Response to Chapter 5, Writing Without Teachers
Walking 4.2 miles with my girlfriend in Westgate Shopping Center one night last week was exercise with the benefit of air conditioning and fun talk. She’s one of those friends Elbow refers to — “that’s why it’s so magical when you have a friend who actually understands much of what you are trying to say. It makes you want to say things you never thought you had in you.” [pg 122] We really do get each other. And we were laughing and talking up a storm, in our typical style with five or six open incomplete threads, sentences that would be picked up after other anecdotes or comments.
For me, this was an art tour of the high-end handbags in various name brand stores, partly because my friend had just attended a graduation where her ex was invited. For some reason, her way of making him “eat his heart out” was for her to be dressed super fashionably with all the right labels. I surmised he’d always required that kind of class of her. Now she was my docent.
My theme was trying to articulate why one purse got my attention or some repelled me. We were in yet another a store, both having agreed that the best handbag was an unusually textured Ives St. Laurent. My friend K. wanted to know the price, so an obliging saleswoman opened it and found a card.
My friend realized that, in my inattentiveness, I hadn’t gotten it. To help it register, she said “nine grand” in an aside with teeth in her words. Just to let me know. Which was maybe information for her, but I went on mute. Underwater, into the fog. Something I couldn’t articulate, and wouldn’t expect K. to understand. I could do some math: ten times less expensive would still be $900. Who would spend that on a purse? And ten times less again would put it down to $90, a lot for one at Marshalls.
Recent national events have been roiling pictures in my mind I cannot reconcile, on the one hand seeing extreme luxury — the local reality of people living in dream homes, driving super cars and buying small islands for get-away — people from banking and investing who are so ultra wealthy that I don’t get it. Someone has to lean in and put teeth into the nine figure sums like I don’t speak English.
And on the other hand, seeing deprivation and poverty — the pictures I’d seen all day of poor people downtown, and people online who had been shot or man-handled, and I read things that made me envision so many more in small towns scraping out a living. I couldn’t stop feeling the weariness of people ground down with overwork and fines, and betrayals from landlords and layoffs for downsizing that upsized somebody’s pocket.
After that Ives St. Laurent registered with me, I couldn’t shake a dull feeling. Over the next few days, I’d remember the moment, looking up at the carefully lit plate glass the handbag sat upon. Glittering light around a very sleek finish. It was no longer just a handbag. This underwater mute feeling.
I tried to put those divergent people in the same room in my mind. I wanted them to have a look at each other and maybe talk. One criminalized for his skin color and hustling CD’s. Another selling cigarettes because a prison record handicapped an able body from work. And another, a corporate CEO whose pay increased 148% over the past three years, standing with an elegantly dressed lobbyist who knows the ways of Washington. Paid per hour what would sustain a poor household for a week.
Some may have honestly and accidentally risen to this luxury, as happens in history. As happens to some who fall on hard times. Yet, lately I apprehend some of these men and women as the profiteers who have done covert, criminal things for their wealth. I don’t mean the Mafia. I mean out in the open, on Wall Street, in committee hearings, in corporate deals unhampered by the laws that apply to me. They don’t get shot. Never have a hand slapped. This court fines you three Ives St. Laurent handbags for raping our economy and compromising the federal legislature with bribes.