Few of us can plumb the depths of clichés, even ones we use and depend on. I include myself in this indictment. Some clichés are actually profound. Formulated phrases, called up too often and flabbily applied, do have the power to muddy our thinking; but that’s because we’re so careless with them, ignore their potential.
Let me cite one: ‘That’s the exception that proves the rule.’ Who really understands that insight into the way we misnavigate the world? Samuel Johnson it was who pointed out that refutations of generalizations can be both technically valid and also supportive of the formula they imagine they are confounding: if you cite a freakish occurrence to refute a commonplace, that very stretching supports its validity. ‘Jews aren’t athletic.’ ‘What about Hank Greenburg?’ ‘Dictators are dangerous.’ ‘Mussolini enacted domestic reforms.’ You get the point. I sure as hell hope so, as I need to assume a certain level of cooperation here.
The other point has to do with reliance on anecdotes. We all know people who reduce the fixed patterns of life to random occurrences. Something might be true for 5,000 people, but if Aunt Gladys found a variant in the pattern, that fact outweighs the general truth in the minds of those faithful to Aunt Gladys, when, in fact, her experience counts for – let’s see: nothing! Mother was a great anecdote-citer and it drove everyone around her, me anyhow, bats. I was never allowed to have a bike because a friend of a friend’s kid had pedalled over a cliff. That sort of thing.
So, let’s see how this works out in reference to my own belief that rich people are lousy bastards. I want to hold that belief up to our two propositions: the exception that proves the rule and the uselessness of anecdotes. I won’t be referring directly to them, not wanting to be a big bore; but I ask you to bear them in mind.
There are people who have principled reasons for hating the rich, often political at the core: personal wealth comes at another’s expense; some people, through accidents of birth, are placed in positions that have allowed them a leg up in grubbing for money, goods, power. To take this fundamentally unjust advantage and exploit it, even claim for it a personal virtue, is a double whammy of odious selfishness.
Well, blah – blah – blah, I say. Maybe that’s all true, but who really gives a rat’s ass about such abstract stuff. I mean, what’s it have to do with ME?
I hate rich people because of Leon Richards, Sally Lou Gearson, and X. Keep our focus right here, on them. Violent human passions do not attach themselves to anything beyond the material and the personal. Objects of our love and detestation can be non-human – cats, cars, paintings, porch swings – but never abstract. We pretend to have such feelings for country, God, truth, but it’s only material things attached to them that rouse us: a nice job, a pretty girl, good sex. It’s just that we cannot love abstractions: a country, a God, truth, power. That’s just the way it is.
When it gets dangerous is when we convince ourselves that our collection of anecdotes adds up and becomes defensible. Thus we get ‘the love of humankind’ or ‘anti-Semitism’ or ‘capitalism’.
When I say, ‘it gets dangerous,’ I’m not really sure what I mean. It’s high-sounding to put it that way; but why we would think our anecdotals added up to ‘dangerous’ I don’t know. Probably we’re fooling ourselves saying that.
I’m not sure if the capacity to fool ourselves isn’t a good hedge against being high-sounding. The worst people I know boast with pride about being ‘honest with themselves’. People who have no tolerance for their own need for fantasy are awful.
Let’s give this some room. It’s good to be able to fool yourself, not to be tied to rigour. As you hang around in this, our world, you find how necessary it is to find a comfortable story to live inside; you learn to be adept at making alternations in the plot, ones according not with ‘facts’ but with one’s fantasy needs.
No need to make all this a moral issue, to call it hard names. We manage to live by our storytelling abilities, as they adjust to keep us from seeing too much, having too much to bear. Almost always, our stories harden into a self-perpetuating tale at which others scoff or yawn. So what? Life gives us so few chances.
Just for instance: my mother convinced herself that my older sister was ‘a charming young woman’ and that I was ‘deep’. Mother sounds like Amanda Wingfield; but she was neither that interesting nor that consistent, simply because she was a woman forced to live as flesh and blood and not a character in a play. But she was capable of gathering anecdotes, often distorted, into pleasing and repetitive fictions. My older sister was a long-toothed, chinless brunette who giggled tunelessly when she was nervous. She was smart and witty, but her marketable ‘charm’ resided in her willingness to have sex with any boy willing to ignore her looks. She had plenty of action until she hit about seventeen and her physical attributes made screwing her less appealing than paying someone else for it. After that point, my mother converted ‘charm’ to ‘spirituality’. Real joke there, as Martha was an atheist nearly rabid in her views. Don’t get me wrong: I like Martha and imagine I’d have done just what she did with my loins, under the circumstances; she says maybe 10 per cent of the sex was okay. Martha doesn’t mind being thought charming or even spiritual, and it adds something to the comfort of my mother’s otherwise pointless days – so what the hell.
It’s a little different with her insistence on my depth.
One day, when I was a cute ten or eleven and subject to grabs from neighbours and family friends, a visitor, one hand on my ass, asked me a question designed to allow him to keep his hand where it was: ‘How do you like school?’ Before I could sort through possible responses – ‘At least my ass is safe there’ – Mother cut in: ‘No use asking him – like talking to an oyster.’ ‘Ah,’ said Mr Barkin, ‘still waters run deep,’ kneading my butt as if it were a loaf of sour dough.
