Wednesday, September 29

Class in America - An Essay Response

An essay by Gregory Mantsios seems to be a popular curriculum flint with which to fire class discussion on American social distinctions. Titled, “Class in America - 2006”, Mantsios asserts that many fundamentally cherished beliefs about individual opportunity in America are nothing more than ignorant and oppressive myths. I found his laborious attempt to dismiss classic “get ahead” American values of hard work, sacrifice and persistence - insulting.

He initiates the conversation by pointing out that people in the United States avidly avoid speaking about class. We are more likely to identify with our career or industry, race, ethnic group or geographic location - and I will add, religious affiliation. Yes, thank goodness, we do. It would seem so Bourgeoisie to ever refer to the “ruling class”, “elite” or “wellborn”, and definitely poor taste to ever say, “lower class”.

Yet virtually everyone talks about distinctions that make us noticeably different from each other. Granted, not all of them qualify academically as "class" ranking per se, but they are hardly off-limits to the American experience. What school or corporate lunch room has not naturally segregated itself without the slightest outside influence to do so? Do we not respond to people, almost innately - who are wearing a uniform of some kind (which is designed to identify them instantly from a distance), whether it be housekeeper, police or kitchen help? Who hasn't noticed, mentioned to a friend or sent a camera phone picture of those who are physically notable (obese, tattoos, piercings, fashion, etc.)? (I personally have never photographed anyone like that but you know what I mean - think YouTube).

We may not use the word "class", but we are indeed all about constantly ranking ourselves and others as to where we fit in. It is more an issue of the human condition, or human nature to compare and posture and test each other for rank or position than it is the ugly, subversive arm of an individual "oppressive" government.

The economic disparity in America is crazy, of course. Our sick fascination with brilliantly debauched personal ethics is evidenced in reality shows like “Bridezilla”, “Sweet 16”, “The Real Housewives of Orange County” and “You’re Cut Off”. Americans love to hate people with money behaving badly. But what we hate worse is someone else telling us what to do with our money. Mantsios, however, tries to support his argument for forced wealth redistribution by comparing three profiles of persons representative of the three unspoken American class distinctions: upper class, middle class and lower class. He complains at length that 1% of America holds 30% of the wealth.

Personally, it does not bother me that there is an Oprah, Donald Trump or Bill Gates or two out there. Someone needs to assume the risk to build buildings, run corporations and move the market. Those kinds of people also hire a lot of other people and generate educational scholarship funds and support a wide variety of philanthropic and research projects. Their enormous success is a motivation to all the little people. Who would enter a race in the Olympics if they were also assured that every single entrant would win?

Michael Jordan was born to middle class parents in Brooklyn, New York. He quit the NBA after his first year as a rising star to return to North Carolina State to finish his degree. He continued his rise to celebrity status as an athlete, and made millions. Jordan’s name is respected and recognized for his athletic stardom and his business savvy. He invested wisely, and his name is associated with successful business ventures as well as numerous scholarships and charitable causes.

Mike Tyson was born to lower middle class parents in Brooklyn, New York. Abandoned by his father as a toddler, he grew up in crime-plagued Brownsville, New York, and was arrested 38 times by the time he was 13. Eventually was given to his boxing trainer who became his legal guardian. His rise to international celebrity also earned him millions. Yet his name today is a national joke. Tyson had trouble with the law, wasted his fortune on bad investments, women and common gambling addictions.

Both men transcended their class status by hard work, sacrifice and persistence. But status in America is static; it often reflects a state of mind. Tyson was unable to shake the ghetto mind-set.

Likewise, I found Mantsios’ opening paragraph under "Spheres of Power and Oppression" to be especially flamboyant. He states: "When we look at society and try to determine what it is that keeps most people down - what holds them back from realizing their potential as healthy, creative, productive individuals - we find institutional forces that are largely beyond individual control. Class domination is one of these forces."

What organized society does not have hierarchy? Without some form of 'elite' status among us - those who are given authority to regulate or administer - how else does society protect itself from sheer chaos?

Mantios' essay attempts to bust the myth that we are a middle-class nation. He claims the American middle class today holds only a very small share of the nation's wealth. Yet he offers conflicting statistics that basically identify 40% of the U. S. belongs to the middle class. How is 40% of anything insignificant? If his figures are accurate, of the 24 students in my college class, three of us should be living in poverty, or a family making less than $19,000 a year, and qualify as "lower class".

