Friday, October 17, 2008

After my doctor’s appointment, I got on the train. (I had a biopsy done on my neck and now I must wait three days for the results.) I don’t want to get the call…find out I’ll have to get cut open.

Being open and exposed is a very difficult thing to handle.

“I can’t understand people who don’t help people. There is a moment when indifference turns into sheer psychosis,” says the woman, begging for change on the 6 train.

No one gave her anything.
I didn’t give her anything?
What did I not want to see?

I get off in Union Square.
The open market.
Bright sunflowers. Salvia in deep shades of velvet purple.
Organic tomatoes. Pumpkins and spotted gourds, like mini Pollock paintings.
The sun is soft, but still it’s a little cold. The weather is changing.

I think of my Brooklyn apartment. The Super has to control the monstrous heater in the basement. The heater that pumps out the heat, equally to all of us.

In Los Angeles I didn’t have to depend on someone else to turn on the heat.

No one wants to feel vulnerable.

I stop at a cider stand.
I wait. The line is long. Everyone wants a swallow of Fall.
A feeling of gold and red leaves. Apples and pumpkins in their bellies.
Do I want apple or pear?
I decide on apple.

Why didn’t I give the woman some money?
I don’t have a lot of money.
But I had something to give. Something to show I wasn’t sleeping.
A granola bar in my purse, at least.

A lady in a black lace dress plays the harp. Her arms are bare, exposed to the fragments of sunlight. The music is yellow and round. It captures and demands our attention.

People sip their cider while listening to the harp. I fish for a dollar in my purse, drop it in her velvet box. “Thank you,” she says.

I put my fingers on my neck,
feel the place where the needle went in.

No one wants to feel vulnerable.

The woman spit out her list:
Husband lost his job three months ago.
A horrible death in the family.
Dangerous nights in a shelter.

When was the last time she had cider?

What is reality?
What is Psychosis?

Obama and McCain debate macro issues,
while mothers with strollers lull their children, with the music of the harp.

No one wants to feel vulnerable.
Indifference leads to the denial of one’s own vulnerability.

I keep walking.
I see a Chasidic Jew with the lulav and etrog.
Four plant species you bundle together and shake in five directions for the holiday, Sukkot. A piece of palm. A piece of willow. A piece of myrtle. The etrog like an oblong lemon. They shake it to remind themselves that God is everywhere.

I walk up to the man.
I need to remember that life is everywhere.
I repeat the prayers. Hold the lulav and etrog.

Shake, shake, shake, shake, shake.

I like that I’m not afraid of doing this.
That I am not embarrassed in a crowd of difference.

As I continue walking, a man dressed in white hands me a Bhagavad-Gita. I smile and say, “Thank you.”

Back on the Subway, I let the orange seats fly by, close my eyes and breathe.

What If I had needed the biopsy when I first moved to New York?
When I had no health insurance.
What if the woman on the 6 train needs a biopsy?
Was the deceased family member that she spoke of insured?

Neglect increases vulnerability.
Indifference is the denial of one’s own vulnerability.

“The number of uninsured Americans reached 47 million in 2006, and it continues to rise. For many of the uninsured, the lack of health insurance has dire consequences. The uninsured face medical debt, often go without necessary care, and even die prematurely.” (Reports from Families USA, March – April 2008)

When people are absent they are not there.
When people are absent they are not there.
When people are absent they are not there.
When people are absent they are not there.
When people are absent they are not there.

Being open and exposed is a very difficult thing to handle.


My interview for this week fell through so I thought I would just touch on a few issues that have recently been making my hairline recede even more than it already had before this election process started.

Joe vs. His Own Ambition

On the final presidential debate on Wednesday, “Joe the Plumber” (Joe Wurzelbacher) dominated a lot of the conversation, and he unwittingly became the new symbol for the working-class American. Joe is getting ready to buy a business that could make him $250,000 to $280,000 a year. He straddles the fence that divides Obama’s economic plan and McCain’s, and depending on how he does in the future Joe could end up being taxed more under an Obama administration. But the same can also be said for McCain’s tax plan, too.

