Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains:
Knatz.com / Teaching / Society / Social Epistemology /
Reason not the need.
Political processes “define” all sorts of things: and change the definition at the … next legislature, the first test case, the next test case …
Can humans though reasonably regulate things that strike me as being matters of private conscience, pity, compassion …? This morning an ironic thought or two visited me on the subject of deprivation: all the examples that came to me of people whining about what they wished they could afford were examples of rich people: very rich people.
The guy’s business flourishes. The guy moves to an upscale neighborhood. The guy buys himself a yacht. Brand new. Electronic this and that. 30′ of sleekness. Even a flying bridge. Guy stands on his brand new flying bridge wearing a brand new silly captains hat with scrambled egg on the visor, maybe brass buttons on his suit with anchors in relief. First thing: some other guy goes by with all the same shit, only his boat is 40′. Instant misery.
Howard Hughs was famous for a number of things: airplanes, inheritance, Jane Russell’s tits … but he was most famous for being rich, right? Filthy rich? Did you realize that when he died he was in the midst of failing to borrow five hundred million dollars so he could buy more of his precious TWA? Misery. A pauper: couldn’t have his whole toy.
But surely you can add your own examples.
Having scratched out only a couple such of my own, I think of counter examples: like wanting a pretzel with the beer: or a cigarette with the martini. People can be ludicrous, but we’re not completely, or merely crazy. I knew a guy who avoided invidious inferiority by always planning afresh. Every year or so he build himself a custom 30′ ocean racing yawl. The one I was a guest on in 1959 or so was state of the art for the Bermuda races: everything on gimbals, sonar, radar, all the electronics … even a shower in the head! He gave me the helm while he put the jib up. The craft was still being detailed. Out trip across the Long Island Sound may not even have counted as the maiden voyage. BUT: already the guy was designing next year’s boat! He wasn’t dissatisfied: he was completely satisfied: and hadn’t stopped moving.
(That guy also had the sane habit of having built himself (he and his brother, both) a new sailboat every “year” since he was twelve! in Cony Island!) (A guy cruising by in a schooner couldn’t have distracted him from his own marvel.)
Imagine the hangover a Shakespeare would have if he finished Hamlet and then contemplated his greatness: instead of stirring an already stewing Macbeth.
As poor as my family was — my mother evicted my drunken father, but even had he supported us my dad made as little as he could get by on — we sure had exposure to a lot of rich people. My father’s best friend was very very rich: only millionaire on Long Island with both a fresh water and a salt water pool: in the 1940s! And I’ve got to say: the polo millionaires I saw looked pretty cool to me: sane, down to earth, unaffected. But then my mother worked in marine insurance. The yacht buyers were another matter: hence the above illustration. I’ll also admit though that I met a lot of boat guys on the other side of the business: builders, engineers, hardware manufacturers … and some of them were almost as cool as the polo millionaires. [note]
Who should we trust to determine who is “deprived”? Experts? The candidates for the category themselves? I’ll tell a story to discredit the second possibility first:
Once upon a time, not long after college and palling with my old refreshment agency partner who was raised in the very Freeport my mother had just moved to, we were back in the ‘Apple and David wanted to visit his uncle: a famous war correspondent.
In college I’d lived in an apartment where several neighboring apartments were occupied by friends old and new. I called it my “duplex with outside connecting stairway”: friends — Columbia, Julliard, Manhattan Music, Barnard … coming and going among mostly unlocked doors: like a dorm: but with no external administration. Well Uncle had long lived the same way: except he was on the posh east side — some contrast to Morningside Heights. Dorothy Parker was there: as she always was. (Dorothy Parker made me laugh on that occasion in person as she had in some of her famous writing (and improvisations: “If all the Vassar girls were laid end to end … I wouldn’t be a bit surprised”). This time the gag was her friend who always bought two tickets to the Met operas: one for herself and one for her poodle. ‘Doesn’t the dog bark?’ ‘Oh, no. He’s too bored.”) But my favorite Dorothy Parker gag on that occasion was her remarks that their east side commune / kibbutz now extended across Lexington Avenue to the funeral home. Dorothy suggested that it would be efficient if they just installed a chute like a coal chute across the Avenue: just slide the bodies over the traffic. The Algonquin crowd was experiencing rapid mortality by 1961.)
Uncle’s “secretary” was also there: fetching his drinks, his papers, his robe … It was early winter: post-Thanksgiving, Christmas coming.
Uncle announced for all to hear that David’s Mom was in for a poor Christmas this year, at least with regards to Uncle. Uncle was broke: nothing but “a few hundred dollars to spare.”
I didn’t time the silence. The look on David’s face showed me that he didn’t get it any faster than I did. Here’s what I finally “got”: Uncle of course meant that he only had a few hundred bucks to spend that Christmas on that particular sister! That was not his total Christmas budget; that was his budget for poor sister in Freeport.
Rich Uncle was playing poor before the poor folk to show off.
Rich Uncle’s Christmas budget for one present exceeded pk’s Christmas budget for all presents in any decade let alone year. And of course the pretense was phony: I could see from David’s reaction that there was no David-family tradition of Mom received annual Mercedes from Uncle: this year’s “poor” present was likely to be the poshest she’d ever received.
