Yes, it’s a famous Cole Porter song but an even better ambition for a fading socialist of the 1980s kind.
15 October 2010
Tis easy to have socialist leanings in your youth because you’re usually broke and life hasn’t dealt you enough blows to know the difference. You write off your conservative-voting gene pool as misguided and scorn Gordon “greed is good” Gekko, the devil of Wall Street personified.
You pack up your Renault 12 with all your belongings and move to the city to study Law-Arts (because just Law could be misconstrued). There, you find kindred spirits. Rich and poor kids grunging it up (or down), railing at inequalities and injustice the full length of Islington.
You get political. You get more ideas. You read other people with ideas, and you pick up the language of action, the language of change. University ends. You’re broke and can’t afford to keep studying.
So you take up a crummy entry level job out of university and the bosses are all bastards growing rich off your sweat and toil.
You sleep on just the mattress, because it’s down to earth, and the Batik wall hangings smell distinctly like stale paraffin and incense. Your friends still pop over unannounced and your repertoire of conversation pieces and quotes include Kundera (most used: “A worker may be the hammer’s master, but the hammer still prevails.”) and a fistful of foreign film titles that you claim to watch sans sous-titres.
Miraculously, you get to work on the stroke of 9 am every morning and then count the hours till your hangover wears off, while inventing ever-more creative ways to power nap in the office. Successful methods are shared with compatriots. Favourites include the paper-clip caper (PCC), post-office pass (POP), and the dodgy Somali sauce slip (SSS).
PCC is simple yet ingenious. Spread paper clips liberally under the desk, close your office door four-fifths (fully closed = something to hide), snuggle into a pocket under your desk and nap until revived. If you hear the distinct footsteps of your boss – languid and leather-soled – commence paper clip pickup and bump your head deliberately on the desk as you act startled by his presence in the doorway.
POP works a treat when you really have to join your housemates at the free Tibet demonstration. Pull out the registered mail slip you keep in the drawer and wave it liberally until the secretary and several colleagues have seen it. Then casually leave, saying: “I’ve got to pop out’ (details smell of deceit). Take as long as needed, and claim killer queues for longer stays.
The triple S is the young socialist’s equivalent of a bad prawn at the quay-side brasserie, and can be deployed with no backstory or preparation for those moments when the Che-inspired sangria just won’t stay down. It draws ample sympathy and no suspicion as your breath smells of uncooked garlic from the guacamole, not tell-tale booze fumes.
[You might wonder why young socialists have to be so ‘creative’ with their skiving. This is because the bourgeoisie classics, like letting a tradesman into your house, don’t work when you rent and don’t have any white goods or renovations to worry about.]
You’re 20-something and eager to change stuff about the world, about your neighbourhood, about your self. You talk about career like it is social climbing, and you slip in something existential at least twice a week – even if just to say the word – to remind yourself that you are ‘existential’. That the silk tie isn’t you and that being quite good with spreadsheet databases is a handy skill for, say, protest mailouts.
But something is wrong. You forget to send your apologies to the monthly union meeting, again. Your friends pop over as usual and you’re a bit annoyed because you rented a video cassette. And one Monday ‘the man’ calls you into his office. You think the PCC game is up and prepare to deliver your rehearsed ‘f-you’ speech. But it’s worse than you thought: instead of dismissal, he deals your ideals a body blow by giving you a promotion.
Of course, you know deep down your left leanings are straightening out when you catch yourself complaining to a fellow middling-manager that your staff is punching the clock instead of pulling their weight. Still, you haven’t faced the 4AD music with your friends.
You don’t tell them about the next promotion, either. But soon a work car appears on the scene – much harder to conceal. Next thing you know, you’re eating with friends and their partners at a Thai restaurant. As the bill comes you lift a cheek [of course you’re sitting cross-legged at the table and can’t reach your wallet otherwise] and deftly pull out a credit card.
“You can’t pay for it all!” they protest. Still, no-one makes more than a half-hearted attempt to stump up. Then a mate quick-draws his own credit card, then another has one out. Now you start to protest, pulling your trump card… you’ll expense it. Everyone goes quiet.
The broke mate who’s doing his second masters, this time in election monitoring, breaks the silence: “I’ll get it next time,” he says deadpan.
Everyone cracks up laughing. Socialism gets its death knell… and the relief to all in the room is palpable. Bring on the High Society.
©Christian Nielsen. All rights reserved.
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