That’s all Mother needed, a cliché – ‘deep’. No longer just rude and self-absorbed, I was running two miles below the surface.
In point of fact, Mother was on target with me, which just goes to show you that every now and then a stopped clock is right – or however that goes.
My depth in reference to our current subject, the odious rich, consists of the following: an ability to analyze the secrets of the well-off, the source of their power and also their vulnerability. I found quickly that a small expenditure for clothes and a willingness to suck up would put me in a position to use my depth to exact revenge on a series of rich people, starting with junior-high assholes and running through to where I am now, a sophomore at Stanford University. My junior high was a private school – perfect for collecting privileged assholes – and, as you know, Stanford University is an Ivy League wanabee collection of snobs and shits. Also perfect!
The plan I devised depended on an initial willingness to suck up. I guess I said that, but it’s important to understanding my plan: rich people are able to draw others to them but also desperately need the affirmation provided by toadies, rendering them oddly dependent on these hangers-on.
Become a hanger-on, then, and you gain power.
That’s step number one. But you need to hate the rich. Too many hangers-on admire their pole star and are happy to exist in the reflected light of their love – for love of a sort it is. That odd mutual dependency can lead to a fixed orbital movement. To avoid that, hatred is mandatory.
Given that hatred, a bit of acting talent, and a strong stomach (the rich tolerate the most egregious flattery), the toady quickly seizes control over the vulnerable rich kid. (Let’s start with kids, since I did; though older ones are no different.)
Rich kids have, every one of them, established a glossy and glamorous surface, often dazzling: clothes, cars and electronic equipment; but also an ease and assurance, a trust in the admiration of others to support their act. They have nothing but the glow surrounding them, a glow they have no means of regulating, need simply to assume.
Of course the power of such assumptions is usually enough, given how shy and uncertain most of us are around the rich. But when the toady turns, starts thinking about what’s going on, the rich are impotent: their power is paper-thin, sustained by a fantasy it takes two to uphold.
More specifically: in seventh grade, there was this piece of arrogant shit named Leon McGarry. Leon was a super-rich pretty boy, parents pillars of the country club. Some rich fucks depend more on appearance than others. Leon was almost all appearance, from clothes to haircuts to special manicuring. (Manicures in the seventh grade? I may be misremembering, but it’s MY memory.) In another environment, Leon’s dainty pretties might have landed him in homophobic hell; but a private school of this quality is very slow to make this association, for obvious reasons: everybody would seem gay if that route were opened. Are you delicate, unathletic and girly? Only in a posh private school will you be the norm, escape gay bashing.
Leon was an expensive target for me to set up: I pretended I needed him as a fashion consultant, being careful to let him know I could never match, only imitate. I lacked his taste, his money. The last admission was tricky, since Leon was sure not interested in hanging with the poor. I had to suggest plenitude but with limits below his. I did this so well, Leon began buying me things – a sweater here and a jacket there.
Thing is, Leon started to like me. He would call me and suggest outings, even started hinting at overnights. That’s what I was waiting for.
Leon was easy pickings, once the overnight idea came up.
‘How about we camp out, buddy?’
‘Not if you don’t want to, Leon. But you have a backyard the size of most counties. We could set up a good half mile from the house, have all the privacy we want, smoke some pot – I’ll get it.’
What I was really thinking of was attacking Leon through his appearance. He depended so much on clothes, the first part of my plan was to rob him of those. Make him naked, humiliated, reduced.
‘Why are you setting up the camera?’
‘You object, Leon? I thought it’d be fun to have later.’
He didn’t count on the play I then directed and filmed. It involved slowly undressing a drugged-up Leon in front of the camera, reversing him and painting obscene messages on his butt. Then I’d copy the tape and use it to blackmail him into becoming my very own toady, willing to submit to minor servitudes, and further filmings.
Leon didn’t work out too well. He became agreeable so quickly, and so willing to serve me – that’s the word – that the fun almost disappeared:
‘I’ll come over tonight for a blowjob, Leon.’
‘God, Leon, don’t you object?’
‘Why would I?’
Worst of all, I found myself enjoying conversations with Leon, who turned out to be well-read and quick, trapping me before I knew it into almost – damn it – friendship.
So my first attempt not only didn’t work; it backfired, because of the peculiar nature of Leon and not because my scheme was in any way defective.
Girls are different, I found. Sex is central in one’s plans, had better be. With this in mind, I turned to target number two, Sally Lou Gearson, and a project more challenging and yet conventional: after all, sophomores in high school find easy reasons for dating. Still, to date across social classes required that Sally be off-centre. She was just that. Sally was kewpie-doll pretty but she was a bit smarter than she looked and a little bored with what was expected of her, though she didn’t know how bored she was. Sally was skinny, boyishly figured, but sure as hell attractive. Naturally, she knew how to dress.
