“TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.”—Howard Zinn
At the time I wrote Nickel and Dimed, I wasn’t sure how many people it directly applied to—only that the official definition of poverty was way off the mark, since it defined an individual earning $7 an hour, as I did on average, as well out of poverty. But three months after the book was published, the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., issued a report entitled “Hardships in America: The Real Story of Working Families,” which found an astounding 29% of American families living in what could be more reasonably defined as poverty, meaning that they earned less than a barebones budget covering housing, child care, health care, food, transportation, and taxes—though not, it should be noted, any entertainment, meals out, cable TV, Internet service, vacations, or holiday gifts. Twenty-nine percent is a minority, but not a reassuringly small one, and other studies in the early 2000s came up with similar figures.
The big question, 10 years later, is whether things have improved or worsened for those in the bottom third of the income distribution, the people who clean hotel rooms, work in warehouses, wash dishes in restaurants, care for the very young and very old, and keep the shelves stocked in our stores. The short answer is that things have gotten much worse, especially since the economic downturn that began in 2008.
“My opinion about barbell rows is as follows: fuck barbell rows. Really. Fuck them. Stop wasting time worrying about barbell rows and get your deadlift up to 500. By then you’ll have your own opinion and you won’t have to worry about mine.”—Mark Rippetoe. (I agree with this so freaking much)
“Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”—Eugene V. Debs
So my good friends Megan and Malcolm are getting married and I inherited took over planning duties for the bachelor party. Being the person I am, and the other party planners being who they are, we elected not to inflict upon ourselves the indignity of strippers (also, I’m allergic to body glitter). We decided instead to do a nice, understated pub crawl through downtown Spokane. Now, I’m not a bar person by any stretch of the imagination, quite the opposite, in fact. I’ve never really gotten the whole bar thing, at least in the states. When asked what I’d like to do on any given night, going out to a bar doesn’t even really occur to me. I can get alcohol more cheaply at the store, and can sit and drink at home…I can watch people make fools of themselves in skanky clothes on MTV, what do I need to go to a bar for? To socialize? I invite people over or go to their houses. To meet new people? I prefer to meet people when they HAVEN’T been drinking all night, but that’s just me. But I figured a chill pub crawl would be a pretty enjoyable way to celebrate Malcolm’s impending nuptials (sidebar: I totally get bachelor parties as a celebration of an upcoming marriage, kind of like the male version of a bridal shower…but I also realize that they are more traditionally viewed as a “last fling” before the “drudgery” of marriage and a mourning of passing freedom…I don’t get that. If you’re going to be so fucking miserable in married life then don’t get married. You should be looking forward to it or you shouldn’t be doing it). Anyway, that tangent aside, pub crawl = good times. Let’s get to it…
Catacombs is the only restaurant in Spokane where you can go rock climbing on the walls while you wait for your food. Which isn’t to say it’s set up for that purpose. I’m quite sure the waitstaff would object as a matter of fact. But you COULD if you were so inclined. The theme of Catacombs, as you can guess by the name, is “medieval.” Also a theme? “Really fucking dark.” As in, when you come in from the daylight you are temporarily blind levels of dark. The restaurant has a brighter end and a darker end. We were in the darker end. Which meant we were squinting at each other, trying to make out faces in the gloom, for the first half hour. But it was all good.
Approximate level of light at Catacombs
The food, as usual, was quite good (they have a wood fired oven in which they bake their delicious pizzas) and the service was superb, especially considering they were catering a 100 person wedding upstairs. Also, at the end of the evening they gave us a free round of s’mores (they bring out firepots and you roast your marshmallow and make your s’mores at the table. Pretty clever and cool). I only had one s’more as A) I had eaten an entire large pizza and that, combined with two beers, was quite enough for me at that moment and, B) I’m pretty sure every time you eat a marshmallow your pancreas says “Oh, I see…you don’t need me anymore, well I’ll just go over into this corner and DIE then!”
After gorging on pizza and beer and décor that looks like what would happen if Catherine DeMedici won HGTV’s Design Star it was on to…
THE PEACOCK ROOM.
