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It's Nelly's World

Occupy Their Shoes

alec vanderboom


Why did it take so long? Why were we not in the streets, with our placards and our anguished shouts, before this? It took nearly a fifth of us out of work--no hope of it returning, either, because it had been slipped out of our pockets while we were watching the parade, entertained by today's official clowns (ever more team sports to show us how to be mindless followers, happy pills that simultaneously pacify us and put billions in the coffers of Big Pharma, brilliant!, the little screens in all our hands giving the illusion of Connection to Friends, jobs disappearing incrementally into automation)--before we thought to rise up. What the encampments will bring, no one yet knows. Change, one hopes. But hopes are sometimes dashed.

My coat, anyway, now sports the button I had been long wishing someone would stamp and a million wear: "I want Roosevelt again." Or at least someone with the courage to do what is necessary, no matter how unpopular, and then to proclaim (as in 1936): "They are unanimous in their hate for me and I welcome their hatred." Only bravery like this, and a willingness to put the country before a desire to be liked, aka reelected, can effect the change we need now. Because, truly, "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little" (second inaugural).

I was in the presence of a few who seemed to have too much, on Saturday evening. The venue was the grand new luxury hotel built by the man who has brought high-stakes horse shows to the banks of the Hudson; he had to build the hotel, he explained to a magazine reporter, because there was no place in these parts that offered the kind of lodgings the extremely well-heeled horsey set demands as a matter of right. And so he built a place that exudes the right sort of silky anonymity, with high thread-count sheets and turn-down service, that is expected by the one percent. He is also the parent of children in my son's new school, and that is why I was seated near the fireplace at a large table at the lavish buffet in his hotel's two-story banquet room, for the school's annual fundraising auction.

The items bid upon ranged from gift baskets prepared by every class (the seventh grade's was a game basket, for which I'd bought Scrabble and a dictionary), a chance to be headmaster for a day, a custom-made dining table (value, $9000), a Cape Cod house for a week (value, $2700), lunch with Entrepreneur of the Year (value, priceless), and a "dream car tour," enabling one to take for a spin, one after the other, a Lamborghini, Bentley, Aston Martin, Maserati, and Mercedes. The one I wished for, though, was "Fighter Pilot for a Day," at the controls of an Italian light attack fighter. Then I could die, feeling complete.

The paddles were raised all around the room, blinking on and off like explosions in a video game war. And indeed it was a game, only played with real money (we had given our credit card coordinates before being seated). I noted the frequent bidders always sat back in their chairs, as if resting while servants (volunteers
with clipboards and fast pens) recorded their thousands tossed off with an insouciant flick of the wrist. They seemed to enjoy it. The next thing I knew, auction fever spiked my temperature for a brief, hysterical moment, and in a single flash of my paddle--wait, who did that?--I had given away money I didn't have, so that the kids might have a weather station with Mac and six iPads and dock. Then I came to my senses. I went back for some paella and put the paddle safely into my bag so no more temptations would call me out of my place firmly with the 99 percent. Those who had no access to an open bar and chocolate-covered cheesecake slices.

For one night, I stood in their shoes. And I knew why they didn't want to give this up. But I also knew why we must fight so that they will.