What’s Eating John Q. Public?
As I watched the sideshow of outrage expressed by our Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle over the AIG bonuses, I realized two things: 1) they aren’t getting it; and 2) I’m mad at a very visceral level that I don’t understand. Since our political leaders of all stripes seem to be in a fog related to their own needs come the next election cycle and beyond my miniscule abilities to repair, I decided after my latest barn-burning post to explore my own feelings to determine how I could fix me.
I refuse to be apologetic for or ashamed of the fact that I suffer from bi-polar disease. As a result of that diagnosis back in the late 70s, I have spent much time on the couch, so to speak, trying to learn how to understand what brings me to an outbreak of uncontrollable, non-productive thoughts. The best of the best tools I have obtained over the years is one that calls upon me to experience the feelings of the moment and then try to understand what it relates to in my past. So, while looking for the underlying causes of my distress over the economic news that is being hyped to the level of mob mentality by the media and Republicans, I realized why I’m so upset. So, here is what’s eating Jack.
I come from a very poor background in rural Oklahoma. I was reminded of the extreme poverty of my family almost daily by my father. He was not atypical for the era, the 1950s. He was the absolute ruler of the household in every way. My mom stopped working upon my arrival because it was my father’s wishes that she do so; and to be fair it was the normally expected thing to do in those days for women to stay home and raise the kids. My dad was a blue-collar worker in those days, and I’m sure he wasn’t exactly pulling in the big bucks. But he was an ambitious man, and quickly started up the corporate ladder from his shipping clerk position to foreman of the shipping department and then on into the corporate offices. However, despite all his promotions and the pay raises that came along with them, he constantly reminded us that we were a poor family.
We lived in a modest two-bedroom home outside Oklahoma City furnished with used and discount-furniture store items. With three rambunctious boys, things broke and tore from time to time, but due to my mom’s ability to hand out extreme physical discipline after such incidents, the criminal justice system at our home did a great job of teaching us our lessons. But more often than breakage, the poor quality of the items in our household led to high levels of things just wearing out. It was not uncommon for my brothers and I to wear clothes that we termed more holey than righteous. The same thing applied to the soles of our shoes. This problem was worst for my youngest brother who ended up with our worn out hand-me-downs after we had outgrown them.
When my mom would ask my dad for the money to replace our worn out and torn clothes, he would deride her for wanting to be extravagant, and shame us for being so hard on our clothes and shoes. The same thing applied to such everyday items as bed linens and towels. It was common for us to sleep on sheets that had been worn thin enough to rip with the normal wear of tossing in your bed at night and towels were often worn so thin that they wouldn’t dry you off after a bath. But whatever the problems the household and those of us who lived in it may have had, we were constantly reminded how poor we were, and there was simply no money to replace the worn-out items. Of course, since Dad went to work every day, he had to have clothes that looked good.
Now, all of that wouldn’t be so terribly awful if that was all there was to it. As I got into school and then my brothers followed, we were constantly challenged and mocked into shame for needing basic school supplies, because it put such a strain on the family budget. By the time I got to junior high and joined the band, the $2.50 per semester that was required for the rental of my French horn was deemed a huge extravagance, and my father effectively kept me from practicing at home because he found it annoying, never missing a chance to tell me that I sounded like a frog in the well every time I played it. Clearly, he resented that $2.50 so much that he couldn’t even bear to hear me practice.
Okay, okay. So, you say, what’s the big deal? Why is that sooooooo bad? Here’s why. During these lectures on the outrageous outlays of day-to-day life that were straining the family budget, my dad always seemed to find the money for the things he wanted. The first of these was a garage full of woodworking tools, including power-saw table, power lathe and everything it took to practice his hobby of piddling in the garage. Rarely did he ever create anything useful. Actually, he rarely used the stuff at all after the new wore off. It just sat there for years gathering dust. And there was a constant parade of used cars for him to rehabilitate. Now, none of these were the family car. They were second cars even though my dad didn’t allow my mom to get a driver’s license and drive. Then came the boats. Now, you may say that’s something the whole family could use and enjoy, and I would say sometimes that was true. But most of the time, my mom and my brothers and I sat on the side of the lake while my dad went out and raced with other boats. And, of course, with the boats came the fishing and skiing equipment that also cost money that supposedly we didn’t have for such mundane items as school supplies and clothes.
By the time my youngest brother got old enough to go to school, my mom had had enough, got her driver’s license, went to cosmetology school and entered the workforce. Financially, things got better – for a while. But my dad became very unhappy at that point about his wife working, and embarked on a string of extra-marital affairs that eventually blew our family apart. But before we got to the blowup, my mom had allowed him to buy an airplane, because he promised he would quit the other women, and “It’ll be fun for the boys.” Now, we were poor – again! Seems airplanes don’t come cheap, and keeping them at the airport and fueling them doesn’t come cheap either. The relentless reminders of our membership in the lower class and our poverty level continued unabated. As far as taking the boys flying, that lasted a couple of months also. Seems we were too much trouble.
In the end my parent’s marriage blew up, ending in a child-custody fight my dad waged to get back at my mom for leaving in disgust. When it all was over, much like the situation we find ourselves in today, the money was all gone. My dad rebounded within a few months after running my Mom off at gunpoint, causing her to leave us behind in fear for her life, despite the court order awarding her custody. He remarried, choosing a woman with three children of her own and moved us all into a two-bedroom house in Houston where his new big promotion took him. In order to house all of us in that spacious home, he knocked a hole through the kitchen wall into the unfinished garage, which became my brothers’ and my bedroom. You see, we were poor. It was the best he could afford. Within weeks, he bought a brand new Cessna Airplane, which he quickly crashed at the end of his first flight. Still poor.
Now, this is the end of my involvement in this story, because I had graduated high school by this point, and took my leave, going out on my own in spite of my Father’s teary-eyed pleas to stay. Make of it what you will.
Provided I have not scared you off with my indulgent trip through childhood, I feel like the American people are in exactly the same place I lived most of my childhood. After years of wasteful spending on the things they wanted: wars, tax breaks for their rich constituency and an emergency midnight flight of Air Force One back to Washington for President Bush to “save” a brain-dead woman in Florida, to name a few, the Republicans are letting us know in no uncertain terms that we are a poor nation now and the needs of the masses will just have to wait. After sparing no expense for their own wants, the coffers are empty. In effect, they are giving the American people a one-finger salute.
I, for one, am mad as hell and not going to take it anymore! For almost 30 years, our government has done everything big business wanted at the expense of everybody else. Even in the Clinton Administration, great care was exercised to make things good for big business, and still big business got squarely in the way of the one thing that the Clintons tried to do for the American People: Universal Healthcare. So now, after all of this pro-business, spare-the-rich taxation period going all the way back to Reagan, how have they paid us back? They have crashed the economy with their greed and are now raiding the US Treasury for what little is left. I say, HELL, NO! We have waited long enough for access to affordable healthcare, and repairs to our crumbling schools and bridges, not to mention freedom from foreign oil. I refuse to accept the “No” solution offered by the Republicans. The pitchforks are ready to go. Let’s make sure we aim them at the “Right” people! They’ve had their chance, and they blew it. NOW, IT’S OUR TURN!
P.S. A report today showed the continued lack of recovery for New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. Almost four years since Hurricane Katrina “washed” it away, the better off sections of New Orleans have “bounced back.” The poor people of the Ninth Ward, however, have been left behind. Shameful!