A kid asked me something, during that awkward phase ; it's given in the title.
I didn't at first realise what he meant, but now I do, the power of whispers in my ear being what it is : he's talking of those people.
That realisation did not come alone, though. It carried a whole flood with, bringing forth light in the darkness and reorganizing a corner of the world in my head. Central among them stood the realisation that his inquiry is not direct, but implicit, that he's not actually asking whether I personally file strange artisanal paperwork with common law courts. He's actually asking something else, so... let's together see if this subjective experience can somehow arrive to any kind of objective benefit.
Tell me, do you remember how the dwellings of socialism's poor smelled, back in the day ? It's February outside, again as then, this'd be then the prime time for it. Do you recall ? Does the question jog any memories ?
Thirty, forty, fifty years ago Romania had realised mankind's perfection on this earth, as only dreams could have been dreamed before. I know this because it told me soi. In this place of wonder and ideals made manifest, in this impossible, inimaginable world which did in fact exist, wherein nobody bought houses but their place of employment issued them dwellings, wherein nobody looked for jobs, but their place of education issued them repartitii, a legal fiction halfway between court summons and military draft orders... yes, seriously, you were allocated to one of the state-run "entreprises", like "ivy league" works now in the 'states exactly. In this enchanted lala-land I say, they still had poor and rich ; but they were slightly differently flavoured, you see. The poor of socialism and the rich of socialism weren't like the poor and rich of the 19th century. They were like the poor and rich of the 20th century, which is to say 21st century in the United States, it's a century behind Europe as you well know.
That smell though, that overpowering, acrid odour of bare, brute concrete walls sweated by open gas firesii, do you recall ? I guess maybe you don't recall ; it was so long ago, and moreover so far away... Well, what can I tell you, I do.
I quite vividly remember. As I moved from primary school to junior high and consequently my social investment started by degrees to matter more than family life, I'd meet new kids. Fortuna is a cruel mistress, she will deliver her gifts to whomever happens in her path. The socialists did not much care for lineage, and so it came to pass that often enough my exclusive classes were penetrated by the scions of the poor. They make, at least in principle, as great classmates, and playmates, and everything-else mates as any other kids, at least on the first pass. They're just as promising as any other, judging on the basis of the time and place, they can be as bright, as well spoken, as pleasant and desirable companions as any other twelve year olds. Sooner or later you'd go visit their place, though, you'd end up going to where they lived, and there... well...
I never went without a prayer. As a twelve year old over the decades still clearly remembered, I never went without praying the place smells of decaying books, of book dust and book mites, of the faint sour of his mother's "pinacoteque", of old vinyls and subtle rosewood, of all those things. Sometimes prayers are answered and other times they're not ; but the problems of the bare concrete walls are unescapable.
What the kid wanted to know is not anything like whether "I'm a sovereign citizen". Instead, his curiosity comes from a different place, and tends towards a different thing. The institutionalized child, the neglected orphan, the spawn of the lights wishes to know something much simpler, more deeply fundamental, his curiosity is essential.
He wants to know if I actually think I own the things around me.
That's it, that's simply it : do I expect everything to change to accomodate me exactly, or do I understand, like he does, like they all do, that... Like so many others he's never seen such wonder before. He's heard of it, he's carefully, constructedly apprehensive of it, but it's nevertheless the fundamental inquiry : black farmhand boys from Alabama wish to know if I'm a muslim, and white castrated boys from the dreamzone wish to know if I'm a sovereign citizen.
- Oh, you'll be the one to laugh at this ? You, who believe google searches are a place to find things because that's what google searches say, you who think wikipedia's the repository of human knowledge because you read it on wikipedia, you who think MIT provides an education because they spend all day telling you they do and they have ? Oh, by all means, laugh, laugh. We won't be laughing together at you, but at least we'll both be laughing. [↩]
- Romania had a heating problem, you see, just like any other socialism ever does. For all the realised ideals, for all the dreams "which prior could be only dreamt" nevertheless "made tangible reality", socialism never quite manages to get the supply lines straight enough, it's a thing of wonder.
It was never really talked about (though the Bernie Sandals of the time did recommend people wear "one extra sweater"), and never effectually addressed (though he did get shot for it). The poor ran the stove to heat the house. The rich used illegal electric heaters, items very much like the Argentine nonsense, deeply uneconomical idiocy. The legal obligation on the part of the condo administration to spy upon and report on any homes using electric heaters was never enforced where we lived -- which is what wealth in socialism is all about : once the idiots "in charge" wreck the currency, the new currency becomes fucking the law. Doh. [↩]