I’m the 190,434,783 richest person on earth!
I was at the grocery store tonight, enroute home from work & the gym, when I saw a young-ish man, maybe in his early 20s, running out. And I mean running, fast, like he was either chasing a car – or had stolen something.
When security came out after him, after he’d disappeared, I knew it was the latter. Do I need to mention he was Mexican?
I didn’t see him carrying much, and it was obvious he hadn’t held the Ralph’s up or anything because there wasn’t that much panic in the store. I wanted to ask – what did he steal? Because unless you’re holding it up, why rob a grocery store? And how desperate, how hungry, do you and/or your family have to be to steal and run from a supermarket?
And as I stood there, unlocking my bike to go home, I started envisioning a world even more extremely divided than it is. L.A. as the future for everyone. I have never seen such contrast in excess and sheer poverty as I have here, between the million dollar houses that border the boardwalk, and the filthy, miserable homeless that shiver in the rain outside them. All I could see, for the next few minutes, was a world in which there wasn’t just an extreme divide between have and have nots, but in which there were so many have nothings that robbery from a grocery store became a commonplace offense out of need.
I wanted to ask the LAPD, “do you really have to chase this guy? is it that important?” I didn’t, of course – it’s the LAPD! – but I shuddered, because I realized – not that long from now, the divide will be so extreme that security at grocery stores will have to double to cope with the thefts taking place by people who simply can’t survive under the current economic structure. And the grocery stores, instead of letting people steal that loaf of bread, will send them to jail instead, because that’s how the system works. Very Les Miserables, I know.
A friend of mine complains about how she’s tired of L.A. because she’s always going to be “poor” here. I cheerfully remarked, “Yeah, imagine how the four million people making less than the poverty line feel.” More than half this city exists outside the middle class white zone. Millions of people within twenty miles of me are not able to earn enough to survive under the current system. They can’t afford rent, or decent food, or health care. And I’ve been worried lately because I want – not need – a new car or a new computer?
I doubt anyone making even minimum wage in this city would hesitate to steal from a Ralphs if they thought they could get away with it. Much less a part time worker, a layoff, an illegal immigrant. People who aren’t making enough to live because a corporation somewhere has made profit off reducing their hours, letting them go, or letting them work for half what the law says they should earn. Almost everyone living in more house than they need is doing so on dollars made from other people’s misery.
Yet I know, even in my heartbreaking vision of the near future, people in L.A. will still consider it perfectly OK to buy new cars every three years, and will consider it their personal right to own iPods, SUVs, designer clothes. They will still consider it perfectly acceptable to pay $800,000 for a house in my neighborhood. There will still be enough people who spend $4 on a fucking Frappucino. Land Rovers will still be driven by people who aren’t even considered to be overly wealthy in this city.
There will be just as many upper middle class people as there are now – mostly white, but there are some upper middle class minority skin tones driving those Land Rovers and Hummers as well. The difference is – in the future, the poor will just be a lot more poor.
Part of me can’t wait for a collapse of society, because that would mean a couple things:
1. I wouldn’t have to carry this fucking guilt load anymore. I won the genetic lottery when I was born. I didn’t get rich parents or a trust fund, but I do live better than 95% of the planet. I live better than 75% of my city. I remember that, every damn day. And every day, I ask myself – why am I not trying to fix this? If I see this, why can’t I bring myself to try to help?
2. I wouldn’t be waiting for the shoe to drop. If I know that this system can’t sustain itself, in both environmental and human terms, if I know that this Western Europe -slash- American economic value system creates FAR too much damage to the Earth and far too much human misery, then I know that someday it will collapse upon itself. The only question is when. If society collapsed, at least I wouldn’t be waiting for it to do so.
My father always told me that we had it better than 80% of the world. Dad, you were only part right. Try better than 90%. Try better than 80% of America.