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Not a Joke. Not Funny. Not Waving but Drowning

October 23, 2008

Yesterday I received the following narrative in an email from my father, a retired plumber, who was forwarding it from his wife (my stepmother), a retired chief financial officer from a city, who was forwarding it from my godmother, a retired special ed school teacher.

Today on my way to lunch I passed a homeless guy with a sign that read “Vote Obama, I need the money.” I laughed.

Once in the restaurant my server had on a “Obama 08” tie, again I laughed as he had given away his political preference–just imagine the coincidence.

When the bill came I decided not to tip the server and explained to him that I was exploring the Obama redistribution of wealth concept. He stood there in disbelief while I told him that I was going to redistribute his tip to someone who I deemed more in need–the homeless guy outside. The server angrily stormed from my sight.

I went outside, gave the homeless guy $10 and told him to thank the server inside as I ‘ve decided he could use the money more. The homeless guy was grateful.

At the end of my rather unscientific redistribution experiment I realized the homeless guy was grateful for the money he did not earn, but the waiter was pretty angry that I gave away the money he did earn even though the actual recipient needed money more. I guess redistribution of wealth is an easier thing to swallow in concept than in practical application.

I assumed of course that my godmother had written this story, that she was the “I”– the narrator. I was dismayed, to say the least. My heart pounded; how could someone I respected do something so obviously despicable? How could I continue to have in my life someone who would make a choice like this? How could my stepmother applaud her act with a comment like “Your awesome!”

This morning I did a Google search on the first line of the story. I found 445 matches for the exact wording, most of the postings from the past few days. It can be found on a variety of sites and message boards, some listed below, generating both laudatory comments like my stepmother’s “your awesome” and many people who have found this an excuse to just not tip their servers at all to people who are questioning this action and line of reasoning.

  1. MSNBC – Politics – Vote Obama, I need the money

    Oct 22, 2008 10/22/08 02:39 AM. Today on my way to lunch I passed a homeless guy with a sign that read. ” Vote Obama, I need the money.” I laughed. – 22 hours ago – Similar pages
  2. Redistributing The Wealth – Catholic Answers Forums

    Today on my way to lunch I passed a homeless guy with a sign that readVote Obama, I need the money.” I laughed. Once in the restaurant my server had on a – 68k – CachedSimilar pages

  3. JBlog Central – The Jewish Blog Network | Sharing The Wealth….

    Oct 21, 2008 Today on my way to lunch I passed a homeless guy with a sign the readVote Obama, I need the money.” I laughed. Once in the restaurant my – 21 hours ago – Similar pages

And during the time it took me to create this post, more turned up, and this one will add to the cacophony in the echo chamber of modern politics. This story has gone viral in more ways than one.  Is this the world we want to live in?

I am reminded of Stevie Smith’s poem, “Not waving but Drowning”

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

For a  picture of the poet Stevie Smith and to hear her read the poem, go here.

And please vote for candidates who recognize that many of us aren’t waving, but drowning.

(This is also a response to the readwritepoem prompt on echolalia).

13 Comments leave one →
  1. October 23, 2008 7:15 pm

    I love that Stevie Smith poem – so wonderful and awful. In terms of that narrative…man, I wish people would read up more about what capitalism actually is. There is no such thing as infinite growth. In order for the rich to get richer, or even, for poor people to move out of poverty, there must be a balanced pyramid – and the middle class, their spending habits, their relentless “stimulus” on the economy is what holds it all together. Without that, the rich may still get a little richer, but the end is near. And when we say rich, we’re talking the .1 percent of America.

    As in many past eras, philanthropy (a redistribution of wealth BY the ACTUAL rich people TO the POOR – and redistribution is too strong – they don’t grow poor as a result of their giving, and the poor certainly don’t grow rich. Think of it as a flood, a stimulus)) was what really pulled economies out of depressions. I think back to one of the most famous – early 20th century. I think of Andrew Carnegie.

    So when people equate Obama with socialism and redistribution of wealth they are really missing the point. What he’s talking about is actually bolstering our true capitalism economy by creating a stimulus for the middle class which makes the rich rich. Without this kind of bolstering, the economy stalls. Exhibit A: NOW.

    Thanks for this post.