I conducted a survey. The survey was distributed to three classes at Phoenix College. Our class (English 101) and two 102 English classes. I asked students to choose which class distinction they identify with. But I also asked them if they had safe shelter? Running water? Appliances? Electricity? Did they own a cell phone? DVD player? Digital camera? Personal computer? A car? I asked if they had shoes and clothes?

The survey asked them to mark how much time they devote to leisure activities in a week, if they had a reasonable expectancy to eat at least one meal a day every day? Did they have access to emergency care at a local hospital, and clean, safe food/goods at a nearby grocery store? I asked them if they are free to worship as they choose? I also asked them to list alternative strategies (if any) with which they might negotiate around limitations based on gender. Finally, I asked them how familiar they were with how to utilize and/or take advantage of methods to acquire information and resources that could be of benefit to them, and to rate how much their personal hopes and dreams they believe are limited or unobtainable because of their ethnicity, gender, father's name, career, religion, language or physical appearance. Only one survey returned with the last question marked as anything other than "not limited".

My point was this: America's poverty does not look like the world's poverty. Scooping water from a puddle is poverty. Having no shoes is poverty. Waiting in line all day for a bowl of gruel is poverty.

My son James saw bread lines in Ukraine. It didn't matter if he was in a rural village that still plowed fields with a horse or in an urban center populated by working professionals. My daughter Robin saw entire villages in Mozambique de-populated of adults because of AIDS. The one or two very young teen girls who bravely assumed responsibility for village orphans were themselves brutally raped when they left the village to buy supplies at the market, thus perpetuating the cycle of despair. My son Leiland witnessed abysmal poverty in Chiapas, Mexico, a state where the infant mortality rate is one of the worst in the world.

Of course we have problems in America. Of course we must be diligent as a society to seek improvements for all our citizens. However, to claim our issues are locked into oppressive and immovable class barriers is absolutely not justified. If our middle class is a glut of luxury compared to most of the world, then we ought to be much, much more grateful than we are. We ought to be about personally contributing to our communities with our time, talents and yes, tried and true distinctly American ethics of hard work, sacrifice, and persistence.

Professor Mantsios arrogantly condemns his fellow Americans with his concluding statement: " a society we tolerate unconscionable injustice..." if we fail to demand (or "require" is the word he chose) a "radical redistribution of wealth and power." I wonder if the good Professor feels qualified to tell Michael Jordan what he should do with his money? Who among us is willing to give one of our cars away because there might be someone else who doesn't have one? And why he believes waiting for the Government to do anything is a reasonable solution - is beyond me.

We might as well wait for Jesus to come and do it right.

Thursday, September 23

Apology To My Piano Teacher

Dear Mrs. Johnson,

I am sorry I wasted your time in a colossal way. But I know how much you needed that five bucks from my mom each week, so let’s just agree that I am a generous soul - it is better to give than to receive and all that, see? And really, if I had been more musically inclined, there might have been fewer tears - on your part. We just didn’t have the biology or something.

I honestly didn’t mean to yawn in your face during the many dynamic twists and turns of totally fascinating music theory. I might have quite enjoyed the drills on the treble clef, insanely meaningless major vs minor chord progression and pop quiz tantrums about interpreting key signatures that look just like Egyptian hieroglyphics if I hadn’t been so busy poking my eyes out. And for sure, I know you thought it would be a little healthy competition and super motivating to teach me at the same time as another student for a while. Well, for your information, it wasn’t. He was a BOY. Duh! And he played better than I did. And he smelled.

Did it ever occur to you to offer a little break in the routine once in a while? Like a snappy foot race in front of your house, maybe? I coulda smeared that smelly kid. Besides, a little physical activity always sends additional resources to the brain. Mr. Lavin in 4th grade told us that. I was a really fast runner. Did you know I was the second fastest girl in the 6th grade? Robin Barnes was the only one faster. She was a six foot tall gazelle (that’s a antelope thing in Africa). I could have pulled her pony-tail or something if I wanted to, but I didn’t.

