Adolescent America 

If we were to generalise  the American middle class, we could say that it behaves in a way such as a spoilt teenager might, who causes their parents grief because they do not get their own way all of the time.  The fact that global warming is a major concern for the whole planet, or that poverty and inequality increase as a result of current and past American economic policy, shouldn’t get in the way of a middle-class American’s pursuit of wealth, or, indeed, of their delusion of being able to become wealthy.  And utlimately, that’s what it all is, delusion.  Any scientific findings that contradict their illogical perceptions and dreams, are to be ruthlessly fought and suppressed.

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires”.

That quote may have been erroneously attributed to Steinbeck, but there is nonetheless an element of truth to it. Its truth increases if you replace “poor” with “middle-class”.  Some of the American petit-bourgeoisie sure do “love that smell of the emissions”,  as Sarah Palin once so bluntly put it.  “Adolescent America” is now personified through awful Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – their vacuous bickering, throughout what is supposed to be the highest forum for debate in the US, the Presidential Elections – is starting to look like the last great tantrum of the bourgeois baby boomers.  The politics of American capitalism has certainly reached its crisis.

Credit must be paid, though, to the American working class, who have fought as tirelessly and as determinedly as any working class around the world. They backed Bernie Sanders, and fought for him against all the odds, and although Sanders capitulated to Clinton in the end, that hasn’t caused the core of the  American working-class (educated and energised as it is) to capitulate to the promises of Clinton nor the rhetoric of Trump.

A Terrifying Thought

A thought terrifies me.  There is a person standing in front of me, and I’m desperate to make him understand.  I’m vulnerable, and I am dependent on his mercy.  He doesn’t know me, and his attitude and actions towards me are compelled by a system, by society, by his own preconceptions, or a mixture of the above. I don’t want to cause harm, I just want to live quietly and get along like everybody else.  Whether I can or not, is up to him.


It is awful to think that people can become so anonymous to each other.  Ordinary individuals, with all of their aspirations, can care so little for other individuals in our everyday environment.  Through various forces, otherwise decent, ordinary people have been led to believe that vulnerable people are the problem, and not the powerful few who egg us on.

It can happen to any of us, that we suddenly find ourselves at the mercy of others due to circumstances beyond our control.

Many of us experience relatively minor forms of bureaucracy which frustrate our everyday lives; the clerks at the banks, post office, welfare office, the hospitals, insurance company workers, solicitors, politicians, HR managers, and, perhaps most often, our bosses and colleagues at work.

But what about more extreme forms?  Refugees fleeing war, innocent children whose homes are bombed, homeless people searching for shelter to sleep and money for food –  what happens when these innocent people come up against the “rules” of an apathetic all-powerful system perpetrated and perpetuated by us on behalf of the powerful and privileged?  For the victims, these “rules” take the human form of a customs official, an airforce pilot, a police officer.  Pervading bigotry among other ordinary people, encouraged by the media and the economic-political system at large, exacerbates the whole mindless situation and intensifies the horrible downward spiral.

Leo Tolstoy wrote on this subject regarding a character who was faced with the prospect of execution before firing squad:

…obsessed with a single thought, a simple question: who had condemned him to death?  Who was it?

It wasn’t the men who had interrogated him at the first session; clearly none of them had wanted to, or had the authority… who was it, then, who was punishing him, killing him, taking his life… with all his memories, yearnings, hopes and ideas?  Who was doing this?  And [he] felt he knew the answer: no one was.

…It was some kind of system that was killing him… taking his life, taking everything away, destroying him.

‘But who is doing it? [The soldiers of the firing squad are] all suffering like me!  Who is it? Who?’

Making Sandwiches

I Worked Hard For It All, Without Help From Anyone.

She was working from home alone and had become slightly hungry.  She thought about her options from what was available and resolved to make a ham and cheese sandwich.  All the necessary ingredients were there in her cupboards and fridge – her favourite bread, cheese, style of ham, butter, sauces etc. – and so she began preparing them.  Finally, when the sandwich was as she prefers a sandwich to be, she ate.   She made her lunch and ate it.  Following her satisfying lunch she was fuelled to do all of the other activities that she did during the day (with the aid of quite a bit of coffee).  It had fuelled her to continue to work hard and get on with her life for a little longer; fuelled her towards hitting more of those targets and the rewards promised to her for her hard and important work.  A step closer to that bonus, securing that commission and getting that new high-powered German luxury executive saloon.  But there is a background to her sandwich which has been neglected.

