I interviewed Lita Ford yesterday for a magazine article, for which I will probably receive $50. My friend drove me down to Irvine, and we had to spend about 10 hours at the Verizon Amphitheater, because the interview was scheduled early, then pushed back. Anyway, we got it done, and also got to hang out backstage while the Poison and Def Leppard coolers were filled up with a bunch of tall boys and Heinekens. I also met a guy from Wounded Warrior Project, who is apparently close friends with the drummer from Def Leppard, because they run seminars and retreats for people with PTSD. I liked that guy. He told me if I wanted to get in touch with him that I should call up Wounded Warriors and ask for the burn-victim guy. Never told me his name, just said, “Burn-Victim Guy.”
After the interview, my friend and I got some mediocre tacos and nachos and took a seat on a round plastic McDonald’s-looking picnic table. A few minutes later, two fifty-year-old guys in Tommy Bahama apparel asked if they could sit next to us. They had dark sunglasses on, but it was pretty evident they were there to talk to my friend, who is tiny and beautiful and an actual “woman.” They told us almost immediately that they were VIPs, then held up the VIP Def Leppard gift bag they got, which my friend had taken a picture of earlier backstage. I said, “We’re VIP, too, but we’re media, so we don’t get a gift bag.” He looked at me like I was lying and kind of flinched. “Really?” he said. He looked at my friend and asked her who she was with. She nodded over to me, indicating that I was the media person. I told him the magazine, and he had absolutely no idea what it was. Totally not surprised, because I’m very sure that an entity that spends a great deal of time talking about who took a shit in the headquarters office probably wouldn’t appeal to them.
Anyway, my friend is French. EVERYONE loves her accent. These guys saw it as a one-way ticket to talk about how much they love going to Saint-Tropez, which did not impress my friend at all, considering that she had actually lived in France and couldn’t care less about that one restaurant they went to where all the tourists go. Somehow, though, they started talking about a beardo guy who worked in that restaurant who confessed to these weary Tommy Bahama world travelers that “The United States is where I want to be, and everyone there should remember that it is the place with the most opportunity in the world.” These two guys at my table saw this statement from a bearded bartender–I don’t know why they kept bringing up that he was bearded–as proof that Obama was needlessly dismantling the most amazing healthcare system in the world and allowing stupid Mexicans to become citizens way too easily. What. The. Fuck. Yes, that is exactly how you should hit on younger women at a rock concert.
I heard my friend say something like “zut alors” under her breath, because she knows me too well and knows I am very opinionated about such subjects and often write about the separation of classes. I quickly interrupted these two fellas to say simply that when I was sick with liver disease, or when my appendix burst, our healthcare system proved to be the single largest burden on my life for many years and many more to come. I said matter-of-factly that I disagreed that ours was the best. To which one of my new friends told me about an unfortunate illness he dealt with and how much his insurance covered in the process, which equated to about $200,000, where his cost of insurance is only $4,000/year, and his out of pocket cost was only $20,000. Here’s where I needed to stop and explain a couple of things.
I laid my hand on the picnic table, my palm flat, reaching out to them. I looked them in the eyes and said, “Look at me. I’m going to be honest with you. I make $8,000 a year. That is how much I make in an entire year.” They may have been wearing sunglasses, but those expensive lenses were the windows to their souls, and their souls said, “Uh…does not compute. Why are we talking to you, then?” So I continued and said that if I spent half of my yearly salary on health insurance, then I would have a mere $4,000 left to pay rent, buy food, and search for a job for the entire year, and the insurance still wouldn’t cover the out-of-pocket costs associated with any of the procedures, like the co-pay or the prescriptions. Sometimes…there are no words. They said, “$8,000?” I said, “I’ve been dealing with unemployment and underemployment for several years, and I’m not the only one.” My mind explodes with what happened next, because they looked at one another gleefully and said, “Hey, why don’t you work in one of our restaurants? We could get you a job!” Yes! All my problems are solved! I’ll drive down to your restaurant in Newport Beach in my non-existent car and get back on my feet by raking in the dough as my deteriorating hips and the slipped disk in my back pray for a day when I won’t have to literally break my back to pay for my broken back.
They said, “You’re about 25, right?” No. I’ll be 31 in a few months. I said, “I have a terminal master’s degree, the equivalent of a PhD in my field.” A moment of sadness for my life. “Well,” they said, “what’s your field?” “Writing,” I said. A sigh from both of them. That’s right, fellas. How could I have done this to myself? Believe me, I know what they’re thinking, because I’ve thought it myself. I didn’t get into writing because it was going to make me rich. But I’ve been attempting to raise the stakes in my life in the past few years and cultivate a career that may someday afford me some health insurance and rent, and I’ve found that when I’m slaving at a minimum-wage job that ruins my already damaged body, I end up worse off than if I didn’t. But that’s another story.
