A Holiday in Shanty Town

During the holidays, that stretch of the calendar that winds between the beginning and end of December, the mysterious wanderings of the bourgeoisie are on full display for all people to see. Here in my town, which I suspect resembles the scene of any number of American cities or towns, it’s not unusual to see wealthy women rush from the warmth of a Lexus or Benz, dropping their fur-covered shoulders to the harsh winter breeze, and make haste for the warm lighted doors of over-priced department stores packed to the brim with people who share their comfortable position in life. And they pack their shopping carts with extravagant offerings for their spoiled and privileged children, for their unappreciative and careless husbands, and for the gold-ringed hands of grandparents and parents who made their position possible.

I steam as I sit in the parking lot, watching this glittery parade dance by, and wonder how cold my toes will be by the time I make it to the pharmacy to pick up my blood pressure medication without insurance coverage and only $26 left to get through the year. We’re not going to the same shopping place – the affluent ladies dance atop over-priced heels toward jewelry shops and suit outfitters, furniture stores and shoe shops; I limp atop an ailing back toward the pharmacy and onward to pick up coffee, fruit and bread – and that, perhaps, is the height of my holiday joy, the knowledge that our paths don’t have to cross and, if they do, the look of disdain peering from above Botox cheeks warms my now blue toes.

And, without doubt, these belles hurry through the aisles and the check-out lines – cutting their eyes at the working people ringing up their new appliances and furnishings – and head for a home warmed by electric heat, from foyer to third-floor studio loft, and filled to the brim with cousins and siblings, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles and a veritable menagerie of wealth and privilege. They all dress well, even to sit around their homes and discuss in hushed tones the success of the American president; they go to church, dressed even better so as not to be outdone by the other elites who make up the congregation; they eat meals, abundant in professionally prepared meats and delicacies, and throw out more than they put into their bellies; they sit around 10-foot Christmas trees and hand out gifts, none of which will please their selfish children, and talk about the Christmas story as if it somehow reinforces the hypocrisy which so brilliantly glows from their windows and doors and faces.

I imagine all of this as I count the gifts for my children and family, outnumbered by toes protruding from my shoes, which are tucked beneath a four-foot plastic tree bought from Dollar General four years ago. I imagine the meals we’ll have together – casseroles and burnt cornbread, apple cake and cheap beer, homemade candies and a tiny Boston butt purchased from Wal-Mart. I consider the expansive warmth and light that bursts from every corner of the houses on the East side of the city, which is roughly equal to the amount of cold air which seeps into our homes through gaps beneath the doors and windows and the cracked walls – in our home, the warmth escapes as quickly as it’s conjured.

And once the Christmas season has ceased – once the candies are eaten, the gifts unwrapped and all of the decorations packed away for another year – the bourgeoisie sets quickly to work preparing for New Year’s Eve, when they have yet another opportunity to parade their shimmering shoes, glittering dresses and shining suits before the covetous eyes of their elite counterparts at some outrageous ball prepared specifically for their refined tastes. They listen to waltzes and tangos and tarantellas, not because they like them but because it projects a certain amount of culture which they have not yet comprehended. And as the liquor seeps deeper into their guts, they begin groping at one another and using language which makes their tongues seem fat and their voices disheveled and lost.

More often than not, the proletarian brothers and sisters can be found in some run down bar handing out plastic wine cups of Andre Extra Dry and watching the ball drop so that they can be in accord with all of the other proletarians dotting the East Coast. They listen to loud music and curse the year behind and begrudge the one ahead; they’re adorned in work clothes, still stained and stinking from the day’s obligations and sipping listlessly as they consider the obligations of the days and years to follow.

This year, however, I will be as a fish out of water, flapping nervously upon the shore and desperately seeking out that which is more familiar to me. Indeed, the Christmas rush found me in much the same way it does every year – bemoaning the lack of money to provide my children and brothers and sisters and all other loved ones with the trinkets of affection which they have most certainly earned over a year of desperation; drinking much more than I eat and falling slovenly before the whole charade has come to its conclusion; burning with fury at my family’s inability to put their petty squabbles aside long enough to provide at least a little magic for the children, who will in no time begrudge the holiday season as wholly as their elders – but New Year’s Eve, while my brothers and sisters in the fight will be indulging in the classless way that revolutionaries do, I will be shoulder to shoulder with the upper-crust and wondering what turn of events convinced me that such an escapade was worthy of my attendance.

In fine bourgeois fashion, they’ll all discuss new job opportunities, promotions and raises, while I stand closely by the punch bowl so as not to start a fight with any of the mindless gentlemen so essential to my wife’s work. She needs these wretched people for financial support – I, however, have no use for them past their being a real and visible embodiment of all that I disdain and hope to see eliminated. And they’ll dance and drink and discuss things of such little importance that I will long for the advanced dialogue of my toddler children – they comprehend kindness and sharing, empathy and community; these people understand nothing that doesn’t push them ahead of their neighbors or fatten their already overloaded bodies and bank accounts.

And I’ll find myself sick of the conversations, sick of their curling lips and despicable lies, sick of their ridiculous drunken ideas and their foolish thoughts and deeds, but mostly sick from the desperation that torments every waking hour of the toiling revolutionary’s mind and body. It’s a sickness for which there is only one cure, but one which will take more than money to get – it is the cure of socialism, which is the eradication of this class and all that it stands for and believes in; it is the cure begot by ridding the rotting American body of capitalism, which poisons the minds of those who consume it so heartily and poisons the soul of those who so readily see it for the disease that it is, one capable of leveling communities and turning brothers and sisters to enemies and spies.

No touch from my wife’s hand will rid me of this sickness, no decent conversation had will relieve me of this ailment, for I know that once the charade has come to a close I will return to shanty town bemoaning the weak-minded nature of the bourgeoisie and resolving more heartily to see their class removed from the earth. And if we are fortunate, this will be the case for all comrades across the globe – do not allow yourself to succumb to fury when inspiration is so much more powerful and necessary; do not allow your heart to become hardened, for a hardened heart is of no use to our suffering brothers and sisters; do not allow yourself to covet their position or possessions, for we at the bottom of this country’s economic ladder know such things are fleeting and we want much more those things which will live on in permanence once we have achieved our final goal – peace, freedom, equality and opportunity.

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