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  • My 35 year old niece lives with us. She is neither a drug-addict, a recovering alcoholic, an emotional invalid, an employment nightmare, a slouch, a high school drop-out, a lame-ass woman, a single-mother, or a last-in/first-out unemployment statistic. And, even if she were any of these things– the truth is that we all need a soft place to land that won't break us– if we are to ever get on our feet.

    I worry about the tyranny of greed. Why take something that you don't need if that thing might give someone else even a shallow breath. Greed spreads like a cold on a bus. Why in a buffet line, do we take more than we can eat and sneeze on the rest? We scrape the leftovers into the compost bin when our leftovers could make a feast. Why do we feed our dogs better than we feed our neighbors?

    Five years ago, I traveled to South Africa with my niece and two sons who were then 4 and 8. In mid-air on the way to Capetown, we met a Jewish-Lubavitch business man, a Hasid, named Shraga and his wife whose name I cannot remember. In the spirit of the late-great Rebbe, we were invited to dinner when we returned to Jo-burg. They would send a car to pick us up for shabbas dinner. "I can get us there," I offered. According to the intricacies of Jewish law, providing a car, is barely kosher. They insisted. We accepted.

    A black couple in their sixties picked us up in a black sedan with darkened windows. He drove and she talked as we rode 40 minutes on side roads, freeways, through poor neighborhoods, through slightly better neighborhoods, and then into the wealthy suburb where our hosts lived a block from Nelson Mandela. The houses were encircled by tall walls, massive hedges, and gates topped with barb-wire. Behind the gates– large dogs growled loud warnings. Our guides told us that the law had recently changed– now you could only keep 2 security dogs. Locked in – Locked out? Locked out – Locked in? For a second, I could almost feel the vibration of the electric locks on my Volvo wagon as I hit the button. Maybe I shouldn't write this, but I walked my dog on the top of Queen Anne for over an hour tonight from 9:55 pm to 11:15 pm.

    I live in the top 1%. My father-in-law made money in the housing boom in the seventies. He was born in Nazi Germany. He came to America as a young teen after a stop-over in Carlsbad, Czech where his father had stashed cash. His father and mother never fully recovered from the war. My father-in-law was smart, hard-working, lucky, and had good timing.

    My family hails from Russia. Two of my grandparents were born in a shtetl called Samke. My parents have no money to speak of, but they too are privileged. My mother's parents were decent working-class people. My father's father is another story– mean, scared, insecure, rich.

    What is hateful to you, do not do onto others. Hillel. Torah on one-foot. How is it that greed has become acceptable? A tyranny of greed. Even if I don't need it, you don't deserve it. One-two you have no shoe. Three-four the door is closed. Five-six pick your damn-self up. Seven-eight I am great. Nine-ten a big fat NO.

    I'm sure it began with Reagan and Nancy in her forever-fresh lipstick-red dress that makes me think of all of the bad clothes that I wore in the 80's. I was in my twenties. Shoulder pads, black-pencil skirts, navy pumps, white pantyhose, starched blouses, silk-neck ribbons and bows, and my curly hair straightened beyond recognition.

    My niece was a child of her father's first marriage. He is now on his third marriage. His second marriage, to my sister, is what brought her into my life. Praise be. She is one of my two nieces. I have five nephews and two sons. I suppose this balances out the fact that I am one of four girls. Praise be she.

    My niece lived with her mother until she was ten when she and her mother decided that life would be easier (for both of them) if she came to Seattle to live with her father and my sister– Her first hard decision based on finances. Her father, a doctor, and my sister, a nurse, had steady jobs, a nice home, two-cars, a hot tub, a vacation home, and regular travel. In Seattle, my niece wouldn't be punished for losing socks that her mother could not afford to replace.

    My niece has worked for years in the art world. She has been an educator at the two largest art museums in the city. She is well-known in the established and emerging art worlds. She has a stable of friends and acquaintances who are producing some of the most interesting artwork in the city and country. She was selected for two artist residencies this summer, one in France, the other in Oregon.

    She has never had lasting-financial stability. She's been underpaid, over-worked, easily cut when the economy contracts, and always called back when money starts to flow. She has catastrophic health insurance that she pays for herself, but in the end, she'll have to rely on her father and his cronies if she ever gets really sick.

    She has a 30-hour a week job that pays $17 an hour and will eventually give her benefits if she can hang on until she has the equivalent of three months of full-time employment. She has a job with the Office of Sustainability in Bellingham. She is doing a website for a new education-reform group for teachers. Every one is short of money. She does the best work that she can. She needs all three of these jobs.

    A year ago, she quit her two part-time jobs that equaled more than full-time employment to go back to school. First there were the pre-requisites to be taken, and, next research for the right MFA program. Then, she was flat broke. My sister would help her if she could, but she can't. Her father punished her for voting for Obama and refused to help her pay her bills. He and his wife (the woman he left my sister for) were on their way to Italy and needed to shop for things for the trip. He is a concierge doctor– a 24/7 at -the-ready doctor if you have the ten-grand (or more) to join his practice.

    My niece has two brothers, my sister's children, my nephews. (If you count the kids her father gained in his last marriage, she has three step-siblings.) One of her brothers makes 'bank' as a finance person in car sales. His girlfriend is going to school to become a funeral director. She'll make bank too.

    My nieces younger brother is an indie-rock musician, a classical pianist, and a part-time barrista at Canlis. He lives in subsidized-artist housing. He can make ends meet but never has money left over. He practices piano 4 hours a day.

    We have been occupied by my niece for seven months. It's been hard to find a foothold in this economy that will give her steady work, a secure wage, health insurance, and enable her to rent a roof of her own. She has a college degree, a strong-skill set, a good reputation, a good work ethic, a solid work history, and more than enough talent.

    As I drove by Occupy Seattle a few times a week for the last few months, I knew that what was then hip would become an eyesore, a public-health and public-safety problem, a financial burden to the city. My niece will be fine. She is fine. She's successful; though, inadequately compensated. She's creative. But, what of the other people without an once of what she has?

    What of the Occupiers who lost jobs, savings, pensions, retirement funds? What of those who can't hold down jobs on account of ill-health, mental illness, PTSD from past wars, traumatic brain injuries from this second-Iraq war? What of those who are too young to have had jobs? Those who are under-qualified to compete with those who are over-qualified for low-paying jobs. I'm gonna pray that this ends soon, pray that it ends with a fair wage for each worker, banks we can trust, Obama in the White House doing what he came to do, good schools for all children, politicians who tell the truth, and a deep understanding that it is in our best interest to create a safe-soft landing for those who will fall. There will always be people who fall.

    My niece will be fine. One day she'll be out of our basement, and we will declare the occupation over. We do not fear that she will become dependent, unable to work, a welfare recipient, a drug addict, an alcoholic, an emotional invalid, a high school dropout. Anyone who thinks that they've been successful all on their own, ought to take off their hats and coats, leave their jobs, their homes, their cars, and their college degrees that they received Pell grants for, and give their own luck a try in today's world. Baby it's cold out there!
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