Archives for posts with tag: suzy creamcheese joins the underclass

Cont’d.

By the time I was 40, a small legacy, and  a house painfully acquired in a divorce, made me independently poor.

I quit jobbing, turned myself into a genocide scholar, wrote a 250,000 word manuscript, read some books, talked to some people, walked my two parents each through their deaths, and took up charity work. There  the action was even more brutal than it is in the working world.

Click. I am at a meeting for the Committee of 100, Washington D.C.’s smartest and most effective guardians of public space, in the tradition of Jane Jacobs. You know, like democracy was formed in, and takes place in, the public space.

All you need to know, by the world’s pioneer independent scholar.

The Committee are the only people in the world who got the joke when I called the World War Two Memorial on the national mall “the anti-Farrakhan device.” The memorial would be built smack dab in the center of the Million Man March crowd you see in the video clip link.

The Million Man March, October, 1995, takes place in public space subsequently occupied by the World War Two Memorial, whose siting was vehemently opposed by the Committee of 100 for the Federal City. The national mall was envisioned by L’Enfant as the nation’s gathering place of the democracy, and was the site of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. Large crowds are now unable to gather in that spot.

The Committee of 100 see themselves as very refined, as architects and urban designers do. They are. They’re dapper. They’re diverse.  They played a heroic part in resisting a racist highway, a la Robert Moses, through D.C.’s poor neighborhoods. Yet somehow, in the ’90s, a woman who fires a buddy of mine, her personal assistant, for “promoting a homosexual agenda” has risen to the top of the volunteer heap. She’s the president of this worthy organization. It’s in some Ivy League lunch club downtown whose name I can’t recall, emphasizing its old Washington Green Book liberals provenance.

The superintendent of the Washington, D.C. National Parks Service is at my table. She is preparing to speak after lunch. I am chatting her up. We both spent some time as children, as I recall, in Liberia. We have met previously on one occasion, when she came to the neighborhood park on whose board I serve to discuss the installation of a 10-foot wide bicycle path down the middle of the long and skinny park.

Me in Liberia, ca. 1952.

The community and the park board are united, for the first and probably last time in history, in opposition to the installation of the path. It’s basically because there would be no place left for pedestrians, dogs and children in the park. The entire park would effectively be rendered into shoulders for a commuter cyclists’ super highway. A years’ worth of letter-writing campaigns and full neighborhood opposition to the path have not been communicated by the D.C. park guy in charge, who wants to install the path with the white boys’ cyclists’ gravy train money.  This fits in with the theme throughout this saga of the privatization by unscrupulous private corporate interests of the commonweal. The park had been abandoned by the impoverished D.C. government, we had stepped in, and now the D.C. government wanted to kill the park with other peoples’ money.

The D.C. park guy is in the park with us, along with four or five other functionnaires, standing in the park gesticulating with blueprint rolls. He declares the 10-foot-wide bicycle path is “a done deal”.  This is a surprise to me. I beg to differ, on behalf of the park board and the community, whose organization in opposition to the path I led. The National Parks lady simply has not been informed by the D.C. park people that the bicycle path is anathema to the voters. I got to do that. By myself. Because I was the only member of the board and of the entire community who had time to spare in their busy schedules that day to prevent the National Park Service from signing on to the death of the park.

There’s another issue between the National Parks executive and the Friends of Rose Park. Rose Park is contiguous with a national park, along the edge of a cliff which is Rock Creek Park. The police tell me, and the community supports them, that they want to install street lights in a space in which rapes and muggings occur on a monthly basis. The National Parks lady opposes the installation of street lights because her number one priority is protection of the easement along the border between the D.C. park and the national park. Streetlights to save lives would impinge on the National Park easement.

In the secluded downtown university club, at the round luncheon table, I did not raise the issue of the double-cross with her. Nor the life-threatening dysfunction and deliberate depredations of the public health and safety. I’d been shanghai’d, set up and ambushed into confronting her in the park. None of that was mentioned. Only polite luncheon party discourse. What I will never forget is the look of fear in her eyes as she gathered the cards for her speech together after lunch. She looked up, an educated and effective woman executive,  a black champion of urban public space about to address her constituency, the whites showing all around her irises, as if she were about to enter the Roman colosseum in chains. She caught my eye, and I had to look down, at the starched white tablecloth.

Next up: abortion clinic defense, community journalism, the botanical gardens

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(Cont’d.)

What I learned in those 32 years will never go on my resume. Tell the real truth and old friends step away as the pastoral counsellor asks — as he did a friend of mine — if he can video your story. Shrinks cry and tell you their problems. You are radioactive, baby. Welcome to the underclass.

Freelancing, for example, for the great civil rights think tank, one learns that freelancers are responsible for three things. Cooking statistics, which can later be denied as the work product of a freelancer; fielding gross sexual harassment as freelancers are eponymously without protectors; and being told after the fact that the number one job requirement is contacting one’s friends, and former colleagues, at the great metropolitan daily newspaper and asking them to come to the think tank annual dinner. Dear reader, I declined.

