You've got an invalid haircut
It hurts when you smile
You'd better get out of town
Before your nickname expires
It's the kingdom of the spiders
It's the empire of the ants
You need a permit to walk around downtown
You need a license to dance
-- Warren Zevon, Life'll Kill Ya
What if you had enough?
No, really, what if you had enough?
You ever think about that?
Really think about it?
What if things were okay. Not great, but okay?
What would you do if things were okay? If you had enough?
What would you do? Who would you be?
What if you had enough money? I mean, not rich or anything. Maybe not even "well off." But mostly enough. That's the measure in our society, isn't it? Money. That's how we measure happiness, success, contentment. So, what if you had enough? Enough money.
What if you were better off than your parents. Getting by. You got a house, a car, some nice things. Sure you have a mortgage and a car payment, who doesn't? You're not living under a viaduct somewhere, right? Hopefully anyway. I mean, you could maybe live in a smaller place. You could drive a small cheaper car, something that gets good gas mileage instead of that monster $70K SUV with the V-8 and the 4-Wheel drive that you don't actually need, not to mention all that chrome. You could do that. But the thing is, you have the option and you don't want to.
What if you had enough to eat? Maybe not steak and lobster every day, but enough to eat. What if you mostly ate food that you liked? Because you could? What if you had extra food even, enough that you didn't have to worry about every bite and could scrape the parts you didn't like into the trash? What if you routinely had the option to turn your nose up at certain foods and pick something else from the menu? What if you could expect a full belly, every day? And snacks. And drive up windows. And you could even eat stuff that was bad for you, not because you have to, but because you like it. And then you had the option to go to the gym and work it off, but you could just sit on the couch and watch 900 channels of TV instead. If you felt like it.
What if you wanted to go to war anyway? What if you actually had that option? You live in a country that isn't at war, but you could go to war if you really wanted. What if there was a war overseas somewhere that didn't really involve you, but if you really wanted to fight, you could volunteer? You didn't have to, but you could? You could kit up, get yourself outfitted, and head on over to fight for some other flag? What if you were so privileged, you actually had that option, right?
What if there were plenty of jobs? Maybe not great jobs, but plenty of them. You don't like what you do? You could quit. Because everyone was hiring. What if you could join a union and get better benefits and pay and working environment? What if there was record low unemployment and business had to kiss your ass because they needed you?
What if you had all the civil rights? What if no one tried to stop you from voting or living in a certain place or being who you wanted to be? What if the cops didn't stop you for no reason or beat the shit out of you on the street just because they can? What if you could just identify as who you felt you were inside and then you could go out in public and be that person -- oh, I'm not talking about gender, though that too, but identity as a political party, an ideology, a patriot, a protester, an evangelist for your religion -- all the kinds of identities we just take for granted. What if you could wear the symbol of your religion or a hat with the words of your political affiliation on it in bold letters and the worst that happened to you was that you maybe got a dirty look once in a while?
I mean, what if you had all the privilege of your society?
What if the world just assumed you were right simply because of who you are?
What if there were social safety nets? Nothing great, but you aren't going to end up in some "sanitarium" or an old folks home or a work house like your grandparents generation.
What if you wanted to take a vacation and there were plenty of safe places to go?
What if you wanted your kids to go to school and there were multiple choices -- including a religious option funded by the government that taught your particular brand of hate and intolerance and non-scientific fantasy-based bullshit and the rest of the country had to regard that "education" as valid? And your kid didn't even have to take the smelly old bus like the public school riff-raff because you had the luxury of driving your precious little snowflake to school every day in your giant gas swilling SUV?
What if you needed an operation? Or a cavity filled? And you could just go get that done?
What if you turned on the tap and clean potable water came out?
What if you breathed the air and it mostly didn't give you cancer because government required the local factories to obey regulations?
What if there were public services, fire, library, schools, police, etc. And you could depend on them always being there when you needed them?
What if that was your life? Or enough of the above anyway? What if you had enough?
What would you do then?
Really, what would you do. That's not a rhetorical question.
What kind of person would you be?
If things were okay, not great but okay. And not only okay, but a good chance that they could be better. That it would be better for your kids and better for their kids and so on?
What would you do?
Would you just live you life?
Would you enjoy it?
Maybe go play ball with your kid? Go for hike and enjoy the outdoors? Read? Watch a movie. Talk to your neighbors? Learn a skill? Go dancing? Putter around in the garden? Visit your family? Grill out? Go to the beach? Have a snowball fight?
What would you do if you had enough?
Would you enjoy your life?
Would you really?
Because that's the reality for a significant number of Americans.
Not all, certainly. No, certainly not all. But many. Most even. We have enough. More than enough. Especially compared to those elsewhere in the world who very much don't have anywhere near enough.
But, that's the funny thing, isn't it?
That's the thing about having enough: it's never enough.
Anyway, say you did have...
Heh heh. Yes I see you. There in the back. Red faced. Yellow eyed. Mad as hell. Fingers reaching for your keyboard in righteous rage. Oh yeah, I see you. You'd be hard to miss.
Who decides what's "enough?"
That's what's pissing you off, isn't it? You've read this far and you're furious, aren't you? You're about to tell me to go fuck myself. Any second now you're going to start shouting accusations: Socialist! Commie! In America we're capitalists and for capitalists it can never be enough, we can't be happy unless we always have more and even to suggest such is downright unamerican! Do you even know who Jeff Bezos is? Elon Musk? Howard fucking Hughes, man? Come on!
