Susan Slotnick: Guns and stuff

Susan Slotnick

Susan Slotnick

Does the worst mass shooting, determined by numbers killed, make this one different, really? The other shootings — 23 mass shootings since Obama became president — are all equal, perpetrated by madmen. It’s not a numbers game, it’s just one more prong on the fork of America’s descent into madness. We are insane, allowing deranged people access to assault weapons.

I got a crazy dude in my family. He has such a weapon. I asked him to give me a scenario when a private citizen might need a firearm that can kill dozens of people within seconds. He said, “I live in Florida on the east coast. What if the Russians landed in Palm Beach and attacked?” I’ve been to Palm Beach dozens of times. My mother lived there. We window shopped on Worth Avenue at Tiffany & Co., Gucci, Tourneau, Cartier and Chanel stores just up the block from the Donald’s opulent Mar-A-Largo home. It’s compared to the Palace of Versailles, with rivers of marble, carved stone and gold leaf — 126 rooms on 17 acres bound by the Atlantic and Intercoastal Waterway, liberally graced with glittering chandeliers, oriental rugs and 16th-century Flemish tapestries, and not one book!

Worth Avenue is bleached cement surrounded by pretentious restaurants and stores. It’s an ostentatious location built over tropical foliage. The only remnants left of real life on Worth Avenue are tiny lizards scurrying along running over $1,500 Giuuseppe Zanotti high-heeled shoes worn by skinny women with heavy make-up covering rhinoplasty noses — most often dressed in beige and white haute couture. Why would the Russians land there? A sudden Slavic yen for Gucci bags?

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The philosopher Giambattista Vico said human societies pass through stages of growth and decay. ”The nature of peoples,” he wrote, ”is first crude, then severe, then benign, then delicate, finally dissolute.” He meant when people make life better materially, they fall into moral, spiritual and intellectual decay. If the Giuuseppe Zanotti shoe fits, wear it.

Is America slowly descending into madness? Vulgarity reigns. Thirty percent of all internet traffic is pornography. Our media is trivial and filled with nasty gossip and outright lies. Refugees and immigrants are characterized as criminals, rapists and “rabid dogs.” Islamophobia is rising ubiquitously with calls for surveillance. Those who disagree with these tactics are demonized, never mind truth, morality, justice and the American Way. We have our own budding Caligula — the madman Roman Emperor — in nonsensical loony Trump. So let’s all go shopping!

Materialism is defined as “the importance ascribed to the ownership and acquisition of material goods in achieving major life goals or desired states.” But does it make us happy? Not according to the American Psychological Association: “While our consumption has increased, our happiness quotient has decreased.” David G. Myers, author of The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty, wrote, “Our becoming much better off over the last four decades has not been accompanied by one iota of increased subjective well-being.” How did this happen?

 

My family’s history with materialism

My father was born in 1902 on Cherry Street in the squalid tenements on the lower east side of Manhattan. He had ten siblings. They all slept in the same room on two beds, sideways, their arms and legs hanging over the edges. They collected beans fallen off horse-driven carts, brought the grime-covered legumes home for their mother to wash and cook for diner. At ten years old, my father quit school and went to work full-time to help support the family.

My mother was a great beauty. As a teenager, she wanted nice clothes to wear, but her family was poor. Her father barely eked out a living selling trinkets in a store. My mother told me that she had one favorite possession — a second-hand pink cashmere sweater. She repaired it many times until it was almost threadbare.

… And then came the Great Depression.

All my father wanted was to have enough, not more, just enough to feel secure. He opened a record store on West 46th Street in Manhattan, which became wildly successful beyond anything he imagined. My father never bought himself as much as a neck tie. His complete disinterest in acquiring things was matched in the extreme opposite by my mother’s passion for possessions.

In the 1950’s, upward mobility was worshipped. My family was no exception. From the poorest neighborhoods in New York, to Forest Hills, to Long Island, to Scarsdale, my family rode the gravy train to glittering affluence.

Mom was a social climber who, as a first generation citizen, wanted to emulate the dominant culture, of white waspy blue-blooded Americans.

My father was a winter man, snow was his wild west. He relished shoveling and walking though mounds of it to get to the station to catch the train to New York.

When he reluctantly retired, mother wanted to live in Palm Beach. Dad went along with it, but spent his final decade of life out-of-place among palm trees and heat. Although dressed in the same costume, Dad never fit in with the other old men wearing Bermuda shorts, Hawaiian shirts and knee-high matching socks.

I hated visiting Palm Beach, where a shopping trip to Worth Avenue was de rigueur: necessary if you wanted to be fashionable, popular and socially acceptable. When mother talked about Worth Avenue, she feigned a high-class accent, speaking in uncharacteristically low-refined tones — a la the greatest woman of the day, Jacqueline Kennedy. On one such excursion, mother could not find a parking space on the famed street and, impatient from driving in circles, saw a car getting out of a prime location. She opened the window and, in spite of herself, screamed in brutish Brooklyn-ese, “Hey, are you getting out?” The sound filled me with mirth and relief.

One item my family of origin never owned was a gun. Since America leads the world as the heaviest-armed population of any nation on the planet with 270,000,000 guns possessed by private citizens, many assault weapons and more tragedies to come, I can at least be proud of not ever having seen one or holding one in my hand.

Minutes ago, it was reported on CNN that there is absolutely zero chance for any gun control legislation to pass as a result of the latest massacre — a defining reveal of our descent into madness.

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