Oh yeah, and I am really sorry I totally froze at the keyboard during that big, fancy recital. You may recall that I launched into the first few measures no sweat. Piece of cake! And then, I dunno. Zip. I’ll bet that was pretty darn uncomfortable for ya, huh. Funny how time kinda stops when there’s an awkward silence during a spectacularly inappropriate time. But to be fair, I did warn you. Remember? But no, you wouldn’t have any of it! “All of my students will shine, dear,” you said. So I was a realist; sue me! I knew I didn’t have a chance of doing the whole piece without flaking out in a truly delicious fashion at the stupid key change bridge. Man, if that wasn’t a Barry Manilow moment at least ten years before anyone ever heard of his boring 70s stuff. C’mon!

I guess I am kinda sorry to disappoint you during “The Spinning Song”. That’s a true classic. I really liked that one. In fact, I think I could have done a lot better if you would have just for once kept your mouth shut and not counted out-loud. Man, that was annoying! Couldn’t you tell it didn’t help at all? “One and two and three and . . .” Sheesh, I was playing by ear anyway, y’know? So it really didn’t make the impression you assumed it did - quarter-note this, half-note that - whatever. All that counting in my ear just sounded like arithmetic. Psycho arithmetic.

And please - don’t get me started on that ridiculous metronome ticking away! I hated that thing. Who thought that was a good idea? Seriously. That was Chinese water torture except with sound.

If James Bond had a Russian spy all tied-up, and he was shining a bright light right in his face, and he’s like, “You will tell me where the plans are, naturally,” y’know, all smooth and suave like he does - and there’s only a few minutes remaining to get the secret information before the bomb blasts off somewhere near the Presidential motorcade and the Russian is like, “You miserable wretch, Bond! I vil not be tellink you nothink!” And then Bond drawls, “Ahhh, comrade, it is most unfortunate that you leave me no other choice.”

And it really should be the enormous goon with the silver teeth who’s gone, gone rogue, y’know what I mean? And he’s like on OUR side now, O.K.? Right! And then the big guy comes into the room and what does he do? Right! He whips out the metronome! Ha ha, that’s when the lame Russian spews everything like a total baby - I mean everything. “No, no! Anythink but da metronome!” - Cool.

Anyways, nice try. Better luck next time.


Yours Truly

p.s. I am including a couple of swell piano jokes I thought you might like. No hard feelings.

Q: What's the difference between a piano and an onion?

A: No one cries when you chop up a piano.

Q: How do you get two piano players to play in perfect unison?

A: Shoot one.

* DISCLAIMER: The author asserts three important facts regarding this post -
1) The events above are all true, however the piano teacher represents a series of frustrated, well-intentioned women.
2) This post in no way shape or form indicates an aversion to music or to the piano in particular. The author was a lazy student, and as such accepts full responsibility for her present handicap when playing the piano. She can play many hymns and primary songs with a proficiency to temporarily beguile the unaware listener. However, this burst of competency expires dramatically at some point during the attempt. This lends applicable weight to the phrase, "deja vu", as in the afore-mentioned public recital disaster.
3) The author ardently desires all people everywhere to embrace the piano and any and all other instruments of choice, and musical exploration in almost any form as a gift and a blessing to the soul. This post was written strictly in the spirit of harmless satire, and is not intended to dis music or discourage study of it.

Tuesday, September 14


I am easily amused. Perhaps it is just a quirky personality trait. Or perhaps it is a survival mechanism that gives me an edge over the rest of you - who knows?

For instance: Last week my car was in the shop. I sat on one of four raised planter beds in front of the Dalby building at Phoenix College waiting for a ride. Idly casting my gaze about, my eye happened to fall exactly onto the empty shell of a recently emerged cicada. I marveled that out of thousands and thousands of leaves in the flowering verbena, my eye would catch Mr. Cicada’s precise birthing spot (or molting spot as the case may be)!

Seventeen years is a very long time for anything, much less a milky, naked cicada grub doing whatever it does underground that entire time. His biological clock ticking, cicada finally begins his momentous struggle from a subterranean world up to the surface. Above ground he will promptly shed his delicate grubby-skin for a much larger, hardened body and wings to complete the life-cycle.