So I figured it out, Joe. If you plan on doing insanely well, and I mean becoming the next Roto-Rooter, then go ahead and vote for McCain, because you’ll get a sweet tax cut, and there’s nothing wrong with shooting for the stars. I believe you can plumb the hell out of America. But keep in mind that your hometown of Holland, Ohio, has a population of 1,306 and a median household income of $45,000, so when and if you do make over $250,000 this next coming fiscal year, remember that your neighbors might not be as fortunate and that “spreading the wealth” helps more than it hurts. Not spreading the wealth is what’s currently killing our economic livelihood. You’re actually fortunate if you stand to make that much money in the coming year. I’ve never even heard of a plumber making that much, so good for you, pal. And let’s say Barack Obama becomes president and Wurzelbacher Plumbing, or whatever you might call it, does well. Paying higher taxes isn’t going to put you in the poorhouse, buddy.

The Uninformed

The last two presidential elections have given rise to a new type of American voter. The Uninformed: People who vote against their economic self-interest and vote for moral and religious reasons rather than political issues. It’s been going on for years, but in this election a major issue with The Uninformed is, of course, race. In a recent article in The New Yorker, a retired state employee from eastern Kentucky was quoted as saying, “I really don’t want an African-American as president. I think he would put too many minorities in positions over the white race. That’s my opinion.” And you are entitled to it, but disregarding your economic status and voting for someone who doesn’t have your best interest in mind is just plain ignorant. It seems people in low-income, white, working-class sections of the rust belt would rather vote for Republicans, who according to the Tax Policy Center will make favorable tax cuts for people who make $112,000 and up. With how things stand currently, it doesn’t matter if they vote for John McCain because Barack Obama has a solid lead in the national polls, and hopefully they will see that his tax plan will actually help them. So to The Uninformed I say shake out a newspaper, crack a book, get on the damn Internet for Christ’s sake and inform yourselves. Consider it your MORAL obligation to SERVE YOUR COUNTRY by finding out whose ideas will benefit you and your family.

Intellectuals and The Elite

It seems in the last year or so, a term used to describe the kind of people who write for 12thstreetonline (and for the print version of 12th Street) has been turned into a bad word. Being an intellectual in today’s world has become somewhat of an epidemic that apparently is hurting America. It’s as if people who denounce intellectualism want to live a life of destitution in which they wander around stupid and drooling all day long. I think people would want someone running the country that is smarter then they are. Intellectualism is part of the American tradition. That’s why we have the best higher education institutions in the world. And the same could be said about elitism. The presidency is an elite office that used to take an elite person to hold it. John McCain graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy—an extremely elite and highly competitive institution. According to U.S. News and World Report‘s America’s Best Liberal Arts Colleges list, it currently ranks 22nd in the nation out of four tiers consisting of 100 schools in each tier. John McCain is elite. Barack Obama went to Columbia and Harvard, ranked #9 and #1, respectively. He, too, is elite. Hell, even Sarah Palin is elitist: She’s a governor, a very elite position. People who are running for the highest offices in the land are elite. They’re not always intellectuals, but they are elite.

“I’m not a Washington insider.” —Every Politician Who Ran for President in the Last 20 Years

Both candidates claim they are Washington outsiders who will reform the corruption inside the Beltway. Both are also United States senators who, in order to do their jobs, have to be Washington insiders. So in this instance they are both wrong. The only person in this whole political rigamarole who isn’t a Washington insider is Sarah Palin, and she is considered an extreme outsider, having no experience in Washington—or really anywhere else, for that matter.

I’m not an expert by any means, so please feel free to disregard everything I have said. It’s your right as an American to tell me shove it, but I feel its our duty within the democratic process to inform ourselves on the issues. Be smart on November 4.