The Peacock Room is the bar and lounge of the Davenport, a beautiful, expensive, luxurious, expensive, tastefully appointed expensive hotel. The Davenport is the kind of place Trotsky’s ghost would walk into and go “Yeah, all this shit? THIS is what I was talking about,” and Milton Friedman’s ghost would simply say “I approve.” After getting everyone seated and making sure Malcolm had a drink that actually contained alcohol (he had ordered a Beck’s N/A at Catacombs, much to our displeasure) I poured over the menu looking for a drink that didn’t cost as much as an actual meal, finally settling on the bloody Mary suggested by Tobe. I love bloody Marys but I always forget about them because I don’t drink enough to have established favorite go-to drinks and because, again, I almost never go to bars. This bloody Mary was freaking delicious. Spicy, not too strong, salty…awesomeness. Malcolm got his first two alcoholic drinks in him. This was enough for him to reach the “I’m totally fine, guys!” level of drunkenness. Excellent.
After we’d had enough elegance and splendor and my inner class warrior was belting out “The Internationale” at the top of his lungs, we decided to make our way to bar #3…
Along the way we lost two of our party, one because he had to be up early the next morning, the other because he’s a freaking punk (just kidding, and much love, dude!). Actually, I’m not sure why he bailed but it’s all good. Our surviving crew of 11 headed to Raw, went inside after confirming there was enough space to hold all of us and…promptly walked back out. Raw, a bar and sushi restaurant, is the kind of place that you see the unfortunate troglodytes of “Jersey Shore” going to. Their sushi is quite good, but none of us were ordering sushi, and I like my bars with less fist pumping. So it was on to…
The Satellite is an odd hybrid of hipster bar, wanna-be gangster bar and scene bar. Intriguing to say the least. I wasn’t drinking anymore at this point, so I took advantage of free designated driver beverages and got a Dr. Pepper. Which…I think their machine was on the fritz and had subsequently not mixed the syrup and soda water in the proper proportion because this was the only Dr. Pepper I’ve ever chewed. After the large pizza, two beers and a bloody Mary, my stomach was asking me what it had ever done to me that I would want to treat it so poorly (which is odd, because my stomach and I normally have a great relationship and I can consume all manner of ridiculous things in truly obscene quantities to no ill effect…I blame the chewable Dr. Pepper) and so I was chilling at one end of the table while Malcolm plowed into a bloody Mary…and a couple of shots of…something, I’m not sure what. At one point a cross-table argument (in which I took no part) developed about the proper way to do a Vulcan hand salute. That was as close as I came that night to abandoning the party (full disclosure: I have not one but TWO Klingon dictionaries, so I really can’t talk…). The Satellite has a standing roulette wheel in the back, near where we were sitting, that patrons can spin for the chance to get more drunk for free. I had taken no notice of it until a group of girls came back for their chance to spin their way into greater inebriation. One of their party went up to spin the wheel while her compatriots, behind us, offered their encouragement. And when I say offered I mean drunkenly screeched, and when I say encouragement I mean at a decibel and frequency level that probably set off not only every dog in the city but even dolphins over on the coast. I looked back for the source of the noise (I think I may have doubted it actually came from a human) and caught the eye of the girl who had been responsible. I think either much more annoyance than, or exactly as much amazement as, I truly felt must have shown through on my face, because she quickly looked sheepish and apologized. I told her no worries at all. Hey, I don’t own the place, and drunken yelling is the kind of thing one does at these establishments. If I don’t like it I can drag my I’d-rather-be-at-home-reading-or-watching-Netflix-than-at-a-bar ass out of there. Somewhat coincidentally we left not long after and headed to…
THE BABY BAR.
People had been wanting to go to the Baby Bar all night. The Baby Bar prides itself on being exceedingly small and, at 11~13 people in our party throughout the night, it just wasn’t going to happen. This was totally fine with me, as the Baby Bar also seems to pride itself on being a hipster bar. I am more allergic to hipsters than I am to body glitter and fist pumping combined. I’m allergic to any group of people who bathe themselves in “irony” so as not to risk the vulnerability of sincerity and who fetishize the trappings of marginalized segments of society without ever understanding what it truly means to BE one of those segments, all while crowing about “authenticity.” God damn hipsters.