Stokely Carmichael: The only position for a woman in the movement is prone.

The Women’s Business Center class of the Small Business Administration taught accounting by inviting an accounting firm to come in and give us their pitch, as well as the tip to buy $500 worth of accounting software. This was the correct advice for two of the 15 women in the class. The rest of us had worked high-expense account jobs, elaborate divorce settlements, investments, household finances and honest tax returns with a pencil, a shoebox full of receipts, and a calculator if we were numerate.  Though I can spot a cooked statistic at 5,000 paces, I can neither add or subtract. They taught us how to write a business plan by inviting a banker in to give us her pitch, never explaining that a business plan is the document banks require to give you a loan to start a business. If you’re not applying for a loan, you don’t need to do this. Finally, after eight weeks of sales pitches from Beltway bandits, we were awarded pink certificates with AVON emblazoned on them as if we’d just learned to become door-to-door cosmetics saleswomen. At no time during the previous eight weeks had we seen or heard of any Avon connection or interest in our micro-finance businesses.

Show me your business plan, bitch.

The continuing education department at the university offered a $2000 course in paralegalling, connected, as many second career continuing education systems are with the state vocational rehabilitation system. Professor X calls it America’s biggest Ponzi scheme.

A community college professor reveals the connections between “job readiness” scams and institutions of continuing education.

Asked what the hourly wage for paralegals was, the retired and widowered lawyer teaching the course would reply only that one of her former students made $18 an hour. The gravy started to get wavy with that answer and I checked her out on one of the rate-my-professor websites. Previous students in Colorado noticed she knew nothing about Constitutional law. And so it proved; she had a retired Tea Party cop come in and teach us Con law. Such as it is here in the land of enchantment.

Having paid the $2000 class fee and the $1000-plus internship fee, one graduate — a former teacher terribly injured in an automobile accident — told me the only jobs she was being offered paid $10 an hour. I can’t make it on $10 an hour, she said. Me, I don’t need to, because I paid out of my own pocket, worked like an animal, and flunked the class with a C. It’s not your niche, the non-practicing lawyer told me. I could see her point.

The Hispano Chamber of Commerce here in Macondo was offering computer literacy and resume writing classes, funded by a big fat grant. We all trooped over to get brushed up on the latest Microsoft permutations. The resume class was taught by a former special education teacher and cage fighting champion, a charming young person apparently hired for an ability to persuade felons and computer-truculent old black and brown ladies to apply for work online. We all sat there as he took us to the resume template website, and then through the long aptitude and morals test that is part of the Walmart job application. He never said we were applying for jobs at Walmart,even though the HCC has long been funded by Walmart. I personally helped my podmate on the left, the felon, get through the morals part. He bought me coffee. The podmate on my right was a black woman nearly 80 years old, who kept sharp believing that computers were part of The Plan.

You will apply for a $7-an-hour, non-union job at Walmart. Viva la raza.

We all applied for jobs at Walmart, me with a fake address. Every three weeks for the next six months, the cage fighter would call and ask me if I found work. Once he called me in for some kind of medical guinea pig job. I arrived and enraged the director by ascertaining that in fact they did not have my resume on file, and that I was not qualified for the guinea pig work. I stared him down, in the vida loca style I learned hanging out with Cambodian gangsters in Long Beach, and he apologized.

Three extended volunteer gigs with civic groups taught me a whole ‘nother boondoggle.

To be continued.

Shrewd subalterns rise to the top of the meritocracy by telling us about the lie, and living it large. By being Eddie Said, tall, tan, and terrific in Savile Row tweeds, throwing stones at the Israelis’ wall, stifling Carolyn Heilbrun, and conferring an agency on Jane Austen never imagined by the generations of white sexist professors when Said, the brown one, said The Gentle Author was a tool of British imperialism. The lie, for women of my class, is more easily apprehensible than it is for the men, and if it comes through, it is apprehended in epiphanies about life at the top.

Said’s revolutionary 1978 book, which invented post-colonial and subaltern studies.

The lie is basically that progress is inevitable, and that if you work hard enough, keep all your teeth, speak business English, dress like them in chinos, blue button downs, and Top Siders, you will get a good job. Which will procure a trophy woman and trophy children. You will keep both the good job and the expensive woman and the talented children. This isn’t a lie. It happens. The lie is that if you do everything right, you will feel as if you are in the flow, and capitalist society, if not the god of Protestant money management and the prosperity Gospel, will inevitably make you rich and fill your life with abundance. This works for basketball players the way it does for George W. Bush, the benchmark of whose white privilege, lest you forget, was being handed his presidency on a silver platter by the Supreme Court majority his father had confected. God gives you these things if your grandfather was a Senator and you have the stones to run for president on an anti-Washington platform.

