I lived in Seattle for a couple of years, across the street from where 3-million dollar condos hovered over the water.
Because I have never felt myself to be a part of any specific group of people, cultures have always fascinated me. Japanese people and American people and sports-fans strike me as curious and exotic.
In Seattle I wondered:
What is normal in this upper-class Northwest American culture? Are my neighbors happy?
To a middle-class way of thinking, the assumption is “yes, of course THOSE RICH PEOPLE must be happy.” Just look at those tennis shoes. They’re as white as Greek houses.
Think about what it would be like to walk a mile in those brand-new shoes, knowing you didn’t have to walk at all. Hell, take an UberLUX, and toss the dusty-soled shoes in the trash when you get home. When you never have to work another day in your life, isn’t it an awesome feeling to wake up in the morning and know you can do whatever you want?
I am the type of person who will actually sit on a park bench and ask someone that sort of question.
If you try communicating with the “leisure class,” you might get a hazy smile as their head pivots slowly in your direction. I began to notice a pattern, and time after time I’d wait about five seconds after saying “hi,” and watch to see if their eyelids could do the heavy-lifting.
Lots of rich people are on drugs.
By the sparkling waters of Lake Washington, I did absorb some profound lessons on life through conversation with the wealthy. Many were erudite, full of the intricate and plodding whimsy of the heavily medicated. Often these observations were offered just after benzo-naptime and before oxycontin-naptime.
It might be awesome to dream of waking up rich one day. But a lot of actual rich people don’t spend their day being very awake.
Like any make-believe group of human beings we can label, it turns out that THOSE RICH PEOPLE are still human, and they have their own problems going on.
I once met a woman who woke up in a hospital unable to remember the previous seven years. She hadn’t even exceeded her prescription dosage of tranquility.
Recently, I’ve been waking up in a Midwest manufacturing town. This is a blue-collar place that has been turning into a low-income place. The modern problem faced by American manufacturing towns isn’t about demand-for-US-made goods or even Mexicans. The problem is that less and less manufacturing is done by human beings. Not only did the jobs move away – they don’t exist anymore.
When people stopped making six-cylinder engines for Chryslers down the street, it was robots that started making them somewhere else.
What was once a bustling factory with thousands of callous-hardened hands cranking out engines, is now a sort of post-apocalyptic concrete wasteland surrounded by taverns.
Us low-income folks have our own problems to deal with. There are cultural issues that are often seen along with fundamental shifts in an economy. Low-income does not mean “criminal,” yet the two are often seen holding hands.
While running a rooming house in a ghetto, I thought about this a lot.
The leather jacket and beard were uncomfortable to wear, but it was more comfortable to intimidate crackheads than physically remove them from the premises. I always thought beards were stupid, but it was a vital part of a “Ghetto Rooming House Manger” uniform.
One day, some local gunshots still echoing in my mind, I walked over to a neighbor’s house. I was thinking along the lines of creating an informal sort of “Neighborhood Watch” thing.
I believe that people are what make up a neighborhood, and having little-income does not necessitate theft and violence. Correlation is not causation.
As I got to my neighbor’s steps, a lady walking up the sidewalk made a beeline for the yard.
When she got onto the grass, she said “Hi” to me and pulled down her pants.
In the time that it took me to process what she might be doing, I caught a glimpse of something not quite like the end of an elephant’s trunk. She urinated on the lawn.
My neighbor came out on the porch and yelled a friendly “Hello” to both of us. Her friend pulled up her pants and climbed the porch.
What is “normal” for my new socioeconomic class, the poverty-class?
Just a couple of days before, a lady strolled past my porch in a heroin haze, having forgotten to fasten the front of her slacks. It occurred to me that this was the second set of floppy labia I’d seen that week.
That would never have happened by the lake in Seattle. Those ladies might nod off, but they kept their pants zipped up.
Some fundamental agreements, such as “we won’t pee on the lawn,” had not been reached by this culture. I didn’t like that.
I must have picked up some “American cultural norms” despite myself.
What about stealing? What about violence?
Were my neighbors happy?