What were the chances that his triumphant ascension would happen to coincide with one of only very limited patches of earth that weren’t already covered by massive swaths of cement and asphalt? Cicada might have died without ever seeing the light - hopelessly frustrated and certainly entombed in the same dark earth where he started his simple bug existence 17 years earlier. I smiled, noting the incredibly delicate detail of the grub’s body memorialized in his discarded, tissue-thin skin that clung valiantly to the one leaf in a sea of possibilities where, in my boredom, I saw it. “Wow,” I thought, pleased, “I’m so glad I saw that!”

On another occasion, I was driving through my neighborhood when I stopped the suburban and backed it up in the middle of the road. I leaned out the driver’s window and stared at the asphalt below. It was a roof rat, totally flat from whisker to stern, morbidly frozen in a comical action-pose of running across the street. Er, running not quite fast enough.

Rats are resourceful and clever. They didn’t strike me as careless enough or slow enough to get flattened in traffic. “Wow,” I thought - what are the chances I would ever see something like that in a life-time? Seriously! The body lay undisturbed for about a week until it completely disappeared. For as long as it lasted, however, Flat Rat generated a lot of satisfaction. I delighted in driving by the carcass and inviting an unsuspecting passenger to look down when I paused the car at just the right spot. Somehow, the reaction of others never quite matched my own appreciation for little miracles.

Driving on West Glendale Avenue a couple of years ago, we approached a city bus stop where a solitary man was waiting at the bench in anything but typical waiting style. From a distance, we could see he was wildly gesturing and lunging his upper body side to side. He half-stood, half-crouched, then slid across the bench. All the while this unusual behavior was accompanied by something even more intriguing - he was shouting.

Anticipating our car passing along side, I opened my window in an attempt to hear what he was saying. He was screaming at the TOP of his lungs, “NO! NO! NO!” Obviously tormented by mental demons unrevealed to the rest of us, the man’s total commitment to arguing his point to no one with all the passion and sheer energy he could muster was ~ awesome.

Swirling in my mind were the inevitable questions: Would the bus stop for him - or keep on going? Had he already been riding the bus, but was asked to get off? Had someone asked if they could sit next to him? Was he upset because the driver had asked for exact change? As much as I searched for meaning to the man’s display, exceedingly little information was available to explain it. There was something strangely (weirdly) appealing about the full-bodied pedal to the metal expression that poor man was able to exercise. It made me want to answer him, "YES! You're right!" or "NO! Absolutely!" And yes, for whatever reason, I admit I was glad I saw that.

Grandson Jack, who is always amusing no matter what he is doing, out-did himself the Christmas he was presented with his

newborn cousin for the first time. Quivering with excitement, he clapped his hands and breathlessly exclaimed, “Oh! Baby Kenna!” He scrambled onto the couch and held out two little arms to receive the tiny baby girl. The picture was cute enough; husky big boy Jack gently, lovingly cuddling his little cousin in his lap.

Suddenly, a truly precious surprise yielded a beaming Jack spontaneously singing sweetly, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” over and over again right into Baby MaKenna’s rosy face. She gazed up at him, listening to his heart-felt crooning.

The warmth and beauty of this perfect exchange filled the room with a palpable joy and happiness that really did feel like Heaven on earth.

Only gradually I became aware that I was tightly clasping my hands in front of my chest in the classic “awe” pose. My face hurt from smiling. Through tears of deep gratitude, I whispered to no one in particular, “Oh! I am so glad I saw this!”

Monday, September 13

The Diagnostic Paper

Our first assignment of this semester's English class was to write a diagnostic paper introducing ourselves to the class. The professor encouraged students to be creative. He praised a guy last year who pretended to be interviewed on Oprah. With this in mind, I applied my interest in anthropology and a chillingly realistic video game trailer I had seen that assumed North Korea had taken over the world. This is the result:


An Examination & Forensic Analysis of Site T-57

Dated 09/10/3010 Prefecture 녹색Pyongyang Province 평양직할시

Dr. Hyun-jun Kim: Presiding Anthropologist ~ Gen. Ji-eun Cho: Military Authority

Radio-carbon dating indicates the site to have been occupied or materials originating from between 1990-2030 A.D. Artifacts presented in urban strata approximately 20” subterranean in the pre-Pyon-yang era of Southwest American history. Location is the old North Central Phoenix residential complex. Slight traces of radio-active residue were indicated. No human remains evident.