A few days earlier she ordered groceries online from her local grocery store (because being a busy person, she had no time to go to the shop).  Some of those groceries would become her sandwich ingredients.  A woman whom she would never meet received her order and processed it. That person gave the order, in turn, to her colleague who collected the groceries as they were listed; she spent about 40 minutes gathering them in a trolley.  Once they were all collected and verified, the order was arranged in bags and crates for delivery to the home of the sandwich loving lady.  At the appointed time, a delivery driver – one of three on duty in the shop at that moment – would lift the crates into his van and deliver them to her home.  When the customer signed for the delivery, the delivery man was the only person whom she had contact with throughout the process.

A day before the delivery, the bread, cheese, ham, butter, sauces and everything else was packaged in the facilities of the respective food companies and delivered to grocery stores all around the area.  Packaging people packaged, delivery drivers delivered to shops and supermarkets. Prior to the packaging process, bakers baked the bread (with everything that that involves), cheesemakers made the cheese (with everything that that involves), butchers – and people working for meat companies – oversaw the production of the pre-packed sliced ham, and creameries and sauce factories were filled with employees doing various things to mass-produce butter and sauce.

Prior to that, the bakery company needed to order the ingredients to bake bread, the creameries needed ingredients to create cheese and butter.  All the different producers needed the tools to make products from their ingredients, and they needed engineers, technicians, IT experts and mechanics to ensure the tools and machines continued to work efficiently.  Prior to that, countless people did countless things to make all of this happen.

How many people does it take to make a ham and cheese sandwich?

When she considered what to eat for lunch that afternoon, the process would have been more or less the same had she decided to have a salad or a chocolate bar or anything else.

invisible working classWe are all connected.  We are all part of something called society, doing something which contributes to one another’s lives.  All of what we have is only made possible due to the work of others and this simple fact is generally ignored.  The working-class, producing all of this essential stuff, receives no media coverage for their achievements and thankless drudgery, and will never experience owning that luxury executive vehicle.  None of us – however hard working – has achieved anything on our own.  It has been made possible by the efforts and struggles of countless humble people.  They carry this out daily, invisible.  The very expression of our individualism – and we are all different and unique and wonderful – is dependent on each other.

Food for thought the next time you make yourself a sandwich.

 

 

Bored Games

We found ourselves in the stranger’s kitchen, playing an unfamiliar game.  We sat surrounding the table in the dim, the stranger sat at its head.  Silver cigarette smoke, monotonous music, remnants of late-night drinks and the darkness outside contributed to the bewildering atmosphere.  Innumerable pistachio shells in a bowl, no nuts left.  The beer in my half-empty glass had long-since turned warm and stale, I had had my fill earlier in the evening.

“The night is just beginning!” our host declared.  When would it end?  The rules were vague and convoluted, we lacked a clear understanding of them – our grogginess didn’t help.  However, our host knew the game well, playing it was a proud family tradition he inherited from a young age.  We followed his instructions as best we could as we went along.  He understood the rules so well he seemed to bend them to his will – such was his skill I suppose.  In him we trusted.

Enthusiastically and energetically he led by example.   Inevitably, we made novice mistakes and we were penalized as the rules dictated.  I felt I had been playing forever, and yet faring no better.  Rewards for the most cunning players were promised though they were rarely received, and rarely worth the effort.  However, if we played our cards right, we were told, success would be forthcoming.  There was plenty of opportunity for that.

The hours passed and the kitchen walls closed in.  The black world beyond is mad.  The table is the centre and extent of our universe.  Some pistachio shells now float in my beer, flicked in through moments of bored distraction.  It is very late though I am unsure of the time.  My fellow participants look tired too, although they probably did not wish to admit it.  I’m weary of this game.

I dare not open my mouth now lest I miss my turn – a missed opportunity – and I seem so near to gaining something at last.  I could give something away – some inadvertent sign.  Giving something away would be a terrible mistake at this stage.  Share nothing.  Guard jealously.  Poker faces around the table, trusting no one. Every person playing for themselves.  Just follow the stranger’s instructions.

What are the others doing?    They make such devious decisions.  A hateful bunch, differentiated only by how worse than each other they are.  I arrived here at one time with them, though I’m not sure how. Flukey bastards.

