Bezos, Smalls, and Bray: A Microcosm of Capitalism

Jeff Bezos, richest man in the world, is my neighbor (give or take a dozen miles). Not that I’ve ever met him, or ever will. I don’t travel in those circles, and I wouldn’t want to.

Another fun fact about Bezos is that, according to this article, as of April 15th, he had made 24 billion dollars (yes, with a B) more than he normally does, off the COVID-19 pandemic. Since we’re all stuck in our houses, we’re doing a lot of ordering on Amazon, and that lines Bezo’s pockets. Heaven only knows how much greater his earnings have been in the past month, since that statistic came out.

I would say good for him. It’s not his fault we’re bored silly and impulse buying online to remain socially distant. He deserves to profit off his company just like any other capitalist.

But.

He’s thriving while all the mom and pop stores are struggling and/or going belly up due to this virus. And I don’t see him stepping up to make any kind of a difference there. And his warehouse workers are treated abysmally, and they’re not being adequately protected in the workplace.

Enter Chris Smalls. He was a former manager assistant at an Amazon Warehouse on Staten Island. He saw that workers were not getting proper protection. He saw they weren’t being informed of active cases of COVID-19 in his building. He requested that work be stopped just long enough for the workplace could be properly sanitized. He led a protest. Not only was he fired for his trouble, but also a memo was leaked that was encouraging Amazon executives to lead a coordinated effort to say that Smalls was “not smart or articulate.” As if that means he doesn’t deserve to have his health protected. Insane.

Check out an interview with him here. He may not be a toastmaster, but I think he gets his point across just fine. And he’s not the only employee to have been fired from Amazon for organizing.

And then, enter Tim Bray. This former Amazon Vice President quit on May 1st. The final straw for him was the firing of workers who were organizing regarding their poor working conditions during the pandemic. He said there was “a vein of toxicity running through the company culture.” He said he’d “neither serve nor drink that poison any longer.”

Read more about his reasons for quitting in his blog post here.

So there you have it: three men who represent the three typical tentacles of capitalism the world over:

  • Bezos, the heartless capitalist who will squeeze every ounce of value out of the little people who make all the money for him, and then cast them out when they become a nuisance.

  • Smalls, one of the little people in question, who gives his heart and soul to a company and only wants safety, decency and reasonable pay in return, but rarely gets it.

  • Bray, the middle man, uncomfortable with what’s going on both above and below him. In this instance, he chose to take a stand, and I admire him for it. It’s people like him, those middlemen with a moral compass, who often cause companies to change whether they like it or not.

I just don’t get why Bezos can’t see his way clear to throw a couple of those billions at the problem, to improve working conditions, health, and safety, and increase morale. He wouldn’t even miss them, and in the end, he’d benefit too.

But he’s like a racoon caught in a loose trap simply because he won’t unclench his fist and let go of that crust of bread. Greed is like that. So in the end, Bezos is the biggest loser. He’s pathetic. At least Smalls and Bray have integrity.

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When Do You Have Enough?

According to Forbes most recent list of billionaires, which came out in March of 2019, the richest person in the entire world is my Pacific Northwest neighbor, Jeff Bezos. Yeah, that guy. The CEO of Amazon.

At the time, his net worth was $131 billion dollars. Granted, he’s in the midst of a divorce, and I’m sure that won’t be pretty, but even so, with that kind of money he could retire today and live quite comfortably for at least 100 lifetimes.

And yet, that guy just threw 1.5 million dollars at the elections for Seattle City Council, in the hopes of flipping the progressive majority. Why? Because the city and its council thinks that maybe Amazon should pony up its fair share of taxes for once.

Well, Bezos’ scheme backfired. Only 2 of the 7 candidates he supported actually won, and one of those was an incumbent. The people have spoken.

But a million dollars for Bezos is like a penny to you or me. He isn’t going to give up or go away. Because, apparently, one can never have too much money.