If what’s wrong with experts deciding who’s deprived isn’t obvious to you, you’ll have to wait till I return to address it. I’ll just hint in the meantime that kleptocrats are not famous for finding themselves liable for their kleptocracy: only victims of the kleptocracy’s enemies will ever receive aid or sympathy. Nothing is more preposterous than the glib assurance of civilized men that they are competent to establish facts.
In fact I’ll slip in a favorite memory here. No money for a baby sitter, my mother would haul me with her to the Motor Boat Shows in the old armory on Lexington, 1950 or so, where she had to man her boss’s booth while he poured daquaries down the throats of new yacht buyers. The show covered several floors. The big displays were on the main floor: Chris Craft was brand new, and they had a few units of display space. Jillions of little companies had one or two space-booths: hawking ropes, lines, props … engines, anchors, fire extinguishers … Wheeler luxury yachts had by far the biggest space: and the biggest yachts on display. I’d wander around and shovel four-color brochures into a shopping bag. When the bag got too heavy for me, I’d get a second, and fill that. Then, likely as not, I’d dump them somewhere and start over.
My adventures one day took me past the several-space long Danish modern counter of Yachting Magazine. That display looked super duper to this modern-besotted fool. Network news casts would come to resemble puny versions of Yachting Magazine in just another decade or so. But it wasn’t just the blond wood, polished to a gleam, and composed with the slick, glossy, almost hard-cover, magazines: $2 a pop back then! when other magazines were a dime, a quarter at the most audacious … Also Scandinavian-looking was the blond who reordered the magazines anytime anyone touched one. Can I have been in puberty yet? Maybe, almost, just coming closer. I was riveted. Wow. The blond wood with its curves horizontal and this other blond: all vertical: long-lined curves: a tall one (at least by mid-century standards).
My moon-struck view of her is blocked by greased denim grubbiness. Some big old guy has ambled up to the counter and starts pawing the magazines. I can see the frissons of disapproval, of revulsion, spark all over her like heat lightning. The guy’s is unshaven. The guy’s gray hair is uncombed, matted with gorp. The filth under his nails goes back to the quick. His muddy boots make him look like he’s just climbed out of the bay. The guy paws a slick magazine toward him. $2. This guy doesn’t look like he could sell all his blood for $2, let alone buy a magazine.
Some time around then my mother took me to a theater where a Jimmy Durante special was being broadcast live. Fred Allen was featured and some other great vaudevillian. There was a routine where Fred is packing to leave and Jimmy is unpacking him. The same three shirts go from drawer to suitcase and back to drawer again like clowns erupting from the little car in the circus. The second my grubby guy pawed a new magazine under his gaze, the blond snatched away its predecessor and began wiping it with a rag. There, all nice and neatly stacked again. Fred Allen never noticed Jimmy Durante filch his shirts from the suitcase and return them to the bureau drawer: he was occupied with packing: always turned the wrong way. Our hero’s attention was on the magazine articles: our heroine, the only thing I’d been able to see at all a moment ago, was invisible to him.
The comedy climaxes. He catches her mid-filch. Now it’s an outright tug or war: which of course he wins. A moment ago she’d seemed so tall: maybe 5′ 7″. He’s 6′ 1″ or 2″: 190, 200 … Her golden blue eyes fix him: imperious, a Viking basilisk. “Those magazine are $2,” she pipes into his ear, the overcast screeching at all of us. “Each!
He nods without looking at her and pulls the magazine back onto what had been his pile. One could easily believe that, like me, he’d come up to look at the blond. But more and more it seemed that he wasn’t fooling: ice maiden wasn’t his dish: what he loved was boat engines. “If you spoil the magazine, you’ll have to buy it!” she shrilled at him: and again raided his again growing pile. This time the cover tore in their rekindled tug.
If I’d thought she’d had a halo of summer lightning before, it was now an arctic aurora that sparked and crackled around her eyes. “There! That’s at least $2 that you owe.”
She finally gets a flicker of a gaze from the guy. He releases his left hand from the magazine and begins rummaging with it in his front left overalls pocket. Out comes a greasy handkerchief, a crinkle of cellophane … The polished wood counter fogs and clears, fogs and clears from the impatience jetting from her nostrils. He tries his right hand. Finally pulls his pockets inside out.
A proper mate for the ice maiden emerged from the crowd. Perfectly groomed, shoes gleaming. All shoulders. Within an inch the height of the old man. A cow-cud of crisp greenbacks was already proffered from his hand. “Yes, Mr. Wheeler.”
Any kid’s dream, reality before my eyes. The salesman is rude, you buy the company and fire him. (Related: Oprah Gull Wing)
Why should the owner of the fanciest custom luxury yacht company in America carry cash when he has a chauffeur, a secretary, a bodyguard … to do that for him? What: do you think he puts on a suit and tie to shill for himself as a salesman? No, he’d been out in Bayshore for the long weekend — it was later explained to me — to work on his engine: down in the mucky bilge.
Heaven, for a man like that.