Monday, November 28, 2011

The Not One Percent

Roll With the Punches - Lenka (mp3)
B is for Brutus - The Hives (mp3)

This is what happens when you don’t read your email thoroughly enough.

Several weeks back, I received an invitation from my daughter’s school. The invite was for a breakfast. Because the school has been quite intentional and proactive about connecting parents to the complete school experience on any number of occasions, I quickly assumed this was yet one more way for me to connect with my dear daughter within the school environment. And because I love seeing my children in these settings when possible, I swiftly replied to the email with a YES.

The day before, I mentioned my breakfast plans. “I’m looking forward to having breakfast with you tomorrow morning,” I said as I drove my sweet precious to school.

“What are you talking about?” she asked.
“Breakfast. A bunch of girls and their dads or something,” I said.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said.

Because tween girls often enjoy and intentionally attempt to have no idea what their parents are talking about, I dismissed her ignorance as being a lack of attentiveness and moved onto other topics. However, when I saw her that afternoon, she brought it up again.

“Daddy, I don’t think you’re eating breakfast with me tomorrow. None of my classmates know anything about it, and I even asked a few teachers, and they don’t know, either.”

At that point, I sifted through my Gmail trash to reread the original email. And yes, plainly and clearly, the email stated that this particular breakfast was intended as a “brainstorm session” for the school’s annual auction fundraiser.

Well, gently insert a chainsaw into a place intended for intercourse, as the ‘80s saying goes.

So I find myself the next morning at a table with four ridiculously well-off men in their 40s, one of whom I know because he sits on my school’s board of trustees. I was at a table, at a breakfast, surrounded by The One Percent.

I felt like one of those reporters who sneaks undercover to report on the Moonies, or on some abusive slaughterhouse, or on a top-secret tobacco company meeting. Not so much because I was jealous of their wealth or even begrudge it, but rather because I so totally didn’t belong. All of these other men had Stars On Thars.

Hi, my name is Billy, and I'm a plain-bellied Sneetch.

Our first assignment was to discuss, at our tables, those items we might be able to offer as part of the auction.

My school’s trustee, sitting to my right, went first. "We offered up our condo in Aspen last year. We can offer it again this time around."

The man to his right went next. They’d offered their exquisite lake house for a weekend getaway last year, and that offer was good this year as well. Counter-clockwise it continued. The next man had offered his four season tickets to an Alabama game in what was undoubtedly a sublimely awesome section of the stadium, and he’d do so again.

The man to my right was next. “My daughter’s new this year,” he said, “So I don’t know if what I can offer will work or not.” Yes! At last! Someone else who’s in the same boat as myself!!

“I’m a member over at the Honors Course (read: the sweetest and priciest damn golf club in town), so I could host a threesome out there.”

Well, gently insert a chainsaw into a place intended for intercourse.

The Men Of The One Percent all looked to me. I was the last man sitting. Their curious eyes looked past my sweater vest and edu-wonky glasses.

Well, I’m pretty tight with the Skee-ball operator at Lake Winnie. I think he could probably get us 2-for-1 on those tickets? Or maybe I could offer free tandem rides on the back of my scooter?

To their credit, I never got the impression that what had just occurred at the table was a swordfight, some duel of masculine offerings intended to one-up the next dude. Most folks in The One Percent don’t go around with this yearning ache to prove how wealthy they are, despite what some people want you to believe. They just don’t much feel the need to go apologizing for their ability to bathe in sparkling water, either, and they’re sure as hell not going to soft-sell their fiscal comfort just to keep some mid-level school dude from feeling uncomfortable and cemented in the middle class.

No, the issues at that table belonged 99% to me, and 1% to them. The discomfort was mine. The sense of inequality was mine. And they weren't feelings that were imposed upon me; I don't blame anyone in that room for it. It is, as they love to say, what it is. The perceptions and the problems: I owned that deed.

This, ultimately, is the political discomfort I have with my own views. While I sympathize with this mythological 99-percent, and while I lean farther left than right, I look to those I know successful enough to approach or enter into that One Percent, and I don't begrudge them. They're decent folks. The ones I know do (mostly) good things with their torrential downpours of freeflowing cash. And if they own some nice cars and a condo in Aspen, I don't really feel too good throwing stones at them.

Granted, at some point, when millions turn into tens of millions, I simply can't fathom that anyone really works hard enough or is so beyond brilliant as to "deserve" that gap of cash, but most of the One Percent I know aren't quite that high up the ladder and never will be. They're just rich.

No easy answers in this world, is I guess what I'm saying.

Except for Pakistan, I mean. That's a pretty easy one: they're bad.


goofytakemyhand said...

Offering up the Game Boy is out of the question?

Daisy said...

You could have offered up a free mix tape, or your mad DJ skills. I am curious about 2 things. Why were there no chicks at the mtg only dudes and how did you get invited in the first place?

Billy said...

@Goofy - I just found her. Let me have her for a little while before asking me to lose her again. You wouldn't ask Daniel Day Lewis to give up Madeline Stowe right after he rescued her from the Hurons, would you?

@Daisy - Dunno. Methinks it's easier to get generous donations when you divide and conquer the spouses separately, lest they sit together and talk one another out of their good ideas. But that's purely speculation.

troutking said...

I don't know this mythical 80's saying you twice speak of. Then again I never said grody to the max either.