buying umbrellas in the rain

3 Nov

Part of me can’t help but think there’s as big a difference between the bottom one percent and the middle class as is there is between the middle class and the top one percent.

I’m soaked. My hands are red from the wind and I can’t feel my fingers. The rain is a sheen on the black coats that surround me. Water dripping from briefcases and hat brims. It’s only been two days since Bad As Me officially came out, but I’ve been listening to it nonstop. It’s a perfect morning for it. Tom says that everybody knows umbrellas cost more in the rain. Today that feels truer than ever.

The umbrella line isn’t literal. It’s metaphorical preface for some hard, straight talk. “It’s hard times for some, for others it’s sweet, but someone makes money when there’s blood in the street. Don’t take any lip. Stay in line. Everybody’s talking at the same time.”

With the music’s warbling backdrop, it’s easy to place this somewhere around 1930, but as I keep listening, it’s obvious we’re right here. 2011. Iraq. Afghanistan. The financial crisis. Occupy Wall Street. “Well, we bailed out the billionaires. They’ve got the fruit, we’ve got the rind. And everybody’s talking at the same time.”

I’m not on hard times. I’m cold, but I’ll be warm soon. I’m a victim but only of gratuitous privilege. It doesn’t matter how much umbrellas cost—I can afford one.

Is this the danger of the 99%? I love the solidarity the slogan allows, its incredible inclusiveness. I long for that. But part of me can’t help but think there’s as big a difference between the bottom one percent and the middle class as is there is between the middle class and the top one percent. I listen to the song as a I bow my head to the elements, the wind finding all the chinks in my cloth armor. All the ideas, just like all the ideas before, are bound to fail those at the true bottom.

Along Lake Street, a woman jerks, her hooded head whiplashing backwards. It’s quick and then it’s done. She keeps walking as if nothing happened. Then she bucks again, like a bull. She bites at the air as if she has a bit in her mouth.

She’s schizophrenic. I recognize the way she stalks the streets.

It’s a fitting performance for the rampage in my ears, but it also reminds me that “inclusive” only goes so far. This woman wouldn’t be any more welcome down at Jackson and LaSalle than she would be in my office building at 205 N. Michigan. Is she the 99%? I don’t know. I don’t know what she is.

Whether an umbrella is five dollars or fifty or five-hundred, it’s all the same when you don’t have anything at all. And I’ve never known that feeling. I want to know how to feel about that, and what to do to really change things, but everybody seems to be talking at the same time, and I get distracted easily.

2 Responses to “buying umbrellas in the rain”

  1. Ashleigh November 3, 2011 at 11:31 pm #

    True. Brilliant. Thanks for this.

    • Claire November 4, 2011 at 9:27 pm #

      I enjoyed this. Thank you.

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