Bush v. Gore, 2000.

Creating and getting into the flow of white privilege is what all of us who want to make a living need to do. Your grandpa needs to be a Senator, and I wish you the best of luck with that. For women or people of color, the ’60s generation who intervened in the flow, or just tried to get good jobs, the apprehension of the lie, it seems to me, came in little doses.

Click, as Jane O’Reilly defined, forty years ago,  the moment of revolutionary insight for feminists. I am looking at the typewriter font and pixelated red margins of the six-ply newspaper copy paper on which the editor at the great metropolitan daily newspaper wrote and posted office memos. Between the inch and a half-wide red stripes, with the white silhouettes of spectral sixes glowing in them, he has typed the schedule of who is working weekends. My name is on the list maybe three times more often than the two white boys who were hired the same time I was.

Click. Jane O’Reilly’s cover story for the inaugural issue of Ms. magazine.

Click. I am in the White House press room, which Nixon built over JFK’s notorious swimming pool. I am feeding quarters into the Coca Cola machine and staring at the framed black and white photographs on the wall opposite. They’re of the White House press corps of bygone days, this one sometime during World War Two. Maybe 60 men in fedoras are sitting on a bleacher in front of the Capitol. Their names are written underneath. I read them all, and think, I haven’t heard of any of these people except Merriman Smith. The great UPI reporter had just committed suicide.

Click. The newshens, women who had become reporters in the ’30s. ’40s. and ’50s, who fought like tigers to edit copy at night or cover Pat Nixon, gave all of us our start in the newspaper business. Literally. One of them took me to the White House for the first time to show me how to cover Pat Nixon. Dorothy McCardle was then in her seventies, and had started out in life covering the Lindbergh baby trial and the explosion of the Hindenberg. I once watched her, like Baryshnikov doing sleight-of-body in The Dybbuk, slip through the Secret Service, police and other protection lines to follow Jackie Kennedy on her private tour of the Kennedy Center on the night of its opening. I went to Dorothy’s dentist for 15 years, until an emergency visit to the periodontist revealed he hadn’t been cleaning my teeth, every four months, properly, for nearly a generation.

Click. Another one of the newshens got me good assignments and a $5,000 raise. And one day, may God forgive me, I raised my eyes from my typewriter, and saw her, across the newsroom, approaching 60, breaking her ass over some other Pat Nixon story, and said, if I stay here another minute, I will turn into that. My brilliant black friend, who finally got the job at the New York Times, looked up from her computer one day at a little grey man in a little grey suit killing himself over some other Pat Nixon story, and said to herself, that’s the famous reporter pundit William Boot. This is all there is.

Nixon resigns, by Harry Benson. They also serve who only stand and wait.

And so, when the laid-off executives and retired moguls and the redundant electricians, all those guys who bought it, start complaining that no one invites them out to dinner any more, that people look through them at cocktail parties, that they feel like their cocks fell off, that all their friends departed once they lost the driver/the access/the money/the juice and that bitch of a gold-digging wife, that they know how the n*****s and the s***s feel when they are turned down for the hundreds of jobs they’re applying for, that the charities they volunteer for offer them work picking up dog shit, that they claim, in their eponymous geezer websites, now to be “making art”, though the jay pegs posted show little evidence of it, despite all those weekends off that my ass worked instead of theirs, or, like Leonard Woolf, the radiant stoic, calculate that over the 90 years of his highly productive life he had, in 200,000 hours of labor, produced nothing of lasting value, you know what I think?

I think click.

That’s all there is.

My BBF and I knew it when we were 30 years old. Grow the fuck up.  My BBF also showed me that a real woman pays her own mortgage, through thick and thin. It will make a man of you.  Writes Woolf,

Looking back at the age of eighty-eight over the fifty-seven years of my political work in England, knowing what I aimed at and the results, meditating on the history of Britain and the world since 1914, I see clearly that I achieved practically nothing. The world today and the history of the human anthill during the last fifty-seven years would be exactly the same as it is if I had played pingpong instead of sitting on committees and writing books and memoranda. I have therefore to make the rather ignominious confession to myself and to anyone who may read this book that I must have in a long life ground through between 150,000 and 200,000 hours of perfectly useless work.
— The Journey Not the Arrival Matters, 158.

Virginia and Leonard Woolf.

Poignant, to me, is the book store sticker on the faded paper cover of this hardback book. It says Savile Book Shop, 3236 P St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20007. The Savile closed in 1978;  I was reading Leonard’s observations about work shortly after the publication of the foruth volume of his biography in 1970, and quoting the old socialist in the newspaper by the early ’70s. Working weekends. And nights. Not the best prescription for a marriage.

So it seems as if there would be no surprises, no damage done, to such a person when I started, thirty-two years later, aged 62, to look for work. Again.

To be continued.

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