I’m sick of pretending to be affluent

Friday night:

My parents just left for Europe, as one does this time of year, and I’m at loose ends at their house, thankful beyond words that they’ve given me their blessing to stay here while they’re out of town. Crashing with them for most of this month has been a financial lifesaver for me. Remember, when I do productive farm work for Joe Dirtbag, I lose money, and last summer I was quite lucky on days when my earnings picking blueberries covered more than two thirds of my expenses. For the past two and a half weeks I’ve finally been able to save the allowance money that they’ve been transferring me. That’s why I put up with the surreal Groundhog Day lifestyle that they have such difficulty transcending. It’s kept me off the streets.

These savings won’t last. I have to reserve a third of the cash I currently have on hand to pay for return fare to the West Coast, parking, rent on my storage unit, and my health insurance (sic) premium. I couldn’t find any fully intact pants in my car when I packed to come east and my main pair of shoes is coming apart, so I’ll probably be out no less than another $80 for  bare-bones replacements, if not much more for items that are well made.

Before I’d fully accounted for these expenses, and before my right shoe started separating in a way that I’m not sure I’ll be able to properly fix, I agreed to go to a friend’s bachelor party in Baltimore this weekend, at the Insurance Schmuck’s request. I didn’t buy tickets to Baltimore in advance, so if I buy them now, I’ll be on the hook for at least $70 in one-way fare. I doubt I’ve missed any discount bus fare gems; God knows I’ve spent enough time pricing out itineraries, even crackpot ones. Spending even $50 round-trip on bus fare, which might be possible on a slow travel day, would be financially dicey the way things look right now; the through rail fares that I’ve been finding on Amtrak from Albany, Schenectady, or Saratoga Springs to Baltimore for this weekend start at $100 and go up to $341. No, I did not make that up, and no, it does not include a sleeper. Muh Acela Corridor. I tried to buy an $89 ticket from Schenectady last night, but it became unavailable before I could complete the booking.

If the Insurance Schmuck had promptly forwarded me the schedule he’d prepared for the rest of the bachelor party, I might have been able to get a ticket before the fares went to shit. That’s the only thing he realistically could have done to convince me that this trip would be a good idea and not an exhausting mess. The honored bachelor is a real class act, and the Insurance Schmuck can be one when he isn’t being an emotionally sloppy frenemy, but the rest of the party is a peacocking brosplosion, ineptly tempered by misfits and strange rangers, at least one of them with a history of severe alcoholism. I don’t feel a strong antipathy to these guys, but I also don’t really want to hang out with them while being aggressively plied with hard liquor. These guys used to bring chicks to their parties, but this weekend is on track to be a sausagefest, and the only way I can imagine any of them trying to remedy the no-homo is by hiring a stripper. Not a good idea: doing so would likely offend the honoree, who lives sobriety and chastity instead of preaching the virtues, and besides, one halfway whore trying to halfway sex a roomful of rowdy drunks and their misfit hangers-on is a fool’s errand at best.

What I’m looking at, if I end up going through with this trip, is dropping $80 or more on one-way fare to Baltimore, arriving exhausted after being on the road all day, and then getting dragged off to listen to this absurdly amateurish cover band called Go Go Gadjet (which may not actually be playing in Baltimore this weekend; its Facebook page shows it playing at several shore points in Delaware and New Jersey). Most of the guys in this party either do not know how to turn down their own volume in social settings or, more likely, feign this social condition of #TIMMEH. I doubt any of them are so boorish at work, and I know for a fact that some of them are not, including the Insurance Schmuck, who sets the tone for most of the others. My relationship with these people can be truly bizarre. It’s been this way since we were all in college, so it isn’t just a function of my current downward mobility and their reactive condescension.

My own living circumstances, of course, went from bad to worse four years ago, so that now I’m intermittently employed but also intermittently homeless. Neither one is a good look in the crowd whose approval and membership these guys strive to maintain. What the hell else am I going to  tell them, though? That I’m a legislative aide to some assemblyman and have a walkup apartment in Midtown Sacramento? If I really wanted to bullshit them, I could do so abundantly and in great detail. Sometimes I think that this would be the best option. Then I remember that actually misleading others about my basic circumstances makes me physically ill. Whatever I’m in this world to do, it ain’t that.

