Tuesday, November 11, 2008
I'm alas, a proud middle-class woman who understands her place in the world. I rose up from the working-class neighborhood that shaped much of who I am today and fondly look back on those years in Albany New York. My father was a hard-working union man who spent most of his adult life knee deep in mud, working on various construction sites around the state as a Boilermaker. He never graduated from high school, quitting after ninth grade to help support his 10 brothers and sisters during the Great Depression. Benefiting from FDR's initiatives to get America to work, he dug ditches in the WPA and CCC corps, lived on his own by the age of 15 and got a job on the railroad, forcing him to leave his beloved Pennsylvania for the urban streets of Albany. Although we had a very tumultuous relationship, my father always taught me to strive for the very best in life, whatever that may be. His vision of the world was much different than mine, probably because we were exactly 50 years apart, more than a generation. The gap was far too great for us to agree to disagree, although we both knew that our vision of democracy was similar, if not the same. My father ate, drank and slept politics. He regularly devoured the daily newspaper and whatever news magazines he could get his hands on. We came together in the political arena, finding a shaky common place where we agreed that Richard Nixon was a crook, Jimmy Carter was far more than a peanut farmer from Georgia, Ronald Reagan had the best head of hair in his generation...a particularly sore spot for my father since he lost most his hair back in the late 1950's albeit a small black swirly curl at his widow's peak he regularly combed. When Michael Dukkakis lost to George H. Bush in the late 1980's, our Democratic dream was fiercely deflated, yet not deferred. We still held out hope for the future, but my dad did not live to see the nations next president take office. He died as a result of his job. My father suffered a miserable, lousy death because he dreamt of a better life. He made it to the middle-class but didn't live long enough to enjoy the spoils of his minor riches. His spirit throughout his illness was untamed and he became an inspiration for me to live my life outloud and dream big. Dying in March of 1990 of advanced lung cancer due to Mesthelioma, profoundly changed my life agenda, leaving me lost at the age of 23.
I had big dreams for myself, planning to attend law school in New England, then making my way through the local and state political circuit only to find myself basking in the glories of the national political scene as a women's advocate, fighting the fight for those without a voice and empowering my generation. Well, obviously that particular dream of my idealistic youth did not materialize and somehow I never felt derailed or misguided. I mysteriously became an academic dean, much to my surprise, doling out pop psychology advice to the masses and indulging myself in the wonder of their young lives. I suppose I'll never feel bad about not having kids because I mothered many of my students whom I still keep in close contact with. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to help them with their studies and shape their lives. I can't say that enough, because in return, they gave me love and support, friendship and smoking partners. We laughed and cried in the confines of 203 Roosevelt...if those walls could talk!
Today, I had a wonderful encounter with a student named Carlos who looked around my room and told me he loved all the memorabilia. I told him that it was pieces of my life as art. Carlos said I must be living some life and in that special, unexpected moment late this afternoon, I had a slight epiphany, realizing I've had many more triumphs than defeats. Making me smile and reminiscent, I engaged in a spirited and lively conversation with Carlos where we discussed music, travelling and his pending trip to Europe. I must admit that I envy his youth, lack of responsibility and an unbridled passion, yet I cling tightly to my current ideals, middle-aged wisdom and slightly saggy boobs (I get more cleavage now!).
I wallow in my middle-class life. I laugh at the hoity North Shore people who think they live far above the proverbial Mason-Dixon Long Island dividing line that separates the nouveau riche class system that makes up this God forsaken sand spit. Old money is so much classier and honestly, when will people in this county realize that money doesn't make the person, it only makes you dress better. You cannot purchase class or good taste. I could make millions someday but in my heart of hearts, I'll always fall back on my working/middle class ideals that I was raised with even though my tax bracket may say otherwise. Money breeds evil, greed and selfishness. It's not going to change my life because I am defined solely by my thoughts, actions, empathy towards others and these words that flow endlessly from my mind to the tip tap of my fingers on the keys of this computer. You cannot label me, fit me into any box or strip me blind of my thoughts. These earthly possessions are of no importance to me, although I enjoy a good shoe like most of my girl friends! I would spread my wealth to the homeless man who lives on the north side of Millburn Avenue that I pray for every morning or the tree scratcher guy living down the street who is obviously mentally ill or a foster child that will otherwise be lost in a system of crap. I'm going to help, no matter what my financial situation is and I don't need funds to carry out my plan. I'm Rene' in the middle, living my life on my terms, taking too much time to smell the roses and nip the tonic, centering my life around chaos that keeps me alive, away from suburban bullshit, annoying soccer mom's and a cast system that forces me into being some sort of unattainable superwoman. I'd rather struggle in the lower classes than be some bourgeois Islander who listens to scratched Michael Bolten cd's and sneaks cigarettes on the side. It's the grittier side of me that still enoys the kill and if I no longer had work or play hard, I'd wither away into some kind of hunchbacked ooga booga with an entitled attitude, AMEX Platinum card and a gas guzzling Hummer. Fear and loathing in Long Island!