Sub-structure of a collapsed multi-level shuttle hanger offered unique protection to the site, and accordingly renders a exceptionally high yield of artifacts remarkably well-preserved. Of special note are hundreds of books still encased within two glass and wood china hutches of the 1970s working-class variety. The dig yield is as follows (selected items of note):

Books 785

MacBook OSX laptop 1

Artist sketch books 8

Watercolor palates 2

Fine art portfolios, leather 4

Monarch upright piano (circa 1938) 1

Bernina 720 sewing machine 1

Finch/Parakeet cages 3

Also in evidence are numerous three-ring binders of sheet music. Binders and folders featuring remains of various theatrical endeavors indicate members of the household participated in the same. Three large binders housed communications and photographs from three children who served full-time proselytizing missions to Brazil, Ukraine and Southern Mexico.

Photographs presented ample support for a nucleus family of seven; wherein the wife and matriarch of the same was named Cindi Tanner of predominately Portuguese and English/Irish descent. While all five children and both parents manifest artistic and musical inclination, the artist portfolios indicate fine art gallery representation on a professional level for Cindi.

Printed brochures reveal gallery shows and exhibits in Old Towne Scottsdale during the 1980s in which Tanner was featured as a watercolorist. During the 1990s, she began a long association with the Arizona State Game & Fish Department, contracting for scores of wildlife drawings and a number of significant watercolor paintings published as the State poster series for many years by the Department. Her art resume was located, and after careful forensic examination it was discovered that Senator and Mrs. John McCain of Arizona were listed as clients.

A four-drawer legal file cabinet rendered beautifully preserved documents such as scripts, poetry, short stories and famous speeches. Also in abundance were folders of original poetry and finger-plays for children, original state history work sheets, activity sheets and original curriculum to teach poetry to children apparently designed by Mrs. Tanner. Dates on other printed material reveal Tanner was a volunteer for the BSA (Boy Scouts of America) for 20 years, and taught public speaking and theatre arts classes to both boys and girls, as well as adults.

Two entire drawers of the aforementioned file cabinet were devoted to photographs, school awards and special keepsakes associated with five exceptionally handsome offspring (adding Danish Patriarchal descent); Robin, James, Leiland, Asia and Rachel Tanner. The two boys achieved Eagle Scout status, and the oldest girl a reporter and producer for one of the major t.v. stations in Washington, D.C. The same are noted as highly-developed foragers within the household as manifested by copious amounts of snack food remnants, eating utensils and packaging materials for consumables distributed liberally underneath beds and in dresser drawers.

Review of the numerous book titles in situ suggest that Cindi espoused a deep interest in anthropological themes, particularly Meso-American and Native-American cultures. The abundance of Spanish language titles likewise suggest a study of or an interest in the same, however, actual proficiency has not been established. Additionally, a great variety of classic literature, world history, the American civil war, botanical and wildlife reference books are represented, as are spiritually-themed works. A set of scriptures encased in a burgundy leather carrying case were found marked and filled with page markers, located in what is believed to be one of two sleeping quarters in the small residence.

A surprising amount of fabric scraps, lace, netting and other sewing and or craft materials were found in well-organized tubs and containers. It is assumed that Tanner acquired traditional handiwork skills handed-down from mother to daughter in true kinship fashion; however, this can not be verified. It is equally probable she acquired them from a world-wide women’s charitable organization (the Relief Society) as a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This affinity is believed to account for Cindi’s core values and personal ethics.

Two manuscripts written by Cindi are thought to be the original versions of books she authored and illustrated. The first titled, “Station Wagon Wars”, and the second “Anthropological Motherhood”. Both works made the New York Times best seller list and the Oprah Book Club in 2014. It is not clear if several envelopes of decorated children’s chore lists represent a form of reciprocity, delicate familial negotiation or simply an illustrated example of rigid social control. What is clear is that one Cindi Tanner loved her family, her books, her piano, and the Bernina sewing machine.

This dig site is significant as it reveals in detail a critical transitional period in the life of a typical American matriarch from the early 2000s. It demonstrates the survival instinct inherent to the human condition, and the tempering or sustaining element of faith and hope in which a single mother often deeply invests.

The Anthropological Forensic Committee respectfully thanks Our Esteemed Leader for the opportunity to engage scientific study of this site. Appropriate permits were acquired and reports submitted to the Honorable District Chairman.