Dear rich people: Have just an OUNCE of respect for us

3 May

I had the right-of-way because I made it to the stop sign first. You, sir, didn’t have the right-of-way because you drive an Acura, and I drive a lowly Ford.

Asshole!

The near-miss that nearly sent my car to the shop AGAIN last Saturday isn’t an isolated incident. Here’s one reality of being flat broke that I’m sure the newly flat broke are now facing: The lords tend to treat the serfs like shit. It’s like the medieval times all over again. Where’s my jousting pole? But here’s the deal: Those sipping their Dom Perignon beside their indoor pools owe more than an ounce of respect to the minimum-wage earners who poured it. Those people probably ensured those aristocrats had good food to eat and a clean place to shit, too, before going home to their studio apartment in a gunshot-riddled neighborhood.

Do you want evidence? Go to your local restaurant — whether it be a fast-food joint or a trendy bistro. Spend about an hour there, and you’ll see wait staff or hosts/hostesses being treated like dirt. The same goes for grocery store cashiers, sales clerks at the mall and school janitors. Even though they make considerably more money than the aforementioned occupations, we certainly can’t forget our often-underpaid teachers and police officers.

I can personally attest to just about all of this. My first job was waiting tables, and that experience really showed me how, as my manager put it, “It takes all kinds of people to make a world.” It’s not a world where everyone is singing “We Are the World.” During that time, I dealt with a guy I believe was in his 40s hitting on me and trying to pick me up. Sure, everyone deals with such people. I just didn’t expect it out of a man that age when I was 17. I heard a guy complain about my service to get out of the mandatory gratuity for waiting on his family that seemed to be bigger than the Partridges and the Bradys combined. I was on the floor scrubbing his kid’s puke out the carpet right at that time. I’ll spare you from the details, but let’s just say I also had to deal with two human-made restroom disasters from hell, too. I had to clean the toilets just about every night.

We also can’t forget the Wall Street fat cats who helped drag us into this mess during this discussion. Right when we believe we’ve heard the last of how they pissed on average Americans and led us toward economic meltdown, we find out more that makes us want to vomit. A U.S. Senate hearing last week sounded more like something on HBO or Showtime. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., cited a “fundamental conflict” in Goldman Sachs’ selling clients home-loan securities that its own employees called “junk”, “crap” and one other *cough* choice word. The company bet against the securities and didn’t tell buyers. Levin cited an e-mail between Goldman execs that described one product as “one shitty deal”. Yes, a United States senator said the dreaded “s-word!” Ooooh!

“Your top priority is to sell that shitty deal,” Levin said. “Should Goldman Sachs be trying to sell a shitty deal?”

I don’t believe any other Senate hearing has ever received as many search results on You Tube. Check it out this little excerpt. It’s not exactly an episode of “The Wire”, but…

* * *

Here’s something else a lot of people miss: Low-wage earners help support our economy, too. Taxes are taken from their paychecks just like taxes are taken from the paychecks of Wall Street investment bankers’. We need people do the jobs we consider lowly or aren’t brave enough to do. Otherwise, who is going to prepare our food? Who is going to ring up our groceries? Who will educate our children? Who will literally put their lives on the line while trying to keep our communities safe?

And of course, we can’t forget those who want to dismiss the poor as lazy, lacking motivation and ambition or siphoning wage-earning taxpayers’ money. Sure, there are people who try to cheat the system, believe me. During my brief tenure as a grocery store clerk, I repeatedly rang up people who were buying grocery items you would buy for parties with food stamps — and pay cash for their hard liquor. Meanwhile, I would go home in my 130,000+ mile car I had bought with my old waitress pay, drive to my apartment beside a junk lot, eat macaroni and cheese and pass out on my college textbooks. Other than student grants/loans, I wasn’t getting an ounce of help from the government. One of my middle school teachers told me of numerous students who told him they didn’t need to learn what he was teaching them because, “I’m just going to get on welfare like Mommy and Daddy.”

But those seem to be the only poor people we see — or want to see. How about the high school student who is juggling school and keeping a 4.0 GPA with a job waiting tables, being in the marching band, dealing with stressful family situations and being in the marching band all at the same time. Yes, that was me. I did it all to have a better life and escape from the single-wide trailer I called home for many, many years. Others going home at night covered in grease were doing the same.

I spent some time trying to find the percentage of welfare recipients who also work, but it was nearly impossible to find something halfway current. Many of these articles were written in the early 2000s or late 1990s — long before anyone even knew what we would experience now. But I have been able to find examples of successful people who are now struggling to survive. On one of my inaugural posts, I mentioned the story of Ken Karpman, a trader who went from a $750,000 per year salary to making $7.29 an hour delivering pizza. Then, we have John Jarrell, an unemployed truck driver from Maryland who is pumping port-a-potties to support his two daughters. He is a single father, by the way.

The U.S. Census is attracting a lot of temporary workers who would normally snub such work. For example, this CNN story has an interview with a woman with a Ph.D. who is taking on this job that ends June 1. Nonetheless, all people interviewed for this story is just happy as hell to have a job.

Note that this dosen’t apply to all of the upper class. One of my college roommates, one I met when I moved into that apartment, grew up in a family that had much more than mine. But I found out she had been picked on, too, for the fact that she was MORE fortunate. We were able to swap stories about being on one side or the other, while being teenagers, to boot. People on both sides often have to dodge bullets. There are so many other wealthy benefactors who use their earnings and status for good. Take Bono’s activism, the Elton John AIDS Foundation or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

* * *

When you pull into the mall parking lot to buy a new wardrobe for the season at Macy’s, watch for employees’ cars and not just ones like your Acura — or Porsche, Corvette, etc. That Chevette you may hit is possibly all a person has. Sure, that car is probably insured, but insurance only pays so much. If that other person is in debt for his/her car, part of the settlement goes to paying off the debt.

So, say you still want to point your finger at the poor and not bat an eye while treating them like scum? Well, you’re adding to your own tax burden. That car may be the only way a single mother gets to the job she uses to support her children or a college student goes to both work and class during his/her search for a better life. Maybe it’s the work truck that gets a West Virginia man to his job at a coal mine, so he can risk his life just to feed his family. It doesn’t just apply to cars. If you and your rich friends get drunk as hell and slam into a family’s trailer, they’re going to be hurting while trying to get their home inhabitable again. That’s less money they can use to stimulate the economy — and survive.

When you get inside the store, be that person — possibly the only one of the day — who is sweet and polite to your cashier or sales clerk. On some days, you may be the only person who is. You never know if that cashier or clerk is pulling himself or herself up by the bootstraps and will perform surgery on you one day. You want to be nice to someone like that 🙂

That 19-year-old college student who rode a bicycle to his McDonald’s job — the one you cussed out over French fries last week? You could be standing beside him flipping burgers next week. That’s providing you can even get a job at Mickey D’s.

Just remember: It can happen to you!

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2 Responses to “Dear rich people: Have just an OUNCE of respect for us”

  1. Alexandra May 20, 2010 at 7:21 am #

    This is so true! In this economy we cannot afford to be so conceited about earning a lot of money. We could end up being homeless tomorrow.
    I love the way you write. Thanks for commenting on my blog 🙂

    • flatbrokegirl May 26, 2010 at 10:45 am #

      Wow! Thanks for the compliment! Believe me, I know all about losing everything. I had an apartment spitting distance from a Florida beach, and was getting ready to plunk down a down payment on a brand new Mustang GT, 40th Anniversary edition. I lost my job the next month and wound up on Skid Row!

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