Storytime with Sten: An elevated discourse, Pt. II

Part II of Sten's Martha's Vineyard political debate story.  (Victor/Flickr Creative Commons) 

The next day began at 9:00 a.m., when Nicole left in order to make her shift at Friendly’s, because the world is a messed up place that says, nay, orders: “You are a 20-year-old college student with boundless energy, countless friends and the world ahead of you. So drop whatever you’re doing, no matter how cool it is, to come serve these angry old people at Friendly’s, ‘Where Ice Cream Makes the Meal,’ despite the fact that money is minuscule in the long run, due to inflation, or whatever.” And we listen, for what choice have we?

After Nicole’s parting, Hillary, Carl and I set to work making breakfast, preparing a picnic for the beach, drinking mimosas, marveling at the weekend thus far on the front porch overlooking the ocean with soul music playing and finally strolling to The Big House (TBH), 100-pound cooler in tow.

At TBH we were met with a flurry of handshakes, flying bottles, Frisbees, sandwiches, hats and words, commands, shouts for certain people to wake up and others to grab their food and still others to pass whatever needed passing. Everyone was jockeying for position in the cars, for we were driving to the beach, and had three vehicles, and twenty kids. Carl and I ended up with Andrew, Amanda, Jill and Vic on the way there once everyone had settled in.

The islanders apologized for the fact that the drive to the beach took half an hour, but I was thankful for the length. A stunningly beautiful assortment of green, brown, blue, fields, trees, water holes, all accentuated by the pure, gentle light of the sun, American images hugged my eyes as we took the back roads drive to the private South Beach. We all took turns with Andrew’s vape as half my body hung out the window. Joe’s truck, driving in front of us, carried four women drinking with beach dresses on in the back. The radio played country music in Andrew’s girlfriend’s SUV, and while I won’t admit to enjoying it, I finally understood why people did. It sounded like the sun slanting through blades of grass.

The family had bought a small plot of land near South Beach so that they would be permitted to use the sand stretching for miles, cordoned off by dunes, with the most exclusive of guest lists. To get to the beach one must wade across a waist-deep pond, if necessary towing a dinghy with the materials they need behind them, before hiking up a small yet steep path to the top of a grass-dusted dune. Once at the top of the dune, the vista of the edge of the island is fantastic, saltwater reaching out an untold distance, and nearly nobody in sight. A truly private, unpopulated beach for those who can afford it. Approximately 20 of us spread ourselves out in a particularly person-less area, and how easy it was to drink, yell, laugh, run and generally canoodle in peace.

We test the water. It’s perfect, of course. I throw the Frisbee with Ricky and New Jersey-Josh, whom, I learn, was an all-state wrestler in high school. At 22, his current occupation is wrestling coach. He’s a nice, if simple, kid, who treats his girlfriend well and doesn’t seem like he needs more. People break off into groups, some girls walk the beach, some couples relax and smoke on the towels, I toss the Frisbee, jumping and diving around before I meet Carl at main base – the vast collection of towels.

About half of the original group was gathered. Drinks in hand, I found myself in another political battle, this time with Rebecca.

Brunette, green-eyed, constantly cloaked in prep, Rebecca is a total stoner – no one ever would have guessed it by glancing at her. She is also a Republican in the first degree, obsessed with wealth and perpetually disgusted with those dirty, nasty, putrid poor people.

“Why should I have to pay for people who can’t pay for themselves?” she asked, speaking of the Affordable Care Act. “Obamacare is making those who actually work for their wealth waste it on those who don’t.” She spoke more forcefully than I had yet known her capable of being, angrier than her originally sweet countenance belied.

“But Rebecca, you must understand, first of all, the logistical hole in your argument. I’ll get to the moral stuff later, not that it’ll make much difference, but having the rich pay for the poor isn’t entirely how the Affordable Care Act functions. Before its implementation, citizens’ taxes automatically went to paying the exorbitant hospital and ambulance bills of those without health insurance. The middle class, what’s left of it, and the wealthy are actually saving money because of Obamacare! And –”

“You’re missing the point!” she said, obviously bored by my facts. “Those…lazy people expect me to pay for a life they didn’t work for. They buy TVs and lobster and iPhones with food stamps and people like us bankroll them!” People like us?

Watchful Joe stood over his girlfriend with this sort of tense, maybe-my-baby-is-in-over-her-head-except-I-won’t-say-anything-because-I-basically-agree-with-her look on his face, and I’m just kind of baffled by the whole thing. This is the point where I would usually take someone like Rebecca out with a deeply sanctimonious reflection on the stigmatization of poor people in the United States, but Carl, wonderfully-wise, formally-calm Carl, interjected.

“What you have to understand, though, Rebecca, is that nearly all of the people in this country who happen to be poor are not so by choice. Many, due to their circumstances, work low-paying jobs because they never had the chance for an education, and therefore more lucrative occupations. Many rich people had their wealth f***ing handed to them while many poor people work their asses off and still end up below the poverty line and still need something like food stamps to get by. These are some of the people universal health insurance benefits,” Carl, my good friend, my fellow political science major and more-sensible-than-bleeding-heart-liberal said.

“The way I see it, my parents worked hard for everything they got, and don’t owe anything to anyone else. I shouldn’t have to pay for anyone else’s shortcomings,” Rebecca said, enjoying a warm beach day at the Vineyard, sunglasses beside her, cold beer in the sand, body as tan as her white skin would permit, privilege as apparent as a white boy at a rap concert. (Or, if a G-Eazy show, as apparent as a black boy at a rap concert.)

Carl switched tack and took a personal swing at Rebecca.

“Why should poor people, most of whom work hard as well, have to pay for the moral shortcomings of your parents and Republicans at large?”

This is when I took my leave and joined a few people in the water. Carl was right the day before when he steered me away from the duo of death. He was also correct for what I witnessed during his conversation (confrontation?) with Rebecca, and would undoubtedly go on to win the argument. Problem is, nobody would know. Nobody would see it that way. It was just a liberal/conservative, Republican/Democrat fighting. The conservatives would take the Republicans’ side and the few liberals, the Democrats’. It’s a meaningless cycle, a meaningless cycle that ends in one question: why even fight The Good Fight? Why not lay around all day or sail all day? Whatever you try, you will change no one’s mind, therefore nothing will change. Or so it sometimes seems.


Sten Spinella is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at sten.spinella@uconn.edu. He tweets @SSpinella927.