Perhaps you saw the clip of the angry old man addressing John McCain at a Republican rally in Wisconsin this week. ( “I’m mad!” he growled into the microphone, posturing with one hand firmly on his hip. “I’m really mad! And…it’s not about the economy—it’s the socialists taking over our country!” The crowd stood up and roared, but he said, “Sit down, I’m not done.” McCain started to answer him, but the old man continued, “Let me finish, please.” He was not going to stop until he made his point: “When you have an Obama, Pelosi and the rest of the hooligans up there, gonna run this country, we gotta have our heads examined!”

It wasn’t exactly a warm invitation to political dialogue.

The old man’s grandstanding reminded me of a woman I met at a cocktail party shortly after the vice-presidential debate. No more than 10 seconds after I sat next to her on a couch, she threw up her hands and howled: “I can’t believe McCain picked that idiot as a running mate! It’s just so damn scary. If the Republicans win, it’s over. Ov—er.” Then she glared at me. “You’re not a Republican are you?” I shook my head. “Good,” she said. I didn’t take the time to explain that while I’m currently registered Republican, I change my party affiliation each primary season to give myself the widest possible choice of candidates. But I don’t think she would have listened.

In fact, these days I find most of us don’t want to listen when it comes to politics—or much else. The idea of having a healthy discussion in which we weigh different points of view seems as idealistic as a politician telling the unvarnished truth. Instead, we come to the table with predetermined opinions or shadowy motives. We load our speech with subtle barbs, irony, or faux cynicism to pre-empt the adversary. It’s as if entertaining an opposing viewpoint is to give away what little power we have, so we spout off to show our strength and chutzpah. And, of course, the other person doesn’t give a damn; she’s either doing the same thing or has shut down completely, thinking about the tennis match or what she has to buy at the supermarket later that day.

Yet in spite of our posturing, most of us want to be heard. We’re aching for acknowledgment, for acceptance. And the fear that we’re not going to get it drives us to act out at political rallies, shouting, “I’m mad!” But until we can let down our defenses and unstop our ears, we’ll never work out our problems. This isn’t a philosophical issue; it’s why families are broken—and Washington, too. Eight years of “you’re either with us or against us” has polarized the nation. We seem to be on the precipice of…who knows what? There’s a shrillness to this election cycle not heard since the late ’60s; everyone’s shouting and no one’s listening, which is one of the hardest things to do because it means we have to get over ourselves. Of course we’re going to disagree, but it’s one thing to do it with respect and another to strong-arm our way toward victory, which is often no victory at all.

James Madison recognized the danger of not listening in times of crisis back in 1788, when the original 13 states were debating whether to ratify the Constitution. In Federalist No. 37, he wrote:

“It is a misfortune, inseparable from human affairs, that public measures are rarely investigated with that spirit of moderation which is essential to a just estimate of their real tendency to advance or obstruct the public good; and that this spirit is more apt to be diminished than promoted, by those occasions which require an unusual exercise of it.…The truth is, that these papers…solicit the attention of those only, who add to a sincere zeal for the happiness of their country, a temper favorable to a just estimate of the means of promoting it. Persons of this character will proceed to an examination of the plan submitted by the convention, not only without a disposition to find or to magnify faults; but will see the propriety of reflecting, that a faultless plan was not to be expected. Nor will they barely make allowances for the errors which may be chargeable on the fallibility to which the convention, as a body of men, were liable; but will keep in mind, that they themselves also are but men, and ought not to assume an infallibility in rejudging the fallible opinions of others.”

The legacy of these people who had “a sincere zeal for the happiness of their country” is our Constitution—imperfect, amended, often vague, but the foundation of our freedoms. What will our legacy be? Self righteousness, bickering, and finger-pointing, or cooperation in fixing the mess in which we now find ourselves? We have critical issues to solve: health care, the war in Iraq, our response to terrorism, the credit crisis, global warming. Surely one party doesn’t hold all the answers to these issues. Whether McCain or Obama wins in November—or, dare I say, Ralph Nader or Ron Paul?—we’re still all in it together. Shouldn’t we stop yelling and start listening to each other? Maybe, just maybe, the person who we never thought we’d agree with has an insight or two.