In a world where the news is awash in coverage that invites the audience to shampoo its hair in gasoline and blow-dry it with a flamethrower, one story hit my radar this week that actually made me giggle. It’s the one about the lady in Illinois suing Kellogg’s because her strawberry Pop-Tarts have “a relatively significant amount of non-strawberry fruit ingredients” in them. The horror!
The obvious fact is this may be the silliest lawsuit of the last year not filed by Rudy Giuliani or Donald Trump. My mind didn’t bother to consider the legal merits of the case, which I’m not educated to do, but rather to go down a stream of consciousness wormhole worthy of James Joyce, which I am educated to do.
Those non-strawberry fruits mentioned include apples and pears, which I suppose we all know are lowbrow compared to the highfalutin strawberry. After all, the luscious crimson fruit resides inside champagne flutes or as part of scrumptious shortcakes. Apples, on the other hand, have pies and fritters, but don’t get blanketed with whipped cream or bathe in Dom Perignon. As for pears, the less said, the better.
Maybe the books I’ve read recently led me down this class consciousness stream, which identified the strawberry as distinctly upper class and clearly slumming when showing up in a Pop-Tart.
I just finished Anderson Cooper’s Vanderbilt, about his mother’s side of the family, part of which took me on a guided tour of the last Gilded Age, where his great-grandmother Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt competed with her sister-in-law, the redoubtable Alva Vanderbilt, to be the matriarch of the family. (Alice won that one.) But Alva, an apple, successfully competed for social position with Caroline Astor, a strawberry, who didn’t just think she was Mrs. Astor—she literally was Mrs. Astor.
Just before that, I read Laurence Leamer’s Capote’s Women, a tome about the writer’s relationships with ultra-stylish society women befriended and ultimately betrayed by him. The “swans” as he called them, included upper class types like Babe Paley, C. Z. Guest, and Marella Agnelli, ladies perhaps remembered today only by certain women of discrimination and gay men of a certain age.
The last serious book I read, meaning that it wasn’t written by a journalist, is The 9.9 Percent by Matthew Stewart, who actually holds a doctor of philosophy from Oxford University. He argues there is a “new aristocracy” emerging in American society whose newness isn’t preventing it from making the mistakes of older aristocracies.
Some may be thinking, “Wait a minute. The 9.9 percent? I thought it was about the top 1 percent.” Well, didn’t many of us? So let’s get down to round numbers. According to Forbes, entry into the top decile of wealth requires a net worth of $1.2 million. The fabled 1 percent requires about $10.4 million, and tickets to the 0.1 percent start at $40 million. (Stewart places that last number at $20 million, but calculations when shaving society into slivers this size is challenging.)
Going back to the Pop-Tarts, those strawberries looking down their champagne soaked noses at the apples and pears are undoubtedly being looked down upon themselves by the kiwis and kumquats above them.
One of the ideas out of Washington this week for increasing revenue has been raising taxes on billionaires. Old-fashioned common sense should have anyone who isn’t a billionaire favoring this idea. Considering there are 330 million of us and less than a thousand of them (if there’s a billionaire out there reading this, I accept gratuities), this should be a no-brainer. Instead, it may be a nonstarter.
It seems to me that paying more by them would be a small price to prevent all of us from channeling our inner Madame Defarge and storming the gates with tumbrels by Uber at the ready. Because if the 90 percent, or the 99 percent, or the 99.9 percent ever figure out what’s being done to them, how it’s being done, and who’s doing it, that might be the outcome. It has before.
But enough of this talk of wealth. It’s abundantly clear that the next book I pick up should be about a quite different segment of society. Perhaps it’s time to reread Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
But then again…grapes?