Monday, March 11, 2013

Rich, Poor and Broke: Our New Reality

I spent most of the weekend totally pissed off over a litany of grievances, injustices and simply because I can see the world around me.  I'm broke, unrequited love, car problems, emotionally fragile people, the weather, etc, etc.  It goes on and on and never seems to change. 

But as I slide down the bannister of life I found another sliver in my ass--I missed the TransWorld Halloween Attractions Show in St. Louis.  No, I don't run a haunted house or haunted attraction.  And truth be told, I was planning on lying and telling folks I represented the Village of Browntown, Wisconsin and some of the folks who wanted to do a Haunted Walk in town.  While that's not total bullshit, it's enough to add more bad karma to my debt. 

Every year, I dream of attending.  I say, "I'm going to put money aside this time.  I'm going to save up and next year, I'll be ready!  I'll get a hotel room and drive down to enjoy the show.  It's Halloween, I belong there!"  And I justify it by saying that because my birthday is on Halloween and I'm a horror writer, then dammit I should be there. 

And once again, I was too broke to attend.  I won't even be able to make the next one in April down in Texas.  HAuNTcon.  Once again I feel I should be there.  Sure, I hate Texas, but I'd swallow my bitterness to attend. 

This brings me to something that has really bothered me--my lack of money.  I'm not poor.  Poor, to me, is a state of mind.  It is depression and sadness.  A poor person sits in a mud puddle and says nothing while people throw rocks at them.  A poor person has to go outside to pee. 

I'm broke.  Very, very broke.  Not quite flat broke, because I did buy a soda today, and I have some gas money that should get me through the rest of the week.  And I don't live in a trailer. 

But my lack of money makes me wonder about being rich.  Not in an envious sort of way but rather more as a curiosity.  I've been around rich people before.  They make me uncomfortable.  Buying whatever they want, not worrying about paying rent or how they're going to keep their old car running.  That's just creepy! 

No, I wonder what it is like to look at the world with that perspective.  Do they get jealous at all?  Do they know what a knock-off soda pop tastes like?  How would they react if their lights were turned off because they couldn't pay the bill?

I've noticed all my characters are broke, too.  In fact, the pursuit of money seems to drive them.  Not in a greedy sort of way, but that is part of their survival.  We write what we know and I've done all kinds of things to pay bills. 

I'm my 41 years on this crazy rock, I've done a very long list of things.  I've bought and sold everything from cars, trucks, vans, a couple of boats, musical instruments, computers, guns, knives, restaurant equipment, merchandise that has fallen from trucks *cough*, herbal remedies for glaucoma *cough*, all sorts of home medicinal treatments *cough*, objects of dubious ownership *cough* and racially-specific flags and apparel. 

I've worked in radio, wrote for newspapers, was a caretaker at a cemetery (loved that job!) and worked on cars.  I've sold mutual funds and investment instruments, brokered loans and spent years slinging pizzas. 

As a result, my characters tend to take a certain, "I have to live, so I don't care where the money comes from" look on life.  I remember when I worked at a gas station.  It was Ted's Trading Post.  Everybody knew when I worked and came around with deals.  I bought cars, car parts, guns and enough illegal things to fill a police cruiser's trunk.  And it all went right back out the door. 

I once got stuck with a box of dildos.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to move a dozen 12-inch purple gel dongs?  And it's not like you can walk around and randomly show them to people.  You can't see some lady at a grocery store, strike up a conversation and say, "you know, I have something you might be interested in..."

Thankfully, I sold the lot on E-bay.  I love that place! 

I've always wanted to attempt to write a wealthy character.  What would they be afraid of?  The only thing you can take from them is their soul (sometimes, ha ha) or a person they love.  And even then it all gets weird.

Broke people like me tend to hold on to what little they have with iron grips and the knowledge that gaining ground is hard.  And as I think about it, I cannot remember a single wealthy character in any horror book I've read, outside of M.R. James.

Would you even sympathize with a rich character?  I once had a richie give me shit because I needed a new pair of shoes and couldn't afford them. 

I remember the first time I ever saw a servant.  I was in high school and our marching band was doing a parade on July 4th in Lake Bluff, Illinois.  That's where all the rich folks live.  It was insane.  The crowd was raucous and young turks dressed in various elephant-themed novelties would run up to hit our drums with their knuckles.  I had some guy wearing nothing but a pair of speedos and sunglasses with elephant ears and nose rock out drunkenly while I marched by with my bass drum.  And old people sat on their lawns in the ugliest golf clothes I'd ever seen while black servants in uniforms served them hors d'oeuvres off silver platters.  It scarred me for life. 

And I swore I'd never be like that no matter how much money I had.  In a way, I'm proud of the fact that I've been in junk yards in bitter sub-zero weather searching for a part for my car because I couldn't afford a new one.  Or that I've worked on my car until 3 o'clock in the morning just so I could get to work the next day. 

I also swore I'd never write characters that were the cliche Poor White Trash.  I can't stand how they are portrayed.  Yet many of my characters are just as broke, just as unemployed, and just as cantankerous.  Which always makes me wonder if I even could be a rich person.  Would it be so uncomfortable that I would instantly have to do something self-destructive just to cope? 

I need to figure this one out.  Somebody is going to have send me a million dollars or so for the purposes of research.  I'm sure it'll be a tax write-off or something.  Lemme know, okay?  Social research is important.  We'll make a reality TV show about it.  We'll call it, "Broke and Fixed."  Somebody call the Discovery Channel, we have their next hit!

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