The House Next Door #7

HouseNextDoorAs cars upon cars continued to invade our quiet residential street, the neighbors started convening at the plastic storage bin down the block, well out of view of the occupants of the house next door. Actually, I shouldn’t call it a plastic storage bin, even if that’s what it is. Someone had slapped a laminated picture on the front and started calling it “Lily’s Library.” In reality, it was a place for people to drop their discarded books, while out walking Tank or Buster, rather than troubling to take them to Goodwill.

I probably shouldn’t be so negative. It’s true one might find something to read in the bin while getting pulled around the block by her canine companion but up ‘til now, all I’ve ever found inside were four month old issues of Westways Magazine and dog-eared copies of Dianetics. I picked up “Don’t Say Yes Until I Finish Talking,” one afternoon, thinking it might be a mediation book along the lines of “Getting to ‘Yes’” or “When ‘No’ is NOT an Option”—you know, something relevant to my alleged line of work. Though, at this stage of the game, work has been so intermittent I’m more aptly called an Unmediator rather than an actual Mediator.

The book, as it happened, turned out to be not a mediation book, but Mel Gussow’s biography of Darryl Zanuck—an early king pin of the movie business and if not exactly a purveyor of porn, as were the residents of the house next door, certainly a keen observer on the finer points of using sexual innuendo to sell movie tickets. For those of us who look for signs in life, I took it as a sign. Of what? This was as yet unclear.

Soon after the comings and goings of the multiplicity of cars, a pattern began to form. The cars that appeared every weekday appeared to be the same cars and they remained parked from 11 a.m. until roughly 7 p.m. We all took this as a sign that whatever was going on at the house next door had reached the next step. There was the black mustang, the beat up Nissan and the brand new Toyota in a peculiar shade of green—the very shade one might select for a duvet on a round bed on a porno set. All tolled, there were upwards of 22 cars on our residential street every day.

Some of the neighbors who had real jobs (and were therefore never able to join us at Lily’s library) liked the cars. They felt their presence gave the street a “happy feeling” where “people wanted to be,” and that burglars would therefore be less likely to come around while they were not at home. Others, namely Buddy, hated the cars. He began patrolling the street in front of the house next door glaring as the occupants got out of their cars and disappeared inside. Often he would make it appear as though he was simply out doing yard work, and so assumed it looked natural for him to be wielding a large stick. And as Buddy had a job that took him away from the street for long periods of time, his patrolling seemed to consist of these intense weeklong vigils where most of us indifferent types thought he was going bonkers.

He tried to get us all on board with the idea that whatever was going on in there, must be stopped! He warned us all that our property values would be negatively affected. “There’s a business going on in there—porno, illegal gaming; doesn’t matter—and that’s against zoning laws!” he said with fervor to several of us who nodded our heads in agreement as we scanned the old People Magazines, noting (some of us) that Lindsay Lohan was arrested for drunk driving—again—and that Elizabeth Taylor had died. But wait, wasn’t that years ago? Then we looked at the cover dates. Anyway, Buddy said we had to do something. He told us he would come up with a plan. Then he snapped his stick in two and put it in somebody else’s recycle bin.

The Muffia Gives

It’s no secret there’s a huge income and wealth gap in the U.S. and the ongoing stalemate in Congress suggests it’s not going to change any time soon. In addition, there doesn’t seem to be much political will to close the gap.

According to Wikipedia’s sources, a person needs to make at least $500,000 to be considered in the top 1% of wage earners and a very large percentage of those folks make significantly more than that. I cannot speak for all the members of the Muffia but I don’t make anything near $5oo,ooo. What I earn in a year not only puts me squarely in the 99%, it puts me in the bottom 50%. Still, I make more than a lot of people do.

When the Occupy movement began, I hadn’t yet finished writing The Muffia but I’d already had the thought, that if the book ever found a publisher—Thank you Water Street Press—that I would tithe, that is give, 10% of whatever the book made to charitable causes. I brought the idea to the members of the real life Muffia and they loved it. Tithing originated with the Old English practice of giving one tenth of one’s cattle sales, baked goods, whatever– to a religious entity. These days, tithes are generally voluntary and include many different kinds of giving. The Muffia wants to give to groups helping girls and women.

Why do I want to do this?  There are lots of reasons. In a society where what and how much we have often seems to matter more than the content of our characters, I feel like I have enough. Sure, there’s a lot of stuff I want, but not much I truly need. Why it’s necessary for the über rich to have 17 homes and 2 private jets escapes me. Beyond a certain point, I can’t spend any more money. I only need one car and I want it to be a car I’m not worried about somebody stealing or keying; I only need one house, though I concede it could be fun to have a vacation home; I don’t need more jewelry or to throw “show me the money” parties. To me, these things are extravagances that add complication and worry even if a few people might look at me and say, “Wow, look what she has!” I’d much rather they admire me for what I’ve accomplished, not purchased.

It seems to me that no matter how much a person makes, there are many reasons to give some of it away: There are charitable deductions; there is feeling good for being generous; there’s the thanks one gets at having helped. I also don’t understand why more of those people in the top 1% of earners can’t seem to acknowledge—this is a big one you CEO’s: You would not have a salary at all if the 99% weren’t buying your phones, cereal, adult diapers and financial products. The 99% put you there so why not pay them back? An individual’s long-term self-interest could almost mandate giving some of one’s income back. History even tells us this. Cultures far older than ours have learned that when income disparity grows too great, the 99% may revolt.

The wealthy, benevolent few and those planning to give a large portion of their estates away—Bill Gates, George Soros, Warren Buffet, among them—cannot make up for all the heads of banks, brokerage firms and corporations who avoid taxes and are loathe to give unless they get naming rights. When you make $19 million a year, what do you do with all that money?

I’m just one middle class, middle age woman and I’m probably getting too political. I’m realistic enough to know I cannot fix anything but I can do my part to try to improve whatever tiny corner of the world I’m operating in. If The Muffia and I do well in the marketplace, it’s because people have bought my book. Some of those people might be wealthier than I am and others less. But either way, I would not have 10% of anything to tithe without people and that’s why it’s important to give something back.

imagesThe Muffia will therefore tithe and do what it can to help girls and women in the bottom of the 99% have a chance for more. Currently, we are concentrating on organizations in the U.S., which provide education, job and mentoring opportunities. Some of the groups we are looking at are Project Return in Connecticut, Women in Recovery in Los Angeles, and Catapult/Women Deliver for International efforts. If you know of some other groups we might add to our list, please feel free to comment here and thanks for reading.