Thursday, October 30, 2008

Spread the Regular

My friends, let me introduce myself. I’m Jeff the Sociologist and I am a Regular American. I like a six-pack just as much as the next obtuse middle-aged professor. In fact, I was on my way home today after getting a prostate exam from Larry the Doctor, and I picked up a sixer of Beck’s Octoberfest, which I’m hoping to share on election night with my old buddy John the Insolvent Investment Advisor and my spouse Pam the Nurse Practitioner, while trying to keep it out of the hands of Matt the East Chapel Hill High School Student.

The way I see it, this election is all about Regular Americans. Me, I wear steel-toed shoes, for heaven's sake. Actually they’re steel-toed Italian sandals, and I didn’t know about the steel until the sandals set off the metal detector at JFK airport on my way to Barcelona to embark on a cruise. Just the same, steel is steel. It all comes from Western Pennsylvania as far as I know, so I’m walking around with the pride of the American Rustbelt right there in my Bacco Buccis.

Anyway, I was pretty ticked off a couple of weeks ago when I found out the world financial system had collapsed and most of my retirement nest egg had been, shall we say, “redistributed” down the toilet. I placed a call to my pals Hank the Treasury Secretary and Ben the Fed Chairman, seeking some friendly advice about how to fish all that money back out of the crapper, but those two Regular Americans were on a conference call with Joe the Plumber trying to ask him the same question. (After all, the man is nothing if not a toilet specialist.)

When all this happened, I was somewhere at sea between the French Riviera and the Amalfi Coast listening to Josh the Cello Player in a tuxedo on Deck Four. I was also keeping an eye on CNN World Edition (which is Regular American news delivered in a British accent), and then Frank the Lugubrious Norwegian Cruise Ship Captain came over the public address system to announce there were rough seas up ahead. Boy, he wasn’t kidding. That Frank, he is one straight talker, let me tell you.

I high-tailed it up to the ship’s library to check my e-mail and got a message from my colleague Marvin the Psychiatrist about the fate of our research grant application to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which had just joined our personal investment portfolios in the toilet. (By the way, Marvin the Psychiatrist is also a Regular American like me and John the Insolvent Investment Advisor.)

What happened is the NIMH review committee decided to “spread the wealth” and ran out of spread when it came to Marvin and me. This was all bad news, but then I got the idea that I could make up for it big-time in the onboard casino, which offers much better odds than the NIMH Royale.

I headed down to Deck Three and ran into my mother-in-law, Val the Children’s Opera Book Illustrator, who had just thrown out her back carrying three buckets of quarters redistributed to her from a slot machine. (Val the Children’s Opera Book Illustrator is also a Regular American just like my father-in-law Norm the Billy Graham Crusade Consultant; we all went on this Med cruise together for the sake of Family Values and to avoid talking politics.)

I still had a few bucks in my pocket and so I proceeded to generously redistribute that to the casino through the very same slot machine that had just disgorged all those quarters to the Mother of Pam the Nurse Practitioner. My wallet was now filled with sweet bupkiss.

All this redistributing wealth got me thinking about my old nineteenth-century colleague Karl the Political Economist. Boy, was he ever a regular guy. The dude lived hand-to-mouth trying to support seven children with no job except for sitting around in the British Museum writing imponderable works of social theory.

Four of his children died and the other three weren’t looking so well, but then Frederich the Textile Company Heir decided to spread some wealth in the direction of Karl the Political Economist. This seemed like a great idea to Karl. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” he wrote one day.

Karl the Political Economist had no idea how famous he would become for those words, among others. But there you go. Fame -- it's like quarters from a slot machine. One day you're a nobody, and then you hit the jackpot and get so famous the world almost blows itself up over you.

The only problem is, Karl didn't deserve all the credit -- and he knew it. He was an honest and a humble fellow. Were he alive today, I think he'd be embarrassed by all the hysteria, and would reluctantly appear on TV to set things straight -- probably on The O’Reilly Factor with Bill the Apoplectic Pundit. Karl would come right out and admit that he wasn’t quite smart enough to think up such a grand idea himself, having almost flunked out of the University of Bonn in eighteen-thirty-something. (The truth is, Karl the College Student had spent a lot of time with his drinking buddies in a frat house called the Gulag Kibbutz.)

“Bill the Pundit,” Karl says, “I have something to confess to you and the world. That whole 'spread-the-wealth' thing was not original with me -- and God knows Frederich didn’t think it up. The fact is, I stole it from the Bible. I’ve never been too keen on Christianity as a belief system -- too may Rabbis in the family -- but I’m impressed with the tax policy.”

“Are you crazy?!” Bill the Pundit screams.

“Listen, Bill,” Karl goes on, “I have a dream today. In my dream, I see my four little children in the park at the edge of a small crowd, and they’re all listening to a guy who lives on the street, called Joe the Preacher. And they ask him, ‘Joe, what should we do?’ And Joe the Preacher says, ‘The person who has two coats must share with the one who doesn’t have any, and the person who has food must do the same.’”

“But that’s socialism, you miserable pinko!” Bill the Pundit rises toward his trademark apoplexy.

Karl’s eyes glisten and he drones on, “. . . and then I see a world where people come to believe this and where all the believers are one in heart and soul, and nobody calls any of his possessions his own. Instead, they share everything they own. . . . None of them needs anything, because everyone who has land or houses will sell them and bring the money received for the things sold and lay it at the apostles’ feet. Then it will be distributed to anyone who needs it.”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” Bill swears. “It’s Karl Freaking Marx! Somebody call Homeland Security!”

Karl stops reading from the Gospel of Luke and The Acts of the Apostles and walks off the set of Fox News, back into the mists of history to scratch his boils in the British Museum, hoping Engels has a six-pack somewhere.