Friedmann Space/The Rich are Different from You and Me

Fellow humans:

As I gather my things to roll communal internal combustion Conestoga across the great plains of the middle western desert, I hand off to you a couple of pieces of reading material.

The first is a quick review of some research done on the impact of money or social status on generosity that appeared this past week in The Economist.

The second is an excellent story from Victor Pelevin, courtesy of Google Books, excerpted from 2010’s Best European Fiction about how money changes everything.


After sitting my sedentary hours at the office today, requisite for not much longer, I went for a 5.5 mile run to circulate the blood and shake the funk I was in.  Looking up as I made my laps, I noticed a hawk hovering in a giddy state of confusion over the patch of lawn on the Bayard Street side of the McCarren Park track.

I knew that careful hovering maneuver from having seen it so many times growing up, where field mice could be plucked from the fields like grapes from a vine.  The red-tailed hawks back home would circle that tightly and somehow float in midair only if there was something on the ground they intended to eat.  The birds will hold their position there in the sky, seeming to stay aloft by an act of the will alone before giving free reign to gravity, dropping on top of some soon dead rodent.

I don’t often see hawks in my neighborhood, so without knowing what he was after, I found myself willing him to drop, empathizing with him, hoping he could make the kill he had set his predator’s heart on.

And then I looked down.

A group of girls in their twenties were standing in a group with their chihuahua and chihuahua-derivative dogs frolicking about them, both dogs and owners blissful in their absolute self-involvement, oblivous to the death multiplied in its potential perched and stopped and hanging held back by nothing at all in the very air above their heads.

Oh— oh, yes!  Yes, I thought to myself.  Please, mighty spirit of the world grandfather, smite a small dog, star of any one of these girls’ lives of vapid indulgence.  In this neighborhood that is a fantasy of the artificial, amid the Halloween makeup, false pretenses of broken glass, the disguise of the condos’ high-rise, please intrude with the memory of order, leaner times, austerity, loss, consequence, and… livable rent?

The bird of prey trembled, hesitating, waiting for the girls to clear.  Several times he flapped his wings, beating the air again to gain loft and buy time, holding out the ravenous hope he could take one of those mammalian trinkets as a meal.

Finally, he gave up.  He flew to roost atop a nearby building.  In a twist so emblematic of this place, what came out the gates thinking he was the hunter went home hungry and disabused of the idea.  When I passed that way on my next lap, the bird was nowhere to be seen.

I am leaving this city.  I’m leaving sooner than even seems possible.  As I ran that night I pondered on one reason that this was a very good thing:  That, as I hoped for the hawk to grab one of those little dogs to shrill keening, I, like every next person keeping this undead city alive with its flagrant exploitation of youth, its ostentation and propaganda of selfish enterprise, would like to see harm done to another living thing.  I would like to see someone else suffer loss- as though that would do something to restore the loss of balance that I feel here.

Joe Hill wrote a short story that encapsulates this feeling, the backwards, nihilist, reactionary joy that is the refuge of those who would starve if they didn’t eat their neighbors first, the black comic sardonic mode of laughing at the very inconceivable ridiculousness of actually riding to hell in a handbasket.  It’s his You Will Hear the Locust Sing, collected in 20th Century Ghosts, the story of a boy in an atomic age America who wakes up to find he’s the new Gregor Samsa. He wakes up a giant bug, and he likes it.  In the story the boy kills his best friend first to give him the sci-fi buff wonder of being attacked by a giant bug “because he loved him.”

That’s it, New York.  No more long hours spent misusing communication and fomenting confusion, no more pushing products people don’t need.  I’m going falconing no more.