Pete the Pissed
April 1, 2017Pete, the Pissed
It has been a long time since my last visit with Pete the Pissed, our local purveyor of sardonic cynicism, but one morning as I was out walking there he was sitting on his front porch in an old and rickety rocking chair.
“Morning, Pete,” I said. “How’s your life?”
“My life is okay,” he said, “bunch of others I’m worried about, though.”
Very typical, I thought, as I walked up his sidewalk and plunked myself down on the top step of his porch.
“Anyone in particular?” I asked.
“Maybe,” he said. “I have a good friend testing the limits of friendship.”
“How so?” I said.
“We wandered,” he began, “into politics one day. That’s not good, as you well know, and she told me she voted for Mr. Trump. Said we needed a businessman in that House.”
“Lotta folks thought that, too,” I said.
“I’m struggling with that friendship,” he said, “but holy smokes we are awash in business these days – its sacredness, its glorification. Is life nothing more than buying and selling?”
“Ah,” I said, “that old commie heart is never far from the surface, is it?”
“No, no, no,” he said. “Them was the old days. I sing capitalist songs these days. No problem there. But our memories, you know, they fail us when we need them most.”
“As in?” I said.
“You’re forgetting Wells Fargo of last year? Setting up fake accounts for their customers to puff up their books – and then charging fees for those fake accounts? A little skanky there, my friend.”
“No disagreement here,” I said.
“Or how business wiped out homes and families and retirement accounts back in ’08. Or them Volkswagen volks who sold thousands of cars based on a lie about their emissions. Think of that one every time you cough and don’t know why.”
“Shameful,” I said. “We all know that.”
“Oh hell,” he began again, “shameful are them drug companies selling lifesaving drugs that no one but the wealthy can afford. Think Turing Pharmaceuticals and Martin Shkreli or Heather Bresch of Mylan ripping the EpiPen away from kids with a monster price increase.”
“True enough,” I said. “Some of those prices just exploded.”
“Exploded?” he said. “Air bags exploded and Takata pussyfooted around the issue, then Samsung phones exploded along with Samsung clothes washers. Clothes washers, for heaven’s sakes. Then Hoverboards started exploding and all business said was, ‘we apologize for any inconvenience.’”
“I believe,” I began, “that it was Calvin Coolidge who said that the business of America is business.”
“I can imagine that Bernie Madoff was in full agreement with that,” he said. “Maybe America is just one big Ponzi scheme where the people at the top feed off of the people at the bottom and the people at the bottom just don’t know how badly they’re being ripped off.”
“Of course you’re ignoring all the good things we have,” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “The business world brought us the smartphone and now we all sit around like a bunch of zombies staring at the palms of our hands.”
“But medical advances —,” I began.
“Have you seen a bill for medical services lately, Dumbo?” he said. “You can’t afford anything without insurance, and the cost of insurance is just crippling millions of American families. The Democrats couldn’t fix it, and now the Republicans want to make it worse. Even that supposedly free Medicare package for old mom and dad will run them upwards of $700 a month.”
“True enough,” I said.
“Look, junior,” he began, “when people say we’re just a business and we need a businessman running things they miss a lot of big points. Mostly, we’re a country, a sovereign nation, and that’s different from a business.”
“How so, Pete?” I said.
“A country doesn’t have to make a profit,” he said, “and its people aren’t products. They aren’t inventory. Business, yes, takes care of their needs, but the people determine what their needs are, not business. When business tells you what you need you’re screwed.”
“You’re on a roll, my friend,” I said.
“I’m a life to be lived,” he said, “not a deal to be made, not a problem to be solved, not a commodity to be traded.”
“So where do we go with all of this?” I said.
“We need some English majors in the White House,” he said, “maybe some philosophers, certainly some historians. We need people who can feel the awesome weight of life, of living, who can understand struggle and heartbreak and who can understand that there isn’t a goddamn question that’s ever been raised that has an easy answer. We need someone who can understand the corruption that tears the fabric of the wealthy and the corruption that destroys the poor. Who can understand that with 320 million people in this country there’s something more than just a market at stake, who knows that not everybody in that kind of stew can live, let alone prevail, without help, who knows that we all face tragic circumstances whether it’s an unwanted baby or a life ending with insufficient pain relief or someone who is sick or out of a job.”
“English? Philosophy? History?” I said.
“Just examples, feather brain,” he said. “We need someone who has looked at the world through many different lenses, who can view the world as having the potential for harmony and not just something to be conquered in a deal, who can understand that with seven billion people living on this big blue marble we do influence its geophysical nature and we can make that influence either good or bad. Damn, neighbor, you wear me out.”
“My apologies, good Pete,” I said. “But I have to go now. Any last bit of wisdom you want to share?”
“Just this, sonny,” he said. “We need a leader whose greatest strength involves something more than a mirror.”
G. K. Wuori © 2017
Photoillustration by the author with a public domain photo