by The Other Katherine Harris
Aug. 23, 2007
“You, Doctor Martin, walk from breakfast to madness,” Anne Sexton wrote in 1960 of her therapist. The poem sprang to memory, in line with the contrariety of my own days. Each morning is a motion from atrocity to artistry, depravity to delicacy, fiendishness to finesse, as I contemplate our increasingly horrific news and then turn to acquiring, photographing and describing historic jewels.
The oppugnancy of these processes is more startling lately than usual, because my long-time middle ground — work on a novel with political aspects — has fallen away, in preference to juicing up websites for holiday shoppers. Despite war, economic dolor, climate catastrophe and Constitution-trampling, we Americans will spend the next few months with gift-shopping on the brain. Many fault this and of course it’s mad when people overspend. We also harm ourselves less directly by choosing presents that fuel pollution and our trade deficit. But the impulse to express love is never all wrong, is it?
Gifting — which may seem glib retail jargon, but actually encapsulates a meaningful human experience, from first thoughts of what might please to tying on the ribbons — is quite different from our ordinary modes of acquisition: both the purchases we have to make and the self-indulgences Shrub encouraged when he told us to “go shopping” after 9/11.
Now we can see that exhortation for exactly what it was: part of his “ownership society” campaign that extolled buying homes — and then draining them of equity to feed obscene corporate profits and a real estate bubble ultimately meant to shift still more assets into the grasp of the rich. And this is just a scrap of our general tattering.
We suckers of the lower orders are also being bled by their global trading and outsourcing schemes and wanton militarism; by our declining wages and benefits; by carrying the burden left by preferential taxation of the rich; and lately by the biofuels boondoggle.
Which brings us to The Two-Dollar Onion.
We normally buy quite a few groceries at a time, so prices tend to blur. However, the cost of one item snapped into focus for me, when I was rushing to complete a meal before guests arrived and discovered there was no onion for the salad. Thus I came to find that a single plump red onion now goes for two bucks.
That’s about what I thought I’d been paying for a whole bag of onions — the ordinary cooking kind, white or yellow — but, on my next shopping trip, I slowed down and noticed these have gone up by about a third. A closer look at the bell peppers stunned me, too. I remember being scandalized by the cost of those in midwinter, but here we are in high summer and they’re still a buck apiece for green, nearly twice that for red or yellow. Another shock was the doubling in price of plain flour tortillas — not even the corn type sparking tumult in Mexico.
With these recent observations in mind, news of sharply rising food prices didn’t exactly knock me for a loop. In fact, I’m inordinately well-prepared to argue that they’re far worse than our Labor Department is admitting. Take the supposed 19.5 percent rise in egg prices over last year’s. Where I forage, they’ve damn near doubled from about a buck a dozen to two. While I can’t dispute the 13.3 percent rise attributed to milk, since I loathe the stuff and no longer have to force it on a child, I’m confident that chicken and beef have gone up substantially more than 10 percent. Twenty percent is more like it.
Eggs, milk and meat are most directly linked to the biofuels lunacy, since the relevant animals live largely on corn, but just about everything at the food store has skyrocketed since Shrub’s Brazilian ethanol deal unbagged the cat. By then his transnational cronies had grabbed vast swathes of ground and begun burning forests all over creation, thus worsening our air beyond what their crops can hope to redeem. And he rightly reckoned no Dems would face him down on the brewing disaster, but instead would fall into line due to facing corn farmers in that Iowa primary.
So now — besides all the other factors collaborating to ruin those with least to lose — the Masters of the Universe have us over both ethanol and oil barrels, while automakers are panting to sell us overpriced new cars that run on both problematic fuels and every day more communities cede to corporations control of their most crucial resources, the land and water upon which lives depend.
Most victims, as usual, are paying attention to nothing but propaganda adverse to their interests. Even I — in full or near cognizance of the Conspiracy of Everything against us — would rather return now to thoughts of the exquisite Edwardian brooch gleaming before me, its perfect golden shells framing a rosy gemstone cabochon set in a collet with millegrained edges.
Among the things I know about it is that loving, careful hands brought it into being around 1905, when the average American family lived better than we do today and on the earnings of only one person. In inflation-adjusted terms, both adults now knock themselves out for only an 8 percent gain in income — far less than the cost of commuting, business apparel and child care, if requisite.
Yes, we’ve lost that much over this century, despite the little burst of advancement between WWII and the late 1960s. And, yes, the greedy will never be content until they have it all. They’ll assault us again and again, yet such barbarians will never understand beauty, even if it’s all around them. Their skill is to deceive, destroy and grab, not to create as workers do. And such love as is found in those cold hearts is just a form of ownership.
So perhaps it’s another act of resistance to our thieving would-be lords when we shift the light of truth away from exposing them toward appreciating love and loveliness. They can gloat over their crimes, but I submit after these musings that the rest of us hold the monopoly on real joy.