter.

We aren’t in charge. Nobody asked me my position on Rwanda before Rwanda happened. Nobody cared about my peace protests before Gulf War 1 (I was young, I simply did not understand my place in geopolitics at the time).

I don’t matter. You don’t matter.

The people with money matter. They look at their money, and they look at the different power plays available. Do this, and what will be the net gain or net loss. Don’t do it, and what will be the net gain or net loss.
That’s it.

I have no illusion that it is otherwise.
The only difference I can make in the world is in being kind. In raising two kids to be stellar adults who are also kind. Hopefully. In making every day count and being compassionate and thoughtful in every interaction. In trying my hardest to make apologies where I need to, and doing better next time if I screwed up this time.

That’s all most of us can do.

Politics don’t change; the people with money are the ones who make the policy. The last time “the people” effectively spoke to those in charge? That was the Magna Carta. As much as I would love to say it was the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, those were both made by people with money and power.

That was pretty much the crowning achievement of all of us “little people” when it comes to geopolitics. Don’t feel bad, it was a doozy, but damn we’re due for a new one, or hey, I’d even go with reinstating that one. Then again, try not to let it get to your head, the rebellion that caused that one was led by the rich and powerful, too.

I’m not trying to get you down. I’m trying to remind you to turn your head to the things you can change.

It sounds small and meaningless. The armchair political quarterback position feels so much roomier and comfortable. I sit in it a lot myself, but it isn’t a position of power, and it isn’t a position in which I can change the world.

Change the world by being good. By actively not being bad. By stopping the bad that happens all around you. By saying sorry and helping people up when they get hurt in front of you. Not because you did it, but because somebody needs to say sorry, and it might as well be you.

Try to say kind words. Be good in deed. Be good.

It doesn’t sound big: be good. Sorry. It is, though. It really is. It eventually moves mountains. Change political options by changing your part of the world. Be good by not being bad, most especially.



* and can I just take a minute out to thank all of you from all of your different countries who stopped by to read my little tiny words? Thank you! Hey Estonia! Hi Åland Islands! Hello Hong Kong and Jamaica and the Republic of Korea and the United Arab Emirates and Ireland and Israel. Greetings France! Hello to all of you too numerous to list! It’s so nice that you took the minute or two to do that. Thanks!