I lived in Seattle for a couple of years, across the street from where 3-million dollar condos hovered over the water.
Because I have never felt myself to be a part of any specific group of people, cultures have always fascinated me. All strike me as foreign.
I wondered: What is normal in this upper-class Northwest American culture? Are my neighbors happy?
To a middle-class way of thinking, the assumption is “yes, of course THEY must be happy.” Just look at those tennis shoes. They’re as white as Greek houses.
Think about what it would be like to walk a mile in those brand-new shoes, knowing you didn’t have to walk at all. When you never have to work another day in your life, isn’t it an awesome feeling to wake up in the morning and know you can do whatever you want?
I am the type of person who will actually ask that sort of question.
If you try communicating with the leisure class, you might get a hazy smile as their head pivots slowly in your direction. Wait about six seconds after saying “hi,” and watch to see if their eyebrows can do the heavy-lifting to bring those eyelids half-open.
By the sparkling waters of Lake Washington, I did absorb some profound lessons on life. Many were erudite, full of the intricate and plodding whimsy of the heavily medicated. Often these observations were offered just after benzodiazepine-naptime and before oxycontin-naptime.
It might be awesome to dream of waking up rich one day. But a lot of actual rich people don’t spend much time awake.
Like any make-believe group of human beings we can label, it turns out that “rich people” are still human, and those folks have their own problems going on.
Recently, I’ve been waking up in a Midwest manufacturing town. This is a blue-collar place that has been turning into a low-income or no-income place. The modern problem faced by American manufacturing towns probably isn’t about demand for US-made goods, or even Mexicans. The problem is that less and less manufacturing is done by human beings. Not only did the jobs move away – they don’t exist anymore.
When people stopped making six-cylinder engines for Chryslers down the street, it was robots that started making them somewhere else.
What was once a bustling factory with thousands of callous-hardened hands cranking out engines, is now a sort of post-apocalyptic concrete wasteland surrounded by taverns.
Us low-income folks have our own problems to deal with. There are cultural issues that are often seen along with fundamental shifts in an economy. Low-income does not mean “criminal,” yet the two are often seen holding hands.
While running a rooming house in a ghetto, I thought about this a lot.
One day, some local gunshots still echoing in my mind, I walked over to a neighbor’s house. I was thinking along the lines of an informal sort of “Neighborhood Watch” thing.
I believe that people are what make up a neighborhood, and having little-income does not necessitate theft and violence. They correlate, not causate.
As I got to my neighbor’s steps, a lady I’d seen walking up the sidewalk made a beeline for the yard.
When she got onto the grass, she said “Hi” to me and pulled down her pants.
In the time that it took me to process what she might be doing, I caught a glimpse of something not quite like the end of an elephant’s trunk. She urinated on the lawn.
My neighbor came out on the porch and yelled a friendly “Hello” to both of us. Her friend pulled up her pants and climbed the porch.
How does this culture work?
I wondered: What is “normal” for my new socioeconomic class, the poverty-class?
It occurred to me that this was the second set of floppy labia I’d seen that week. Just a couple of days before, a lady strolled past my porch in a heroin haze, having forgotten to fasten the front of her slacks.
That would never have happened by the lake in Seattle. Those ladies might nod off with a doctor’s prescription, but they kept their pants zipped.
Some fundamental agreements, such as “we won’t pee by the sidewalk,” had not been reached by this culture. And I didn’t like that. I must have picked up some “American cultural norms” myself.
What about stealing? What about violence?
Were my neighbors happy?