All of a sudden we started talking about “illegals,” which I could clearly see meant anyone who wasn’t white, wealthy, and educated immigrating to their country and sucking the social system dry. Hey, guys, your logic is so tired that it’s been napping about six feet underground, curled up in your humanity. These two dudes, who only twenty minutes before were talking about how much they wished they could get the beardo bartender into the US, have suddenly decided that illegals were our biggest problem in the US, because President Obama is about to grant certain illegals US citizenship. They said, “The US is one of the only places where rules are sacred.” Uh-huh. Wait, so what is it that you do? Why are you a VIP, and how do you have multiple restaurants at your disposal at which you can just give me any job I please?
Real estate development. Let me talk about real estate development and how shitty those people are, because their sole job is to take a large, under-flourishing piece of property and turn it into a bunch of shitty gelatto shops for rich people who need Big Gulp parking spots for their hard-top convertible Benz station wagons (these exist, I saw some in Malibu). Their job is to create more things for rich people to buy. Because if rich people didn’t have so many goddamned things to buy, maybe they’d get bored with stuff and have to pay attention to everything else around them. I did not say this to these men, because I don’t often get the opportunity to engage with wealthy people about topics that matter to both of us. I don’t think these guys are evil, but I think they perpetuate some evils in this world. I don’t think anyone is all bad or all good, but as the research says, when power is in the equation, we are all capable of becoming our worst selves without ever knowing it. In fact, I can guarantee you that these guys have made profits by breaking the precious rules they speak of so fondly. Do we really care about the rules, or do we care about them when they apply to other people?
I said, “I don’t think this has anything to do with the rules, and I think our American priorities are severely fucked, because a country that shares our goddamn border, a border that will never be moved, no matter how many fences we build, cannot fucking sustain itself, while we sell them weapons that keep other assholes with money and power in Mexico in charge.” I said almost exactly those words right as Lita Ford started to play “Kiss Me Deadly,” and because I was drinking bourbon my friend bought me, I couldn’t totally focus on what I was saying after that. Bourbon, no wonder the South has been complacent with bullshit for so long. Southern belles. Fuck. If you’re not designing women, please learn to stop referring to yourself as an object. Also, stop being racist. Leave that job to Newport Beach.
I had to run, because my $50 depended on my watching Lita Ford play a guitar on a big stage. And, hey, that’s pretty fucking cool, too. But I excused myself, and the guys seemed genuinely disappointed, said they really wanted to continue the conversation, and could they buy me a drink, and I thought, hey, these guys wanna buy me a drink even after I got drunk and lectured them about the dangers of wealth and the want of material goods and racism, and I was about to open my mouth to make my gallant good-will gesture and say, “Yeah, sure,” but before I could do that, a 19-year-old perky blonde wearing a shirt that said, “I want to meet new people,” walked up to our table, and all she had to do was stand there, and 50-year-old real estate development Tommy Bahama dudes were like doi-oi-oi-oi-oing. Fuck, that’s right. You’re pervs. I almost totally forgot about that during our heated debate. And then I was like, Maybe that is how you hit on younger women at a rock concert!
My friend and I took that as our exit cue and jumped up. We shook hands with the guys and I said, “Thank you, gentleman. It’s not often I get to converse with those from a different social structure, and I appreciate that experience,” and I walked away. I didn’t get more than five feet before one of the dudes shouted, “April, wait!” I turned around, and dude was holding up their VIP tote bag, waving it back and forth. He took a step toward me, careful not to create too much distance between him and the blonde at his table. “Wait! Do you want our tote bag? We’d like to give you our tote bag?” I walked right back to him and said, “Yes, I want your Def Leppard tote bag and the tshirts therein.” I don’t think he knew how to reply, so he kind of smiled and handed me the goods. I thanked him and nodded, and we stood there for a second like how you pose when the president of your school gives you your diploma on the stage at graduation. I have no idea what he was thinking, but he seemed very happy to give me one of his possessions. I mean, it probably didn’t mean shit to him, but he seemed genuinely happy to give it. So here’s my conclusion.
I don’t think guys like this don’t like giving things away. I think guys like this can be generous. But I think their generosity exists on a patriarchal level solely. A man like this wants to know exactly how much he has given and who he has given it to. When he says “illegals,” he doesn’t know these people. He doesn’t know them, or he would gladly give them something. But in giving, he would demand a sincere thank you and an admission that he has given you this thing for which you will forever be indebted. So I say patriarchal, because he acts as your father when he grants you this tote bag or this job. This is one of the reasons why children’s charities are far more successful than those for adults, because lording over another adult like a father is awkward for both parties. People are not taught to give and receive. I barely know how to do it myself. It requires both parties to be humble. It requires them both to see infinitely past themselves into the grand scheme and understand that giving to others through taxes or charity is not a means to strip you of your hard-won enjoyment and Saint-Tropez trips. Look, you still get those things. Your children get those things. Only, this way, you’re not incessantly waging a war against invisible people. You’re just being a person in the world with the same community obligations as everyone else. I thank you sincerely for the tote bag, friend. And I was truthful when I said I wouldn’t sell any of it on ebay. Instead, I’m going to give the contents to friends who will appreciate them, who need a good bit of cheering up, and from whom I will never expect anything in return.