Are Poor Laws in our Future? I think so.

There are two types of poor people,
those who are poor together
and those who are poor alone.
The first are the true poor,
the others are rich people out of luck.
Jean-Paul Sartre

My grandparents lived their entire lives in something I like to call genteel poverty. They worked steadily until they retired owing no one but only able to afford modest cruises and a few months during the coldest months at a trailer park in Florida. They lived in a town where the majority of the folks survived just above the poverty line but no one seemed to envy those who had more or mock those who had less. 

They lived through times of fear that the little they’d saved through thrift unimaginable would not nearly be enough to keep debtors from their door and I’m sure at those times family members sacrificed what little they could to help out. But I’m also sure that if they’d had calamitous misfortune – such as a work-related injury for which there was no insurance at that time or a child crippled by birth defect or accident, they could have easily been pulled under. 

According to Wikipedia, genteel poverty refers to people once a part of America’s royalty who are now living in squalor with their gems and furs and “dignity.”  Most emigrants came to country trying to get away from shit like royalty but apparently after some of them became bloated like ticks with money and power, they decided being a king was a pretty cool thing. And besides, they deserved it. They knew how to bugger the other guy and weren’t too chicken shit to do it.  

 Picture this scene from Gray Gardens: a middle aged woman and her elderly mother (aunt of Queen Jackie of Camelot) living in a decaying mansion where they eat cat food on china from the Ming Dynasty.

Do you notice the difference between the two houses? One is modest but well kept and the other looks like a scene from a Hitchcock movie. I don’t agree with Wikipedia. What does eating cat food from Ming era china have to do with refinement? 

    This a photo of my grandfather before he shipped out to the Great War.  It’s in a cheap plastic frame with a yarn cord for hanging because he was the son of a preacher with five other siblings.  Indeed, his name is handwritten on the back so he would not be forgotten in case he did not return.  He did; but gaunt and hollow-eyed. 

From American Heritage Dictionary:  gen-teel: 1. Refined in manner.  2. Free from vulgarity or rudeness.  If taken too far: 3. Marked by affected and somewhat prudish refinement.

I think his picture speaks of gentility. It is refined. It is free from vulgarity or rudeness as was the grandfather I remember, sitting quietly on the screened patio as crickets chirped wildly after an evening thunderstorm, knowing he’d never cheated anyone to get ahead or made an excuse for an unpaid debt.   

This is a photo of my grandmother upon her graduation from nursing school.

She was not as refined as her husband.  Containing her opinions on any subject involving a hint of impropriety made her face twitch and her eyes flutter like a trapped butterfly. And, if you didn’t really want an honest answer you didn’t ask her. 

I know wealthy people who consider themselves genteel and practice noblesse oblige towards those not as fortunate as they are. But they cheat on their taxes and and brag when they’ve managed to game the system. Their children and grandchildren will never go to war or change bedpans of that I’m sure. If I asked them what would happen if they lost everything tomorrow, they would insist that they would still hold onto their dignity and gladly eat cat food off a Ming plate rather than take public assistance of any sort. And I believe them. I just don’t think that qualifies as gentility. How about you? 

Of course they honestly believe it could never happen to them because, like many wealthy people, they believe in one or all of the following:

  • Life really isn’t so bad for the working poor. People who espouse this opinion generally follow it up with “They could be living back in Dickensian London where debtors were thrown into prison and their children sent to work houses. (This argument is almost as stupid as being told if you don’t eat all your food, people in China will starve.)
  • Or they believe the poor are poor because they don’t work hard enough. Gina Rinehart, an Australian mining tycoon and the world’s wealthiest woman: “If you’re jealous of those with more money, don’t just sit there and complain,” she wrote in Australian Resources and Investment magazine.  “Spend less time drinking or smoking and socializing, and more time working.”
  • Or, that the children of the poor should be put in workhouses as young as possible to contain the virus that causes poverty: “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal.”– Newt Gingrich, Former House Speaker who said that laws preventing child labor in America were “truly stupid” and that schools should hire working class students to be janitors.

With so many right wing millionaires now in positions of power, I wonder how long it will take them to take a page from the Victorians and pass Poor Laws which force people needing help into prisons called “workhouses.”  Of course they could use the same rationalization as the Victorians did:  workhouses will act as a deterrent and fewer people will claim welfare, bringing the poverty rate down to its “correct” level. The Poor Laws  were eventually struck down, in a large because authors like Charles Dickens railed against them.  However our leaders have already proven they don’t study history.

 So how long do you think it will be until the current head of HUD, Ben Carson, comes up with the bright idea to suggest a Poor Law Amendment to the Constitution? Just wondering.

#ThursdayDoors: Cooler by the Coast

Rockaway Beach, Pacifica California, 61 degrees

I’ve been trying to get back into writing after quite a stint away thus my blogging pace has slowed. However, every now and then I have to get out of the house and when I do I try to snap a picture or two for Norm Frampton’s always entertaining weekly doors party.  

My “doors” – a fun cafe in Half Moon Bay

Mural in the cafe. Another flying fish: the Honolulu clipper.

Even when the weather is unbearably hot here in California, the Pacific coast is always at least 15 degrees cooler and so that’s where we headed last Thursday when we needed to put miles on our car so it would pass the smog test.  You probably wonder why we hold onto a car which we drive so rarely that it doesn’t pass the smog test.  Well, it’s not just any car.  It’s a 2001 Lexus IS. Damned addictive to drive and cute as hell.  We bought it when we both worked for dot.coms which were supposed to make us millionaires.  Ha!

Because we live due east of downtown San Francisco, the most direct route to the coast is through the City.  However traffic is insane and then there are all those hills “climbing half way to the stars” with cable cars and buses and Ubers and taxis and trolleys all fighting for a lane. Lest I forget the bicyclists who think they own the whole damn street. So we generally go either north or south and then cut over to the coast via roads less traveled.  Last Thursday we drove south then west to the beaches, Pacifica to be exact. The reason, we wanted to see the Tom Lantos Tunnels which were completed in 2013 after many years of struggle and debate, both ecological and financial.

These tunnels go directly through Devil’s Slide, a massive landslide covering the stretch of Highway 1 between Pacifica and Montara. The mountain literally decided to join the sea taking the road with it. For years they kept fixing the road and for years the mountain kept moving. Finally they gave into nature and built the tunnels.

Exiting the tunnel when fog hugs the coast is a bit like seeing that light at the end of the tunnel as you lay dying.  On that cheerful note, I’d best be getting back to work!

Martyr’s Song

Loved this poem by a young poetess named Bijou

tin hats

Did a tongue run over lips eclipse
the bank of a dry stream like a fish on flips
and flopping like dinner, lunch.
You found my center and sunk your teeth in, crunch.

So my bones gave up the ghost to your lips, a gift.
A rift in time, so juicy like limes,
belly like a petal wilting, ticking like time.

Your voice like a gong, taste the sound of divine –
O lover where are we and must we still climb?

Will I rest, hashtag #blessed? I’ll eat your stress until I’m choking,
Til tears flood my eyes and it’s your body I am smoking,
Takes me high like a kind bud, like a junkie with open hands,
needing love but taking money, you supply and I demand.

In a chemical haze I do dream of the bees sipping clover,
Do they tremble and buzz with bliss when it’s…

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