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In the 1987 film Wall Street, Gordon Gekko (no relation to the Geico Gekko), portrayed by Michael Douglas, intones the following line:

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”

The line has been summarized as “Greed is good” and has been used by Australian prime ministers, Italian cardinals, and characters in Fallout 2.  While it meshed well with the strong economic times of the 1990s, it now represents the high price that our society has paid for the actions of a covert few over the last ten years.  The irony behind it seems to strike more and more people every day, like a dead fish in the face. 

In the 1990s, I made more than I was making when my job left me at the end of March.  I worked with ad agencies and pharmaceutical companies that had money to burn.  This was back in the days when Tyco executive Dennis Kozlowski was spending $6000 of the company’s money on a shower curtain.  Everyone seemed to be flying high on the proverbial hog.  And then it all fell down – literally.  September 11 changed things.  Our soft underbelly was exposed, our humanity, our faith, all shaken.  For an all-too-brief time, we put aside our differences, our desires, our classist distinctions, and acted like a bunch of good people.  People who put others before our selves and our own needs.  Do you remember? 

Our economy took a dive.  Executives like those at Tyco and Enron were exposed for who and what they were and shamed for the damage they did.  Their victims were never compensated, but at least there was national, if not worldwide shame.  Then came the War on Terror – GWB always made it sound like “the War on Tara”, as if we were attacking the plantation from Gone With the Wind – and like confused children, we were hoping that things would get back to normal, that our world would make sense again.  But alas, that world was also gone with the wind.

(Please note that the opinions expressed here are just that – opinions – and my own.)  Instead, we’ve been sucked into eight years of bloodsucking, fiscally exhausting conflict that has apparently done nothing but fill with impunity the pockets of a few very special cronies of the past administration.  We all know it.  We just can’t do a damn thing about it.  Those of us who aren’t in a position to benefit from someone else’s power plays are resentful.  In fact, we’re sitting here watching what little savings we have left rise and fall according to the temperament of the stock market.  I swear, if I didn’t need my “assets” to be liquid, I’d be invested in real estate.  Maybe that’s not a bad idea.  As liquid as they are now, they’re getting pissed away.

And so, the point of this post….greed.  It magnificently and unjustly benefits a few.  I had lunch today with a  friend who is going through a divorce (join the club.)  Her “wasband” is trying to take her for everything he can, because he’s angry that she wants a divorce.  Her lawyer says he’s never seen anything like it.  And because she made more money than he did, he’ll probably get it.  Is he deserving?  No.  It’s nothing but greed.  Greed.  One of the seven deadly sins.  The question is, deadly to whom?  To the one whose soul is consumed by it?  Who has deluded oneself into thinking that things, money, revenge will soothe any pain that exists in the depths of the heart?  To the one who is now rich is assets but poor in spirit?

I have committed some of the 7 Deadlies myself.  I’ve been able to rationalize my actions – to delude myself, just like people who are guided by nothing but greed, into thinking that what I was doing was okay.  I’ve suffered the consequences, justifiably, and come out the other side.

I now comfort myself with the knowledge that those who are consumed by materialism, covetousness, and selfishness, deserve my pity.  And I know that they’ll get their comeuppance.  Greed may be the new black, but it will go out of style again.  It always does.  The richest people are the ones with their love of life and others intact. 

He who dies with the most stuff doesn’t win – he still dies.  Maybe one day, the people who live their lives driven by greed, will see that.  But I’m not holding my breath.  Then again, thank heavens, I don’t have to.

Today in 1587, Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed at Fotheringay Castle, after being imprisoned in various locations for 19 years, accused of plotting against Queen Elizabeth I.  What a sad life for what history portrays as a good woman. 

Beautiful, intelligent, compassionate (and tall at 5’11”), Mary had a particularly strong tolerance for religious worship of all kinds, completely at odds with the bloody Catholic vs. Protestant conflict that was so strong during this time.  Coupled with the conflict and corruption among Scottish lords, her sympathetic nature weakened her strength as a ruler.  She was, in my opinion, taken advantage of by many men in the course of her reign, coerced into situations and marriages in an attempt to make peace among the Scots.  It seems to me to be a rarity that a monarch was such a political pawn.

When she turned to her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, for aid, the queen responded by imprisoning her on suspicion of plotting to overturn the English throne.  Depending on which historical account you study, the validity of this accusation is debatable.  What is not debatable is that Elizabeth did indeed sign the order to have Mary executed, though she later denied that she knew just what she was signing, which, knowing what we do about Queen Elizabeth, is pure codswallop.

Mary died with dignity in a scarlet gown, though it took two strokes of the executioner’s axe to behead her.  Legend has it that when the executioner lifted her head in the air, it fell to the ground, and he was left holding her red wig, which she had used to cover her thin, prematurely grey hair.  She was only 44 years old.  She left behind one son (from her second marriage), James, who she last saw when he was 10 months old, and who later became King of England.

I had a certain fascination with the tragic tale of Mary, Queen of Scots when I was a child, perhaps spurred by seeing the movie with Vanessa Redgrave.  I still have an excellent book about her life that my parents bought me when I was about ten.

Today marks the first accusations that sparked the Salem witch trials in the Massachusetts colony in 1692.  Between February 1692 and May 1693, 29 people were convicted of this ridiculous crime, with hundreds being either arrested or accused.   With religious fervor attributing any ill event to the wrath of God, along with increasing dissention in small communities around such issues as land ownership, spiritual leadership and political confusion, the time was ripe for some drama.   And Puritan minister John Hale  stirred it up with his assessment of young Betty Parris as having fits “beyond the power of natural disease to affect.” 

