Archive for September, 2004

I Haven’t Been Sleeping Very Well

Wednesday, September 29th, 2004

I have nightmares about car bombs and severed limbs. Wartime. I wonder what George W. Bush dreams about.

My dead grandma, the wife a man who made his millions in “defense,” used to wake up in the middle of the night complaining about images of napalm skin and sudden jungle ambushes.

My grandfather, for his part, dreamt of making a bomb that could harness all the power of the sun.

My living grandma called last night. “If the Democrats can’t win this,” she said. “They can’t win anything.”

She wants to vote for Ralph Nader, but she won’t. “He’s the only honest one,” she said. “But we have to vote for Kerry.”

My grandma is no tree-hugging hippie. She wears fur coats and lives in a gated community in a town where everything that isn’t named after John Wayne is named after Bob Hope.

“Now, I can understand why the people around here are voting Republican. They want to hang onto their money,” she explained. “But working people?!? I’ll never understand that.”

When I studied economics in college I was horrified to learn that America is one of the few countries in the world where poor and working people tend to be against taxing the rich.

Why?

It’s because of our belief in the old propaganda about America being a “classless” society. No matter where we come from or how far—economically–we can rationally hope to get, most of us still imagine that one day our ship will come in. We’ll strike oil. We’ll win the lottery. We’ll invent silent Vel-cro.

And so we’ll put up with being nickled and dimed all of our working lives, but damned if Uncle Sam is going to take some huge share when we finally join the top one percent.

The American economy, built on the backs of poor and working people, depends on our pipe dreams of making it big: We Beverly Hillbillies, we cowboys striking oil, we sudden business moguls, we lucky lottery winners, we newly-discovered American Idols. So we’ll be tough while the Republicans steal our resources and send our sons off to war. We’ll work hard and then we’ll work harder. We won’t be economic girlie-men!

That and the wacky theory that George W. is somehow chosen by God—how else to explain the fact that a complete moron who didn’t win the election is sitting in the White House? Right, then, he’s inspired by the love of Jesus. He’s going to take over the world and then rise into heaven while the rest of us go up in a blaze.

You’ve got to believe in something, I guess. American dream. Apocalypse wow. Trickle down. Shock and awe.

But I dream about bloodied babies and mothers crying–and when I finally wake up there’s all this hoopla on TV about the newest hit reality show: A staged debate where we can hear canned answers from white boy one and white boy two.

Who are these things for? Is there anyone out there who honestly still doesn’t know who she’s voting for? The fabled “undecided”? I’ve yet to meet one.

Even my grandma in her fur coat in her gated community just off Bob Hope Street knows.

And the questions I want to ask George W. will most certainly not be answered tomorrow night:

Are the thousands of innocent people you’ve killed in heaven now, George?

Have you ever actually read The Sermon on the Mount?

And What On Earth does a guy like you dream about?

Really. I want to know.

$577 a Month

Sunday, September 26th, 2004

The Social Security Administration recently informed me that I’ve earned enough “credits” for my child to receive $577 per month in benefits “if you die this year.”

Five hundred and seventy-seven dollars a month. It’s funny. I used to get exactly that on welfare: A young broke single mom with her sweet fat baby. Five hundred and seventy seven dollars. But that was a long time ago–before Newt explained to me about “personal responsibility;” before my 21-year-old-self was blamed for everything from economic decline to the moral decay of Western Civilization; before Clinton signed the welfare reform bill while getting a blowjob from an intern; before Bush Jr. ever stole the White House; before my sweet fat baby morphed into a teenager.

Five hundred and seventy-seven dollars a month. Was it enough? Of course not. But it was something—my safety-net, my meager entitlement—it was rent or utilities or food, take your pick. Five hundred and seventy-seven dollars a month: Now I’d have to die to get it.

When my middle class friends started receiving their $400 tax credits in the mail (supposed to make them turn a blind eye to the $350 billion tax giveaway Bush Jr. handed the wealthiest Americans), I waited by my mailbox.

Mine was a working family, was it not? Oh? But, no? It seems that although I’ve been working at least 40 hours a week and earning income ever since I got out of school and got off welfare, I, like hundreds of thousands of low-paid military personnel, didn’t earn quite enough income to qualify mine as a “working family.”

Why I ever entertained the fantasy that Bush would send me $400, I can’t really explain. Maybe it’s the same naivete that made me imagine I could treat my daughter to an American public school education and not expect military recruiters to meet her at the door when she entered middle school. Naivete because, alas, buried deep in the “No Child Left Behind Act”—W’s education law passed in 2001–is a provision requiring all public secondary schools to provide military recruiters not only with access to facilities, but with contact information for every student.

So at the tender age of eleven, and despite my specific protests, my girl-child came home from school with a “U.S. Navy” Frisbee and an attitude that said, “Mom, you just don’t understand what these nice people want to do for kids.”

These nice people and their five hundred and seventy seven dollars a month.

If I didn’t know better, I could listen to their rhetoric on TV and beyond, and imagine that the main transfer of resources in this country were from rich to poor rather than the other way around. We nanny their children. We pay their mortgages with our rent checks. We till their fields. And when they offer us $577 a month, they act as if they are giving us some grand gift. When we demand it, they say we are suffering from “a sense of entitlement.”

“You haven’t really worked,” they say.

So, if not working, what exactly have I been doing these past thirty-three years to earn these meager “credits” from Social Security?

Well, besides having a 14-year-old daughter who I have to protect from Uncle Sam and the United States Supreme Court on a daily basis–a girl-child who grew up on welfare and food stamps but who nonetheless is apparently healthy enough to fight for the government who never, ever took it upon themselves to fight for her–I teach high school. Yep. I work with the folks Education Secretary Rod Paige recently referred to as “a terrorist organization.” (And here you thought you’d have to do more than instruct kids on the art of metaphor to be labeled an enemy combatant).

Apparently, Rod was kidding.

Not kidding was the baby-faced student who walked into my senior creative writing workshop a day later and announced that he couldn’t wait to get home and tell his Mama that she wouldn’t have to pay his college tuition after all.

“How’s that?” I piped up, imagining for a moment that my gifted writer of a student had gotten a full scholarship from the Rotary Club or the United Negro College Fund.

“I’ve joined the Army!” he beamed. “My mom’s been working her butt off all her life for me, but now I’m taking responsibility for my own education!”

My baby-faced student–one of just a handful who I thought truly understood the concept of “metaphor.”

“Why you trippin’?” he stammered as he watched my face fall.

The following week, he showed up with a crew cut. And he never wrote me another metaphor.

It’s almost enough to make you start rooting for the draft. At least then the children of the corporate criminals who are profiting from this war without end might have to go, too.

But when I turn on my television who’s the corporate criminal going to prison? It’s the single mom and housewife extraordinaire—Martha Stewart—who will pay for a thousand illegal stock trades; for a thousand atrocious sweat shops. The mother. The housewife. The woman so uppity as to think she was entitled to more than $577 a month.