Need vs. greed

What we want, what others want us to want, and why we want it -- this week in TT.

By Salon Staff
August 12, 2005 8:06PM (UTC)
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Families Who Think

Family Lifestyle and Class Choices

Vera Charles - 08:05 p.m. Pacific Time - Aug. 9, 2005 - #917 of 917

My parents' anti-yard-sale view was purely ideological; the idea was that biblical thing of leaving a little of the wheat in the field when you were done harvesting, even, presumably, if you could have used it yourself, for people who were foraging. People who had no right to your wheat should have it, says Leviticus, and my dad reads that passage at the Thanksgiving table every year.


And yes, the sort of genteel delusions of noblesse oblige that keep people like me from getting receipts from Goodwill are often not very well off (and sometimes we're just lazy). Does anybody remember that passage from "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" where Frannie's talking about how the only thing she has enough of to waste is coffee, and so even though she doesn't like it, she likes to hold the mug in her hands every morning and then relish pouring it down the drain? That sense of grandiosity, of the ability to waste, is so delicious for me and it fuels a lot of my work, in a sense. What could be richer than to say, "Oh, don't worry about it!" about a small sum of money or a treat for a student or friend. The greatest luxury in my life is the knowledge that with my education and training, I'd be able to teach wealthy kids and make two or three times what I do in a couple of years, if only I'd leave behind the students I have now. And that they know it. My boss went to Stanford and Harvard and he has devoted his entire life to this place. He fixes toilets. He raised three kids here. He teaches English and Math and P.E. and runs the administration. His wife teaches science. Between them, if they worked for profit in other industries, they could make 15 times what they do. They couldn't afford to make the lifestyle choice they made, but they did it anyway. So far I've managed to live mostly according to my political beliefs, and you can't get that at the store.

I think that even people who don't want to work should still be able to eat, and I think I should do some of the feeding. My plantation-owning great-grandfather killed a black boy with an ax handle; I owe somebody something. I think there is no job you could do that would truly earn you a salary more than 10 times what the lowest-paid person in the building makes (compare your CEO and your janitor and see what you get). I think everybody's life situation justifies greed, everybody needs a little more than they have, but I'm afraid that understanding will lead too quickly to acceptance of those values, and because I want things, and I want a good life for my kids, and I want safety and comfort, acceptance would lead to conversion. I'm sanctimonious about money in the way that evangelicals are sanctimonious about God, and for the same reason; that path is slippery, and it's steep, and I want what's at the foot of it as much as anybody else.

Private Life


Bad Thoughts V: "Go Cheney Yourself!"

mschmidt - 10:40 a.m. Pacific Time - Aug. 6, 2005 - #7997 of 8068

"Hello? May I speak to Mr. Michael Schmidt?"

"Yes, this is he."

"Mr. Schmidt, this is Suzie from Consolidated Loan, your mortgage company? We've been reviewing your account, and we've found you have an excellent opportunity for a Home Equity Line of Credit. This means ..."


"No, sorry, I'm not interested."

"Mr. Schmidt? If you would just consider..."


"Honey, what's wrong?"


"Why are you getting up?"

"Goin' to work."

"But, honey, it's Saturday! It's 6 a.m.!"

"Sorry, darling, but I have to review some account files."


"But, honey, you do that all week!"

"These are special. We've called a special meeting just to review the Schmidt account. We think he might be eligible for a Home Equity Line of Credit."

"But can't Mr. Schmidt wait until Monday? You promised Jimmy you'd take him fishing!"


"At Consolidated Loan, we put our customers first."

"Of course, dear. But couldn't you just have your computers screen the loans for eligibility?"

"Martha, Martha, you have such a simplistic view of finance! Our customers depend on us for superior, personalized service. Surely you don't think they chose our company just because we offered the lowest rate!"


"No, no, of course not, dear. What does Mr. Schmidt want his Home Equity Line of Credit for?"

"Well, he hasn't actually asked for one yet. We want to offer him one without him having to ask for it."

"So you're just going to send him a letter telling him he can have it?"

"No, Martha, that would be too impersonal. We'll call him this morning, as soon as our meeting is over. You see, Mr. Schmidt has signed on to the 'Do Not Call' list, which means he only wants phone calls from companies he already does business with. In effect, he has singled us out as deserving of his immediate attention. It would be an insult to him if we didn't take advantage of it."


"But what if Mr. Schmidt is sleeping in this morning? It's Saturday, you know."

"Martha, we're not just Mr. Schmidt's loan company, we're his friends. And friends don't let friends slip into habits of sloth and dissipation. Look, I'm not supposed to be telling you this, but lots of people are worried about Mr. Schmidt."


"Yeah. His debt levels are real low. Homeland Security estimates that in a few years, he may have accumulated enough savings to pay off his mortgage outright. He pays off his credit card every month, never incurring interest charges."


"How un-American!"

"If we don't get him into a HELOC soon, he may be in a position to retire early. For some, that's not a big danger, they just buy a condo in Phoenix and buy the useless stuff that our economy depends so heavily on. But Mr. Schmidt may take up organic farming, or turn his energies toward political activism. Mr. Schmidt must be stopped. So you can see why it's so important that we get him into a HELOC this morning. "

"Oh, honey, I didn't know your work was so vital to our national security! Of course you must go in at once! Never you mind your little airheaded wife! Be good, dear! Will you be back for lunch?"

Private Life


Since You Asked by Cary Tennis (v2.0)

bookseller - 12:56 p.m. Pacific Time - Aug. 4, 2005 - #6910 of 7203

We might want to spare just a little thought for Mr. Let Me Kiss Your Adorable Nose and Hold Your Hand Across the Dinner Table Even Though I'm Theoretically Involved With Someone Else.

Where I come from, we call that sending a mixed message. And the reason mixed messages are bad is that they fuck witchoo -- i.e., you spend the next six days thinking, "Well, he's seeing someone else, but he kissed my nose and my chin and but he's seeing someone else but he won't really confirm that sort of like how the British government deals with ex-secret agents who write their memoirs and he SEEMS to be seeing someone else but maybe he isn't really after all he did hold my hand through the entire salad course..."

I read the results of a study somewhere sometime -- we call this the scientific method -- about monkeys (maybe it was rats) and food pellets. There were three groups and a little pink button. Group One, every time they pressed the pink button, a food pellet would be dispensed. They pressed the button when they were hungry, but didn't seem particularly interested in it. Group Two, the pink button never produced any food. They stopped pressing it very quickly. But with Group Three, sometimes pressing the pink button would produce a food pellet, sometimes it would produce a FLOOD of food pellets, and sometimes they could press the damn thing for days and it wouldn't cough up a single pellet and the monkeys/rats would be frantically pressing and pressing and pressing and pressing ... kind of like an obsessed woman checking and rechecking and rechecking her phone messages to see if there's one from Him.

The moral is: Mixed messages promote obsession. They are DESIGNED to promote obsession. And Mr. Let Me Kiss Your Chin should be shot on sight.

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