Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pearls Before Swine

I have the Swine flu. I like saying that. It’s not Pig or Boar or Porcine but Swine. Sounds biblical, judgmental. Trust me, it is hellish. Tylenol keeps the fever down to a manageable 101 degrees but I am too congested to sleep and the cough is excruciating. My doctor advised me to be admitted to the hospital, but fear of uncovered charges exceeds fear of death. Then again, there is a folding table on my corner with signs and leaflets warning DEATH TO OBAMA(‘s healthplan). And NOBAMA. As a victim of healthcare, I no longer know what to think. I fail to see the evils of the Canadian system. And I grew up believing that Tampax should be government-supplied. Plenty of free condoms in the schools. I support that. In fact I support anything free.

Debt used to be free. The right to owe money. Borrowing....loans, yes, there is an agreed-upon price, but the condition of debt used to be free. Anyone could get there. Now it can cost you your home. Why? Because a huge percentage of our fictitious GNP was predicated on marketing this debt. Enormous profits were reaped marketing this. And someone had to take the rap...why not punish the poor schmucks? What more brilliant, more Satanic scheme could there be? Like selling ‘death’ to Americans. Has anyone read the most recent Saramago novel? Where immortality actually threatens a country and black-market industries arise to smuggle living people across a border so they can die? Maybe Bernie Madoff is reading this in his jailcell. Certainly he will have access to a kindle and other luxuries. I’ll bet the room is larger than many New York City apartments.

Private equity companies are preparing to reap huge profits on the toxic loans they are buying up like penny candy. They will market debt. Why not have a daily average, a figure… like pork futures, metals--- debt. The new commodity. Of course poor schmucks like me are putting their 4-figure life-savings accounts into fractional-percentage point safety accounts. We must sit on the sidelines watching the high-rollers play. We get to serve the Red Bull for coin tips. Or not.

Poor law-abiding citizens still fear debt. Neither a borrower nor a lender be. I am a giver. But I am also stupid. My neighbor caused the downfall of a great Wall Street institution. He committed heinous financial crimes. Employees lost their lifetime pensions. But he and his family still smell like roses, even if it is artificial rose stench. Their windows are clean and sparkling and their housekeepers are better groomed than I will ever be. They are spending weeks on the French Riviera. Their cavernous apartment with no books is vacant. My windows are filthy. My non-airconditioned shelves and piles of books are dull and over-handled. I have seen the Hudson and East Rivers several times in passing this summer, and my house doesn’t sparkle. Cleanliness has become an urban economic marker. Rich people have enormous, dust-free, freshly-painted spaces, and poor people have musty and dusty things everywhere-- things they might need, clothes they might wear. We are afraid to discard that which may be unaffordable in the future, or that which may have marketable value on ebay. Oh poor schmucks, throw out your trash. Or take it to a thrift store. Odds are nothing you own is going to be worthy of airtime on Antique Roadshow. And it may be harboring Swine flu germs.

Maybe it was that penny I picked up in the street. Or the cherry the fruit vendor offered me to taste. Or the $1 pretzel on 8th Avenue. The girl who swiped her runny nose before clamping the takeout lid on my morning coffee. My rich neighbor sees me coming from the library. ‘Aren’t you afraid of germs?’ she asks me, totally deadpan. I am afraid of fear, I tell her. What I don’t say is I am afraid of hospital bills and uncovered blood tests. I am afraid of my own health insurance company’s unchecked right to raise rates so the CEO's kids can have their king-sized bathrooms custom-sterilized daily by women in crisply laundered uniforms. So they don't contract Swine flu. I am beginning to fear my own anger because my skin feels hot enough to crackle.

When I was a sophomore in college, my adorable boyfriend gave me a baby pig for Valentine’s Day. It was cute and smart and pinkish. And then it began to grow. To eat, and snort and cavort around with enough force to destroy furniture. So we drove it up to Vermont where it ballooned into a 900-pound fatty and ended up in installments in the oven of this hippy farmer family who could no longer afford the slops. Roasts and bacon and tripe kept them warm through the winter. They never got Swine flu.

I am more inclined to believe this influenza comes from the real Swine… the Wall Street pigs and the biotech companies who are going to rake a huge profit from the vaccine. Ditto Roche, who makes Tamiflu, though I recall reading in the New York Times back in January that Tamiflu is completely ineffective against this particular strain of influenza. In Canada, this is common knowledge. It seems to me they were still handing out Tamiflu to those Queens high school students like candy all through the spring. Or am I hallucinating? Does anyone recall that Rumsfeld was a huge shareholder and profited enormously from the Avian flu scare just a few short years ago?

I’ll probably live. Although had I gone to the hospital, who knows? As they say, if it’s not another thing, it’s one. Oink.

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