Those two made a deal.  Favouritism!  They’re plotting against me. Sabotage.  Those two were always the best friends.  There should be rules against that kind of behaviour.

All is quiet, but for the continuing explanations of our kind host, on which we depend.

Around and around we go taking turns.  There was never a chance of finishing – no one else would ever win – the enthusiastic stranger is perpetually dominant.  It could have ended.  A new game could be played tomorrow.  Oh to sleep and wake with the light of a new morning.  If only someone admitted they were tired, we would all concur and retire and dream of the prospect of a new day.  But we’re so close!  We’ve come so far.  It’s too late to change.

Interminably we continue, single-mindedly, sobering, without relief, further into the night.

It would have been rude not to.
____________________________

We’re Going To Be Okay

‘Do I know you?’ the old patient inquired.
‘You do’, she said.
‘Are we friends?’
‘We are’.

_________________________________________________

While she was at work nursing patients and helping their families, he was at home tidying and thinking about her.  He contemplated the same questions as the old man.

What is knowing someone?  You can know people and dislike them, and people change.  Friendship, love is the question.

He can spend his life trying to know her, but loving her is his motivation.  Exploring her perfections and imperfections and finding the adventure in it.  Loving the wonder of that.  Loving her change and grow, loving how they change and grow together.

He did not envision experiencing many of the grand or spectacular events enjoyed by the top of society – the cumulative of simple moments were epic enough.   It all added up.  A life of little things together.  What was the significance of parachuting from a plane compared with holding one another’s hands come what may?  Millions of moments almost indistinct from each other, embraced by each other – the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

One day, holding hands, she quietly beseeched, ‘We’re going to be okay, aren’t we?’.

It was a question of love, and love is a question of asking one another ‘we’re going to be okay…?’.  To him, she came first, before any career, hobby, ideology.  They came first – their synergy.  Everything could be lost but that.  From such love, growth in all else stems.

He looked back on those short years together and found they were at just the beginning.  He looked forward too; the future seemed vast in comparison.  All the times they would ask each other, ‘We’re going to be okay, aren’t we?’, even in those future decades, after all they had been through.

He imagined how in those times, he would ask, as he does now, ‘Do I know you?’.

‘You still don’t even know what cupboard the colander is kept.  But you know me almost better than I know myself, and that’s not enough for you to know either’.

‘I have so much that I want to give you, even now.  I want to give to you forever.  I want to be able to do that, and that won’t be enough either’.

Then he asked, as he had so many times before, ‘Are we friends?’

‘We are’.

‘We’re going to be okay’.

 

Everything Depends Upon The Job

‘You are free and that is why you are lost’ – Franz Kafka

Whether causal or coincidental, I have happened upon a trough of relative disillusionment and fatigue at about the same moment I endure a spell of inactivity.  I’m sure I will exit this phase, but for now my hobbies and passions are on hold, and I am existing almost without purpose.  The love of my partner is perhaps my only significant motivation.  A rather dreary opening paragraph, but never fear!

Evaluation

Regarding my lack of writing, I feel there are multiple reasons for this, a few from the top of my head are:  Lack of confidence in my ability to write knowledgeably on a given topic; Lack of a given topic in which I am currently deeply involved and that may be of interest to other people to read about; lack of energy and money; lack of structure and discipline; feeling too much pressure and trying too hard to write something that is worthwhile (this can inhibit anyone from writing anything at all); lack of a justification for spending time writing and reading when we are poor and money is not gained from such activities – and the feeling of guilt that stems from dedicating so much time to such artistic and intellectual pursuits when money is what is needed.  Time for spending with family, friends and loved ones is also in demand – how can I write when my love wants to spend time with me on her day off?  The grass needs to be cut too, and I almost always forget to hang the clothes up for drying.

I have stopped playing music.  Stopped listening to music.  Stopped learning German. Despite my socialist viewpoint, I have become less active with politics.  I have become lackadaisical with my reading, and much else.

At the moment, I am frustrated by all this, but, as yet, I am not too worried.  Firstly, I am developing my perception and approach to writing.  Ironically, this facilitates less writing as it requires more reading.  Also, I am using this period of personal uncertainty to question and re-evaluate my life-goals.

An Existensial Crisis?

