Happy to report that Headquarters Providence is quickly shaping into a makeshift masterpiece, enduring a long list of cheeseball christened names which, thankfully, have not stuck around with any consistency… An aboveground swimming pool half-full of soft and squeaky weirdo toys. Shantytown bedrooms made of cardboard, Barbie blankets, large-lettered storesigns, or in Brian’s case, nothing nothing nothing at all. A capéd, collapsing tenfoot-tall moustachioed frog greeting visitors, limbs breaking off with the slightest inspection. Swings and retarded robots and breakdance mats. Coca-Cola IV drips atop motorized oldpeople easychairs. Christmas decorations in the restroom, with a shortlived sleigh over toilet (bare butts and jagged polyethlylene make a miserable combination). Strings of antique colored Christmas lights illuminating the warehouse in a blinking, carnivalesque atmosphere— “Mom, I’m scared.”
All of the household needs of the 2400 squarefeet are wired back to one single, solitary outlet; ready to spark, short, and turn this half of Olneyville into a bed of smoking embers. A Barbie dreamhouse for families of Top Ramen-nibbling mouses to play in, and the squirrels growing braver by the day. A house full-to-bursting with dumpstered product, which I may have mentioned, comes in precipitous windfall in Providence: books, laptops, xerox machines, truckloads of shiny bicycles, every piece of electronics imaginable, sofasets, and annoying motion-sensitive, animatronic Easter rabbits— plentiful miracles and gifts-of-Hermes furnishing the space within the span of a few weeks.
Providence has proven worthy of its namesake. It’s really something: us five freakazoids, with a combined income still falling below the poverty line, living like pampered royalty in our kingly manor. Perhaps it is the impossibly-low, third-world food prices of the nearby Price-Is-Right. Or the quick-and-easy accessibility of medical experiments in the Northeast corner. But whatever it is, we have managed to fall squarely within that slim segment of the population I’m inclined to call “The Laughing Poor.” Providence is overrun with these numbers, usually either reckless middle-class castoffs, such as myself, dingy-black collectives of anarchosocialists, or cavalier middle-aged spacecakes who have just never cared to know how the upper half lives. Culling life lessons from Marx Brother flicks, they can continue to congratulate themselves for having escaped the fate of “The Boring Rich.”
Interesting rich people certainly do exist. I would never claim otherwise. But, they are usually either the nouveau riche rich-only-by-number folks, like my father, or crackpot paranoiacs like Howard Hughes or Norman Wexler. Most however, are undead testaments to the fact that highrolling bank accounts are the death knell of inner resource. Large purses come with even larger pursestrings. This is the shared secret between the Laughing Poor. No matter how expensive or exquisite the fugu dinners of these bon vivants, they’ll never enjoy them a fourth as much as I do my trips to the New York System greasyspoon in Olneyville. “Hunger makes the best sauce,” as Augustine noted, and no matter how much they cluck their credentials and grease the wheels and bitch out the waitstaff, their pleasures pale in comparison to me and my mountain of cheddar cheese fries. And this goes for most things. Something having to do with how the soul responds to struggle, and how it wastes away in its absence.
True, excessive poverty can break the will, which is why the majority of the poor can find so little to laugh about, especially in the cement grit and drizzle of Providence, Rhode Island. Tired-looking sonuvabitches, that’s for sure, with faces like bitter little ashtrays, lining up to invest in their dismal futures with scratch-off lottotickets. But the distinction I’m pushing between the “Laughing Poor” and the “Boring Rich” is not about the ageold class conflict between the Haves and the Have-nots, it is an attempt to overcome it and cut across the yardlines. I’m trying to rehash the old “Slobs-versus-Snobs” antinomy that suggests that, maybe with some new heroes and overdue value-inversions, happiness can at last swing out from the axis of economics. It all ties in with the Weberian idea that status is more significant to class struggle than income brackets. “Significant” being the operative word. Some would rather sleep in their gold-plated Lexi, and drown in the high end, than stand before the world to be judged on the basis of personal merits. Why would you, old bean, when Luxury will put in a good word for you? Look at those vulgar scamps among the Laughing Poor, turning the social pyramid on its head- the very nerve! Making light of their financial insufficiencies— “What would I even do with forty thousand dollars a year? Buy some houseslaves, circle the Earth in a hamster ball?” Three, four, maybe five thousand dollars a year and we’re licking our chops over the finest Dr. Pepper money can buy.