Image by Kristin Beeler
She grips the lectern. Her eyes are steady. She has Rasputin eyes. Steve McQueen eyes.
My father is transfixed, leaning forward in his chair to meet her stare. She starts with “The world is what you make of it,” and the next forty minutes is about the law of survival, how you have to be ruthless, how nothing can stop you from getting what you want if you never back down.
“Why do one percent of Americans possess ninety percent of America’s wealth?” she calls out, and the crowd shouts back “Because they deserve it,” which surprises me. These people aren’t rich. We’re in a hotel ballroom, not Madison Square Garden. The chair I am sitting on is badly cushioned and poorly upholstered.
How did they know to yell that? My father yells it too, which makes me look at him, but he shrugs. When she finishes, there are testimonials from people who lost everything and how great it was to be left with nothing. How the end of welfare made this woman start her business, and how not having health care made this man take responsibility for his diet.
We’re getting to the question and answer section, which seems stupid to me, since this day seems all about not helping other people. I want to ask a question, but I don’t know how to say what I want to know.
Everyone is talking about money, and I want to ask about gratitude or grace. I want to ask about care and about need. I want to ask about how I have better dental care than the Feudal lords of medieval Europe and how that makes me appreciate this long line of dentists and anesthesiologists going all the way back to Ancient Egypt. I want to ask about how the rose bush in my backyard was developed by botanists, and how much I need them when I go outside. Or how magical it is to me that my trash gets picked up every Monday and Thursday, or how even in their ruthlessness, everyone in this room seems to want to help each other out.
I want to ask about value and I want to ask about family. My dad looks kind of hopeful when I get in line to ask a question, but when my question comes out, not.
It doesn’t come out like I had thought it would. It comes out, “Do you have to love someone to want them to be OK?”
She looks puzzled, then angry. She takes a breath, says, “Get a job.”
Jason Schneiderman is the author of Sublimation Point, a Stahlecker Selection from Four Way Books, and Striking Surface, winner of the 2009 Richard Snyder Prize from Ashland Poetry Press. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry, Poetry London, Grand Street, The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, Story Quarterly, and Tin House. He has received fellowships from Yaddo, The Fine Arts Work Center, and The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He was the recipient of the Emily Dickinson Award from the Poetry Society of America in 2004. He currently directs the Writing Center at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
Read our interview with Jason here.