I find this supremely pathetic. That man could most likely solve the homeless crisis in Seattle with the interest he earns on his personal savings account in one month. But has he done that? No. He’s too busy trying to avoid taxes that he can well afford. He drives past people in tents every single solitary day, and he’d much rather focus on the amount of taxes he can avoid. Let them eat cake.

How much money does it take before you can feel free of petty BS and actually turn your attention to paying it forward? What does it take for someone to feel compassion for the very people who have generated all that money for you? Apparently, it’s more than $131 billion dollars.

There’s something wrong with a system that supports such greed and corruption. Henny Penny, the sky is falling. And rest assured it’s not going to land on Bezos.

Jeff Bezos

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Udo Luckner, High Priest of the Roncador

I just finished reading The Lost City of Z by David Grann. (It was also made into a movie, but I haven’t seen it.) It’s basically about the insanity surrounding people’s desire to know what became of Percy Fawcett, an explorer who mounted the last of several of his expeditions into the Amazon in 1925 and was never seen again.

There are many theories about Fawcett’s disappearance, ranging from the plausible to the absurd. I tend to think he either starved to death, died of disease, or was killed by some of the indigenous people he encountered. Others think he “went native” and chose to remain there in seclusion for the rest of his days. I find that hard to believe because he was obsessed with finding the lost city of Z, and all the recognition that would bring him.

But the most outlandish theory is that he descended into a subterranean city that gives one the gift of immortality. Apparently, several cults have been created in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil, worshiping Fawcett as some sort of God. They believe that Z exists, but not as an actual city. They claim it’s more of a portal to another reality.

The book briefly mentions one such cult, called the Magical Nucleus, which was led by a man named Udo Luckner, who called himself the High Priest of the Roncador. Luckner insisted that his followers be vegetarian and not wear jewelry. He thought the world would end in 1982. He wandered about wearing white robes and a tall hat sporting the Star of David. He said his followers would descend into the hollow earth, just as Fawcett had. That would guarantee their survival.

As much as I adore learning about the lunatic fringe, I was kind of shocked that I had never heard of this character before. I tried to do some research, but most of the available information is, of course, in Portuguese.

From what I can glean, it seems that many Brazilians believe that this area, and the Roncador Mountains in general, experiences a lot of UFO activity. And mystics are drawn to this place. They say that thousands of people have disappeared into the underground city, never to return. Some claim it’s the gateway to Atlantis, and believe that Fawcett and Luckner both live there still.

What amuses me most is that this is apparently a big deal in Brazil, but seems not to be well known anywhere else on earth. (It makes one wonder how many people outside of the United States have heard of Roswell, New Mexico or Area 51.) But I’m here to tell you that if a place actually caused thousands of people to disappear, the rest of the world would have heard about it.

Apparently the immortal High Priest of Roncador is playing his cards very close to the vest.

Cough.

Udo Oscar Luckner
Udo Luckner

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Package Thieves

When I arrived in Seattle 3 ½ years ago, I was shocked to discover that you could pretty much count on your packages getting stolen off your doorstep out here. That never, ever happened to me in Florida. I had no idea what a fool’s paradise I had been living in.

Based on conversations with friends, though, I’m sorry to report that it isn’t just a West Coast thing anymore. Jacksonville, Florida has gotten just as bad as Seattle. Now, if you’re a package, there’s nowhere to hide, unless you are deposited inside an Amazon Drop Box.

This situation makes me really sad. It grieves me that our level of desperation is causing us to prey upon each other in such a cold manner. I know it’s getting more and more difficult to survive in this capitalist hell we’ve created for ourselves, but when we start turning on one another, nothing good can come of it. It’s as if we’ve all been let loose in the Colosseum to either kill or be killed, as the emperor looks on, smiling.

When you steal someone else’s package, you could be depriving them of the very medication they need to survive. You could be taking something that will mean absolutely nothing to you, but it could be a treasured family remembrance. Some desperately lonely housebound person may be counting on a package to feel connected to the world, and because of your greed it will never arrive. Someone might have been saving for years to make a purchase, and you’ve taken that from them. You could be holding in your hands a care package for a sick child.