Seriously. Fuck everything about this.
Anyway…we lost two more members of our party at the Satellite so we were about 8-9 people at this point. Slightly more likely to be able to fit into the Baby Bar. Which people really wanted to go to. So we went. Hail Satan. Actually, it wasn’t that bad. The hipsterism in the bar itself was at minimal levels (when I went to the restroom I discovered a hall that connected the Baby Bar to a larger bar in the back…perhaps the lounge of Neato Burrito?…and ran into a wall of hipsterism that came close to knocking me over) and the bartender was quite nice, even offering Malcolm a free shot of Jagermeister when he realized it was his bachelor party. Malcolm had another drink after that, and then switched to water…but it was too late. The Time of Sober Malcolm was behind us, it was the time of Drunk Malcolm now and for the rest of the night. I was satisfying myself with water and lemon by then, as soda is basically corn syrup, water and carcinogens, and my one foray that night into the one soda I like, Dr. Pepper, had not ended well.
The Baby Bar’s décor is what would happen if Jackson Pollack were in charge of decorating a TGIFriday’s. One wall has the space not occupied by the jukebox populated with splattered paint, a black light, an art piece that rotates on what I assume is a monthly basis, and papier mache boobs painted to be the same color as the wall. The other has a matching art piece, and ironic graffiti. The back wall is one big mirror. The better to see your cardigan and gypsy moustache with, I suppose. The tables have small versions of old pulp fiction novel covers lacquered onto them. I actually like that kind of art, but I get the strong impression that, as with everything hipsterish, it was not chosen for aesthetic pleasure. No, pleasure is too simple and sincere and therefore potentially exploitable an emotion for the hipster, whose main defense mechanism is irony (which actually makes me feel more compassion than anger for hipsters…most of the time…until they start getting huffy about authenticity), so these were here for “ironic” kitsch value. Ugh.
Around about the Baby Bar all of us were getting either pretty tired or pretty drunk. Falling into the former category, but still up for a good time, I suggested we hit our next bar, Fast Eddie’s (frat boy/sorority girl bar extraordinaire, from the looks and reputation, but I figured hey, in for a penny, in for a pound on the crazy ass bars). Well, as we got outside I was informed by the more sober members of our party that Malcolm should probably eat something before he drank another drop. Malcolm came out of the sidewalk bellowing that he wanted a steak at the Satellite diner (next to the Satellite bar) and so we were off.
An aside — while we were waiting for Malcolm outside on the sidewalk this girl, probably in her early 20’s, walked by muttering for change. This was remarkable not in that she was asking for change, that is a distressingly common occurrence on a Saturday night downtown, but in the fact that she was literally muttering, and doing so with a combination of the tone normally used by teachers when they ask their first class of the new school year if they’ve done their summer reading, and by the person that takes your order at McDonald’s. That tone that says “I know you haven’t read anything but porn search engines and Facebook/I don’t care what you order because you’re all slowly killing yourselves anyway and I get minimum wage for the privilege of helping you, but I have either a glimmer of hope for a better tomorrow, or I may just be on auto-pilot, all my will numbed by the deadening repetitive quality of the disappointment I encounter.” That may have been the most jarring thing about it…she asked as if she took it as an OBLIGATION…an unwelcome burden, to be asking. As if she would rather be anywhere else but hey, that’s what they pay her to do so she was going to do it. She really didn’t even slow down her pretty rapid pace to ask, just sort of tossed out a pro forma question and continued right on her way…in her clean, stylish clothes and purse and Nalgene water bottle. Which was the second most jarring thing: this girl was dressed and accessorized better than most of the people we had just seen in the Baby Bar. By look alone, she was not suffering enough to be needing to beg for change to make ends meet. She was, by no stretch of the imagination, the rugged and pathetic figure Harburg and Gorney imagined when they composed “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” And yet there she was.