Most pertinently, I am waiting to start a new job.  Hopefully, it will be the beginning of something new; I know that the recent few years have been consistently disappointing and that my jobs have not been very fulfilling, to say the least.   I have worked too hard, tried too many things, and I probably expected too much.  I put far too much effort and time into some areas, and not enough into others.  I was naive and too ambitious – if one can be too ambitious.  Perhaps my priorities were unwise, but I based my dedication upon the passion and ambition I had for different interests so that I might be successful with them – I was working towards a dream.  In that sense, I think it would be too harsh to say my priorities were completely wrong.   Nonetheless, I needed to slow down and reassess some things.

The first step in resuming activity will be Monday, the first day in the new job.  I pray it will not be as disappointing as my recent roles.  I am not so naive as to think that the disappointment of my recent jobs was not to do with the larger economic and political conditions of Ireland (and Europe) which allow for such exploitative and low-paying positions to be created by employers.  Employees suffer in uncertain and worrying limbo – I am not so naive as to think that my new position will not also be subject to external forces.  Nevertheless, I hope my next employer at least provides the foundation upon which I can begin to live my life in a more fulfilling and ambitious way again; enabled to try my best.

I’m not lost because I’m “free” – I’m not lost at all, though I may feel like that.  I’m simply trapped, grounded by very real circumstances.  It is clear what I need: reliable job, decent money, definite structure, relative security, defined purpose, hobbies, random fun and relaxation.  Society provides the means of achieving those things and can do so depending the economic and social-political conditions.  You are not lost because you are free, you believe you are “free” because you are lost.

Despite the aforementioned, one must do one’s best when the opportunity arises.  I hope that after Christmas, I will have money and that my new job is consistent and (as far as such a position can be) rewarding.  That’s step one.  Step two is establishing myself in the role and my first month’s pay.  After that, I aim to develop more structure in my life, and therefore with the life of my partner whom I love and am dedicated to.  Upon this improved structure I can build goals for my job, my career, and my hobbies.  I can develop my talents and interests further and therefore write about them.  Who knows what will happen?

But everything depends upon the job.

Breasts, Café Chairs and Grandparents.

The "Hags With The Bags", Dublin
The “Hags With The Bags”, Dublin

They sauntered into the city-centre café, a couple in their sixties, husband and wife.  To an onlooker, they were another typical pair of Dublin shoppers; multiple bulging grocery bags in each of their hands.  They had that wilted appearance that one has after a few tiring hours of shopping and is in need of a seat and a cup of tea or coffee.  The plastic bags rustled in relief as they were placed on the floor, and the rustic wooden chairs creaked as the couple rested from an afternoon spent walking around the city.

Those light Bewleys’-style chairs, on which the couple sat, put up with so much punishment, day after day, customer after customer, one wonders how they manage to endure?; somehow they seem to survive the constant pressure.  Although the chairs may strain, they silently carry out their tedious task until they are replaced.  Some do snap – yielding to inevitability – and are quickly removed from the sight of clientele, and identical new ones are brought in to replace them, to be abused in their turn.  Anyway, they’re cheap and cheerful, and on the whole, they serve the purpose.bewleys chairs

He was a working-class man, a die-hard Dub.  He was known for his giant beard, his lump-hammer fists, and his gentleness.  He was quietly philosophical, kind, and strong.  He was a fan of Ronnie Drew and looked like him too, except he seemed taller and slimmer; his slimness accentuated his height.  As a Dubliner, he represented quintessential Dublin, and Dublin represented what he, and the working class generation of which he was a part, had built.  It was formed and shaped by people like he and his wife.  In their case, it was shaped literally by them.  He was a builder by trade, and sometimes, when he was with his grandchildren, he would point out the tall landmarks that he had a hand in constructing to impress them.  “I built that” he would say with pride, and the children would be delighted and awestruck, even if they didn’t know exactly what “that” is, and they would tell their friends that their grandad built that “tall thing” every time they passed it for years to come.  That part of Dublin was their grandad’s.

What a thing to be able to say, “there is my contribution, that’s the part I’ve played”.  Though of course, the construction company bosses or the government ministers of the time will get the credit.

And so, tea, coffee and scones were served as the couple were sitting beside the large upstairs window at the front of the café.  The sunlit city street outside projected its happenings through the café’s giant window, like a cinema screen, which influenced pensiveness on those who were distracted by its view.

Almost as a sigh, he remarked, ‘it’s amazing Bette, isn’t it?’.

‘What’s that, Paddy?’, she inquired.

‘Women’s breasts come in so many shapes and sizes…’

‘Paddy!’.