Naturally, so did I. Sally didn’t strain my budget in the same way as Leon: I could get by with saggers and tees, pretending to the cheapest cool type available and countering it with ‘gentleness’ and ‘sensitivity’. Some bad poetry – though as good as I could plagiarize – went a long way with Sally.
Sally and I started by kidding around in the hall, an outgrowth of an English class where I arranged to be her writing partner – thanks Ms T. Before long we were making joint trips to the library, attending poetry readings at a local café and drinking lattes.
Sally was, by nature and habit, a modest girl, and her bohemianism was largely theoretical. I soon found that it was a major turn-on (to me) to induce her to write personal poetry that was ‘direct’, i.e., erotic. It became routine for me to get Sally blushing as she wrote, pushing her way past her limits of decency (and experience) with subjects I introduced and suggested that a poet would be wrong to ignore.
‘Sally, you have a little time today? Okay if you are in a rush.’
‘I have all the time you have, Tom. I love being with you – writing.’
‘I sometimes think I embarrass you, being so direct.’
‘Not at all – well, a little, but I need to get over that. You’re good for me. It’s silly for me to let barriers exist. I should be able to write about anything.’
‘That has to do with being able to feel absolutely anything. Can you?’
‘I can try.’
‘But are you willing to try? I sometimes think you hold things back – from me.’
She leaned over the coffee table there in the café and grabbed my hand, her boyish chest exposing itself as her flowered blouse flopped forward. I could tell her breath was coming fast. ‘Give me a chance.’
‘Well, let’s see.’ I leaned forward and kissed her, letting our lips barely touch but extending my tongue to see if she would meet it. She did, moving forward and almost losing her balance.
It was our first kiss, very passionate.
I said nothing, stood and pulled her up beside me. More kissing in the lounge. She would either be embarrassed past hope or a pushover from here on out. I pulled her close, running my hands down her sides and inside her low-slung saggers.
‘Not here, Tommy. Oh God. Do it.’
We did it – not there. We managed to make it to the city park, behind some trees, naked and unprotected in any way. Our asses were scratched raw by the gravel as we banged each other repeatedly, backwards, forwards, sideways.
Funny thing is it was neither brutal nor calculated, at least beyond the kiss in the coffee bar. It was pure teen passion – or, if not pure, then fun, hormone-driven.
Afterwards, Sally didn’t seem humiliated, ready to weep from shame. She was laughing: ‘Well, Tommy, I guess we lost our purity pretty completely! Hope you’re not sorry, but I practically raped you! I gotta pad my ass next time.’
Nice girl, you’re starting to think. Me too. Before long, I did institute the taping; but turns out she found it ‘spicy’, hardly the perfect lead-in to blackmail. Then she took on tutoring my little sister, Sally did. My little sister is the dearest person, so how could I ruin Sally after she took on my graceless, sweet-hearted Molly? Plus she was the sexiest woman I ever knew, and the funniest: once she gave me a blowjob in Latin class, crouched under my desk. And she lured me to the gym and, with other kids there, led me to a corner and proceeded to climb an exercise ladder ahead of me – beskirted and without underwear, doing a little dance and getting me so inflamed that I had no choice but to pursue her skyward to the upper running track, there to have my way – make that her way – on the curved, heavily banked section.
General point, you are thinking, not yet established. But I am undeterred. I understand the power of anecdotes and the way they can, in odd ways, establish logical sequences that are irrefutable if hidden. There are reasons for hating rich people and I am laying them out here – or will soon. Don’t be impatient.
What we have so far is an evolved species, a social type that has moved beyond its elemental form. Of course it has, through natural selection, rid itself of its most obnoxious arrogances, its markers of self-satisfaction and contempt for others. It has learned ‘niceness’ and ‘consideration’. In order to make our job doable, we must find a specimen of richness less polished (disguised) and thus closer to its essence.
Which is to say a rich black kid. Rich whites have been around since riches came into being as a form of cultural life. Not so rich kids of other colours.
So X was perfect for me. X was possessed of a charming sort of egocentric bisexuality I often encountered in my freshman year at Stanford, but never to this degree. That he would call himself ‘X’ indicates a great deal of primitive self-consciousness, you could say.
I ran across X shortly after arriving – really did – in a field as we were playing a game of touch football, or, rather, others inclined to such hilarity were playing, while I drove a golf cart. Don’t ask how we ended up there. Unimportant.
X, slightly built and delicate, was not well suited to withstand the impact of a motorized vehicle.
‘Damn, man! You about knocked me into next week.’ (Such antiquated phrases, were characteristic of X, a strained way of shooting for ‘cool’, I thought at once.)
I don’t know if I need to give you many details on X, those details being pretty much all of a piece. Unluckily, we became lab partners and found ourselves spending an inordinate amount of time together: yes, in moments of what you would call intimacy. It was also X who told me that my mother had died and who came back with me to the funeral, standing as a buffer between me and my brute of a father. He’s lent me money on many occasions and he has been instrumental in helping Molly get into a hotshot leftist prep school.
So, there you have it, what seems to me a fine example of causal reasoning and cunning social observation. If I do say so myself. I’d better.