Most people are far quicker to open up about their sex lives or some recurring rash on a nether region of their body than they are about their money situation. Good friends will share general conversation about money concerns, such as whether there’s going to be enough to cover college costs or a planned home remodeling. But even your closest friends will clam up if pressed about their net worth or their liquidity. That conversation quickly moves to the Final Four, or sex and rashes involving the Final Four.
That’s why last week’s all-you-can-see buffet of Hillary and Bill Clinton’s finances was another benchmark in what equates to an ongoing event with the Clintons: Getting America to open up. About marriage, about what constitutes sex or “sexual relations,” and now about money. On the one hand, we knew Bill Clinton was doing well with his speeches and book deals. On the other hand, learning that in 2006 the Clintons earned $16 million while that same year the Obama family pulled in $991,296 kind of turns your head.
But my head also turned when independent truckers all over the country staged a loosely organized national work slow down and protest over the fuel prices crippling their livelihoods. That protest occurred just a few days before records revealed that once Bill left the White House, the Clintons’ annual income shot up to $16 million a year. Both parties were using exposure (one Virginia trucker said his weekly fuel bill was now $2,500) and candor (together the Clintons have made $109 million this decade) to accomplish goals.
We usually have intimacy problems with this kind of transparency about money. In better times, a proud trucker might tell you his margins were lean, but Jimmy Lowry of St. Petersburg, Florida told the Associated Press that it can now cost $1 a mile to drive his rig when companies are paying as little as 87 cents a mile. Hillary Clinton initially promised to disclose family financial records only if she got the Democratic presidential nomination. But voices insisted that sharing her financials would help voters make their choice. So in a splash of openness we learned that she made $10 million alone on her memoir Living History.
I won’t open my financial records to you, but my memoir “Nothin’ Much Going On” has yet to find a publisher. Fortunately as a writer I don’t have to spend $4.03 a gallon for diesel fuel in order to put food on the table.
One NBC report featured a trucker who has decided to park his rig for a few weeks and wait out the fuel cost rises and maybe even the recession. Of course if we all park our rigs, if you will, it’s bound to be a longer recession. And quitting pulls us into another area where we have intimacy issues-in talking about being out of work. Some will take the approach of telling everyone they’re at liberty to clearly communicate that they’d love to hear about any possible employment. But in this town, writers and actors struggle constantly with this. Should one present a strong face and imply that there’s “lots of stuff going on” with projects over here and over there? Or would it be better to tell anyone connected to a possible gig, “Look, I’m hurting, please help.”
And speaking of presenting a strong face, last Saturday the LA Times reported that the economic downturn was depressing the local plastic surgery and needle-injected beauty industry. You’d think that business would be recession-proof, but Beverly Hills professional women who regularly get Botox shots confessed to the Times that they were cutting back because of tightening purse strings. Not that everything else wasn’t tightened, as a haunting Times photo of one such Botox user verified.
As the economic downturn cuts a wider swath, we may enter something of a national confessional period. There’s certainly a lot more open conversation right now about work and play habits changing because of the fuel needed for the travel involved. Maybe this will bring us to where we can talk with greater honesty about the dissolution of the middle class and the deepening fissure between having and not having in America. We’ve been putting that dialog off for some time now. If the prices come down far enough at Starbucks, a more diverse crowd may gather at those street corner coffee lounges for frank and honest discussion about lots of things, including money. Meet me there and I’ll buy. Oh, wow… I didn’t bring enough cash. Let me put this on a card… no, really, it’s no problem. What? You’re kidding! But I just paid it off! No, really…