My reverie was interrupted when Malcolm came out calling for steak, and so…
BACK TO THE SATELLITE it was.
This meant walking through what I can only describe, with sincere compassion, as the Valley of the Damned (which is my usual name for the bus plaza). The stretch of sidewalk between Jimmy’z and the Satellite has people literally lying down on it, some with their heads cradled in the laps of others, occasionally asking for change from passers-by, but more occasionally openly conversing with each other, which set the stage for this upsetting exchange: “Do you wanna smoke that meth now?” “No, I wanna get some more (muffled) first.” I actually have a large amount of sympathy for these people. Sometimes life deals you a shitty fucking hand, and not everybody is strong enough not to retreat into the comfort of hard drugs. It doesn’t absolve them of their responsibility, not at all, but before we chastise people for making such poor life choices while we sip our wine or our beer or smoke our cigarettes or drink our coffee or take our Prozac, maybe we should take a look at our own choices and the reasons we make them. Yes, it’s a matter of degree, but sometimes the degrees aren’t as separated as we think.
Arriving at the Satellite, Malcolm tucked in to his steak. And when I say tucked in I mean talked for about 45 minutes until he was reminded his food was in front of him. And then needed his steak cut for him to encourage him to actually start eating (I love you Malcolm, but I will never stop mocking you for that. Ever). After getting the most inebriated members of our party safely to their rides for the night we were ready to take off. But Malcolm declared that he would need at least 45 more minutes to finish his french fries. John kindly offered to stay while Malcolm finished his fries and give him a ride home afterward. For all I know they are still sitting there.
It was a great party; just the right level of drunkenness, everybody was happy, no fights with random bar patrons and everybody got home safe and sound. We did lose our friend Joe somewhere between the Satellite and Baby Bar. I have literally no memory of him bidding us good-bye. I can only assume he took the Vulcan greeting protocol argument to be his cue to leave. I can’t say as I blame him.
Congratulations, Malcolm and Megan! I love you both. May your marriage live long and prosper.
Motorcycle class is full of…interesting people, about whom I feel I could write at least two, maybe more, short stories.
Three precocious children sang Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” on America’s Got Talent. No. Just, no.
I love children, but I recognize there are certain things 99.99999999% of them cannot do. Singing Stevie is, like, 18 of them.
I truly love weightlifting. It is my meditation, my celebration, my personal competition. Sounds cheesy, I know, but it really centers me, both in the moment and for quite some time thereafter.
I’m almost certainly going to get another tattoo when I go to Ottawa in two weeks, but I can’t for the life of me decide where (on my body) to get it.
The more I study the more I’m convinced that a significant portion of our obesity woes in the industrialized world stem from this simple fact: We, as a species, are not meant to be surrounded for extended periods of time by abundant, monstrously calorific foods which we have to expend little or no energy to procure. We have created a world where our instincts and biology work against us.
Offstage, we watched her stumbling around London in a bedraggled beehive and a pair of dirty ballet flats, buying bags of potato chips, her tiny shorts barely supported by her toothpick-thin frame, bloodied and hollering at reporters. It was impossible not to draw easy parallels between Winehouse’s art and her apparently tumultuous life. And while her fans ostensibly blanched at her mistakes, there’s little question that we also let it validate her work: Hey, she means it. She really means it.
After four years of high school, you were probably pretty ready to graduate. But what if you could have earned college credit if you stayed for a fifth year? Students in Maine might soon get the option to do just that. In order to ensure that the state is truly preparing the workforce of the future, governor Paul LePage followed up on a campaign promise this week and issued an executive order that creates a task force to study whether a five-year high school option can be implemented state-wide.
The five-year initiative would accelerate the traditional high school curriculum so that credits are finished more quickly, and bring introductory college courses—college English 101, for example—down to the high school level. Students who opt in to the five-year program would graduate with both a high school diploma and either an associate’s degree or two years of credits that they can then transfer to the college of their choice.