As I was driving home tonight, Black Flag and GG Allin dancing through my car speakers, I couldn't help but think of you. I used to be mad that you have, once again, threatened to cut off aid to those California citizens who need it the most (the poor, disabled and elderly -- often one in the same), and then I got wise. I used to think you only thought short term, and then I saw that you really do have a plan in mind.
Ironically, as I write this, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is on my television. Surely you know of it? It has one of the most memorable (and arguably greatest) scores in motion picture history. I believe you or your underlings even used Leone's movie as a reference to the budget situation.
You know, my friends from out of state have asked about you. They've wondered how our state could be in such bad shape. I used to remind them that it is really the citizens' fault. You know, the voters with questionable movie tastes put a man with an admiration for Hitler and a problem with groping women against their will into office. And besides, look how the last actor we elected turned out to be. I'd tell them the only saving grace was that you couldn't run for President. Who knows who you'd fondle then!
But I've changed my tune. Seen the light, if you will. I realize that while pot smoking may have damaged your short term memory capacity, your long term goal setting skills are firmly in place. I can see your plan, too, and I have to agree it's a good one.
Let's say you get your way and you cut off, oh, what everyone refers to as welfare. Money for poor families in the usual guise of single moms. Let's say you cut that program. What will happen?
Mary is a fictitious young mother of one who is one "welfare." You and your cigar buddies, when not pining for the days of the Sonderkommando, probably refer to her as a "leech." It's haunted her all her life, but with a kid, a boyfriend who split, and a state where unemployment is the new employed, Mary had no alternative but to get on public aid. Sure, she could move, but her mom lived down the street, and seemed to be getting weaker by the day, so that wasn't really a feasible plan.
So Mary swallowed her pride, promising herself she'd only be on it as long as she needed it. She'd use it for all it was worth, too. She'd use it to help her find a job, put food on the table, and make sure her kid gets her shots. It was an awkward system at best, but it beat being on the street or sleeping on her mom's couch.
And then you took it away ... or so this future goes.
Mary was terrified. Her mom, who was barely making it on Social Security Disability for a back injury that happened twenty years ago and never got better, helped out as much as she could. She even hired Mary to do her laundry. It was a small gesture, but she had been getting weaker for months now, and was afraid to tell Mary why. Mary's mom, you see, was defecating what looked like blood, and she was dying.
Mary knew something was wrong, and she knew her mom was seeing a doctor. It wasn't the best care, but you do what you can, right? One day while folding laundry, however, Mary found out just what was wrong with her mom. Small blood stains in the panties. Mom was in menopause. Mary, not being a dumb cookie, knew that meant Bad News.
At that point Mary decided she needed to do something. And she vowed to get into school to become a nurse. And she did. She applied for every loan, scholarship and every single bit of financial aid she could. She had to work, too. Part-time jobs when she could find them. Crap jobs. Hell, one time she was almost fired when she didn't give the assistant manager at Taco Bell a blow job. She struggled, and she missed her baby. Missed her first steps because she was waiting tables. Missed doctors appointments because she was in school. Missed her first words because she was doing schoolwork.
She missed other things, too. Free time. A social life. The kiss from a boyfriend she didn't have time for. Her mom's health. Soon her mother wouldn't be able to watch little Patty. Mary didn't know what she would do when that happened, but she would manage. Becoming a nurse meant everything to her. It meant getting out from this life of poverty.
She graduated. She got a job at a hospital. And she got good at it.
And she still missed things as the years went on.
More poor people with no medical coverage meant longer hours. Longer hours meant she missed her daughter's plays. Longer hours meant that boyfriend would have to wait, too. Longer hours meant she knew less and less of her little girl, and even less of the woman she was becoming.
But Mary succeeded. She pulled herself up by her proverbial bootstraps and transferred to a good hospital in Southern California for good money. Gone were the days of not being able to let her daughter join a sports team because money was tight. Gone were the days of worrying about whether or not the car would break down and then she wouldn't be able to fix it. Gone were those days.
And then Patty graduated and went off to college. She was going to go into social work. She was going to help people like her mom. It was something she learned from Mary. Mary was proud of her, too. She wasn't going to miss that graduation.
Mary got to work with the dying. Her compassion, empathy and skills meant that she got to work with those patients who needed companionship more than medicine because they were on their way out, and that's where she met you, Arnie.
No, you don't look the way you look now. The cancer got you pretty good. Started in your lungs. All those cigars and L.A. smog really did a number. Maria, bless her soul, passed on a few years before you. Auto accident.