I really can’t imagine being that selfish and despicable, that heartless and cruel. I suspect that this behavior is here to stay, though. We really are devolving as a species. As competition becomes stiffer, people keep stepping farther past the boundaries of common decency.

While I don’t condone vigilante justice, I totally get why people are starting to booby-trap packages. After a certain point, people get sick and tired of being robbed. Eventually someone is going to get hurt, though, either from a poorly designed trap, or by being caught in the act and beaten within an inch of their lives. Or shot. Or attacked by a dog. However it goes down, it’s not going to be pretty.

What it will be is tragically predictable.

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It’s the Readers Who Make the Magic

If you have somehow managed to escape all my shameless self-promotion in recent months, here’s what you need to know: I wrote a book! A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude is available on Amazon.com in paperback form, and soon it will also be available as an e-book for Kindle, and Amy Sassenberg’s photos will be in color in that version! This is all very exciting for me. If you had asked me a year ago if this was to be in my future, I’d have laughed.

I have learned a lot from this experience. The biggest lesson is that it’s the readers who create the magic. I used to think authors were conjuring up amazing reading experiences, and because of that, I was in awe. But I was so incredibly wrong.

Yes, the writers do the writing, and the publishers do the publishing, but their work is lifeless and inanimate if there is no one out there to read it. A book without a reader may as well be a brick that one uses to prop open a door. An unread book gathers dust.

I am lucky in that I came to this avocation at a time in our history when reader’s feedback is easy and instantaneous. People e-mail me. They contact me on this blog. They comment in my Facebook group. They also leave much needed (and strongly encouraged) reviews on my Amazon page.

What this means is that I get to share in the magic that you, dear reader, make. I get to experience your reactions. I learn how you feel when you read the book. I discover that each reader has a different encounter with it, quite often one that I hadn’t anticipated. That’s because you are bringing your unique insights to the reading experience. That’s the ingredient that only you can provide.

I can never seem to adequately express just what that means to me. I read your reviews and your comments and I get all choked up. I get tears in my eyes. My heart feels like it swells. What a gift you have given me! Thank you so much!

This first book was about gratitude, but I had no idea just how grateful I would be for you. Thank you for giving my book life. Thank you for making my words have meaning.

Without further ado, I’ll leave you with some excerpts from my Amazon reviews, so you can see why this whole process has made me so emotional. Imagine getting compliments like these! I hope you’ll consider adding your review to their number!

“Barb is ALWAYS entertaining, and whether you agree with her or not, you will likely learn something every time you read her. She will inform, annoy, and inspire you. As a dedicated reader of her blog from the beginning, I have seen many sides of her, and watched her through grief and growth. This is her best, will make you a fan, lift your spirits, cause you to recognize things in yourself you could not articulate. She is real, she is smart, she is funny. You WILL laugh out loud at some point. You will learn SEVERAL interesting things that you did not know. And you will PONDER more than one entry for longer than you expected.” –Amazon Customer

“What a wonderful book. I keep it by my bedside so I can read a chapter before I go to bed. Since the focus of this volume is on gratitude, it’s the perfect way to get your head in the right space to go to sleep focusing on the good there is in this world. Barb is a gifted writer with keen insight into the world around her. This is a book you will keep for years. Timeless thoughts about things that matter – sometimes in big ways, sometimes subtly. It’s crazy. She makes me want to be a better person just by what she shares in her posts. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll marvel at her candor. And you’ll be really glad you bought this book.” – K. Reviews

“A wonderful read. I feel like I’m looking over Barb’s shoulder as her journey through life unfolds. Her take on situations we all encounter, often unconsciously, every day, took me from laughing to reflecting on how I might deal with the same situation. How hard it must have been to pull up roots and move 3100 miles to a place where you know no one? I’m not sure I could. I grew up on the wit and humor of Erma Bombeck and some of the posts in the book remind me of reading Erma’s wonderful writings.” –Firewalker

“This is just an introduction to the refreshingly honest world of a brave woman. As she takes you along on her journey of introspection, observation and acceptance, she challenges and inspires you to open your heart and mind. Whether you agree and identify with her insights and beliefs, or not, you can’t help but be uplifted by her commitment to them. She’s an open book worth reading and based on her prolific blog entries she has a lot more to gift us. Looking forward to see where else her journey will take us.” – Lyn

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I’m a Hot New Release!

Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d utter. I’ve never considered myself to be particularly hot, and I’m definitely not new. But I am, indeed, a Hot New Release, and I’ve got the screen shot to prove it. I’m thinking of having this tattooed on my behind.

Once my very first book, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude became available on Amazon.com, a friend of mine suggested that I scroll down to the product details section and click on the ranking information, and ta-da! There my book was, number one in the hot new releases for its category. It even became number one in best sellers for its category for a hot minute, there. So I can now officially call myself an Amazon Best Seller. It’s ridiculous how proud this makes me feel.

And then, finally, I got to hold a copy of my book (My book. My book!) in my hands for the very first time. My first impression was that it felt heavy to me. Solid. Substantial. Are books usually this heavy? I’ve never noticed. Or maybe I’ve been reading my kindle for too long. Regardless. It’s 318 pages. Thicker than I anticipated. A lot of that has to do with the wonderful photography of Amy Sassenberg that was included. But still. It’s… real.

I’ve got to say that seeing my book for the first time brought tears to my eyes. Is this what it’s like to gaze upon your newborn baby? It kind of feels that way. I want to hold it close and keep it safe and at the same time show it off.

I feel like shouting, “See what I made?” Actually, I’m not going to lie. I’ve done that. A couple of times. And it feels great.

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Trapped on the Washing Machine in a Powder Blue Tux

“You know, midgets are because humans used to breed with trolls.” These words of wisdom were issuing forth from my coworker, “C”. I wish I could say that I was shocked, but after years of working with this guy, nothing could surprise me anymore. There was no point in trying to explain that trolls are mythical creatures, or that midget is a derogative term for dwarf. This guy was just too unrepentantly dense for that. He also believed that the Amazons, the mythological race of female warriors, actually existed and still exist, because he’d read it in a comic book. It’s C’s world. We’re just living in it.

He once called in sick to our drawbridge using the excuse that his pants had gotten caught in an ATM machine.

I’ll just let that sentence stand alone so it can sink in.

One night he walked into work in a state of high dudgeon because one of his relatives had been incarcerated unjustly. Apparently the guy was a house painter with no access to a bathroom during his work day, and he felt the need to masturbate. With no good place to do so, he just did it in the yard, and a 10 year old girl walked by. When I mentioned that there were, perhaps, more appropriate places to do his thing, C responded that without access to a bathroom, what was he supposed to do? “Uh…wait ‘til he got home?” C did not speak to me for the rest of the shift. He actually thought that that was a punishment to me.

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Waxing nostalgic one evening, he told us about his honeymoon. He took his bride down the street to the Gator Lodge. Now, for those of you who are not familiar with this fine establishment, the Gator Lodge can be rented by the hour, and there’s a prostitute stroll right out front for your convenience. Nothing but the best for his darling wife! Hearing this, my best friend said to C, “I bet you wore a powder blue tuxedo and a frilled shirt at the wedding.” “Well, it was the STYLE back then!!!!” C snapped. I laughed so hard that I actually sank to the floor. I thought that only happened in books.

He also couldn’t come to work one time because his wife was stuck on top of the washing machine. Hate when that happens.

He once came to work feeling triumphant because he was now positive that his girlfriend’s child was his. He was certain because that very day he was sitting next to the boy, both had their feet on the coffee table, and their feet were exactly the same! Jeez, and people have been wasting money on DNA tests all this time.

C no longer works with me, and we’ve long since lost touch. I will say this about the guy: he meant no harm to anyone, and he was a constant source of entertainment if not logic.