Communique 11-5-2020 "Sympathy For The Bedeviled"
By Philip Drucker
Sympathy for the Bedeviled
When I was born, my father was a habitually unemployed college dropout with a part-time job as a late-night taxi cab driver. He did not have what you would call a passenger friendly attitude so living off his tips was not a real option. I know what it means to live in poverty. I remember going to the Woolworth’s in Santa Monica with my mother to buy shoes. We ended up with my mom buying herself a new pair of “Zorros” (Flip-Flops) to replace the jerry-rigged duct-taped pair that were at that very moment were literally falling off her feet.
Unfortunately, when everything was said and done, there was only enough money left to buy me a new pair of shoes to replace the ones that were tight, but still wearable or a vanilla malted milk shake at the counter. But not both. If the Drucker lore is correct, we opted for the milkshake and as soon as I grew out of my shoes, I went without another new pair for nearly two years.
I remember my parents fighting that night. My father insisting it was a waste of money to purchase any footwear for me as I would in a relatively short amount of time grow out of those as well. My mother was livid but my father was a mountain and as we all know a mountain does not move.
Until I stepped on a nail and had to go to the doctor and get a tetanus shot that in the long run was a lot more expensive than a new pair of tennis shoes (sneakers). I do not know how we paid for the doctor’s visit. I do remember my father asking if the bottle of antibiotic pills the doctor wanted me to take were, after the vaccine, necessary. I recall the doctor saying no, but…and then I remember my dad saying then let’s go and we left. Without the pills. As the legend goes, I lived.
We went to Sears and I got a new pair of the most inexpensive high tops of all time. They were called “Jeepers”. They were a cheap knock-off of Converse All Stars. You know, the ones with the stars? If memory serves correct, where the star should have been, the word “Jeepers” was spelled out. Problem was, even if you replaced the pre-packaged white laces they came with for red ones, very chic at the time, your sneakers were still the equivalent of a big neon sign signifying “bottom of the hill”. Yep, that was me. King of the bottom of the hill. But my sneakers had red laces and I liked them.
At the time, I was in nursery school. I liked the sandbox. Everything and everyone else could go to hell. I hated the teachers, I hated the other children. I even hated the jungle gym. Not quite sure why, but I was convinced there was something “evil” or “unnatural” about it. Of course, the minute a girl would head toward the bars all of us boys gathered around to see if she would while upside down let go of her dress (girls were not allowed to wear pants) and we could all catch a glimpse of her panties.
You are probably thinking what a bunch of young and promising future perverts we were, but I tell you truly and without judgment, there were some girls who we all knew were going to go the full hog freely and of their own volition. All we knew was that these were “bad girls” and we didn’t know any other words for them. Funny how in so many ways nothing has changed, has it? Or, do you prefer to live in a fantasy world pretending they have? Either way, here I was the kid with the overtly bad attitude and the black and red poor boy’s shoes who still hadn’t even entered the public-school system. Oh joy.
Later, after my sister came along, things got a bit better, but to be honest, not much. Eventually Dad got a full-time job with benefits and I remember he bought a new car. That’s about it. By the time my brother came along we had moved to a new neighborhood in a better school district. I must admit I didn’t miss the gunshots at night. I used to tell myself it was only a car backfiring and not what was almost assuredly apart of a drug deal gone bad. That was what I would tell myself, anyway.
My point? I know poverty. I’ve seen and experienced the mental, physical, and importantly, emotional effects and they are devastating. There would be several times over the years where I didn’t have any money but let me assure you, that is not the same as living in poverty. Poverty is a mindset and it is a very powerful and convenient excuse for failure.
Among the many negative consequences, I would associate with indigence, it is where the fertile ground for seeds of hatred are planted and then fueled by desperation resulting in the inevitable “blame game”. First, it’s the economy. Then it’s taxes, big government and the politicians. Then the scapegoating begins, usually with the wealthiest family, in my days the one with the color TV, then anyone successful enough to pay their mortgage on time.
Followed closely by anyone who has a job, then anyone who keeps their front lawn neat and trimmed. Then to anyone who is not “like us” and eventually to anyone who is not the same color, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and religion. Don’t bother arguing with me. I’ve seen it. Problem is, it’s completely wrong.
Let me make the general statement that blaming anyone or anything for your own lack of happiness, a successful marriage, a successful career, is nothing more than a massive failure to take responsibility for the results of your own actions. This reality cannot be avoided without consequences a good and plenty (it that still around?).
But there is a middle ground I’d like to explore that I think is relevant to our situation today. If you are the type of person who has lived a life “by the rules” have been a good citizen, raised your family and is an active part of your community only to see, through no fault of your own, your world, your life and your security pulled out from under you while, yes, other persons in similar straights “cut in line” to get what they can, before you, I’m talking to you. You have my sympathy, for you are indeed the bedeviled.
Alice in Wonderland living the American dream only to find yourself Alice in Chains not of your own making. The plant is gone, the jobs shipped overseas, and your beloved town, the unemployment and crime rate rising hand in hand, can no longer support itself. In the sentiments of James McMurtry (yes, I like him), you just can’t make it here anymore.
This Communique is for you. My extended hand and my heart reaches out to you as do so many of my friends and colleagues who only want to help. That’s all we want, is to help. If you’ll let us. Can we forget about words like socialism? Can we leave aside who is a true patriot and who is not? Forget who is red and who is blue? Can we work together to create good, new jobs? With benefits, daycare, healthcare, reviving the Unions and a return to the promise of a pension leading to a dignified retirement in return for a lifespan of good, honest labor and work.
You don’t want your children to grow up like I did. You don’t. And if you do, you are an asshole and you need to get over yourself and whatever misguided and possibly insane sense of righteousness, entitlement, or new found ability to interpret the scriptures anyway that suits your most recent fever dreams of superiority, not based on your good works mind you, or even who you are, but rather on who you are not. This is not God’s way.
In closing, let me ask. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, can you do it for your children? Possibly even your children’s children? For I repeat, you do not want your sons and daughters to grow up like me. I was fortunate enough through the grace of God and circumstance to have been given a way out. I shudder to think of the alternative, being stuck so far down in the rabbit hole where there is no longer any need for kindness, love, joy or caring. Only a sickly, slow-burning desire for a false sense of deliverance that can only be satisfied by the infliction of pain and suffering upon another who was never the problem to begin with.
With that said, tell me, what can we do together to make all our lives, if not perfect, at least a little better? Who wants to go buy some shoes? Milkshakes included, stars optional.
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