That's what you're going to say, isn't it?
Who decides? I'd like to answer: You do.
You decide what's enough for you. That's the answer you want, right?
I decide for me. We each decide for ourselves. Yeah?
But that's not really true, is it?
No it's not.
You see, society decides what's enough.
Entertainment. Hollywood. Social media. Pundits. Politicians. Popular music. Our neighbors.
Most of all, in America, the rich decide for the rest of us and then use their power and influence to convince us it was our idea.
The majority of Americans today have enough. More than enough.
But they for damn sure don't enjoy it. Especially the rich.
I think about this stuff as I'm driving.
And lately I've had opportunity to do a lot of driving.
Due to a family issue, I'm now making the journey between Florida and Michigan twice, three times, a month. A thousand miles each way in the car, 14 hours on the road.
Lot of angry Americans on that road.
Lot of very angry Americans.
There's a sign, on Highway 65, bit north of Indianapolis.
"No Fence. No Jobs. Just crime and drugs."
That's it. That's the whole thing. No fence, no jobs, just crime and drugs. Huge letters. Giant commercial billboard next to the highway.
No Fence. No Jobs. Just crime and drugs.
Somebody was mad enough, unhappy enough, that they paid to rent that billboard and broadcast that message to the angry drivers southbound through Indiana twelve hundred miles from the border in question.
No Fence. No Jobs. Just Crime and Drugs.
No fence, but of course there is a fence. There's a wall. There's an entire branch of government dedicated to patrolling the border. But most ironically, the very people who are the most unhappy about that supposed lack of a fence are the very same people name for name who once cheered a Republican president when he stood in Berlin and demanded oppressive foreign leaders tear down walls instead of building them. I wonder, what the response from America would be if our neighbors built huge walls across our shared borders and told us to keep out and somewhere in the back of my head I can hear the ghost of Ronald Reagan howling in rage.
No jobs, but of course we currently have the lowest unemployment rate in our history. Business is begging for workers. I drove two thousand miles last month and the one thing that was the same from end to end was the help wanted and we're hiring signs. No jobs. What?
Just crime, as if there is no crime committed by those born north of that border. As if there isn't plenty of homegrown crime. As if all the crime in America was committed by brown-skinned illegal immigrants from south of the border. As if the kind of crime that affects most Americans most severely isn't some crackhead breaking into your car, but rather trillions in crimes committed by Wall Street investment bankers. As if the biggest criminals aren't the ones who have repeatedly vaporized your mortgages, jobs, retirements, and college funds. And not only do you not see any signs along the highway bemoaning the lack of accountability for these crooks, but we elect them to run our country.
Just drugs. As if the only drug in America is Chinese fentanyl from Mexico. Right now, certain pundits and politicians and smug angry speakers at the recently concluded CPAC 2023 are advocating for military action against Mexico. Literally, like the previous president, suggesting we bomb Mexico in a massive escalation of the so-called War on Drugs. As if that would somehow get rid of drugs. As if we wouldn't just find something else to shove in to our veins, or up our noses, or down our throats. And if that's not a metaphor I don't know what is, because if Americans didn't want drugs, I mean really want drugs, Mexico wouldn't be supplying them -- same as immigrants and that aforementioned cheap labor.
Not to mention, Opioids? Well, yeah, that scourge was foisted on us by an amoral AMERICAN company run by a billionaire family in a blatant display of absolute naked greed. The Sacklers had more than enough money, gobs more. But it just wasn't enough. And they didn't care how many American lives they destroyed, so long as they made more. They still don't care. But you never see angry signs along the highway holding Purdue Pharma to account.
What would you do if you had enough?
Would you be happy?
Or would you look around for something to be miserable about?
Would you put up a sign next to the highway?
I've got a neighbor here in this backwater little Southern town where I live. If you watch the various podcasts I'm on, you've heard me mention him before. Got to be about 80. Lives in a nice house, middle of town. Nice neighborhood. I don't know, but he looks well fed. Drives a nice SUV. Huge sign out front. XY equals Male! He's so mad about trans people that he's got a sign in front of his house. That's how mad he is. But, in this town, the odds that he's ever even met a trans person (that he knows of) are vanishingly small. I doubt he could count on the fingers of one hand the number of trans folks he's met in his entire life. Yet, he's mad about it. So mad he's got a giant flag in his front yard. He can't be happy so long as those people exist somewhere in the world even though they literally have no impact on his life in any fashion. Goddamn, is he mad about it. Miserable. Angry. Happy people don't put up signs like that.
But then, happy people don't go to church or watch Tucker Carlson either.
What about you?
Instead of enjoying your life, would you go looking for someone to hate? Even if it had nothing to do with you?
Would you listen to some millionaire TV pundit or some billionaire politician telling you how you're really a victim? That it's really drag queens or immigrants or the commies in China making you miserable, and not your own shitty self?
What would you do?
Who would you be?
You ever really think about that?
A bit further down the same highway, just outside Indianapolis, there was another sign:
"Life's Too Short for Shitty Tacos!"
Maybe I've had enough of people telling me to be miserable, but that seems like a pretty good philosophy.
And maybe I've had enough brushes with mortality lately -- which is why I was on that road in the first place.
Life's too short for shitty tacos.
And shitty people.
Life'll kill ya
That's what I said
Life'll kill ya
Then you'll be dead
Life'll find ya
Wherever you go
Requiescat in pace
That's all she wrote
-- Warren Zevon, Life'll Kill Ya