My younger daughter, without whom I would be hopelessly ignorant of many things, including TikTok, shared this video clip with me yesterday. For her the payoff is the punchline. For me it’s the poignant realization that Larry King is unable to do anything but mock someone else’s sweet and genuine appreciation for coffee and socks.
The question King asks his guest is about luxury. From Merriam-Webster:
His question brought to mind one of my favorite quotes on the topic, from singer Barbra Streisand.
Luxury exists in the place of more than enough. It only happens where there is choice. But I would also suggest it requires an ability to recognize and appreciate that, as I contemplated when I wrote Mrs. Gottrocks in 2013.
Right now in Columbia/Howard County I truly believe we have a crisis, which predates the pandemic, rooted in the inability of some to recognize their total dependence on requiring that sense of luxury in order for their worlds to feel safe. A world where they might not have abundance and ease, pleasurable things which are not essential, and the choice to indulge themselves feels actively unsafe to them.
It might be in how the schools set their cachement areas, or if we build more affordable housing, or decisions about transitioning back to in-person learning. It is a mindset that centers itself and discounts the lived experiences of others different than themselves. It maintains that if you are not out there fighting for what’s yours that you are worse: apathetic. But in fact this is not about fighting for what’s theirs but rather for the control share of what’s extra: that’s what luxury is. More than enough, a special something, choice, room to breathe. What may look like apathy to some is very likely the paralysis of taking meaningful action when someone else is cutting off your oxygen.
Like Larry King, who shows no innate joy at an appreciation for coffee or socks, these people pursue a joyless march to accumulate the extra. It’s clear from how they organize and lash out that they actually feel fearful at the prospect of losing ground. In their fear they spin angry conspiracy theories. In their anger they will insult your mother, write your employer, show up at your home to intimidate you.
Luxury is a serious business for these people. It is not champagne wishes and caviar dreams but little Sally Brown plaintively justifying her grotesquely inflated wish list for Santa, “all I have is what’s coming to me. All I want is my fair share.”
This may sound all very abstract to you but it’s not. It is absolutely the local story of stories right now. I’ll tell you why. The persistence of poverty in Howard County is maintained solely in this way, by those who see the absorption of benefits of luxury as theirs by right. Because that’s what poverty is: the other side of that coin. Poverty is the place where there is no extra, no delicious but unnecessary comfort, no choice.
This mindset makes us all poorer. It does not build stronger communities. It will take your dinner while asking if you’re going to finish your pie.
Today is a day when many of us will be celebrating with a little extra. I’m thinking a lot about those of us in our community who won’t be. Imagine what our community could be like if we were excited about letting those opportunities for joy flow out to others for whom they are all too rare.
I don’t need a private jet.
Do any of us?