Blinded by Disparity

It is easy to complain of degradation in the First World. To bitch and moan about having to be somewhere at a certain time and, upon arriving, not really having anything to do other than sit and look pretty while feigning to come up with invaluable ideas priced at a six-figure salary (which doesn’t seem quite so invaluable). To talk about all the things you still have yet to acquire as you, in turn, shed the remnants of your soul up the ladder called capitalism.

But the First World is an illusion that only exists in the major cities of the U.S., where it is nonetheless contrasted by the perpetual backdrop of poverty. The ignored and the forgotten that only occasionally pop out at the rich (for there is no such thing as middle class no matter how much people with jobs cry “I’m poor”) when they step over them on their way to a three-course meal. The real world is one peppered by the jobs that are truly horrific, unthinkable. Would be untenable to anyone bellyaching about it being too hot in a freezing cold office. How about the heat of a hundred-degree beach where, again, the purest class of the world–the poor–are forced to look on as those more well off enjoy themselves, oblivious and unconcerned with the plight of others. Those who suffer just to scrimp together a few alms for the slop that will keep them going long enough to persist again the next day at a self-made “profession” that often involves the bending of the law.

Like the selling of knockoff sunglasses, watches and purses in a beach milieu. Preying on the vulnerability of the so-called middle class as they decide to use some more of their “hard-earned” cash on “designer” eyewear they could never actually afford as a result of being no more than just another government-sanctioned wage slave. That’s what it was to be a “functional” member of society, after all. Being an escapee–a refugee–from another place, however, did not qualify one as a person, so much as yet another cipher on the fringe (included among the ranks of U.S. “nail technicians,” “massage parlor” workers, buskers and supers of apartment buildings). At the margins of mainstream capitalist existence. Yet what was one supposed to do, simply die for not being what Britney Spears would call “an exceptional earner”? Oh how the wealthy would love it if that were the case. A world unblemished by the blight of their guilt. Yet at the same time, how lost they would be without the backs of the “little people” to walk on. Whose souls would they crush–whose will would they break–were it not for these peripheral non-members of society?

These were questions too unpleasant for Sereine to think about as she eyeballed the cheap knockoffs presented before her chaise lounge in earnest. She had come with Mattia to one of the few secluded beaches on the Southern coast of Italy to escape from it all. To reconnect with her Italian husband who felt more and more distant to her over time as her Frenchness became a central divide between them. In fact it was she who had suggested fleeing from the hot oppression of a Parisian summer in order to avoid an inevitable daily spat in the confines of their typically trop petit apartment. They barely survived these past few together, having been married for four years now, much to each one’s regret. But to admit that they had made a mistake would be a seminal violation of the unspoken bourgeois code: misery à deux is required to enjoy luxury just as much as being poor is practically a given for most upon being born into the world.

So it was that Mattia did his best to get into the spirit of his wife’s suggestion to embark upon a proper getaway by enlisting the quintessential favor of a fellow Italian, a friend who owned a property and could “get him a deal” on a room for the particularly blazing months of July and August. Sereine was, for once, satisfied with something Mattia had done. Until they got there and she remembered that she still actually had to spend all this time alone with him. What was worse, French was the only language she spoke, making it impossible to strike up a conversation with anyone, least of all native Italians or visiting Americans, neither sect of which seemed to think that the apprehension of le français was worth a damn (then again, perhaps only the French felt their language was worth as much).

The crushing weight–the sheer burden–of having only Mattia to rely on for her social solace quickly proved to be problematic. And even being out of the sweltering heat of Paris couldn’t prevent them from engaging in their usual arguments: he was inattentive, she wanted too much attention. He was never going to make enough money, she needed a man who could be her equal–at the very least in wage if not intellectually. It then further upset him that she paraded what he deemed to be her false sense of superiority with such flagrancy. As though it were a given that she was somehow the “better” one, the one doing him a favor in still continuing on in the relationship.

He had reached the zenith of his patience with her self-perceived eminence as she snootily picked through the copies of Diors and Guccis and Pradas with a scrunched up nose that indicated she thought she herself could somehow create better knockoffs. As if she would have the patience to deal in cheap manufacturing. All the while, the nameless purveyor of the wares looked at her with hopeful, wide eyes, urging her on in his broken Italian that had its hopelessly West African spin. She barely acknowledged that someone was talking to her, that someone would actually be collecting a profit from her at the end of her decision-making. A decision that could positively or negatively affect him depending on whether or not she, in all of her rich bitch sagacity, found a pair she felt looked “authentic” enough. The sight of her picking at the plastic mound with an annoyingly fastidious expression made even Mattia, with his more Italian communist roots, want to slap her across her porcelain cheek, maybe even crack it in half if he was lucky. But he reckoned she paid enough for her stockpiles of La Mer to maintain its resiliency. Its unbreakability. Almost as intractable as her unawareness of this man about to melt before her very eyes as she blasély chose from his tarantula-shaped mound of sunglasses.

And just when he thought–when he was absolutely certain–that she was going to reach into her purse and pull out the ten euro bill that could make or break his existence for the next few days, she shrugged and said, “Eh, I’m not really interested.” Ergo the perils of capitalism and its often arbitrary propensity for profiting those who actually suffered for it had crept in with forceful malice to this erstwhile “untouched”-by-the-corruptions-of-the-First-World beach town. To escape the pang of remorse in his gut, Mattia fled from Sereine, claiming the heat was getting to him and he needed to go for a swim. But, alas, no stroke, not breast nor butterfly, of any kind can permit one to evade the injustice of economic systems.

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