It’s impossible for me not to stir up prejudices that frankly should not exist. E.g., I’m college educated, and my parents have terminal degrees, so why the hell don’t I have a “career” in something that can at least loosely be called a “profession?” No, asswipe, we aren’t an aristocracy. Or at least we aren’t one in full quite yet. Social mobility, remember? It doesn’t work if the scions of affluence can’t drop socioeconomically to take jobs that have been vacated by upwardly mobile meritocrats from the lower stations. The use of foreign peasantries as an external feedstock to keep a cryptofeudal pseudomeritocracy going without reform is a cheap sleight of hand. The campesinos take these jobs because they don’t have civil rights, so the jobs must be bad in ways that working green chain or doing plumbing repairs at sewage treatment plants is not. To put it a bit differently, that’s why it’s so much easier to get killed on the job in American meatpacking plants today than it was forty or fifty years ago.

My own circumstances at and around Joe Dirtbag’s farm are dysfunctional and dyscivic in somewhat different ways, and thankfully less dangerous. (I’d demand a comprehensive regulatory raid if they were much worse. Still, if that’s the kind of shit I have to tolerate in order to be a productive member of society, what in the everloving fuck is wrong with this whole joint? It gets even worse: what if this sort of chaos and deprivation in the underclasses is what it takes to produce the surplus that America’s finance bros use to go peacocking around Inner Harbor? There’s a certain surreal Late Imperial Roman look to it all. There’s something badly amiss when power couples insist that they can’t find anyone with civil rights to babysit their children. Precious Snowflake would have to be a holy terror for that to be worse than a bit annoying. Meanwhile there’s a huge front-of-the-house servant class, much of it employed full-time, that is forced to hotbunk in rough parts of Prince George’s County and commute into Arlington or the District in order to wait on bougies who are often obviously its moral inferiors. The moral parasitism never ends.

This bachelor party in Baltimore has an unshakable Kwesi Millington for Sheriff look about it. Hell, everything involving well-heeled outsiders recreating on Baltimore’s inner city waterfront does. Baltimore has some of the most egregious Potemkin Village urban planning surrounded by miles of some of the closest things the United States has to the Third World. There’s some really ugly shit in Philadelphia, where I used to live, but Baltimore is apparently worse. And Baltimore has never been my city. I don’t want to be just another out-of-t0wn bourgeois interloper in the gentrified theme park sector of a city that badly needs help from people who know what the hell they’re doing.

Saturday night:

As I had half hoped and half feared, I have not gone through with the trip. I got up in time to catch the train I had in mind, but I didn’t feel awake enough to drive to Rensselaer safely. I’d left a voice message with the Insurance Schmuck calling off my visit, with the proviso that I’d call again if I had enough energy to make it. He hadn’t opened the message when he called this afternoon. He went from excited to somewhere between annoyed, disappointed, and crestfallen when I told him over the phone that I didn’t have the energy to get down there.

I didn’t feel like telling him about the budgeting considerations influencing my decision because it didn’t seem like it would be a profitable conversation for me. Instead, I got sucked into an extended Facebook rant explaining that I’m homeless and wish mainly that the housed would stop being condescending gobshites about my housing and financial circumstances. It was exhausting, upsetting, and hardly cathartic, but I wanted to get my thoughts on the subjects out while they were still fresh and focused. I felt like something of a gobshite myself for blurting out all that bitterness, and I still do, but I didn’t know how else to deal with it. I felt worst about the prospect of the party’s honoree taking it personally, since he is one of the few people in that crowd who doesn’t show class bigotry. I don’t know how I’ll smooth it over with him or with the Insurance Schmuck, should the need arise. I’m lost on that count.

The bizarre thing, when I think about it, is that my efforts to call out the Insurance Schmuck and his hangers-on for mistreating me always feel like first-strike aggression. Intellectually, I know that they’re defensive in nature, not offensive (careful on the pronunciation there, I’m thinking), but they feel petty and overbearing. I hate getting up on my high horse about principles in my interactions with friends. So in decisions between being a moralizing putz and being a martyr, I almost always gravitate towards Wow Much martyrs Such christlike Very passionplay.

It stands to reason that there should be a middle ground here, but when the Insurance Schmuck gets aggressive with me, I have an extremely hard time finding one. Merely annoying manifestations of his aggression include half-playful, half-browbeating tirades to try to get me psyched up about things that he should be able to tell don’t interest me. Often these are things that I’ve previously made clear to him I do not enjoy. Years ago, when we were visiting Penn State, he repeatedly tried to get me to join him in that idiotic WE ARE cheer. As they said in Mean Girls, she doesn’t even GO here. Dude’s deep into cults, though, and his involvement in cult brainwashing gets ever so much worse than some dumbass pep rally call and response.