  2. October 23, 2008 7:23 pm

    yes, I agree completely, PWDJ (aka Melissa). thank you very much for your thoughtful perspective and comments.

    as I understand it, this country has never had such uneven distribution of wealth. the rich have the middle class terrified that Obama is going to take away what they have and they will descend into poverty and become homeless.

    the priviledged tend to think that the “poor” are just lazy, addicted to drugs and tv, and if they’d just work harder, get an education etc etc they would be “successful.” what a farce. they/we have a greater chance of being struck by lightening.

    the picture is much more complicated and it is hard to understand unless you’ve been there.

  3. October 23, 2008 9:33 pm

    That is fascinating. The internet is changing the way the world works. It gives power to the sly. It’s hard to understand why anyone would opposed a redistribution in wealth. I have really given up trying to understand. I’ll be glad when your election is over, the good guys have won and all the horribleness it seems to have stirred up settles back down into the bottom of the barrel.

  4. JohnD permalink
    October 23, 2008 9:52 pm

    I’ve seen the bottom of the barrel. I started with nothing. I worked my way up to what I am today and I’m fully self made. I unfortunately would fall into Barack Obama’s upper 5% after 24 years of working VERY hard for the money I’ve earned. I’ve created businesses, hired and fired workers and gone to the office at least 5 days a week for the last 3 decades. I literally started with a $4,000 loan from a bank to start my first business. There is no reason why my money should be redistributed to the lower and middle class. Everyone can climb out of the barrel and do what I did, as long as you have the will and motivation. When I was poor and making $24,000 a year, I looked up and figured out how I could become wealthy. It took a long time, but I did it and no one should take that away from me. I shouldn’t have my businesses taxed 12% more because I’m smaller than the next guy. I shouldn’t have to lay off people because Obama feels that I should employ more US workers. US workers don’t want the jobs that I have to offer and I only employ legally. My federal taxes should not go up 8% because Barack Obama thinks so. This is unjust and unfair.

  5. October 23, 2008 11:31 pm

    the poem is so strong.
    the joke is so lame.

    and people should understand that dressing up Barbie GOP is not going to stimulate the retail industry. Look it is simple if you want a strong market you need strong demand, i.e. people have to have money to spend. If you over tax them and they have to pay few hundred dollars a month for health care, them are not going to go out and shop at Kohl’s. It’s that simple…
    And Joe the Plumber is not going to have a business that makes over 250k, ever. Do not want to hurt middle class feeling, but he just does not have the money smarts to do it –I know it, I work with people like him all day long.

  6. October 23, 2008 11:44 pm

    I’m glad you have had such success with your business, JohnD, and I am sorry to hear you feel that way. Thank you for commenting and sharing your story and your perspective. However, chalking up your success to hard work is an oversimplification. Are you one of those people who would just let someone drown rather than send a lifeline? Do you think it fair to stiff a server for not holding your same political views? Should I not pay my bill if the owner supports someone who plans to vote differently than me?

    I understand, also, that we’re in a historically low period of business taxes, and as this articles states 1% of the population controls 20% of the wealth in this country (for sources):

    and 60% of US businesses pay no tax at all, with overall US corps paying some of the lowest corp taxes IN THE WORLD (for sources):

    Some food for thought, JohnD.

  7. October 23, 2008 11:49 pm

    you’re right, Paul, the interweb gives power to the sly–but also to the people to uncover the sly dog’s tricks! and get the word out about it!

    Annamari, it’s so sad to see Joe the Plumber doing the latest dog tricks for the Right and for Caribou Barbie to be tricked out in $150,000 worth of clothes (and find she’s still naked).


  8. October 24, 2008 1:22 am

    It’s sad to think that waiters in your country still rely on tips to get by.

  9. Jason permalink
    October 24, 2008 2:15 am

    my parents have voted McCain.
    i have dear friends that refuse to vote.
    or that prefer an alternate nul.

    it’s difficult to engage the future with the above.
    but i persist.

  10. October 25, 2008 12:49 am

    Thank you for bringing out one of my favorite poems of all time. Your comment about 1% of the population is exactly right. It’s not about stealing from anyone it’s about changing our corrupt and wasteful and inhuman economic system.

  11. david permalink
    October 30, 2008 3:29 pm

    Love the wine posts. Sounds like a great event.

  12. October 13, 2009 6:39 am

    Posted in Uncategorized So so much to say on this. ,


  1. Not Waving but Drowning « the write alley

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