Mary was astonished to see you. Even more astonished that you had so few visitors other than vampires with cameras and the occasional family member. Mary got to spend a lot of time with you ... alone.
She did most of the talking because you couldn't. The most you could manage was a smile or a gasp or two. But Mary did enough talking for the both of you.
She told you about her life after you took the tiny check from her hands. The check she used to depend on. She told you how she had to stretch the money to make it last, but that she was grateful for it. She told you what happened after you decided the state didn't need to take care of its poor anymore. She told you how she spent night after night crying and studying because her daughter didn't seem to recognize her anymore. She told you how she once found two lumps in her breast and didn't go to the doctor for months because she thought that with Medi-Cal being cut so drastically she'd have no care. She told you of how she used to count the change she found in the couch to see if she could buy her daughter a soda. She told you of the time she dated a mechanic because she knew her car was breaking down and that if it did she wouldn't be able to get to school or work and how badly that would fuck things up. She told you, in polite terms, how he knew she was desperate and often demanded sexual favors she wasn't quite up to performing but did anyway because "I can maybe put that alternator in, hon, but if not it's gonna cost you a lot at some shop." She told you of how her daughter eventually got a job to help out around the house because the nursing gig wasn't paying all the bills when you considered the braces that weren't covered by Medi-Cal, and how she quit after three months because the boss kept touching her. Mary told you how she cried that night ... a situation that happened far too often ... because she remembered thinking how things never change. She told you how her daughter caught her crying and promised she'd do better next time, and how she felt bad she couldn't help out with the groceries anymore.
Mary told you a lot. The anger. The pain. The tears. The rage at not having a helping hand when she needed it most because you decided to make her and people like her a line item on a budget you could barely understand because you never so much as balanced your checkbook. She told you how much it hurt to not be there for her daughter growing up, and how much it tore her up because she had to miss her mother's funeral because it meant not going to work, and the electric was that close to being shut off.
And she asked if you knew what any of that was like. She asked if you had any clue what it was like to really struggle. Not struggle like you were, riddled with cancer and unable to pee on your own, but struggle just to put soup on the table.
Then she asked if you knew what the definition of "easy" was. Then she described it. Easy was leaving a zero off a chart, or adding a 6 in the right place. Easy was reporting you gave certain medicines but actually forgot to. It was easy because Mary was good at her job and trusted. She was a compassionate nurse. Never hurt a fly. She had struggled, sure, but nobody knew why she really struggled. And that's what easy was to her. Easy was being in the position to help the helpless and then doing harm.
And Arnie, I must say, you never looked weaker than at that moment. Lying there in that bed, all ninety-eight pounds of you. Skin like paper on your skull. Muscles that had turned to jelly quite some time ago. Tubes in your nose and penis. IVs feeding you pain meds and something that substituted for food in sci-fi movies like you used to star in. Unable to talk or even turn your head too far. Sometimes your lips were speckled with God-knows-what that came up from your lungs, and Mary always wiped it away as gently as she wiped it away from everyone else.
So easy to be the one in charge of helping the helpless and then doing harm. So easy to just forget whatever legacy you leave behind and commit the worst of crimes without any retribution because you can.
Easy to forget to do something, to flub a number, to mess up a chart. Hell, all the doctors knew your clock had stopped ticking quite some time ago. They were just waiting for you to figure it out.
Mary could've taken the high road. She could've used this as an example for her daughter and said, "... and that is why you treat people with respect no matter what they've done."
Mary did the right thing that day. She treated you just like you treated her when the roles were reversed. And she never looked back. Nobody ever said "boo."
You may not care about your legacy, Arnie, but others do. Others whose lives are directly affected by your cavalier attitude toward the most helpless of California's citizens. I don't believe in karma, and the way you're acting says you don't either, but I do believe that people get what's coming to them. Ever see Fight Club? Of course you have. You were -- sorry -- are an actor. Do you remember that scene were our heroes all got jobs serving the likes of you and all the wonderful things they did?
You may lead a privileged life, Arnie. One you may think you earned and deserve. But remember this: Your privileged life doesn't keep you from coming into contact with people whose lives are affected by things like insane budget cuts that make no real long-term sense. Take five minutes and think about the people who bring you your food in restaurants, who fix your brakes, who come into your home, who give you your medicine when you're dying of cancer.
And remember that while it is easy to make those dollars disappear, it's just as easy to say, "Turnabout is fair play."