Betty and her cousin Abigail both displayed behaviors such as blasphemous screaming, seizures and apparent trances, which other Salem girls exhibited shortly thereafter.  (My personal opinion is that this was a “tween” bid for attention that worked with unparalleled success.  Had none of these people ever had an adolescent daughter before?).  Subsequent accusation of several women who were “different” from most of the community set the witch hunt afire.

(As an aside, the concept of being “different” making a woman vulnerable to false accusations is something that remains common in our culture.  That which we don’t recognize as ourselves arouses our suspicion and makes us uncomfortable.  I speak from bitter experience here.)

According to our friend Wikipedia, the Puritans held some extreme notions about women.  “Women, they believed, should be totally subservient to men. By nature, a woman was more likely to enlist in the Devil’s service than was a man, and women were considered lustful by nature.  The majority of accused ‘witches’ were unmarried or recently widowed land-owning women; according to the law if no legal heir existed upon the owner’s death, title to the land would revert to the previous owner, or (if no previous owner could be determined) to the colony.  This made witch-hunting a possible method of acquiring a profitable piece of property.”  Nice, huh?  Just makes you want to give organized religion a BIG hug.

Over 300 years later, interest in the Witch Trials persists among descendents, scholars and laypeople.  I think that’s good, since, as with other tragic historical events, particularly those fueled by a certain amount of hysteria, if we forget or ignore them, we are likely to find ourselves repeating them.

This is an episode in history that has always interested me, no doubt because of my own “shine”.  Besides, I’d have been convicted immediately due to my “witch’s teat.”  At any rate, women sure were getting some tough breaks in history today.

Lastly, on this day in 1855 in the town of Devon (England), a series of footprints appeared in the snow.  Hoofprint-shaped and sometimes cloven, the tracks went on for over 100 miles, often crossing rooftops and rivers and entering and exiting drainpipes, in nearly straight lines.  Again causing a certain amount of hysteria, their origin withstands explanation to this day.  (Interestingly, the phenomenon occurred again in Devon on March 13th of last year – and scientists still have no answers.)

We North Carolinians seem to have a certain fascination with devilish imprints, as we boast both the Devil’s Hoofprints at Bath, and the Devil’s Tramping Ground outside of Bennett.  I have a dim recollection of E-Bro (and perhaps his friend Erik the Red?) trying to camp at the latter once during our high school days.  And I dimly recall that it didn’t work out so well.

Thus endeth the history lesson.  Hope you feel slightly enlightened.

A work ethic is one of those things that you either have or you don’t.  I don’t think it’s something that’s learned.  I think it’s inborn.  I’ve known people whose parents were incredibly hard workers who think they can just skate by.  I’ve known people whose parents were functional alcoholics who have a remarkable work ethic.  I’ve known people with no goals of their own, who worked on the coattails of others, with the appearance of a work ethic — that appearance being a sham that dissolves as soon as they feel justified in not working for one reason or another (disability, a spouse’s success, their own twisted vision of entitlement).

I’ve always had a strong work ethic.  Always.  I don’t remember complaining about homework, and it always got done.  Money was not always the motivator.  When I was too young to do paid work, I volunteered.  I was one of the youngest volunteers they had at the hospital, and by the time I was done, I had worked so many hours that they didn’t have anything else to recognize me with – no one had ever volunteered that many hours before.  I had a few babysitting clients once I was sufficiently aged (including Damien (yes, really) the child from Hell) .   Then I started shelving books for my Dad after school (still not of legal working age).  At 17, I got my first “real” job, working in a restaurant, having had no previous restaurant experience.  And the rest is history.  I’ve either worked or been looking for work for the last 30 years, with the exception of the year I took off when Kelsea was two/three.  I’ve was my family’s sole support for the last ten years, and for many years off and on prior to Kelsea being born.

Even with my upcoming gainful unemployment, I am going to try to work for myself, and I’ll have the half-time job still.  Yes, I am tired, too tired and too old to try to start working for someone new in a 40-hour a week job with 2 weeks off a year for good behavior.  But I can’t stop working, not because of the money, but because if I’m doing something I like, I really like to work.

When Pat did work, he worked in bars, motorcycle shops or poker rooms.  In bars, he had always been drinking when he came home.  Ditto with the motorcycle shop.  And poker rooms.  My point is, all his work was playing.  Especially poker.  That IS playing.  Not working.  Playing poker for a living is PLAYING.  That always irritated me.  It wasn’t working, it was playing, and he didn’t always come in ahead of the game.  And I was working.  I was the drudge.   Yes, I was probably jealous, but injustice pisses me off.

Kelsea had a meltdown the other night about how much work she had for school.  I’m sure some of that was hormones, and she’d been doing the wrong thing for the project she was working on (she’s always had a little issue with not reading instructions and assuming she understands what’s wanted), besides the fact that it was a ridiculous assignment (even in my opinion).  Part of her tearful rant was that she never has time to do what she wants – she’s always in school or doing homework.  She never has time to be a kid – and this from a kid with only one afterschool activity.  Nothing she is learning feels like it pertains to her future goals.   I sympathize completely.  Though I did tell her she might be surprised at what does pertain to her future goals. 

At any rate, it was painful to hear her echoing my own sentiments about working herself (myself) to death.  I don’t know it it’s an attitude shift that’s required on both of our parts, or a life shift, that will help us feel like we are not just toiling to the grave, but actually living our lives joyously.

Where’s the balance?  And am I glad that I (and she) care about doing good work?  Yes, I am. 

But still, I sigh.

September 2020


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