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If I had a dollar for every time...

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To board the subway in my neighborhood requires me to climb two flights of
stairs. That's because the N and W lines run on an el while they're in
Queens and then enter a tunnel to delve in Manhattan...and eventually
Brooklyn.

Today, once I've reached the top of the first flight, I can see that the
line for both the Metrocard machines and the token booth are each about ten
people long. This is a fine time to mull over how a commodity culture never
fails to find ways to drain us of our humanity. Let's say NYC wants to save
money by reducing the number of token clerks. They come up with the
Metrocard and offer some sweet deals to coerce commuters into making the
switch from tokens. Instead of showing solidarity with the beleaguered
Transit Authority workers, we complain about poor service, treat the subway
workers with contempt, and gladly purchase the Metrocard at our local news
stand to avoid future lines-knowing full well these actions will lead to the
eventual phasing out of token clerks and one less opportunity to interact
with a fellow human being in our increasingly cyberized world.

Then again, what should we expect? While the subway system is remarkably
efficient considering how much could go wrong on a daily basis, the endless
raising of the fare is nothing more than a regressive tax on the poor and
middle class. After all, you don't see rich people on the N train, do you?

Anyway, as I pass through the turnstile and climb the second flight of
stairs, my eyes-trained to recognize the green-spy a dollar bill on the
floor. I reach down to grab it...looking up to see if I'm being watched. I
am. A guy in his 20s is counting his change just a few feet from me. It
seems clear the dollar is his. Our eyes meet. He doesn't appear too
concerned about this and, to be honest, neither am I. "Is this yours?" I
ask. He shrugs and answers: "I'm pretty sure." I hand him the buck with my
best "whatever" face and move on. A lousy one-dollar bill is not worth a
potential confrontation with a stranger, right?

Break it into four quarters and I might use that dollar to feed a parking
meter...not my family. But what if I was one of the billion earthlings
subsisting on one dollar a day? Would I have been so honest...and so
indifferent?

Dig this: My neighborhood is teeming with "99 cents stores." However, these
establishments aren't offering Third Worlders subsistence for 24 hours.
Nope...99 cents stores are where folks like me can purchase cheap
goods...probably assembled in China by pre-teen girls or prisoners (am I
being redundant?). Anyone need an earpiece for your coltan-containing cell
phone? It's all yours for $1.07 (after tax).
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As the W train begins its thunderous entrance into the station, the working
class zeroes all around me move into position like power forwards in the
paint. Friends become enemies and no one can be trusted when there's a place
to sit at stake. As I dodge the seat-seeking missiles, my eyes catch an ad
for the New York State Lottery. "A dollar and dream," goes the catchphrase.
Hmm, maybe all those dollar-a-day poor people should try Lotto. Remember:
You gotta be in it, to win it.

Mickey Z. is the author of several books, most recently 50 American
Revolutions You're Not Supposed to Know (Disinformation Books). He can be
found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.
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Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.

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