The mindset and behaviors that FIRE sector sales culture have instilled in him are truly fucking vile. It’s his fault for being attracted to this mental garbage and not asserting higher principles against the worst of it, but it’s the fault of a large swath of the industry for modeling and encouraging a stance bordering on the diabolical. The Insurance Schmuck once made some offhand comments to me indicating that he’s keeping track of a detailed estimate of my parents’ net worth for the purpose of positioning himself to assume management of assets that I’ll inherit from them. Honestly, I find this much less offensive than I would ever have imagined and approach my critique of it much more dispassionately and academically than viscerally (as a matter, say, of honor). When I think about it, I feel like a choad for not making it emotionally painful for take such a stance with me. His thoughts about my parents’ mortality are that hopefully he’ll be able to cash in.

I’m sure that the asshats who mentored him and wrote the salesmanship books he consults have taught him this vulture mindset. Waiting for people with estates to die in order to angle for their money is sociopathic. The industry has taught him to be a sociopathic vulture, to circle the future dead and pester their bereaved survivors. Even by the standards of mercenary big law these are practices straight out of Deep Hell. A normal person abiding by a sense of core ethics and manners would be aghast at the realization that he had discussed the inevitable death of a friend’s parents from the perspective of getting in on their estate for the commissions. This should be really fucking obvious. With the Insurance Schmuck, it’s different. If I bring up this old slight by way of cautioning him that his industry has severely corrupted his morals, he’ll probably accuse me of being an impractical, sheltered, overly idealistic, easily butthurt grievance-monger. Maybe that’s what one should expect for accusing a cult-whoring friend of selling his soul.

The Insurance Schmuck’s boss has a slightly less offensive and evil sales maxim: “If you want to be quality, surround yourself with quality.” By “quality,” he means rich people. This advice would be morally grounded enough if “quality” referred to competence, emotional stability, expertise, moral clarity, or any number of other virtues distinguishable from having a shitload of money. Ironically, these people seem to have unusually strong ethics once they actually negotiate and sell their products, making it all the more mystifying and unfortunate that they use such wrongheaded, immoral sales strategies. And of course it’s bizarre to be in the position of having to stipulate that aping rich people and bothering them for a cut of their money over excessive golf is partially defensible because it is merely vulgar and crass, as opposed to the shambling spiritual profanity and bankruptcy of positioning oneself to divert portfolios from one’s bereaved friends when their parents finally die.

Taking this show on the road to Fell’s Point and Inner Harbor inevitably threatens to yield infinite fractals of Millington for Sheriff. The prospect of taking part in that definitely troubles me when I think about. The guys rented a unit in one what the Insurance Schmuck described as the single most opulent apartment building in Baltimore, along with a deluxe yacht. I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something obscene, even if unintentionally so, about doing this in a city with one of the most decrepit and lead-contaminated low-end housing stocks in the country and also one of the highest murder rates. No, the prosperity does not trickle down. If it did, Inner Harbor would have caused an organic, cascading urban renewal decades ago. Instead, it caused Inner Harbor. Besides, what kind of bullshit non-solution is it to fix outlying ghettos by starving them of government funds that have been diverted to a waterfront tourist trap?

I certainly wouldn’t be crazy about exacerbating this corrupt, yuppie-aggrandizing dynamic by fucking around in Baltimore over the weekend and pretending to have more in common with the affluent people I’m trying to keep up with than with intermittently homeless ghettosiders who have trouble finding work. I didn’t end up towards the godforsaken side of this cultural chasm because I wanted to dabble in solidarity with the poor. I ended up there because I could see no other choice. Once I was there, I came to realize more and more just what a pig-ignorant, condescending piece of shit I must have been to the poor, in my heart if not also in my interactions with them, before I stumbled into a limited version of their condition. Now that I’m in a position to report back to Bougie, there seems to be scant interest interest in what I have to say.

If I’m sounding like Adam Gellin again instead of beating Tom Wolfe at his own pornographic gonzo game, maybe it’s because Gellinism is the only hope of getting self-important Vineyard Vines drunks to conceive of themselves as something other than George Patton or Gordon Gekko. Yuppie scum will not police themselves. Someone has to be the adult who stands up to them. We have a lot more than party fouls at stake if they keep getting their way.

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